Monday, September 30, 2013

Spotlight on Verónica Reyes and her new collection, “Chopper! Chopper!: Poetry from Bordered Lives”



Chopper! Chopper!: Poetry from Bordered Lives (Red Hen Press/Arktoi Books) reflects the lives of Mexican Americans, immigrants, Chicanas/os, and la jotería—malfloras, jotos, and beautiful rainbow communities. As vividly as Mexican Technicolor, these poems capture life in the barrio: vendors hauling carts with elote, raspados, botes y más. Vatos fighting to exist. Mujeres claiming space. Summer evenings, children playing in the calles of East L.A., El Paso, and bordered tierras everywhere. Reyes’s work exudes the pride, strength, turmoil and struggle of neighborhoods brimming with tradition and invention, estilo a la brava. These homegrown verses reveal the barrio in all its intricate layers. Revering difference, they fight to make room for something new: Marimacha Poetry. ¡Y Qué!


Chopper! Chopper! replenishes the landscapes of East L.A. and the lives that give it shape. Reyes resurrects old-time shops and hangouts. They memorialize the land alongside edifices of refuse, sterile towers, man-made deserts and rivers, machines that suffocate the sky, fields locked in the historical cycle churning out the fieldworker’s woe. Queers, dandies, cholos, mariachis the same as ‘Chumash, Pomo, Modoc’ ramble these streets. In these dramatic monologues, the perfect poetic mode to retool history, Reyes’ wit leaves a mark. Her young self marvels at ‘old coors or budweiser botes, tab, aspen soda cans . . . tossed by the lake at Lincoln Park, half buried in the sandbox just like the statue of liberty in planet of the apes.’ In this cool, sad, funny collection, East L.A. startles us like ‘a pinche far, faraway land’ it really is." —Kristin Naca, author of Bird Eating Bird

“In this book there is no time to run home chillando or licking your wounds—the gente in Reyes’ recollections pull you into a world where crooked tortillas and marimacha swagger are less the image of otherness, but a symbol of nosotros’ness. Through Reyes’ barrio lyricism, we, the others, do not cross over to become the norm, but come together as strands of hair, distinct, yet slicked together by the force of love, coraje, and Tres Flores.” —Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano


Verónica Reyes is a Chicana feminist jota poet from East Los Angeles, California. She earned her BA from California State University, Long Beach and her MFA from University of Texas, El Paso. Her poems give voice to all her communities: Chicanas/os, immigrants, Mexican Americans, and la jotería. Reyes has won AWP’s Intro-Journal Project, an Astraea Lesbian Foundation Emerging Artist award, and was a Finalist for the Andrés Montoya Poetry award. She has received grants and fellowships from Vermont Studio Center, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Ragdale Foundation, and Montalvo Arts Center. Her work has appeared in Calyx, Feminist Studies, ZYZZYVA, and The New York Quarterly. She is a proud member of Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social (MALCS) and Macondo Writers’ Workshop.

To read a sample poem, visit Arktoi BooksArktoi Books, an imprint of Red Hen Press, was established in 2006 by Eloise Klein Healy to publish literary works of high quality by lesbian writers. The mission of Arktoi Books is to give lesbian writers more access to "the conversation" that having a book in print affords. 


• The Los Angeles Review of Books, edited by Tom Lutz, recently ran my three-question interviews with Orlando Ricardo Menes and Alvaro Huerta regarding their new books.

• Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times ran Héctor Tobar's review of Tim Z. Hernandez's beautiful new novel, Mañana Means Heaven (University of Arizona Press). My interview with Hernandez regarding his novel will run in a special online edition of High Country News tomorrow.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Scars and Madness: A New Nola Céspedes Novel, _Nearer Home_. Interview with Joy Castro--

Memoirist and novelist, Joy Castro, has been, of late, quite prolific and you, dear “La Bloga” reader, you have the privilege to receive the many gifts of her multiple publications.  Before 2012, Castro was known most for her beautifully written and searing memoir, The Truth Book.  If you haven’t read it, I strongly encourage you to get yourself a copy.  It has recently been re-issued with a beautiful cover from University of Nebraska-Press (click here!).  

I want to share the last line in The Truth Book.  It won’t give anything away from the memoir.  I’m copying it here because this very last line in her memoir is almost a preface for her subsequent publications.  She writes: “You try to be decent and treat people gently, knowing that they, too, have their scars and madnesses that, like yours, do not show.”  The themes and symbols of scars, madness, empathy, and ethical behavior continue to develop within the genre of the two literary mystery novels she has published. 

