Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Review: Tree of Sighs. Banned Books Update. Jale by the Sea. On-Line Floricanto.

Premio Aztlán Winner Dazzles

Review: Lucrecia Guerrero. Tree of Sighs. Tempe, Ariz. : Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe, ©2011. ISBN 9781931010733 1931010730 9781931010740 1931010749.

Michael Sedano

Lucrecia Guerrero’s Tree of Sighs tells a bleak story of a girl’s abject poverty and soul-wrenching misery, all the while refusing to allow Grace, or Altagracia, to give in to self pity at how hard life treats her.

One result of Guerrero’s remarkably unyielding stance is a deeply emotional story told by a nearly emotionless woman looking back on the events. Tree of Sighs is also a dazzling debut novel offering a uniquely unconventional approach to stories of lost identity, a novel that posits a warning to readers of the toll immigration and assimilation can exact on one’s soul.

A grandmother sells her fourteen year old orphaned granddaughter into slavery. “Adapt,” Abuela’s final consejo comes as a lifesaver as the child heads off in search of an identity, in the hands of a crude woman whose strange English warns Altagracia not to get smart with me, missy.

Grace Sloan—a counterfeit identity, but all hers--learns right away the importance of adapting. Learning to behave keeps your face unbruised. But for Grace, avoiding punishment entails losing one’s own personality. In favor of adaptating to the ever-changing landscape, she remains wary, observant. With the world in constant flux there is no Self there. It sees, it reports, it is named Grace.

When the child escapes from rural Indiana to the streets of Dayton, Ohio, she falls in with kind people, other children living squalid damaged lives who protect the fast-adapting newcomer. Teenaged Grace keeps emotion at bay—adapt. When her descriptions of street kid sex trade get into sticky details, her voice fails to disclose even an echo of the horror she feels. Her eyes see the horror but that’s as far as she lets it in.

In a perilous transition from the street, Grace escapes into waitressing. Time flies when you’re barely surviving, and soon Grace grows into a twentysomething single woman with a job, clubbing, scoring men, playing risky and living dissatisfied. She adapts to the whim of the moment, waking up next to strange men and wondering who does crap like this?

The second-biggest adaptation of Grace’s life comes when she elects to settle down and feign romance. Grace and Teddy become a good team, building her husband’s Dream business. Back home again in Indiana, they’re a good team. Grace, denied schooling when she was enslaved, then on the streets, is smart and determined to adapt and bite into the Dream. Business thrives and he wants kids. Grace understands “kids” far differently than Teddy.

Grace carries heavy baggage from Altagracia’s former life. The fourteen year old girl blames herself for her parents’ gruesome death and welcomes the flight from Mexico, but that issue remains unresolved, along with her actual identity in this country. Then immigration amnesty arrives in 1986.

No amount of adaptation cures the husband’s shock when his Grace divulges Altagracia’s past. In the middle of the turmoil comes a message from Mexico: abuela is not dead.

Now the novel picks up lightning speed, keeping suspense at an incredibly high level. Will Grace grant Teddy the divorce or will she fight to keep her life? What will happen when Grace Thornberry confronts Altagracia’s past? Can false identitied Grace cross la frontera back into the US, especially as she’s been immersed in her childhood language and culture again?

Then a stunning realization with the novel racing to a close. Altagracia’s lifetime of misery and anomie, sleeping as a slave in a black dungeon, a street kid on discarded sex-stained mattresses in abandoned factories, a lifetime scrabbling for a roof and a job, driven to adapt, thinking herself an orphan, comes out of abuela’s cruelty, a mother’s revenge on the fourteen year old girl whom grandmother blames for the death of el precioso.

Lucrecia Guerrero and Tree of Sighs
There’s no screaming hate-eyed confrontation. Grace Altragracia has forgotten how to show emotion, or her perpetual state of shock keeps her feet moving through scenes as her mind processes information at synapse speed. Can Grace, or is she again Altragracia, forgive? 

“Don’t be like me,” grandmother chastens Altagracia Grace. Does grandmother mean don’t be a Mexicana? Don’t be an unforgiving conniver who exacted revenge on a hapless child? Don’t be unadapting? Be forgiving.

It’s not a trick question. The answer is Grace Thornberry’s life. Grace adapted via assimilating herself to the people and events that slapped her in the face from the moment she became a United States American. The ultimate chameleon, the child Altagracia disappears across the space of the novel and becomes the emotionless woman Grace. It’s the novel’s decisive moment when Grace passes the border guard’s trick question. At the border of her two histories, the character steps over the line with finality, shedding the past and, in convincing dialect, declares herself a Hoosier.

Whatever identity child had in Mexico, Grace throws it away. From the first page, it is not Altagracia recounting the memoir, it’s the voice of Grace Thornberry. A reader can imagine this practical Hoosier woman returning to Teddy and the lab and the identity. Altragracia has finally been adapted out. Grace is one of them.

