Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Review: From This Wicked Patch of Dust. Fall's First On-Line Floricanto

Review: From This Wicked Patch of Dust.

Sergio Troncoso. From This Wicked Patch of Dust. Tucson: U of Arizona Press, 2011.
Paper (978-0-8165-3004-5)

Michael Sedano

A family saga featuring a large cast of characters can be tough to handle. A reader’s task of keeping track of relationships, incidents, and disparate unifying elements depends on the writer’s making multiple stories interesting. Noted short fiction writer Sergio Troncoso challenges himself to the task in his second novel, From This Wicked Patch of Dust. The reader will enjoy Troncoso’s decision to focus on the preposition in preference to wallowing in the adjective. The result is a chicano “American Dream” story about ordinary gente living unexceptional lives. Los Martínez are happy: how refreshing.

Oddly, the publisher’s website leads its blurb with drug fiend and gang-banger allusions, an odd marketing thrust. The novel steers clear of stereotypic victimhood and cruel tragedies, nor is it set against colorfully dangerous mean streets.

From This Wicked Patch of Dust is a breath of fresh air compared to novels populated with winos, dysfunctional families, men who beat and abandon their partners, alienated children. Sergio Troncoso doesn’t lean on tumultuous social and family upheaval to craft an arresting story of mom, dad, two sons, a daughter, and cultural migration. There's upheaval indeed, but Troncoso keeps it just outside the right margin, in the space between the turning pages.

Despite the ominous tone of its title, From This Wicked Patch of Dust is a novel about decisions, luck, and the pursuit of happiness in the early 21st century. The title is not a facile metaphor but irony borne of a young mother’s frustration. Brought to her knees the day she moves to Ysleta, Pilar shakes a handful of dirt and repudiates this place’s wickedness. By dint of determination, hard work and good character, Pilar and her family will prosper on this patch of dust.

Are Julia’s stars crossed because she carries the dross of her parents’ religious commitment like a noble burden? Poor Francisco grows into a shy, fat, cipher; didn’t anyone help? Marcos signs up for the national guard—to get away from his wife? For adventure? Because he’s a pendejo?—a decision that kills him. Can someone like Ismael be too smart but too ill-prepared for success?

The novel is told in the voice of the baby of the familia. Troncoso calls him Ismael. Confident and brilliant, by Ysleta standards, when the mocoso gets to Harvard on a full ride, the culture shock shakes his self confidence to its chicano core. Worse, he’s unprepared to exploit the opportunity, at one point expressing interest in law school but having zero notion of how to go about that. He coulda been a contender…

The author’s depiction of cultural change takes a decidedly inclusionist perspective, not always for the better. The parents are citizens of the United States and like many immigrants hold sentimental longings for things Mexicana but no love for Mexican social policy. They are from este lado now.

Pancho, the painfully fat and shy brother stays home his entire life to look after his parents and their rentals. When he finally finds love in middle age, she’s a local chicana. They are living happily ever.

Marcos goes off to UNM but returns home to teach school and marry a local girl, a blonde from the other side of town. He’s a rat of a man who faithfully serves his country in the National Guard but almost throws away a good woman when he falls in with a slimy Mexican American banker and national guard chopper jockey. Sent to Iraq, Marcos joins the five thousand men and women killed in that misbegotten invasion.

Julia is a casualty of faith. Finding conscienticized activism dissatisfying, she makes a conecta between Fatima the Catholic Saint and Fatima the Prophet’s mother. She freaks out and becomes Aliya, radicalized Muslim. Her story goes into exile with Aliya’s US-educated Ph.D. Islamist boss in Tehran. When we last see Julia Aliya she’s facing arranging a husband for her teenage daughter, when in Rome, sabes.

Ismael is picked by Lilah, a Jewish woman who fits right in with la familia, speaking adequately good Spanish. Lilah is a good breadwinner who loves her “Bear”. The nanny minds the kids so Ismael can write, house husband, and join the part-time float at Columbia. Ismael's stuff starts to sell. At Marcos’ closed-casket funeral, Ismael presents a story to his mother. In the story, the characters are, for the most part, happy ordinary gente who do not lead quietly desperate lives.

View the trailer for From This Wicked Patch of Dust, directed by Jesus Treviño. It includes excerpts from the novel and a message from the author:

La Bloga On-Line Floricanto

Francisco Alarcón and co-moderators of the Facebook group Poets Responding to SB 1070 advance four poets' work in this first On-Line Floricanto of 2011's tenth month, Claudia Hernandez
, Raul Sanchez,
 Fernando Castro
, José Hernández Díaz:

"¿Qué Más Quieres?" by Claudia Hernandez
 "21 (After my presentation at the Juvenile Detention Center Seattle)" by Raul Sanchez
 "La Nueva Luz" by Fernando Castro
 "The Temple of the Feathered Serpent" by José Hernández Díaz

¿Qué mas quieres?

by Claudia Hernandez

You have
My borders

You have
Drunk my

You have

La espalda

De mi hermana,
De mi tía,
De mi abuela,
De mi madre.

