Saturday, June 30, 2012

Spic vs spec - 4. Chicanos/latinos & sci-fi lit

continued from last week. . .

by Rudy Ch. Garcia

The last post in this series about latinos/sci-fi received some serious responses. I'm going to post one because it's from a publisher, and after all, that's what writers are always looking for. Discussion among writers is good, gets the brain synapsing, generates ideas, maybe disagreement, as well, but what good's a blog without meaningful input from the readers?

It's from Stacy Whitman, editorial director at Tu Books, an imprint of Lee and Low Books. She's got the latest word, at least about her company, and some of it will be news to those wondering about YA, at least, and sci-fi. There's some info on fantasy here, as well.

Before we get to that, in reference to my suggestion that there might be a niche in sci-fi for latino writers, here are numbers from Stacy's Grimoir website. She calls this her Multicultural SFF Booklist, in other words, sci-fi and fantasy aimed at kids that incorporate good elements of diversity. Guess what? There's only one latino--that I could identify--in the entire list. To me, the numbers indicate a probable latino niche for sci-fi. Here they are:

Multicultural SFF Booklist (5/12)

Middle Grade Fantasy - 21 books
Middle Grade Science Fiction - 2 books

Young Adult Fantasy - 39 Books [includes City of the Beasts by Isabel Allende]
Young Adult Science Fiction - 6 Books

Except for Allende, there are no identifiable latino authors in this multicultural list! And this is not only a list of her company's pubs; these are ALL the books by ANY publisher (in English) that she could identify at the time. Questions obviously arise: Did she miss any? (If so, send us the info.) Does the 21 to 2 and the 39 to 6 ratio of fantasy to sci-fi, mean that sci-fi sales are smaller? Obviously. Does it mean that there's not much call for sci-fi from publishers? Not necessarily. Below are Stacy's thoughts on that and related matters. I've bolded items very related to this discussion.

From Stacy Whitman:
I think the market is great for Latino YA and middle grade speculative fiction (both science fiction and fantasy), though fantasy still wins out over science fiction as far as number of books on the market. I think the balance will to be changing in the next few years, given the number of science fiction deals I've heard about recently. A great number of the YA deals are dystopian--which crosses over with SF when done well, but isn't always hard SF; many are either social science SF or not really SF at all. But I've also seen a number of solid SF deals announced--space, genetic engineering, post-apocalyptic, plague (medical SF), that sort of thing. Some have recently come out, including our own Galaxy Games: The Challengers, and Little, Brown's 172 Hours on the Moon.

I don't know that SF will ever become as huge as it once was in 50s and 60s--times have changed and we're kind of living in the future, and SF hasn't always adapted to that. We need more Westerfelds and Pearsons (including Latino/a authors), rather than more Heinleins, as innovative as his work was in the 50s and 60s.

I haven't yet had a full-length novel science fiction submission that stars Latinos, but I'm looking for one. We do have a short story in our fall anthology of dystopian tales, Diverse Energies (most strongly science fiction), a story about a Dominican/Arab/black teen who has to deal with random shifts in time (Uncertainty Principle by K. Tempest Bradford ).

As for the speculative umbrella, also coming this fall, Pura Belpre Author Award winner Guadalupe Garcia McCall's next book, Summer of the Mariposas, is coming out from Tu Books, a Mexican American retelling of THE ODYSSEY from the point of view of the eldest of five sisters. It's a fantasy/magical realism tale, but of course falls under the speculative umbrella.

I think it's really important for publishers to be thinking about diversity, including Latinos, for our speculative fiction, particularly for kids. Kids of color (including all minorities) now comprise 50% of kids 0-18 in the U.S. It won't be much longer, then, when kids of color make up 50% of kids in schools. These kids are readers (or we're working on helping them become readers), and they need to see themselves reflected in the books they read, just as all kids need to see a window into worlds that differ from their own. And realism isn't the only important place where we need these mirrors and windows (and, as one author put it, sliding glass doors we can open and walk through).

Speculative fiction is where we imagine all sorts of possibilities. And as La Bloga noted in the last post, an interest in science fiction can help kids become interested in studying science. More importantly, kids who are good readers in their spare time are more likely to succeed in getting into and through college, no matter what they decide to study. Reading fiction for fun helps kids gain fluency in reading, which helps them do better in school. Reluctant readers, especially, often find that speculative fiction creates that love of reading in themselves. It's great for both the avid reader and the kid who hasn't discovered he or she is an avid reader yet.

Market-wise, more and more Latino kids (and their parents) are looking for books that reflect them, books that represent their experience with the world, books that draw upon their culture as they imagine a far-flung future or alternate worlds.

And more readers of all backgrounds are starting to wonder why their books aren't as diverse as the world around them, and have started to look for more diversity in their reading.

By the way, one book that you haven't covered in your posts is the YA SF novel Black Hole Sun by David Macinnis Gill. The author is not Latino, but the main character is--he's a mercenary on Mars. It's a good one, and I think it's done fairly well. The newest book in the series (a trilogy?) just came out.

More and more SF is coming out right now. I personally think the glut of fantasy in the market (compared to SF's relatively small presence in the last 10 years or so) is balancing out to at least a little more SF. Combine that with a greater emphasis on diversity and I think we'll see more diverse SF. I plan on publishing it!
Stacy Whitman, Editorial Director, Tu Books

I leave her post for readers to consider and respond to. Obviously, she's only one person from one publishing company--though I'd love to receive more from other editors to add to this discussion--and this is only her opinion. If anything, though, each of her points tell me there's something out there for Latino.

