Friday, November 30, 2012

Golden Age for Writers?

Stephen Marche writes a column for Esquire entitled A Thousand Words. Marche gives us his somewhat jaundiced but usually insightful take on "American culture" -- e.g., movies, music, television, and this month (December issue), books, writers, and publishing. The columns entertain and inform, which says a lot, seeing as how they appear in a glossy periodical that consciously saturates itself with bling that passes for entertainment. I check out the column each month if for nothing more than to gauge just how far behind I am in keeping up with the latest trends, fads, ideas, and, I admit it, the generation (not mine, for sure) that rules the pop cultural landscape.

Marche's topic is "The Best of Times: The Golden Age for Writers Is Right Now." If you keep track of these kinds of things you know that the title expresses a concept at odds with the prevailing wisdom. His opening line: "Writers have always been whiners." He continues in the same vein. "For nearly a hundred years, since at least the time of F. Scott Fitzgerald, the death of the novel has been presaged. And now, egged on by BuzzFeed and video games and just general hypercaffeinated, e-mail-all-the-time ADHD, the book is apparently, finally, about to die."

Of course, that's not where Marche ends up. "Literary circles have been so full of pity for so long that they can't accept the optimistic truth: We're living in a golden age for writers and writing." He backs his conclusion with statistics. More on those later, but, FYI, I don't have hard statistics. I do have writer friends. I read books. I try to read many books about many things. I buy books. I attend book events. I write books. I even have a collection of photographs of book stores.


Now, I admit I can be as self-pitiful as anyone. Woe is me. I'm a writer and so that has to mean I suffer existential guilt and some paranoia and a smidgen of a persecution complex. Not to mention that I'm sixty-four years old, so there goes any chance for a "career" as a writer. I doubt I'll ever be listed as "trending." It's easy to get caught up in the "death-of-the-novel" zeitgeist. Familiar distractions abound. The multitasking, hectic pace of twenty-first century life provides a handy excuse for the attitude that there is little time for the focus and patience required to read a book, much less write one. Plus, and here is the key ingredient for much of my teeth-grinding, jaw-clenching, insomnia-inducing tension, because I am a male Latino writer who indulges a penchant for crime fiction and noir atmospheric capers, my suffering just has to be that much more intense than, say, the suburban barista who, in her "me time," self-publishes a young adult vampire romance that earns her beau coup bucks each month from Amazon. I know, I'm petty.

We (Latino writers) not only have to deal with the malaise that so many writers have glorified, but don't we also suffer from publisher indifference (some would say racism), reader apathy (some would say Latino illiteracy), and marketing naivete (some would point out the technological divide endemic to Latinos)? However, those thoughts are early-morning wisps that float around the cool house at the tail end of a frigid and depressing November night.  After a cup or two of my famous homemade espresso, I slap myself and realize that, hey, what I have, writing-wise, is a lot more than I ever expected. I am about to publish my eighth novel. I've won awards, been shortlisted for the most prestigious prize in my particular genre, been given a starred review by Publishers Weekly, and have most of my books still in print. I've met and enjoyed the company of numerous writers I admire and respect, established new friendships, traveled to places I never would have visited but for the fact that I published a novel. I've been asked to blurb books that I thought were great (and, of course, some not so great.) I've written stories that people actually want to read. All in all, do I really have a legitimate reason to wallow in the deep pit of writer angst? Well, there is that thing about making real money as a writer - but let's gloss over that for now.

That's my experience. I may be in my own private golden age. But, assuming Marche is correct, is this also the best of times for Latino writers in general? Where do we (escritores de la gente) fit in with all this?

Marche points out a few salient facts. As I read these, I asked, Do any of the numbers attach to Latino writers? Are they relevant to our experience?

1.  "Writers are prospering as never before, on all levels." Two of  Marche's examples:  "J.K. Rowling is a billionaire. Tom Wolfe was paid $7 million for his last novel." He mentions other well-paid writers who have no legitimate claim to whining. Latino examples: Well, we know all about Junot Díaz. The man has published one novel and two collections of short stories but he snatched up a MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship. His sales are off the charts. Sandra Cisneros has published a handful of poetry and short story collections, one major novel, and a classic (masterpiece) novella. Is any writer (Chicana or otherwise) more famous or sought-after as a speaker? But these examples, if anything, may prove to be the exceptions that define the rule. Are these the only superstars of Latino Literature?

2.  "Small presses have never produced more or had an easier time getting their product into the hands of readers. In 2010 the National Book Award and the Pulitzer for fiction both went to books from small presses." Small presses are the backbone of Latino literature. If anything, Latina/o writers have thrived precisely because of the numerous small or university presses that have been willing and eager to publish our works. And we have a special tradition in this regard. Probably beginning with the legendary small press Quinto Sol, Latinos have not been shy about creating our own presses to showcase our literary product: Arte Público Press, Aztlan Libre Press, Chusma House, Calaca Press -- to name only a few. Not all survive. Publishing is a harsh, unforgiving world. But new small presses continue to open.

