Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Review: The Barbarian Nurseries. Banned Books Update. On-Line Floricanto

Review: The Barbarian Nurseries.

Hector Tobar. The Barbarian Nurseries. NY: Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2011.
ISBN: 9780374108991 0374108994

Michael Sedano

Héctor Tobar has taken the possible and made it impossible.

Is it possible to add another title to the wondrous list of Los Angeles novels?

Absolutely. In fact, name your favorite LA novel, from Chandler to De Lillo to Yxta Maya Murray, and add Tobar’s The Barbarian Nurseries to the top of the list.

Is it possible to find a better Los Angeles novel?

No. The Barbarian Nurseries stands alone as the quintessential cultural portrait of early twenty-first century Los Angeles.

In the novel’s three chapters—three books in one—Tobar begins with an ethnically mixed upwardly mobile family, a Mexican-American software engineer and a down East Anglo mother, caught in their own acquisitional excess and benign neglect of the hired help. The family implodes, stranding the Mexicana maid with two sheltered boys and a hazy notion of where to find the boys’ grandfather.

The final chapter jails the maid for fanciful Anglo-perceived crimes and sends her through the dual processes of a criminal trial and impending deportation.

Tobar takes pains to keep his characters at arm’s length so a reader doesn’t like anyone too much nor despise anyone irrationally.

Araceli, the maid, he paints as a crusty tipa, a Bellas Artes student who bottles her creativity behind pursed lips and curtness. Up until now, life’s greatest slap in the face was getting a scholarship to the instituto but getting no money for brushes and paints. She lives as an example of a character who may die with one thousand masterpieces hanging only from her mind.

Speaking of allusions, stay alert for that Chinese chalk. In preparation, read Olga Garcia’s poem “Sonia on Hope Street.” The poem echoes in one’s memory as Maureen diligently mops away the invisible knowledge locked away in jail with Araceli.

The Torres-Thompson family takes the cake. Actually, several, and all designer-made concoctions. He’s at a career dead-end and she’s stuck at home with two boys and a new-born daughter. We meet Scott sweating and cussing up a storm because his darned lawnmower refuses to cut the lawn as well as it performed for Pepe. Both Pepe, and Maureen’s nanny Guadalupe, had to go, to get expenses under control.

Although Tobar focuses the novel on the pendejadas of Scott, Maureen, and Araceli, he manages to draw the social milieu with broad strokes, as needed using a fine tip to draw out some fine detail from the jumbled landscape that stretches from the Anglo bastions of Orange County to the bus stops of H.P.

There’s the racist ideologue who takes up the cudgel in Tobar’s portrait of thought-absent obsession that sees only “ill” in “immigrant” then stands dumbfounded when her preferred “Just Us” shapes itself to reflect Justice, because bittersweet endings are better than sad ones, and because that’s how The System works. Tobar’s making up only some of this.

There’s the L.A. mayor who talks himself into being undecided whether to choose wishy or washy when it comes to taking a strong pro-comunidad position. In contrast, there’s the Mexican Consul in Santa Ana who is as bumbling a fool as the mayor is a cipher. Much as Tobar dislikes that character, the author gives a final glimpse of the empty man desolately hoping for a moment in a Televisa spotlight.

Publisher Farrar Straus and Giroux wisely gives Tobar free rein to write until his pen ran out of ink. As a consequence, Tobar gets to fashion 422 pages, long enough to draw out evocative passages like this one halfway through the book, with its delightful punch line at the end.

In those American homes where Mexican, Guatemalan, and Peruvian women actually worked, mothers and fathers digested the news, and looked across their freshly dusted living rooms and tautly made beds and gave their hired help a closer look. They asked themselves questions that they usually suppressed…Where is this woman from, and how much do I really know about her? ... Now toss into this mystery a villain, and the possibility of hidden pecadilloes and secret motives of revenge, and the result was a slight but noticeable uptick in the volume of phone calls in the greater Southern California regions, as mothers in cubicles, mothers leaving yoga sessions, mothers leaving staff meetings, mothers at the Getty and the Huntington, at the Beverly Center and the Sherman Oaks Galleria, looked away from their monitors and turned off their car radios, and picked up office phones and cell phones and called home, just to check, just to listen to the accented voices of their hired help, to see if they might hear an intonation suggesting deception, the verbal slip of the schemer. “Everything okay? ¿Todo bien? Sí? Yes? Okay, then.” When they returned home they counted the items in their jewelry boxes and some examined the arms and necks of their children for bruises, and a very few even asked their toddlers, for the first time in weeks, if Lupe and María and Soledad were really “nice” or if they were ever “mean,” to which the most common responses were, “What?” and ¿Qué, Mommy?” 