And consider this: the book Stacy points out as an SF novel with latino protagonist Durango was written (assumedly) by a non-Latino. He got it published with Harper Collins, one of big 8. Plus, they published another sci-fi novel with the same character called Invisible Sun. In no way to disparage his work, but, Latinos! Where's our sci-fi?

Es todo, hoy,

Rudy Ch. Garcia's magic realism story Mr. Sumac appeared this week in AQC Books' journal Kingdom Freaks and Other Divine Wonders, tho it's undetermined whether it was picked to be a freak or a wonder. Go here for a free preview and to order.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Border Noir - No hablo inglés

Here's the cover for the new anthology, Border Noir: Hard Boiled Fiction From The Southwest. 

Nice, huh? This collection is edited by Álvaro Rodríguez (Machete) published by VAO Publishing, and due in bookstores and digital downloads by the end of July. I know fellow bloguero Ernest Hogan is in the collection but that's all I know. Well, I'm in it, too. My short story is entitled When the Air Conditioner Quit. I can tell you that what happens ain't pretty when it's too hot, too dangerous, and there's no relief in sight. 

Sorry, but at this point I don't know the name of the cover artist. The cover actually could be the image for my story, but I have a feeling that a pensive guy drinking in a bar might appear more than once in a collection of bleak stories from the heart of Aztlan.

In honor of the upcoming collection, I thought I would reintroduce a story I published back in 2006 in a collection called, coincidentally, Borderland Noir. This collection was edited by Craig MacDonald and appeared in the infamous but long gone e-zine, Hardluck Stories. The story begins in a bar ...

No hablo inglés
Manuel Ramos

The lone ray of sunshine streaming through a crease in the dirt-stained window caught the corner of my eye and my head throbbed. A splinter of pain lodged itself in my eyeball. I sucked on a Tecate and a slice of lime whose rind had brown spots. I couldn’t remember the name of the joint in Juárez that had produced the hangover.

“So, what’s the deal, Manolo? Can you do any kind of lawyerin’, or is it like, you know, over for good?”

Nick knew I didn’t talk about my disbarment, but he asked crap all the time.

“Nick,” I answered, looking him straight in his blood-shot eyes, “can you still say Mass? Give communion with the watered-down tequila you serve?”

He said something like “fuck you” and turned his attention to wiping the far side of the bar with a gray, stiff rag.

I dropped two bucks and eased out of the clammy, musty-smelling air of Nick’s Cave and into the white glare and oven heat of another El Paso morning.

I hated the town, but that wasn’t El Paso’s fault. I hated myself and that meant I hated wherever I woke up. That summer it was El Paso.

I waited in the congestion and noise that led to the Santa Fe International Bridge, sweating through my shirt, as lost as if I had been abandoned naked in the desert. I lit up my last American Spirit and crossed the street when the traffic slowed for a minute.

The diner was busy and I hesitated at the door until a fat old Mexican wearing a packing-house hardhat pushed himself from his table, stuck a few dollars under his fork, and walked out with a toothpick hanging from his lip. I took his place before it had been cleared by the fat young Mexican busboy. He grimaced at me when he came to pick up the greasy plate and stained coffee cup but he didn’t say anything. He also didn’t wipe the crumbs off the tabletop.

I opened my notebook and stared at the pages of the great Chicano novel that I had decided I would write that summer, seeing as how I didn’t have much else to do. My words didn’t make sense. Some of the sentences trailed off the edge of the page. I must have been drunk when I wrote most of them.

The waitress cleared her throat and I realized that she stood next to me.

“What you want, Manolo?” she asked in Spanish.

I answered, in English, “Eggs and chorizo, coffee. One of those grilled jalapeños.”

She said, “Whatever,” in English, and appeared to run away from me.
What the hell, I thought. We used to be friends. At least one night not that long ago we were really good friends. Why she act like that?

The door opened and hot air rushed in. I smelled sweat and grease.

“You the lawyer?” The accent was thick but the words were clear.

She was small, pretty, dark, and afraid.

“No, I’m not a lawyer.”

“The man at the bar across the street.” Her eyes were wide and her lips trembled. “He said the lawyer came in here and that he would be wearing a white shirt. You’re the only man in here with a white shirt.”

I looked at the diner’s other customers and she was right.

“But that doesn’t make me a lawyer.”

Tears welled up in her eyes but nothing rolled down her cheeks. She backed out of the diner, looked up and down the street, then raced in the direction of Mexico.

The frayed cuffs of my shirt had a thin border of dirt. I fingered the empty space where a missing button belonged.

The waitress appeared with my coffee. I stubbed out what was left of my smoke and carefully placed it in my shirt pocket. I said, “This used to be a very good shirt. I wore it in court. I used to kick butt in this shirt.”

She rolled her eyes and shook her head.

“You are so full of shit, Manolo.” She hurried away again.

I pulled out my wallet and was relieved to see the twenty. For an instant I thought I might have left it all in Juárez. I had more back in my room, in the so-called safe, but I understood that it was running out. The dregs of what I had managed to salvage from the Colorado Supreme Court’s order to reimburse my former clients couldn’t last more than a few weeks.

I finished the breakfast, except for the chile, and drank several cups of coffee and finally left when the waitress stopped coming by. I crossed the street again and forced myself into Nick’s.