Castro’s first novel, Hell or High Water, published in 2012, has already garnered a number of honors, most recently, the 2013 Nebraska Book Award.  And last spring, Hell or High Water received 2nd place in the 2013 International Latino Book Awards in the genre of mystery fiction. 

German publication of Hell or High Water

As well, a translation of Hell or High Water has been published in Germany and translations of Hell or High Water and her newest novel, Nearer Home will be published in France by Gallimard.  Hell or High Water has been optioned for film or TV by a team of producers that includes Zoe Saldana.  Both thrillers are also available as audiobooks, read by 2011 Audie Award Finalist, Roxanne Hernandez!  Orale! 

For more on Hell or High Water, click here to read my interview with Joy Castro from last year when the book was newly out.  Now we have the second installment of the Nola Céspedes series:  Nearer Home, and it is promising to be just as, if not more “thrilling,” tighter, and quite the nail biter.  As well, Castro has continued writing memoir pieces and her second nonfiction book, Island of Bones, is now out from University of Nebraska-Press (click here!).  Island of Bones received the 2013 International Latino Book Award (for inspirational non-fiction in English) and it was a Finalist for the PEN Center USA Literary Award for creative non-fiction. 

Montes: First of all, congratulations on the latest recognition for Hell or High Water and the French translation and publication also for Nearer Home, and the PEN and Latino Book Award for Island of Bones. 

A PEN Center USA Literary Finalist
Castro:  Thank you so much.  A lot of attention is coming to the books now, and I’m grateful.  I hope it helps them reach the readers who will love them. I’m excited that the thrillers are being translated and published abroad, so readers of German and French will have the chance to read about a Latina fighting crime in New Orleans.

Montes:  Yes, very exciting!  Enfolded within the mystery genre that Hell or High Water follows, there is a coming-of-age narrative.  Would you say, Nearer Home continues the bildungsroman or are you making a departure?

Castro:  Though Nola is 27 in Hell or High Water, she still has some growing up to do.  Most of it has to do with facing elements of her past that she has avoided.  She accomplishes that in the first novel (and it’s implied aftermath), but her growth continues in Nearer Home.  It’s not as dramatic, and I think she’s reaching a good place, but her process of growth won’t stop. 

I think that’s true for most of us.  Unless we’re stuck and stagnating, we keep growing and learning and changing throughout our llves.  I don’t know if those changes can be called “coming-of-age” anymore, but sometimes the process feels just as humbling and difficult as when we were young.  The difference is that we’re held accountable by society; we’re expected to know how to act like responsible adults.  Unfortunately, one look at the news will show how often we fail at this. 

Montes:  Yes—and the focus of these kinds of failures are highlighted within what may seem disparate worlds in Nearer Home. Nearer Home turns its attention to the world of academia as well as the world of horse racing, thoroughbreds, and political figures. Tell me about your research preparation.

Castro:  I’ve been teaching college for over 20 years now, so academia is familiar to me.  I grew up loving horses, and I had a pony when I was a little girl—a wild pony that my parents bought for $20.00 in rural West Virginia.  I tamed her—to an extent; she still bit and bucked and kicked—and rode her bareback in the hills there.  It was a good time in my life.  I was already a voracious reader, and I read a lot of books about horse training, horse racing, and so on.  When Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978, I had newspaper clipping taped up on the wall in my bedroom.  I cried when I grew too tall to be a jockey.  In college in San Antonio, I worked at a stable for a while, mucking out stalls and grooming, just to be around the horses.  Political figures, I knew less about.  I read a lot of newspaper and magazine profiles of political figures to get the gist, but I still worried that I’d make Senator Claiborne, my fictional character, a caricature.  I’m not sure I succeeded in making him fully real.  His wife, who’s actually fairly pivotal to the plot, remains offstage throughout the entire book.  Political wives have it rough.  I wanted to leave her in peace.

Montes:  Many of the secondary characters that appear in Hell or High Water return in Nearer Home.  What is your process in their development this time around? 

Castro:  I like to imagine how people change over time.  For Nearer Home, I just listened to what I’d established in Hell or High Water and then let my mind wander.  The characters usually told me how they’d evolved.  That sounds a little mystical or woo-woo, but that’s how it works.  I just relax and listen. 

Montes:  Unlike Hell or High Water, Nearer Home is divided not only by chapters, but days of the week.  Why? 