Banned Books Update

In Tucson schools, these books and these students' culture, are banned.
United States politicians go over to England and proclaim political validation based upon Anglo-Saxon heritage, blindly unaware how offensive the claim sounds, and the resentment it breeds among other ethnic groups, in both the UK and US.

If Mitt Romney's foreign policy portavoz were to speak those words in an Arizona classroom, he would be censored and banned from the schools under existing Arizona law. I doubt Arizona officials would respect the law in this instance of violation. That selfsame Anglocentric worldview propels the State of Arizona's education laws. The pogram follows single-minded dedication to erasing American and ascendencia mexicana history, culture, literature, and ideas from the classrooms and thus minds of future generations of Arizona  students.

The books remain banned. I say again, the books are banned. 

Tucson supe John Pedicone calls me a liar, however. He says the books are pulsating inside some boxes next to the Ark, somewhere out in the Sonora desierto. Not banned, it's just that some classes are banned under state law ARS 15-112, therefore all those classes' curricular materials have to go, along with those ideas. Pedicone's website says,

You may have seen news reports or Internet blogs about a book ban at TUSD. Those reports are completely false. There are no books being banned in the district. Seven books that were used as supporting materials for curriculum in Mexican American Studies classes have been moved to the district storage facility...

The supe alludes to process, that after a student files approved paperwork, a book will zip its way via interlibrary loan. Pedicone's letter refuses details on the freedom students enjoy using a requested book from storage in the classroom. Its use is banned under State law, he admits. You can get it but you can't use it. It's banned.

Pedicone claims Shakespeare is still approved, with a caveat. There's always a catch. Teachers may continue to use materials in their classrooms as appropriate for the course curriculum. Otherwise, it's banned. He says The Tempest and other books approved for curriculum has not been banned. Show me your papers and I'll let you read the book.

September 21 looms on the horizon. The Federal Courts and the Special Master will have a say in the ongoing desegregation order for Tucson Unified Schools, including what can be banned. Courts have a tendency to restore dignity to the Flag. a ver.

Mission Infinitely Never Accomplished

A small press' work is never done. That's because owning a publishing house is a labor of love, constantly seeking new audiences for authors and new authors for audiences. There's lots of both out there, so all it takes is sales to keep the enterprise on its upward trajectory.

Case in point: Aztlán Libre Press. The San Antonio publisher's newest release is Barbara Jane Reyes' poetry chapbook, For the City That Nearly Broke Me.

La Bloga friend Juan Tejeda, co-publisher with Anisa Onofre,  of Aztlán Libre Press, bases his investment Barbara Jane Reyes on her being "an outstanding writer at her urban political and poetic best".

There's more here than meets the eye, in that Barbara Jane Reyes is the first woman Aztlán Libre is publishing. The publisher's Alurista and Juan Gomez-Quiñones titles had been the company's all-male lineup.

For the City That Nearly Broke Me marks another pair of firsts. Aztlán Libre launches its Indigenous Voices Series with the title.

For the City That Nearly Broke Me is the first chapbook from this publisher. Tejeda sets forth on an important mission, "to dispel the myth that chapbooks are inferior to perfect bound books."

Chapbook mechanics allow a publisher to set affordable prices on chapbooks. These often become collector's items, rare early collections from important voices.

That's no reason to buy your chapbook and store it in a plastic bag. That small price tag is reason to buy several, one for a friend, one for that hope chest, one to read and dog-ear, and share, lend out and never come back.

Poets and collectors alike can order For the City That Nearly Broke Me, plus the publisher's reliably engaging catalog, at Aztlán Libre's website. 

Help Wanted: C/S UCSB

The worst work-related phone call of my life rang the day I sent off a signed contract for a one-year gig at Cal State LA. I don't remember who called--Glen Mills or Florence Sears, maybe Rollin Quimby my MA adviser, maybe Tony Mulac, the quantitative guy. Did I want to come back to the Speech Department at UCSB on a one-year contract, no guarantees beyond that in this growing department? I'd been drafted into the Army out of that department a few years earlier. Did I ever.

Now comes an opportunity to join the part-time float at the campus by the sea. The opportunity looks too hot to wait. but wait. Get your materials into top notch, competitive shape, suitable to attract a screener's eye. A sizzling cover letter helps make applicants stand out. Nonverbal stuff like paper a muted shade of militant brown and a clean legible font. A solid reputation isn't enough, it's ethos as spoken through that application packet. Adelante, scholars.

Here's the announcement I received from Aida Hurtado, the Department Chair. You can get the actual details at the department's website.

