Thursday, July 31, 2014

Tren bala hacia la gran urbe

Los árboles me pasan de largo
brazos alargados diciendo adiós
amiga, regresa pronto

Corre un lago sereno sin derramar
una gota de su carga

Pasan vacas lecheras
dejándoles de regalo
sus manchas negras a las ovejas

La cabaña de troncos se desliza
muda, sin perturbar la rutina
mutiladora de deseos

Todo pasa sobre esta acera 
rodante del recuerdo
alejándome del presente
de cifras, sueños y rascacielos

News from Arte Público Press:

The Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Project, led by Nicolás Kanellos and Carolina Villarroel at the University of Houston, is a 2014 recipient of the Diversity Award given by the Society of American Archivists (SAA). The award will be presented at a ceremony during the Joint Annual Meeting of the Council of State Archivists, the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators, and SAA in Washington, DC, August 10-16, 2014. The award recognizes an individual, group, or institution for outstanding contributions in advancing diversity within the archives profession, SAA, or the archival record.

The Recovery Project is being honored for its outstanding achievement in accessioning important Latino archives, organizing and describing them, and making them available broadly to educational institutions and communities via publication and electronic delivery. The project has accessioned, organized, and described such important collections like that of Leonor Villegas de Magnón, a Laredo activist who in the early twentieth century recruited Anglo Texan, Mexican American, and Mexican women for a nursing corps to tend the wounded and fallen on the battlefields of the Mexican Revolution. As an early feminist, she documented the role of women in her writings. The Recovery Project has also assembled the world's largest collection of microfilmed Hispanic newspapers published in the United States from 1808 to 1960.

"[This program] has made these records accessible to increasingly larger numbers of researchers who have in turn significantly impacted the development of Latino Studies," one supporter wrote. "This has become obvious in scholarly conferences that I have attended and noticed increasing numbers of scholars acknowledging the use of digitized records made available by the program."

The Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Project joins Jennifer O'Neal, university historian and archivist at the University of Oregon Libraries, as the 2014 recipients of the Diversity Award.

Founded in 1936, the Society of American Archivists is North America's oldest and largest national archives professional association. SAA's mission is to serve the educational and informational needs of more than 6,000 individual and institutional members and to provide leadership to ensure the identification, preservation, and use of records of historical value.

 CHAC GALLERY in Denver presents: 

Sol Creación

Seven artist with diverse backgrounds and mediums fuse together to produce one great Art Show. August 1st - August 29th at CHAC.

Christy Mundy ~ Christy is working with intricate embroidery on fine fabrics – including scarves and clothing. She will also be showing hand-beaded, multi-media jewelry pieces.

Steve Rozic ~ Steve’s artwork is inspired by nature.  Working in acrylic allows Steve to express his illustrative painting in bright bold colors.  Little Bleu Egg is a company started by Steve to highlight and sell his Natural Soaps, Hand Scrubs, Bath Salts and Sugar Scrubs.

Leann Stelzer ~ Leann continues her devotion to fabric art, choosing projects that depict nature's beauty and diversity.

Janis Adams ~ Janis has been making things all her life and in the last few years, she has discovered new mediums in glass and in fiber. Janis will be showing fused glass jewelry and other glass creations, as well as hand painted silk scarves and felted scarves. She is always drawn to color and texture, especially in nature. She is inspired by her wonderful circle of fellow artists, who encourage and challenge her.

Paul Potts ~ Paul is deep in his fixation with steampunk, which means this show will have more of his owls, foxes, gears, and queens. He is a storyteller with his art. Many of his paintings include humorous twists that he hopes no one has seen before – an octopus waving a wrench, owls at Marti Gras, a gentleman owl enjoying a good cigar and a deer experiencing a close encounter to name a few.

Rene Horton ~ In Rene’s words “I went to a Saturday market once with a friend. She saw a chair she liked, and I made the comment that I could make the chair, so why buy it? She said prove it. So I did.”  Rene creates wire and beaded jewelry.

Suzanne Sigona ~ Suzanne has created vibrant oil paintings to add to her works in watercolors and acrylics.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

¡El Cucuy!

