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: http://www.chasingray.com/archives/2008/...

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 (www.ballonafriends.org), 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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Juanita said...

The LWC is such a dynamic group of poets, writers and artists...the energy created at this event comes through Xanath Caraza's review. Adelante LWC y gracias, Xanath.

Mercedes A. Villaman said...


Defining a person, a human being, is never an easy task. One is never the sum total of our parts, or should I say, compartments. I am Dominican born and my mother had to make me eat yuca for breakfast as any Dominican should. I guess I was not just any Dominican. Well, now I like it, specially if it is soaked in nostalgia at El Floridita at 126th Street there in Harlem. I guess I finally became a true Dominican after all this years of not living in DR. I pity anybody that have to choose on single word to fill up a blank less than one inch long. They had to choose something. I guess Hispanic for Spanish spiking took then out of their misery. The people from Spain should be in that bunch as well. Latino is for everybody with a language derived from Latin. So Italian, French and Portuguese should be there too. We are "the other" as everybody else is also the other for us. La Otredad hasta en los huesos, mijo. Waiting for the other to find the proper definition of our soul, is like asking them to give us an identity, almost asking them for the breath of life.
Puerto Rican writer Pedro Juan Soto wrote a book of short stories in 1956, SPIKS. I think long before (don't quote me on this one) the word Chicano was claimed as a badge of pride. And then the Niggers followed. Maybe is time for us Spiks to take back the word.

Lourdes said...

Lots to think about and argue for and against in Mayra's essay. Well done.

I was agreeing with and enjoying the previous commenter's (Mercedes Villaman) response until the last couple lines.

I don't think the term "Chicano" in any way compares to how the term "N--" has been used as an expression of hate and racism. In fact, I don't really understand what the commenter meant by "and then the N---s followed."

Chicana/Chicano is certainly now a self-identifier used with pride, but I don't think the N-word has or ever will. Probably rightly so.

Mayra Lazara Dole said...

Lourdes, I agree with your comment and I'm not clear on what Mercedes meant when she used the "N" word. Mercedes, would you please further explain?

susan said...

"And then the Niggers followed. Maybe is time for us Spiks to take back the word."

What does this mean?

I never bought the bullshit about taking back the N word. Why would I want to own something that was only ever meant to hurt and scar in an indelible way?

I might not understand how Chicano is used or the debate surrounding it but I can't relate to why you'd compare it let alone fully use the N word.

And while a writer of your heritage has every right to entitled a book SPIK, believe me, I'd never would like many white people have stupidly done with the N word call you S-K. It's so out of line and it boggles my mind why we don't know when to remain outside a culture's own boundaries.

Mercedes A. Villaman said...

Sorry you took it that way. SPIKS is a beautiful book full of color and light. Pedro Juan Soto was a great writer (Wikipedia for quick info)We are not what people think or say we are. The word Nigger, that you don't dare to write, comes from the river Niger. Listen to the songs, poems, movies, books, jokes of... can I say Black Americans? They use the N word a lot, they own the word and not the other way around. I do have the impression that the Chicanos started to own that word as a way of dis-empower the ones that used to offend. They started the trend. That's what I meant by "and then the N... oops, I almost said it, followed. I base my opinion on observation of how the word is used today. But that is my opinion without intention to hurt or offend. In the movie Bulworth (1998)Halle Berry tells Warren Beatty, "You know you are my nigger". That line makes the movie. I learned the word Chicano the first I heard Carlos Santana playing his guitar in. And I learned the word Spik on that beautiful book. I did not meant to hurt anybody.

facebook status messages said...

its really very nice article and so much informative thanks for sharing this with us..

Color Online said...


Offended and hurt feelings are not the same for me. My feelings are not hurt and while you want to give me the origin of the word, that's not point. My point is the social and historical references.

I offered my opinion and that is that not all blacks embrace Nigger. Does that work for you now that I've written it? There is no power in using it that is why I don't.

You also did not acknowledge my other point which I think matters and that is to consider it is inappropriate for members outside of a group to use a word that is as polemic as Nigger.

I don't know anything about the book, SPIKS and I was not criticizing it. I said I would not refer to anyone of Latino heritage with the word.

Halle Berry is an actor, using the word in context I'm assuming by your reference. That has nothing to do with blacks who reject the word or my argument that I think it is inappropriate for others to casually use it.

Mercedes A. Villaman said...

I was not using it casually, The forbidden N word, that is. I have put it into the context of how words loose their meaning, when people evolve and move on. My perception is that the word has changed and it is not the same for everybody today. I brought up the other words, Chicano and N as an example. Maybe they are the wrong example and you are the one who's right. Maybe I just like the word Spik and was trying to bring another perspective. I have nothing else to say.

rquesada said...

I have often found myself working backwards when attempting to clarify my identity, first clarifying that I am not Chicano, but I am Latino, and finally explaining that I identify as a Costa Rican or Costa Rican-American. In an article published by the Poetry Foundation in December, 2009, poet Rigoberto González briefly addressed the still too limited recognition of Chicano/Latino poets among the U.S. literary community. I was pleased to see the incorporation of the term Latino neighboring Chicano. While the Chicano community has certainly opened doors for Chicano & Latino writers over the past thirty years in the U.S., I have often sensed an ongoing marginalization of native Spanish speakers in the U.S. which were not Chicano. Understandably, the majority of Spanish speakers in the U.S. are Chicano or Mexican, yet it is important to recognize the diversity among our culture. I found your article to be very insightful and relevant to me. Thanks.

Mayra Lazara Dole said...

RQuesada, thanks for your input. I found your words just as insightful and relevant to me, too.

Birthday SMS said...

Amazing Post.

Pics are really great.

A+ grade form my side.