Sunday, February 28, 2010

Corn Women of East LA: 13 Years of Art and Activism

Olga García Echeverría

It's 5:30 PM on a Friday evening and while many Angelenos are unwinding and getting ready for the weekend, a small group of female artists/activists are rolling up their sleeves and gathering at Casa Grande in East LA.

The purpose of their meeting?

To strategize and finalize logistics for this year's International Women's Day Celebration.

Actually, they're working on a month-long salute to women's herstory because...because...well, simply because one day of Viva La Mujer just isn't enough for them. These are corn women, afterall, officially known as Mujeres de Maiz, and the corn women of East LA don't mess around. For starters, they've been organizing art events for the past 13 years. Rumor has it that during meetings, they bust out 7 page agendas and sometimes hold each other hostage for 3-4 hours. Ay! I would need to sneak a swig or two of tequila to keep up with them.

There's so much to say about Mujeres de Maiz, but there's one thing I want to make clear--estas mujeres estan bien locas. They've been working for free for the past 13 years, they burn sage, wear sea shells and feathers on their ears, strap giant wings made of corn husks on their shoulders and show up to City Council meetings to defend the arts. When they aren't planning events or juggling jobs to pay bills, they delve into their own art; they paint, poet, make films, sculpt.

This year's celebration will feature art shows, teatro, music, poetry readings, workshops, and vendor markets. Also, este año se aventaron las mujeres by organizing an amazing musical show that will feature the prominent Afro-Peruvian singer, Susana Baca. If you don't know Baca's music yet, you must check her out. She's a 2002 Grammy Award winner and one of Latin America's musical treasures. She's traveling all the way from Perú to come share canción and corazon in Boyle Heights. She'll also be performing a collaborative set with local musicians, such as Martha Gonzalez of Queztal, CAVA, and La Santa Celicia. Baca in el barrio? If you're local, don't miss this! If you miss this and you're local, well, then you're just plain loco.

This week, I was able to crash one of MDM's organizing meetings. The women, most of whom have been with the collective since its inception, were kind enough to delay their agenda and chat with me about MDM and this year's event. Core members of the collective and Board of Directors are Felicia Montes, Gina Aparicio, Margaret Alarcon, Lily Ramirez, Claudia Mercado, and Maritza Alvarez.

During our 15 minutes together, Mujeres de Maiz shared more than I could possibly include in this small bloga (son bien platiconas las muchachas). The following excerpts, therefore, by no means attempt to offer a comprehensive history of the 13 years of Maiz herstory, rather they briefly highlight a few of the women's pensamientos and insights.

Why and how was Mujeres de Maiz formed?

Felicia: A need to create a space for women was why we started Mujeres de Maiz. We were questioning: Why is it that we never see women on stage? Originally, we were inspired by community groups such as the Peace & Justice Center and the Popular Resource Center. One event in particular, “Caught Between a Horn and an Angel,” which was put on at the Popular Resource Center, was very inspiring. It was a Zapatista fundraiser for a women’s delegation to Chiapas. It was organized by Patricia Valencia, Aida Salazar, Victorilla Delgadillo and her sister. The event was mainly all-women and this really inspired us. Around that same time, In Lak Ech [an all-female performance poetry collective which Felicia and Claudia are original members of] was also formed. As we began to share our work publicly, there was a transformation of both the participating artists and community members. We decided to put a call out to everyone we knew to discuss what could be done to form some type of collective. We had to figure out a name and Lily came up with Mujeres de Maiz. Our first event was in June of 1997 at the Popular Resource Center. Our original idea was to have an event every 4 months, representative of the cycle of the four seasons. We did two or three events that year, but after that we began to do one yearly event, along with the publication of our Zine.

What has MDM provided local emerging or established artists?

Margaret: I think it's empowered a lot of people. Personally, coming out of my educational background in art, I felt really invisible through that whole experience. Meeting up with these women made me feel present and valid. I had something to say and MDM gave me the space to say it.

Gina: It offers space for self-trained artist to perform and exhibit their work, as well as a space for professional trained artists who have gone through formal institutions. MDM provides a space for people who have not yet been published, who have not been written about, people who don’t have a gallery space to represent them, don’t have a stage to perform. So we have all these levels of artists interacting and communicating with each other. It’s also intergenerational, from teenagers to artist in their 70’s. The interesting thing for me is witnessing how the individual artists have developed their work and their aesthetic and their collaboration with each other. All of these things have moved us forward and given us skills as organizers and artists.

How do you feel MDM has grown through the years?

Claudia: The growth that I’ve witnessed in MDM is crossing borders, intergenerational and cultural, as well as building bridges between academic scholars and grassroot community activist, so much so that it inspired and enabled Susana Baca, a world renowned musician, to come to Los Angeles to participate in our event. That’s something that people of her caliber don’t usually do.

Margaret: Speaking of crossing borders, last year we had a women from Saudi Arabi submit an art piece for our publication. That was pretty amazing to get someone from so far away connect with us…that was really powerful.

Felicia: It's true we are often very East LA centric, but Mujeres de Maiz has always been intergenerational, intercultural, and now it’s become more national. Even though we don’t have events in other places, there are people in other states who’ve been inspired and influenced by the work we’re doing here. Through Facebook, Myspace, and other mediums we've been able to share who we are and what we do with non-local people and this is exciting.

Claudia: Aside from crossing borders, I believe that as a collective we’ve also been instrumental in supporting other's larger visions. There was one year where MDM, for example, helped Womyn Image Makers [an all-female, LA based film collective] go to the United Nations for the Permanent Indigenous Forum. The funds provided by MDM enabled another collective of women to document and experience that forum first hand. It’s collaborations like these where we are not only empowering ourselves but other collectives as well.

Susan Baca is huge. Can you briefly say something about her coming to Boyle Heights?

Lily: This is a world class musicians who’s donating her time and her art for our community. What a gift! We just put it out there and someone believed in what we're doing and that’s really amazing. The collaboration that she’s going to have with local musicians is also going to be historic and it’s going to happen in a historical place too, here, at Casa Grande. I don’t know if you know the history of the Paramount Ballroom here at Casa Grande, but in the 1940’s and 1950’s the Communist Party used to meet here. It was a social place where they could gather. In the 1960’s, artists like Richie Valens performed here, Etta James, The Clash, and X. Famous people. In 70’s and 80’s it was the Punk Rock ELA movement and punkers in general. Then in the 80’s it was disco, and now here we are, Susana Baca will be closing the circle.

Do you get any financial support? [All the women laugh].

Lily: Chhhhhhh! [I can't quite phonetically capture Lily's response, but it basically was a sound that translated into yeah right! We wish!]

Margaret: Chhhhhh! Chhhhhingao! [More risa].

Several of the women: We got a lunch last year!

Who gave you the lunch?

Felicia: We did. We had cleaned all day from 10 AM to 5 PM and then we were hungry, so we treated ourselves to a lunch.

What about grants?

Felicia: In the past 13 years, there’s been one Neighborhood Council Grant and that was for our Zine. There's a chance we may get one this year too, but pretty much everything we’ve done has been possible because of hard work, volunteers, and in-kind donations. Nobody’s been paid. When you think about it, it’s pretty incredible that we’re still here.

Why are you still here?

Gina: What we're doing is creating sacred spaces for ourselves because they don’t really exist for us in this city and in this side of town. There are less and less community centers, especially right now because of the economy and budget cuts and art programs are always the first to get cut.

Margaret: It’s all about corazón and dedication. We believe in it and we believe in each other.

Well put, Margaret! The corazón and dedication these women have invested over the past 13 years is evident. Come out and support Mujeres de Maiz this March. An abridged version of the schedule follows. Yes, it's abridged! There's so much going on I had to abridge it, but you can get all the juicy details on their website.

If you're not in Los Angeles or can't make it to the events, you can still support MDM by visiting their website and making a donation. They take electronic $5's, $10's, $20's, $100's, etc. Any contribution, big or small, is appreciated. As the corn women would say, tlazocamti. And no sean gacho, make a donation so that perhaps these hardworking women can buy themselves lunch again...or por lo menos un elote. ________________________________________________________________
Mujeres de Maiz: 13 Anniversary Live Art Show: 13 Baktun

An interdisciplinary, intercultural, intergenerational event honoring International Women's Day and Women's Herstory Month with events along First Street in Boyle Heights/East LA.