Review by Ariadna Sánchez
The Bogeyman is one of the most iconic figures in the Latin culture. In addition, La Llorona (The Weeping Woman) and El Chupacabras are folkloric characters that seduce old and new generations into a mysterious and magical world. The legends, myths, and folk stories about these unique figures gave birth to a legacy that will last forever in Mexico’s villages and cities as well as the rest of Latin America.
¡El Cucuy! A Bogeyman Cuento in English and Spanish as told by Joe Hayes and phenomenally illustrated by Honorio Robledo is a must read during the summer break.
In Oaxaca, México El Cucuy is best known as el Coco. Hayes description of El Cucuy matches the one my abuelita used to tell me “a gigantic old man with a humped back and a large, red left ear that can hear everything. And he comes to town for lazy and disobedient girls and boys.”
The tale gives young readers a bittersweet experience as the two girls are carried by El Cucuy towards the mountain. The two sisters are afraid and sorry for their behavior with their father and younger sister. One day, a boy losses one of his goats. The goat starts to bleat louder and louder right above El Cucuy’s cave. The girls plea the boy for help. He takes his jacket and uses it as a rope to rescue the girls. The girls climb up. Once free and safe the three children walk to the valley. At last, the girls reunite with their father and sister. Since that day, the two sisters are the most helpful and polite girls in town. The good news is that El Cucuy never appears again.

Joe Hayes adds at the end of the book a special note to readers and storytellers about ¡El Cucuy! Visit your local library for more amazing stories. Reading gives you wings. Hasta Pronto 
Check the following link for more cool books by Joe Hayes:
Joe Hayes Narrates El Cucuy! - YouTube

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Dreaming in Chicano. Writer Resource.

On this side of the curtain

Michael Sedano

For the past three weeks my home has been a hospital bed in a room shut off by a blue-green curtain from the other rooms in the surgical ward. All day and through the night noises, sounds, voices penetrate and illuminate my imagination. Who’s flirting with the nurses? Why the sudden silence? Did the helicopter that landed earlier bring in the new admit?

Somewhere out there, a family gathers in one of the rooms. Laughter and desultory chatter begins to separate into meaningfulness. Someone’s daughter is going to start college to become a teacher. Someone’s daughter is starting second grade next month. A palm slaps a thigh and voices explode with laughter.

In a few moments, a quiet melody rises and silences the chatter. Paired voices softly singing. The voices carry the natural harmony of brothers speaking in the same voice yet their own. They sing “Las mañanitas” with a practiced lilt that has developed over years of serenades for an abuelo or a mother’s birthday. Tonight the voices blend with notes of sad farewell and bound together with love reserved for an elder.

Estas son las mañanitas, que cantaba el Rey David,
Hoy por ser día de tu santo, te las cantamos a tí,
Despierta, mi bien, despierta, mira que ya amaneció,
Ya los pajarillos cantan, la luna ya se metió.

I can see them sharing a chair, arms around each other, neither vying for the lead but flowing sweetly from el mero Corazon. This is what familia sounds like. This is what love sounds like.

Que linda está la mañana en que vengo a saludarte, 
Venimos todos con gusto y placer a felicitarte, 
El día en que tu naciste nacieron todas las flores
En la pila del bautismo, cantaron los ruiseñores 
Ya viene amaneciendo, ya la luz del día nos dio, 
Levántate de mañana, mira que ya amaneció.

When the lyric ends they segue easily into English, the soft even vowels of Spanish giving the words a special tenderness that reflects this familia’s straddling of two worlds.

Happy birthday to you , Happy birthday to you, appy birthday mi vida, happy birthday to you.

I fall into contented deep sleep. The moment of pure beauty a reminder of many things, foremost the privilege of living in a bicultural world where we sing from our hearts not divided but united in our shared languages.

A Chicano Reporter Gets His Feet Wet

La Bloga friend and journalist extraordinaire, Ron Arias, sends a link to his story relating how a young Chicano writer fumbles to get started. It's Buenos Aires in the 60s and part of a collection--My Life As A Pencil. Red Bird Chapbooks will publish a selection early next year.

From the link:

About that time I also started my first full-time job as a reporter, working at the Buenos Aires Herald, which is where I learned to turn life into stories on a daily basis. But at first it was physically very painful.

