Friday, October 31, 2014

Opinion: Puritans, then profiteers over Día de los Muertos - QEPD

My guest contributor today is the one and only Flo Hernandez-Ramos. Flo gave an interview to and wrote a column for Colorado Public Radio about Día de los Muertos. She kindly consented to sharing her opinion piece with La Bloga's readers. I remember when Flo and only a few others publicly celebrated Day of the Dead here in Denver, years ago. She wasn't the first one to do so but she was among the first to help make the day a very public event. She set up an annual altar at radio station KUVO, where she worked, helped organize displays at art galleries and other venues, and patiently explained the true meaning of the celebration to anyone who wanted to listen.

Also - recent losses to the literary and music communities that La Bloga serves.  

Opinion: Denverites were puritans, then profiteers over Día de los Muertos

By Flo Hernandez-Ramos Oct 27, 2014

Listen -- Audio: CPR's Chloe Veltman talks to Flo Hernandez Ramos about Dia de los Muertos

A Día de los Muertos altar in memory of Teodora Hernández and José de Jesus Hernández
(Photo: Courtesy of Flo Hernandez-Ramos)

It’s hard to go anywhere in Denver at this time of year without seeing fancifully-decorated sugar skulls peering out among Halloween decorations in the windows of bars and stores.

The candy skulls (“calaveras”) are a core image of Día de los Muertos, a two-day commemoration on Nov. 1 and 2 each year of those who have passed away.

Long history in Denver

The annual Mexican holiday that sees death as part of the circle of life has been around in Denver for as long as there have been Mexicans living in Denver, which is to say, for a long, long time. Unlike the festivities in Mexico, where entire villages turned their cemeteries into fiesta venues, in the United States Día de los Muertos was always a private, family celebration.

Paper mâché skull by Los Ramirez Castaneda

(Photo: Courtesy of Flo Hernandez-Ramos)

But since the early 1980s, in line with the growth of the Mexican population in this country and the desire of Mexican Americans to celebrate their cultural roots, the holiday has moved into the mainstream -- not just in Denver but throughout the U.S.

Día de los Muertos originated in Mexico about 4,000 years ago among the indigenous populations. It bears some similarity to Memorial Day in the United States, in the tradition of people putting flowers on the graves of loved ones.

Día de los Muertos decorations are far more elaborate than those associated with Memorial Day. People festoon graves and altars with food, flowers and folk art depicting skulls and skeletons from all walks of life.

There is nothing ghoulish about the holiday. But that’s not how Día de los Muertos was perceived when it was first introduced in the Denver metro area.

In the early 1980s, Denver artist Patricio Cordova proposed a Día de los Muertos art exhibit to The Pirate Contemporary Art Oasis, a Northside collective at West 36th Avenue and Navajo Street.

The Pirates were all Anglos, but committed to thinking beyond their own cultures.

“People embraced the idea because of its edginess,” Pirates leader Phil Bender says. “The Pirates’ logo was a skull and crossbones, so there was an affinity with the sugar skulls and the folk art of Día de los Muertos.”

But the broader Denver community was not unanimously willing to embrace the Mexican holiday.

Even though movies like “Bloodbath at the House of Death” were popular in 1984, Latinos and non-Latinos alike were squeamish about Dia de los Muertos.

To them, it was macabre.

“People in the U.S. were willing to see people being killed on the big screen,” says Mercedes Hernández, program director of Denver’s KUVO jazz radio station in the mid-1980s. “But they didn’t want to think about death and its personal effect on them.”

From macabre to franchise

How things have changed.

The holiday is now so popular in “los Uniteds” that it has become a franchise.

Safeway sells marshmallow skull lollipops. Disney tried to trademark the phrase “Día de los Muertos.” World Market offers a line of Día de los Muertos decorations, plates, party favors, wine and beer. And the Denver Botanic Gardens is hosting its first Calavera Ball on Nov. 1.

But the commercialization of the Mexican holiday in mainstream U.S. culture today threatens to destroy the essential meaning of Día de los Muertos.

Skulls painted by children for Cherry Creek Library Calavera Contest
(Photo: Courtesy of Flo Hernandez-Ramos)

At this point, the Mexican holiday has become almost indistinct from Halloween, with people blending Día de los Muertos and Halloween festivities together.

