Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Review: Gilb stories. Things not said. Librotraficante Caravan. On-Line Floricanto

Review: Dagoberto Gilb. Before the End, After the Beginning.
NY: Grove Press., 2011.
ISBN: 0-8021-2000-8 / ISBN-13: 978-0-8021-2000-7

Michael Sedano

Among my favorite smart-ass epigrams from back in high school is one attributed to La Rochefoucauld, Old men love to give good advice, it consoles them for the fact they no longer can set a bad example. That's the kind of thing a brash younger man might cavil at an elder, as I was wont to. My father would shake his head and proclaim, pa'lla va la sombra. Now I discover youth, aging, frailty, these are concerns of old men, and this is a country for sharing them. Dagoberto Gilb's collection of short fiction, Before the End, After the Beginning, a prime instance.

Before the End, After The Beginning stands among the most hopeful books written. The dustjacket says the stories come out of Gilb’s recuperation from a 2009 stroke. The dustjacket calls the ten stories “exquisite,” but that sadly understates the power of Dagoberto Gilb’s resiliency demonstrated across the collection's ten stories.

The opening pages deliver a frightening first person account of recovering from a stroke. The text reflects the miracle of surviving aphasia. Gilb's brain works against the damage, rewiring the connections bruised in the stroke. The prose begins atomistically, disparate words and patterns forming sensible phrases, grows more engaging, more elaborated as the pages turn. The title, "please, thank you" sums up the frustration disabled bodies extract from a person's outperformed language competencies. Gilb's long paragraphs suggest the overflow of thoughts and expressions working their way through stubborn fingers and ill-responding tongue. All you can do is ask and be grateful for whatever you get.

A post-barrio Chicano takes a sentimental journey home, in “The Last Time I Saw Junior.” Gilb crafts a delicious experience taking off on conventional wisdom that you can’t go home again, you can take the boy out of the barrio but you can’t take the barrio out of the boy, and home is where when you go there they have to take you in. Back on the block, the business-suited vato con el nopal en la frente strikes up an old partner and gets taken in.  It’s a lot of fun watching this hapless vato get himself in deeper and deeper, getting what he gets for hanging around with tipos like Junior. A fancy suit and big salary no te quita lo pendejo.

“Willows Village” is an erotic piece about a shiftless guy who voyeurs his hot aunt, trysts on her couch with tia’s roommate, loses his job, promises his wife he’ll find work or come back home, steals money from the aunt’s bedroom. When he’s forgiven his trespasses he resumes that shiftless existence, a cipher.

Speaking of hanging with the wrong crowd, there’s the couple of “To Document.” They live with a dope dealer when they get mixed up with the people across the street, a retired military guy with his bubbly friendly wife. The neighbors want to swap partners, and the guy’s girlfriend doesn’t seem all that uninterested. But the guy doesn’t play along so the affable swapper drops a dime and the dope dealer’s busted, landing the couple in deep caca and dissolution. Years pass and the guy runs across the old military tipo who is about to die alone and unimportant, except as a perverse memory.

The collection closes with “Hacia Teotitlán,” another man who is about to die alone. He doesn’t make it easy on himself. He moves from California to Oaxaca into a cramped basement departamento. He doesn't fit without bending or scrapes. The man spends his days walking the streets, becoming a regular in his places, visiting with indios learning a few phrases, waiting until it’s time. When the time comes near he abandons the tomb. The space he occupied resumes its steady flow.

Maybe it's coincidence but I'm coming across numerous books about memory, aging, dying. Rudolfo Anaya's Randy Lopez Goes Home and his play, "Angie," revolve around transitioning. Walter Mosley's The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey is a 90-year old man finding old memories and making new ones. Now Gilb's Before the End, After the Beginning introduces as fabulous a collection of characters as Gilb has written, some not-yet-old men pursuing unthoughtful lives, and ways some old men come to terms with mortality.

I know it's crass to say I'm glad Gilb got well because I enjoyed his book so much and marvel at his recuperative powers. So, I'm crass. I'm glad Gilb got well because this is one fine book.