LA County Art Museum Has Free Entry 

Via email from an artist:
We just got back from LACMA--I had been wanting to see Levitating Mass. Anyways, a deterrent for us going to LACMA more frequently is the cost of admission and the reluctance to get another membership. The GREAT news is that they have a program called NexGen where kids under 17 get a membership for free (along with their very own membership cards that they can write their names on!!) and one accompanying adult gets in free with the child each and every time! Genius. Maybe you already knew about this, but we didn't so I thought I'd share.

La Bloga On-Line Floricanto On Fifth Tuesday of the Only July in 2012

Kristopher Barney, Tara Evonne Trudell, Francisco X. Alarcón, Raúl Sánchez, Tom Sheldon

"That purple and blue before the rain" by Kristopher Barney
"In Lies" by Tara Evonne Trudell
"Ultimate Migrants: Monarch Butterfiles' Life Mantra / Migrantes por excelencia: Bio-mantra de las mariposas monarca" by Francisco X. Alarcón
 "I wish my book was banned" by Raúl Sánchez
"Border Town Blues" by Tom Sheldon

that purple and blue before the storm
Kristopher Barney

monsoon 2012

the music of rain and i am here in
this silent building   and i hear your voice
echo through the quiet as lightning flashes and
thunder booms down
the mountain and i am here
thinking of you and
if you are who you say you are and
what that might mean to me and
i’ve seen your eyes before
a million or thousand times
that look
that deep piercing smile and I watch you
as if i were some poet  or gentleman of leisure
at a café in Paris or Milan or
downtown Flagstaff
and i had a book of songs in my
hand and a cigar in the other and
a glass of la vin rouge or bordeaux
to wash all this down with and
i hear Mozart somewhere
in the sundown 
sunrise light and drums that
don’t fit in with the rhythms of America
and i want to touch your face and caress
i want to touch your skin but
i quickly withdraw my gaze
as if i have touched flame and couldn’t feel it
i want to take you into the dark
i want to hold you up into the light
but i am cautious
i study your architecture
your image fixed in a time past
your old time beauty    reflecting into
rain clouds and rainbows and that amber sunlight
drizzling in harmony with the relaxation of an
evening full of journey and i sing this song
again and i look around me and there is
thunder   there is blood and water
mixed with oil
mixed with smiles broken and
i feel something stronger than anger
possess me and you look at me with disbelief
as if i have shape-shifted before your eyes and
point my fingers in all directions
i stand on hillsides and make a prayer
i fashion thoughts kept and dyed
for these moments
i am making a song
not for love
not for beauty
not for life
but one
to those who rape
those who murder
those who seek virgin blood
those who drill
those who bleed out carcasses
those who  stand outside the doorway of
reason  respect   beauty  truth
those who stripmine
those who pollute
those who’ve spread death and terror and
disease since 1492
yes   i sing for all of you
i make etches into my arrows
i count your names like pennies in my pocket
and i want to be free of this feeling
for i feel death and torture
is even   too good for you
no and yes you need to suffer
like the way i suffer each day i am alive
each moment i know there is a  mountain
being torn and raped
a river dammed and poisoned
a rainforest cut and bled
an endangered species of man  or animal or
plant  suffering 
every relative who pushes love away
but readily welcomes dysfunction
i stand here in the rain
thinking of all this
lightning crisscrosses the wires in my head
i am touched by the melody of this rain
it wets my heart
it brings tears up that flow down
to underground gutters and
i look to this Holy Mountain
Dooko’o’sliid, the San Francisco Peaks
i look toward the mountain behind my house
Dzilijiin, Black Mesa
i look to every landform permanently
etched into my psyche
every beautiful scene
blooming and blossoming and
the faces of lovers lost to these scenes
lovers whose faces fade in and out
loved ones whose faces stand
back somewhere in the heavy mist of
a new dawn sprouting with golden tassels
through dark blue clouds and
i sing a mountain song
i sing a sunrise prayer
i sprinkle corn pollen
i drum up calm and courage
to walk this day
i pedal the streets of this city
looking for you
looking for an escape
looking for the road home
i look and i laugh and my tears
slide down my face and
i think of my mother and my grandmother and
all my relatives who’ve touched my heart
i think of all of you and i feel alone
i stand on this hillside
another grey blue silhouetted figure
against this portrait of lightning
purple blue clouds and
mountain   forest and rain and
the mist from an older world
a world without colonial dreams and
nightmares that make the child in me scream
the blood on my hands
the blood on your hands and
a song is needed
a ceremony without show
a dance with ghosts and all those
like myself who travel
this road…….