Staffed mostly by journalists from the U.K., the Herald was the country's only English-language daily. On one of my first assignments, I hit the ground running, then falling, then running again. I'd been sent to cover a military coup in the streets but because a tank blocked my way and a cloud of tear-gas swept over me, my watery, stinging eyes lost focus and I kept tripping. Military takeovers, I later learned, were then almost a monthly occurrence and usually covered by the youngest legs on staff.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Trigueña: novela de ficción histórica en la frontera

Novela de ficción histórica en la frontera

Trigueña por Juana Moriel-Payne

Reseñada por Xánath Caraza

Trigueña (Instituto chihuahuense de la cultura, 2013) de Juana Moriel-Payne es una novela histórica donde conocemos sobre la vida de Juana de Cobos en el norte de un México de los 1700´s, un lugar de tarahumaras, apaches, mestizos, mulatos y europeos.  Moriel-Payne nos lleva de la mano por calles de pueblos por construirse, ilusiones de niña, que en el hacer pan ve una razón para vivir y subsistir.  Con escenas casi cinematográficas Moriel-Payne nos muestra la historia del norte de México, nos lleva de viaje en carreta, por un microcosmos, de ida y vuelta.  Descubrimos una heroína de carne y hueso entre las páginas de Trigueña, una niña que se convierte en mujer, con retos, personales y económicos, a los que se sobrepone y que también crea espacios públicos, un consultorio médico y una casa para mujeres, para beneficio de la sociedad donde vive, la actual frontera entre México y los Estados Unidos.

Trigueña con sus secuencias analépticas nos compenetra en los recuerdos de los personajes que vivieron con Juana de Cobos, y es así cómo descubrimos su vida y, de paso, aprendemos sobre ese México de los 1700´s, de un norte colonial en plena vía de desarrollo.

La novela combina, capítulos con visiones retrospectivas de los múltiples personajes, analépticas, con capítulos que están en el tiempo presente de la novela.  Ese juego de tiempos crea una acertada dinámica, despierta la atención en el lector; y logra un dejar pasar las páginas fluido y sin detenerse, mezclado con aromas, texturas, sabores y color. 

“Todo de negro, el viejo Gregorio encabezó la procesión.  Y un poco para mostrar su valor y un mucho para quitarse de encima los escalofríos, iba dando tragos a pico de botella del aguardiente que circulaba de mano en mano.  El sonar de sus pasos sobre la tierra escarchada seguía el ritmo de los cuchicheos que entre vahos le preguntaban por el cuerpo de la difunta.” ( p. 11)

“Vio surgir el calor de las brasas que se encendían y se apagaban como siguiendo el ritmo de una respiración sin prisa que a la vez sugería una promesa de retorno.  Poco a poco observó cómo las hogazas se iban esponjando, dorando y despidiendo un leve olor que en ese momento asoció con el regazo de su madre y así, con la mirada perdida en el horno y la mente entretenida en sus años de infancia, el aroma a pan recién horneado invadió su nariz, su estómago y la mañana.” (p. 16)

La diversidad de México colonial está presente en Trigueña, tarahumaras, apaches, mestizos, mulatos y otros europeos son protagonistas de las páginas.

“Las mujeres encendían los fogones y preparaban el desayuno para despachar a sus maridos e hijos a labrar la tierra con la barriga llena, aunque en casa de Juana aquello ocurría un poco diferente.  Su madre no se ocupaba de la cocina, ni ella tampoco.  Lo hacía Manuela, una tarahumara que su padre empleó para que acabara de criarle a los chamacos y, de cuando en cuando, le aliviara las necesidades propias de los hombres, después de que su madre perdiera por completo la cordura…” (p. 21)

““¡Qué costumbres tan raras!”, pensaba Juana y lo afirmaba las veces que iban de paseo a la plaza.  Todas las personas estaban revueltas: indios platicando con españoles, españoles del brazo de mulatas, indias abrazadas a españoles…todo un relajo, un desorden…” (p. 199)

El desarrollo psicológico de la protagonista, Juana de Cobos, lo seguimos en diferentes partes de Trigueña, la vemos crecer de niña a mujer, de mujer a esposa, de esposa a viuda y finalmente convertirse en una mujer sola e independiente.