Things Not Said

La Bloga’s review last year of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian elicited an email from writer Carla Sameth. A few years ago she’d drafted what she terms a love letter to her homeboy Sherman Alexie—Sameth originates from Seattle, too—but held off mailing it. She took it public this month, as she explains at Sameth's South Pasadena Patch blog, Single Moms of South Pas.

Sameth’s 8th grade son, Gabe, found inspiration in Alexie’s novel. After giving it a second chance, Gabe saw Alexie's story was not some victim’s anguished lament but literature as equipment for living. The rez boy learns to deal with anglo culture, making it adapt to his presence. Inclusion among the whites means separation and exclusion from family and neighbors back where he came from, giving the novel a second inspiration.

Identity, injustice, intolerance, being happy are some of the crucial processes readers discover in literature. But literature's not universal, despite its themes. Gabe's a Jewish Afro-American kid exploring reading as a way of learning about confluences and incongruencies of his personhood. Gabe's mother suspects the author of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian could suggest a number of useful titles. Not asking a question comes with a 100% guarantee of not getting an answer. Would author Sherman Alexie have read Carla Sameth’s fan letter, had she mailed it? Would Gabe have devoured that list through the next grades, learning, testing, rejecting, persistently open to all manner of ideas? The question appears answered, at the moment, with now16-year old Gabe eschewing reading other books in favor of The New Testament.

Maybe Sherman Alexie will see Single Moms of South Pas and answer Carla Sameth’s request for a reading list for a kid like Gabe. Maybe not. Maybe La Bloga readers have an arresting multiracial kid’s reading list, or a worthwhile suggestion or two, that might engage a kid like Gabe once his current reading preference diversifies.

A couple of suggestions: Maybe there’s a video of 2009's play Palestine, New Mexico, Richard Montoya with Culture Clash’s intriguing treatment of  krypto Jews, mestizaje, and patriotism. Gabe enjoys humor, so he might get behind Frank Chin’s Donald Duk, or Malín Alegria’s Sofi Mendoza's Guide To Getting Lost In Mexico. Then there’s the deadly serious shipwreck novel, Sacred Hunger, where the slaves and crew of a slave ship wreck in the Everglades, form a community for survival. A fabulous gender novel is Philip Wylie's The Disappearance, where we fall into separate dimensions, women make peace, men launch nukes at each other.

La Bloga readers may have a list or a title they recommend to kids like Gabe and his mom. Leave a Comment below to share.

Librotraficante Caravan Scheduled For March

Arizona's most egregious foolishness--banning books and intercultural communication--for all its unAmericanness, stands as law in that sadly benighted place. The State compiled its own Index Librorum Prohibitorum and then sent agents into libraries and schoolrooms to seize offending titles and pull them screaming off the shelves. 

The State's ban won't prevent gente from celebrating banned books, banned ideas by seeking them out and giving them voices. One remarkable effort comes out of Houston, the movimiento Librotraficante

Here's what Nuestra Palabra Latino writers having their say has to say about an inspired movement to restore banned books to idea-impoverished Arizona, the Librotraficante Caravan:

The Librotraficante Caravan will travel from Houston, Texas, to Tucson, Ariz., carrying a payload of contraband books, creating networks of Underground Libraries and leaving community resources in its wake. One of many responses to Arizona’s unconstitutional laws prohibiting Mexican-American Studies, the Librotraficante Caravan has captured the imagination and hearts of activists, writers, educators, and students from all walks of life who want to preserve freedom of speech.

The Librotraficante Caravan launches in Houston at 10 a.m. on Monday, March 12, from Casa Ramirez Folk Art Gallery (241 West 19th Street, Houston, Texas 77008.)  It will stop in San Antonio and El Paso, Texas; Mesilla and Albuquerque, N.M., and culminate in Tucson, Ariz., on Friday, March 16.  On St. Patrick’s Day, Saturday, March 17, we’ll host a huge literary celebration of El Batallion San Patricio at 6 p.m., celebrating Irish and Mexican collaboration of the past. The caravan celebrates Quantum Demographics, or multifaceted cultural unity, throughout its tour also highlighting African-American and Native American literary contributions along the route. The entire schedule is available online at www.Librotraficante.com.