Two men sat at the bar, dressed in cowboy hats and shirts, jeans and boots. They talked loudly with the speeded-up rhythm of Mexicans who have been too long on the American side of the border. I sat in one of the booths, almost in darkness. My eyes took their time adjusting to the change in light and when Nick asked me what I wanted, I could barely make out his silhouette.

“Just a beer. Tecate.”

Nick had a CD player behind the bar and I thought I heard Chalino Sánchez. The slightly off-key, high-pitched voice of the martyred wannabe filled the bar with a lament about bad luck with young women. An accordion, a tinny cymbal, brass horns and drums emphasized the singer’s misery.

When Nick came back and set down the beer can, I grabbed his wrist.

“What did that woman want, Nick? Why did you send her to me?”

“The fuck I know? She said she was lookin’ for the Chicano lawyer. There’s only one asshole I know that fits that description. I told her you was across the street.” He jerked his arm free of my grip.

“There are plenty of Chicano lawyers in this town. Too many. What made you think she wanted me?”

He had turned away. He stopped, looked down at me. “She didn’t have any money.”

I rubbed my temples, took my time with the beer.

The two men at the bar stood up, arguing and shoving each other. Nick shouted at them to get the hell out but they ignored him. I squeezed myself into the corner of the booth and watched as one of the men pulled a knife from somewhere and slashed at the other man. Drops of blood appeared on the slashed man’s shirt. He slapped his chest with his left hand. Nick grabbed the man with the knife, knocked the weapon free, and wrestled him to the door. Curses and shouts filled the bar and whoever had followed Chalino Sánchez on Nick’s CD player was drowned out by the familiar sound of men fighting in a bar. The wounded man stumbled to the doorway just as Nick tossed out the knife-wielder.

The former friends stood about two feet apart, in the middle of the sidewalk. The cut man’s fingers gripped his chest and were covered with blood. The other man grinned. He finally laughed and walked away. His bloody companion slowly followed.

“Look at this floor,” Nick shouted. “Goddam blood spots. Now I got to get the bleach.” His face was red and a thin line of blood traced his jawline.

I stood up from the booth and walked to where Nick examined the floor.

“That woman, Nick? What was her problem?”
“You fuckin’ kiddin’ me? Why didn’t you ask her yourself? She said somethin’ about her sister. Usual shit. Christ.” He shook his head and disappeared into a closet. I heard him banging a bucket and shaking out a mop.

I made it back to my room and laid down on the bed. I sweated for an hour, listening to the traffic in the street below, smelling the traffic. I blotted out everything else about the room, the town, the day. When I decided to leave, I took off the white shirt and replaced it with a blue shirt that I had never worn in court.

I walked toward the border, to the bridge where anyone with a quarter can cross into Mexico unless the bridge is closed because of a bomb threat. There had been such a threat the day before and that had been my excuse to stay in Juárez longer than I had planned. That’s what I had told myself at dawn when I tripped on the American side of the bridge and had trouble getting up.

I finished the butt saved from breakfast and scanned the line of people walking into Mexico. I looked over the vendors with their trinkets and gewgaws, tried to recognize the face of the small, dark, pretty, and frightened woman who had wanted to talk to a North American lawyer about her sister.

“You ever been to the shrine of Santa Muerte?” The boy asking the question had straight, thick hair, like some kind of Indian, and the darkest eyes I had ever seen on a human being. One of the eyes was crooked and it distracted me so that when he spoke I thought he was talking to someone behind and to the left of me.

“Saint Death? I don’t think so. I don’t have time, and I don’t have any money.”

“Hey, pocho, I don’t want your money. I’m talking about La Santisima Muerte, the only real saint, the only one worth praying to anyway.” His English was good, better than my Spanish, so we talked in English. “She only promises what she will actually deliver, and she treats everyone the same — rich, poor, Mexican, gringo.”

The boy wasn’t going anywhere so I asked a question. “What kind of shrine is this?”

“A special place. A girl got killed there and when her mother found the body it was covered in roses that bloomed for weeks after. Now people go there to ask for help.”

“Why would I want to see this shrine?”

“You’re looking for something. Ain’t nothing she can’t help find, because everything and everyone all end up with her anyway.”

I used my handkerchief to wipe the sweat from the back of my neck. The monogrammed MT had faded from it’s original deep royal blue to a pallid gray. I stuffed the handkerchief back in my pocket.
“Tell me, boy. You think someone who is looking for a lost sister might go to the shrine?”

He smiled and exposed gaps in his teeth.

“She already has, pocho. About an hour ago. I took her myself.”

“Show me.”

“Two American dollars.”

“You said you didn’t want money.”

“That was before you wanted something.”

I gave him the two bills and I thought how that could buy me a cold beer at Nick’s.
The boy veered from the bridge and we dashed across the street. He scrambled into an alley, then another, turned back and headed to the outskirts of the town. I sweated like I had a fever, and my breath came hard and fast before we ended up in the basement of a broken-down apartment building.

We walked along a narrow concrete hallway that smelled of copal and marigolds. Candles lit the way into a dark, damp corner of the basement. Hundreds of candles. The boy kept walking, didn’t look at me, didn’t say a word.

The statute of the saint of death standing on a makeshift altar looked like the grim reaper to me. Various offerings surrounded it — food, money, photographs, pieces of clothing. There were about a dozen people standing or kneeling around the altar and they mumbled prayers that I couldn’t understand. I walked around the small room and looked for the woman who had confronted me in the diner but the only light came from candles and the people kept their faces down and hidden behind mantillas and dusty hats. I didn’t see the woman.

