Saturday, May 31, 2014

Whiteness of Santa Barbara shooting. SciFi gags on diversity. BookCon diversity. A Chicano teen does great.

The real question about Santa Barbara killings?

About the shootings, here's Chauncey DeVega:
"As I often ask, what shall we do with the white people? When an entire social structure has been erected to reinforce the lie that white folks are "normal", and those "Others" are "deviant" or "defective," it can be very difficult to break out of that haze of denial. Such an act requires a commitment to truth-telling and personal, critical, self-reflection that Whiteness, by definition, denies to most of its owners

"White privilege and Whiteness hurts white people. Aggrieved white male entitlement syndrome is killing white folks' children, wives, daughters, sons, fathers, and mothers. Yet, White America stands mute. Again, what shall we do with the white people...especially if they are so unwilling to help themselves?"

Chauncey might also have asked, when will the white people start taking care of themselves? If you have an answer for her, let her know.

Diversity breaking into more lit cons

Author Matt de la Peña put out a call for people attending BookCon to join a discussion today, Saturday. Your voice and input are needed.

Saturday, May 31, 10:00 am - 11:00 am, Room 1E02
Speakers: Aisha Saeed, Ellen Oh, Grace Lin, I.W. Gregorio, Jacqueline Woodson, Lamar Giles, Marieke Nijkamp, Matt de la Peña, Mike Jung
Description: After taking the Internet by storm, the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign is moving forward with brand new initiatives to continue the call for diversity in children’s literature. Join the WNDB team as they share highlights of their campaign, discuss the success of grassroots activism, highlight diverse books and how everyone can diversify their shelves and talk next steps for the campaign. 

Speaking of #WeNeedDiverseBooks, the postings of Cultivating Invisibility: Chipotle's Missing Mexicans are still cooking plenty of menudo picoso. Read and join them.

Damien Walter puts it to the SciFi/Fantasy moguls

How some feel about diversity entering the SF/F world
Latino and other voices in SciFi and fantasy lit raising questions of white privilege, exclusion of minorities and an end to non-diversity seem to be gaining ground. So much so, that a backlash arose around the Hugo awards for best fantasy and sci-fi this year. Here's some of Damien Walter's explanation about this in his piece, Science fiction's real-life war of the worlds.

"For many years, a very particular and very narrow set of authors has dominated SF. But battle for a broader fictional universe is under way. It is no coincidence that, just as it outgrows its limiting cultural biases, science fiction should also face protests from some members of the predominantly white male audience who believed it to be their rightful domain. What the conservative authors protesting the Hugo awards perceive as a liberal clique is simply science fiction outgrowing them, and their narrow conception of the genre's worth.

"The real prize for science fiction is not diversity for diversity's sake (although I happen to believe that would be prize enough). We live in a world of seven billion human beings, whose culture has not been reflected or rewarded in 'the mainstream'. Science fiction – from cult novels that reach a few thousand readers, to blockbuster movies and video games that dominate contemporary culture – has the potential to talk across every remaining boundary in our modern world. That makes it, in my opinion, potentially the most important cultural form of the 21st century. To claim that potential, it cannot afford to give way to the petulant protests of boys who do not like to share their toys."

Read the rest of his piece about this "conspiracy theory" and its losing backers. If you're progressive, you'll love it.

Only 1 of a new species

And you gotta love this kid. An inspiration from the Denver Post this week: "Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez from Boulder, Colo., is only 14 years old, but already he's a seasoned superstar in the world of political and environmental activists. He has given TED talks about his work as a leader of Earth Guardians, a worldwide organization of conservation-minded children and young adults. Last fall, he was invited to speak about the global water crisis at the United Nations. His What the Frack hip-hop video, a catchy anti-fracking song, has more than 2,000 views.

By age 12, Roske-Martinez had organized more than 35 rallies and protests. He helped stop the use of pesticides in city parks, and was among the fiercest advocates for a fee on plastic bags. His was a key voice in a project to contain coal ash, and to end a 20-year contract with Xcel Energy, allowing the city to pursue renewable energy as its primary resource.

His passions include hip-hop, participating in the annual sacred running relay from the Hopi reservation to Mexico, the current Earth Guardian campaign (a tree-planting project in 20 countries) and the summer Earth Guardian campaign to clean and protect potable water.

"This year, we're focusing on protecting one of the four elements every three months. The first quarter, it was Earth, and we did tree-planting. This summer, it will be water, and a group of 500-plus kids in Togo, Africa, will focus on that. This is about us saving the world for ourselves. I share facts about our environmental and climate- change crises. We are fighting for the survival of our generation and the health of the waters, the air, our community. We are fighting for kids everywhere."

Read all about him and forward the Earth Guardians' address to any kids you know. They'll decide what to do with it. And their planet.

HINT: To read the Denver Post article, as soon as the title appears, click the Stop Loading button. They want you to pay a buck, and will block you from it.

Es todo, hoy,
a.k.a. Rudy Ch. Garcia

Friday, May 30, 2014

Symbols of Resistance. Latino Crime Fiction. New Theater. UndocuNation. Velásquez Reading.

This week a quick roundup of a variety of upcoming events from one end of the country to the other - time is of the essence.