You have

El arduo
De mi

¿Qué mas

You have
Used and

Se han
Desangrado y
Hasta los

You have
My borders

You have
Lost the right
To forbid us
To succeed
To pursue

El tal mentado
Sueño Americano


by Raul Sanchez 9-22-2011 
(read it with a Hip-Hop beat)

navy blue tops 21
navy blue pants 21
white socks 21
plastic sandals 21

all in pairs y’all
all in pairs
among them
latino white and black

gang of three
rapping hip-hop hipsters
in the back jamming
to the rhyme microphone high

seventeen boys and four girls
perked up ears
even the yawning one
sat up straight

hands in the air
girls in the front
laughed and grinned
small steps to achieve y’all

last girl to the right
her attitude shined
glistened and listened
stretched on the chair

hands inside her shirt
not a huff or a groan
her attitude heavy than base
others moved, clapped in the back

young faces, no smiles on their faces
detained, arraigned, sad
all under 21 y’all
all under 21

La Nueva Luz

by Fernando Castro

It is the portly Mexican waitresses that keeps me coming;
their hirsute Frida Kahlo witch beards
and makeshift Mexican peasant uniforms,
can’t help but to be drawn to their motherly figures;
feel comfort under those hens spriteful skirts.
Solid nurse shoes grip the floor
even when customers have spilled orchata, slippery salsa splashes;
they watch me attentively as I order a ration of carnitas;
owlish stares that capture my flimsy tray,
and before I get a chance they have asked where I’ll sit;
grab an extra salsa dispenser to please me,
and direct me to sit by the porch facing Placita Olvera.
On weekends, tourists and locals fill the dining rooms
come back to Olvera Street as an urban pilgrimage
-- sad mockery of a Mexican Alta California.
They discover an alternate, tamed version of Mexico,
much closer and suposedly safer than Tijuana or East LA;
yet unaware of the Mexican core of Los Angeles.
Duos, trios of musicians sing old Los Pancho’s torch songs –
voices and guitars they no longer bother to tune.
They go from table to table until someone
breaks down and offers five bucks for a Bésame Mucho or Perfidia;
they depress me no end, but they do much for the borderlands decor.
On the Placita, the Aztec dancers strut the repetitive steps dictated by drums
and shell horns;
hefty men jump in discordant turns yet in unison: shoed in heavy guaraches;
peaccock headresses without which their costumes would be incomplete;
yet, how is it possible to prove authenticity after so many centuries of Anglification?
It must be exhausting to prance and shake, followed by younger apprentices
who cannot yet master the stamina of the elders.
Yet they all agree that their dance is a light that must be kept on
in memory of mythic Aztlan still occupied by yet another colonial power,
even if there is a zero possibility of seceeding from the union.
Pigeons and sparrows who have stolen our last grain of compassion
during the working week, scavenge oh so solicitous on weekends.
Their begging beaks come directly at your table for a morsel;
children love to give away their portions of tortillas
and the dried up tamales’ masa with so little meat, the bloating power of two cans of beer.
The statue of King Carlos III of Spain 1759-88
is there to remind us that in 1781 he ordered the foundation of Los Angeles
but Felipe de Neve didn’t get to it until September 4th, 1787
a date seldom anyone celebrates since it conflicts with the high festivities
of Mexican Independence Day, which in turn is confused with Cinco de Mayo
when Mexican restaurants, and even singles’ bars offer margarita specials.
Personally, I come to celebrate my adopted city of Los Angeles
sheltered from the bitter East Coast winters and so far away from my Colombian homeland.
I face Union Station and the millions of immigrants who have made this place home
and yet goverment has made our lives impossible at times.
The Mexican Cultural Center is next door,
oblivious and indolent to the injustices perpetuated on immigrants –
alarming news from Arizona, another province of Aztlan
whose hateful governor is having a tea party at the expense of braceros
and the porous border which is irrelevant
except when election time comes and a scapegoat needs to be found urgently.
SB 1070, the latest hate legislation du jour:
Why can’t Governor Jan Brewer and those sore losing republicans take a chill pill,
order tamales and share them with the aviary population,
take a picture with the burro with a mariachi hat and remember these lands belonged to other tribes;
remember that the Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty of 1848 was a gun shot marriage deal!
What do we want?         Justice
When do we want it?     Now!
hey hey,                       ho ho 1070 it’s got to go!!
hey hey,                       ho ho 1070 it’s got to go!!
© Fernando D. Castro