Below are some of the highlighted MDM events. For more information visit

Sunday March 7th 2010


Public Live Art Show (FREE)

Mariachi Plaza

East 1st Street & N. Boyle Avenue

Los Angeles CA 90033

Featuring all women performers:

Danza Azteca

Cihualt Ce

Guerrilla Queenz

In Lak Ech

Las Ramonas

Raquel Salinas

The Sirens

March 07, 2010


Exhibits at the following locations:

Eastside Luv: 1835 E. First Street, LA CA 90033

Primera Taza: 1850 E. First Street, LA CA 90033

March 7, 2010: FREE Live Art Jam

Casa Grande

2708 East Cesar Chavez Ave

1st Floor

Los Angeles CA 90033

March 7, 2010: 6:30-9:30 PM

Special Guest of Honor Susana Baca (Get your tickets now: You don't want to miss this!)

with performances by: D'LO, Happy Frejo, Hermanas Canto Cura, Indigie Femme, Josefina Lopez, Las Bomberas de la Bahia, La Santa Cecilia, Quetzal

Casa Grande

2708 East Cesar Chavez Avenue

2nd Floor

Los Angeles CA 90033

New reduced tickets for Susana Baca show!

General Admission: $20.00

Students with ID: $15.00

A series of other Mujeres de Maiz events are planned throughout the month of March, such as poetry readings, Mujer mercados, and holisitic and self-defense workshops. Please visit the Mujeres de Maiz website for more information


Also in Los Angeles this March

A FREE extended Preview Screening of the documentary, "The Camino Today."

The Camino Documentary is about the experience of walking the life-changing, 500-mile pilgrimage across Northern Spain known as “The Camino de Santiago”. The film follows six strangers from incredibly diverse walks of life, as they attempt to cross a country on foot with only a backpack, a pair of boots, and an open mind. Driven by an inexplicable calling and a grand sense of adventure, each pilgrim throws themselves heart-and-soul into their physical trek to Santiago, and their personal journey to themselves.

Where: Hilton 100, Loyola Marymount University

When: March 4, 2010

Time: 1:30 PM

Sponsored by LMU's Center for Ignatian Spirituality

Friday, February 26, 2010

Bits from the Web

A few literary bits and pieces available with a quick click of your mouse:

A recent announcement noted that Professor Laura Lomas won the 2009 Modern Language Association Prize in U.S. Latina and Latino Literary and Cultural Studies. Lomas is an associate professor of English at Rutgers University, Newark. The award was made for her book, Translating Empire (Duke University Press, 2008), in which she analyzes how late 19th century Latino migrant writers developed a critique of U.S. imperialism through their translations of American literature. Translating Empire is about the Cuban journalist, poet, and revolutionary José Martí and other Latino migrants living in New York City in the Gilded Age, who translated contemporary North American literary and cultural texts into Spanish. Read more about Lomas and her book here ...


Francisco Lomelí's tribute to Luis Leal can be found at this link to the Santa Barbara Independent. A few lines from the article:

He is generally regarded as one of the founding members of contemporary Chicano literary movement. His fame is such that many in his multiple fields refer to him as “el maestro de maestros” (the teacher of teachers) for directly mentoring generations of students, teachers, and scholars. His students regarded him as a walking encyclopedia with a prodigious memory, even at times providing exact pages of works where specific topics could be located. His life reached a crescendo with his l00th birthday in 2007 with a dual conference at UCSB and Mexico City dedicated to him along with a book (100 años de lealtad/100 Years of Loyalty; In Honor of Luis Leal) that consisted of over one hundred contributors and 1,456 pages: a monumental work for a scholar who has touched so many lives with his erudition, generosity, encouragement, example, and humor.

More tributes to Professor Leal can be read at this link.

La Bloga pal Mario Acevedo is ready to launch his latest Felix Gomez romp. This one's entitled Werewolf Smackdown.

Mario's website gives us this:

puts undead PI Felix Gomez right in the middle of a supernatural battle for power, one that will wake the ghosts of Charleston and could destroy both human and undead if he’s not careful. A civil war is brewing between rival werewolf factions and Gomez will do anything he can to ensure this conflict doesn’t turn into an all out battle that will make the supernatural underworld explode. But between that, the sudden reappearance of an ex-girlfriend, and several other vampires trying to take off his head, this is one rumble even a vampire detective may not be able to handle. Download and read Chapter One.

Mario's schedule of events is also on his website, including Denver area bookstore appearances beginning in March. And if that's not enough, Mario's Glenn Beck video parody (a trailer for his books), is here.


A Chicano Literature class from Cerritos College (Norwalk, CA) recently made a field trip to the home of the well-known writer Victor Villaseñor. Because of budget issues, the class had to take back an invite to Villaseñor to visit their campus. The writer then invited the class to his home, and in place of an honorarium, he asked the students to do a bit of work at his ranch in Oceanside. The students beat dead needles out of pine trees, fed goats, and a few other chores. The author entertained and regaled ... check out the article from the college newspaper.


I found an article from the L.A. Times that announced the finalists for the Pen/Faulkner awards:

The five PEN/Faulkner Award finalists have been announced, and it's an interesting mix. ... The nominated books are The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, Homicide Survivors Picnic by Lorraine M. López, War Dances by Sherman Alexie, Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead and A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore.

One finalist, Kingsolver, has been a bestseller, with her 1998 novel "The Poisonwood Bible." Two others -- Moore and Alexie -- appear regularly in the pages of the New Yorker. Whitehead is the recipient of a prestigious MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship. They're all high-profile writers, more so than López, a Vanderbilt University professor who hails from LA. López has quietly racked up smaller awards, and her book was published by a small press, BkMk, from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

López talked about the multicultural aspect of the stories that appear in "Homicide Survivors Picnic" in an interview on the BkMk Press website.

And here's a quote from the interview:

The thing is, though, that I write for myself, and I write the kind of books and stories that I like best.
And I am not out to give anyone (including myself) what he or she might be expecting. In speaking to
other Latino writers, I find that we similarly resist gratifying expectations that our characters perform in
culturally expected ways, say, rolling tortillas, bopping around the barrio, or gathering wisdom from a sweet abuela. More and more, Latino literature is evolving away from such stereotypes, and becoming more interesting and challenging in the process.

You can read the complete interview here. La Bloga's review of Homicide Survivors Picnic is here.


Finally, an announcement about a conference underway now at the University of New Mexico:

The Department of Spanish & Portuguese, Chicano Hispano Mexicano Studies, Southwest Hispanic Research Institute, Latin American and Iberian Institute, Foreign Languages and Literatures, American Studies, and the Department of Student Affairs will co-host the 16th annual UNM Conference on Ibero-American Culture and Society, “Moros, Moriscos, Marranos y Mestizos: Alterity, Hybridity Identity in Diaspora.”

The conference will be held on Feb. 25 through Feb. 27. On Thursday, the event will be held in the Student Union Building, Acoma, Isleta and Sandía rooms. On Friday, it will move to the National Hispanic Resource Center. On Saturday, participants have the option of touring the Santa Fe Museum.

“Moros, Moriscos, Marranos y Mestizos” seeks to recognize and remember the 400th anniversary of the removal of 300,000 Spanish Christians (Moriscos) and the largest ethnic cleansing to take place in Western Europe until the twentieth century.

“We are considering historic and contemporary texts, traditions, and expressive culture from Moorish, Jewish, Christian and Native American encounters in Iberia and the Americas,” said Enrique Lamadrid, the director of Chicano Hispano Mexicano Studies.

The rest of the announcement can be found here.

That's it for another week in Blogaland. Later.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Oh! How I...

I still see you. I
see you in the
stars as I fly
the night's sky.

In sadness, I wait
for the evening. I
wait for the moon
to eclipse the sun.

Slowly, but surely
ends of you begin
to twinkle. And then
the rest of you.

Measured alongside
the titans and
dippers. Oh! How I
begin to fly.

Zoom, zoom, zooming
I trace you as you
were when, wondering
how you are now.

A poem in memory of three family members who have passed in as many weeks. Ay los miro.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

2010-2011 Tejas Star Book List

The Tejas Star Book Award was created by the Region One ESC Library Advisory Committee to promote reading in general and for readers to discover the cognitive and economic benefits of bilingualism and multilingualism. All the children of Texas will have the opportunity to select their favorite book from the Tejas Star list.