“Juana se acostó a dormir junto a su madre dándole la espalda a la abuela, pero no podía conciliar el sueño.  Con los ojos cerrados repasaba la escena del beso que le dio Eladio y cuando una y mil veces trató de acomodarle el bigote para que no le picara en los cachetes al besarla.” (p. 38)

“Juana regresó a su casa con Gregorio y conforme pasaron los días fue haciéndose a la idea de que ahora sí era viuda, aunque sólo ella y su hijo lo sabían y aún así, no pudieran comentarlo ni siquiera entre ellos.” (p. 143)

“¿En qué pensaba?  En Majalca, en sus palabras: “Ojos luminosos”, “Lo que me dice con la mirada”…apagó la vela y se dejó caer sobre la cama.  Al levantar la frazada el chal de seda resbaló por sus piernas y al sentir la suavidad de la tela, pasó una y otra vez el chal por todo su cuerpo hasta rendirse y quedar profundamente dormida.” (p. 116)

Juana de Cobos, protagonista de Trigueña, finalmente sola, se da cuenta de las necesidades del pueblo donde vive.  A manera de activista social y visionaria, organiza a la gente a su alrededor y logra llevar el primer médico al pueblo.  Así mismo solicita, al municipio, que mujeres recién salidas de la cárcel trabajen con ella en su panadería e igualmente residan ahí, a manera de entrenamiento y lugar de transición, para, después de un tiempo, ser reincorporadas a la sociedad.

“En pocas palabras, Juana ofreció su casa y su negocio para dar recogimiento a las mujeres de la villa.  Antes de que la interrumpieran le hizo ver al alcalde que San Felipe el Real no contaba con lugares decentes para alojar a mujeres que hubieran cometido algún delito menor, fueran abandonadas, estuvieran recuperándose de algún mal o, en general, tuvieran necesidad de un techo digno donde pudieran asearse, comer…y, lo más importante, aprender algún oficio para que rehicieran sus vidas.”  (p. 214)

Trigueña, novela de ficción histórica, escrita con gran precisión donde viajamos en el tiempo con Juana de Cobos y otros personajes en el norte de un México colonial.  No es sorpresa que la novela haya recibido el premio, 43 Southwest Book Award por The Border Regional Library Association-BRLA en 2013. 

Novelista e historiadora, Juana Moriel-Payne

Juana Moriel-Payne is from Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua. She lives in El Paso with her husband John Payne and three beautiful dogs. Trigueña is her first published novel, and a wining prize of "Publicaciones 2012", a literary contest organized by the Instituto Chihuahuense de la Cultura (ICHICULT). Trigueña also received the BRLA Southwest Book Awards 2013. She has an unpublished novel La caza del venado, and is looking for a publisher. Sometimes she thinks she can be a poet and writes poems. "Culpas", a set of four poems that resume the history of women living in the desert-frontier will be published in August by Cuadernos Fronteizos (UACJ). Right now she is Ph. D. candidate for Borderlands History Program at the University of Texas at El Paso. She has published her research findings in history-social reviews in Latin America and United States. Her dissertation analyzes the colonial festivities in San Joseph del Parral, Chihuahua. She is doing research and writing, meanwhile in her mind she is creating a second historical novel about a mulata named Antonia. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Here & Now: A Tribute to tatiana de la tierra in El Sereno

Olga Garcia Echeverria

tatiana selfie entre coffee beans en Colombia

el pecado original es olvidar que somos diosas
--tatiana de la tierra, "Sabidurias"

July 31st marks the 2nd-year anniversary of the passing of escritora tatiana de la tierra. If you search tatiana on the internet, you will find pictures of her numerous readings and travels, bios that highlight pieces of her life: Colombian-born. Bilingual Lesbian writer. Immigrant. Librarian.Author of For The Hard Ones: A Lesbian Phenomenology. Maker of cardboard poetry books. Co-founder and editor of Esto No Tiene Nombre and Conmocion, two of the first revistas to publish the literary musings and photographs of Latina Lesbians in Latin America and the U.S.

What the bios cannot capture, however, is the impact that tatiana made in the lives of so many of us, las huellas que dejo not only in Long Beach, Los Angeles, Nueva York, Florida, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, but also in Argentina, Puerto Rico, Spain, Mexico City, Colombia, Chile y Cuba. tatiana was a perpetual border-crosser and everywhere she went, she sought out kindred spirits and made connections. Yesterday, a small group of us gathered at Here & Now in El Sereno to celebrate tatiana's  life and work. I can't think of a better location to have honored tatiana. Here & Now is a lovely community space where art, literature, and healing happens. It's a recent manifestation of two women dreamers/artistas--Iris De Anda and Cat Uribe, the latter of whom was a dear friend of tatiana's. During those final months when tatiana was dying of cancer, Cat was one of the many people who helped tatiana transition from this world into the next.

