Monday, May 31, 2010

“Day of the Dead”: Novelist examines futility of war through events of a century ago

Book review by Daniel Olivas

In his new novel, Day of the Dead (Floricanto Press, $25.95 paperback), Manuel Luis Martinez shows us Mexico during the Revolution through the eyes of Berto Morales, an unremarkable man whose life crumbles when his wife, six months pregnant, is raped and murdered.

Martinez's narrative is tough and unsparing as we follow Morales on his quest to find his wife's murderers and exact a form of justice. But his journey becomes complicated as he develops friendships, and even falls in love, against the brutal backdrop of the Revolution.

Martinez is a native Texan who attended St. Mary's University in San Antonio, completed a master of arts in creative writing at Ohio State University, and then earned a doctorate from Stanford University. He is an associate professor at Ohio State University, teaching 20th-century American literature, American studies, Chicano-Latino studies and creative writing.

Day of the Dead is certainly a departure from Martinez's previous novels, Crossing (Bilingual Press) and Drift (Picador USA), both of which touched on contemporary issues.

"The reason I set Day of the Dead during the Mexican Revolution was because I wanted, partially, to reflect on the morass that is the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, but I didn't want to write directly about the conflict," he told me.

"At the same time, Berto's story had been something I wanted to write for 20 years, but I hadn't gotten to it because I knew I needed to spend more time in Mexico and to educate myself a great deal on Mexican history and politics before I could start."

Martinez's research is readily apparent from the first few pages of the novel, particularly in passages depicting the almost-random violence visited upon Mexico's populace.

"I stayed close to the actual accounts of the battle for Torreon," he said. "It was a horrific war aimed largely at terrifying innocent people."

Through Berto's eyes, the Revolution offers no obvious delineation between heroes and villains.

"I think that history shows that most starters of wars have no idea how awful a price war exacts," Martinez said. "People get caught up in nationalist fervors, or they begin to believe the propaganda that war is justified, that it will be quick and decisive, a thing of 'shock and awe' that somehow rights great wrongs."

"So I do think (moral ambiguity) is a general aspect of war, but in Berto's case, I wanted to bring this principle down to the individual level. The moral ground is always shifting, and once one discovers that, the reason for war becomes almost impossible to grasp."

Regardless of a person's view of war and its repercussions, Day of the Dead tells a compelling story of an ordinary man's attempt to make sense out of staggering loss during one of the most violent chapters of Mexico's history. By any measure, this is a potent and enthralling novel.

[This review first appeared in the El Paso Times.]

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Alto Arizona: Pictures of Protest

Olga García Echeverría

Son las 2:00 de la mañana and I've just returned from Arizona's National Day of Action, where tens of thousands of us marched to protest Arizona's racist law, SB 1070. Although I have a lot to say about SB 1070, I have few words for La Bloga today porque...porque...Well, to be honest, my brain is totally fried. I'm exhausted, as I'm sure are the other 150 Angelenos who caravaned in buses, slept on dusty floors, and walked 5 plus miles to the state capital in 95 degree heat to voice outrage and opposition.
Pero donde faltan palabras hay fotos. I took hundreds of pictures of our trip to Arizona, but here are 42. ¿Cόmo va el dicho? A picture is worth a thousand words. 42 pictures X 1000 words = 42,000 words! Enjoy and adelante en lucha and love.
We were scheduled to leave on Friday morning at 8:30, pero you know how it is. We left closer to 10:00. In solidarity with our undocumented brothers and sisters and in opposition of SB 1070, we all agreed to leave all forms of identification behind.
The 10 stretches through the desert from Los Angeles to Phoenix. The highway is a reminder that we're connected--lo que pasa en Arizona afecta a Los Angeles and vice versa.
My view from the bus for about 7 hours. I kept thinking of Luis Urrea's The Devil's Highway.
Right after entering Arizona, we stopped for a quick restroom break. Arizona's state sign reads "The Grand Canyon State Welcomes You." Really? Prove it.
When we finally arrived to our destination--a warehouse in Maricopa County where we were all supposed to sleep--there was a bit of an issue. For starters, a permit to use the warehouse as a dormitory had not been secured. Also, the warehouse was directly across from a jail and sheriff's station. This sign above was posted on one of the doors. This was our welcome to Maricopa County. ¡Chale! ¡Vámonos!
We ended up in a luxury hotel called Hotel Resistencia, AKA a community Chicano center where we felt safe and welcomed and where we didn't have to break the Arizona boycott.
Aquí duermen dreamers y luchadores. ¡Vivan las sleeping bags!
After unpacking, we headed over to a community concert/festival where artists were making stencil political posters on the spot. For free!
Hot off the stencil presses! Signs of protest in the hands of proud protestors.
Dolores Huerta is with us.
Black & brown coalitions are with us. This beautiful poster is by Cesar Maxit from DC.
Artista Raul Gonzalez from Los Angeles paints his heart out against a chainlink fence.
The next day at the National Day of Action. More cool stencil art.
Visit and please help support the Dream Act!
This was one of my favorite signs. It was visiting Phoenix from Oakland. Yes, I agree, if fricking capital can cross borders, so can we! Gracias.

¡Vivan las teachers (with or without accents)!

¡Se ve, se siente, el pueblo está presente!

Another one of my favorite signs.

It took about 20 people to carry this huge banner that reads, "The country that speaks of freedom and justice USA has 12 million hardworkers in the shadows with no rights...for generations."
That's right!

This was painted on one of the many protests signs.
This lovely Black woman brought out her mangera and watered protestors, cooling us down with light drizzle and chorritos de agua. I felt like a kid again. Gracias!