For example, the animated film Book of Life by Guillermo del Toro, a story based on Día de los Muertos, is marketed as a Halloween adventure. And in Colorado Springs, the Cottonwood Center for the Arts is hosting a Halloween/Día de los Muertos celebration on Oct. 31.

It opens with a zombie dance and offers henna tattoos, belly dancing and the construction of mini-altars. And not everyone is happy about it.

“It’s a prime example of the disrespect and the unconscious attempt to usurp another culture's holidays,” wrote artist Jerry Vigil on his Team Muertos Facebook page .

Similarly, the meaning of Halloween also seems to have been lost in the scuffle between culture and commerce.

Halloween has its roots in an ancient Gaelic belief that on Oct. 31 the boundaries between the world of the living and that of the dead overlap and souls roam the earth.

Scottish and Irish immigrants introduced the holiday to the United States in the 1800s. Beginning in the 1900s, Halloween became a more commercial enterprise through the production of costumes, decorations and the custom of trick-or-treating.

In more recent times, the popular U.S. holiday is a billion-dollar industry of ghouls and gore. And Día de los Muertos may be headed down that same slippery, bloody slope.

One can argue about the “true meaning” of Día de los Muertos. For some it is the honoring of loved ones who have passed; for others it may mean winning first prize at a costume contest as a calavera. But for everyone, the sugar skull is here to stay.

Flo Hernández-Ramos was CEO of Denver jazz radio KUVO for 23 years and recently retired as the executive director of the Latino Public Radio Consortium. 

Flo's 2014 Altar - A Work In Progress



We note the recent passing of two pioneering Chicano writers:

Juan A. Contreras: an El Paso educator, Chicano poet and writer well known in literary circles throughout the Southwest. Contreras was 64 when he died on October 20. According to the El Paso Times, Contreras participated in the University of Southern California's historic Flor y Canto literary festival in 1973, a three-day event featuring dozens of emerging Mexican-American poets and writers. He often lectured in El Paso and Juárez and throughout the Southwest.

"We must have the same dream with a vision that one day our children will be judged not by the accent of their tongue, but by the creativity in their expression and the power of their voice," Contreras once said, referring to Martin Luther King's famous "I have a dream" civil rights speech.

Juan Estevan Arellano:  a Chicano writer who tried to showcase the unique culture of New Mexico, Arellano gained international acclaim in 1994 when he won the Premio Nacional de Literatura José Fuentes Mares prize in Mexico for his 1994 novel, Incencio.

It was a ground-breaking work because it was written in New Mexico Spanish — a fusion of Spanish and indigenous languages birthed out of the region's isolation from exploration to frontier days, said Vanessa Fonseca, a University of Wyoming Latino Studies professor. As posted by My San Antonio,  Arellano's wife, Elena, said he died at the family's home in Embudo, New Mexico, from heart failure on October 29. He was 67.

We also express our condolences to the family and friends of Jimmy Trujillo, long-time volunteer DJ at radio station KUVO, esteemed musician, and latin jazz expert. Jimmy died in Denver on October 29 - he was 52. His memory and music live on in the hearts of many who listened to Jimmy in several different bands, on the air, or at numerous events as a speaker and teacher.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Chicanonautica: The Evolution of La Catrina

It’s the end of October, and it’s happening on a weekend: Halloween and Los Días De Los Muertos, that I modestly proposed be made into a three-day fiesta in my novel Smoking Mirror Blues

And we see her, popping up on the interwebs, and coming to your barrio soon -- La Catrina, the skull-faced lady with the fancy hat.

She first showed up in a zinc etching by José Guadalupe Posada somewhere around 1910, 1913-ish -- ¡LA REVOLUÇIÓN! Posada intended her as a caricature of the rich, catrina, in spanish meaning well-dressed, rich, fop, dandy.

The etching, and image, without the benefit of an internet or social media, struck a cord with Mexican culture, and became a popular icon.

Diego Rivera modernized her between 1947 and 1948, providing her with dress and feathered serpent boa in his mural Sueno de un Tarde Dominical en La Alameda Central -- originally in the Hotel del Prado on Alameda Park, but moved after the building was damaged in the earthquake of 1985 and torn down. It’s now in the Museo Mural Diego Rivera, Mexico City, Tenochtitlán, La Capital Azteca. Rivera also made her an avatar of Aztec Mother Godess Coatlicue, adding another layer to her idenity.