When I first visited Here & Now about a month ago, it was obvious to me that a lot of love and work had gone into creating this space. Aesthetically, it's beautiful, full of color, light, and a sense of lightness, as if something or someone were saying, "Welcome. Come in." The first thing I wanted to do when I entered Here & Now was lay on the floor and stretch. The interior is open and uncluttered, very Zen. On the numerous shelves, you'll find incense, sage, aromatic oils and soaps, candles, healing rocks and crystals, jewelry, and of course, books. There's an old typewriter too where visitors can let their words flow onto a white page. There's no white out or correcting. Just fingers on keys and raw words. Towards the back, there is a healing room where things like massage and Reiki sessions are offered. When I mentioned to Cat that the space had a strong tatiana vibe, she laughed in delight and shared that tatiana has definitely inspired her to take risks and follow her heart in regards to co-founding this new community space. "She's been guiding me through the entire manifestation of Here & Now."

When I asked Cat about this year's tribute to tatiana, she said, "tatiana has touched so many lives. So many of us came together for her at the end when she was passing. That for me really solidified a group of people that had something in common: we loved tatiana and she loved us. I feel it's really important to remember and honor that love and remember that connection." And that is exactly what we did last night at Here & Now.

Cat Saging the tatiana Altar

We honored tatiana with hundreds of flowers: roses, freesia, stargazers, lilies, nardos, birds of paradise, and lots of other petaled beauties that I do not know the names of.  We honored her with papaya-love split open on the altar.

We honored her with Buddha, Jaguar, Guadalupe, sea shells and cajitas holding treasures--little crystals, miniature fotos of her beloved Colombia.

We honored her with food. Queer organic salads. Kale creations. Quinoa con cranberry. Avocado con hominy. Nopales. Queso fresco. Homemade salsa. A platter of grapes, sliced apples and peeled naranjas. A bowl of delicious cherries. Upside down pineapple cakes (gluten and gluten free). Baked BBQ pollo and a big bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken (which I think she would have been totally grossed out by but she still would have eaten and enjoyed it). We honored her with drink. Agua de Tamarindo. Melon. Vino. Shots of Aguardiente. Que viva tatiana de la tierra! Que viva! And, of course, we honored and celebrated her with her own poetic words. Local poet Gloria Alvarez got us started.

We passed Tatiana's numerous books around as if they were el pan de cada dia and we took turns reading, feeding ourselves and each other with the memories and the voice/spirit/presence that was and still is tatiana de la tierra.  In the literary mix, tatiana's "Puta Rap," advise for "When Cunt is angry," "Sabidurias" from an experienced 50 year old, un reclamo to an ex who seemingly loved her dog more than she did tatiana, "Prisonera de tu perro," and the meditations on the tongue--always with tatiana there were the endless meditations of the tongue.

Photo by Jose Centeno

Y asi la pasamos. Passing around tati's books. Cat Uribe read. Maylei Blackwell read. Mario Garcia y Jose Centeno read. Maritza Alvarez and I read. Anthony Seidman and Myriam Gurba read. Persephone Gonzalez read. Iris De Anda read. Even the Argentinos (Alberto, Monica, y Laura) who had never personally met tatiana picked up her books and beautifully read.

La noche ended the way tatiana would have wanted, con danza and cansancio. Bellies full y corazones contentos.

tatiana fan club (one of many in the world)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Latino book for kids, about bullying

U.S. readers definitely need more and more diverse books. Especially for children, both Anglo and the marginalized children of color. A bilingual book by Kat Aragon, published last month, relates to that need, as well as to the U.S. sickness of bullying. Below is the publisher's description of Boy Zorro and the Bully (El Niño Zorro y el Peleón).