Protestor in pink eating a paleta.

Look what the racist bastards did to poor Dora.

Pero, it's not a beaten up Dora that I want to end with. Claudia, one of the participants in our caravan for justice, holds up a political poster that sums up the spirit and message of the Arizona protest: Undocumented Unafriad. No Tenemos Miedo!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Stop SB 1070!

Jornalerod CD CoverIn an effort to raise funds for the organizing and litigation effort in Arizona against SB 1070, Los Jornaleros del Norte, the people's band, have released a 10-track CD titled, "Que No Pare la Lucha," their third album release. With their new album, Los Jornaleros again put music to life, work, struggle and hope.

The release of their album could not be more timely. With the upcoming National Day of Action on May 29th in Phoenix, AZ, Los Jornaleros will once again lend their talents and passion for music and social justice to the march and rally, uniting the immigrant community and their allies under a common goal: Peace, Dignity and Justice for All.

Because the organizing efforts do require lots of resources, personnel, and legal fees, Los Jornaleros have decided to donate all of the proceeds of their album to the AltoArizona campaign. We are encouraging your support to this effort by going to the AltoArizona music site, purchasing the album (only $10, or more, if you wish) and sharing the link with family and friends on your social networks.

AltoArizona has made it as easy as possible to preview the album, purchase and share links to the music online. The title track, Que No Pare la Lucha, is available for free download.

The following are the names of the 10 tracks included:

1. Que No Pare la Lucha (free) 02:41
2. El Cochinito 04:12
3. Dónde Está la Justicia 04:34
4. La Movidita 02:38
5. Deportación Expres 04:49
6. No Dejes de Luchar 02:12
7. Acordeoncito 05:20
8. Traguito de Dignidad 03:52
9. La Redadas 06:27
10. Carwashero (Lava coches) 06:01

Included with your purchase, you will receive front and back CD cover art, liner notes, and 2 hidden bonus tracks!!

Click here for preview & album purchase.

The National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) thanks you for your support in this critical moment in history. We look forward to seeing you at the march in Phoenix on the 29th and to your local solidarity actions being planned on the AltoArizona shared actions/events page.

Please feel free to forward this message on to your networks to support our efforts in Arizona

In Solidarity,

Pablo Alvarado
National Day Laborer Organizing Network

Jornalero Group Photo

Videos: Are You Coming to Arizona?, Latino Lawmakers Urge Veto of SB1070

Who will La Bloga interview next?

In our years online, La Bloga has nurtured a significant body of lore in the form of interviews of Chicano authors, poets and others, and non-Chicanos as well. Coincidentally we know the site is used by students, collegiate and non, literally across the planet, although we have little info on the numbers or purposes. I'd assume many are students using La Bloga material to bulk up their theses or term papers. Qué bueno!

The interviews do and will serve a higher purpose than bibliographical
cites; they're the authors' own words about what inspired them, how they write, and why, where they come from and where they think Chicano lit might be headed. In that sense they're a pulse of how Chicano lit lives and breathes, and one day, dies, though the authors' prose and poesy lives on.

La Bloga
's staff is a bunch of dedicated individuals who've managed to build this body of work into something we know is enjoyed, utilized and perhaps even visited every day by many. But, given the inherently thin definition of what constitutes our staff, we could use help from readers.

We'd like your ideas about adding to this body of literary history:

We're especially open to interviews of those who've published books or collections in hard copy. At the same time, someone who's published stories, poems, essays, etc. in several publications could also deserve our attention, within our given time constraints.

We're not limited to covering Chicanos. We've been known to post interviews of
boriquas, newyorquians, mexicanos, peludos y a veces the occasional gringo, even.

If you as a reader would enjoy seeing an interview of a particular author, poet, editor,
o cualquier tipo del mundo de literatura, write one or all of us and let us know who that is, especially if you have a way of contacting them that we might not.

Autor, autor!

Or if you yourself are published and have wondered why we never contacted you before,
mándanos un mensaje, and we might surprise you. I assure you we've never meant to neglect anyone; it's just how slowly La Bloga works as an unpaid enterprise. So, contact us, whether you're Gabriel Garcia Marquez or quién-sabe-quién.

Hell, if you're a gringo and think you'd pass RudyG's
CACA test with flying burrito colors, send that E-mail. At the same time, if you think that test is un montón de mierda fuchi then write one of the other more sensible Bloguistas.

Obviously, we'll get to authors with published novels before those with online pubs, but perhaps you're a rising star and
La Bloga should get in your face with our interview mike before you're beyond us.

Additionally, if you're not an author per se, but somehow involved in the literary world--an editor, for instance--and think La Bloga would benefit from your participation, let us know.

Yes, we're always open to reprinting interviews, as space permits, and to interviews done by guest bloguistas. But of course we love seeing our own words online and hope to hear about more candidates we've yet to interview.

Today's my first day of dis-employment,
estoy bien cansado por sacar todas mis libros y las otras cosas de mi salón de clase. So,

es todo, hoy,


Friday, May 28, 2010

La Mission, Teatro Pregones, Latino Book Awards

June 4th
6pm EXCLUSIVE RECEPTION with special guest Benjamin Bratt

Reception includes: Low riders, old school music, delicious food and of course, Benjamin Bratt!

7pm LA MISSION screening $25/TICKET (includes reception and movie)

AMC 24 HIGHLANDS RANCH 103 Centennial Blvd, Littleton, CO 80129


The journey to Hawaii in the early 1900's set to contemporary music -- reggaeton, plena, pop, rock.