Castro:  As a scholar of literary modernism, I became very interested in the representation of time.  James Joyce famously spent hundreds of pages chronicling a single day in the life of his protagonist Leopold Bloom; other modernists experimented similarly.  I’m interested in the way we perceive time, how it shrinks or elongates according to the experiences we’re having. 

Hell or High Water unfolds over a period of one month.  With Nearer Home, I wanted to try a tighter time-frame and see what that compression did to the action and character development.  I’ve outlined a future Nola Céspedes novel that takes place within twenty-four hours.  These are crime thrillers, though, so I don’t want to get too precious about it. 

Bourbon Street, New Orleans
Montes:  Your sense of detail and description is so lovely.  For example, when you describe Chloe’s hair, you write:  “the browned gold of ice tea on a sun porch.”  Great stuff.  Tell us your process in avoiding clichés in descriptive writing.

Castro:  I’m not sure that I do!  Thank you.  I try.  I just revise and revise and revise.  I reread with a cold eye and try to be ruthless.

Montes:  Yes—revision is key.  I also want to ask about your craft in creating good solid dialogue.  For example, the dialogue scenes with Bento are done so well.  What is your process?

Castro:  I listen to the characters.  When it’s going well, the process feels like dictation.  Often, though, it doesn’t go well.  Dialogue is hard for me.  I revise dialogue the way I do everything else:  read aloud, listen for rhythm and realism, and cut, cut, cut. 

Bento is unique in the books, in that he’s a highly educated expert in his field (coastal geomorphology), but English is his third language, and he knows it primarily from the classic literature he studied in school.  As a result, his dialogue is a little stilted, a little formal.  It’s an odd mix of mistakes and unexpected flourishes. 

Montes:  That comes through splendidly.  And what of another secondary character:  Fabi?  She is a Chicana who is wealthy and materialistic, a “well meaning liberal,” or as Nola says, “Fabi, our Chicana Princess.”  What is your definition of a Chicana and how did Fabi come to be? 

Castro:  With Fabi, I wanted to create a character different from typical depictions of Chicanas as domestic workers and farm laborers.  Similarly, the protagonist Nola—contrary to stereotypes about Cuban Americans (as well-to-do)—grew up poor in the projects.  I was interested in exploring the diversity among Latinas and creating something surprising.  There are two definitions of Chicana that seem to be in cultural use.  One simply means a Mexican American woman.  The other is politically inflected and includes the sacrifices and achievements of the Chicano Civil Rights Movement.  The character of Fabi is ironic.  She has always been cosseted, yet enjoys claiming the cultural cachet of El Movimiento without having worked or suffered for it. She wasn’t even born at that time.  Because of this, she’s a little bit of a comic character, but I still wanted her to be sympathetic, too;  she has good qualities as well. 

Montes:  Was this an easier novel to write from the first? 

Castro:  Yes.  With Hell or High Water, I was learning how to write a novel.  It was my first attempt, and I floundered around.  It went through many, many revisions and took about four years, whereas Nearer Home took me only a single year to write.  I had a much clearer sense of what I was doing.  It also helped that I knew the characters well by that point: I wasn’t making them up from scratch. 

Montes:  What did you learn, then, during the writing of Hell or High Water that you were able to further develop or avoid in Nearer Home? 

Castro:  Plot.  I had a terrible time with cause-and-effect, with action—again, perhaps due to my training in modernist literature, in which a few reveries and an epiphany equal a story.  I love that mode.  It’s lovely.  But it didn’t quite work in crime fiction, so I had to learn—the hard, slow, foot-dragging way—how to plot.

Montes:  Who is your audience for Nearer Home?

Castro:  I wrote the books with a Latina audience especially in mind, but my thrillers are for everyone who enjoys crime fiction.  If you’re fond of New Orleans, then you’ll enjoy them—and if you know New Orleans really well, then you’ll enjoy finding the couple of mistakes I made.  Readers have written in to let me know where I goofed. 

Montes:  Even if you’ve lived your whole life in a place and write about it, some readers will still want to say something about their own perspective of place.  Hopefully, they have been kind and decent! 

Castro:  Yes, they have.  They care so much about New Orleans that they want me to get it right.  I appreciate that love for the city and that love for detail. 

Montes:  Do you feel more comfortable now, having written two mystery novels, and do you think you will continue writing in this genre or will you try another?