2.  "It's not just the novel, either. The essay -- long or short, literary or plain -- has never been stronger. Practically every week, some truly fantastic piece of long-form nonfiction appears." I have to point out that almost every week La Bloga features at least one excellent opinion piece. La Bloga contributors write about everything from education to politics; from health care issues to recipes. In terms of more formal publication, the signs are encouraging, none more so than the recent release of Sergio Troncoso's essay collection, Crossing Borders, or that the well-known fiction author and poet Lucha Corpi is working on her own book of personal essays.

3. "With a few notable exceptions, almost every magazine in the world is in its best shape ever, right now." Marche points out that the magazines that have survived the recent economic crises are excellent because of the highly competitive nature of the magazine business. "Good old-fashioned competition -- from the Internet and the expanding marketplace -- has forced [magazines] to improve." Latino magazines tend to come and go. There are some bright lights, however, I think the question is not whether we have any Latino magazines but whether a traditional hard copy magazine makes sense these days.

Marche's next three points are different ways of saying the same thing -- more people are reading more books.

4.  "Revenue for adult hardcover books is up 8.3 percent from 2011, and paperback sales are up 5.2 percent. Book sales for young adults and children grew by 12 percent last year. E-books accounted for 30 percent of net publisher sales in the adult fiction category in 2011 -- compared with 13 percent in 2010 -- but there's little evidence that those numbers represent anything other than a shift in format.The e-reader is creating a new market, not destroying an old one."

5.  On average, adult Americans "read seventeen books in 2011 -- a number that hasn't been higher since Gallup and Pew began tracking the figure in 1990."

6.  "The percentage of Americans who told the National Endowment for the Arts that they read literature rose in 2008 (their most recent survey) by 3.5 percentage points to more than half the population -- the first gain in twenty-six years."

The nine regular contributors to La Bloga are a prolific lot. In 2012, new books, poems, or stories were published by Rudy Garcia, Ernest Hogan, René Colato Laínez, Daniel Olivas, Melinda Palacio, and Manuel Ramos (hope I didn't leave anyone out - please correct me if I did.) These were in a wide variety of genres and formats. Everything from a tug-at-the-heartstrings immigration saga to an outrageous speculative fantasy. Lydia Gil continues to write reviews and literary articles for international outlets. Amelia ML Montes continues to teach English and Ethnic Studies and write scholarly articles about, of all things, Latina writers. And, in his own inimitable fashion, Em Sedano contributes mightily to the dissemination and propagation of Latino literature with his untiring work on behalf of new writers, Poets Responding to SB 1070, Flor y Canto, La Bloga, y más. Surely this is a golden age for La Bloga's writers?

In addition to our regulars, La Bloga has always featured guest contributors. We actively seek out and encourage contributors to write on anything that is remotely relevant to what La Bloga is all about. If this is a golden age for Latino writers, La Bloga, in our own small way, has helped create it.

Take a quick look around. Latino writers are everywhere, in every genre. Self-published bestsellers. Young adult and children's books (read any of Rene's columns for La Bloga.) Graphic novel trend-setters (the Hernandez Bros continue to amaze but they are only the tip of the illustrated novel iceberg.) Poets by the proverbial truckload - with numerous readings and performances across the country. (Juan Felipe Herrera is the California poet laureate.) And so many younger and new authors continuously publish outstanding short story collections, novels, chapbooks, memoirs. Instead of Paris in the 1920s, we have Tia Chucha's almost daily events, crowded readings at La Casa Azul, Su Teatro's Annual Neruda Poetry Festival and Barrio Slam, and so on, so on.

I remember when I could carry a list of all the Chicana/o writers in the world who had published a book. I remember when I personally knew all the Chicana/o writers who published crime fiction. I remember when I was the only published Chicano novelist in Denver. Those days, thankfully, are gone forever.

And yet ... 

Here comes my whiny self again.  Okay, we have more Latina/o authors writing more books, and publishing in a variety of formats and genres. All good. But, where are the readers? Who buys the books? The few studies I have seen (NEA, Kiser and Associates, Institute for Public Relations, University of North Carolina,) although dated, repeat familiar depressing facts:  excessive high school dropout rates for Latino and immigrant students; lack of reading materials in Latino households, especially low-income Latino households; disproportion between Latino percentages of the population and percentages of Latinos who buy books. Most of us don't need university studies to know that these conditions exist in our communities. The contradictions continue between writers and readers. So many writers, not enough readers, yet. On especially difficult days, we might even say that these are the dark ages for readers.

And yet ...