Latino Crime Writers Panel Reading and Discussion 

Book reading with Sergio Troncoso, Lyn Di Iorio and Richie Narvaez
Thursday, June 5, 6:00pm - 8:00pm

[from the bookstore website]
Mystery lovers, join us for readings by Sergio Troncoso, Lyn Di Iorio and Richie Narvaez. Troncoso reads from a 2014 revised and updated edition of The Nature of Truth, a novel about Helmut Sanchez, a young researcher at Yale, who discovers that his boss, a renowned professor, hides a Nazi past. Di Iorio is the author of the novel Outside the Bones and scholarly books on Caribbean literature and magical realism. Narvaez is the author of Roachkiller and Other Stories, which won an International Latino Book Award for Best eBook/Fiction.

La Casa Azul Bookstore143 E. 103rd Street
New York, NY 10029
(between Lexington & Park Ave,103rd St stop on the 6 train)

Phone: (212) 426 - 2626
General email:


And Another Latino Crime Fiction Panel

[from the organizers of the event]

Come out to see some of the newest and hottest crime writers who just happen to be Latino. Lyn Di Iorio (Outside the Bones), R. Narvaez (Roachkiller and Other Stories), Alex Segura (Silent City), and Steven Torres (The Concrete Maze) will read from their works, discuss issues regarding writing and culture, and take questions from the audience.

The panel will take place Saturday, June 7, 7:00 p.m., at Enigma Bookstore, 33-17 Crescent Street, Astoria, New York 11106.

For more information:


Gloria Velásquez Reads and Signs From Her Latest Novel

La Bloga friend Gloria Velásquez signs and reads from her latest novel, Tommy Stands Tall, ninth installment in the Roosevelt High School series. Congrats to Gloria!

"This is a great story about a diverse group of students who decide to take a stand. ... I liked that the characters were culturally and racially diverse and the message is clear and positive. There is a need for stories about students of color, particularly Hispanic students, and this series fills that need." --Washington Young Adult Review Group

[from publicity for the event] 

Internationally acclaimed author Gloria L. Velásquez will autograph her newest novel, Tommy Stands Tall, on Saturday, May 31st from 2-3 pm at Barnes and Noble in San Luis Obispo. Tommy Stands Tall is the sequel to Tommy Stands Alone, which made national headlines when it was banned in Colorado.

For further information about the author and recent speaking engagements:

1. Colorado State University Cesar Chavez Day Lecture (
2. NPR Interview (úblico-Author-of-the-Month-Dr.-Gloria-Velasquez.html)
3. My Life Journey: From the Farmworkers Fields to Stanford University Lectures (
4. Gloria L. Biography (


40th Anniversary of Los Seis de Boulder: A Commemoration of the Martyrs of the Chican@ Movement in Colorado

[from the event website]

Join us for the commemoration of the Symbols of Resistance as we pay homage to the martyrs of the Chican@ Movement in Colorado. May 2014 will mark the 40th anniversary of the deaths of Los Seis de Boulder, six student and community activists who were killed in two separate car bombings in Boulder, Colorado. We must remember those who sacrificed their lives fighting for social justice, and continue the struggle. Our nine martyrs include Ricardo FalcónLuis “Jr” MartinezCarlos Zapata and Los Seis de Boulder (Una JaakolaFrancisco DoughteryFlorencio GranadoNeva RomeroReyes Martinez and Heriberto Teran). 

Guests of Honor
The program will include a live roundtable discussion with the following speakers:
Dr. Priscilla Falcón | Debra Espinosa | Rafael Cancel Miranda | Kathleen Cleaver | Lenny Foster | Michael Deutsch | Ray Luc Levasseur

Su Teatro | 721 Santa Fe Drive | Denver, Colorado
Event from 5pm-9pm, May 31 | Pre-event activities begin at 3pm | Free to the public


  • Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 7:30p.m.
  • Matinee Sunday, June 29 at 2:00p.m.
  • Tickets: $20/General $17/Students and Seniors $12/ Comadre Docena
  • 2-4-1 Thursday when you ask for the discount!
  • Su Teatro | 721 Santa Fe Drive | Denver, Colorado

[from the event website]

This traveling arts festival and workshop series will feature local and national visual artists, performers, organizers and advocates to uplift migrant stories and speak out against unjust policies and practices that discriminate against LGBTQ communities and people of color.

Both days of this multidisciplinary, free event are open to all community members and will feature performances, art installations, and workshops featuring leaders and artists engaged in social and racial justice activism.

Friday, May 30 at 7:00 p.m. — Free art show and performances

An artist showcase and concert will feature visual and performances artists from Atlanta and across the nation, including an all-star band featuring Ceci Bastida, formerly of Tijuana No!; Raul Pacheco, of Grammy-winning Ozomatli; and Shawn King, of Grammy-nominated DeVotchka.

Saturday, May 31 at 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. — Free art and organizing workshops

Simultaneous English/Spanish interpretation will be provided.

