Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Guest Columnists: Nina Forsythe Reviews Bernardo and the Virgin. Jean Gillis on La Mission. On-line Floricanto: Poets respond to Arizona's hate laws.

Review: Bernardo and the Virgin
by La Bloga Guest Columnist Nina Forsythe

Silvio Sirias. Bernardo and the Virgin. Chicago: Northwestern Univ Press, 2007.
ISBN: 9780810124271 0810124270

Ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and especially since the attack on the Twin Towers by Al Queda in 2001, the attention of Americans has shifted from "Communist threats" to "Islamic fundamentalist threats." The Nicaraguan Sandinista revolution of the 1970s and the Contra War of the 1980s, including the Iran-Contra scandal, which provoked such alarm about the peril in "our backyard," have receded from memory. Most of us never had any idea how the events of those turbulent decades were perceived by Nicaraguans, but it's a perspective worth appreciating, both for its own sake and for what it might imply about the complexities of the Islamic world in today's conflicts.

One of the most fascinating news stories that hardly got any ink in the U.S. was a series of visitations by the Virgin Mary reported by a poor tailor and sacristan in the back-of-beyond village of Cuapa. The effects of the apparitions, beginning in May 1980, less than 10 months after the Sandinistas had finally toppled the Somoza dictatorship, reverberated throughout a deeply divided, war-ravaged nation.

This real event is the basis for a novel by Nicaraguan-American Silvio Sirias. Bernardo and the Virgin tells the tale of the seer, the apparitions, and how they touched the lives of the people of Nicaragua. At the heart of this work of fiction is the real-life tailor Bernardo Martínez, but woven around him are the stories of numerous fictional characters whose lives intersect, in one way or another, with his.

And what a motley crew they are. They run the gamut from a giddy, young girl impatient for love to an abrasive seller of religious supplies and her womanizing partner, from a right-wing crusading priest (and CIA operative) to a hardened Sandinista National Security agent, from a devoted 4’11” nun who carries around a 2” statue of the Virgin to a professor having a devastating mid-life crisis. They even include the ex-pat Nicaraguan community in the U.S. Some try to distort the Virgin’s message in various ways, either to undermine the church or to undermine the government, but most are preoccupied by their personal troubles. The stories range from deeply moving to humorous. One of the most hilarious chapters is, believe it or not, about a self-absorbed literary theorist.

The cast of characters, varied as it is, does not become unwieldy because their stories eventually intertwine. As a result, the reader gets a different perspective on an earlier character. Sometimes a later story undermines a previous interpretation; other stories provide a fuller understanding of an earlier event. Not all the characters are equally fleshed out; Father Damian Innocent MacManus, for example, seems more caricature than real. While there are such seemingly two-dimensional people in life, they don’t seem to fare will in fiction. Nevertheless, what we come away with in the end is an understanding of Nicaraguans during the latter part of the twentieth century: their suffering and longings, their losses and hopes, their mysticism and bawdiness, their idealism and resignation. The author writes that he hopes to “give readers some insight into what it has meant to be Nicaraguan during such tumultuous times.” In this entertaining and moving novel, he has done so splendidly.

Interview with author Silvio Sirias by Nina Forsythe

Picture yourself in a tropical town in the evening. Cool breezes stir the palms and bougainvillea, salsa music is in the air, cigars have been lit on the front porch, and the Cuba Libre is flowing. This is the setting in which I first heard the story of Bernardo Martínez as the author, Silvio Sirias, was writing it.

Sirias, a Nicaraguan-American, had come back to Nicaragua—after many years in academia in the U.S.—and discovered the story of the poor tailor who experienced several apparitions of the Virgin Mary soon after the Sandinistas overthrew the Somoza dictatorship.

“Upon hearing Bernardo’s life story,” says Sirias, “I immediately knew that the best way to capture its many dramatic and magical dimensions was through fiction.” The result is Bernardo and the Virgin

Nina Forsythe
: Why fiction? Why not a biography?

Silvio Sirias
: I love reading biographies; however, they appeal mostly to the intellect. Fiction, though, aims straight for the reader’s heart, and that was my target. In addition, a novel allows us to suspend disbelief. That lets me say to the reader: “Sit back a spell to enjoy this incredible story I came across while in Nicaragua.”