These facts are but one side of the coin. I think the magic word is potential. No one other than an unreformed Tea Party idiot will deny that Latinos significantly influenced the recent U.S. presidential election. We see the changes happening everywhere, in politics, all types of businesses, artistic endeavors, education projects, science, technology - we are living the so-called browning of the U.S. Pick a topic and sooner or later one has to talk about how Latinos are involved, or why they should be, or when they will be the deciding factor. As the TV teaches us, "We are the future, and the future is now."

Yin and yang, no?  I'm not ready yet to say that this is the golden age for Latina/o writers. I think that time is coming, and soon. But the present is pretty good. It could be better, it has to improve, there's a lot of work to do, but it's a relief that we can throw away the old cliches about "a sleeping giant" or an "invisible minority." No one -- publishers, editors, readers -- can ignore Latina/o writers anymore.

It seems to me that the best I can do is to continue to write - it's what I do. Golden Age -- sounds good.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

¿Has visto a María?

Sandra Cisneros ha escrito una hermosa fábula ilustrada para adultos sobre la pérdida de un ser querido y la posibilidad de renovación que ofrece esta experiencia difícil.

¿Has visto a María? es un libro breve en formato ilustrado cuyo lenguaje sencillo podría fácilmente confundirlo con un libro para niños. Sin embargo, es una historia para adultos, en especial para todo aquel que haya sufrido la pérdida de un ser querido.

Traducido al español por Liliana Valenzuela, esta conmovedora historia explora los sentimientos de pérdida, duelo y recordación que la autora experimenta tras la muerte de su madre. Inspirada por hechos reales, la historia se inicia con la visita de su amiga Rosalinda, acompañada de su gata María, la cual desaparece apenas llegan a la casa de Cisneros.

Había sido un largo viaje por carretera y, según le cuenta su amiga, la gata había chillado todo el camino. Cisneros recién había perdido a su madre, experiencia que entreteje al relato desde el comienzo.

"Yo también tenía ganas de chillar y largarme", escribe. "Mi mamá había muerto unos meses antes. Yo tenía cincuenta y tres años y me sentía como una huérfana", relató.

Cisneros describe ese sentimiento de abandono y desolación como "un guante abandonado en la estación de autobuses". Pero ahora que su amiga ha perdido su adorada gata no le queda más remedio que salir de la casa donde se había refugiado durante meses y lanzarse de lleno a la búsqueda.
Las amigas recorren el vecindario de arriba a abajo, colocan volantes y les preguntan a todos si han visto a la gatita blanquinegra. La búsqueda resuena con el deseo de la autora de encontrar consuelo por su pérdida y de recibir algún tipo de respuesta al dolor que la acompaña.

La manera en que Cisneros intercala su pena es sumamente conmovedora, como cuando pasan por una casa donde afuera se mecía una mujer tejiendo algo morado. La autora recuerda que su madre solía tejer unas bufandas muy feas "que nadie se quería poner".

"En ese momento quise tener una de esas bufandas feas, y la nariz me empezó a cosquillear", escribe.

A medida que avanza la búsqueda, vamos recorriendo el vecindario de Cisneros, un entorno verdaderamente diverso tanto en arquitectura como en herencia cultural.

Según la autora, parte de lo que se había propuesto con este libro era también dar a conocer su barrio en San Antonio (Texas), un lugar que muchos asocian exclusivamente con sus mansiones históricas sin apreciar las otras casas más modestas y pintorescas que comparten la zona. Cisneros contactó a su amiga la pintora chicana Ester Hernández para que participara con ella en el proyecto de ilustrar el vecindario donde la historia toma lugar. Hernández captura con su pincel la riqueza visual del vecindario, con sus personajes típicos, el pastor, la viuda, las niñas colgando de un columpio y también los excéntricos de extraña vestimenta y los que se niegan a abrir la puerta. Las ilustraciones parecen contar una historia paralela, la del vecindario y cómo todas estas personas, por el mero hecho de estar allí, ayudan a que la autora supere su pérdida, aunque ni siquiera lo sepan.

Este hermoso libro revela lo imperecedero del amor y la capacidad de renacer que esconde cada pérdida.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Rubber Shoes: A Lesson in Gratitude / Los zapatos de goma: una lección de gratitud

By Gladys Elizabeth Barbieri.
Illustrated by Lina Safar.

Spirited Gladys Elizabeth is more than disappointed when her mother buys her the "ugliest" shoes in the world.  She devises a foolproof plan in hopes of destroying her ugly shoes.  However Gladys Elizabeth doesn't account for the sturdiness of her shoes and in the end learns a valuable lesson in gratitude.

Midwest Book Review: Volume 21, Number 11:  November 2011
"Rubber Shoes ...A Lesson in Gratitude/ Los zapatos de goma...una lección de gratitud" is a touching bilingual teaching tale about a girl who hates her new brown rubber shoes that her mother bought for her on sale. She hates them so she plots ways to lose or destroy them, but they are the invincible rubber shoes. Finally her mother takes her on a trip to donate the shoes to another little girl whose reaction to the rubber shoes is very different, leading to an epiphany of gratitude for our charming heroine. "Rubber Shoes" is a beautiful lesson in gratitude and humility for children ages 4-8, written in both Spanish and English and tenderly illustrated in gentle semi-anime style.