The Temple of the Feathered Serpent

by José Hernández Díaz

You are the one
Who has crossed
The borders
Of Aztlan
The Temple of
The Feathered Serpent
Has been here
Our rain
Does not cease
Our wind
Is a tree
The footprints
Of our mothers
On the springs
Of the deer mountain
Our psalms
Are written
On the palms
Of the
Blue leaves
—There are flowers
That fall
In the place
Of light
There are gardens
That float
On the clouds
Of night—
You are the one
Who has crossed
The borders
Of Aztlan
The Temple of
The Feathered Serpent
Has been here


"¿Qué Más Quieres?" by Claudia Hernandez
"21 (After my presentation at the Juvenile Detention Center Seattle)" by Raul Sanchez 
"La Nueva Luz" by Fernando Castro
"The Temple of the Feathered Serpent" by José Hernández Díaz

Claudia D. Hernández was born and raised in Guatemala. She holds a BA in Liberal Studies with an emphasis in Art and a BCLAD teaching credential. She is a bilingual educator in the city of Los Angeles and is currently working on a Masters in Multicultural Education. In her spare time she also writes, illustrates, and manually binds children’s books. She has written five children’s books, one of which (Julia Always Knew—Julia Siempre Supo) has been integrated into the curriculum for It’s OK to Be Different, a comprehensive elementary school program in the state of New Jersey that teaches children tolerance and respect for people who are different. Claudia has had photography exhibits throughout Los Angeles and has donated her photographs to various charitable organizations. Some of her photography, poetry, and short stories have been published in the Indigenous Sovereignty Issue of The Peak. Several of Claudia’s poems have been posted on the Facebook page, Poets Responding to SB 1070. In addition, a poem of hers will appear in an inaugural anthology published by Colectivo Verso Activo. 

Raúl Sánchez is a Seattle Bio-Tech technician, prosody enthusiast, translator, and DJ, who conducts workshops on The Day of the Dead in Tieton WA. Featured in the program for the 2011 Burning Word Poetry Festival in Leavenworth WA. His work appeared on-line in The Sylvan Echo, Flurry, Gazoobitales, Pirene’s Fountain and several times in La Bloga. His most recent work is the translation of John Burgess "Graffitto" released  by Ravenna Press. Also, he appears in the second Anthology by The Miracle Theatre Viva la Word!, Latino Cultural Magazine, on Bookmarks by the Seattle Public Library 2007 Poetic Art Project, and in the Anthology Speaking Desde las Heridas (Publisher: Universidad Nacional Autónoma  de México). Lastly, soon to be announced his debut Chapbook! stay tuned.

Fernando D. Castro’s publications include Fernando’s Café, from Inevitable Press, 1998; The Nightlife of Saints, from TA’YER Books 2007; Redeemable Air Mileage, from TA’YER Books 2011; and contributions to more than a dozen anthologies. Fernando is also responsible for 25 anthologies of creative writing by youth and adults. For more than a decade, he has been an artist-in-residence in programs sponsored by such agencies as the California Arts Council, the City of Los Angeles’ Department of Cultural Affairs, and the City of Pasadena Cultural Affairs Division. He is the winner of a City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs COLA 2010 fellowship in Literature. He is a co-founder of TA'YER Multicultural Performance Collective, a non-profit organization that works with youth-at-risk, recent immigrants and the LGBT community.

José Hernández Díaz is from Los Angeles, Ca, and his parents are from Guanajuato, Mexico. He is a UC Berkeley graduate with a BA in English Literature. He plans on applying to MFA Programs throughout Los Angeles and California. Jose’s favorite poets are those of the Chicano Renaissance and the poets of the Beat Generation. José has been published in The Best American Nonrequired Reading Anthology 2011, La Gente Newsmagazine of UCLA, Bombay Gin Literary Journal of The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, ABCTales, Indigenous Writers and Artists Collective, Hinchas de Poesia, and he has had nine poems in La Bloga, including: The Border Within, In My Barrio (An Improvised Tune), I Haver Never Left, We Call It Work, An Ode to Los Jornaleros, Panadería Revolución (I Am Floating Gardens), The Jaguar Moon Has Risen, The Silent Corn Seed and The Temple of the Feathered Serpent. Jose has had poetry readings in Los Angeles, San Diego, Berkeley, at The Mission Cultural Center in San Francisco, and at The Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) in Long Beach, Ca.

1 comment:

jesus2.lopez said...

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