Sopa de frijoles/Bean Soup
Written by Argueta, Jorge
Illustrated by Rafael Yockteng
2009 Groundwood Books/Libros Tigrillo

The Party For Papá Luis/La fiesta para Papá Luis
Written by Bertrand, Diane Gonzalez
Illustrated by Alejandro Galindo
2010 Piñata Books-Arte Público Press 978-1-55885-532-8

Abuelo vivía solo/Grandpa Used To Live Alone
Written by Costales, Amy
Illustrated by Esperanza Gama
2010 Piñata Books-Arte Público Press

My Colors, My World/Mis colores, mi mundo
Written and illustrated by Gonzalez, Maya Christina
2007 Children's Book Press

René Has Two Last Names/René tiene dos apellidos
Written by Colato Laínez, René
Illustrated by Fabiola Graullera Ramirez
2009 Piñata Books-Arte Público Press 978-1-55885-530-4

Jorge Luis Borges
Written by Lázaro, Georgina
Illustrated by Graciela Genoves
2009 Lectorum

Once Around The Block/Una vuelta a la manzana
Written and illustrated by Lozano, José
2009 Cinco Punto Press

My Papa Diego and Me: Memories Of My Father and His Art/Mi papá Diego Y Yo: Recuerdos de mi padre y su arte
Written by Marín , Guadalupe Rivera
Paitings by Diego Rivera
2009 Children's Book Press

No Time For Monsters/No hay tiempo para monstruos
Written by Rivas, Spelile
Illustrated by Valeria Cervantes
2010 Piñata Books-Arte Público Press

Baseball On Mars/Béisbol en Marte
Written by Rivera, Rafael & Tim Hoppey
Illustrated by Christina Rodriguez
2009 Piñata Books-Arte Público Press

The Case Of The Pen Gone Missing: A Mickey Rangel Mystery/El caso de la pluma perdida
Written by Saldaña, Jr., René
2009 Piñata Books-Arte Público Press

What Can You Do With A Paleta?/¿Qué puedes hacer con una paleta?
Written by Tafolla, Carmen
Illustrated by Magaly Morales
2009 Tricycle Press

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Review: Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet. Black History Month Review: Nigger for Life.

Arturo Pérez-Reverte. Translated Margaret Jull Costa. NY: Penguin Group, 2009.
ISBN: 0399156038 isbn13: 9780399156038

Michael Sedano

Happily serendipitously, my tour of Pasadena Public Library's New Book Shelf turned up a "new" Captain Alatriste novel. But curiously, I learned the "new" label is a bit misleading, as the book has a 2003 copyright from a G.P. Putnam's Sons edition. One day, perhaps, I'll make sense of the publishing industry's vagaries. I had not seen the novel heretofore, so it's new enough for my eyes, perhaps yours.

If it's new to you, you're sure to enjoy it. If you read it in 2003, you've already dug it, and can leave a comment below how you took to the story. Arturo Pérez-Reverte fills this fifth Captain Alatriste / Íñigo Balboa novel with the literary ambience of seventeenth century Madrid, less with the swashbuckling action that made earlier Alatriste novels happy exciting page-turning reads.

As the title suggests, the King plays a central role in the regicide plot. The womanizing Phillip IV becomes Alatriste's rival for the same woman, putting the Captain on the collision course plot that ends well, but by the skin of his teeth.

Sadly, the novel bogs down after the first swordfight in the opening pages, but picks up as now-16 year old Balboa accompanies playwright Francisco de Quevedo into the royal apartments, as the artist's scribe. There, Íñigo finally enjoys the pleasures of his scheming paramour and maid-in-waiting to the Queen, Angélica de Alquézar, along with her dagger in his back. Love hurts, the young man learns.

The evil nemesis Gualterio Malatesta returns to the scene, first escaping Alatriste's hands, later capturing Alatriste intending to toss the soldier to the Inquisition's chief torturer and frame the Captain as regicide. Alatriste, bound hand and foot, beaten bloody by hired swords, looks to be at his last gasp. Even Malatesta shudders at thoughts of what the Inquisitor can do.

Readers familiar with Arturo Pérez-Reverte's earlier works will enjoy the character development of storyteller Balboa. A homeless ruffian, boy-soldier, his master Alatriste ensures the boy takes a classical education at the feet of acknowledged literary lions, hence these novels, told by an aged Íñigo decades past the events of the novels.

Those not yet acquainted with Pérez-Reverte's Golden Age of Spain novels owe themselves a treat by reading the series. Start with this one, or go to the first. Any sequence works. Each comprises a stand-alone story, with Balboa's narration linking elements from earlier and, presumably, future tales. In the current volume, Margaret Jull Costa proffers an outstanding translation that reads smoothly absent cultural lacunae that mar so many translated-from works.

Honoring Black History Month. Self-published collection, "Nigger for Life."

When I was in first grade, a clueless child from Arkansas named Ramsey threatened every kid he met with the same refrain, "I'm gonna shoot you with my nigger shooter!" When it was my turn, my response was "that's a sling shot, what's a 'nigger shooter?'" Redlands CA in the 1950s. Gente in my family and in the neighborhood didn't use that word so it was new to me. "You're a nigger," Ramsey informed me, brandishing the weapon. I decided against kicking his ass, instead electing to ignore Ramsey for the rest of his life. Menso Ramsey then thought to menace Lonnie Washington with the stick. Lonnie, one of the tinto kids at Lugonia School evidently had a keen sense of outrage. Lonnie beat the crap out of Ramsey, breaking Ramsey's sling shot in the process. That was the first time I understood just how offensive some words can prove to the wrong audience.

The issue rose its voice last week at La Bloga when a commenter noted, in an unfelicitous manner lacking context, that some folks used "nigger" as a badge of pride. All Hell broke loose in the comments section, some comments reflecting affront, others curiosity, some I thought, verged on a Lonnie Washington response.

Neal Hall uses "Nigger" to vocalize emotions that begin with anger and continue through disillusion, hate, grief, disdain. "Nigger for Life" fills a bereft cornucopia with bitter negativity, not pride, not soul, more a slap in the face.

Hall reflects on the contradiction of celebrating a Black History Month in a nation that continues treating people with the kind of racism that filled little Ramsey's world back in the 1950s, as in Hall's untitled piece, "Martin Luther King's birthday / has been transformed into / a day of atonement. / The one day white America uses to absolve / itself of the previous 364 days of continuous / racial oppression, injustice and exploitation."

On page after page, Hall piles on the outrage of a United States--he uses the hegemonistic "America" to name the country--that purposefully excludes non-white populations, as when Hall observes, "When America cries out for / a return to her days of greatness / memorialized in the still life in / Black and White photos / . . . . / Remember, memorialized in / America's black and white still life, / there is no black life."

Now again he intrudes a ray of hope, or progress, typically filled with sarcasm: "Progress / Today, / they don't call you Nigger. / Well! / not loud enough for you to hear."

It would be simplistic to accuse Hall of voicing puro hatred for whites. His disappointment is balanced, heaping on indictments of exploitation by whites on one side, of abnegation on the other side by middle class blacks or duped masses. Of the middle class black, he says "Judases, / unwilling to reach above their laurel crowns to / lead the multitude beyond the reach / of the task master." That's pretty intense disdain. Of the masses, however, his expression is more sardonic, as expressed in one of the few titled pieces, "Sisters Say." "Accessorized in blue colored contact lenses, / colored girls say they want to be / colored like the motherland; / wear their hair like Africa...colonized."

Sadly, Neal Hall writes trapped by his emotions, sacrificing art for expression. "Nigger for Life" is less a collection of poems than a collection of blood-curdling agonized screams. Most of the pages contain screeds laid out in short lines to resemble unmetered blank verse. His best work comes in short bursts, four or six line epithets expressing a keenly felt insight. The value for Unitedstatesian readers comes in accessing Hall's unfettered raw emotions, nothing cleaned up by an editor or a publisher with an eye on the cash register. Being self-published and marketed, Hall can say whatever the heck comes off his keyboard.

Unlike Lonnie Washington, who got the satisfaction of kicking Ramsey's racist ass, all Neal Hall can do is rage in print. The thoughts and feelings here have been artfully expressed elsewhere, as in the work of Nikki Giovanni ("Nigger, can you kill?") or The Last Poets ("Niggers are scared of revolution"). But we got those a long time ago. Hall's voice speaks from our time today; is the counterstatement to the hope voters invested in the aftermath of electing the first black U.S. president: "I am convinced / that for black Americans, / the look of freedom / has been more detrimental / than no freedom at all." Que plus ça change...¿quién sabe?

That's the final Tuesday of 2010's final February. A Tuesday like any other Tuesday, except You Are Here. Thank you for visiting La Bloga. Let us now see if March comes in like a lion. See you then.