• ISBN: 978-1-60448-027-6 • Paperback • $8.95
• Ages 4 to 8 • 24 pages
• Bilingual English/Spanish edition
• Published: July, 2014

"Every day Benny Lopez woke up looking for a way to help people. One day he finds a mask and wears it while helping an elderly lady cross a busy street. With that act of grace, he becomes Boy Zorro—defender of good. Then, one morning at school, he helps stop a bully from intimidating another student. The bully is punished and sees the error of his ways. Boy Zorro made a difference. This book helps children understand that bullying is hurtful and wrong but when everyone does their part, it can be stopped."

The motto of Zorro's publisher, Lectura Books, is: "for English learners and parent involvement." Below are my thoughts as a former teacher of latino first-graders, and father of a boy and a girl.

Zorrito, I'll call him, uses his outfit to empower himself and begin acting like a "hero" of good deeds. He's a great role model taking pride in his kind acts. It's great that the principal, Ramos, is a latino.

When he has a school encounter with a bigger kid who's bullying another kid, the action gets going. Zorrito "makes a difference" by running to the principal when the bully threatens him. He snitches, is what kids would call it.

Telling an adult is one correct thing to do. One, but not the only thing. This book would be a good start for kids to discuss how to deal with bullying, as long as the discussion is extended to other methods and questions.

Like, what if there's no adult around? What if the bully doesn't let you go to tell an adult? After you tell, how will you deal with the accusation that you're a snitch?

One book can't cover all of life's possibilities. As I said, Zorro is a good start.

Recent studies and reports on school bullying have shifted away from just telling an adult. As a parent, I know kids need to learn many other things. When to run away. How not to get backed into a corner. How to try to get other kid-bystanders involved. As a parent, I told my kid it was okay if he was sent to the principal's office because he was defending himself. (I can hear you teachers cringing out there.)

In Zorro, the latino principal holds an assembly, tells the bully to apologize and admit his mistakes. He gets a week suspended from school and detention for a month after that. Pure punishment.

Bullies are a U.S. epidemic. Newer studies and reports, again, advocate treating that sickness. A bully at home for a week will not necessarily cure himself. Detention is a junior form of prison solitary. I know principals who prefer to keep bullies in the school, give or get them counseling and teach them why their bullying needs to be corrected. It's no simple task.

In Zorro, the bully problem has a positive outcome. For that reason it can help parents and kids see that they don't need to tolerate bullying.

To encourage more books from this author and other latinos' books aimed at latino kids, I also looked at the illustrations. What struck me was the skin color of the characters. One black boy is the only one with dark skin. I saw no real color distinction between latino kids and ones who are assumedly Anglo. I wasn't sure why complexions were done this way.

Unless something was intended that I haven't thought of, I'd suggest to the illustrator, Noel Ill, that the skin tones of his afroamericano character would work for some latinos.

Teachers of latinoamericano kids deal with the color line every day. Darker kids can get shunned by lighter-skinned latino kids. Many kids call their color "blanco," to not be identified with what class society considers an "inferior" color or "inferior" race, like indios. It's not the kids' fault, it's a prejudice from the country they were raised in. Books aimed at them need to acknowledge that some do have darker skin. Otherwise one of our major, latino characteristics would get whitewashed. I'm not sure if anything good is served by that.  

Females in the book: girls in the background who don't speak or play any role in the story. From experience, I believe--and have read--that boys will like books that include girls, so long as they're engaging books. I'm uncertain there's value in leaving girls totally out of any book. (The only other female is the elderly woman--maybe Anglo--who Zorrito helps to cross a street.)

Latino boys do need more books like Zorro, as well as "boy books" with girls, especially, playing greater roles as they do in real life.

To help publicize Zorro, I'll give the author, publisher, and illustrator, for that matter, space here if they would like to explain more about the book. Yes, I've examined a lot about it; such books are important, especially given that few are published each year. Because I'm Chicano, have taught bilingual latino kids, and hope to publish books aimed at them, I have a great interest in examining the work of other latinos.

Our First Voice books should aspire to be superior to others being written. If expecting books to meet such a standard offends someone, I prefer that to my saying nothing about our literature needing improvement. And when mine are published, I'll ask help holding them to similar standards.

Es todo, hoy,
RudyG, a.k.a. a former bilingual teacher and still a father

Friday, July 25, 2014

Review: The City of Palaces. New Books. Chicago Pics. A Random Thought.