Since then, she’s evolved. Today’s Catrina wears the sugar skull face make up, and is glamorous -- taking us back to the 18th century Scots meaning, enchantment, magic, and the fact that the word is an alteration of grammar, which in the Middle Ages refered to occult parctices associated with learning -- and sexy in ways not yet franchised by Hollywood and the fashion industry. It’s a different, subversive concept of beauty, similar to that of the Goths, whose style is being toned down and absorbed by nerd culture, that is in danger of becoming another corporate marketing strategy.

I keep hoping the nerds will see beyond the suburban bubble that they are kept in, get inspired, go wild, and scare the crap out of those who are trying to control them. Encounters with La Catrina can help with this, because no one can control La Catrina. She’s a goddess -- like her sister Santa Muerte -- the return of an ancient, elemental thing that cannot be tamed.

Have a weird and wonderful Dead Daze!

Ernest Hogan’s Dead Daze novel, Smoking Mirror Blues is still available in the original trade paperback edition, and as ebooks through Kindle and Smashwords. A new Kindle version of his first novel Cortez on Jupiter has just become available. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Los Gatos Black on Halloween

Review by Ariadna Sánchez

Let’s celebrate together with Los Gatos Black on Halloween written by Marisa Montes and gorgeously illustrated by Yuyi Morales.  Montes’s vivid narrative has the power to delineate the beauty of Latin American culture page by page. The fusion of Spanish words in the story creates a smooth seasonal spirit. It’s like an invitation to a wonderful journey of pleasant emotions.
Everything is ready to rock under the full bright moon! Surrounded  by spooky sounds, the pumpkins, mummies, wolfman, zombies, los gatos black, las brujas on their broomsticks, los muertos crawling out of their coffins, and los esqueletos with their white shiny bones arrive one by one to the colorful haunted mansion. The party is perfect until a loud rasp at the door. This unexpected twist gives the monsters a terrible problem. Monsters are scared of niños especially on Halloween night. What will happen next? A complementary glossary is available at the end of the book. Delightful pictures by Morales are the perfect complement for this breathtaking and mysterious story. BOO!
Visit your local library for more eerie and creepy tales. Reading gives you wings!      

Enjoy the read-along Los Gatos Black on Halloween video:

* * *

Los Monstruos: Halloween Song in Spanish  

by Music With Sara

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Calaveras for Coachella • Veterans Job Fair • El Sereno Street Festival • Sci-Fi Anthology

Michael Sedano

It’s that time of year when cultura shows. Gente paint their faces to resemble skulls, erect spectacular memorial altars, hold processions, art shows, and craft sales to honor our dead. It's Dia de los Muertos and calacas rule the day.

Calaca cultura captures artist imaginations to create particularly gratifying art and collectibles. It's a time turn-of-the-20th-century artist Jose Guadalupe Posada's popularity increases with countless tributes to Posada's style. In classrooms, activities remind kids the calaca motif in Mexican art antedates European incursion.

Calavera frieze recreates Templo Mayor wall, Museo Nacional de la Antropologia

Calaca glitz sparkles across the US Southwest, Dia de Los Muertos splashes cultura across local news with an array of entrepreneurs hosting events from humble sidewalk congregations to this-year-better-than-last-year extravaganzas at cemeteries and concert grounds.

One elegantly cool small show was the Crewest/Gregg Stone annual calaca show. Stone donated ceramic skulls for emerging and established artists. They painted and elaborated the small skulls then exhibited in Crewest’s annual Top of the Dome shows. Be sure to click the link.  I collected several over the years. Sadly, Crewest gallery closed its doors and the annual shows with them.

The idea of decorated skulls rekindled this year in the form of giant papier mache skulls destined for Dia de los Muertos USA, a Coachella Valley DDLM extravaganza making its premiere event. I’ve found the skull I’d love to add to my collection, it’s shown in process in the video below, Margaret Garcia's tiled skull.

Margaret Garcia invited La Bloga to have a look as she, volunteer Bonnie Lambert, and two apprentices, put the finishing touches on the massive beauty headed to the Imperial Valley city of Coachella. The truck is due in a few days so she's on deadline.

Garcia's assembled a professional crew. Artist Bonnie Lambert volunteers her work and has been a key part of the team from its earliest hour. Be sure to visit Bonnie's gallery at this link.