UndocuNation is rooted in the conviction that art, music and creativity can transform the debate around immigration. UndocuNation seeks to uplift creative activism and provide communities with the tools to address threats to civil liberties at the intersection of our nation’s most pressing social justice issues. Art and culture, together with community organizing, is a powerful vehicle to advance the rights of marginalized people and diminish the impact of discriminatory activity at the local level. History shows that when culture changes, politics follow.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Chicanonatuica: The New, Improved, Salsa-Enhanced Cultura Wars

The Cultura wars are always going on in the twilight zone between the Anglo and Latino Americas. The latest has to do with Chipotle, a corporate chain with a Nahuatl name that is trying to make Mexican food classy, so that folks who suck down Starbucks coffee all day can feel superior to the gente who like home-style cooking. Post-Ethnic America wants classy, upscale taco stands, culture, rather than Cultura, which is why they had bestselling-author Jonathan Safran Foer come up with a “branding campaign” called Cultivating Thought.

People need to have their thoughts cultivated? I though they came naturally. What kind of dystopian mind-control is this?

Cultivating Thought will put short stories by “award-winning authors, as well as celebrities” on cups and bags. Unfortunately they did not include any Latino authors, which of course has caused a backlash.

La Bloga’s own Rudy Ch. Garcia got into the act. he posted this on Facebook:

What we can do to answer Chipotles' exclusion of latino writers--
1. Make up our own story (250 words, max)
2. Use your favorite LOCAL latino restaurant's logo or slogan
3. Identify your city, and share your piece across the country.
4. You can use the LatinoStory4Chipotle tag
I'm working on mine. Even if you're not, spread the word, por favor.

I was amused. I usually don’t participate in things like this, especially if they have a list of requirements, but inspiration hit me like sniper’s bullet, and the following story squirted out of my scrambled brain:


© Ernest Hogan 2014

Got a message from Victor Theremin: MEET ME AT EL BRAVO, MUY PRONTO!

I rushed to mi troque and zig-zagged through Phoenix. I hadn’t heard from Victor in years. And I needed no excuse to indulge in El Bravos’s red meat burritos.

I passed a burning Chipotle on the way.

At the restaurant, I looked around. No Victor.  But I saw someone dressed as a saguaro cactus at a table, sitting next to a brain in a plexiglass box.

“Ernie, I’d like you to meet Flash Gomez,” the brain said in Victor’s voice.

“Flash! I haven’t seen you since you disappeared back in the Nineties --”

“Yes. A lot has happened since then.”

Then agents in FBI-ish suits and sunglasses burst in, brandishing sparking stun guns.

“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of this,” said Victor’s brain. It began to glow with a pulsating yellow light, accompanied by an electronic whine. They pulsed and throbbed faster and faster.

Soon I was dizzy and couldn’t see.

The next thing I knew I was in my backyard, seated in full-lotus position facing the big cow skull. I had the aftertaste of salsa in my mouth and a tingling in my inner ears. When I got up and peered over the fence, everything looked wrong.

Instead of our neighborhood, I saw a Martian landscape, just like the NASA photos. Except there was a Chipotle on a nearby hill. It was burning.

I asked my wife, “Did we always live on Mars?”

It’s my usual schtick -- surreal imagery hung on a pulp framework. The word “sci-fi” is in the title, but it’s not really science fiction, probably more like speculative fiction, magic realism, or some such conceit, but we’ll let future generations figure that out. 

You can enjoy the quick weird jolt without knowing whothehell Victor Theremin or Flash Gomez are, but if you’re curious you can investigate.

I do like the idea of putting stories on cups, bags, T-shirts, the social media and such. We writers are going to need to get creative as big time publishing heads for disaster.

Ernest Hogan encourages you to commit acts of  #LatinoStory4Chipotle. Watch for his on Facebook, Twitter, and Mondo Ernesto.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Señor Pancho Had a Rancho

Review by Ariadna Sánchez
Nursery rhymes are considered an important source of cultural heritage. Through music, individuals can experience joy, hope, honesty, and friendship. Señor Pancho Had a Rancho is written by Salvadorean award-winning author René Colato Laínez and humorously illustrated by Elwood Smith.  Colato Laínez takes young readers through an incredible bilingual music journey to the farm along with Old McDonald and Señor Pancho. Old McDonald speaks English and his animal, too. Old McDonald’s animals make enthusiastic voices in the farm. The cow moos, the rooster crows cock-a-doodle-doos, the dog woofs, the sheep baas, the horse neighs, and the chick peeps.  On the other hand, Señor Pancho speaks Spanish and his animals, too. They greet Señor Pancho like this: la vaca says muu, el gallo sings quiquiriquí, el perro says guau guau, la oveja pronounces a high bee bee, el caballo says a noisy jii jii, and el pollito a soft pío pío here and there. Both farmers and their animals have a great time together, but at the end of the day, Old McDonald and Señor Pancho realize they are not as distinct as they seem when they first meet. Instead, they discover more things in common that allow them to spend the rest of the evening dancing and singing E-I-E-I-O and cha-cha-cha- cha-cha. The moral of Señor Pancho Had a Rancho is that in order to have fun and be friends, one needs to learn how to embrace each other’s differences. Visit your local library to read more amazing stories. ¡Adiós!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Review: Lo que trae la marea. Stanford book choice. Mail Bag.