June 10th, 11th and 12th at 7:30pm

$18 General, $15 Stu/Sen, $12 for groups over 12 people

Presented at the Denver Civic Theatre 721 Santa Fe, Denver, CO


Congratulations to all those who received recognition from the International Latino Book Awards, presented May 25 at BookExpo America. You can see the complete list of honorees at this link.

A special tip of the ole sombrero to fellow bloguero René Colato Lainez for Rene Has Two Last Names/René tiene dos appellidos (Arte Público Press), which received Honorable Mention in the Best Children's Picture Book (
Bilingual) category; and to good friends Rudolfo Anaya for 2d Place for The Essays (University of Oklahoma Press) in the Best Biography (English) category, and Lucha Corpi, who won the award for Best Mystery Novel (English) for Death at Solstice (Arte Público Press.)


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Student Strike at the UPR

For 36 days the students of the University of Puerto Rico have been on strike, closing down an 11-campus system with over 60,000 students. It all began in mid-April as a short-term measure to call for greater transparency in budget-balancing initiatives aimed, in part, at ending merit scholarships and funding for arts and athletics programs.

I’ve been following the strike from afar, listening to radiohuelga and watching impromptu video reports on youtube. I watched with second-hand nostalgia as students hunkered down behind closed gates, determined to stay “as long as it takes” to make their voices heard.

And they have stayed... despite riot police and calls from officials to prevent supplies from reaching them. They have courageously defied the intimidation, Masada-like, but hopefully with a better outcome. While public support has been strong, government and university officials seem eager to prolong the waiting game. Let’s see who gives up first. Let’s see how long our ADD society of media junkies can remain tuned to the student struggle. And now, after a first tragic death attributed to the strike, it looks like the scale may be tilting the other way...

Regardless of the outcome, there have already been many victories. For this generation of students to be organized in nonviolent protest is already a victory. For the actors who took to the streets with riot gear made out of cardboard and brooms to sweep the streets, parodying the disproportionate police force, that’s already a victory. And for us who watch and read from afar, for making us rethink our role as artists, writers and teachers... that’s yet another victory.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Children and the immigration debate: A sneak peek at FROM NORTH TO SOUTH

From Children's Book Press

Lately, it seems as if immigration is all over the news. Yet despite all the debate going on, the experience of children who are caught up in this issue is often overlooked.

That is, until now. The recent incident at a Washington DC-area school, in which a second grader told First Lady Michelle Obama that her mother was here illegally, has sparked quite a buzz among the talking heads in the media.

Author René Colato Laínez knows about this issue all too well. His new book with Children’s Book Press, From North to South / Del Norte al Sur, deals with the experience of family separation due to a parent's precarious immigration status. The book will be released in September of 2010.

René has written many children’s books about the immigrant experience. Born in El Salvador, he fled his civil war–ravaged country as an adolescent and entered the United States an undocumented immigrant. Now a US citizen, René is an elementary school teacher in Los Angeles, where, everyday, he sees the harsh realities that impact immigrants and their children.

In the book’s introduction, René writes:
“I am an elementary school teacher. My students’ and my own immigrant experience have been the inspiration for many of my books. One day, one of my students was crying because her father had been deported to Tijuana, Mexico. I discovered that many of the other children had cousins, uncles, or neighbors who had been deported, too. Most of my students had been born in the United States, and it is hard for them to see their loved ones forced to leave this country. For these children, family separation is a traumatic experience.”

Clearly, there will be and should be more discussion about this issue in the months to come. Check back often here at the Many Voices blog, where we’ll be posting more features, news, and information about From North to South.

And for those of you attending BookExpo America in New York City this week, find us at the Publishers Group West booth (#4310) where you can take a sneak peek at this important, timely new book.

 The Tooth Fairy Meets El Ratón Peréz Book Trailer

My friend Tina Nichols Coury made this fantastic book trailer. Visit her at

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

NLWC Keynote Address. On-Line Floricanto.

National Latino Writers Conference (Albuquerque, NM) Keynote Speech

Rigoberto González
May 20, 2010

Before I begin I would like to thank the organizers of the National Latino Writers Conference for inviting me to participate this morning as the keynote speaker at this exemplary gathering. This is the 8th year of building community, of fostering creativity and critique, and of guiding early-career writers toward mentorships and professional relationships with established writers whose generosity and insights are shaping the next generation of artists. To be honest, there is nothing unusual about these expectations at any writers conference, and there are dozens that take place across the country--most of them perfectly competent and useful. But what makes this conference so unique is that it is ours--a forum that has facilitated the face-to-face communication between Chicano/Latino writers, readers, and thinkers. And for that, I congratulate all of you who have sacrificed time and resources to contribute to that experience.

The year is 2010. And though we are currently standing beneath the shadow of the anti-immigrant and anti-raza legislation of our neighbors in Arizona (and let us hope that the disease of xenophobia is not contagious), I am going to keep my message positive this morning because, despite these acts of hostility against our people, there is much for us to celebrate. And if we do not recognize our successes, if we do not toast our triumphs, then we surrender to the afflictions of inferiority, invisibility and silence--the three disgraces of American politics and culture.

The year is 2010. To our left we have the U.S. Census, which will confirm for the country what we have always known when we wake up in the mornings to see the Aztec sun casting its rays over Aztlán: that we are plentiful, that we are here, that we are never leaving, that we will not be thrown out. To our right, we have the smoky memory of revolution, the cycle come back to the days of reckoning--1810, 1910, 2010--not only have we populated this land, we have also shaped its language, built its cities, spun its tales and written its songs. This is, indeed, nuestra tierra and we will keep the roots of our family and history embedded deeply into its indigenous and mestizo core.