I wanted to ask the boy to take me back but he was gone. Some in the crowd started to leave and I followed them down what I thought was the same candled hallway. They murmured to each other, stayed close and kept looking over their shoulders at me. They moved faster and I had to exert myself to keep up with them. They turned a corner but when I followed, they were gone. I was in another small room without candles, without any light. I heard Spanish words and phrases and the brassy, loud grating music of a Mexican band. Then I heard words in a language I did not recognize and music that I had never heard before.

I waited. A few minutes passed, then another group of people from the shrine entered the room and shifted sharply to my left, toward an opening that I had not seen.

I said, “Wait, show me the way. I’m lost.”
An old woman wearing a black shawl over her waist-long gray hair stopped. She looked at me and said, “No hablo inglés.”

I repeated my request in Spanish but she shrugged and trudged into the darkness. I followed the sounds of her footsteps. After a few minutes I heard nothing but I kept walking in the dark, sometimes feeling my way around corners, until I found myself  in the stench and heat of a deserted El Paso alley.

An hour later I was back in Nick’s, drinking a beer.

“They’re on their way to lose their cherries, across the bridge.” Nick smirked at the boys at the end of the bar. I assumed he talked to me because the underage boys were the only other people in the bar and he must have figured that he would be less susceptible to being shut down if he avoided them, even though he served them shots of tequila.
I didn’t have a response.

“They found another one,” Nick said.

“Another what,” I asked, but I knew what he was talking about.

“A dead woman, out in the desert by the wire. Cut up like the others. Been missin’ for weeks.”

“How many’s that?”

“There’s no official count. Hundreds, thousands. Like that girl the woman was lookin’ for. Missin’ for weeks.”

“How do you know that?”

He frowned. “She told me, what do you think? Anyway, she’s lookin’ for her missin’ sister, in Juárez and El Paso. What the hell you think that means?”

I got up to leave. “Why would she want to talk to me about that? I can’t do anything about her missing sister.”

“Come on, Manolo. You can’t do anything about anybody’s problems. Remember? You screwed that up, as I heard you explain one night.”

“Yeah, yeah. I screwed it up. So why would she want to talk to me?”

He shrugged, twisted his bar rag. “She heard about the American lawyer. That means somethin’ to some people. She heard that the lawyer hung out in the bars. She tried to track you down. She thought you might be able to help, maybe you knew somebody, maybe you heard somethin’. She had nowhere else to go, no one else to talk to.” He tossed his rag under the bar. “Dammit, Manolo, I don’t know.”
He walked over to the boys and said, “How about another one for the road?” They laughed uneasily and moved away when he tried to put his arm around the shoulders of the shortest kid.

I left Nick and his dingy bar and his ugly reputation and swore that I was done with all of it. I had walked about two blocks when I saw her. She leaned against a brick wall, the side of a building that housed a mercado where every week tourists spent thousands of dollars on useless souvenirs and phony mementos.

She cringed when she saw me.

“I can’t help. I don’t know anything, anyone.” I used my hands to help my explanation.

She cocked her head. Her face was smudged with the tracks of the tears that had finally flowed.

She reached into her thin jacket and waved a small gun. I shook my head and put my hands in front of me but she pulled the trigger. The shot made me jump, then I fell to the ground. The pain in my shoulder wrenched my torso. I twisted on the grimy sidewalk.

I gurgled one word: “What?”

“No hablo inglés,” she said. She dropped the gun and walked away.

I sat up but dizziness bent me forward and I slumped to the sidewalk.

The hospital released me two days later. I left El Paso and returned to Denver.

When it snows my shoulder aches and I smell copal and marigolds.



Thursday, June 28, 2012

Removed from publication at author's request.

Dear Reader:

The material you were seeking at this address has been removed from publication at the author's request. La Bloga apologizes for the inconvenience.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

2012 Américas Book Award Winners

For more information visit

The Américas Award is given in recognition of U.S. works of fiction, poetry, folklore, or selected non-fiction (from picture books to works for young adults) published in the previous year in English or Spanish that authentically and engagingly portray Latin America, the Caribbean, or Latinos in the United States. By combining both and linking the Americas, the award reaches beyond geographic borders, as well as multicultural-international boundaries, focusing instead upon cultural heritages within the hemisphere. The award is sponsored by the national Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs (CLASP).

The award winners and commended titles are selected for their 1) distinctive literary quality; 2) cultural contextualization; 3) exceptional integration of text, illustration and design; and 4) potential for classroom use. The winning book will be honored at a ceremony on October 23, 2010. at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 

2012 Américas Award Winners

Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck by Margarita Engle. Henry Holt and Company. 160 pages. ISBN 978-0805092400.

Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People by Monica Brown; Illustrated by Julie Paschkis. Henry Holt and Company. 32 pages. 978-0805091984.

2012 Américas Award Honorable Mention

Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall. Lee and Low Books, Inc. 224 pages. ISBN 978-1-60060-429-4 9 (hc)

The Queen of Water by Laura Resau and María Virginia Farinango. Delacorte Press. 352 pages. ISBN 987-0-385-73897-2 (hc ); 978-0-385-90761-3 (lib. bdg.); 978-0-375-89680-4 (ebook).

2012 Américas Commended Title

Sylva and Aki by Winifred Conkling. Tricycle Press. 151 pages. ISBN 978-1-58246-337-7 (hc); 978-1-58246-397-1 (lib.bdg.).