That’s a fabulous piece of writing that leads me to feel the ominous tone of that Chandler narrative about hot winds, sharp knives, and husband’s necks. The Barbarian Nurseries is everything like the Red Wind and all those other great L.A. novels: a great Los Angeles story, the best you’ll find.

Stanford Alumni Welcome Héctor Tobar

Front: Angelique Flores, Héctor Tobar, Concepción Valadez. 
Back: Michael Sedano, Margie Hernandez, Manuel Urrutia, Deidre Reyes, Mario Vásquez, Roberto García.

I was happy when my friend Concepción Valadez invited me to join her compañeras compañeros in the Stanford Chicano / Latino Alumni Association of Southern California Book Club. They are a welcoming, active group who enjoy food, companionship, and good conversation.

Recent meetings have included authors Melinda Palacio and Daniel Olivas. This month’s title was The Barbarian Nurseries and author Héctor Tobar generously accepted Concepción’s invitation.

The fotos illustrate Tobar’s personable approach to his audience. He sat and the conversation flowed like it does around at a familia cena. One alumna graduated a high school rival of Tobar’s secundaria, so there was old home week.

Tobar treats his audience to a dramatized vocalization that shouts, cajoles, demands, as appropriate to the characterization and plot. This is the style of reading that makes an author popular with booksellers and audiences. He respects his art and uses his ten minutes in the best interest of his writing and audience’s attention.

For additional fotos see the Stanford Book Club gallery at Read! Raza.

Bloguera Melinda Palacio Reads at Latinopia

Videographed at  2010's Festival de Flor y Canto. Yesterday • Today • Tomorrow,  Melinda's reading video adds to the recent updates at the ever-changing, addictive Latinopia.

There's a warm moment when Melinda announces the future publication of her now-critically acclaimed novel, Ocotillo Dreams. Here's the link to view the video. 

Melinda and Manuel Ramos share La Bloga-Fridays.

Banned Books Update

Back in the late 1980s, I flew in to Guadalajara airport, the first time I'd been into Mexico beyond la frontera. Following my fellow passengers, I collect my bag then make my way over to the snaking immigration line.

When I get to the front of the line and hand the officer my documentos--a California Driver License and my long form birth certificate--the vato looks up surprised and says in English, "Oh, you're an American. You don't need to stand in line."

There you have it, gente, you who object to Arizona's lawful and Constitutional banning of Chicana Chicano Literature, history, and culture. When you travel around the world, you are an Arizonan, you are an American. No difference. You are a book banner.

This is who we are, as a nation for the world to see. We are Arizona. Americans are book banners. Americans are fearful xenophobes proudly spreading our beliefs for all to see, hear, and conform.

Deny it. A Facebook Friend wrote she took exception to my lumping her in with Arizona's haters. "We're not all like that."

Yes, we are. On June 5, 2012, you are an American thus the world knows you as a book banner.

If you take exception to being who you are, do something about it.

Only voters in Arizona can change America's ugly face before the world. But outsiders affronted by Arizona's hate laws can send money to candidates and campaigns. Right, you're strapped right now, can't spare ten bucks. Entendido. You know the right-wing is sending money, but then, as the poet reminds, "the best lack all conviction while the worst are filled with passionate intensity."

International Latina Latino Writers Conference News

Doesn't that headline read encouragingly?

Somewhere right now a forward-thinking person is making a career decision to sparkplug a writers conference and floricanto. A conference for American literature held in a culturally thriving American  metropolis and drawing writers from the tip of Tierra del Fuego to the tundra of Nunavut.

Is she in Mexico City? Buenos Aires? San Salvador? Might he be in Lima? Bogotá? Brasilia?

An international writers conference featuring Spanish, Portugese, and US English language literature  is one idea coming out of the recently concluded and most fabulous National Latino Writers Conference. Sponsored by the gente at the National Hispanic Cultural Center.

The NLWC in the US provides a model of what a leader can accomplish for America. The Conference's host site, the NHCC, is a national treasure among cultural institutions, setting a high bar for the Smithsonian's late recognition of the vitality of America's Latina Latino culturas.

While the International Latino Writers Conference remains an idea, the NLWC and NHCC are what we have, and they're plenty good enough for now. So long as they receive public support.

If you haven't yet mailed your membership or contribution to the National Latino Writers Conference / National Hispanic Cultural Center, you have ample opportunity right now.

For los datos, see La Bloga's review of the 10th NLWC, or if you use Paypal, you can click to the NHCC Foundation website and give right now.

Floricanto For Charnegas Charnegos Chicanas Chicanos 

They're the Chicanas of Catalonia. That's how la Pocha Catalana explained a literary movement that was finding its feet on solid Catlunyan ground in and around Barcelona, back in 2010 when she and I were at the reunion floricanto.

Among Catalonian nationalists and right-wingers, second-class gente who speak Catalan mocho--or not at all--qualify as "Charnegos."