Castro:  I do know now that I can finish a novel. Five years ago, I didn’t know that.  So yes, I think the process has built my confidence as a writer.  My current project is a new novel, and I’m in love with it.  Short stories, though, were my first love, and I’m revising a book of stories now.  It’s called HOW WINTER BEGAN, and a wonderful press has offered a contract for it.  (I’ll be discreet, since we haven’t signed papers yet.)  I’m very excited that it will be in print.  I’ve been working on it for years. 

Montes:  So you are not working on another Nola novel? 

Castro:  I’ve outlined books 3 and 4 of the Nola Céspedes series, and I received an offer for a third installment.  I declined it, though, for the time being.  I’m currently working on a stand-alone psychological thriller.  The protagonist is a Chicago Latina with a hidden past.  When I finish it, I plan to go back and write books 3 and 4.  I think about them a lot. 

Montes:  It’s exciting knowing that we will have a mystery set in Chicago with a Latina protagonist—a Midwest Latina mystery.  Orale!  What advice do you have for writers of mystery? 

Castro:  Love the form.  Read widely. Bring your whole self to the project; be honest on the page.  Revise, revise, revise.  Be patient.  Remember that crime fiction is the genre of justice, and you can bring your political concerns to the story.  That’s the same advice I’m still giving myself.  

Montes:  There is the writing, and then there is the selling of a book.  Describe the selling of one’s book, the responsibilities:  it’s challenges and successes.  How well has Hell or High Water been doing and what will you do differently or the same with Nearer Home?

Castro:  Authors are asked to promote their books aggressively, maintain a social media presence, give public readings, visit book clubs, and so on.  I’ve done those things for both books, and I’ll continue to do them.  I especially love visiting book clubs; the warmth and kindness are so moving.  Readers don’t realize what a gift they give back to authors.  Both books have been doing fine, sales-wise, though neither has become a bestseller.  It takes a lot of work from both the publisher and author to break a book out, and some luck is involved, too.

They’re reaching their readers.  What the publishing industry knows is the word-of-mouth, person-to-person, one friend to another, is the best way of selling books, hands-down.  That organic, passionate buzz is something that all the ads in the world can’t create.  So I hope people will love the books and tell their friends about them, and that word-of-mouth will give them a long life. 

Montes:  Describe your audience reception.  What has surprised you or intrigued you regarding reader reactions to your work?

Castro:  The passion.  Readers really seem to love the books.  They get very excited when they tell me how shocked they were by the ending of Hell or High Water – how they never saw it coming, but when they went back later and reread, they could see all the clues.  That’s a great thing for an author to hear.  I always love it when I hear from Latina readers:  “I feel like you wrote this book for me.”  Because I did. 

Montes:  What else would you like to tell our “La Bloga” readers?

Castro:  A lot of people in the mainstream book industry still believe that we, as Latinas and Latinos, are not a worthwhile market segment.  You’ll still occasionally hear, “Latinos don’t read.”  Though this mistaken sentiment is changing, it’s still out there, and it affects editors’ decisions about whose manuscripts to purchase, publish, and promote. 

So I’d just remind everyone how important your choices are.  When you buy a book, or request a book from your library, you make a difference. 

Montes:  Yes, so important!  Thank you, Joy!

Castro:  Thank you for taking the time to ask about my work. 

Montes:  No need to wait, dear “La Bloga” readers—get yourself a copy of Joy Castro’s works now!  Add one of her titles to your book club list, to your own private reading, to your curriculum list for teaching.  Sending you all buenas energias for a most lovely week!  

Joy Castro BIO:  Joy Castro (click here for her website) is the author of the memoir, The Truth Book and the New Orleans literary thrillers Hell or High Water and Nearer Home.  Island of Bones, her collection of personal essays, is a PEN Finalist and the winner of an International Latino Book Award. Her work has appeared in Fourth Genre, Seneca Review, North American Review, and The New York Times Magazine.  Publishers Weekly calls her new edited collection, Family Trouble: Memoirists on the Hazards and Rewards of Revealing Family, "a must-read."  She teaches literature, creative writing, and Latino studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and she is on Twitter at @_JoyCastro

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Writing Young Adult books for latinos

Getting diversity into Sci-Fi/Fantasy

In early Sept., I began posts on cultural appropriation, Young Adult Sci-Fi/Fantasy and latino lit. Here's more follow-up to that. If you're a brown writer reader or publisher/editor, you should check out Stacy Whitman's Grimoir series that began with Beyond Orcs and Elves: Diversity in Science Fiction and Fantasy for Young Readers

Whitman is publisher of Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books that publishes fantasy, science fiction, and mystery for children and young adults. To give you an idea of why you should check it out, here's excerpts:

"SF [science fiction, but let’s include fantasy too] has either totally ignored women or presented them as squeaking dolls subject to instant rape by monsters—or old-maid scientists desexed by hypertrophy of the intellectual organs—or, at best, loyal little wives or mistresses of accomplished heroes. Male elitism has run rampant in SF. But is it only male elitism? Isn’t the “subjection of women” in SF merely a symptom of a whole which is authoritarian, power-worshiping, and intensely parochial?"