Xánath Caraza. Lo que trae la marea / What the tide brings. Translated by Sandra Kingery, Stephen Holland-Wempe, and Xánath Caraza. El Paso, Texas : Mouthfeel Press, 2013.
ISBN: 0984426884 9780984426881

Michael Sedano

I reshelved the paperback, The World’s Great Short Stories, satisfied that this 1960s era collection, from my English major years in a pre-homicidal Isla Vista, still had moxie. I love old gems like “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” “Big Blonde,” de Maupassant in translation. In fact, nostalgic pangs rose for Bocaccio, Chaucer, the whole shebang of Euro-United Statesian belles lettres, until I shook off looking back. Instead, I picked up a copy of Xánath Caraza’s bilingual collection Lo que trae la marea What the Tide Brings. Welcome to the future.

Lo que trae la marea What the Tide Brings makes important contribution to understanding America’s contemporary literary environment. Written in Spanish and translated by a team including the author, the collection of Spanish-then-English stories doesn’t carve out readership so much as it opens markets on both sides of the nation’s and continent’s language frontera.

The publisher’s location in Spanglish-speaking El Paso positions Mouthfeel Press to ride the swell of a rising tide of books that take in the two dominant American readerships in a single volume. Such are few, but with publishers challenged to find new markets, chicana writers like Caraza-- a Mexicana who lives in Missouri—offer rich possibilities. Simultaneous translation welcomes monolinguals of either idiom while enriching a bilingual’s literary choices.

The quality of Caraza’s 17 stories--34 in all, counting both languages--already has bloguera Caraza on numerous “best of” prize rosters. Xánath Caraza is the Monday La Bloga columnist, alternating with Daniel Olivas. Watch Xánath’s columns for updates on myriad nominations and honors coming to rest on Caraza’s mantle.

Lo que trae la marea What the Tide Brings features its Spanish-language version, followed by English. Language learners will appreciate an opportunity to flip from page to page to catch nuances in ways language works across meaning. Examples of these enrich the experience of each language’s expressive resources. The collection is rich in small triumphs of translation that add texture to one’s enjoyment.

A vivid example occurs in “After the Bridges.” A busy office slows down. Occupants notice the absence of noise. In English, silence intrudes on the natural order of the world of work:
“She knew that the end of the day was approaching because the pace was gradually slowing down. As the minutes went by, silence encroached upon them until almost no one,” 116

In Spanish, silence offers a return to normal:
“Supo que el final del día se estaba acercando porque poco a poco el ritmo se fue haciendo más lento. Por cada minuto que pasaba el silencio fue acrecentándose hasta que casí nadie,” 110

The difference between crecer and encroach elicits cultural approaches to workplaces. In Spanish,
silence enlarges naturally, evoking Boyle’s law that silence expands to fill the space where it belongs. In English, silence kicks down the door and takes over.

Among the highlights of the collection are Caraza’s masterful synaesthesia skills, exhibited in story after story. In “After the Bridges” the worker enjoys a cup of coffee accompanied by taste, smell, touch, color, vision, hearing:

“The next morning, as she took the first sip of coffee, she closed her eyes and inhaled the aroma of coffee with cardamom from her ceramic cup. With the first sip, she heard the sound of marimbas in the distance. With the second sip, the turquoise sky over the town square of La Antigua and its lush green trees materialized in her mind. Another sip of coffee and the candy vendors in the town square offered her white milk candy and shredded coconut sweets dyed pink.”117

In Lo que trae la marea / What the tide brings, Xánath Caraza puts together a fast-moving collection, varying the pace spacing one- and two-page pieces between more extended 5- or ten page stories. Each comes self-contained, no need to look for links from story to story. Each reads quickly, allowing the writer to sneak up on readers, leaving a reader leafing back a few paragraphs to confirm a detail, or to savor the synaesthesia of a moment, and especially to savor the magic that permeates nearly every story.

Among the most interesting of the puro magic stories is the sensual, “Café On Huanjue Xiang Street.” A woman wanders into a basement coffee den, the solitary customer. She drinks in the ambiente and passes out. When she comes to, the place is filled with stolid gente ignoring her. This key scene illustrates the skill Caraza weaves her magic pluma:

“She remained very attentive to the small blue flame that contrasted with the red, airy atmosphere of the place. She waited until the blue flame was extinguished while the coffee aroma penetrated her nose. She introduced the spoon into the black fluid, and as the sugar touched the coffee, a spirit emerged from the cup. The spirit wrapped around her in a smoky spiral. It traversed her, lightly touched her nipples and sex until she lost consciousness.” 128

Writers will take a lot of pleasure from the magic when a writer meets a mysterious stranger who hands her a book. Inside, the writer finds the finished story she has only drafted in her notebook. She reads it to find out how it comes out. Then there’s the teacher’s lament about the copier, how it transfers the teacher’s identity to the page and when the student answers the question the teacher feels each pen stroke on each of the hundred copies she ran through the copy machine. Caraza even gets in an hommage to Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” in her “Flower in the Mist.”

Lo que trae la marea/What the Tide Brings is not to be missed. A woman’s point of view, in the two dominant American languages, this book is the future of United States literature. It’s not a secret, it’s demographics. Salvation for American publishing means make the books American, like Lo que trae la marea/What the Tide Brings.