But now come the important questions: How will each of us accept that responsibility? How will we contribute to this movimiento during this critical period of adversity? How will we know that we are marching on the correct path?

Since I am speaking in front of a group of poets and writers, I will speak to the answers through a cultural lens, acknowledging one of the greatest strengths of our community: its artistic muscle. Art and poetry, danza y teatro, cuento y canto, have always been essential components of the Latino cultural identity. From the pachanga navideña to the quinceañera, from the floricanto to the academic encuentros, we express ourselves through the arts because it is who we are: people who value creativity and imagination. Just look around you: the colorful palette of our folklore, the ingenious architecture of our altars, the linguistic textures of our slang, our names, our adivinanzas, the panoramic flavors in our foods, the range of decibels in our music, our cyber-chisme, our rascuachismo--it is all us all up in here, Senator Jan Brewer.

The impulse to dance and sing and, yes, the impulse to write it all down, to record and remember, is as natural and familiar to us as the impulse to breathe. And it is with great urgency that we need more of that breath.

There has been much to-do about how Chicano/ Latino writers are now getting their due, getting their props for their hard work, getting published more and winning more awards. And yes, all of those points of progress are true and they are real. And they are ours. And yet, if we allow those statements to settle without further exploration, it would appear that only until recently have we discovered our talents. Or rather, that only until recently have we been discovered, which is to say, only until the white industries and institutions saw us did we see ourselves.

Let us not drop into the pitfall of charting our history and our territory using the maps and timelines of those who came to our neighborhoods long after the ink had had dried on our pages. If we accept those observations as facts, we neglect the labor of previous generations of writers who produced and didn’t get published, who shared and didn’t garner those accolades, who educated and were not memorialized. I find it hopeful that we have many more opportunities to spread the word, but I will find it shameful if we move forward as if we had invented that word. So let us speak frankly about where we are now, by first paying tribute to those who paved the way toward the privilege of authorship and of organizing literary gatherings like this one, the 8th National Latino Writers Conference.

If we learn anything from this recent bout of American societal anxiety, it is that numbers don’t signify safety or acceptance or victory. In NYC, in the place I now call home, Mexicans will outnumber Dominicans and Puerto Ricans by the year 2025. By the year 2050, Latinos will outnumber all other minority groups in the country. You would think that this relatively quick population explosion--indeed the browning of the USA--would also translate into population explosions in other areas, like education and the arts. It will only seem that way because of the social networking media and technology that allows us to connect with other artists with a speed and efficiency that has never been experienced before. The truth is there will not be more of us, we will only be more aware of who and where we are. Only by choice will an artist remain detached or isolated, only by choice will a poet or writer remain disconnected from a literary forum. I say this as both an advantage to the young talent aiming to see itself as part of a bigger picture, but also as a disadvantage of skewed perception: there are not more of us and our numbers as artists, compared to our ethnic population, is and will remain devastatingly small.

This might sound as a contradiction to what I announced earlier, that the arts were the vibrant fabric of Latino cultural identity--but it is not a contradiction, it is complexity, and I’m referring to the specific representation in letters. Instead let us look at this as a challenge: and that challenge is in sustaining and empowering the writer. If we do not build, now that we have the tools, a system of nurturing and professionalizing the young writer, we will lose that writer, will we lose a warrior in the battle of the word against inferiority, invisibility and silence.

So let me now pose the following points as a framework of responsibility to all of us inhabiting the Chicano/ Latino literary landscape. This framework is a strategy for survival if we are to move ahead into the new millennium as champions of our own cause. It’s actually a simple formula, but a hard one to achieve without the collaborative energy to fuel it. This two-point prong is mentorship and community.

For the young members of our audience: learn who your literary antepasados are, know their names and read their words. This will keep your humility in check and your esteem on fire. Recognize that your influences are from a variety of bookshelves, not just writings from Chicano/ Latino writers, but also the writings from our Latin American cousins, plus the works in translation from Africa, Europe and Asia. Embrace your town or village or city but locate it within a larger map--world literature.

Never be ashamed or embarrassed to call yourself a Latino writer. In fact, be more specific, call yourself a Chicano writer, a Dominican writer, a Puerto Rican writer, a Cuban writer, or any configuration or combination of these and other identities. Situate yourself within a nation and an immigrant history, it is what preserves the integrity of the sacrifices of your people and the loss of your people’s homeland. I’m frequently dismayed by Latino writers who subscribe to the notion of wanting to “just be a writer, not a Latino writer,” as if that designation “Latino writer” wasn’t true. Unless you don’t carry any signifier of ethnicity in your name, unless your work doesn’t illustrate your cultural identity, unless you can pass for white, you will never be “just a writer.” By moving forward with this delusional goal you are betraying your own inferiority complex, you are buying into the stigma imposed by the mainstream publishing industry that you are lesser than, regional, foreign, and derivative. This is why you need to read your literary antepasados--so that you can navigate the troubled waters of doubt, writers block or other creative frustrations with the strength and pride of those who came before you.