For more information visit

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Review: Down to the Bone. Oedipus Rey. On-Line Floricanto Ultimate in November 2012

Second Time’s a Charm. Review: Mayra Lazara Dole. Down to the Bone.Tallahassee FL: Bella Books, 2012. ISBN-13: 9781594933172 

Michael Sedano

Back in 2008 and 2009, La Bloga wrote enthusiastically about a Young Adult novel, Down to the Bone, detailing the heartbreak of a girl exploring her sexuality in the worst way: outed by a viciously evil high school teacher, ostracized by childhood friends, and thrown out of her little brother’s life when Shai’s mother kicks the daughter out of the house. “Don’t come back until you like boys, degenerada” is the mother’s curse.

Bella Books, a dynamic “publisher of vibrant and irresistible fiction for and about lesbians” has not republished the out-of-print title but instead has given Mayra Lazara Dole the opportunity to let the book grow up from YA to literary fiction. Although the publisher continues to class the novel as YA, Down to the Bone is a book for parents, relatives, and young readers.

The book keeps readers on edge. The retrograde attitudes of the mother and several of the supporting characters are constant reminders of all the ways US society, and in this case, Cubans in Miami’s US society, practice blind intolerance. Can they be overcome? Down to the Bone tells how Shai rebounds from ugly abuse to nest in the warmth and love of gente who love Shai for the content of her character and her spirit, who don't need to forgive her for whom she loves.

Dole’s characters introduce a broad range of sexual identities. The enthusiastically herterosexual best friend Soli, Soli’s boyfriends du jour, and her mother, Viva, define Love. Soli and Viva throw open their home and their arms unconditionally to the rejected kid. Marlena—Shai’s only lover—is terrified her parents will learn she likes girls. Confused and ultimately dishonest, Marlena marries her parents’ chosen mate. She comes back looking to rekindle the flames but Shai looks for honesty in people and Marlena proved herself heart-breakingly confused and ultimately dishonest.

Lazer’s story adds yet another edge to the novel. Dole invariably elects male pronouns to describe the boi, who comes on to Shai with desire. But, while Shai finds Lazer’s genderqueerness attractive, he’s not Shai’s preference and Lazer regretfully moves on. They can be friends, just friends.

Some of the abuse Shai suffers comes self-administered. She’s just sixteen. Confused by her mother’s absolutism, Shai throws herself into faking it, taking a boyfriend in hopes she will learn to love him and thus change into someone her mother will welcome home. When Shai realizes the immense damage she does to the hetero boy—who's a real jerk--it helps push her over the Niagra Falls of deception she’s been riding toward a precipice.

Shai makes attempts at hetero play--sex games without "going all the way"—with the putative boyfriend. But that life is a lie that Shai can’t stomach. Shai heaps guilt upon herself because she understands pretending to be heterosexual is just another lie, and she’s already lost a lifetime of friends who had no idea Shai is a…

A what? Shai’s confusion and mom-induced guilt leads the child to reject labels that fly everywhere. Gay. Lesbo. Lesbian. Tortillera. Faggot. Dyke. Hetero. Lezzie. Dole skillfully plays out Shai’s labelling perplexity, using that as a signal of Shai’s growing health. When Shai finally breaks through that lexical wall to call herself “lesbian”, a new Shai emerges: self-accepting and unrelentingly honest, lovingly out of the closet and finding her way into her new society.

With acceptance comes freedom. Difficult, painful freedom in some ways, but grandly liberating in the best ways. Finding and building strength upon her decisive self-assurance, Shai confronts and explains the facts of life to the unrelenting mother and sets the terms of their ongoing relationship.

Down to the Bone is not a morality tale--though readers will find that. Dole's crafted a cautionary coming of age story that says a person is entitled to whatever happiness she can create. It says we live in parallel worlds, the gay world, the haters world, the world of the rest of us. Some of us pass back and forth into those worlds while others shut themselves and others out. All own the consequences of their acts.

When a parent or classmates make it a point to bully or punish a gay offspring, that is hurtful and absolutely unjust. Because Shai is no longer in the home, her little brother will fall behind in school and suffer the consequences of an education deficit. Shai abandons schooling to work full-time in landscape design, thinking she can autodidact higher education and forge a career. In order to force her mother’s acceptance, Shai blackmails her mother, threatening to tell mom’s rich new husband the whole story and redefining the mother-daughter relationship to something inherently unhealthy.