The Librotraficante Caravan set to smuggle banned books back into Arizona has established a network of Underground Libraries in Houston, San Antonio, Albuquerque and Tucson.

The Librotraficante Caravan is partnering with nonprofit organizations to collect at least one complete set of the books banned by the Tucson Unified School District for each of these libraries. Find the complete list (.xls file) at www.Librotraficante.com.

Organizers ask multicultural writers to donate copies of their books, and continue sending newly-published titles. After filling the shelves of the Underground Libraries, public libraries may receive donated collections.

"You can bet I'll be donating my books to the Librotraficante Underground Libraries,” said Sandra Cisneros, author of HOUSE ON MANGO STREET, now prohibited by the Tucson Unified School District.

Beginning in Houston, at 10 a.m. on Monday, March 12, 2012, from Casa Ramirez Folk Art Gallery (241 West 19th Street, Houston, Texas 77008), the Librotraficante Caravan begins its trek to San Antonio and El Paso, Texas; Mesilla and Albuquerque, N.M., and arrives in Tucson, Ariz., on Friday, March 16. The entire schedule is available online at www.Librotraficante.com.

“Our literature and our history must never be at the mercy of political whim ever again. We ask supporters to donate copies of the banned books by the dozen to these Underground Libraries to preserve freedom of speech, so that all of us can tell our stories,” said Tony Diaz, El Librotraficante.

“Every great movement is sparked by outrage at a deep cultural offense,” said Tony Diaz, founder of Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say, which has led the charge, “When we heard that Tucson Unified School District administrators not only prohibited Mexican-American Studies, but then walked into classrooms, and in front of young Latino students, during class time, removed and boxed up books by our most beloved authors - that was too much. This offended us down to our soul. We had to respond.”

With its radio program and blockbuster literary showcases, Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say has 13 years of experience promoting Latino literature and literacy with authors and thinkers from across the country. This once informal alliance of artists, activists, educators, and professionals has galvanized to create cornerstone structures for a network that will remain in place for future causes as well.

The caravan is intended to:

1. Raise awareness of the prohibition of the Mexican-American Studies Program and the removal of books from classrooms.
2. Promote banned authors and their contributions to American Literature.
3. Celebrate diversity. Children of the American Dream must unite to preserve the civil rights of all Americans.
4. Create a network of resources for art, literature and activism.

Specific outcomes:

1. Underground Libraries: Librotraficantes will donate copies of the banned books to a local nonprofit in Houston, San Antonio, Albuquerque and Tucson. These sites will not only be given copies of the banned titles, but from now on, all multicultural authors are encouraged to mail copies of their books to these sites when they are published, so that our community will always have access to our literature.

2. Teach-ins and a Supplanted Book List: Workshops that include free curriculum guides with literary excerpts and lesson plans that can be used in class and immediately applied to other works.

3. Network of Librotraficantes across the country: This is a case of new media saving the classic media of books. Had Arizona done this ten years ago, we most likely would not have heard about it until it had impacted a second generation of youth. However, because of new technologies and the network of writers and activists who are communicating on multimedia platforms, we were not only able to hear about Arizona’s actions, but to also utilize new media tools to organize some classic activist strategies to respond - from now on!

ORGANIZERS: Tony Diaz, Liana Lopez, Bryan Parras, Lupe Mendez & Laura Acosta

To become a part of history in the making, visit www.Librotraficante.com and click on Donate.

Latinopia Features La Bloga Interview

La Bloga has been going strong over eight years now. This realization struck me recently when two cultural reporters requested interviews. In January, Sonia Gutiérrez shared her "face to face with La Bloga" as our guest columnist. And now, Latinopia, the fabulous video-based cultural experience, is sharing an interview with Michael Sedano.

Latinopia updates its offerings weekly. This week's features also include Diane Hernández recipe for Chicano Rice and compelling music from  indigenous musical group “Banda Regional Mixe” combined with Macedonia's “Kocani Orquestra".

no longer forget who robbed me last year

I almost had the opportunity to meet Carl Sandburg. The poet visited the home of a University of Redlands professor whose son was a good friend. Sadly, his dad prohibited visits that week, so I missed those afternoons lounging about that living room, listening to old Carl talk to us teenagers.