For those of you who have started publishing or who are in the early stages of a career, those of you who have one or two books under your belt, don’t rest on your laurels and expect the readers to come to you. Take some initiative and become your own best advocate: learn to speak in public, to articulate matters of craft and all things literature. You learn these skills by attending readings and listening to the seasoned voices, by attending conferences like AWP or this one, the 8th National Latino Writers Conference, and absorbing the wisdom, advice and knowledge of your instructors. And recognize that even at this level you already have something to teach others--share your mistakes and your moments of success. And don’t forget, as you further your career, that you are more than “just a writer.” You are also a role model: take responsibility for your public appearances, choose your words carefully and fight with intelligence--you are now a public figure, generate praise for those who are your colleagues not your competition, and don’t become that writer who chooses to remain detached or isolated, who chooses to remain disconnected from any literary forum. That sidestepping of accountability to your artistic community is nothing short of selfishness. Such weakness is the weight around the necks of the rest of us who must pull forward a little harder because you won’t.

You are a Latino writer, so you are also an empowered voice: speak out through your poems, through your stories, but also through editorials and informed opinions. Write those essays or blog entries, those words of critique and protest. Become politicized because writing is political, Latino identity is a political stance. Have you not heard that “breathing while brown” is the latest oppression? Or are you “just a person” as you are “just a writer”? Being afraid is no longer an excuse, it’s a surrender. What use is our growth in numbers if we start censoring our language, tempering our tones and apologizing for our passions, our outrage and our cries for justice. We cannot hide behind the politeness of our advanced degrees or beneath the decorum of art spaces. Avoid the trapping of early success, called complacency, and tell yourself that if you don’t rock the boat you will be fine. Cowardice is never rewarded. Writing is not a static activity it is activism. Learn it and then teach it to others.

For the more seasoned writers in the room, I know you have journeyed far and labored tirelessly all these years, well, I am now asking you to work harder by keeping the doors you kicked open cleared for the rest of us. Too many times I have heard the doors slam shut as soon as one of us makes it in. Fortunately, there are many members of this elite group who mentor, who write reviews and endorsements on book jackets, who write letters of recommendation and academic evaluations, who introduce younger writers to editors, agents, and publishers. To those people I say thank you, and may you continue to do what you do and what we appreciate.

The tragic side of that coin is that there are writers who do not contribute to the efforts of mentorship, who guard their writing time so jealously they see the rest of us as termites who will chew through the walls of their writing rooms if they even acknowledge us. They shall remain nameless, and may the Latino community repay them with the same level of affection and warmth that they have bestowed upon us. Como decía mi abuelita María: ¡Cuernos!

And finally, this call goes out to anyone who will respond to it: we need more critics. As an executive board member of the National Book Critics Circle, an organization that has been granting career-making awards for the last 36 years, I am one of only a handful of Latino critics. In fact, most of us (and that number is four--one, two, three, four) have served on the twenty-four member executive board within the last five years.

Literary criticism is a sophisticated community conversation between the writer, the reader and the critic. It is the evaluation that places the art within various social and cultural contexts, and that engages the power and relevance of a book. We can still have readers and writers without the critic, that’s true, but the critic is also an important translator for those who insist on believing that Latino writing is lesser than, regional, foreign, and derivative. The only training you need to become a critic is to be a good reader and to develop a critical position: Do you like the book? Why or why not? We need the critics writing for blogs, for journals, for newsletters and literary Websites. We can’t only write the books, we need to talk about them. More specifically, we need to read and talk about each others’ books. It never ceases to surprise me when I find out that Latino writers have not read the books by other Latino writers. It’s like those people who don’t read poetry but write it, and then expect the rest of us to be the readers they are not. What kind of message are we sending to our fellow writers: “You’re not worth reading but I am”? What kind of narcissism is that? I know, it’s those writers who shall remain nameless again, isn’t it?

But not always. The truth is that criticism is one level of literary activism that remains neglected by most of us. It’s so easy when we pretend we’re “just writers” and not critics. It’s so easy when we convince ourselves that it’s a whole other genre, better left to the intellectuals and academics who “do that kind of thing.” I’ll say this: if you are thinking about what you are reading, then you can be a critic. Read more, read better, and you will be a kick-ass critic. We need those voices to speak up in the face of those who will continue to dismiss our literature as lesser than, regional, foreign, and derivative.

Only if this multi-layered effort is made can we thrive as a community of artists and can we begin to celebrate that our bookshelves are expanding and that the number of nationally-recognized names is growing. Only then can we hold the ladder for those who are reaching the top and for those who are about to step onto the first important rungs. Only then will numbers have meaning and agency and endurance.

I’d like to close by addressing the participants of this, the 8th National Latino Writers Conference (I like repeating that name because nowhere else does something like this exist, so I want to keep it alive on my tongue and savor the wondrous beauty of it).

Esteemed new members of the Latino writing community, esteemed participants of the 8th National Latino Writers Conference, write and write well. You are artists in a time of crisis, and these conflicts will burden you as much as they will inspire you to move that pen over paper or to press down on those keys on the board. Our veteran writers are dying, our seasoned writers are weary, and the world we live in is not the peaceful, tolerant eden our immigrant pioneers envisioned for us, their descendants. But it is still a world worth fighting for and one of those unflappable weapons we have inherited is language. Each of us here knows the power of literacy: did not that first book you held in your hands initiate a voyage that has brought you to this port? Did not that first childish scribble with pencil or Crayon set aflame that dream of authoring an entire book?

Now you must dream bigger dreams and envision possibilities beyond being “just a writer.” This country already has plenty of writers, it’s activist writers who are is short supply and in loud demand as we continue to gain momentum as Latino artists and lose ground as Latino citizens. These two roles (artist and citizen) are not mutually exclusive, they are perpetually linked, and if one breaks down, the other will collapsed right on top of it.