: How close to the truth did you stick to portraying Bernardo, who was, after all, a real person?

: The only times in the novel in which Bernardo’s character narrates is when he describes the apparitions. At these times I stay very close to his version of events because of a promise I made to him while he was still alive. But outside of that I had considerable creative license. That’s why I chose to tell the rest of his story through other characters. However, I always sought to stay true to the essence of the man and to the defining moments of his life.

: You seemed to have a lot of fun with the other characters. There’s the Nicaraguan émigré who constantly botches English expressions, the priest who’s nostalgic for the Inquisition, and—my favorite—the literary theorist who’s so impressed with himself. Were the secondary characters created out of whole cloth?

: Well, Nina, while living in Nicaragua and conducting research I had many delightfully surreal experiences, and I met many interesting folk who ended up—vastly exaggerated, of course—in the novel. To give you one example, toward the novel’s end there’s a Spanish priest who shoots fish with an AK-47. This actually happened. He invited me and an English friend (also in the novel) to go “hunting” with him. He drove us to a nearby river, told us to hide behind a fallen tree trunk because the bullets might ricochet, fired his weapon three times into the water, jumped in fully clothed, and came out holding three large fish that we ate for lunch while he told bawdy jokes about bull testicles. And that’s just one of many incidents.

: Do you have a favorite character?

: They’re all my creations, and I’m terribly fond of each one. I do confess, though, a preference for the ones who make me laugh out loud. In my favorite chapter, they all come together during a mass pilgrimage to the apparition site. I still enjoy reading that chapter—for me it’s like attending a fun and touching family reunion.

N.F.: Is there anything you learned in writing Bernardo and the Virgin that has helped you in working on your subsequent books?

S.S.: Writing Bernardo, above all, gave me the confidence I needed to continue writing fiction. I also learned to enjoy the art of revising, and I learned the importance of selecting a good structure for the story I have to tell. I’m convinced that the success of most novels hinges on the structure a writer chooses.

: Is one of your goals to change the way Americans think about Nicaragua?

: Definitely. Throughout the 1980s, the decade of the Contra War, Nicaragua was in the news every day. I think Americans got sick of hearing about Nicaragua every evening while they were eating dinner. Although the war ended twenty years ago, it left a lasting impression that Nicaraguans are hopelessly violent people, and because of this the country has been placed in the drawer of things Americans would prefer to forget. But you lived in Nicaragua for several years and you’ve seen that most Nicaraguans are gentle, caring people with incredibly generous spirits. That’s a great part of what I wish to convey in Bernardo and the Virgin.

Bio for Nina Forsythe

Nina Forsythe received her MFA from Bennington. Her poems have appeared in a variety of literary magazines, including Taproot, Chiron Review, 5AM, Puerto del Sol, and most recently Broken Bridge Review. Her poem "Wedding" was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She has also published translations in The Nicaraguan Academic Journal and a review in Review Revue. She currently resides in Frostburg, MD, where she is working on a chapbook.

By La Bloga Guest Columnist Jean Gillis

"La Mission"
Written & directed by Peter Bratt/starring Benjamin Bratt

Some ten years ago at UCLA I heard Raymund Paredes, Ph.D., state, "The universal lies in the particular." His context was multicultural literature and how the stories of lives far beyond our own can illuminate your very situation or mine. I've since adopted his observation and it lives with me daily in my classroom. It also lives in the excellent independent film, "La Mission."

Peter and Benjamin Bratt have collaborated on a story set in their hometown of San Francisco in its Mission District. The story line: bus driver-recovering alcoholic-single dad Che Rivera abruptly learns that his cherished son Jesse is gay. Che's troubled ability to cope with this shock and his threads of connection to others lattice the plot. The "particular" of the film is its Latino community life. The universal is its painstaking process of sloughing off a father's angry, deflective layers of hurt in order to reveal his tender core, his corazon, for his beloved boy. The brothers Bratt coax Che's transformation without ever slipping into the maudlin. They recreate a milieu of working-class car aficionados, neighborhood tensions of gentrification and homosexuality, and urban violence so authoritatively that all of us viewers can understand Che's anguish.