 A pair of apprentices join the team with masonry and tile experience. Monumental scale art projects like Margaret Garcia's tiled calavera skull are job creators.

 In a project imagined by producer Rodri Rodriguez and Art Director Juan Rodriguez, artists were offered a papier mache skull to paint and decorate. Garcia told them she was happy to have the massive object but would not paint it. She saw the skull covered in tile. She also smothered it with love, as in labor of. And seeing this wonder, who wouldn't want to own it?

Over the past weeks, Garcia has been documenting her process on Facebook. Videos illustrate how she covers the papier mache with successive layers of fiberglass fabric. The crew trowels Portland cement across each curve and contours it by hand. Final layers brush on cement slurry for a smooth finish of its concrete skin that's the substrate for the tile.

Garcia buys tile shards, decorative beads, ceramic figures, adding her own found pieces. She lays cement mixture across the skull, section by section, sinking shards into place.

Walking around the creation finds a corazón surrounding a woman and man at dawn, setting out on a journey. Her blue shawl evokes Lupe, the curlicue at their feet at once suggest the black moon of tradition and a Mexica glyph, perhaps flor y canto symbols since flowers abound behind the couple.

Treating the eye at a wider scope, Garcia outlines the valentine heart in green shards with a tessellated lotus blossom pattern. The tight regularity of that pattern is hypnotic against the randomness inside the corazón. Other places geometry is irrelevant to pleasing gatherings of intensely bright colors and ceramic motifs.

A sirena floats quietly above an eyebrow. A gecko rises from a lobe. Eye concavities sparkle with blue beads in raggedly concentric circles.

With tile layed in place, the crew mixes grout into a stiff but pliant mixture. Owing to the irregular joints and surfaces, grouting is done by hand. Press the ball of putty onto the surface then work it tightly against both sides of the gap until the surface is tile, then a black line, then tile; no gaps, few exposed edges.

I arrive as the work takes on an extra laboriousness. The team is scraping away with razor blades,  the task complicated by irregularities and the importance of avoiding scratches and gouges.

Margaret uses a Dremel tool’s abrasive bit to raise clouds of black dust. She works with artist’s precision, getting mostly grout and not clamshelling her ceramics nor dulling their shine. Garcia is due for a break so we go for ceviche.

Someone changed the grouting plan, Garcia reveals, getting it done instead of getting it done right. Grout that smears across its boundary needs to disappear, that's expected. Working to plan would have made the touch-up far less laborious. No one complains, they find the blade's preferred angle and scrape scrape scrape away the sandy black grit. The whole crew knows someone messed up. So it goes.

The crew is happy for the botana we bring for their lunch.

Excess grout gone, the tile gleams with appreciation.

The skull is a labor of love and explosion of creativity. Garcia's muse, Rhett Beavers, arrives from a landscaping task to scrape for a while.

Margaret Garcia's tiled calavera skull is a marvel of sculpture and cultura that belongs in the Norton Simon or my yard. I’m sure I cannot afford it, but I do have the perfect spot for it.

My Calaveras

One of my DDLM treasures is the chuparrosa skull, a gift from Gregg Stone. It's extremely fragile, as witnessed by the lost wing tip on the right of the foto. Lástima. Please do not touch.

Chuparrosa skull by Gregg Stone. 

Mexico City’s Zona Rosa struggles to awaken with the first stirrings of sanitation crews cleaning up after Saturday night’s raucous club-goers scattered McDonald’s bags and other trash on every available horizontal surface. I heard them from my window last night. By habit, I'm up early and heading out to walk las calles.

I aim for the antiques market where there’s usually a Sunday patio sale. I’m in luck.

The sleepy kid is probably a college student. Half-shaven, he's laid out his wares on a shabby blanket. Glass, china saucers, rusty hardware, assorted detritus of estate sales and a packrat eye for junk. I spot an expertly-hewn sandstone gargoyle. He knows its value but offers a discount. I'm not prepared to spend a hundred fifty bucks so I turn to his books. I scan the spines noting lots of Mexican history, some mass market art books, and a thin folded spine. I pull out a grey cardboard pamphlet and it’s a treasure. Posada.

In 1952 the Mexican Typographers Union struck a small collection of Calaveras and calaverones from Posada’s zinc plates. Printed on aging tissue paper they're impossible to display and eventually will be eaten by the paper. But at forty dollars the portfolio of eight letter-size sheets are one of those strokes of good fortune that happen to others.