The year is 2010. The plagues of the past have been resurrected, but so too the fury of the antidote. Let us fight our battles with poetry, with theater, with story, and let us lace those words with culture and history. Let us stand our ground over nuestra tierra. Esta es nuesta tierra, this is our land. So allow us, those who came before, those who wrote it down in the first decade of the new millennium, to be remembered by those who will write it down in the next decade of the new millennium. That’s how it works--one link locking around another, one branch holding up the next--so that together we remain unbreakable, unshakable.

So keep that in mind as you engage in the power of the word these next few days. This is a life-changing writers conference, but you should expect nothing less from it because it is a Latino writers conference. Much is at stake in the teaching and the learning, because much is at stake in the writing. We have made incredible strides as a visible artist community, but not without sacrifice and certainly not without struggle. Now there will be more sacrifice and more struggle, but take comfort in the company you will keep.

Muchísimas gracias and have a life-changing time at the 8th National Latino Writers Conference.

Poets Respond to Arizona Hate Laws: On-Line Floricanto

1. "Chook Son, Arizona" by Abel Salas
2. "Wolf and Spider House" by Israel Francisco Haros López
3. "Escritores del Nuevo Sol" by Phil Goldvarg
4. "brə-sâr'ō" by Rachelle Linda Escamilla
5. "Qué Pinche" by Alma Luz Villanueva
6. "Whale Songs" by Francisco X. Alarcón

Chook Son, Arizona

Palabra de mis primos pimas
cuz'ya know cuahuiltecas
y mexicas came for trade
and water from the black
creek like a diamond snake
simbolo de parientes y
decendientes de quetzalcoatl
so what if your paranoid
rancheros who fled San Joaquin
and a stormtrooper, rabid
dog sheriff akin to Himmler
whose name is on a page
next to the governor who
signs the legislation that
labels you all forever as
paranoid troglodytes
will soon be unable even to
communicate with your
own grandchildren for
fear of a bilingual nation
brown and proud, a nation
that honors the apache
warriors who fought hard
and fast for a desert
homeland security you
could not nor would not
fathom because the rocks
and the mesquite did not
welcome you with love.
Inside your own hearts you
know the brutality which
you feel you must inflict on us
to protect a way of life
that is a vapor slowly fading
Oyeme bien arizona, mas que
tu mitad es mi brazo y mi
herencia. My familiy has
harvested cotton in Casa
Grande for as long as I
can remember. And my
father's nephews have
made camp and compromise
with your redneck yahoo
truck stop regulars for near
half a century. That steel
sprung mixteca standing
alongside a zapoteca and
a maya who are willing to
work from sun up to sun fall
are the clave to your only future
but you have become so
dimwitted and angry you can only
answer with violence and
reprimand, take away the
books and the platica that
will make your young ones
free and full. We do not seek
an overthrow or a coup, çuz
we know how to share. We've
been doing it for 15,000 years
in Tucson and across the two
continents you invaded with
bloodshed and greed from
across an ocean like pillagers
in your storied viking plunder
pride legends, the same ego
that made some among you
imagine a master race and
liquidate artists, truthtellers,
singers and sacerdotes who
were not like you. Be assured,
Arizona es nuestro and your helpless
hold on a reality that evaporates
more each day is the epitome
of lo precario. I wish I could feel
more sympathy and empathy
but I'm too busy learning and
teaching ethnic studies by virtue
of my simple existence. Nuestras
voces se unen y no nos puedes
callar aunque te parezca una
pesadilla de los peores.
Welcome to 2012, where we
will wait with a warm cup of
xocolatl just for you in the
name of peace and harmony

abel salas
lincoln heights, califaztlan
15 de mayo, 2010

Wolf and Spider House by Israel Francisco Haros Lopez

illegal lettuce illegal oranges illegal restaurants illegal clean restrooms illegal bathed children illegal tennis shoes illegal television illegal media illegal dental work illegal dvds illegal ipods illegal coca cola illegal oil rigs illegal capitalism illegal strawberries illegal agricultural illegal hollywood illegal fixing of your motor for below pep boy costs illegal building of your houses illegal home illegal turtel island illegal stars and stripes illegal pow wow illegal buffalo bill illegal papers illegal laws illegal tonantzin illegal water illegal river illegal tonatiuh illegal codices illegal burritos salsa y casi no mas ketchup illegal takos illegal sweating backs illegal blood illegal influenza illegal education illegal human rights illegal children illegal fire illegal stone illegal memory illegal inheritiance of land liberty and the pursuit of someone else's happiness illegal golden streets illegal steel illegal border zebra illegal micky mouse tweety y super man azteka spider man calendar illegal hope illegal new consciosness illegal time illegal teolol illegal corn illegal trees illegal love medicine illegal true freedom illegal wine cellars illegal mortar builders illegal penetration illegal ghosts illegal chihuahuas y coyotes illegal maya wolves illegal tolteca condors illegal mexican american hummingbirds y serpientes sin papeles illegal red earth black earth illegal poems illegal faces illegal facelessbook illegal words illegal tongue illegal tanks illegal videogames training children for future war crimes illegal times illegal manifest illegal destinies illegal hope illegal scribe illegal laptop artmaker illegal emotion illegal laws illegal ometeo illegal hands illegal yollotl illegal breath

Legalized temporarily
by Israel Francisco Haros Lopez
con mini-safos 2010

"Los Escritores del Sol" by Phil Goldvarg (1934-2004)

Here is a poem written by the late Phil Goldvarg in November of 2003.

Los Escritores del Sol

estuvimos juntos ayer por la noche,
recuerdos del sol, luna y las estrellas,
comida, pan de amor,
cantos, pan del corazón,
pláticas chistosas y chistes,
chisme y cosas nuevas,
so many poetas,
we had to write one poem together
before we stopped eating,
si, es cierto Graciela,
qué suave el tiempo de nosotros,
hermanas y hermanos del Sol,
dancing palabras
across our embracing hearts.