Election season has come at full volume a year before the national elections. Carl Sandburg's poem should be "mic checked" at every political rally. Any candidate who can stand and recite this poem without spontaneously combusting probably deserves your vote.

I am the People, the Mob  
 Carl Sandburg

I am the people—the mob—the crowd—the mass.
Do you know that all the great work of the world is done through me?
I am the workingman, the inventor, the maker of the world's food and
I am the audience that witnesses history. The Napoleons come from me
     and the Lincolns. They die. And then I send forth more Napoleons
     and Lincolns.
I am the seed ground. I am a prairie that will stand for much plowing.
     Terrible storms pass over me. I forget. The best of me is sucked out
     and wasted. I forget. Everything but Death comes to me and makes
     me work and give up what I have. And I forget.
Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red drops for history
     to remember. Then—I forget.
When I, the People, learn to remember, when I, the People, use the
     lessons of yesterday and no longer forget who robbed me last year,
     who played me for a fool—then there will be no speaker in all the
     world say the name: "The People," with any fleck of a sneer in his
     voice or any far-off smile of derision.
The mob—the crowd—the mass—will arrive then.

On-Line Floricanto February Penultimate Tuesday

“I Still Take My Chicano Self Seriously” by John Martinez
“Chicana Warrior” by Elena Diaz Bjorkquist
"Chicano Blood Transfusion" by Edward Vidaurre
“We Are Arizona” by Andrea Hernández Holm
“Banned And Boxed Up Poem” by Francisco X. Alarcón


by John Martinez

With the promise
Of two tacos de Chorizo
Pressed in foil paper
I took my Chicano finger
And wrote my name
In the hot sand,
I took my Chicano eyes
And beamed them
To the sad clouds,
The sizzling sky,
With the promise
That this row will end,
That the day
Will wind down
To a cool dark blue
Wind, that the moon
Is certain, I took my 
Chicano self seriously
And dreamed
Of a better future.

And today, in a bar full
Of Gabachos, Jews, Blacks,
Koreans, Arabs,
All in the same suit,
Pen-stripe, white shirt, 
All with that same whimper
Of "who am I," 
I think of that boy,
Shirtless and bronze 
Seated in the hot earth, 
Black hair crusted
With dry grapes,
Like a headset of feathers,
I think of being Chicano
And I write my name
On a bar Napkin,
And when addressed,
It's my Chicano self
Whose eyes are still black
As olives, whose skin
Is still of the earth 
That responds,
Because I still take my
Chicano self seriously
And I don't complain
About who I am
Or what I am
I know what I am,
I am Chicano.

(c) John Martinez 2012

Chicana Warrior

by Elena Díaz Bjorkquist ©2012

When I was younger
My parents did not approve
Of my speaking out
Not because of my politics
Not because of what I said
But because they thought
It wasn’t proper for girls
To be outspoken
To call attention
To themselves

When I was older
And they older still
They accepted me with pride
As the child who took
Up my father’s struggle
As the warrior
The fighter of injustice
The one who could speak
For those couldn’t
Who could rally others
And lead them
With cries of
“¡Si se puede!”


by Edward Vidaurre


I got shot in the gut and now I need a Chicano blood transfusion.


Promise me that the blood is from a Chicano mother. Alurista is coming down the corridor

and wants my hat for his collection and I can only come up with 180 reasons

why a Guanaco can't cross the border.


Put a sheet over my body and tag my toe. My brown skin is hindered

by the loss of blood. Lie to my daughter and tell her I'm on vacation,

a long one. Continue reading her books at night for me mother.


Minute men are looking for me and la migra has plans for me. I can't write anymore,

my pen has been taken away along with my grandma's recipe

for semita and chile rellenos.

I need them to help me break through the concrete wall mierda stretching

from Califas to Tejas.