Bella Books lists a growing catalog to enjoy. Visit the publisher's website to order the book in paper or ebook, or to get the details so your local independent bookseller can order as many copies as you'll need to read and share with friends.  Down to Bone brings not only enjoyment but a vitally important story not to be missed.

News from the email bag
Oedipus el Rey in the Northwest

This time, it’s Seattle’s turn to share Luis Alfaro's version of Oedipus tyrannos, its chicano version Oedipus el Rey, coming to Seattle's eSe Teatro in early December for an abbreviated run.

La Bloga has enthusiastically followed Alfaro’s retelling. Alfaro curses today’s pintos and street gangsters with the core of Sophocle’s Athenian tragedy. In the version I saw at Malibu Getty in 2008, the concept stunned me with its revolutionary stance. That Getty production was exquisite.

Bloguera Olga Garcia found the experience of Oedipus el Rey scintillating when she joined a 2010 Pasadena audience for a characteristically limited-run on a tiny stage.

The play remains a work-in-progress. When it’s completed and ready for the main stage downtown, Oedipus el Rey will be sublimely historical and undoubtedly award-winning.

La Bloga welcomes guest reviewers. If you're among those who get to enjoy this performance, please let La Bloga share your experience

La Bloga On-Line Floricanto 

“America I Need To Talk To You” by Diana Lucas Joe

"Volcanoes Here Speak Up! / Los volcanes aquí toman la palabra" by Francisco X. Alarcón

“Nameless” by Joe Navarro

“Why Do You Cry, Mother?” by Ramon Piñero

America I Need To Talk To You.
by Diana Lucas--joe

America, I need to talk to you.
I need to tell you what I see.
I see you go wild.
Going out to other places.
Acting all big.
I ask you to stop!
Sit down!
This is not going to be easy.
I want to begin by saying I love you.
I always have, since I was little.
I wore my hats for you.
I sang my songs of you.
Oh! How I Celebrated you!
But I need to tell you that I will not tolerate your insensitivity.
You go to other places and stay too long.
Killing, killing.
Shame on you.
You have become too filled with vanity.
Others celebrate you grandly too!
Haven't you had enough?
Sit down!
I speak truly to you, as it is all I ever did for you.
I am not just a number in your books.
I refuse to be just that anymore.
I am going back to my father, the sky.
I am living with my mother, the earth.
I needed to tell you that.
You can change too, America, you really can.
Come back.

by Joe Navarro

Nameless...eaten by weather
And animals litter the desert
They previously had names and
Families, people who loved them
Who said, "Goodbye," perhaps
With a blessing, sharing in
The hope of a new beginning
But that all evaporated somewhere
Between disorientation, hopelessness
And futility, or disillusion
Voices and memories washed away
In tears that smelled impending
Death, which screamed in
Hunger pangs and sandy swallows
One final memory of family and
Friends escorted their dreams
Across the final border

--Joe Navarro
© Copyright 2012

Why Do You Cry, Mother?
by Ramon Piñero
 She birthed
both; dark
hair, dark
eyes, a
joy to
any father

She watched
as they played
sand castles
at the beach'
innocently, but
(as children
are wont to
be) exasperating

as time
between them
stones grew
where once
there were
moss covered
their tongues

further than
far and
stranger than
the brothers
they no
longer spoke
now than
when they
were young

their castles
by moats
filled with
broken promises

to speak
the peace,
distort the

The adversary
between them
uses mortars
of hate as
bulding blocks
making larger
with higher

and with
stones where
their ayes
once were
and tongues
with moss
the entreaties
of the dead
and dying
go unheeded

their mother
birthed them
both, with dark
hair and dark
any father would
be proud

now they
are like the
grains of

stones where
there eyes
once were
covered in

when they
the shrieks
drown out
their words
the adversary
gains new
and little
reach back
chasing their
back to
peace of


A mother
cries out
a father
rends his
their children
are dying
and the
with a
knowing smile
slinks through
the underbrush
and preaches
from the
the minaret
the pulpit

a mother
birthed them
a proud

but stones
grew where
once their
eyes were’
their tongues
once sang
odes to joy;
songs of
now covered
in moss
sing no more

their eyes
gleam no
the wonder
of being, the
lantern of
life, slowly

the adversary
smiles knowingly
soon he shall
add to his

“America I Need To Talk To You” by Diana Lucas Joe

"Volcanoes Here Speak Up! / Los volcanes aquí toman la palabra" by Francisco X. Alarcón

“Nameless” by Joe Navarro

“Why Do You Cry, Mother?” by Ramon Piñero

Diana is a grassroots barrio Chicana poet and writer, song writer and composer from Brownsville, Texas. Born in 1960 to a generational migrant family, she grew up in federal housing projects in South Texas, attending public school there, as well.

She enjoys writing poetry on Chicano and indigenous peoples' political and social issues. She has been writing since age eight. Her writing began as she was a community advocate for those with community members limited in English reading, writing, or conversational skills. She writes about Mexican American International Border Issues, and has been inspired to do so because of the ever present border and migratory upset with communities in these territories she calls ancient corridors.