Calaveron detail

Calaverititas, size of a nickel coin

Last Day for L.A. Veterans to Register for Jobs Fair

Today is the final day for Veterans in the Southern California region to enroll to participate in the inaugural "10,000 Strong" Hiring Event. This will be a reverse hiring fair featuring a coalition of partners led from the Mayor's office.

reverse hiring fair is when pre-screened, veteran applicants attend the 10,000 Strong Hiring Event and are interviewed on site with employers who are currently looking to fill positions for their companies. Pre-screening allows for the best possible match between a veteran and a job opportunity.

Every veteran who enrolls by October 28th will be assigned an employment specialist who will help them prepare for the event and for future job searches if this event fails to match a Veteran's abilities to an available job.

The 9-5 interviewing event gets rolling November 5th 2014 at Goodwill Industries' Community Enrichment Center at 3150 N San Fernando Rd. Los Angeles, CA 90065.

Veteran Job Seekers must enroll by October 28th to receive assistance with resume and interview preparation. No Veteran will be turned away.

El Sereno DDLM in Fifth Year

That Coachella affair that Margaret Garcia's skull is in looks like a magnificent experience. For gente who cannot make the road trip past Palm Springs, Los Angeles' El Sereno takes a namesake approach to the celebration with a street festival now in its quinto iteration.

Artists, poetry, art, crafts, local businesses like Connie Castro from Hecho En Mexico restaurant will be on hand to greet and welcome locals and travelers from ancient lands.

Giving & Taking
Maximize Your Crowdfunding

It’s such a sound strategy, crowdfunding, that it’s a growth sector of the information industry. Google the term. Anyone with a computer can create a crowdfunding pitch, and a montón of them have.

Using homophily as the basis for asking strangers to give you money is a potent tactic. Who hasn’t received those emails? Lately there's been an upswell supporting an important book that Big Publishing won’t touch, the Latino/a Rising anthology. The editor is soliciting submissions and contributions. If the submissions are worthy, and the money sufficient, the book gets published.

Crowdfunding works. Thousands of people have asked for and gotten millions of dollars from generous publics. Crowdfunding works for the credit card companies, too. Amazon Payments, for example, charges 2.9% plus thirty cents, to collect money for a crowd sourcer. In other words, if you give ten dollars to the project, fifty-nine cents goes into Amazon’s pocket and your causa receives $9.41

Call me a cheapskate. OK, that hurt. But I’m not giving money to Amazon or Paypal or some other card processor. That’s why crowdfunders need to include a mailing address in their pitches. A mailed-in check comes with no hidden processing fees, so when you give that ten dollars, ten dollars goes to the project.

There is a difference. A crowdfund is a pledge, not a donation. If the plea reaches deaf ears, no money goes out of your card to the project. With a check, you've given the money, no-strings attached. The project is at liberty to return your check or not. But then, that's what giving looks like, a one-way money flow.

So I’m offering a mailing address so you can support the Latino/a Rising project to publish a speculative fiction anthology that would introduce a broad cross-section of raza writers to the huge worldwide audience for sci-fi and related genre literature.

Mail your check to support Latino/a Rising to: Matthew David Goodwin, 246 Ardmore Ave., Apt. C, Upper Darby, PA 19082

Yodoquinsi in Late-breaking News from Oxnard

Remember this is a unique opportunity to hear prehispanic instrumental group Yodoquinsi.

October 31 2014
5:00 o'clock pm
Downtown Sol
328 W 3rd St , Oxnard , CA 93030
(805) 240-7765

This is the first time that Yodoquinsi has come directly from Mexico. It's a rare opportunity to see and hear a live full range of pre -Columbian instruments.

Thanks to the support and hard work of the Mexican Consulate in Oxnard, Downtown Sol, in coordination with Ollinkalli Cultural Arts Center is able to share this concert with the Ventura County community.

For more information or to reserve your seat contact Downtown Sol or Yenelli Law


Yenelli Law
Ollinkalli Cultural Arts Center
805 901 6171

Monday, October 27, 2014

Spotlight on Anna Mavromati

Anna Mavromati

Anna Mavromati is already making her mark in Southern California literary circles. Lisa Glatt, author of A Girl Becomes a Comma Like That (Simon & Schuster), calls Mavromati “a uniquely talented writer, a young writer to watch” who writes short stories that are “full of depth and heart and stunning moments of insight.”