Stanford Book Club Choice: Give It To Me

Southern California Stanford Latina Latino Alumni Book Club meets regularly for company, food, and excellent discussions of a book by a Chicana Chicano Latina Latino writer.

The August 24, 2014 selection is Ana Castillo's Give It To Me.

The group meets at 1:00 p.m. in Monrovia, California. Click here for information.

Mail Bag
Comadres and Compadres Writers Conference Discount Ends

Early bird discount deadline 6/1: 

La Bloga friend Marcela Landrés reminds writers of the Fall conference on the East Coast. Marcela sends datos:

The 3rd Annual Comadres and Compadres Writers Conference will provide Latino writers with access to published Latino authors as well as agents and editors who have a proven track record of publishing Latino books. We invite you to join us this year as a sponsor, advertiser, and/or attendee.

WHEN: Saturday, September 27, 2014

WHERE: Medgar Evers College, Brooklyn, NY

WHO: Esmeralda Santiago, author of the New York Times best-seller Conquistadora, will serve as keynote speaker. Panelists include: Meg Medina, author of Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass; Johanna Castillo, Vice President & Senior Editor, Atria/Simon & Schuster; and Jeff Ourvan, Literary Agent, Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency. For more details regarding the conference program, visit 

Mail Bag
Troncoso Updates Truth

La Bloga friend Sergio Troncoso wants gente to know about the recent edition of his novel. Here's Sergio's email:

Dear Friends:

I am delighted to let you know that a revised and updated edition of my novel, The Nature of Truth, is now available in paperback for the first time (Arte Publico Press, 2014). I hope you will consider reading it. I wrote the novel because I loved that mix of philosophy and literature in writers like Dostoyevsky, Sartre, Camus, and Kafka, and also because I wanted to expand the literary terrain of Latino writers. I made some important changes in the plot and tightened the language, which I think makes this edition a better experience for readers.

Helmut Sanchez, a research assistant at Yale, discovers that his boss, a renowned professor, hides a Nazi past. By chance Helmut discovers an old letter written decades ago, which absolves Germany and Austria of any guilt for the Holocaust. As he digs into the origins of who wrote the letter, Helmut discovers it could be his boss, Werner Hopfgartner. Helmut travels to Austria and Italy with his girlfriend, Ariane Sassolini, in his quest to find the truth about Hopfgartner's past. Meanwhile, Professor Regina Neumann is determined to make Hopfgartner pay for his many sexual liaisons with undergraduate and graduate students. What will Helmut do with the awful truth he discovers? Will Werner Hopfgartner ever face justice for his past or present transgressions? Ultimately, what is the nature of truth?

Here is an interview I did with Maria Hinojosa on National Public Radio's Latino USA:

Monday, May 26, 2014

Three questions for Stephen D. Gutierrez regarding his collection of stories and essays, “The Mexican Man in His Backyard”

Stephen D. Gutierrez is the author of the recently-published The Mexican Man in His Backyard, Stories and Essays (Roan Press).  This completes his trilogy of autobiographical and varied short stories he calls My Three-Volume BOXED Set.  Elements (FC2), which won the Nilon Award from FC2, and Live from Fresno y Los (Bear Star Press), winner of an American Book Award, make up the rest of it.  He has published both fiction and creative nonfiction in many magazines, anthologies and newspapers, including, most recently, New California Writing 2013 (Heyday Books), Catamaran Literary Reader, and Alaska Quarterly Review.  He is at work on a new collection of stories based on his alter ego Walter C. Ramirez.  Gutierrez has also written plays that have been performed in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Buffalo, New York. “Game Day” was the winner of the Maxim Mazumdar New Play Competition in the One-Act Category.  He teaches fiction writing at California State University East Bay.
Stephen D. Gutierrez 

DANIEL OLIVAS: With The Mexican Man in His Backyard, you complete a trilogy of books that focus on the people of Fresno and Los Angeles.  Did you have a particular goal in writing these three books?

STEPHEN GUTIERREZ: Not really.  Only to put together some pieces that I believed in and that hung together.  They wouldn’t die.  I wanted them out there in book form.  Of course, the fancier answer would be more complicated and involved and literary, so let me at least try to be more sophisticated: I wished to compile a cogent narrative using unorthodox and orthodox techniques that captured the times and places of my life, and, by extension, I hope, something about the spirit and flavor of my generation of Mexican Americans.  I wished for certain pieces to live – embellishing my first answer – a little longer than their lifespans in the magazines they first appeared in.  I desired this because they seemed healthy compared to the rest out there, the noted and honored and drooled over.  ”The fine, the great.”  Well, there’s not really much that is great out there, the accolades aside.  But I sound really pissy and envious there, and I am, everybody is.  I wanted to write and publish My Three-Volume BOXED Set because there’s some crazy shit in there like nobody else’s.  ”Yup, I gotta’ keep on and get this out there.”  I kept repeating this kind of encouragement to myself:  ”I too belong in the library being filled by my generation of American writers.  I got to keep plugging away and working because there aren’t enough Gutierrez’ in the stacks. I got to leave something behind that says I lived.”