by Tara Evonne Trudell

in lies
into minds
not thinking
being brown
the weight
in a white world
bearing down
the walk

in lies
across america
over borders
arresting our lands
attacking our people
waking almond eyes
taking in perceptions
women and children
wailing into night
taunting the people
keeping the peace
rubber bullets
sticks and stones
bad cop attitude
protecting the police
made up stories
in lies
to get away
with murder

in lies
america giving
their stronghold
their certainty
our truths

in lies
that govern
our society
in whispers
to not affect
the masses

in whispers
to get away
of any color


c/s july 23, 2012

by Francisco X. Alarcón
we defeat time, the cold
and all borders  –we are
the ultimate migrants
thousands of miles
we fly North–South and East–West–
beauty is our might
the Sun guides our flight–
nothing can really stops us,
no even our short lives
to return to the land
where our great-great–grandparents
once emerge from

four generations
we undergo in a year  —from eggs
to caterpillars
and then to pupa
to emerge from cocoons
as beautiful butterflies–
we are fearless
in our commitment to life
beyond our own lives–
we defeat time, the cold
and all borders  –we are
the ultimate migrants

© Francisco X. Alarcón
July 15, 2012

por Francisco X. Alarcón

vencemos el tiempo
y toda frontera –somos migrantes
por excelencia
miles de millas volamos
del Norte al Sur y del Este al Oeste–
la belleza es nuestro poder
el Sol no guía–
nada puede pararnos,
ni nuestra corta vida
para volver a la tierra
de donde nuestros tatarabuelos
cuatro generaciones
pasamos en un año  —de huevos
a orugas
luego a pupas
para del capullo emerger
como bellas mariposas—
no tenemos miedo
al compromiso a la vida
más allá de la propia–
vencemos el tiempo
y toda frontera  —somos migrantes
por excelencia

© Francisco X. Alarcón
15 de julio 2012

I Wish My Book Was Banned!              
by Raúl Sánchez 

I wish my book was banned
I wish you couldn’t get my book
anywhere but only through me
when I read from it at
clandestine readings
at homeless shelters
in empty warehouses
under bridges private houses
immigration detention centers
on city hall steps

I wish my book was banned
so that it will be added
to that prestigious list
I wish my book was banned
because it will create
a focus of discussion
on politics race ethnicity
identity cultural definition

if my book was banned
it will be illegal to display it
to show it
to sell it
to read it
but since it is not banned yet—
why don’t you get a copy now
before it makes the list
buy a copy before it ends
on discriminatory hands.

©Raúl Sánchez 7-18-12

by Tom Sheldon

Tonight the stars are out
and birds are nesting on rooftops
in a town of imaginary maps
where people live on the edge of night
within the walls of rooms
sustaining pale coats of paint
dust and mold
where history means nothing
and broken instincts are framed in fragments
pinned down like insects dreaming
just as the stars are dreaming
but.... the stars are laughing
for these delirious lines foretell
the sovereignty of law and language
and the border town blues

"That purple and blue before the rain" by Kristopher Barney
"In Lies" by Tara Evonne Trudell
"Ultimate Migrants: Monarch Butterfiles' Life Mantra / Migrantes por excelencia: Bio-mantra de las mariposas monarca" by Francisco X. Alarcón
"I wish my book was banned" by Raúl Sánchez
"Border Town Blues" by Tom Sheldon

Tara Evonne Trudell, a mother of four, is working on her BFA in Media
Arts with an emphasis in film and audio. It is through that art, combined
with her passion for poetry that she is able to express fearlessness of spirit
for her family, people, community, social awareness, and most importantly
her love of earth.

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 created a new Facebook page,  “Poets Responding to SB 1070.” The University of Arizona Press is presently preparing an anthology co-edited by Francisco X. Alarcón that will include more than 100 poets that have posted poems on this Facebook page. He teaches at the University of California, Davis

Raúl Sánchez, conducts workshops on The Day of the Dead. His most recent work is the translation of John Burgess’ Punk Poems in his book Graffito. His work appeared on-line in The Sylvan Echo, Flurry, Gazoobitales, Pirene’s Fountain and several times in La Bloga. He has been a board member of the Washington Poets Association and is a moderator for the Poets Responding to SB 1070 Facebook page. His inaugural collection "All Our Brown-Skinned Angels" is filled with poems of cultural identity, familial, a civil protest, personal celebration, completely impassioned and personal. http://beyondaztlan.com

My name Tom Sheldon, I was born in New Mexico , and come from a large Hispanic family. As far as my own personal history in Art goes, it is brief. I have always appreciated the gift of creating since I was young. I like all mediums and love (Southwestern) nature and organic based topics. While I have had little in the way of formal training and education, I've enjoyed a modicum of success, mostly in drawing/drafting. I teach students on occasion, and have also illustrated for (HWI) Hawk Watch International. I enjoy photography as a tool for composition and as an aid in drawing and painting, though now I'm beginning to see photography as a medium rather than just a tool. My work has shown in local galleries, as well as the Museum of Natural History here. I have won art competitions at the State Fair level. I also love to write poetry; my poetry was featured in La Bloga, Monique's Passions e-magazine, Poets Supporting SB1070 on Facebook, and also, Writers in the Storm (October,1992)..

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