Mavromati, as with most writers, makes her living from teaching, in her case English and journalism at Santa Monica College and El Camino College. Her short stories have been published in Day Old Roses Journal, Champagne For Breakfast, Per Contra Journal, Shaking Lit Magazine, RipRap Journal, and elsewhere. Mavromati has also worked and published as a freelance journalist for a number South Bay and Long Beach newspapers. She earned an MFA in fiction writing from California State University, Long Beach, and now lives in Redondo Beach, California.

Sally Shore will feature Mavromati’s work on November 9, at the Federal Bar in North Hollywood, as part of The New Short Fiction Series. For more information on Mavromati’s upcoming Federal Bar program (including ticket prices and directions), visit here.

Anna Mavromati kindly agreed to sit down with La Bloga to discuss writing and literature.

DANIEL OLIVAS: When did you realize that you wanted to be a writer?

ANNA MAVROMATI: I started “playing” with writing at an early age. When I was around five or so, I used to write little “books” (in spiral-bound notebooks) where I would come up with stories and illustrate them with stick-figure drawings. I think that was around the time I learned what the word “author” meant, and the idea instantly appealed to me. I liked hearing stories and I wanted to tell them too. At that age I also wanted to be a Disney Princess and Indiana Jones when I grew up, but looking back, being a writer was always an idea I was drawn to. I guess the seed for that was planted pretty early in me

When I hit my pre-teens and I still loved stories and loved reading, then I started thinking more about writing as a potential future career. I started writing for a community college newspaper at age 16, fell into journalism, and in college I finally found my way to fiction writing.

DO: Who are some of your important literary influences?

AM: I feel like that list is constantly growing!

I remember reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in one of my first years of college and really connecting with it. Not only did I absolutely love the novel, but I loved the idea of Mary Shelley as the mastermind behind it—the 19-year-old mistress whose writing was on par with the infamous male authors of her time. As an 18-year-old girl, going through my first string of “serious” boyfriends and trying to figure out what to do with my life, I found Mary Shelley to be such an inspirational figure.

I also grew up in a generation that adored J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and to this day I largely credit it with continuing my interest in the literary arts growing up. I still look back on that phenomenon with some awe.

In graduate school I was drawn to the works of Sylvia Plath and Adrienne Rich—women who wrote poetry the way I wanted to learn to write my fiction, with this really distinct, honest-sounding voice and style. I love the work of today’s magical realists like Aimee Bender and Karen Russell as well. I love the surrealist, fairytale quality of their work, but also, once again, I love the way they use language to craft these strong personifying voices for their characters. In graduate school I fell in love with a lot of modernists, particularly the work of the “Lost Generation”: Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald were incredible. And of course, Raymond Carver is another big one I got into in college as well.

DO: What do you hope readers get from reading your fiction?

AM: You know, I’m not sure. Not because I don’t feel like I have messages and intentions in my writing, but because I’m pretty open about what readers end up taking away from the story. It could be completely different from whatever I had in mind when I wrote it—and in most cases, that’s a beautiful thing.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

“Latinas and Latinos in the Midwest: Past, Present, and Future” The National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies (NACCS) FOCO in Kansas City, Missouri

Census numbers tell it all. There were 3.5 million Mexicanos living in the Midwest in 2010 with present research projecting that the numbers continue to increase.  We are now, in 2014, nearing the 4 million mark.  Given these numbers, the idea of Latinos living in the Midwest can no longer be viewed as unusual, especially because the numbers are increasing. It is because of this Midwest Latina and Latino presence that three professors at The University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC), were committed to hosting a weekend for academics, poets, fiction writers, community organizations, to come and have a conversation about the various aspects of Latinidad in the Midwest. 
Left to Right: Dr. Miguel Carranza, Director of the Latina/Latino Studies Program;
Co-Chair of conference, Theresa L. Torres; Co- Chair of Conference, Norma Cantú
Thanks to the Co-Chairs of the conference:  Professors Norma Cantú, and Theresa L. Torres, as well as the Director of the Latina/Latino Studies Program, Dr. Miguel Carranza. Their commitment to "doing the work that matters," brought many faculty and students from various areas of the Midwest (Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico) and from Monterrey, Mexico. They came together to share their Midwest research, writing, personal experiences within and outside of the university. 