Siempre con abrazos y cariño

phil goldvarg 11/16/03

brƏse(Ə)rō by Rachelle Linda Escamilla

Give us your arm, they said
and like the artichoke,
we pull away from a center.

By Alma Luz Villanueva

From San Miguel to
L.A., customs waiting
for baggage- on
the Mexican plane

I had my customary
shot of free tequila,
yes they serve you free
breakfast, juice, cerveza,

y tequila, the stewardess
always laughs as she
pours me a shot at
7am, only a few men

join me as we reach
the clouds, sun
rising, the burning comfort
of tequila with breakfast

tamale, juice, cafe-
so I'm feeling relaxed
till I read the sign in
customs: $500,000 fine

(approx) for smuggling fruit,
food, (whatever) across the
border- and I remember
my Mexican banana in

my purse, I forgot to eat
my Mexican banana, so I
quickly pull it out, begin
stuffing it in my mouth-

DOWN!" Jehovah booms

over the loud speaker, It's
a Mexican banana, mister,
so I stuff my entire
Mexican banana in my

laughing mouth, others
beginning to giggle with
me- he rushes out, fat
and red-faced, "I could

fine you for that,
lady!" he whines
without the loud
speaker, "I told you

to put that banana
down!" "The Mexican
banana is now in neutral
territory, my stomach,"

I stare him down, fighting
not to laugh, giggles spring
up around me, and as he
stomps back to his god

cage, the guy next to
me says, "Que pinche,"
which says it all, and I
want my 2nd shot of

tequila. Do they own all
the bananas on this Earth,
especially the Mexican
bananas I see in the

supermarkets USA,
do they own my eyes,
my hands, my feet, my
laughing mouth, and do

they even own my stomach,
my heart, the sweet womb that
my Yaqui Mexican grandmother
gave me, the fertile

womb that she gave
me, the defiant womb
that she gave me- all I
can say is,

after my 2nd
shot of
"Que pinche."

* * * *

San Miguel de Allende-
In the huge mercado,
market, vege vendors
wield their swords, slicing

papaya, mango, watermelon,
fat strawberries, for
you, "DESFRUTA" they
laugh, 'TASTE THIS,"

shoving it into your
hands, heavy, ripe, wet,
so delicious, sensual,
ALIVE with pleasure, Mexican

fruit, veges, no one
claiming dominion over your
eyes, hands, feet, laughing
mouth, heart, sweet womb,

your curious, hungry
stomach, DESFRUTA,
and I do and I do-

In the Mega supermarket
it's become a mercado,
freshly cooked food, piles
of tempting vegetables, fruit,

a pig's head decorated
with daisies, surrounded by
pastries, I've stopped
asking, Why this combo, I

Just enjoy the beauty, the
chaos, DESFRUTA-
people leap and smile to
price my red rice with veges,

quivering block of flan, stewed
broccoli, cauliflower, carrots
con cilantro, fresh red, green
salsas with chunks of

tomatoes, jalapenos floating-
piles of yellow and cobalt
blue corn tortillas, still
warm in their wrappings-

I'm so happy I don't
need a shot of tequila
(though I wouldn't pass
it up), and a young

woman has sample plastic
cups of the best, hey it's
10am, it is the best, she
smiles DESFRUTA-

the first time I saw
this I was tempted to
speed dial '911,' just
moved here- in the

wide vege, fruit area,
right in the center, a
butcher's block with an
immense machete, gleaming

and still wet, I watched
a woman pick a perfect,
so ripe, so fleshy, Mexican
papaya, brought it to

the butcher block, the
gleaming machete, she gently,
so lovingly, sliced it
open, revealing its endless

rows of black seed
glistening children that
taste like pepper compared to
their mother's sweet womb-

I walked over, picked a
perfect, green, so ripe watermelon,
to the butcher block, people
actually stopped to watch,

sensing my virgen journey of
the gleaming, wet machete,
I balanced it with my left
hand and gently, so lovingly,

sliced, revealing her sweet
juicy red womb, her tiny
hard black seed children,
and I stole a slim slice,

and people smiled DESFRUTA
and turned away, as
the perfectly ripe Mexican
watermelon melted in the

neutral territory of
my stomach, my curious
hungry human Yaqui
Mestiza stomach, I

placed the machete
down, wrapped the Mexican
watermelon in plastic, murmuring
'desfruta' all the way


To the ancient trade routes y el Kokopelli cantando...
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico-
May 9, 2010
Alma Luz Villanueva

"Whale Songs" by Francisco X. Alarcón

we have no one
but each other

this long night
is overtaking us

we’re whales
singing all alone

in this dark sea
trying to find

each other
in this big storm

oh, we’re singing
about blue skies

about bountiful
satisfying times

about rubbing
bodies and tails

oh, they got us
right this time

we’re harpooned
we’re going down

falling straight
down in a pool

of warm blood
signing as we fall

brothers, sisters
ram their ships

make them pay
dearly for the blood

they consciously
are willing to spill

they’re pulling us
up to their decks

we see their greed
on their long knives

we’re not yet dead
but we’re being cut

into mindless pieces
seagulls are plucking

both of our open eyes
oh, we're now singing

our last whale songs
calling out all whales;

oh, Father Sun, take
us into your hands

oh, Mother Sea, guard
the entrails they toss

discard to the waves.
oh, ancient whales

of the Arizona sea
desert, we call out

for your mighty
healing powers

make our nation
whole again

a welcoming
open sea to all

oh, sky whales
oh, sea whales

oh, land whales
oh, spirit whales

oh, whales
from the past

oh, whales
from the future

we call out
for you to undo

the wounds
they’ve done

set us free
all unharmed

we’ll praise
sing forever

the precious
gifts of this sky

of this land
this vast sea

that’s always
been ours

©2010 Francisco X. Alarcón


Abel Salas

Abel Salas is an LA journalist & poet, whose articles, poems & stories have appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Magazine, The Los Angeles Times, The Austin Chronicle and The Brownsville Herald among others. He has taught poetry in LA juvenile halls and at Corazón del Pueblo, a community arts center in the East Los barrio of Boyle Heights. He is the publisher and editor of Brooklyn & Boyle