DO: Your stories and essays drill down on what some might call those small, everyday events that make up most of our lives.  Yet out of these events (that are simultaneously humorous and heartbreaking), your characters often grow or come to some kind of understanding about themselves or the world around them.  What keeps you, as a writer, within the bounds of ordinary lives as opposed to grander events and themes?

SG:  Small things in life are what tear me apart as opposed to the great doings in the world at any given time.  Let me admit an awful truth: I don’t really care about Ukraine right now, or Syria, or any given situation that people mumble in sympathy about.  At least, I don’t really feel that turmoil and pain those people must be experiencing, so I couldn’t possibly imagine writing about these great events with any authority or passion or concern.  Granted, you might not be talking about political events or extraordinary occurrences in the world at all, but about the enduring themes we all live through or learn about:  love, aging, death, etc.  My answer then is not surprising.  All these truths can best be approached by the way they most often present themselves, at least to me.  They enter stealthily, in subtle movements and gestures that signal more about the unfathomable mysteries they contain than the bald fact of their existence.  Death in a coffin is nothing.  Terror exposed in the eyes of a grandmother who isn’t ready to go yet but denies fear of death, is everything.  I could go on and on.  Life is symbolic, and is revealing its great messages in coded moments incessantly, continually.  I like to think my antennae are up in the everyday world and foggy in the grand sphere of the cosmos.  I don’t get God.  I get a burnt tortilla on the worst day of your life being the end of it all.

DO: One of my favorite pieces in your new collection is “La Muerte Hace Tortillas” probably because it touches on that treacherous terrain of the father-son relationship.  Can you talk a little about how that story came about?

SG:  It is autobiographical.  My dad was afflicted with a terrible disease early on, its aggravating symptoms appearing from the time I was born to his wretched, painful, god-awful demise in a convalescent room bed eighteen years later.  A terrible end, just terrible.  He was embarrassing to me much of the time, and I was ashamed of him.  That is, I lived in fear of being embarrassed by him, so existed in an unseen shroud of shame.  It still covers me partly, but this answer has enabled me to slip out from under it again, as I am able to do with greater frequency, so thank you for that.  My dad was a hardworking, honorable man with a certain nobility to him because of what he suffered and endured with grace and courage, all for his family.  But the rough times I speak of in that piece were rough.  Certain days seemed like gifts from the gods – God! did I mention God before? – and this piece honors one of those days, exploring those tensions that rip the narrator apart usually but disappear in the fact of love and joy here – of a perfect day, when Death and Sickness and Despair do make tortillas, and tortillas are life.  A crazy Chicano activist threw the finger at us and I had to throw the finger back at him is another answer.     

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Chicana/Latina Hair: A Discussion About Identity and Your Pelo Journey!

What is your relationship to your hair?  How much time do you fuss with it?  How much is it bound up with your identity?  I was cruising the Facebook News Feed during a break from my writing a few days ago, and suddenly I came upon someone posting a new Pola Lopez painting.   This one:

"Eye Dazzler--Southwest Style" by artist, Pola Lopez (see below for more information)
Without thinking much, I said out loud, “Wow—that’s me.”  And then I asked myself, “why?” What was it about this painting that made me relate so strongly?   “It’s the hair and the colors,” I said.  I looked at Lopez’s figure with the brilliantly colored jacket, its many symbols, the bold hat, the turquoise design on the belt, the black pants.  I liked it all.  But at the center:  “It’s the hair,” I repeated again.   The hair is thick and strongly sectioned into the braided pattern.  It's strong, like red stone bricks laid in place.

In her description, Pola Lopez writes: . . . the women in my lineage of Apache, Spanish, and French heritage, the “eye-dazzler” bolero represents a sacred geometry that is reflective of the tribal designs that runs through our blood and that we wear as symbols and reminders of what has maintained our survival.  Every color of the rainbow and each line transmit to us spiritual strength and knowledge of being in balance with nature and all that creator has given and designed. 

The color black is worn to offset and anchor the high-keyed colors of vibration.  The Concha belt made of silver and turquoise is worn as tradition.  The turquoise stone is the stone of spiritual protection.  The cowboy hat acts as a southwest corona, and serves as protection from the blazing sun, but is also reflective of a life that knows horses, the range . . . wildlife.

The hands are held firmly on the strong swayed hips in confidence that I am here, and I know who I am.  Lastly, the braid conveys the Native American belief that our hair is our antenna for energy, the connection to our culture, our power.  In the end it may be a symbol for the weaving of the masculine and the feminine, the many different cultures that came together to make la mestizaje, and for remembering.

And perhaps "the weaving of the masculine and feminine" is what had caught my attention along with the centerpiece which, to me, is the hair.  Chicana/Chicano and Latina/Latino hair are symbols of so much history, identity issues, gender, sexuality, and queer discussions.  Hair carries with it psychological, sociological, and political implications.  And hairstyles are always changing.  Writer, Sandra Cisneros’ children’s book, Hairs/Pelitos is a celebration and tribute to the diversity among Chicanas/Chicanos and their hair.  