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Guest columnist Raquel Z. Rivera. The Gluten-free Chicano. Banned Books Update. Oedipus at Chicago. On-Line Floricanto.

Guest Columnist: Raquel Z. Rivera  

Review: Not Myself Without You. A novel by Lourdes Vázquez. English translation by Bethany M. Korp-Edwards. Tempe, Arizona: Bilingual Press, 2012.
ISBN 978-1-931010-68-9

Raquel Z. Rivera.

I loved this novel the first time I read it in its original Spanish edition under the title Sin ti no soy yo (Ediciones Puerto, 2005). And I loved it just as much now that I read it in its English translation titled Not Myself Without You (Bilingual Press, 2012).

A playful and powerful novel that in the book jacket is described as a fictionalized memoir, Not Myself Without You is a gripping tale centered around family and neighborhood life in Santurce, Puerto Rico, featuring numerous fascinating characters, love affairs, hatreds, betrayals, politics and a very popular Spiritist temple.

But though Santurce serves as the spatial axis, the novel also moves across various sites of Puerto Rican migration including New York, Spain and a few countries throughout the Caribbean Basin, thus making the text refreshingly immersed in the complex geographic movement that pervades Caribbean experiences.

Also significant is the fact that the social fabric of Vázquez's Santurce weaves together the inextricable experiences of the various ethnic groups that live and struggle together in that neighborhood—most notably Puerto Ricans, Haitians, Dominicans and Cubans.

This novel's understated but wicked humor, as well as its eroticism, are wonderful lenses with which to approach somber themes like abuse, trauma, poverty and political violence. Its aesthetic unorthodoxy that splices together prayers, rituals, family photographs, popular sayings, and interviews, among other imaginative sources, makes the narrative even more compelling.

Though no one character hogs the limelight, many of them leave indelible marks in readers' imagination. I was particularly impressed and intrigued by the cannabis-loving great-aunts who ask that, upon their death, their ashes be scattered throughout New York City's Central Park.

Lourdes Vázquez's deeply moving yet tricksterish novel is a delight to read and I am overjoyed that it is now available in English.

Meet Raquel
Foto: Jorge Vázquez
Raquel Z. Rivera is an author and singer-songwriter. Author of New York Ricans from the Hip Hop Zone (Palgrave Macmillan 2003) and co-editor of Reggaeton (Duke University Press 2009), she has also published numerous journalistic and scholarly articles on Caribbean Latino popular music and culture.

Her creative essays, short stories and poetry have been published in newspapers, magazines, literary journals and websites. Her musical debut as a singer-songwriter is Las 7 Salves de La Magdalena / 7 Songs of Praise for The Magdalene (2010), a concept album that weaves together Dominican salves, Puerto Rican jibaro music, bomba and other Caribbean roots genres. She has a Ph.D. in Sociology.

The Gluten-free Chicano Finds Vacation Eating Less Complicated  

Michael Sedano

Travel leads the gluten-adverse eater into a minefield of wheat-laced traps involved with dining on the road. At home, I have my regular haunts where I already know what to order and what to avoid and generally avoid the standard litany of questions about bread, flour, wheat, thickeners.

Travel trepidation comes with the road, so I expected my recent vacation would put me on edge every time I got hungry. Up on Monterey’s Cannery Row then down the coast, the Gluten-free Chicano discovered new levels of professionalism among food-servers and managers, earning some establishments the coveted and much sought after La Bloga Gluten-free Chicano Please, May I Have Some More? Award.

The Gluten-free Chicano Recognitions and Advertencias:
Restaurants & Eateries fall into four groups of gluten awareness:
Never Mind, just a salad.
Bad Dog!
Right Attitude…
Please, May I Have Some More?

Bad Dog!
Harris Ranch presents a great place for wheat eaters, dim prospects for the gluten adverse.

Harris Ranch Restaurant
24505 W Dorris Av
Coalinga, CA 93210

Delight stumbles out of the gate at this popular traveler’s eatery. Heading north on the I-5 from El Lay, I enjoy either Harris Ranch or pea soup at Andersen’s in Santa Nella, from there backtracking a few miles to Pacheco Pass.
Anxious to see if Pacheco Pass is showing its golden poppy vistas, my wife and I elect to gas the Prius in Coalinga and catch some chow.

We are not alone. Harris Ranch parking lot, gift shop, bar, and restaurant are crowded. Thousands of mouths pack this place monthly throughout the year.

It’s no surprise after seeing miles of cattle feed lots: Harris Ranch menu features steaks. What is surprising, given those thousands of customers, is the absence of gluten awareness in waitstaff. No one wants to be sickened from contaminated food, especially driving in the hinterlands miles from a convenience.

The waiter’s frown signals either confusion or he’s put off when I persist in asking about ingredients, and ask that he hold the croutons. He makes no connection between wheat, bread, and flour. I settle for a small steak, no sauce, no fries, steamed vegetables instead. Over at the next table, a cowboy family munches onion rings that sound crunchy and look delicious. And I’m sure the kitchen fries papitas in the same oil as the onion rings.

We pay LA prices in the middle of nowhere. The steamed veggies are properly steamed; the broccoli stem resists the fork and the carrots crunch.
San Luis Reservoir at Pacheco Pass
Pacheco Pass shows why we’re called the golden state. Not owing to gorgeous poppy fields but sere landscapes of desiccated grasses and deep-green oak trees.