La Bloga welcomes your comments on this and all columns. Click the comments counter below to add your observations. La Bloga welcomes guest columnists. If you have a book review, an extended commentary on something you've read here at La Bloga, a literary, arts or cultural event to report, or something from your writer's notebook, click here to discuss being our guest.

Monday, February 22, 2010

W. W. Norton releases landmark anthology of Latino "sudden" fiction

Sudden Fiction Latino: Short-Short Stories from the United States and Latin America (W. W. Norton; $15.95; 336 pp.; paperback original)

Edited by Robert Shapard, James Thomas, and Ray Gonzalez; Introduction by Luisa Valenzuela

From the publisher:

This collection was conceived by Robert Shapard and James Thomas, editors of the successful Flash and Sudden Fiction series. For this new anthology Shapard and Thomas decided to focus on Latino literature: “For years we loved Latin American short-short stories. We found them by accident in books and journals where we were seeking American stories for our Sudden Fiction and Flash Fiction anthologies. . . . Naturally, we wanted to bring some of this writing to our readers as soon as we could.” Conscious of the challenge of narrowing down a selection that would span not only the United States but also all of Spanish-speaking Latin America, Shapard and Thomas sought the advice of Ray Gonzalez, an expert in the field of U.S Latino and Latin American literature, who would become their coeditor. “He said it had never been done,” Shapard and Thomas remember, but “he was enthusiastic, so we were encouraged to try.”

The trio then had to come to some decisions—how short was “short” for this anthology? They ultimately decided not to worry about all the subgenres within short-short fiction and settled on a 1,500 word limit. Then they combed through bookstores, libraries, blogs, and zines, debated over the selections, and finalized choices. They decided to make a compilation that would give readers an amazing sense of the styles shared by U.S. Latino and Latin American literary community. Gonzalez says of the final product, “this is a historic gathering of writers, because the U.S. Latinos are writers who have never forgotten their ancestral roots. By placing them alongside Latin Americans, we are showing how the short-short form transcends borders.”

* With over 60 stories, this landmark anthology features work of stories by literary stars such as Junot Díaz, Helena María Viramontes, Luis Alberto Urrea, Sandra Cisneros, Dagoberto Gilb, and Roberto Bolaño

* Contributions by masters such as Gabriel García Márquez, Isabel Allende, and Jorge Luis Borges

* Works by writers on the rise such as Andrea Saenz, Daniel Alarcón, Lisa Alvarez, and Alicita Rodríguez

* To view the table of contents, visit here


Robert Shapard kindly agreed to answer a few questions for La Bloga about the making of Sudden Fiction Latino:

DANIEL OLIVAS: Why did you decide to focus on sudden fiction by Latino writers?

ROBERT SHAPARD: Our reading took us there. We’re always looking for good stories. Over the years we read translations from around the world and found that we especially liked the Latin American writers, who were open to very short fiction—suddens, flashes, micros—unlike the Koreans, for example, who like long, long stories. In those same years we read American writers, too. We became aware of many outstanding Latino writers. But we didn’t connect them. After all we’re talking so many different peoples, cultures, family histories—and in Spanish-speaking Latin America 18 or 19 countries. We’re not geographers. We’re just happy to think in terms of stories, wherever they’re from. Then recently W.W. Norton came to us, independently and unexpectedly, and asked if we wanted to do a new international volume. We’d done one years before that was a mix of American writers and writers from everywhere else in the world. This time we thought, of course, isn’t it obvious? For the international side, we’ll focus on Latin America, and for the American side, Latino writers. We didn’t know exactly how such a gathering would come out. But we did know one thing: it would have a lot of really good stories.

DO: Do you think Latino writers approach the form differently from other writers?

RS: Based on what I’ve read, I don’t think so. That is, there’s so much range and variety and complexity, as there is for all American writers. I guess it’s a question for each individual writer. But Luisa Valenzuela has an interesting observation in her introduction. She says, “Proper Latino writers” have a “distinct approach to fiction, made of nostalgia,” and “most Latin American writers in this book seem to dream less than the Latinos.” But, she says, “One way or the other, a common narrative line seems to surface in the reading of these very dissimilar short shorts—like the curves of a giant anaconda emerging from deep waters.” Of course she has much more to say than these excerpts.

DO: How did you find the stories that ended up in the collection?

RS: This is the easiest question to answer. We found them by reading countless magazines, e-zines, anthologies, and single-author collections, spanning 10 years or so. We also read unpublished manuscripts, especially translations from a call we sent out, and in a few cases wrote authors asking if they had work we could consider.

DO: You and your co-editor, James Thomas, turned to Ray Gonzalez for advice because of his extensive knowledge of Latino literature. How did that collaboration work?

RS: Ray was a full partner in everything we did. We would never have even started such a project without him. In our research he sent us to good places and saved us from blind alleys. We all did individual research and sent copies of our favorite stories to each other and argued their merits in frequent conversations by phone and email from our different parts of the country for more than a year. We all worked on the arrangement of the stories, the introductory pages, even contributor notes.

DO: Thank you for spending time with La Bloga.

[NOTE FROM OLIVAS: I will moderate a Sudden Fiction Latino panel at the upcoming AWP Conference in Denver on April 8, 3:00 p.m. with several of the anthology's contributors: Lisa Alvarez, Stephen D. Gutierrez, Pedro Ponce, Alicita Rodríguez, Edmundo Paz Soldán. For a complete schedule of panels, visit here.]

◙ The Hammer Museum and the UCLA Ethnic Studies Centers are proud to present:


Tuesday, February 23, 7:00 p.m.
The Hammer Museum (View Map)
10899 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90024
Free Admission

"Art and Public Space in Los Angeles" is a discussion about public art, community identity, art and activism, and new models for socially-engaged art practice that is co-sponsored by the UCLA ethnic studies centers. The event will be moderated by Chon Noriega, director of UCLA’s Chicano Studies Research Center. Panelists include Edgar Arceneaux, founder and director of Watts House Project; Judy Baca, artist and founder of SPARC (Social and Public Art Resource Center); artist Sandra de la Loza, CSRC visiting scholar and founder of Arts and Action; and Christine Y. Kim, associate curator at LACMA and co-founder of the public art organization Los Angeles Nomadic Division (LAND). For information visit the Hammer website.

◙ IT'S NOT TOO LATE TO ENJOY SOME EXCITING NEW LITERATURE WHILE SUPPORTING HOMEBOY INDUSTRIES: You can still order Issue #1 of The Homeboy Review, published by the good people at Homeboy Industries. Click here to find out how. Stay tuned for Issue #2 coming soon.

◙ MICHAEL NAVA FOR JUDGE: As we reported recently on La Bloga, attorney and award-winning novelist, Michael Nava, is running for a seat on the San Francisco Superior Court. If you care about who sits in judgment on important cases that can affect all of us, please check out this request from Nava posted recently on Letras Latinas.

◙ I am delighted to share the news that several more reviews have come out regarding my new collection, Anywhere But L.A. (Bilingual Press):

"Anywhere But L.A. completes a satisfying California trilogy that observes, interacts and imagines the many dimensions of the American Southwest through an honest and genuine lens."

--Rigoberto González, My Latino Voice (read full review here)

"The stories in Anywhere But L.A. are unique and accessible, revealing of richly nuanced worlds. At the same time, the characters are effectively universal, their trysts with loneliness and the confessional quality of their narratives instantly recognizable. Short story collections have to offer enough variety that the whole book warrants reading, and enough cohesion to be called a collection. Anywhere But L.A. accomplishes this dual goal admirably and remarkably."

--Vinoad Senguttuvan, The Rumpus (read the full review here)

“[His] effortless writing style and ability to capture a character in broad, descriptive strokes engage readers as they switch from story to story in his new book. No two stories are the same stylistically or rhetorically, and this diversity of presentation keeps the reader on his or her toes.”

--Thelma Reyna, American Latina/o Writers Today (read full review here)

◙ That’s all for this Monday. In the meantime, enjoy the intervening posts from mis compadres y comadres here on La Bloga. And remember: ¡Lea un libro!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

How I Became One of Botero's Gorditas

and Why I Can No Longer Be One

by tatiana de la tierra

Botero’s fat naked ladies dance circles all around me. Facing the front of my bed, one painting exhibits a nude lying on her side on top of a bull, her legs in the air, her eyes closed, one hand wrapped around the bull’s horn.
The bull, a happy stud, is grinning. In another painting, the robust rear end of a redhead gordita winks out at me. Her arms are above her head; looking pleased, she is oblivious of the dark little butterflies that swirl around her. Another painting has a group of corpulent high society ladies in various stages of undress who are drinking and smoking to excess. Raucous party animals, you get the feeling that, despite the man who’s crashed out on the floor beneath a chair, these women might end up in a luscious fat girl orgy by the end of the night.