I worry about my citizenship/permiso para jalar/needing a haircut on Sundays

I worry about people that drive small cars/con placas vencidas/con placas behind them


Alright I think they're gone



breathe if you must

We are Arizona

You break my heart
When you shoot words like
Backwards, Dark Ages,
Hicks and Assholes, Nazizona
Upon us all, soaking us all in your accusations.
You point your arrows toward us
Turn your cynicism and frustrations on us
All of us
Even though we are not all
Backwards, Hicks or Assholes
In the Dark Ages, Nazizona.
Some of us
Many of us
Most of us
Are Love and Hope,
Hearts wide open,
Minds wide open,
Arms wide open.
Nosotros somos Arizona.

Andrea Hernandez Holm 2010

by Francisco X. Alarcón

this poem has
indigenous features
and a brown skin

like Mother Earth
always will be under
“reasonable suspicion”

this poem roams
the open desert before
any barbed wire

it runs tumultuous
like a creek after
a monsoon rain

this poem breathes
the air free of charge
like a cloud in the sky

it has no need
for any legal papers
because is borderless

this poem doesn’t
believe in any imposed
mythical melting pot

it dreams the dreams
of the Native American
and Chicano/a authors

whose books were taken
away from classrooms
and boxed up in Tucson

this poem is breaking
away from these boxes
and joining in walkouts—

truth, goodness, history
will overcome no doubt
lies, evil, and silence

© Francisco X. Alarcón
January 23, 2012

por Francisco X. Alarcón
este poema tiene
facciones indígenas
y una piel color café

como la Madre Tierra
siempre causa será
de “sospecha razonable”

este poema recorre
el desierto abierto antes
cualquier alambre de púas

tumultuoso corre
como un arroyo tras
a una lluvia tormentosa

este poema respira
el aire libre de cargos
como nube en el cielo

no tiene necesidad
de papeles legales
pues no tiene fronteras

este poema no cree
en ningún crisol
mítico impuesto

sueña los sueños
de los autores nativos
y los autores chicanos

cuyos libros fueron
sacados de clases y
encajonados en Tucson

este poema se escapa
de estas cajas para unirse
a protestas de estudiantes—

la verdad, el bien, la historia
sin duda pronto vencerán
a mentiras, el mal, el silencio

© Francisco X. Alarcón
23 de enero de 2012

“I Still Take My Chicano Self Seriously” by John Martinez
“Chicana Warrior” by Elena Diaz Bjorkquist
"Chicano Blood Transfusion" by Edward Vidaurre
“We Are Arizona” by Andrea Hernández Holm
“Banned And Boxed Up Poem” by Francisco X. Alarcón

John Martinez studied Creative Writing at Fresno State University. He has published poetry in El Tecolote, Red Trapeze and the LA Weekly and has recently published poems in Poets Responding to SB1070 and this is his fourth poem appearing in LA BLOGA.  He has performed (as a musician/political activist) with Teatro De La Tierra, Los Perros Del Pueblo and TROKA, a Poetry Ensemble. He has also toured with several cumbia bands throughout the Central Valley and Los Angeles and is finishing his first Novel, Cumbia Days. He has worked for the last 17 years as an Administrator for a Los Angeles Law Firm and makes his home in Upland, California with his beautiful wife, Rosa America y Familia.

Edward Vidaurre Born in East L.A., His poems have been featured in the La Bloga, The Valley International Poetry Festival Anthology Boundless 2011, Writer’s of the Rio Grande, Harbinger Asylum’s Spring 2012 edition, and will be published in the “Texas Beat Anthology” out of UT Press in 2012. He is the host of Pasta, Poetry & Vino a monthly poetry reading featuring poets from and around the Rio Grande Valley in south Texas.
Francisco X. Alarcón, award winning Chicano poet and educator, is author of twelve 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)  His latest book is Ce•Uno•One: Poems for the New Sun (Swan Scythe Press 2010). His 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. His previous bilingual book titled Poems to Dream Together (Lee & Low Books 2005) was awarded the 2006 Jane Addams Honor Book Award. He has been a finalist nominated for Poet Laureate of California in two occasions.  He teaches at the University of California, Davis.
Francisco recently participated in the First Children’s Poetry Festival in El Salvador (Nov. 8-10, 2010) and was able to visit Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero’s tomb beneath the metropolitan cathedral of San Salvador. Monseñor Romero was killed saying mass in 1980 marking one of the most violent periods of the civil war in El Salvador.

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