Right Attitude…
The Chart House waitstaff and management display professionalism in their knowledge and helpfulness but miss crucial small details in food display.

The Chart House
444 Cannery Row
Monterey, CA 93940
(831) 372-3362

An order taker is completely informed. I ask if a dish contains flour and she asks if I have a gluten intolerance. It’s the perfect answer and I’m prepared for a perfect evening. As we go through my order, she steers me off a bad choice, just in case. Shortly, the manager stops by to reassure me the food is safe for me to eat. I’m starry-eyed.

This Chart House’s fabulous salad bar brings me back whenever I’m in Monterey. The salad bar features the expected off-limits foods and sauces but with the cornucopia of naturally gluten free verdura, who needs crisp noodles and ranch or soy sauce dressing?

The restaurant arrays the minced and diced vegetables, tomatoes, raisins, seeds, nuts, chopped eggs and the like in stainless steel tubs racked four across and three down, it’s not really a horn.

Chow mein noodles and croutons occupy top rows. As customers dig in for these wheat treats, spills invariably contaminate food in the lower containers bombarded with wheat detritus. Instantly, otherwise gluten-free ingredients like celery or olives become off-limits.

Some oblivious diners drag crackers through the hummus or aguacate, all happy about the convenience, not minding the crumbs embedded in the once gluten-free dish.

A place for everything, and everything in its place. Move the wheat to the bottom row! Clean up the area just as you’d wipe a spill waterglass—immediately. Here is The Chart House Cannery Row’s prime opportunity to distinguish itself as a place where the gluten-free chicano and others can relax carefree and say, please, may I have some more?

Please, May I Have Some More?
and Bad Dog!
Trattoria Paradiso lunchtime awesome service but dinner shift falls flat. The sublime to the dangerous.

Trattoria Paradiso
654 Cannery Row
Monterey, CA 93940
(831) 375-4155

Trattoria Paradiso shares the building with our hotel at the opposite end of Cannery Row from the aquarium. Next door, derelict sardine factories, chainlink fencing, and homeless dudes smoking cigarettes drinking tall cans of beer laugh and take in the free sunset.

At this end of Cannery Row, pedestrians are striding to someplace else, so Trattoria Paradiso has a barker out front who slows folks down promoting free appetizers with anything inside.

Owing to the miracles of medical engineering, we don’t walk far nor often these days, which is fine because we enjoy the menu here. The calamari salad is safe. The catch of the day, grilled, is perfect. Better, we have some fifty steps from the table to the hotel elevator and we’re in our second floor room starting the fireplace blazing.

Given the highs and lows of last night’s meal at The Chart House, I’m unprepared for the excellence Trattoria Paradiso provides at lunch. Professionalism like this is what keeps specialty places going strong, once eaters discover the place.

I ask the order taker about wheat and immediately he targets gluten as the issue. He knows his kitchen, answering without consulting them. After taking the order to the kitchen, he returns to confirm my choices are gluten free. You get what you inspect, not what you expect are words to live by, for the Gluten-free Chicano, and this outstanding waiter.

A few moments later, the manager steps by to reassure me my plate will reflect the kitchen’s knowledge and care. Now I’m reeling with delight. Her sincere concern for food safety and customer satisfaction reassure me and I dine comfortably, especially when a sea otter floats past my window with a large crab on its chest.

That evening we exit the hotel main entrance, turn right, turn right, and we get “our” table at Trattoria Paradiso. It’s the night shift, that’s why my experience is day and night.

The order taker gives me an incredulous look when I tell him I cannot eat bread, wheat, or flour. He then assures me a dish I’d like to order “should be” flourless. He’s amenable when I ask him to check with the kitchen to be sure. He’s gone a long time, especially for a nearly empty restaurant.

He returns with a spring in his step. Someone in back has told him that guy’s not kidding, it’s true. There are people who cannot eat bread. Now he’s open to questions.

I say nothing to him when he pretends to knowledge, asking me if I’m sure I want the potatoes because... Because nothing. I explain that rice and potatoes are good, that it’s wheat, bread, flour, that the Gluten-free Chicano cannot eat. Rice and potatoes are fine I inform him and I hope he learns.

The night shift manager keeps her distance. She’s eavesdropped my ordering experience and chooses to have nothing to do with that guy.

Right Attitude…
The Sow’s Ear has delightful people open to information. This makes up for abysmal lack of food service knowledge.

The Sow’s Ear 
2248 Main Street
Cambria, CA 93428
(805) 927-4865

A few years ago, I discovered Alburquerque’s Gruet champagne along with this place in Cambria, and it’s why I return tonight.
Massive Cypress trees mark start of the walk to beyond the end of the street.
My former Cambria favorites—The Brambles, The Dover House--long ago closed, so that day The Sow’s Ear looks as good a choice as any. Mejor, the restaurant is a short walk from our lodging, The Bluebird, where we’ve stayed since our honeymoon in 1968.

The grandeur of a drive along the edge of the continent from Pt. Lobos through Big Sur to Cambria raises appetites. Astounding beauty does that to city people. That’s why I make an early reservation via the internet the prior week. We’re ushered to the separate dining room in the casí empty place. There’s a large Snow White Disney lithograph over our heads.

My order taker has no idea what I am talking about, flour? wheat? “Gru-ey” especially perplexes her. Up in Alburquerque, where the wine originates, the locals call the name with that frenchified vowel instead of a dental stop. Target and targeay, sabes?