 Review:  The City of Palaces by Michael Nava

The City of Palaces
Michael Nava

Terrace Books, University of Wisconsin Press, 2014

Michael Nava published his first novel, The Little Death, in 1986. That book marked the debut of Henry Rios, a gay Chicano lawyer/detective who has become an iconic character in the crime fiction genre. The seven books in the Rios series, hailed as groundbreaking, have won six Lambda Literary Awards. The books recently were reissued in the Kindle format. In recognition of the excellence and popularity of Nava’s writing, he was the recipient of the 2000 Bill Whitehead Lifetime Achievement Award in LGBT literature. That year also marked the publication of the last book in the series, Rag and Bone, along with Nava's announcement that he had retired as a mystery writer. Lucha Corpi, one of the cornerstones of Chicana/Chicano crime fiction and a person obviously qualified to judge, has noted that many consider Nava to be one of the “grandfathers” of the Chicano mystery genre (along with Rolando Hinojosa, who published Partners in Crime in 1984. See Lucha’s Confessions of a Book Burner, page 55.)

The City of Palaces
marks Nava’s return to book-length fiction, much to the relief of his many, many readers. And what a grand return it is.

Nava’s explanation of how he came to write this novel is worth repeating. Here are a few paragraphs from the author’s website:

Beginning in 1995, Nava started researching a novel about the life of silent film star Ramon Novarro, a Mexican immigrant who came to Hollywood in 1915 after his family fled their homeland during the Mexican Revolution. Novarro was one of the first generation of internationally famous movie stars, like Rudolph Valentino, Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin. Nava was drawn to Novarro not only because of their shared ethnic heritage but also because it was an open secret in Hollywood that Novarro was gay.

At the same time, he became interested in the Yaquis, an Indian tribe that inhabited the northwest state of Sonora along the border with Arizona. In the late nineteenth century, the Mexico government began to forcibly evict the Yaquis from their ancient homeland, a lush river valley at the edge of the Sonoran desert, to make way for Mexican settlers. But the Yaquis put up a fierce resistance and the Mexican government ultimately pursued a policy of extermination against the tribe that resulted in its virtual extinction. Nava’s great-grandparents were among the few Yaquis who had survived by escaping to Arizona where his grandfather, Ramón, was born in 1905.

Eventually, these interests converged and he began to write a novel that would tell the story of the Mexican Revolution, the near-genocide of the Yaquis, and the rise of silent film. Midway through his first draft, he recognized that this undertaking was too vast for a single book, so he conceived a series of novels called The Children of Eve, after the line in the Salve Regina addressed to Mary, the mother of Jesus: “To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve.” The first novel in that series is The City of Palaces, which is set in Mexico City in the years before and at the beginning of the 1910 Mexican Revolution.

At its heart, The City of Palaces is the love story of Alicia Gavilán and Miguel Sarmiento. Alicia is wealthy, religious, saintly, and beautiful but scarred (from smallpox.) Miguel is an atheistic doctor with a long family history of involvement in Mexico’s political scene. Miguel feels something like love at first sight when he encounters Alicia, but he struggles against his “manly” aversion to her scars. Alicia, on the other hand, may be spiritual and otherworldly, but she is sensual and most pragmatic. The two star-crossed lovers overcome obstacles put in their way by their families, the social stratification of early twentieth century Mexico, and their own inhibitions, fears, and prejudices. Yes, love conquers all.

A sure sign of excellent writing is that we read the words but see the images created by the author. As I read this book, I saw not only the decay and corruption of Mexico City at the end of the Díaz dictatorship, but I also met the people – the poor and oppressed masses that struggled together in the colonias and slums of the city, the wealthy elite hanging on to their fantasies of Europeanization and ostentatious glitter as their world collapsed, the passionate and somewhat naive revolutionaries who courageously rallied around the doomed Francisco Madero. The images are clear enough, and the writing is so direct and on point, that it does not take much to imagine this story as an HBO miniseries.

The novel sweeps through sixteen years of Mexican history. Nava has done his research, so the details are perfect. He hits high notes with his descriptions of neighborhoods, cafes and churches, references to historical figures such as Huerta, Zapata, Orozco, and Madero, and the sense of tumultuous change that was inescapable no matter how hard some tried to ignore it.