 ¿Y qué? comes the response of artists who create a celebratory movement via an exciting arts scene. A movimiento and a glorious fusion of Aztlán with Charnegalandia comes with the current month's manifestation:

El próximo 10 de Junio se celebrará el festival poético Floricanto de Barcelona. Será el segundo encuentro Chicano-Charnego que se celebra en la ciudad condal, en el que poetas chicanos y poetas de Barcelona compartirán escenario, un momento especial de intercambio cultural en el que mandaremos mensajes de apoyo y solidaridad al pueblo chicano ya que tras la política racista que está llevando a cabo el estado de Arizona (USA) y siguiendo la línea de SB1070, con la ley HB2281 Arizona ha eliminado las carreras de Chicano Studies y Ethnic Studies, y está censurando a historiadores, escritores y poetas

La Bloga guest columnist Xanath Caraza leads the bill of United States poets performing at the Floricanto de Barcelona. Also reading are Santiago R. Vaquera Vásquez and José B. Gonzales.

What a great way to complete your gala European jaunt than jet on over to Barcelona! Details at the floricanto's Facebook page.

Artist Helps Artists Fundraise

Linda Vallejo creates stunningly brilliant work, like her "Make 'em All Mexican" series.

Vallejo runs a successful grantwriter workshop series that promises artists and nonprofit leaders tools to use presenting themselves effectively to funders. Vallejo conducts on-line workshops for distance learners.

Consult the site for fees and eligibility restrictions.

On-Line Floricanto Jump-Starts June

Elena Díaz Bjorkquist, Claudia D. Hernández, Francisco X Alarcón, John Martinez, José Hernández Díaz

“Somos” by Elena Díaz Bjorkquist
“Tejiendo la niebla” por Claudia D. Hernández
“Prometeo Poet / Prometheus Poet” by Francisco X Alarcón
"Some of Us Will Make It" by John Martinez
"A Mountain of a Dream" by José Hernández Díaz

By Elena Díaz Bjorkquist ©2012

Somos la gente
Somos mestizos
Somos Chicanos
Somos Latinos
Somos Indios
Somos la raza
Somos poetas
Somos  nosotros
Estamos orgullosos!

Tejiendo la niebla
por Claudia D. Hernández
Descalzo uno emigra
a tierras extrañas

hay quienes no olvidan,

hay quienes se ensartan
su patria en el alma.

—La tierra no tiene fronteras
murmuran los pies reventados

las huellas que implantan
trasmiten nostalgia;

hay tierras calientes
que a veces se enfrían;

hay campos dorados
que tejen la niebla;

hay volcanes que arrojan
sus piedras de pomo.

Y uno aquí, escupiendo
cenizas en la lejanía

—La tierra no tiene fronteras
suspira la arboleda

El árbol exiliado no logra evitar
que su fruto florezca

¿Qué culpa tiene la almendra
que el viento la arrastre 
y la engendre en tierras ajenas?

Prometeo Poet / Prometheus Poet
by Francisco X Alarcón

"Hombre de fuego-(mural) josé Clemente Orozco, Hospicio Cabañas, Guadalajara, México

by John Martinez

There is something painful
But so far away,
Yet, in the center of my chest,
In the pasty brown skin
Of my years

The desert floor rises
At midnight and dances
In the star bunched sky,
Black, like the inside of my throat
Before my mouth opens,
Before I begin to speak,
The immense everything
Glistening in me
And telling me,
Write about us,
Tell our stories

Yesterday a little boy
Cut his main artery
On barbed wire,
A mother, breast feeding
A bundled girl,
Felt the prison
Of an immigration
Van filled
With the body odor
Of hope,
Filled with dreams,
Caught like fire flies
In the night

The day before this,
Our ten burned knees fell
Into the hot sand,
Heads down to the man
In the Khaki green,
Listen to his hateful words?
He feeds his family
With this these words,
He'll feed his dog,
Before he feeds any of us

Tell our stories
To the college students
With warm iPads
On their laps,
Backpacks full
Of European conquests,
Tell our stories in the cafes,
Where sugar is
A Queen’s crown
On carrot cake
And 5 dollar cups of coffee.
One of us kneeling
Felt the horror of $ 3.65 an hour
In the finca's,
Felt the coffee bean
Like red pearls
In his hands
The finca's are patrolled
By the Mara Salvatrucha,
They learned their
Machine gun methods
From Pachino,
From Gandolfini,
On 18th Street, in the Pico Union,
Then thrown back
To the jungle
To terrorize
America knows,
They have their Think
Tank flunkies
Helping them
Do damage
Anyway you look at it

Tell the story of Don Victor,
Who once lived
By the river in San Salvador,
But lost his home
To the credit card
Of McDonalds, Pizza Hut,
Of a shirt made in Malaysia,
A Blue Dodgers cap
His children are grown
And on the other side
This was his body’s last chance,
He is finished
And on his knees
There is something painful
But so far away, yet,
In the center of my chest,
In the pasty skin
Of my years