But she and her co-worker make the evening such a delight with their chatter and challenge. She explains all seven dwarves hide in the textures of the reproduction. She stops by between visits to another table and gives us hints to the seventh dwarf. The dining couple over there are whispering about our chatter and laughter. I'm sure they feel left out and leave quickly.

It’s a family place and I suspect the kids are familia. Doing a good job there, with these kids, gente. But the Gluten-free Chicano insists they go ask the kitchen about ingredients. That’s a safe SOP in any restaurant where the order taker answers “Huh?”

Please, May I Have Some More?
Medusa's is Cambria's early morning breakfast place, the only one in town.

Medusa’s Sunshine Taqueria
1053 Main St
Cambria, CA 93428
(805) 927-0135

How can you go wrong with blanquillos over-medium, beans, rice, and tortilla de maíz, especially when Medusa’s is the only restaurant open at 630 on a Saturday morning? Still, remembering a Mexican restaurant in Glendale Arizona that adds flour to the arroz and frijoles, I ask about wheat. The vato is confused and maybe a little offended by the question. Así es, inspect/expect.

Santa Ynez Valley heavily planted with wine vineyards.
I order tortillas de maíz, say “hi” to the owner’s scurrying daughter before mom takes her on some errand in their shiny SUV parked outside, then dig in and nourish myself before hitting the road for the Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara, and home.

Home. The Gluten-free Chicano knows where to go and what to order. It’s the most encouraging development in gluten-free eating on the road to discover how effectively some food service professionals do their jobs, accepting responsibly to learn about food allergies and know how to ensure their gluten-free guests dine safely and feel good about it.

Banned Books Update

Your country, if you're a Unitedstatesian, continues to support ethnic animosity in Arizona. The Supremes say it's OK for the cops to ask you for your papers.

Arizonans, keep your Driver License in the banned book Drink Cultura. Use your papers to bookmark the page where the essay on "pendejo" starts. I apologize in advance if this gets you shot while reaching for a dangerous book.

Yes, this and all those other books on the same subject continue as before. Banned.

Alfaro's Oedipus El Rey to Entertain Chicago

Back in 2008, I enjoyed the opportunity take in a staged reading at the Malibu Getty of Luis Alfaro's reworking of Oedipus. The staging I enjoyed was rough and a la brava, and thoroughly engaging. Alfaro injected wild humor into the Sphinx scene that I hope stays in this production with different cast and Director.

The piece has advanced quite dramatically, fittingly enough, and now reaches the stage Directed by Chay Yew at Chicago's  Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N Lincoln Ave., June 29 through July. For details, click this link or visit the Theatre site at

Alfaro, right, and then-Director Jon Lawrence Rivera in 2008.
Lucky Chicago. Only one letter away from being puro Chicano, two letters from pura Chicana, and a couple days from the opening of a month-long run of Luis Alfaro's engaging Oedipus El Rey.

La Bloga invites Chicagolandia readers to write a review and share it here as a guest columnist.

On-Line Floricanto as June 2012 Wraps and Summer Starts

Francisco Alarcón and the moderators of the Facebook group, Poetry of Resistance: Poets Responding to SB 1070, bring June to a close nominating a slate that includes four poets who respect their art and audience. Abrazotes welcoming these four poets: Alma Luz Villanueva, Nancy Aidé González,  Andrea Mauk, John Martinez.

"Heat" by Alma Luz Villanueva
“Tapestry of Dawn” by Nancy Aidé González
“Hush Tones” by Andrea Mauk
"Words Can Set The Meter Of Healing" by John Martinez

by Alma Luz Villanueva

"...this glowering shadow
touched the edge but did not wholly absorb
the Goddess's orb..."  
"El Sueno," Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz

We were born from
Mother Africa's
heat, Womb-
the Americas were

in heat long
before Europe, the
migration from, to
heat    heat    heat,

great cultures,
agriculture, astronomy
literature, poetry, oh
the poetry, the dance,

Pyramids swirling to the
song of stars, great
Cosmos over head, great
Earth beneath feet-

Mother Africa, Egypt,
Great Isis, dreaming
to the Americas Turtle
Island, Spider Woman

Changing Woman, Great
Ixchel, these fertile
Turtle Islands in
heat, makes me crazy

with joy
burning beauty
undying poetry
what they
burned is
etched in
our dreams
poetry spouting
from our
mouths our
eyes our
fingertips our
feet our
testicles our
wombs in
heat    heat    heat
we blossom
the ancient
the new
always in
heat in
spring in
to the
Sixth Sun
I am crazy
in love
in heat
O beauty
O poetry
scorch me
heal me
birth me
teach me
ancient dreams
ancient heat

To Summer Solstice HEAT, Sixth Sun in bloom...

                                      Alma Luz Villanueva
                                      San Miguel de Allende, Mexico  June 2012
                                      Always traveling the ancient trade routes, Kokopelli by my side...

Tapestry of Dawn
by Nancy Aidé González

Sun, summoning dawn
truth will come with portraits of consciousness
narratives of shelter

interlocked woven fabrics
find equilibrium
strings of transcendence in cosmos

beyond ancient knowledge alive
planets orbit echoing memory of universe
saffron stars manifest wholeness

nimbus treasures – rain
jaguars roam spirit realm
leave prints where

trees take root
in tierra firme
drawing humanity closer.