Whitman surveys "Old-school epic fantasy," i.e., white male-dominated, that has lists of such "good" novels.

The second part of the series, gets more into the question of minority readers and topics. In the video by author Chimamanda Adichie, called “The Dangers of a Single Story,” you'll find this:

"She talks of how, when she was growing up in Nigeria (it was Nigeria, right? The books she read most often (always?) featured white kids who ate apples. So when she started to write, she wrote stories about white people who ate apples, even though she had never seen an apple. - A powerful talk about the importance of finding your own voice as a writer and how important to our body of literature a wide variety of voices is."

Next comes, "Black books don't sell? In a world in which Will Smith and Denzel Washington are doing just fine, why is this a problem in our books? There’s a lot of work to do in making sure that kids in poverty also see themselves mirrored in books."

"We often talk in multicultural book circles about the idea of mirrors and windows—mirrors to see your own experience reflected back, windows to see into another world. Author Zetta Elliott recently added a dimension to that which I like, the idea of “sliding glass doors” to walk in and experience someone else’s world. That’s what reading is, isn’t it? That’s where true interculturalism begins."

I'll highlight points from that third installment next week.

Young Adult books in 2014?

Over at's Young Adult Books, Children's Books Guide, Elizabeth Kennedy interviews the president of the Young Adult Library Services Association (part of the American Library Association) about trends in teen reading for the coming year. Among others things, is this:

"I've been at publishing previews where the books written with female protagonists outweighs books with boy protagonist 9 out of 10 times. Ditto for books with characters of color or written by characters of color. So the publishing market has definitely fallen into a rut, and they're missing out on drawing new readers.


By Monday I will have attended 3 writers conferences and a four-day writer's retreat within 5 weeks. I'm whipped. So. . .
Es todo, hoy,

Friday, September 27, 2013

A Quick Trip to Santa Catalina

In front of Avalon's harbor and Casino (ballroom and museum)

Until last weekend, Catalina was one of the many places I had visited only through childhood photographs. There's a photo of me and my grandmother in front of Avalon's famous harbor. I know it's Catalina because my grandmother would tell me the story of our day trip there. In another photo, I'm smiling for the camera, while in the background, my mother naps on the grass.
My first trip to Avalon

Luckily, I was able to make new memories of the trip and snap some updated photos. Not much has changed over the past decades. Although something tells me the trip used to be more affordable than it is today. At forty dollars for the ferry, the hour-long trip is pretty expensive. Locals complain that they have to wait 16 years for a car-owning lottery and gasoline is over seven dollars a gallon. There are some tricks, outside of befriending someone with a yacht, to making the trip on the cheap.

First. You say it's your birthday? Birthday boys and girls travel the 26 miles across the sea from Long Beach or San Pedro to Avalon for free. Plus, restaurants and museums offer discounts to celebrants.

Next, try booking midweek lodging and stay on the beach for less than the little inns and cottages during the higher weekend rate. I drove down from Santa Barbara and stayed with a friend before heading out to Long Beach Saturday morning. The island is small enough to see everything in one day. With enough planning, you can book a land and sea tour. However, for me, having time to write, lounge, and read a book without the regular distractions was worth the extra day on the island.
Buffalo on the island

I took a land tour to the airport in the sky at the top of the island. The view of California was spectacular. The bison were out and I saw a fully grown gray fox and several large birds.
An Avalon Fox

My favorite part of trip was riding inside the yellow submarine. The semi submersible was just like the ride at Disneyland, except there were no mermaids. I saw Garibaldi (the state fish), plenty of perch, a sea lion, and gigantic kelp. What gave me an extra thrill was firing the torpedoes of fish food. A green light came on to indicate that the food torpedoes were armed. Upon depression, a boom and explosion of fish food causes dozens of fish to rush to the front of your window.
The Yellow Submarine

Last weekend, I was blessed with perfect weather, a beautiful sunset, and fun memories to at last say goodbye to Summer. It was also nice meeting friends at Avalon, 26 miles across the sea. Glad I happen to be in California for a quick trip to Santa Catalina. 
Santa Catalina Sunset

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Chicanonautica: How I Accidentally Created Chicano Sci-Fi

Suddenly, buzz about science fiction diversity is crackling through the air. And a monster called Chicano Sci-Fi is roaming the night. Frank S Lechuga keeps calling me its father. A DNA test may be in order.