Given how fatness is loathed the world over, others may have alternate interpretations to these and other paintings by the Colombian artist Fernando Botero. I’ve read political, cultural and socioeconomic critiques surrounding Botero’s penchant for hugeness, which he applies equally to men, saints, birds, trees, Colombian cocaine dealer Pablo Escobar and the tortured prisoners of Abu Ghraib. I don’t know how Botero’s artistic intuition guided him to exaggerated figures and fleshy femmes, but I’ve gleefully adopted the images in a fat pride sort of way and have plastered them all over my home.

Better yet, I became one of Botero’s gorditas—a sensuous, irreverent colorful Colombian fat chick who lived it up in the flesh. Despite the serious and insidious fat bashing that’s always prevailed in my world, I reveled in my plus-sizeness. I threw my weight around at the right moments and barreled into jerks that crossed my path. I enjoyed myself as a voluminous woman of power and didn’t let anything stop me from getting down and dirty when I was sufficiently enraptured with someone of my liking. I did the mundane—laundry, groceries, errands—and I sang and danced and coasted around in a horse-drawn carriage in queenly fashion.

Being fat handily placed me in the category of Other, a position of comfort to my rebellious nature. My massive body made me special. I took up space and commanded attention by merely existing. I thumbed my nose at the obesity hysteria and didn’t deprive myself of chocolate croissants, coffee gelato or organic butter. I cursed retailers and designers in shopping sprees when I couldn’t find the coolest threads in my size at reasonable prices. I rolled my eyes at the abnormally thin feminine models representing the ideal woman in the media and felt like mainstream society had a skewed view of beauty.

I do think that beauty is beyond poundage. Beauty is a combination of factors, some of which you cannot physically see. It has the potential to exist in any weight, in any color, in any physique. It radiates from the inside of my external fatness.

I feel a tight bond with my fat, my body of armor, my faithful companion. But now my beloved fat, my squishy wishy lumpy jiggly wiggly dumpy sumptuous sensuous fat cells will have to go. Currently on dialysis, I am preparing the path for a kidney transplant in the future, and the surgeon in charge has announced his edict: in order to get on the transplant list, lose 40 pounds in six months.

The transplant list is a passport to another dimension. These days I am tethered to a machine three days a week with my warm blood swirling around me in plastic tubes while an artificial “kidney” filters the toxins from my blood. Nursing technicians insert two huge needles into a super vein in my left arm and I watch as my blood spurts into the clear tubes, coloring them with my red juice. My beating heart is in the hands of a sophisticated machine that keeps me artificially alive. After four hours or so, I stumble out into the world with loads of white tape strapped painfully tight to my skin as my veins pulse with the blood circulating back inside my body.

These days are topsy turvy and I marvel as my life unfolds in an upside-down path. But dialysis is a program at an elite institution and I want to graduate soon so that I can head to the next big adventure. Getting on the transplant list is the first step to being off dialysis, so 40 pounds in six months it is.

But how am I going to bid adieu to my precious 40 pounds? I am chewing the fat on this, as I am someone who genuinely adores eating. Will I do something atrocious like count calories and lay off the lard? Hit the gym, dance on the elliptical and dive into the pool? Go on a liquid diet, drink a quart of green smoothies daily, do the lemonade master cleanse or incorporate some of the longevity raw food protocol? Declare a war on the fungi, bacteria and parasites that have taken up residence inside my body and altered my natural state of being? I don’t know yet as I’m still figuring this out, but yes, I will do some of the above.

What I do know is that Botero’s fat ladies are going away, off my walls. Because I can’t be hanging around these powerful fat positive images while I’m in the process of imagining myself as a muscled and lean winged eagle woman. As I become that which I envision myself to be, my “diet” will include focusing on the ambiance and images that will get me there. Like Botero’s platters of colorful and vibrant fleshy fat fruit.

Now, if I could only get him to paint me a super sized kidney.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Taking the high road for poetry

guest post by Melinda Palacio

I was surprised, though I shouldn't have been, by a conversation I had with a literary agent who gave me some "free advice" and suggested I give up poetry and devote all of my creative energy to writing novels. As someone approaching the writing life from solely a monetary perspective, the literary agent just didn't seem to get it.

I'm very proud of my poetry publications and could not imagine a literary life without poetry. True, I'm building a literary career without the assistance of an agent and I write what I want, be it fiction, non-fiction, or poetry. Sometimes working with a small press is just the right therapy for a poetry-fearing world.

As someone who works in multiple genres, I never know what I'm going to write when I sit down with a word or image. Sometimes the form gets out of control and the poem I had in mind turns into a short story. A year ago, I decided to make a trip I had been avoiding. I joined my sister Emily and we visited our father in Folsom prison. The weight and importance of this trip didn't surface until several weeks later when I started writing about the experience.

In one weekend I wrote twelve poems about my prison visit. When I started sharing some of the poems with fellow poets, my friend Susan Chiavelli announced that I had a chapbook in the making. Several of Susan's questions led to more poems. By March, some of the poems were published in literary journals; by May, I submitted my chapbook to seven contests. On August 31, Arthur Dawson of Kulupi Press called to inform me I had won their Sense of Place Chapbook Competition. This great news came after finding out my novel Ocotillo Dreams had been accepted for publication by Arizona State University Bilingual Press.

I didn't know which stars were aligned when I received the winning news; I was happy to see my hard work paying off. In June, I received a scholarship to attend the Squaw Valley Community of Writers for a week of poetry, hiking and enjoying the natural beauty of the high Sierras. Squaw Valley is not too far from Folsom prison, and apparently, I hadn't finished my series of prison poems. Perhaps, I'll never be finished with the subject? During my week with the Community of Writers, I wrote one poem a day. For some poets, such as our poet Laureate, David Starkey, who committed himself to write a poem a day for an entire year, writing a poem a day seems like a piece of cake. Each day, I worried that I would come up empty handed.

Luckily, the creative juices kept flowing and on one of those days I wrote "Jail Bird Bop for Pops". The poem was a surprise and a success. In the editing process of Folsom Lockdown, Arthur and the editors at Kulupi agreed to include my new prison poem in the chapbook. Many poetry contests specifically state that you cannot add new poems once your manuscript has been accepted for publication. I was pleased to have such flexible editors. They also allowed me to change the title of my winning manuscript.

Collaborating with Arthur Dawson and the editors at Kulupi Press has been a dream come true. They consulted with me on every detail from the cover, back flap, poem content, editorial corrections, and font plates. The result is a small, but power packed volume of poems I am proud of.

With my liberal use of Spanish, this volume required a careful editor. Rebecca Lawton rose to the challenge and combed through the manuscript for any transcription errors. In an era when the idea of print books is becoming rarer and more expensive, I'm grateful there are artists and poets who still care about producing a quality poetry chapbook and I feel honored to see my collection in print. Arthur Dawson, Rebecca Lawton, and the editors at Kulupi Press did a fine job. I know I'm extremely lucky that they chose Folsom Lockdown as the winner of their Sense of Place competition.

While I work on my second novel, I will continue to send out poems for publication and search for a publisher for my full length collection of poems. Folsom Lockdown represents my first book in print. Online journals and e-readers may be the wave of the future, but there's nothing like holding a printed book in your hands, especially when you've penned it.

Advance praise for Folsom Lockdown:

"Folsom Lockdown is that rare literary song that jars the heart, the memories, the pains, as well as what's good in all of us. Prison is not just that place far away where your loved ones may be--the razor wire structures have now reached into our homes, our thoughts, our feelings, our psyche. Somehow, we're all behind bars. And Melinda Palacios' poems are a welcome reprieve that dares to illustrate how poetry and art are the only real keys to all our liberations. This is a poet for our time, in hard times, when so many are doing time." -- Luis J. Rodriguez, author of My Nature is Hunger, as well as founder/editor of Tia Chucha Press

This article first appeared 1/31/10 on Go here for Melinda's other InkByte articles.

Melinda Palacio's talents are diverse. You may have seen her on stage at the Lobero Theatre reading for Speaking of Stories or performing in local theater. Originally from South Central Los Angeles, she received her B.A. in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley and her MA in the same field from UC Santa Cruz. She is a 2007 PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Rosenthal Fellow. Her poems and short stories have been published in a variety of books and journals, including BorderSenses, Buffalo Carp, Black Renaissance Noire, the Maple Leaf Rag III, and Latinos in Lotusland: An Anthology of Contemporary Southern California Literature. She is co-publisher and editor of Ink Byte.