"La Mission" takes a cue from opera when it uses signature music to identify each major character. Watch for that touch. Two scenes that employ music are among my favorites. In the first, for about 90 seconds we see Che ironing his clothes for an evening out. Now I admit to having spent many a Saturday night ironing to Art Laboe's Killer Oldies, but Che vaults ironing up to Olympic stature in this scene. How he summons perfection from an iron deserves major props. The other exemplary scene is the lowrider outing set to "Stop, Look, Listen," the magnificent 1971 Philly Soul cut. As far as I am concerned, this song is the apex of the Stylistics' catalogue; the pairing of this music with Che and Lena's date is sublime. It made me cry. It was that beautiful.

Another interesting motif is the presence of shrines. The Bratt brothers are ever mindful of both the leadership and confluence of indigenous and conquering peoples. The opening montage of murals illustrates this tension from the get-go. Repeatedly we see Che pause at the shrine he keeps of Our Lady Guadalupe and her red roses. Meanwhile, his neighbor Lena maintains her own shrine to feminine power with a goddess from India. Much later at a Dia de los Muertos memorial, Che finally experiences the integration that has eluded him. What are shrines but memory made palpable? We can feel the ache in Che when he holds the photo of his late wife. The tattoos on his body, the image of his mother on his prized ride, the regular offering of groceries to his aged neighbor--Che is a memory-curator in his own particular world.

I hope "La Mission" will find a viewership in and beyond Los Angeles. I hope it reaches Phoenix, Tucson, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Las Cruces, El Paso, San Antonio. And it's an unusually potent film that deserves a rebirth once dvd time comes along.


Jean Gillis teaches high school in the Los Angeles area. This is Jean's second Guest spot for La Bloga. Jean blogs from time to time at "Dating Yourself in Pasadena."

On-Line Floricanto: Poets Respond to Arizona's Hate Laws

1. “Hummingbird Medicine” by Devreaux Baker

2. “Yolotl Xoxoctic Tlalticpac-Green Heart On The Earth” by Diana Joe

3. “Arizona Goddamn” by Joseph McNair

4. “Two Missing, One White, One Brown, One Rich, One Not so Rich” by Elena Díaz Bjorkquist

5. “What The Day Brings and The Night Finishes” by Kristopher Barney

6. “Borders” by Matt Sedillo

7. “Las Uvas de la Ira” by Will Auther

By Devreaux Baker

Hummingbird medicine is fragile,
older than all our lifetimes

braided together,
sending out messages

from the animal mind
of the universe.

Somewhere there is a place
where all that medicine

is gathering,
waiting to be found.

Some mornings
I can almost remember that other life,

can feel it moving inside
my arms and legs,

so sweet
like a hummingbird song,

fragile medicine
pulling me back

to the beginning place.

Devreaux Baker
Taos, 2010

Yolotl Xoxoctic Tlalticpac~Green Heart On The Earth by Diana Joe

Green Heart On The Earth
rooted deeply underneath
the stacks and the trails
of an old republic's paper.

Guadalupe Hidalgo
A treaty that has not been
taught to the children.
Generations of a people's
children that don't know
a thing about it.

Green Heart On The Earth
Never can be stopped from
Deeply rooted in cements
constantly giving itself birth.

Yolotl Xoxoctic Tlaltipac
It is only a dream placed
down a long time ago.
By a dreaming ancestor.
Someone I would live to
defend and honor.

Green Heart On The Earth
It is an altar...tlamanalpechtli
xochime~*strung to to to
represent the way to re-enter.
To re-enter into the already was.

Yolotl Xoxoctic Tlatipac
This is a song that has never
been sung it is green.
This is my heart that grows
underneath the piles of paper.
Un papel picado y repicado.

Green heart On The Earth
It works day in and day around.
It can be heard like the river
around to bend.
Around and around like
that vine that has rendered
a bounty for all the men.

Yolotl Xoxoctic Tlaltipac
It is a language that will
bring new light and new
New rights and priviledge.
It will never be stopped.

Green Heart On the Earth
Transplated a long time ago
took root where most thought
it impossible to have anything grow!
It has eyes to see, and it eats..

Yolotl Xoxoctic Tlaltipac
A song that has never been sung.
Is going all over the world..travelling travelling
with a moralito full of yerbas, buenas nuevas.
It is a corazon of the old ones.
It is the direction for our young ones.

Green Heart On the Earth
It is our drum beat.
Our old people's feather work.
It is the dream that you dreamed of.
It is the moment you've been waiting for.
Time is all ours now..alli hay mas tiempo
que vida corazon.

*In Honor Of All Those affected By SB-1070
a Law That Is designed to shame the children
colored by the Sun.

Diana L.-joe
Missoula,Montana just 4-2day

By Joseph McNair-Asili Press Inc.

alabama's gotten me so upset
tennessee made me lose my rest
& everybody knows about
mississippi goddam…
--nina simone

dos cabesas, yr steep mountain slopes & granite
outcroppings, yr vegetated canyon floors provoke
strong feelings of arousal, attraction, & yes,
even love by more than just the white-tailed &
mule deer or eagles, golden & bald, the ranging
mountain lion, the beautiful collared lizard &
the peregrine falcon. u, dos cabesas, are,
indeed,a love object for arizona natives
imprinted by the wilderness with its uncultivated
spaces,its searing heat with that eerie desert
dust on its winds, a narcotic that makes them
susceptible to quaint hallucinations (daylight
savings time is a bolshevik plot),conservative
& highly distrusting of government. (goddam!)
where lawmen under the influence of frontier
fancy could take a hapless but convenient
outlaw straight from the lyrics of their state
song, a befuddled recidivist burglar named
ernesto arturo miranda, compel from him a
rape, etc., confession, make him write it down
& sign papers with a printed certification that
he “voluntarily & of my own free will, with no
threats, coercion or promises of immunity…” &
“full knowledge of … (his)…legal rights” made
that confession, but failed to inform him of
his right to have an attorney present & of his
right to remain silent.(goddam!)
where in a season that saw even ronald reagan
bow to the inevitable winds of change & sign
the king holiday into law, three house republican
arizonans, including an “unevolved” john mccain
& that doyen of true american conservativism,
senator barry goldwater voted unequivocally no!
state lawmakers like sand lemmings followed suit.
babbitt, not sinclair lewis’ vacuous protagonist,
but a governor doing the right thing, signed an
executive order declaring a paid king holiday.
but 7 months & 24 days later, soon-to-be-
impeached evan mecham rescinded that order
in one of his first acts as governor! (goddam!)
rising from a searingly dry tropical airmass,
pulled northward by low-pressure cells moving
eastward across the two-head's wilderness
echoing off the sulphur springs & the san simon
valleys came a venal & corruptible voice calling
out to arizonans with the arrogated authority of
i am that i am: “i guess king did a lot for the
colored people, but i don’t think he deserves a
national holiday.” but the rocks surely cried out
in protest & boycotts. all manner of stones,
pythagorean frozen music, released their song
with stevie wonder singing lead --happy birthday
to yuh -- public enemy struck back, the nfl
relocated the super bowl & arizonans, kicking &
screaming, capitulated in ’92 (goddam!)
where even the wind that competes at dusk
to be heard with the yips, barks & howls of
coyotes in telltale yellow desert coats, weeps &
wails in uncertain english even tho’ placed for
a year in english immersion classes where
languages other than english were banned from
speech. brainfried arizonans insist that the
speech of the alligator juniper, the bitter condalia
& crucifixion thorn, the catclaw & even the skunk
bush had better be the same as that which arose in
england & southeastern scotland; that they
obsequiously subordinate their mother tongues,
their identity & culture, for to speak a language
other than english is nothing more than a social
behold arizonans, the behemoth that u have made,
rising out of the desert, so mean, & abrupt of
emotion – & so unlike that mighty torch-bearing
mother of exiles on a distant shore who verily
welcomed the poor & the homeless. this shire reeve
golem of single eye & foul disposition casts his
all-seeing search light glance to expose & extirpate
all illegals wherever they might be found, especially
in the ghostly golden gate barrio, in cuatro milpas,
or in any of the barrios historicas that housed the
brown laborers who built yr streets & towns, yr
canals, laid tracks for trolleys & trains that brought
in the droves of undocumented anglos who
overwhelmed the indigenous population! (goddam!)
what have u done, arizonans? the adam of yr labors
has run amok & points proudly back to the womb
from whence it came – that monster matrix of
racism, red-baiting,anti-government sentiment &
resentment of anything progressive, whose birth
juices reek of hatred & calumny – back to u & yr
guiltfear, yr paroxysmally parochial thinking. it has
engorged on a steady diet of rights violations, english-
only legislation, reasonable suspicion & belief, & now
it stalks like a grotesquery seeking to devour the
interdisciplinary study of racialized peoples, latinos
& chicanos in particular. what makes u think, brain-
fried arizonans, that it won’t turn on & devour u?

Two Missing Men, One White, One Brown, One Rich, One Not So Rich
By Elena Díaz Bjorkquist

I hear the helicopter flying low,
rotors thump-thumping
As it criss-crosses the foothills.
I hear people calling a man’s name
As they search the washes.
I read about it in the newspaper
Tanque Verde man missing,
Goes for a walk
And doesn’t come home.
Neighbors fear the worst.
I hear the newscaster
On the local channel,
Repeat the story.
Search goes on for five days.

I remember another missing man.
Several years ago, Nico,
My niece Tina’s partner,
Went for a walk and
Didn’t come home.
She reported him missing to the police.
No helicopters heard thump-thumping
In their Flowing Wells neighborhood.
No people searching the washes,
No news in the paper or on TV.
Instead, Tina questioned by police.
Did they argue? Why would he leave?
They asked the neighbors
The same insinuating questions.

Tina trudged to work every day,
Cuddled her son, caressed her growing
Belly, felt life begin to move.
Only after she put Nicolás to bed
Did she allow her feelings to surface.
Buried her face in Nico’s clothes,
Smelled the last shirt he’d worn, his
Scent growing fainter by the day.
She clutched his wallet, money and
Driver’s license still inside.
Told herself, he didn’t abandon me.
In bed, she fingered his Marine
Dog tags like a rosary,
Prayed he was safe.
Tears dampened her pillow.

A year later, Nico’s mother
Brought his dental records,
Took them to the coroner’s office.
They matched those
Of an Hispanic man, found
Two blocks from Tina’s house
The day Nico went missing.
No ID.
New running shoes.
Probably illegal.
D.O.A. of a heart attack.

Nico was buried in Potter’s Field,
A “Juan Doe” the same day his son
Giovani was born.
The women had Nico’s body
Disinterred, cremated,
Chose an urn, gave him
A proper funeral for family
And friends to say goodby.

Two missing men,
One white,
One brown,
One rich,
One not so rich.
Both found in Tucson.

what the day brings and the night finishes by Kristopher Barney

"Its over
the America that your masonry
pilgrims dreamed about the
annexation of Turtle Island to the
european cults and money it has
spread as if it were a virus or
deadly bacteria the illness of
lost homelands immigrant and
native a true sado/maso sexually
explicit segment of evolutionary
dysfunction that makes the
consciences of all involved
classic studies in perversion
- Barney Bush

it is here sitting listening
watching the sundown the emerging darkness
stars appear behind heavy clouds
outlined in vermillion and the deepest gold
this short lived blessing of when the
sun comes in and illuminates all the right places
the slanted shadows the insects in rays of light
the bodies of old pinons every needle
glistening like a storm just passed and leaves
a spark in your heart
living in the youth of the earth
the first days of this land
the purity
the virgin homeland
the dreams that live on
so medicine men say
still exist on the other side
the land without
the non-civilizations of the colonial man
the america its own grotesque creation
taking root in the eyes and minds of
all those alive who feel
the full effect of greed upon all living things
it brings tears
a flash flood of emotion that ricochets
bolts of lightning in all the days i walk this earth
when i am alone
on the road pennyless and beaten by life
when i hold a new born in my arms
when i hold corn seeds in the palms of my hands
before i plant them gently into sweet wet earth
as i make love with
a soul full of sensuality and
unwritten beauty
the architecture of flesh and eyes
the silence as i light tobacco and cedar and
hold an eagle feather and think of creation
when i hold you in my arms
as if this will be the last time
again and i brace myself for
how life can be taken
how life can be destroyed
can be raped
tortured innocent life
ocean clouds mountains canyons
in an instant
with a signature
with a single declaration
with a single thought
for profit over perfection
this corn seed i hold in my hand this sweet
earth this transition from spring to summer and
its happening i feel it
its in this moon rise
the pale light over my body
it's this wind that blows down the mountain
it's my own human self come alive to see these times
the destruction the demolition of America
it has to fall a part all colonial empires do
everywhere people take upon themselves to
challenge the sacred to ignore the wisdom of
grandmothers and grandfathers
the colonial children left with no parent
no one to tell him/her how to respect life
how to just leave things alone
but little do words of truth carry
into a heart full of lust and greed
the hunger to kill to see blood run to
defile to pervert to molest
the colonial man white black asian
even those who convert our own people
turned Indian Scouts who
can't wait to give blowjobs to
CEOs of corporations
cannot wait to give up more land
to colonially controlled governments
cannot wait to be first in line
to turn their heads
pledge allegiance and
sing patriotically and red white and blue
yes the sickness of colonialism
colonial religion
the unhappy unsustainable
lifestyle of the colonial man is not one
so pretty after all
you have to give up something to live like them
you have to give up your identity
you have to become a part of a congregation
you have to speak like them
even if you don't mean it
live like them eat what they eat
live with the expectations of how they
perceive life &
there is too much we all lose
there is too much death seen through our eyes
and we continue on
raising families
continue to believe in prayers
continue to listen
i continue to remember the older earth
hum songs of older times in this
cool warm night
sitting here on this hill
watching the moon rise
the sun sink
the hummingbirds nesting
in the trees across the wash
i feel smell their wings
watch my blue eyed
pup claw at dirt and we are here
feeling the connections brought by
clouds and wind
my ancestors pop out
in the corners of my eyes
the whirlwinds tornadoes and earthquakes
the punctured vein gushing oil
the aorta
as if the earth had no feeling
as if it were not a living entity
the ultimate acts of murder
the unforgivable violations against creation
blue moonlight
on the mountain
edges its way from canyon to canyon to
clouds and my eyes that look on
i end this in silence because
there is no English word existing that
can put this kind of murder
in its proper place..

Kristopher Barney

By Matt Sedillo

On March 10th
For the first time
In the history
Of their publication
Forbes Magazine
Had ranked
The world’s richest man
To be a Mexican
Of Lebanese descent
In Mexico it is said
You cannot even breath in
The smog
Drink the poisoned water
Without dropping
Just a few pesos
Into the pockets
Of Carlos Slim
Mexico the world’s
Fourteenth largest
Economy is home
To at least
Twenty million
Living on less than
Two dollars a day
NAFTA destroyed
The farms
Replaced them
With jobs
That pay 50 cents on the hour
Amidst a bloody drug war
While Felipe Calderon
Condemns racist Arizona law
With his left hand
He does everything in his power
To crush the Mexican poor
With his right
And if you cross north
You run the risk
Of being rounded up
In a Haliburton detention camp
While the Pesos, the Euros
The Dollars, the Pounds,
The Yuan the Yen
Of men like
Carlos Slim
Can travel along
Electronic trade routes
With Capital immunity
Welcome to Mexico city
Welcome to the global economy
Where half the world’s population
Lives in extreme poverty
Welcome to the era of privatization
Of tycoons presidents
And austerity programs
That don’t give a damn
About people
That don’t give a damn
About nations
Welcome to globalization
What can a poor Mexican do
But run, run, run
Run across
The Arizona desert
To a country
Not crumbling
Quite as quickly
A country
Whose biggest import
Has always been
Cheap labor
A country built
By breaking down
Then the building up
Of borders
Borders that have
Made dogs of men
Who bark out
He Pedro
Hey Paco
Yeah you
You belong here?
Of hatred and ignorance
That make me want
To cry out
Fuck you
Fuck you
And the mayflower
You rode in
But I know better
I know the fight
Is so much bigger
Than beating back
Some two bit Nazi Motherfucker
That aint got two pennies to rub together
Because borders
Like racism
Like wage scales
Like prisons
Like nations
Are just a tool of the rich
To divide the poor
The United States of America
The world’s largest economy
Spends more annually
On prisons than schools
Holds twenty five percent
Of the world’s prisoners
Is home to more empty housing units
Then homeless
And there is a foreclosure
Every thirteen seconds
Mexico is a police state
But so is the USA
And in the era of globalization
There is no such thing
As an illegal
There are no such people
As aliens
Or even immigrants
There is but one line in the sand
Between the rich
And the poor
Which side are you on

"Las Uvas de la Ira"
by Will Auther (2009)

Like beetles the immigrants pour over the dry earth, and the dust, soft like white ash,
parts and spirals upward in their wake
They curl their spines as the sun licks their backs
And they huddle together across the highways and over the grotesque fences
and scrape their arms and theirs cheeks against the rusty minarets
In their neighborhoods the men curse at their flat screen tvs and squint suspiciously
and leave deep lines beneath their eyes from squinting so much
They stand by their windows with their hands on their hips and gawk at the lawnmowers
and landscapers
But not when their skin is sallow and colorless
White like the bow-legged sheriff's, who swagger and curse and shove their chubby
thumbs through belt loops adjacent to their gun holsters
White like the tall, slender men with black sunglasses and black rifles pressed against
their chests as they lean against the railing of guard towers as bleak and narrow as their perception
These men push their beige cowboy hats upward with their index fingers, and sometimes
they shoot the immigrants dragging their feet and their children
And they sigh and blow the smoke from the muzzle,
Relieved because "that there is Border Security"
The teenagers whisper at lunch tables and crack jokes about the Mexicans but
sometimes clench their fists and hiss
"How is she in student council if she can't even, like, speak English?"
Yet the politicians still speak of a wall. And in their throats, the words are flakes,
melting and drizzling back into their uncertainty
Throats undulating nervously when they remember the Mongols storming through
the Great Wall of China.
Democrats and Republicans stammer and cough, and always remember the Mongols
And protesters outside of Arpaio's office lift their words on glossy, white sheets
"Gestapo Headquarters," they say
But the politicians must scrape their hypocrisy from the Statue of Liberty
For the immigrants are restless and parched,
And the grapes of wrath, las uvas de la ira, are turgid with the vintage
John Steinbeck weeps.


1. “Hummingbird Medicine” by Devreaux Baker

Devreaux Baker has published two books of poetry........Light at the Edge and Beyond the Circumstance of Sight. Red Willow People Poetry is forthcoming in August of 2010. She has received numerous awards for her poetry including a MacDowell Fellowship, a Hawthornden Castle International Writers Award, and a Helene Wurlitzer Fellowship. She produced The Voyagers Radio Program of Student Writing for Public Radio, funded by the California Arts Council. She currently directs the Mendocino Coast Writers Series.

2. “Yolotl Xoxoctic Tlalticpac-Green Heart On The Earth” by Diana Joe

3. “Arizona Goddamn” by Joseph McNair

Joseph D. McNair is an African American educator, poet/writer,journalist and musician. He is currently an Associate Professor, Senior in the college of Education at Miami Dade College, North Campus in Miami-Florida and editor of Asili . He is a recipient of two of the College's endowed teaching chairs. The Mitchell Wolfson, jr (1997) Chair and the Vitus Innovative Hospice (2006) Chair. His published works include two volumes (Earthbook in 1971 and An Odyssey 1976) and one chapbook of poetry (Juba Girl in 1973). He was the Miami Editor for Drumvoices Review, Southern Illinois University Press, Words From 15 Cities: Poetic Voices of Contemporary Urban Cultures, Summer 2000. He has written three books for adolescent readers published by The Child's World Journey to Freedom: The African American Library series. These are Leontyne Price, African Primadonna, (2001), Barbara Jordan,American Patriot (2002) and Ralph Bunche, Peacemaker (2003). In 2007 he wrote and published the novel, O Se Sango for the Asili Press, Inc. As a journalist, he is the author of sixty-five feature articles and commentary written under his own name and several pseudonyms between 1986 and 1989 for Hotline Newsmagazine, a popular and influential Northern Nigerian weekly. In 1993 in he co-authored a college textbook entitled, Individuals in Transition and in 1996 he authored "Multicultural Awareness/Consciousness: Toward a Process of Personal Transformation." In 1998 he revised his the second text under a new title: Personal Transformations: The Process of Multicultural Awareness/Consciousness. He is the editor and webmaster of Asili: The Journal of Multicultural Heartspeak and blogs on Asilithejournal.blogspot.com. He has three books of poetry awaiting publication and is writing the sequel to his novel.

4. “Two Missing, One White, One Brown, One Rich, One Not so Rich” by Elena Díaz Bjorkquist

Elena Díaz Björkquist was born in Morenci, Arizona. The town was demolished in the late 60’s to expand the copper mine. Elena is an author, artist, and historian who writes about the Chicanos of Morenci. Her books are Suffer Smoke and Water from the Moon. She is co-editor of Sowing the Seeds, una cosecha de recuerdos.

Elena is an Arizona Humanities Scholar and is also on their Road Scholars Speakers Bureau. She performs a Chautauqua living history program as Teresa Urrea, a curandera from the 1900’s. Elena also does two presentations on Morenci: “Growing Up Chicana in Morenci” and “In the Shadow of the Smokestack.” Both presentations are based on oral history interviews she conducted with Chicano elders of Morenci.
Her website is www.elenadiazbjorkquist.net.

5. “What The Day Brings and The Night Finishes” by Kristopher Barney

6. “Borders” by Matt Sedillo

Matt is one-third of Venice Mozaic arts, music and poetry project, serving as its host as well as a member of the historic first ever Inland Empire Slam Team.

In addition to poetry, Matt is a member of the League of Revolutionaries for a New America (LRNA) and an artist affiliate of the Poor Peoples' Economic Human Rights Campaign.

For What I Might Do Tomorrow is Matt Sedillo's debut publication. Books sell for $12 (plus shipping). To order please send an e-mail to: cazadepoesia@att.net

7. “Las Uvas de la Ira” by Will Auther


nilki said...

This was such a great post. At first it seems to be an eclectic mix of subject matter, but when you dig a little deeper, you can find the underlying theme of compassion, tolerance and of looking beyond the facade of generalizations to find the unique humanity beneath, whether it be of the people or mysticism.

Thank you; to me, these three posts read like a poem. Please, for all our sakes, keep up the great work at La Bloga!

Sandra Mariela said...

Nina, what an insightful post, but truth be told I didn't expect anything short of this from you! And what a treat to visit this site.

As a local, I never really devoted much time to thinking how events Nicaragua during the 1980s were perceived by the outside world, and in this case, how some of them were disregarded. A lot of attention has been given to our revolutionary path and the civil war but not to the intricacies of culture and our beliefs. I'm glad you highlight it in your interview.

On to the author, which characters would you say were the most difficult to convey, considering the literary liberties you enjoyed? And if you may share, which one is the most fictitious?

Thanks to both for unveiling yet another side to Bernardo!

Silvio Sirias said...

I want to thank mis hermanos and hermanas at La Bloga for including BERNARDO AND THE VIRGIN in today's posting. A reader, Sandra Mariela, asks which character was the most difficult to convey: Bernardo, without a doubt. To stay true to him was very, very challenging. The most fictitious? The young, impatient girl in love, as Nina describes her. Thanks for the question.

Anonymous said...

Jean: the hero of La Mission is the young son. It is the father that puts him in harm's way, of beating the boy to a pulp in front of the community, of being an arrogant homophobe. Of causing his son to be outed - resulting in his being shot by gang gay bashers.

I don't really care what the symbols you cite mean, what I CARE about is young generation coming up and not some old dinosaur who never really will change.

The film is set in the Mission district located near the heart of the gay Castro district. So Bratt's world is nothing but living in the past and being macho.

Sorry, I respect your opinion but your view of the film worries me about how Latino gays are still viewed in the barrio.