Writer, Norma Cantú’s latest novel-in-progress, Champú, or Hair Matters, takes place in a hair salon, the center for cultural and familial discussions while washing, cutting, and styling hair.  Here’s a link to a section from the novel (click here). 

There is the well-known stereotype that if you are Chicana or Latina, you should have (1) dark hair (definitely not blond or white) and (2) it better not be muy short.  No way (unless you're butch, queer, etc.).  If you don’t fit this description, pues, how can you say you are Mexicana/Chicana/Latina?  But my grandmother had white hair:  thick white wavy plaits down her back.  My other grandmother, Juanita, told me she had a long braid most of her early adulthood. She would braid it and coil it up on her head.  When she died, I remembered combing her grayed hair (not short), and placing curled strands behind her ear.  Both of them were born and raised in Mexico. They were Mexicanas as were blonds, redheads, brunettes, and those with very dark shades of black (almost blue) walking the streets of Mexico City, Oaxaca, Guanajuato, Guadalajara, Coahuila, then up to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Nevada, Tejas, and north to the Midwest and the Eastern sections of the U.S.  It’s all diferente. 

My hair wound up in a bun
Blogger, Regina Rodriguez-Martín talks about hair in her post, “Chicana w really short hair.”  In this brief post (with pictures) she explains that her short hair is a statement, that she is not going to maintain long hair just to please men, or anyone.  She wants to simply express her own unique style. (Click here for posting)

On YouTube, there are hundreds of posted personal videos on hair style demonstrations.  Two examples are the 2011 video posting which showcases the “40s Reverse Pompadour/Pachuca hairstyle" (click here), and “Jasmine V's” posting demonstrating her favorite Latina hairstyles “for every occasion” (click here).

What is it, then, about hair and our Chicana or Latina identity?  Are you less a Chicana or more a Latina with a certain color and style of hair?  There is some validity to the stereotype that hair length and color identifies Latinidad.  But stereotypes are about only one story. Believing only one story disadvantages everyone, because it erases the many wonderful exceptions and variations, and I'm thinking here of Chimamanda Adichie's TED talk on "The Danger of the Single Story."  I am also thinking of Indra Lusero's performance piece, "The sexy chicana in me" which beautifully expresses her frustration at not being recognized for her queer Chicanidad.  She says:  "And they couldn't see my brown skin cousin Sylvia.  They couldn't see [her] beneath my skin . . . " 

In returning to Pola Lopez’s painting as well as an additional one on her website entitled, “La Trensa #2," (posted below), I offer my own journey to “pelo/hair identity,” but with caution.  The following is my pelo/hair personal story.  It in no way establishes a definitive Chicana identity. My story "contributes" to the rich, diverse identities that comprise Chicanidad y Latinidad.  

The “trensa” (braid) has been with me all of my life.  My mother and I had a ritual most every day  when I was attending elementary school.  She would brush my hair and then firmly and tightly make two trensas (braids) or sometimes one.  I had (and still do have) very thick hair and, at times, I either make my own trensa or wind the hair up on the back of my head into a bun.  Most days, it’s loose and reaches down to my waist. Since childhood, my hair color has changed. At a very young age, my hair was the color of a carrot, later becoming a darker orange, and now, (with the use of dye), it is a reddish auburn. 
"La Trensa #2"  copyright by Pola Lopez
In third grade, my teacher, Sister Mary Grosera (not her real name) was someone to fear. I was one of two students she chose to pick on that year—don’t ask me why.  One day, I begged mi mama not to pull my hair into braids.  I wanted to feel the hair loose down my waist.  She let me go like that.  It felt so good walking to school, feeling my hair uncontrolled and tousled by the wind.  Because my hair had been in braids for so long, the humidity, and the wind, made the hair frizz out. By the time I got to school, my hair was one big expansive and glorious mess. I didn’t care. It felt fun and free.  But inside the classroom, I was headed for trouble.  When Sister Mary Grosera asked me to stand in front of the class to read, she told the students to look at my hair.  “Look at how wild and unkempt it is,” she said.  “You look like a witch.”  All the kids laughed, and for the rest of the day, the bully kids called me “witch,” and “wild girl.”  I kept my cool until I got home and then cried as soon as I walked in the door.  My grandmother and mama each took turns holding me.  They told me stories about my aunts and cousins in Mexico, how their hair was a source of pride.  My grandmother told me that hair was a symbol of strength. 

Con mi Mama--giving her a self portrait with flying hair!
Since then, I’ve only cut my hair short once.  Just once.  I was in high school, feeling rebellious, and bold.  I had continually been trimming it until it was almost up to my chin. It was Halloween, and there was going to be a dance that night at the school gym.  I dressed like a 50s motorcycle dude with jeans and a white shirt, a pack of fake candy cigarettes in my shirt pocket. When I slicked back my hair, it was too long. I cut, and cut, and cut, until it looked perfectly slicked back.  I was transformed and oh so cool, I thought.  Ready to go.  My motive was to dance with the lovely Carmen Reyes.  She was one of the cheerleaders at the school and I was bound and determined to dance with her.  Hours later, I was doing just that.  Many students had no idea who I was.  Some did, but since it was Halloween, no one thought it strange.  I remember a circle formed around Carmen and I as we danced to Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “That’s the Way of The World.”  Cutting my hair had been well worth enjoying that night with Carmen.