Friday, February 19, 2010

New Books, New Theater, New Film, New Cover

New Books
[publisher blurbs]

The Name Partner
Carlos Cisneros
Arte Público, March

In this hard-hitting and timely novel about a drug company that puts its shareholders' profits over safety, Carlos Cisneros takes the reader on a whirlwind ride as his protagonist struggles with his responsibilities to his client, his family, and his own personal ethics.

Women Who Live in Coffee Shops and Other Stories

Stella Pope Duarte
Arte Público, March

Set against an urban backdrop of seedy motels and dilapidated houses next to industrial buildings and railroad tracks, Stella Pope Duarte's award-winning stories follow characters who make up the city's underbelly. Some strut through the lethal streets, flamboyant and hard to miss -- flashy divas, transvestites, and prostitutes, like Valentine, "one of the girls who decorated Van Buren Street like ornaments dangling precariously on a Christmas tree." Others remain hidden, invisible to those who don't seek them out -- bag ladies, illegals, and addicts.

Winner of the University of California, Irvine's Chicano/Latino Literary Prize, this collection of short stories set in Phoenix reveals the hard-scrabble people living on the razor-edge of city life.

Hasta la Vista Lola!
Misa Ramirez
Minotaur, January

When Lola comes home to her parents’ house to find a horde of relatives mourning her death, no one is more surprised than she is. The news had reported that one Lola Cruz, PI was found murdered in an alley, causing great alarm in the Cruz family. Before Lola can say “boo,” a cop comes to the house. It turns out the dead woman had a driver’s license with Lola’s information. Between avoiding an unsavory ex-boyfriend, sorting out mixed signals from the very interested but not yet committed Jack Callaghan, and filling in as a waitress at her parents’ Mexican restaurant, Lola tries to find out who the woman was and why she stole her identity. Was the woman hiding from someone who meant her harm, or is there someone out there who wants Lola dead?

This is a follow-up to Ramirez’s debut novel, Living the Vida Lola.

Chilean theater group visits Denver, Su Teatro

From the unquiet mind of Guillermo Calderón comes a haunting futuristic drama about war in the Americas: Diciembre. Performed by the Chilean company, Teatro en el blanco (Theater on Target), Su Teatro presents this gripping contemporary drama as part of the National Performance Network’s Performing Americas project, which is dedicated to promoting theater exchanges between U.S. and Latin American theater companies.

Diciembre takes place in Santiago on Christmas Eve 2014 with the city besieged by Peruvian forces. Young soldier Jorge returns home on a 24-hour leave to celebrate the holiday with his pregnant twin sisters, who each have sharply different views on nationalism and the morality of war. One wants Jorge to defect, the other demands he return to the fight. Jorge, however, has his own take on the matter.

A darling of the international theater circuit, Guillermo Calderón has quickly become one of the most talked about young playwrights from South America. With Diciembre, he takes a hard look at irrational racism and the complicated divide between nationalism and pacifism.

Su Teatro Artistic Director Anthony Garcia says: “We have a tendency to look at war from a U.S. perspective. Diciembre challenges us to see beyond that narrow reality.”

Teatro en el blanco members will present master acting workshops while in residence at Su Teatro. The workshops will feature a combination of movement and exercises in rhythmic, vocal, and emotive expression, employing a combination of movement techniques that include yoga and dance.

Presented in Spanish with English surtitles, Diciembre will travel first to Miami Dade College in Florida and REDCAT theater in Los Angeles before ending its U.S. tour at Su Teatro.

Performances are Thursday, March 4, Friday, March 5, and Saturday, March 6 at 7:30pm at Su Teatro’s new home, the Denver Civic Theatre at 721 Santa Fe Drive.

Please note: This is a special preview performance. Su Teatro will officially begin its tenure at the Denver Civic Theatre with the opening of La Carpa de los Rasquachis on March 18, 2010. More information coming soon.

For production information, or to schedule an interview, please contact John Kuebler at (303) 296-0219 or email john@suteatro.og.


“A courageous search for human dignity that dares to ask the questions no one wants to ask concerning immigration.” – Josefina Lopez, co-writer of Real Women Have Curves

Filmmaker Monika Navarro was 21 years old when she began making a film about her uncle Gino, who was deported from the U.S. and died in Tijuana, where he was buried in an unmarked grave. Two months later, her uncle Augie was also deported; both had been legal U.S. residents, military veterans -- and drug addicts. As filming progresses, Navarro uncovers a family history that embodies the best and worst of the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico. But, as she says early in the film, “I found myself also telling a different story -- about the kind of exile that has nothing to do with the government.” A universal story about the powerful bonds that hold families together through disappointments and broken promises, Lost Souls will premiere on the Emmy® Award–winning PBS series Independent Lens on Tuesday, March 23rd at 10 PM (check local listings).

Lost Souls moves from idyllic Southern California, where the filmmaker’s Mexican-American family has lived for more than four decades, to Mexico, piecing together the tragic events that lead to her uncles’ deportations. Her camera in tow, Navarro interviews her mother, uncles and cousins and opens a Pandora’s box of family secrets. Raised by a single mother, she reconnects with her absent father and slowly pieces together an epic story about an immigrant family with a dark history of abuse, addiction and abandonment as well as achievement and strength. Compelling and honest, Lost Souls introduces viewers to a remarkable family, willing to confront the secrets of its past and find ways to accept, forgive and forge ahead.

To learn more about the film, and the issues involved, visit the companion website for Lost Souls (Animas Perdidas) at Get detailed information on the film, watch preview clips, read an interview with the filmmaker, and explore the subject in depth with links and resources. The site also features a Talkback section where viewers can share their ideas and opinions. There is also a clip from the movie at the director's website, here.

Lost Souls (Animas Perdidas) will be available for purchase from PBS Home Video.

King of the Chicanos

The cover of King of the Chicanos has been finalized and although I may be biased, I think it's beautiful. Bryce Milligan at Wings Press did a great job. And the art by César Martínez -- Bato con Sunglasses -- is perfect for the story.

Here it is - what do you think? Click on the image for a better view. The book's official publication date is May.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

El barrio, My Abuelita and Diego

• Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
• Format: Hardcover, 32pp
• Age Range: 5 to 8

From the Publisher

Join a young boy as he explores his vibrant neighborhood. The city shimmers with life?at once a party, a waltz, and a heartbeat. El Barrio is his sister preparing for her quinceañera, his grandfather singing about the past, and his cousins? stories from other lands. The city is alive with the rhythms of the street.

Told in lyrical language and through bold, colorful illustrations, this celebration of Hispanic culture and urban life is sure to fire children?s curiosity about where they live and what they can discover in their own neighborhoods.

DEBBI CHOCOLATE is the author of more than twenty picture books, including The Piano Man, which received the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award, and Talk, Talk: An Ashanti Legend, winner of the Parents? Choice Award. She lives outside Chicago with her family.

DAVID DIAZ has illustrated more than thirty books, including Smoky Night, for which he was awarded the Caldecott Medal, and Margaret Wise Brown?s The Little Scarecrow Boy, which was named a New York Times Best Illustrated Book. He lives in Southern California.

• Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
• Format: Hardcover, 32pp
• Age Range: 3 to 7

From the Publisher

Abuelita’s hair is the color of salt. Her face is as crinkled as a dried chile. She booms out words as wild as blossoms blooming. She stuffs her carcacha—her jalopy—with all the things she needs: a plumed snake, a castle, a skeleton, and more. Her grandson knows he has the most amazing grandmother ever—with a very important job. What does Abuelita do? With her booming voice and wonderful props, Abuelita is a storyteller. Next to being a grandmother, that may be the most important job of all.

Sprinkled with Spanish and infused with love, My Abuelita is a glorious celebration of family, imagination, and the power of story.

TONY JOHNSTON's many acclaimed picture books include The Worm Family illustrated by Stacy Innerst and That Summer illustrated by Barry Moser. Any Small Goodness, her first novel for young readers, was named the 2002 SCBA Book of the Year. She lives in San Marino, California.

YUYI MORALES is an award-winning children's book illustrator. Her breakout picture book was Harvesting Hope by Kathleen Krull, which was named a Pura Belpré Honor Book. Yuyi lives in Pleasant Hill, California.