Diana's work has been published in numerous local, state and city newspapers, college newsletters, magazines, and books throughout the border states in the US. and Mexico. She is an activist for indigenous people's rights from the US, Mexico, and the world. Her favorite quote published in the Brownsville Herald in 2006, as she did a hunger strike along the banks of the river there, against H.R.4437 was, ''The Earth Was Made To Contain All Of Us!"

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.

Joe Navarro is a literary vato loco, teacher, poet, creative writer, husband, father and grandfather who currently lives in Hollister, CA. Joe integrates his poetic voice with life's experiences, and blends culture with politics. His poetic influences include the Beat Poets, The Last Poets, Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Alurista, Gloria Anzaldua, Lalo Delgado and numerous others. You can read more from Joe at

Ramon Piñero. "Ex Bay Area poet living in the buckle of the Bible Belt, aka Florida. Where good little boys and girls grow up to be republicans who vote against their own interest. Father of three and Grandfather to six of the coolest kids ever.

Monday, November 26, 2012

El Paso, 1942

A short story

Just before I was murdered, I’d lain with Federico.  The horror of my past, the mistaken belief of my brother that I had raped Belén, my beautiful niece, had fallen away for a short while in the arms of my love.  When I’d settled in El Paso, Federico was the first man I’d dare to speak with for any length of time.  I had to be careful for two reasons.  First, my brother, Adolfo, was stubborn, relentless—I’d seen these traits repeatedly while growing up—and I had no doubt that my brother would not give up until he was avenged.  Second, my secret life with men was always kept wrapped up in my chest, my covert self that, if discovered, could get me killed, too.

In El Paso, my situation was almost perfect.  Señora Espinoza’s boarding house for men became my home, a single room all to myself, a bathroom down the hall.  She served breakfast and dinner for her men, all seven of us who lived there.  I think she liked having us around.  We became the children she and her late husband could never have.  The señora seemed most blissful feeding us, inquiring if our beds were comfortable, wondering if we have all that we needed.  She was of an indefinite age, her skin smooth and tight due to being very large.  I suspect that if she’d been a lean woman, her true years would have been more apparent.  In any event, this was my new home and I made the best of it.

A month or so at the boarding house, I’d gotten use to the other men.  They were all Mexican, save for one German who’d lived in Guadalajara his whole life until moving to Texas at the age of sixteen.  The other men were of an assortment of sizes, ages and histories.  And then there was Federico, ten years my senior, who moved in a week after I did.  We noticed each other, above the others, for reasons I can’t understand.  He listened intently to everything I said, even the silliest comments.  One evening, he visited my room to borrow a little tobacco, or so he said.  But that visit became the first night we spent together.  After that, we had to be very careful, of course, making excuses to visit each other.  This was not too unusual because every man in that house needed friendship since they’d left everyone behind in Mexico.  Sometimes one would visit the other’s room to play cards or listen to Mexican records.  Of course, the other men visited putas whenever they had extra money.  One or two had real girlfriends.  And I had Federico.  We had each other.  I was happy.

One evening after sharing his bed, I grew restless and wanted to go out and have a drink.  Federico just wanted to sleep.  So I kissed him and left the boarding house.  Down the road was a bar that I enjoyed called La Bolsa Chica.  Men and women, almost all Mexican, came to eat and drink and dance.  I felt like I was at home once I had a few copitas of whiskey.  After having more than was wise, I stumbled out of the bar.  The street was virtually deserted, an automobile passing every few minutes, two or three inebriated couples walking home.  I decided to take a shortcut, down an alley.  The dark never scared me.  Never, not even when I was a child.  And it was in the alley, not two blocks from the boarding house, that I encountered a man.  He smoked a fat, hand-rolled cigarette, obscenely large.  The man seemed harmless enough, lost in thought.  But his face became the last I saw, when I was alive.

It took many years for Federico to be with me again.  He’d lived a long life, mostly alone, after I was murdered.  But after he died, we were reunited.  He smiled, said hello, and held me tight in his strong arms.  Federico chooses not to visit his loved ones back home.  He says he doesn’t want to interfere.  I personally find this a superior gift, being able to visit those I left behind, a gift that I should not waste.  You agree.  ¿No?

[“El Paso, 1942” eventually became part of the novel, The Book of Want (University of  Arizona Press, 2011).]

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Migration and Consumption: What We Create

Title of Installation by El Anatsui

“Africa is also our Mexican heritage,” mi tio Pepe would often say when there were family discussions about Mexican history, culture, and language.  His words have continually led me to research some of those connections.  Most recently, I think of the work of Xanath Caraza who weaves African rhythms/words into her multi-lingual poetry.  Veracruz, Guerrero, Oaxaca—all historical and present sites of Afromestizo comunidades. 