And lastly, remember to
Tell them about you,
How you drank with them,
Fucked around
In their torture chambers,
Watched the planes fly by
Through your office window
And not even a word
Written about us,
Tell them how we were
Looking through
Your eyes, while you ignored
Our very presence,
Tell them, poet,
Tell them how you were
Lost in their golden
Hair, their schick
Shaved grins,
And tell all of them, please,
That we won't stop
Coming over,
Not even if the shank
Of the line
Rips us in half,
Some of us will make it
Like your Abuelo did,
Like we did,
Living inside of you,
Reminding you to write
This poem

© John Martinez 2012

A Mountain of a Dream
 by José Hernández Díaz

Los Angeles is visible
Beyond the rising towers
And the holy Hollywood Sign:

Her ornate beauty shines
In the glittering taco trucks
Adorned with packed choice of tastes;

Her innate warmth resides
In the gleaming smiles of children
Salivating for a moist ice cream

From the wobbly cart of
An immigrant--
Fresh from the countryside of
El Salvador--

Pushed by sweaty palms
And sheer American will.

Los Angeles can be seen,
My dear,
As we cling to caffeine
And contemplate la luna y las estrellas
Of future years:

An island of a thought;
A mountain of a dream.

poem first published in La Gente Newsmagazine 
Volume 41, Issue 3

“Somos” by Elena Díaz Bjorkquist
“Tejiendo la niebla” por Claudia D. Hernández
“Prometeo Poet / Prometheus Poet” by Francisco X Alarcón
"Some of Us Will Make It" by John Martinez
"A Mountain of a Dream" by José Hernández Díaz

Elena Díaz Bjorkquist
“To be or not to be.” The difference between “ser” and “estar” is one of the hardest concepts to grasp for people learning Spanish. My students always struggled with it, but for native Spanish speakers it comes naturally without having to think of the rules. En español, “ser orgulloso” means to be conceited or vain. “Estar orgulloso” means to be proud—a big difference.

Elena is one of the poet moderators for the Facebook page “Poets Responding to SB1070. 
She recently received the 2012 Arizona Commission on the Arts Bill Desmond Writing Award for excelling nonfiction writing and the 2012 Arizona Humanities Council Dan Schilling Public Humanities Scholar Award in recognition of her work to enhance public awareness and understanding of the role that the humanities play in transforming lives and strengthening communities.

Claudia D. Hernández
Claudia D. Hernández was born and raised in Guatemala. She is a bilingual educator in the city of Los Angeles and is currently finishing a Masters in Multicultural Education. Beginning in June of 2012, Claudia will attend Antioch University in pursuit of her MFA in Creative Writing For Young Adults and Children’s Literature. She writes, illustrates, and manually binds children’s books. Her photography, poetry, and short stories have been published in The Indigenous Sovereignty Issue of The Peak, Hinchas de Poesía, Poets Responding to SB1070, La Bloga’s on-line Floricanto, KUIKATL ~ A XicanIndio Literary and Arts Journal, nineteen-sixty-nine an Ethnic Studies Journal, Along the River II Anthology, REDzine, FRONTERA ESQUINA- revista mensual de poesía and in the first anthology of Colectivo Verso Activo. She has had numerous photography exhibits throughout California

Francisco X. Alarcón
Francisco X. Alarcón, award-winning Chicano poet and educator, is the author of twelve volumes of poetry, including, From the Other Side of Night: Selected and New Poems (University of Arizona Press 2002). His latest book is Ce•Uno•One: Poemas para el Nuevo Sol/Poems for the New Sun (Swan Scythe Press 2010). His most recent book of bilingual poetry for children is Animal Poems of the Iguazú (Children’s Book Press 2008). He teaches at the University of California, Davis. He is the creator of the Facebook page, POETS RESPONDING TO SB 1070.

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 7th 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 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.

José Hernández Díaz 
José Hernández Díaz is a first-generation Chicano poet with a BA in English Literature from UC Berkeley. José has been published in The Best American Nonrequired Reading Anthology 2011, La Gente Newsmagazine of UCLA, Bombay Gin Literary Journal, The Packinghouse Review, Revista Contratiempo, Blood Lotus Journal, ditch magazine, among others. He has forthcoming publications in Writer’s Ink, HUIZACHE, The Progressive, nineteen-sixty-nine, and in the anthologies, El Norte que Viene and Tan cerca de EE.UU. (poesía mexicana en la frontera norte). In addition, he is an active moderator of the online group, Poets Responding to SB1070, where he has contributed more than 40 of his own poems. He is currently an MFA student at Antioch University Los Angeles and he is fulfilling an internship with Floricanto Press as an Editor. 

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