• Publisher: Marshall Cavendish Inc
• Format: Hardcover, 64pp
• Age Range: 8 to 12

From the Publisher

Carmen T. Bernier-Grand’s inspiring free verse and David Diaz’s vivid paintings capture the defining moments and emotions of Rivera’s tumultuous life, including his stormy relationship with artist Frida Kahlo and his passion for his art. Rivera’s energy, physique, love for women, and work were all "bigger than life." A biography, chronology, glossary, sources, notes, and famous quotations are included.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Guest Columnists: Mayra Lazara Dole. Xánath Caraza. ALSO: Poetry reading with William Lansford

Breaking Piñatas Report

William Lansford Poetry Reading

SPIC Out! Triple D’s, Publishers & Lit Journal Lists. What U Don't Know

La Bloga reviewed Mayra Lazara Dole's Young Adult novel, Down to the Bone, last June. This is Mayra's first guest column for La Bloga. Welcome, Mayra.

Mayra Lazara Dole was born in Havana Cuba and raised in Miami. While writing, she worked as a hairstylist, library assistant, dancer, drummer, landscape designer, chef and ESL tutor. Dole's Latina debut novel, Down to the Bone, was nominated for ALA Best Books for YA 2009. Mayra has authored two bilingual strong girl picture books: Drum, Chavi, Drum! and Birthday in the Barrio--the latter is being transformed into a short festival film. Her Cuban dialect poems and short stories have been published by Cipher Journal: A Journal of Literary Translation, Palabra: A magazine of Chicano and Latino literary Art, Velvet Magazine, Sinister Wisdom and other paper magazines. Dole designs writing activities for aspiring authors.

Latino cultures are as Distinct, Diverse and Different as ants (Cubans being the fire ants of which there are 280 different species).

Latinos don’t share the same “language,” heritage, values, history, stories, customs or culinary traditions. The reason you might think we do is because we’ve been lumped into the category of “Latino” or “Hispanic” which strips uniqueness from our cultures.

A few months ago, an Anglo author/professor emailed me to let me know she was preparing tacos, homemade guacamole, chips and salsa for her book club. She said, "We're reading Down to the Bone and want the full Cuban experience!" I was embarrassed for her when I had to explain that the only Latinos who grow up eating those foods are Mexican. I let her know not to feel bad because most of my Mexican American and other Latino friends had never heard of Ropa Vieja, Moros y Christianos, Boliche or Ajiaco until they met moi.

The root of our mother tongue is Spanish, but many of us don't fully understand parts the other’s dialect just as you may not completely comprehend someone speaking Shakespearean or British English.

Our different dialects form a crucial part of our identity.

Spanish spoken in Argentina and Uruguay is influenced by Italians who settled there in the early nineteenth century thus they sound massively different from other Spanish speaking cultures (my ex boyfriend was Argentino and we spent a great deal of time laughing after explaining what we meant by this or that).

Latinos don't use the same territorial colloquialisms or standard dialect in our nineteen countries (not including Puerto Rico). South American Spanish is different from Caribbean Spanish (we drop our S's). Latinos don’t understand Catalan Spanish spoken by Catalan folks in Cataluña. Some of us have Indian or African blood while white Latinos' (blonde hair and blue eyes included) ancestry can be linked not only to Spain, but to England, Scotland and so forth. (Oh, and our accents differ, too!)

Since our cultures and traditions are as diverse as the Europeans (Germans, Italians, Spaniards and French aren’t lumped in one “European” category) the literary world should consider making distinctions between us. A German would never say something as cliché as, “I’m European. All Europeans Eat wurst and drink beer!” (She/he is German first and then European).

180--(at least it’s not a 360!)
I still can’t find authentic Latina/o middle grade novels with true diversity from big publishers and there are none with LGBTQ characters (many kids come out in middle grade).

“Authentic” means:

* A Bilingual author born in Latin America and raised in a Hispanic US community intimately knows what she/he is writing about because she/he has lived, breathed and experienced it to the fullest.

* A US-born author with Hispanic parents or grandparents doesn't speak Spanish but grew up in a Latino community, feels "Latino," has Latino friends and understands the dialect.

Authentic does not mean:

* Caucasian authors (Marcy SingaLittleTune or Sam GetMeOuttaHere)using pen last names such as Garcia and Rodriguez.

* Authors with Spanish last names with no clue what it means to be Latina/o (the only words they know in Spanish are “No” and “Sí Señora”) and have never lived in a Latino community or heard family stories but give Spanish names to characters to fill diversity quotas.

This post isn’t about cultural pride. Some journal reviewers and publishers’ book lists refer to “Latino” or "Hispanic" categories. This will lead children to believe we are all the same and thus why I hope the publishing world considers announcing what kind of Latino culture is being depicted in contents, such as:

Puerto Rican
Mexican-American (two-thirds of Latinos in the US are Mexican and most children's books are Mexican thus why most think all our customs and traditions are Mexican).
And so on…

The words “Latino” and “Hispanic” when talking about books don't allow children to understand or learn about the rich diversity in our massively different cultures (which can transfer into their desire to learn geography and history).

It’s important for kids to connect with their heritage through literature but we have no authentic MG books that show our varied and unique cultures. Latino kids in the US need to feel pride in their heritage so why don't we have books for them? Perhaps because they are considered "niche" books that should be left to small, specialty, non-profit presses such as the picture books in Children's Book Press, Arte Publico/Pinata and Cinco Puntos Press whose books are mostly Mexican-American.

Ignoring critical distinctions lump us in one category and it will be easier for kids to see us as one-dimensional and to judge us as ONE group.

When I came from Cuba the only Americanito blonde, blue-eyed boy in our Cuban barrio called our neighbors and me, SPICS! He’d speed his bike along the sidewalk, spit, and boom, “You SPICS!”

Note: The word SPIC probably originated from the way Latinos said “speak.” My mom never learned English because there is no need for it in Miami (a Latin American “country”). She and our neighbors always said, “Me no espiky dee Engli.” Espiki = SPIC?

Well, yes. I’m a SPIC and proud!

If you’re still interested and aren’t snoozing here’s a mini Latino 101 course:

“Latin” doesn't mean "Latino." Latin has to do with romance languages such as Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, French, etc.

"Spanish" is our mother tongue/language. The only people on earth who call themselves “Spanish” are born in Spain.

"Hispanic" was coined by the government to lump us together which in some ways is a powerful political tool to enhance our visibility. Normally, when folks say, "I'm Hispanic," they're usually whiter and better educated and don't like to be called "Latino."

“Latino” in the US was once related to the working-class and a word incorporated by Hollywood, the media, and publishers, to glamorize actors and authors. Once Latino’s climb the ladder of success they tend to call themselves "Hispanic." For accurate representation of these words, check out El Boricua.

In the following interview I talk more about Latino cultures and Miami's LGBTQ Cuban subculture:

And for the record, I'm a Cuban-American LATINA!


Breaking Piñatas

La Bloga welcomes back Xánath Caraza as a Guest Columnist. Her reports on travels and the activities of Kansas City MO's Latino Writers Collective provide a welcome bilingual voice from the Unitedstatesian heartland. Scroll down for the English language version.

I'm a traveler, educator, poet, and short story writer. My original work and essays have been published in Antique Children, La Bloga, Pegaso, Latino Poetry Review Blog, Present Magazine, El Cid, and Utah Foreign Language Review. Additionally, my work has been published in the following anthologies: Cuentos del Centro: Stories from the Latino Heartland, 2009, Primera Página: Poetry from the Latino Heartland, 2008, and Más allá de las fronteras, 2004. I'm a member of the Board of Directors of the Latino Writers' Collective, Kansas City, Missouri. I love hiking, Concheros, Baroque music, and a warm cup of oolong tea.

“Breaking Piñatas” en la Ciudad de Kansas, MO como el segundo evento anual de la serie de lecturas Cuarta Página por el Latino Writers Collective

Por Xánath Caraza

LWC group photo by Maria Vazquez Boyd

“Breaking Piñatas III” tuvo un exitoso comienzo a las 7 p.m. el 4 de febrero de 2010 en el bello auditorio del Guadalupe Center.

1. 100 2875 Chato by Stephen Holland

En las palabras de Chato Villalobos, de su presentación en “Breaking Piñatas III”…Love is, seeing a street sign in my neighborhood that reads, Avenida Cesar E. Chavez because i walk with my head up. and in my neighborhood, i see the name of my coach on a building, Tony Aguirre Community Center because i walk with my head up. and in my neighborhood, i see the name of a Librarian who introduced me to the poetry section at the Library up the street from where I grew up, the Irene H. Ruiz Biblioteca de la Americas, because i walk with my head up.

and in my neighborhood, i see the name of a Westsider on a school, who gave his life to save a teacher from being robbed, Primitivo Garcia Elementary…because i walk with my head up… (Villalobos)

2. 100 2884 Jason by Stephen Holland

Para “Breaking Piñatas”, el LWC invita a jóvenes de la comunidad a hablar de su experiencia y para presentar ésta junto con miembros de LWC.