This week, I took my parents to the Denver, Colorado Art Museum and we spent a lot of time marveling at the work of El Anatsui.  My stepfather immediately pointed out his name: “El” Anatsui.  But “El Anatsui,” the artist who works primarily in sculpture (wood, ceramic, mixed media), has no direct connection to Mexico.  He is a Ghanian artist, born in 1944, and has spent most of his adult life creating art in Nigeria.
El Anatsui in front of installation, "Stressed World"
A side note:  Ghana is known for successfully cultivating cacao from Mexico.  This “side note” does not have much to do with El Anatsui, and yet when looking at his work, it certainly does connect in a global sense.  El Anatsui’s bottle cap drapery is all about, as he has said in more than one interview,  "the history of migration and consumption."

Stressed World
close-up of "Stressed World"

In 2002, Anatsui came upon a huge collection of metal tops from liquor bottles.  At first he didn’t know what to do with this material.  While working on other projects, he would contemplate his horde of tin and soon he began weaving these disparate strips and round caps with copper wire, creating intensely brilliant tapestries. He calls this installation:  "When I Last Wrote to You About Africa." 

Takari in Blue

I bring some of them to you today and if you are in the Denver area, check them out.  They are much more poignant/painfully beautiful in person.  Mi tio Pepe would have loved these.  "When I Last Wrote to You About Africa" will be at The Denver Art Museum until January 6, 2013.  

Close up to show intricate weaving

Click here for:
1.     Denver Art Museum

Sending you all, Queridas y Queridos La Blog readers, abrazos desde Denver!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Support Walmart workers this holiday season: Protest

"Walmart: Always low wages. Always!"
"Pay us enough to raise a family!"
 "Give us full-time hours and affordable health care!"
 "Walmart: Stop bullying workers!"

These are some of the chants I heard after joining protesters at a Denver Walmart yesterday, Black Friday, 2012. Instead of running to the annual American getting-frenzy of the day after Thanksgiving, I decided to extend my Giving Day to support people less fortunate than me.

Me who is without a job, me who is older than the species dirt, and whose prospects of retiring in the pursuit of happiness rests in the hands of the Powerball results today. Yeah, too many of those with jobs in 21st Century America exist at a level of basic survival. So, I consider myself less fortunate.

If you want to know more about Walmart workers, go here and here to learn about that. This post is more about an ex-70s movimiento radical's experience forty years later. Times have changed, but then too, they haven't.

Nationally, the protests were led by Walmart "associates," as their workers are called--perhaps to better disguise their terrible working conditions--and supported by United Food and Commercial Workers Union.

So, I spent part of Black Friday Morning walking the picket line with OUR Walmart (Organization United for Respect at Walmart), chanting whichever ones inspired me, smiling even at customers who crossed the line and generally trying not to bait Walmart execs who stood by doors acting as if "their" customers were in danger from picketers. I didn't do well on the last one, but I didn't get accosted or take their mierda, either. It was more fulfilling being there than having gorged on pavo the previous day.

On the other hand, Walmart gorges more and more
"Return on investment for the 12 months ended Oct. 31, 2012 was 18.0 percent. Year to date, the company returned $8.7 billion to shareholders through dividends and share repurchases. It reached #1 in 2002 and stayed there until 2009, when it fell behind Exxon Mobil. The only firm in the top four of the Fortune 500 not an energy company. The world’s largest corporation, with revenues of about $300 billion and almost two million employees."

The 1% keeping much of our 99% in Third-World status. Possibly our greatest American product these days: "Huffington Post uncovered what reporters call a rigid pay structure for hourly employees that makes it difficult for most to rise much beyond poverty-level wages.

I've shopped there maybe six times in my lifetime, to-date. I avoid it, knowing I'd be supporting Congressionally backed shipping of more jobs to the prospering Chinese, not that I have anything against Chinese prosperity--just not for the benefit of our 1%. And I avoid it because my saving pennies or dollars reminds me of those who survived Nazi Germany by ignoring the lines headed into the concentration camps and ovens. A stretch in some ways, but a logic my brain follows.

I wasn't in the picket line only because raza work there. I was also there because it's what I believe democracy requires, especially in these times. Support especially the bottom half of the 99%, even if it's only a centavos or dolares sacrifice. In perspective, not that big of a deal.

A woman passing through picketers in front of me heard the protesters chant: "We say fight back!" Her response: "I say be glad you have a job." Typical individualistic, politically myopic, self-destructive American thinking. An Ugly American. But she got me thinking.

Because many customers were walking through the lines, although there were as few as 9 customers in line at the 32 registers inside at that moment, I put down my picket sign, picked up flyers (unfortunately, not in Spanish) and headed to the parking lot where I got customers to stop and listen.