© Nancy Aidé González  2012

by Andrea Mauk

In the hush, there is calm.
In the breeze, there are whispers.
In the whispers, there are tones.
Golden threads that connect.
We are time, we are space.
Made of carbon, like in triplicate.
So our history echoes.
Breaks the still like a drop,
and ripples. ))))))))))))))
Cuts the earth, digs a wound.
When we move, there is pain.
In our words, there are echoes.
Nothing ever gets healed,
unless the tones echo love.

In the sun, we seek warmth.
In the soil, we touch roots.
Spirit fingers reaching up
to connect us to knowing.
Knowing happens deep inside
and defies common logic.
It does not come from books
or from one's life experience.
We breathe in oxygen
that's been exhaled once before,
yet we dare to entertain
the thought that we are original.

In our books, we seek words.
In our words, we gain knowledge.
Filled with knowledge, we want more.
Become greedy, go to war.
We contrast, we compare.
We compete, fill with fear.
We multiply, then divide.
Then we look to the sky
and we seek absolution.
Become deaf to the tones
sung by the wind's
chanted whispers,
stomp the roots at our feet
as we walk, the helpless blind.

In our mouths, we make sounds.
On the page, we form letters.
In our minds, we assign
what we want for our meaning.
Our ideas fill our heads,
make us toss in our beds,
as we sort truth from lie
soliloquy from simile
improper grammar from
fluid beauty.
On the winds ride our words,
elemental rebound.
All the tones echo hollow
unless they're ancient,
sewn together with golden thread,
sung in notes filled with love.

by John Martinez

Para El Maestro, Francisco X. Alarcón

If I could give myself,
Without speaking,
To the suffering,
To the clenched body,
I’d give that part of me
That does not hate,
That does not want
When others
Cannot have,
I’d give the song
That has no sadness.
If I could give
In silence,
Just a piece
Of myself
To those who have lost
Everything to greed,
I’d give my soul,
All seven ounces

If I could give myself
Like a hush
To the mother,
Whose child
Weeps in the corridors
Of death, wanting to
Hold her like air,
I would give my two hands
Touch her face
With fingers of rain,
Assure her with my eyes
That he will be waiting
Near the fountain
With the others,
If I could rise one day,
Knowing that pain
Is being lifted like a shawl
From the Countries
Beneath the boot
Of my U.S.A,
I would rise
In love again

Today, I have words,
Not medicine, not guns,
Not the rabid teeth
Of a killer,
But words, I have words
That I can shout,
That I can throw
Like brown birds into
The audience,
Because these birds
Know the meaning
Of peace
And these words
Can push
A convoy of donkeys
Down an indigenous path,
With medicine to treat
The sick, the starving,
Words yes words
Can set the meter
Of healing,
If I could give myself,
To the suffering,
I would give myself
With words,
Words yes words
Can set the meter
Of healing

© John Martinez 2012

"Heat" by Alma Luz Villanueva
“Tapestry of Dawn” by Nancy Aidé González
“Hush Tones” by Andrea Mauk
"Words Can Set The Meter Of Healing" by John Martinez

Alma Luz Villanueva was raised in the Mission District, San Francisco, by her Yaqui grandmother, Jesus Villanueva- she was a curandera/healer from Sonora, Mexico. Without Jesus no poetry, no stories, no memory...
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 fourteen years.
     Alma Luz Villanueva now lives in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, for the past seven years, traveling the ancient trade routes to return to teach, and visit family and friends, QUE VIVA!! And taking trips throughout Mexico, working on a novel in progress, always the poetry, memory.

Nancy Aidé González is a Chicana poet who lives near the lush grapevines in Lodi, California.  She graduated  from California State University, Sacramento with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature in 2000.  Her work has appeared in Calaveras Station Literary Journal, La Bloga, Everyday Other Things, and  Mujeres De Maiz Zine. She is a participating member of Escritores del Nuevo Sol, a writing group based in Sacramento, California which honors the literary traditions of Chicano, Latino, Indigenous and Spanish-language peoples. Miss González has participated in several poetry reading events in Northern California.

Andrea García Mauk grew up in Arizona, where both the immense beauty and harsh realities of living in the desert shaped her artistic soul. She currently calls Los Angeles home, but has also lived in Chicago, New York and Boston. She has worked in the music industry, and on various film and television productions. She writes short fiction,
poetry, original screenplays and adaptations, and is currently finishing two novels. Her writing and artwork has been published and viewed in a variety of places such as on The Late, Late Show with Tom Snyder; The Journal of School Psychologists and Victorian Homes Magazine. Both her poetry and artwork have won
awards. Several of her poems and a memoir are included in the 2011 anthology, Our Spirit, Our Reality, and her poetry is featured in the 2012 Mujeres de Maiz “‘Zine.” She is also a moderator of Diving Deeper, an online workshop for writers, and has   extensively about music, especially jazz, while working in the entertainment industry.

John Martinez. I studied Creative Writing at Fresno State University and have published poetry in El Tecolote, Red Trapeze and in The LA Weekly. Recently, I have posted poems on Poets Responding to SB1070 and this will be my 9th poem published in La Bloga. I have performed (as a musician/political activist, poet) with Teatro De La Tierra, Los Perros Del Pueblo and TROKA, a Poetry Ensemble, lead by Poet Laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera. I have toured with several cumbia/salsa bands throughout the Central Valley and in Los Angeles. For the last 17 years, I have worked as an Administrator for a Los Angeles law firm. I make my home in Upland, California with my beautiful wife, Rosa America and family.