Israel Francisco Haros López

Israel is a graduate of U.C. Berkeley with a degree in English and Xicano Studies and an M.F.A. from California College of the Arts. He is both a visual artist and performance artist. His work is an attempt to search for personal truths and personal histories inside of american cosmology. The american cosmology and symbolism that he is drawing from is one that involves both northern and southern america that was here before columbus. The work both written and that which is painted is attempting to mark and remark historical points in the americas and the world.The mark making attempts to speak to the undeniable presence of a native america that will continue to flourish for generations to come.The understanding which he is drawing from is not conceptual but fact and points to the importance of honoring and remembering ancestral ways of living as a means of maintaining healthy relations with all humans,the winged, all those that crawl on this Earth, all Life, the Water, the Sacred Fire, Tonanztin, Tonatiuh,the Sacred Cardinal Points,everything inbetween, above and below and at the center of self and all things in the universe.
His Poetry can be heard at
He can be found creating poetry and arte on Facebook

Philip Michael Goldvarg

Philip Michael Goldvarg (born 13 March 1934-died 14 June 2004) was an committed poet, activist and member of the Zapatista Solidarity Coalition and of Los Escritores del Nuevo Sol, a writers' collective of Sacramento, California, founded by Francisco X. Alarcón in 1993. The Sacramento Poetry Center dedicated the July 2004 issue of POETRY NOW to Phil: "He was a generous and loving man who always had a warm smile, welcoming handshake, and generous hug when he greeted you.

He was passionate about everything he did and provided inspiration for us all to become better citizens, poets, and people." His friends everywhere still miss him.

Rachelle Linda Escamilla

Rachelle Linda Escamilla is a three time James Phelan Literary Award winner, the recipient of the Virginia de Arujo Academy of American Poets, and the Dorritt Sibley Poetry prize. Her poems have been published by Hinchas de Poesia, A Joint Called Pauline, and A Women's Journey. She has one chapbook of poetry, Bautismo, and an interactive chapbook, Here. She is a student at the University of Pittsburgh's MFA program.

Alma Luz Villanueva

lma Luz Villanueva. Author of eight books of poetry, most recently, 'Soft Chaos' (2009). A few poetry anthologies: 'The Best American Poetry, 1996,' 'Unsettling America,' 'A Century of Women's Poetry,' 'Prayers For A Thousand Years, Inspiration from Leaders & Visionaries Around The World.' Three novels: 'The Ultraviolet Sky,' 'Naked Ladies,' 'Luna's California Poppies,' and the short story collection, 'Weeping Woman, La Llorona and Other Stories.' Some fiction anthologies: '500 Great Books by Women, From The Thirteenth Century,' 'Caliente, The Best Erotic Writing From Latin America,' 'Coming of Age in The 21st Century,' 'Sudden Fiction Latino.' The poetry and fiction has been published in textbooks from grammar to university, and is used in the US and abroad as textbooks. Has taught in the MFA in creative writing program at Antioch University, Los Angeles, for the past eleven years. And is the mother of four, wonderful, grown human beings.

Now living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, for the past five years, traveling the ancient trade routes to return to teach, and visit family and friends, QUE VIVA

Francisco X. Alarcón

Francisco X. Alarcón, award winning Chicano poet and educator, born in Los Angeles, in 1954, is author of eleven volumes of poetry, including, From the Other Side of Night: Selected and New Poems (University of Arizona Press 2002), and Snake Poems: An Aztec Invocation (Chronicle Books 1992)m Sonetos a la locura y otras penas / Sonnets to Madness and Other Misfortunes (Creative Arts Book Company 2001), De amor oscuro / Of Dark Love (Moving Parts Press 1991, and 2001).

His most recent book of bilingual poetry for children, Animal Poems of the Iguazú (Children’s Book Press 2008), was selected as a Notable Book for a Global Society by the International Reading Association, and as an Américas Awards Commended Title by the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs. His previous bilingual book titled Poems to Dream Together (Lee & Low Books 2005) was awarded the 2006 Jane Addams Honor Book Award.

Children’s Book Press of San Francisco published his acclaimed “Magic Cycle of the Seasons” that includes four titles: Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems (1997) awarded the 1997 Pura Belpré Honor Award by the American Library Association and the National Parenting Publications Gold Medal; From the Bellybutton of the Moon and Other Summer Poems (1998) that received the 2000 Pura Belpré Honor Award; Angels Ride Bikes and Other Fall Poems (1999); his fourth book of bilingual poems for children, Iguanas in the Snow and Other Winter Poems (2001) received the 2002 Pura Belpré Honor Award.

He has been a finalist nominated for Poet Laureate of California in two occasions. He teaches at the University of California, Davis. He is the creator of the Facebook page POETS RESPONDING TO SB 1070 that you can visit at: