Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Review: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Pasadena Writers Read. On-Line Floricanto

Review: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Sherman Alexie. Illustrations Ellen Forney. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. NY: Little Brown, 2007. ISBN: 0316013684 9780316013680 142876450X 9781428764507

Michael Sedano

Among the more disheartening sights in my purview is an ever-growing “to be read” list. As the list grows to become unmanageable, good things fall off the list. It’s so heartening, then, when one stumbles across a supernumerary and finds it super.

That’s me and Sherman Alexie. Back a few years, his title, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, caught my eye and made it to my road to hell list. Recently, my good intentions and a random reference coincided and finally I read this wonderful novel.

Pegged as a YA piece, adults, too will enjoy The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. I bought a copy for a teenager heading off for a summer vacation on or near an Indian Reservation. I told the boy the story resonates with me. In many ways, the novel is part of my schooling story, too. I moved from a brown school on the “wrong side of the tracks” to an anglo school in the heart of middle-class Redlands. Learning many a hurtful lesson about stereotypes, mean white folks, expectations, and toughness, nonetheless these are valuable experiences refugees from the internal colony learn to swallow. Lots of things turn out well, too.

Arnold “Junior” Spirit lives the bleak existence of a reservation Spokane Indian. Junior’s loving parents and family friends exude warmth despite torments of poverty and alcoholism. Schooling is no way off the reserve. Arnold opens his geometry book and sees it once belonged to his mother. It’s a slap in the face but a realization he and his rez school classmates are trapped in an aimless spiral. There’s only one way out: enroll in the white school off the reservation.

Courage and love make escape possible. Junior’s parents do whatever they’re able. If there’s money for gas, give him a ride the 20 miles to school. When there’s not, the boy walks both ways or catches a ride. Takes guts to stick it out while absorbing the emotional beatings, and the physical ones, delivered on both sides of Arnold’s worlds.

For Arnold it’s the worst of both worlds. Shunned, and called apple by folks on the rez, “Chief” and much worse by the whites, Arnold confronts the ways of the white world with his home-grown manners. Singled out for special torments by racist kids, Arnold does what his rez culture taught him: fight. It’s a marvelous scene when the slight kid punches the bullying football player. Arnold hunkers down for a retaliatory beating, stares wide-eyed as the bloodied athlete marvels, “you punched me!” before he slinks off with his cowed buddies. The confrontation produces unexpected results: respect and the big guy’s friendship.

Any brown kid who’s ever been thrust into an anglo-dominated school will recognize the crap Arnold is put through. That the boy calls upon his culture and intellectual resources makes Alexie’s novel an ideal example of “literature as equipment for living”. Not only does the boy persevere, he wins loyalty from the entire school and a white girlfriend. He learns the white kids have the same dreams and likelihood of attainment as Arnold. They’re the same only different.

Children of privilege should read this novel. From it they will learn empathy and take keen insights about those isolated brown kids in their midst. Indeed, a brown kid in a fancy prep school, too, will take important lessons from The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. This is their primos’ story, their grandfather's story; this could be their own story, there but for the grace...

Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is among the most important books a teenager needs to read.

Pasadena Writers Wrap-Up, Look to Fall

I’d run out of time last week, felt like the brown rabbit from Alicia in Wonderland, with a pair of very important dates. Cutting short one visit, I was running late for the second. As a result, I arrived just in time to hear the final reader of The Pasadena Writing Project “Time Place Voice” reading. Pasadena, the real one in Califas, not that place in Texas.

The standing room only audience exhibited strong determination to enjoy the readings. Across the street, the Levitt Pavillion hosted a free summer concert, and parking was at a premium. I found a spot a block west and hoofed it to the Armory Center for the Arts site.

Actually, not SRO. I spotted an open chair in a corner and nudged in to my seat from whence I enjoyed Vibiana Aparicio-Chamberlin’s take on her name and the ravaged Los Angeles cathedral that shares Vibiana’s name. You can read Aparicio-Chamberlin’s work, and that of the other readers, at the Pasadena Weekly.

Mentored by Maria Elena Fernandez (above) and Carla Sameth (right, with Estella González), The Pasadena Writing Project concluded its Spring workshop with memoir. Readers included Mary Ann Montañez, Hilda Boulware, Cecilia Fox, Estella González, and Vibiana Aparicio-Chamberlin, along with special guest Jervey Tervalon.
Tervalon glossed a bit on writer’s craft then read a grim piece, “Monster,” published as an ebook and excerpted in the LAWeekly. Tervalon read from the throw-away’s published excerpt, not a wise decision given the dim lighting and punishingly tiny print size. Aparicio-Chamberlin, in contrast, printed her work in large type, allowing her to engage her audience with excellent eye contact and not lose her place on the page.

Following Tervalon’s stand-up, writers and mentors joined with Pasadena Weekly editor, Kevin Uhrich, for an extended discussion and audience Q&A. In the best news of the evening, Uhrich expressed his paper’s commitment to publish TPWP work and that of other writers, perhaps as a quarterly feature. That’s the way to put “community” back in the word newspaper, Mr. Uhrich.
The Pasadena Writing Project workshop starts up again in the Fall. TPWP’s Facebook page likely will provide details on enrollment.

La Bloga On-Line Floricanto 5th of July

In the land of the blind, goes the saying, the one-eyed regent has set off one too many fourth of July fireworks. I trust most readers today do so with both eyes.

1. "Poetic Manifesto / Manifesto poético" by Francisco X. Alarcón

2. "Drought" by Andrea Hernandez Holm

3. "Juan Mercado" by Ralph Haskins

4. "5,000 Poets, ONE Voice, ONE Song" by Victoria Hovda

5. “No Matter What Is Going On” by Nancy Pontious

Poetic Manifesto

to all the poets who have submitted poems
to “Poets Responding to SB 1070”

by Francisco X. Alarcón

each poem
is an act of faith

in the power
of the Word

a flower passed
hand to hand

and rooted
in the heart

a prayer/chant
lightning the night

a song amidst
so much noise

a murmur
of tree branches

at the very edge
of the big desert

breaking down
the borders of despair

sowing the seeds
of renewed hope

each poem is
a call for action

is saying “yes”
to the rule of “no”

a defiance
to social silence

building trust
in response to fear

a testimony
of the human soul

that in spite all

our differences
and peculiarities

we all breathe
love and dream

celebrate and suffer
under the same one Sun

Summer solstice
June 21, 2011

Manifesto poético

a todos los poetas que han mandado poemas
a “Poetas Respondiendo a la SB 1070”

por Francisco X. Alarcón

cada poema
es un acto de fe

en el poder
de la Palabra

una flor cedida
de mano a mano

y enraizada
en el corazón

una oración/canto
iluminando la noche

una canción
entre tanto ruido

un murmullo
de ramas de árbol

al mero filo
del gran desierto

rompiendo las fronteras
de la desesperanza

plantando las semillas
de la renovada esperanza

cada poema
es un llamado a la acción

es decir “sí”
al régimen del “no”

un desafío
al silencio social

construyendo confianza
en respuesta al temor

un testimonio
del alma humana

que a pesar de todas

nuestras diferencias
y peculiaridades

todos respiramos
amamos y soñamos

celebramos y sufrimos
bajo un mismo Sol

Solsticio del verano
21 de junio de 2011


A single drop rains down
Lands upon my arm
And I am rendered speechless
For a moment before running to the house
Fumbling for children and copal
Fumbling with English words
Of Spanish memories
For Tarahumara prayers
To welcome rain
Bless rain
Be thankful for rain.

Wind whisks the clouds towards the east,
Takes the rain away.

Am I to blame
Because the rain won’t come back?
I don’t know the right words
I don’t know any words
I speak from my heart
But perhaps my heart is broken.

Andrea Hernandez Holm 2011

Juan Mercado

by Ralph Haskins

An American,
born in a Texas town,
raised in a Mexican town,
both, mere feet apart,
separated by blood,
and connected by blood.

Here the border blurs
beyond the river’s banks
into an ethnic purgatory,
like a geography coloring book
the people crayoned
with their lives without staying
inside the lines.

With only Spanish
in his basket, he worked
the hot fields of Texas, picking
the grapefruits of his hard labor,

until the day the Migra came.

Why should a man need
to prove his birth within
his country’s citrus groves?
Amidst the ordered multitude
of trees that stood as witnesses
to an unjust incident
but remained silent for fear of being
ruled out of order by sherrif Joe.

Juan was found
guilty until proven citizen,
declared “Undocumented worker”,
illegal alien, thief
of another’s employment,
and sentenced to exile,

this Juan Mercado,

this American.

Look at his brown skin! Listen
to his broken English!
He is just as American as Beck,
who recites his spotless CNN-glish
and whose document is
the whiteness of his skin.

5,000 Poets, ONE Voice, ONE Song

by Victoria Hovda

And so, SB 1070 was created in the Great Land of Arizona
but the injustices had started long before...

This, more than a poem, is a note of Gratitude,
to those so generously founded "Poets Responding"
to the injustices and mistreatment targeting our people!

Special thanks to poet, writer, professor...
Gracias!! Don Francisco X. Alarcón...
Him and his small poets army,
began to sing a beautiful song...
Odilia Galván Rodríguez, Carmen Calatayud,
Elena Díaz Bjorkquist, and so many more!
Lorna Dee Cervantes, Israel Francisco Haros,
Scott Maurer, Abel Salas, Alma Luz Villanueva,
Meg Withers y Edith Morris-Vasquez...

Forgive me if I'm missing any of you...
I must mention how I was so inspired
by the courage and fierce determination of Hedy Treviño
and the words so passionately Andrea Hernandez Holm, spoke

When each one of you, of us, said NO MORE!
It was like the Giant had awaken and had roared!

Across the Oceans and the Mountains
we all heard your Voice! and it became ONE Song...
And 5,000 Poets later... We're still going strong!
Stronger than ever!
ONE Voice!
ONE Song!

No Matter What Is Going On

by Nancy Pontius

The drum knows how
to keep playing on
in the silences
or in between them
to keep the rhythm
of the planet going

and songs in the heart
always stay there
even if one can not sing them anymore

Earth heals herself
and all of us
as we do
and each other

The medicine flows all ways
no matter what is going on
through water
through wind
through time

through trading routes
reflecting star patterns
written in the architecture
long ago

it's in the basalt
the obsidian
all healing stones,
the ground
the dirt

it's in the mountains
purple, blue
rose and black
ancestral faces
knowing the sky


1. "Poetic Manifesto / Manifesto poético" by Francisco X. Alarcón
Francisco X. Alarcón, award winning Chicano poet and educator, is author of twelve volumes of poetry. His latest books are Ce•Uno•One: Poems for the New Sun (Swan Scythe Press 2010) and for children, Animal Poems of the Iguazú (Children’s Book Press 2008). He teaches at the University of California, Davis.

2. "Drought" by Andrea Hernandez HolmBorn and raised in the desert of central Arizona, Andrea is a writer of poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction. She is a keeper of stories and a teller of stories, most of her writing focusing on the exploration of identity.

3. "Juan Mercado" by Ralph HaskinsRalph Haskins was born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico. His family moved to South Texas during the social turmoil of the 60’s. The new cultural challenges he experienced led him to express himself through poetry. Many of his poems touch the cultural and political issues of our times. Today, Ralph lives in McAllen, Texas where he supplements his poet’s income by moonlighting as a science teacher at a local high school.

4. "5,000 Poets, ONE Voice, ONE Song" by Victoria Hovda

5. “No Matter What Is Going On” by Nancy Pontious

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