At the end, the book has transitioned to include the story of Alicia’s and Miguel’s child, José, described as a beautiful, sensitive boy who steals away from the safety of his grand “palace” to feed his secret desire for the new moving pictures, shown in dark and dirty alleys where only the most common people enter. Although there is tragedy at the end, there also is hope. The story finishes with these thoughts from Miguel: “[T]here appeared in the desert darkness an archway lit up with electric lights. It spelled out a greeting so simple in its unintentional arrogance he did not know whether the tears that filled his eyes were tears of anger or gratitude, but he wept them all the same as he spoke the words aloud: ‘Welcome to America.’” How many times has that scene been repeated by our own families?

Michael Nava tells a timeless story, a literary jewel waiting for La Bloga’s readers. I can only patiently anticipate the second novel in this series.

For another review of this book, see Michael Sedano’s post on La Bloga at this link.


New Books
University of Texas Press - July, 2014

[from the the author's website]

I'm very proud of this collection of scholarly essays. You'll find pieces on Sor Juana, on la Malinche, on Chicana feminist artists and lesbian theorists, on the murdered girls and women of Juárez, as well as a rewriting of the Coyolxauhqui myth, and an opening letter to my paisana from the border, Gloria Anzaldúa, in gratitude for her lenguas de fuego. There are also 8 color plates and 37 black and white photos. Artwork includes different images by Alma Lopez, beginning with that fabulous cover she created for the occasion of the book's publication, as well as pieces by Ester Hernández, Yreina Cervantez, Liliana Wilson, Patssi Valdez, Laura Aguilar, Deliliah Montoya, Alma Gómez-Frith, Miguel Gandert, Alfonso Cano, the "Saint Jerome" of Leonardo da Vinci, the iconic "American Progress, 1872" by John Gast, and a painting of Juana Inés by my very own mother, Teyali Falcón that she created for the publication of Sor Juana's Second Dream.

Upcoming book talks/book signings for the author:
July 29, 6-8pm
Austin, TX, August 28, 7pm

Hearts & Hands: Creating Community in Violent Times, Second Edition
Luis J. Rodriguez
7 Stories Press - July, 2014

[from the author]

Join us in celebrating the book release of Hearts & Hands: Creating Community in Violent Times, Second Edition this Saturday, July 26, 2014 from 5pm to 8pm.

Live art by Rah Azul and silent art auction fundraiser during reception beginning at 5pm followed by author reading at 6pm. The event is free to the public, donations welcome.

The event will begin with a reception that will include live art by Rah Azul, a self-taught painter, muralist and poet based in the San Fernando Valley. Rah Azul's work is featured on the cover of the new Hearts & Hands book. There will be limited prints available of the book cover artwork for sale. The silent art auction will feature a special edition by this featured artist.

"Hearts & Hands is a book that belongs in the hands of any person or organization wanting to understand and work with youth and community in a respectful, meaningful way."

-Trini Rodriguez, Co-Founder of Tia Chucha's Centro Cultural & Bookstore

Tia Chucha's Centro Cultural & Bookstore | 13197 Gladstone Ave., Unit A | Sylmar | CA | 91342

Chicago Pics

Many of you know that as part of La Bloga's 10th anniversary commemoration several bloquistas participated in a panel at the International Latina/o Studies Conference. See Amelia Montes's most recent post for more info about and photos of the event. The panel invigorated and inspired all of us, and many of our readers and friends gathered to talk about and help us celebrate La Bloga. Seven of our eleven contributors made it to the Windy City, and we had a great time together. We hope to do something similar again. No rhyme or reason, here are a few photos taken in Chicago. 

Toddlin' Town

Palmer House Stairwell

Millennium Park - Selfie

Millennium Park - Face

Millennium Park - Heads

Dessert at Zapatista - Free for La Bloga!

Long Live the Blues!

From the Galería Sin Fronteras Exhibit at the National Museum of Mexican Art

Wrapping Up the Panel


Random Thought While Jogging Around Sloan's Lake

One of the regrettable things that has happened to Denver’s North Side, where I've lived for more than thirty years, is the rise and victory of the “suburban aesthetic”: boxy, boring housing lined up in rows; a uniform “non-conformist” style from clothes to music; restaurants that are destinations rather than good places to grab a bite to eat; an obsession about “making it,” a flaccid, common denominator cultural perspective. A great neighborhood has to be more than that.