But all those years of humping science fiction should get me something. I imagine her looking like Elsa Lanchester in The Bride of Frankenstein. Ummmm . . .

I do feel like shouting, “IT’S ALIVE! IT’S ALIVE!”

But I didn’t set out to become the father of Chicano Sci-Fi. I just happened to be a born-in-East-L.A. Chicano who wanted to write science fiction. I didn’t know that it was something I shouldn’t be doing. After all, this was America, and people kept telling me I could be whatever I wanted!

One day, I took that “write what you know” advice to heart, and wrote a non-science fiction fragment that turned in into a stream of fascinating Chicano characters inspired by my family and people I had known. These characters came to life -- again, “IT’S ALIVE!” -- like no others I’d created. 

Combine that with all the material from La Cultura that most readers would consider “new” and I realized that I was onto something. I experimented with putting Chicanos in a science fiction context that eventually became Cortez on Jupiter.

Being proud of my Aztec heritage -- sí, cabrones, my ancestors were cannibals, and I’m damn proud of it! -- I perversely projected it into the future, that evolved into High Aztech and Smoking Mirror Blues.

This hasn’t made me rich and famous -- I still have a day job, kids -- but it has been a constant source of inspiration that has me publishing short fiction to this day, and newfangled postcolonialists and Afrofuturists include me in their publications.

I was a pioneer -- which of course, is another way of saying illegal alien. I boldly went where no Chicano had gone before.

And I believe that this is only the beginning.

Chicano is when and where I’m from.  It’s a subset of Hispanic, which includes non-Mexican immigrants, and is a favorite way of describing crime suspects. Latino is global, from Latin America, coined back when the French saw us being ruled by a Francophone elite, but that lets in the French Canadians, Haitians, Francophone Africans, and the Portuguese-speaking Brazilians.

Latino is also favored by show biz. Those Latino sex symbols sell like crazy. 

It's also a hemispheric majority.

And lately, Chicano -- Xicano, Xicana/o --  has been seen as an attitude and political stance that I’m all for. Combine that with new developments that transformer lowriders, barrio cyberpunks, and other emerging subcultures are coming up with, and Chicano Sci-Fi could sweep the planet, and beyond.

After all, as I’ve said before, Chicano is a science fiction state of being

Which reminds me, I have to get back to my novel about a mariachi on Mars . . .

Ernest Hogan, was born in East L.A., and his mother’s maiden name is Garcia. He wanted to be a science fiction writer when he grew up. He succeeded.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

My Migrant Family Story / La historia de mi familia migrante

By Lily Garcia 

  • Paperback: 64 pages
  • Publisher: Pinata Books; Bilingual edition (October 31, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 155885780X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1558857803

Every spring, Lilia Garcia had to leave school early to go north with her family to pick fruits and vegetables. She was too young to work in the fields with the rest of the family, so her mother and teenage brother would sign her up to attend the local school. She was the only Spanish-speaking child at Coloma Elementary, and that, combined with the fact that it was late in the school year, made it difficult to make friends and keep up with the work. 

In this bilingual collection of short vignettes, Garcia remembers her family's life as migrant workers in the 1970s. Every year, they packed their red, Ford pick-up and left McAllen, Texas. The children's excitement soon waned during the long drive through Texas, but grew as they passed the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and skyscrapers in Chicago. Finally, they arrived at their destination: the Ponderosa in Coloma, Michigan. 

The family worked year in and year out for the same patron, who allowed them to live in a house they called the Ponderosa, named for the big house in the TV show Bonanza. It was surrounded by fields full of fruits: an apple orchard lay to the east; a peach orchard was on the other side. There were strawberry patches, cherry trees and a grape vineyard. 

Garcia's family worked long, back-breaking hours for a pittance, but they were together and their love for each other pulled them through. Garcia was nine when her father found a full-time job in McAllen and their migrant life came to an end. "We missed the adventure of travel and sightseeing, but we didn't miss the hard, back-breaking work." Staying in one place allowed the kids to focus on school, ensuring that they never had to do that back-breaking work again. This is a heartfelt recollection of the life of migrant workers.