It was great. No, I didn't re-educate and rally the masses or put much dent in corporate profits, but after explaining the purpose of the picket line, working conditions at Walmart, and what they were asking customers to do--not shop Walmart that day--I did learn some things.

I found mexicano shoppers most receptive. They remembered their mexicano general-strike heritage. They were more open to postponing their shopping. In some cases, they were unaware of anything and at times left without purchasing anything. I gave some time and was thankful it produced something good.

Next time I join anything like this, I'm grabbing flyers, switching to español and heading for cars parking. To get that sense of accomplishment. To strike back at the 1%. To Give in my country where Get or Buy is our national sickness. Plus, it'll work off some of that added weight from turkey-gorging. And maybe a tiny bit, it will erase some of that vergüenza that sometimes shames those of us who once gritoed "Que viva la causa!"

Es todo, hoy,

RudyG, aka author Rudy Ch. Garcia of the Chicano fantasy, The Closet of Discarded Dreams, who's working on the YA prequel that will feature a ridiculous chapter about Walmart. Interested publishers and agents can go here for details.

Friday, November 23, 2012

It's a Brown Holiday, Alright, My Birthday.

Melinda Palacio

Melinda in Havana, Cuba

Yesterday was Thanksgiving, which sometimes falls on my birthday. This year I am not doing much because everyday has been an incredible gift. Last week, I was in Cuba, celebrating my birthday and being a tourist under the auspices of All Rise Church. Traveling to Cuba was somewhat like traveling through time, the cars were old, the buildings ancient, a splendor that time forgot. Ingenuity on the tiny island spanned from making jewelry out cow bones to a musician using the wire on a bicycle brake to restring his guitar.

The View from Hemingway's house.

Listening to live music, everywhere, was one of my favorite parts of the trip, along with meeting the people. I have always loved Cuban music and "Maria Cristina," was sort of an early theme song for me because my grandmother would always play the record by Nico Saquito. Also, she never liked my name, Melinda, and instead called me, Maria Cristina. Strangely enough, the song is about a man complaining about his strong-headed woman who always tells him what to do.

Melinda in a 1956 Pontiac. Why don't they make cars like this anymore?

It's easy to see why Hemingway fell in love with Cuba. If we didn't have such restrictions, I would certainly visit more often and maybe live there part-time myself. Havana reminded me of New Orleans. I was happy to see there is a movement to restore and preserve the splendor of the buildings, many with marbled staircases and incredible iron work.

Cienfuegos, Cuba
I was the only one of our group brave enough to jump in the Caribbean ocean at Sunset. I thought the water was perfect for a November sunset swim. The water was so salty little effort was needed to stay afloat. One of my definitions of a perfect vacation involves swimming in a warm ocean. 

All Play And No Work... hmm
A little poetry propaganda and promotion was in order. I have the self-promotion act down. Even on vacation in Cuba, I managed to sell a couple of books to Canadian tourists and share my work with a few locals. People that knew my mother, Blanca, can tell you that she was promoting me from the start, preparing me to be comfortable talking about myself. It's ironic because I used to hate it and found it highly embarrassing that strangers would tell me, your mother was bragging about you and she told us all about you. At age nine, I didn't feel accomplished about anything and believed that the things my mother would brag to her friends about were highly exaggerated. But she also taught me how to market and sell products. She belonged to AMAE, the Association of Mexican American Educators, and would have me sell t-shirts and buttons to support a scholarship program for high school graduates. I didn't know it at the time, but she was preparing me for all business side of writing, the marketing and self-promotion that authors must now do for themselves.

Next week, I have two exciting events. First, I will be part of UC Santa Cruz's Latino Literature Conference with Juan Felipe Herrera and Javier O. Huerta and a host of academic panels, November 30.

And, drum roll please, on Saturday, December 1, Ocotillo Dreams will receive a PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award for Excellence in Literature. You are invited to the 22nd annual PEN Oakland National Literary Awards, Saturday December 1, 2 PM, at the Oakland Rockridge library, 5366 College Avenue. Admission is free. 

The PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award, Saturday, December 1st .

The Latino Literature Conference at UC Santa Cruz is November 30

Finally, the Fire tour continues, actually it hasn't stopped. After Cuba I was on the Pooch Power Hour, wearing my Pocha t-shirt by Lalo Alcarez last Friday. Last Saturday, I read at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque and Tuesday, I had a book signing and reading at Chaucer's in Santa Barbara. 

Next week, before heading to the Bay Area, I will visit SBCC's Chicana Literature class on Tuesday, November 27 and a Santa Barbara Book Club, December 4.

Next month, before heading to New Orleans, I have one more book signing in Santa Barbara for First Thursday, Santa Barbara at the Book Den, December 6 at 6pm, where I will be signing copies of How Fire Is a Story, Waiting

There are a few days left to support Claudia Hernandez's Revolutionary Women Project; I have the honor of being part of her dream to inspire young women.