Para celebrar la conexión de la comunidad con LWC, el ambiente en el Guadalupe Center, con su bella arquitectura colonial mexicana no pudo ser mejor.

En “Breaking Piñatas III” experimentamos dos horas de amor intenso a través de música, palabra hablada, colores y baile.

Teníamos tanta energía dentro del edificio que cada uno de los miembros de la audiencia estaba listo para ya sea, bailar con los bailarines de jarocho, presentar junto con la poesía de los miembros de LWC o cantar junto con la música sublime interpretada por el Trío Aztlán.

3. 100 2895 El intermedio by Stephen Holland

Las palabras de José Faus, Chato Villalobos, Jason Sierra, Carlos Duarte, Ignacio Carvajal y Gustavo A. Aybar, todos miembros de LWC, fueron escuchadas.

Como invitada especial, escuchamos la presentación de Jessica Ayala, fotógrafa y poeta, y amiga de mucho tiempo de LWC, quien gentilmente se presenta cada año con Breaking Piñatas.

Tras bambalina, el resto de LWC estaba ayudando con el recibimiento del público, venta de camisetas de LWC (hechas por LWC), venta de antologías de LWC y cambios de escenografía en el escenario.

Breaking Piñatas es definitivamente un esfuerzo grupal y juzgando por la reacción de la audiencia fue ampliamente apreciado.

Me encanta ver la reacción de los niños a la poesía de LWC.

Tuve la oportunidad de que me presentaran a Manolito durante el intermedio, quien orgullosamente vino a saludarme y compartir lo mucho que estaba disfrutando “TODO”.

4. 100 2907 El intermedio II by Stephen Holland

Le pregunté cuál era su parte favorita hasta ese momento y enfáticamente dijo “TODO, TODO”.

A todos los músicos, bailarines, y miembros de LWC gracias por tal experiencia estética y flujo de amor intenso en palabras.

Con la misma energía con la que Manolito contestó que TODO era su parte favorita, TODO también fue mi parte favorita.

Ciao, chao.

“Breaking Piñatas” in Kansas City, MO as second event of the annual Cuarta Página Reading Series by Latino Writers Collective

By Xánath Caraza

“Breaking Piñatas III” was off to a great start at 7 p.m. on February 4, 2010 in the beautiful auditorium of the Guadalupe Center

In the word of Chato Villalobos from his performance in “Breaking Piñatas III”,

…Love is, seeing a street sign in my neighborhood that reads, Avenida Cesar E. Chavez because i walk with my head up. and in my neighborhood, i see the name of my coach on a building, Tony Aguirre Community Center because i walk with my head up. and in my neighborhood, i see the name of a Librarian who introduced me to the poetry section at the Library up the street from where I grew up, the Irene H. Ruiz Biblioteca de la Americas, because i walk with my head up.

and in my neighborhood, i see the name of a Westsider on a school, who gave his life to save a teacher from being robbed, Primitivo Garcia Elementary…because i walk with my head up…

5. 100 2929 Gustavo by Stephen Holland

For “Breaking Piñatas”, the LWC invites young people from the community to speak and perform about their experiences along with LWC members.

Celebrating the connection of the community to the LWC, the ambiance in the Guadalupe Center with its beautiful Mexican Colonial architecture could not have been better.

6. 100 2931 Ignacio by Stephen Holland

For “Breaking Piñatas III”, we experienced two hours of intense love through music, spoken words, colors and dance.

We had so much energy inside the building that everyone in the audience was ready either to dance along with the Jarocho dancers, perform along with the poetry from the LWC members, or sing along with the sublime music played by the Trío Aztlán.

The words of LWC members José Faus, Chato Villalobos, Jason Sierra, Carlos Duarte, Ignacio Carvajal, and Gustavo A. Aybar were heard.

As a special guest, we listened to Jessica Ayala’s performance, photographer and poet, and long friend of the LWC, who graciously performs every year with Breaking Piñatas. Behind the scenes, the rest of the LWC was assisting with greeting the audience, selling LWC t-shirts (made by LWC), selling of LWC anthologies, and making set changes on stage.

Breaking Piñatas was definitely a group effort, and judging from the reaction of the audience was greatly appreciated. I love to see the reaction of children to LWC poetry. I had the opportunity to be introduced to Manolito during the short break, who very proudly came to say hello to me and shared how much he was enjoying “TODO”

I asked him what his favorite part had been at that point and he emphatically said “TODO, TODO”

To all musicians, dancers, and LWC members’ gracias for such an esthetic experience and flow of intense love in words, with the same energy that Manolito replied that TODO

7. 100 2951 El Trio Aztlan by Stephen Holland

8. 100 2967 Danilo by Stephen Holland

Poems by William Lansford in Venice, Califas February 19

*Blogmeister's note. La Bloga received a press release from the venue described below and happily passes along the invitation. There is much unsaid in the release. Bill Lansford is a WWII and Korea war veteran, the only Chicano veteran included in "The War," the controversial--because PBS and the film maker intended to omit Chicanos and Indians entirely from history--World War II series. Lansford spearheaded the effort to erect the Eugene Obregon Congressional Medal of Honor Monument in Los Angeles. The first phase of the monument now exists at Father Serra Park near La Placita and Calle Olvera, the official "birthplace" of the city of Los Angeles. But no good deed goes unpunished; now an anti-Veteran cohort wants to raze the monument! Ni modo; when confronted by pendejos, it's a good time to turn to poetry. (Michael Sedano, the regular Tuesday columnist, is La Bloga's Blogmeister).

Actor Enrique Castillo (Weeds, El Norte) joins poet William Lansford at the Beyond Baroque Literary/Arts Center next Friday, February 19, at 7:30 p.m., to read Nahua (“Aztec”)-style poems from Lansford's collection, The Masks of Quetzalcoatl. Beyond Baroque is located at 681 Venice Blvd. (half-mile west of Lincoln). Admission is $7.

Playa del Rey resident Lansford, a retired screen and television writer (Bonanza, Star Trek: TNG, among 300 other credits) whose novel Pancho Villa became the basis for the 1968 film, Villa Rides, turned to poetry when screenwriting was "no longer fun. It had become hackwork," Lansford said.

His interest in exploring his mother's Mexican roots led to his book, The Masks of Quetzalcoatl, original poems written in a slightly modified Nahua--what Lansford terms “Aztec”--style to make them more familiar to the modern eye and ear.

Multitalented actor, writer, and director Enrique Castillo, a founding member of the Latino Theater Company, said, "I was impressed with the power and lyricism of Bill's poems, simple on the surface, but deeply resonant, as were the original Nahua-language poems and myths from which he drew."

Castillo, who has worked in film with such notable directors as Tony Scott (Déjà Vu), Taylor Hackford (Blood In-Blood Out), Stephen Frears (The Hi-Lo Country), Wim Wenders (The End of Violence), Gregory Nava (My Family and El Norte), Oliver Stone (Nixon), and Tim Burton (Mars Attacks), is himself a scriptwriter and playwright, and was one of two principal writers on the multi-award-winning play, August 29.

The Mexica people, including that group known to some as Aztecs, were a nomadic tribe of Nahua-speaking Indians who settled into and ruled the Valley of Mexico (where modern Mexico City is located) from 1325 to 1519, until the arrival from Europ of Spanish pillagers led by Hernán Cortés. The Aztecs were one of the Western Hemisphere's three major indigenous civilizations. As many as one million people throughout Mexico still speak Nahuatal.

Lansford's poem, The Flower Seller, captures particularly well the admixture of delicacy and power found in Nahua-language poetry, as in this excerpt from the first stanza:

I am the seller of flowers, of blossoms.

I am the seller of turquoise and fire,

Of gold and green-stemmed suns and moons.

I gather flames from my mountains and

Chips of sky from my chinampas.

Playa del Rey poet and environmental activist Richard Beban (author of What the Heart Weighs and Young Girl Eating a Bird, both from Red Hen Press) will host the Beyond Baroque evening. Beban is co-Executive Director of Friends of Ballona Wetlands (, founded 32 years ago by William Lansford's wife, Ruth Lansford. Beban and his wife, writer Kaaren Kitchell, host local workshops and readings as The Playa Poets.

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