But after that dance, what to do with the hair left on my head?  It was quite wavy and curly in sections (unless I slicked it back).  Every morning there was much fussing with the hair and its stubborn waves.  As I let it grow out, I endured each length until, many months later, the hair finally reached beyond my shoulders and I could fling it into a bun, ponytail, or braid.  The longer it grew, the better, because the weight of my heavy thick hair relaxed those wavy curls.  I was not a person who had the patience for much attention to hair primping—and therein lies the reason I’ve never wanted to cut it short ever again.  The shorter it is, the more trouble it is for me. 
Today:  My hair in a braid (photo by John Raible)
And yes, identity is enfolded into this story too.  I realize that my long hair falls into the stereotype of the Chicana, and, I like the feeling of belonging in that category.  However, I’m also aware, as I said earlier, that Chicanas/Latinas are all over the place (with hair that is shoulder length, in a bob, shaved, etc.).  The kind of attention I give my hair today is mainly about covering up the grays.  One of my colleagues from another university once told me that she decided to let her gray grow out.  She has long thick hair too.  But she soon went back to covering up her gray when she realized that with her white/gray hair, she was being identified as “white.”  “I’m Chicana,” she told me.  “I certainly don’t want to be thought of as white.” 

So I ask you, Querida y Querido La Bloga readers, what stories do you have about your hair?  Do you feel your hair defines who you are? People often see my hair before they see the rest of me.  And that’s fine by me.  Pola Lopez’s trensa paintings speak to me about my hair.  Perhaps Regina Rodriguez-Martin’s perspective (“Chicana w really short hair”) speaks to you!  Maybe this is the beginning of a collection of writing on Chicana and Latina hair.  What do you think?  And if you like Pola Lopez’s work, please click on her site to purchase her fabulous art work.  Below is her bio and more of the description of her painting, “Eye-Dazzler-Southwest Style" which started this writing for me. A shout out to Pola for giving me permission to use her work here.  Gracias!  Hopefully, she will, in turn, gain more fans!  

Wishing you all, La Bloga Readers, a fabulous rest of el mes de Mayo!  Into summer soon we go! 

Information regarding artist, POLA LOPEZ
Lopez is a prominent painter whose acrylic paintings are driven by color and convey a multi-faceted array of symbolic cultural imagery infused with spiritual vision and incendiary composition, which has established her as a key LA artist in the Latina/Chicana/Mestiza genre, but whose works are also accessible to a wider audience.
Pola Lopez (check out her cool pelo/hair!)
An active and full time professional artist, she maintains a working studio/exhibit space known as 2 Tracks Studio in Highland Park, in which she maintains an “open door” policy, making her work available to the public, but exhibits widely in many other venues as well.
Through her involvement with several non-profit organizations, she has completed several youth assisted murals within the community, and also teaches and mentors youth at risk in alternative high schools, probation camps, and juvenile halls.
Early this May of 2014 she collaborated with and mentored graduating Occidental College students in completing a mural addressing diversity. This work entitled “Educational Empowerment Mural,” is installed in University Library.
Her work has appeared in books and publications, and is widely collected by both private patrons and held in public collection as well. In 2005, her work was presented in the White House in Washington D.C., as the official portrait artist of the People’s Holiday Tree, in which she was honored to represent her home state of New Mexico.

Title:  “Eye-Dazzler – Southwest Style”
Medium: acrylic on canvas
Size:  24” x 36”
Date: copyright 2014
Artist:  Pola Lopez
Credit Line:  In the collection of Paulette Razo Avila

Pola's Brief Statement on her painting, "Eye-Dazzler--Southwest Style":

This painting was a special commission requested by someone who had always wanted to commission a special work but had not decided on what the subject matter would be.  Due to the fact that I am from New Mexico and grew up steeped in Southwest Style which for me, is a fusion and juxtaposition of Native American, Mexican Charro, and a little bit of cow girl attitude, this image seemed to convey it all, the perfect Mestiza. 
To begin with, the woman in the painting is of the “wild west” where the women in my lineage of Apache, Spanish, and French heritage, the “eye-dazzler” bolero represents a sacred geometry that is reflective of the tribal designs that runs through our blood and that we wear as symbols and reminders of what has maintained our survival.  Every color of the rainbow and each line transmit to us spiritual strength and knowledge of being in balance with nature and all that creator has given and designed. 

The color black is worn to offset and anchor the high-keyed colors of vibration.  The Concha belt made of silver and turquoise is worn as tradition.  The turquoise stone is the stone of spiritual protection.  The cowboy hat acts as a southwest corona, and serves as protection from the blazing sun, but is also reflective of a life that knows horses, the range . . . wildlife.

The hands are held firmly on the strong swayed hips in confidence that I am here, and I know who I am.  Lastly, the braid conveys the Native American belief that our hair is our antenna for energy, the connection to our culture, our power.  In the end it may be a symbol for the weaving of the masculine and the feminine, the many different cultures that came together to make la mestizaje, and for remembering.  
My wild "witch" hair/pelo!