The success of this past weekend’s NACCS Midwest FOCO conference was also a testament to the many academic Latina and Latino programs/departments, and community organizations that presently exist or have been recently established.  At UMKC, the Latino program is fairly new, yet already organized enough to bring NACCS to its campus.  At Kansas State University, Dr. Yolanda Broyles-González has established the Department of American Ethnic Studies. 
Faculty from the new Department of American Ethnic Studies
(left to right):  Dr. Norma Valenzuela,  Dr. Yolanda Broyles-González, Dr. Isabel Millán
In addition to posting the census numbers of Latina/Latino growth in the Midwest, Dr. Rogelio 
Dr. Rogelio Sáenz, Dean of the College of Public Policy (University of Texas, San Antonio)
Sáenz, in his keynote speech last Friday, described more detailed numbers which reveal a primarily young Midwest population. (Dr. Sáenz is Dean of the College of Public Policy at University of Texas, San Antonio.)  Because the majority of Latinas/Latinos in the Midwest are young, there are opportunities for them to influence local, state, national elections and the societal institutions present in their regions, many years into the future.  But they need education, and support. 
Dr. Nancy "Rusty" Barceló

Dr. Nancy “Rusty” Barceló echoed Dr. Sáenz’s comments by calling Ethnic Studies and Latina/Latino Studies programs to assist in the changing demographics, to forge an agenda “to increase our presence and our visibility. Community engagement is making a comeback,” she said, “and Latino studies is at the center.  We need to revisit our obligations and work toward societal change.” 

In addition to the more academic keynote talks, Alberto López Pulido (Chair of Ethnic Studies at the University of San Diego) and Rigo Reyes, (a founding member of the Amigos Car Club in San Diego) showcased their film:  EverythingComes from the Streets, a documentary on low rider culture which is also present in the Midwest.  An example is the “Slow and Low:  Community LowriderFestival” that occurs in Chicago, Illinois. 

Award-winning poets also gave readings: Xanath Caraza (who teaches at UMKC); Natalia Treviño (recently received her MFA at The University of Nebraska’s MFA Program and she is now a professor at Northwest Vista College in San Antonio, TX); and Minerva Margarita Villarreal (who traveled from Monterrey, Mexico). 
From left to right: Poets Minerva Margarita Villarreal, Natalia Treviño, Xánath Caraza
There were a multitude of panels by students, professors, and community organizers.  One such panel was a roundtable entitled, “Chicana Testimonios:  Growing up Chicana in Kansas:  Three Generations of Experience.”  All three women are from Topeka, Kansas, and described a rich history, culture, and specific issues concerning Latinidad in that area.  They also discussed their efforts in providing new organizations to enrich the diversity of needs among the various generations. For example, Christina founded the Tonantzín Society to educate and support Latino art and culture, with a focus on Mexican/Chicana/Chicano culture.  

Three Generations of Topeka, Kansas Mujeres
From left to right: Valerie Mendoza, Graciela Beruman, Christina Valdivia Alcalá
I was very happy to bring two graduate students to the conference from our University of Nebraska-Lincoln English Department: Bernice Olivas (Composition and Rhetoric) and Visnja Vujin (American Literature/Chicana and Chicano Studies). Bernice and Visnja are presently either primarily studying and teaching Latina/Latino and Chicana/Chicano literatures or incorporating it into their main area of study. They gave excellent papers on pedagogy and Gloria Anzaldúa. 
From the University of Nebraska-Lincoln:  Graduate student, Visjna Vijun,
Professor Amelia Montes, Graduate student, Bernice Olivas
This is only the beginning!  The Midwest NACCS FOCO is now a vibrant entity and plans are already in the works for the next one. Hoping to see you next year and wishing you a great week!

I leave you with poems from our conference poets who read this weekend:  Minerva Margarita Villareal; Natalia Treviño; and Xánath Caraza.  

Poem by Minerva Margarita Villareal (translation by Amelia M.L Montes)


La casa que construiste fue arrasada
Vi cómo sucedió           
cómo se desprendían paredes y ladrillos
El techo voló
Left to right:  Minerva Margarita Villareal, Dr. Norma Cantú
Dr. Cantú reads Minerva's poem in English;  
sobre los huesos
y el paisaje entre la hierba abrió
echó raíces bajo las plantas de mis pies
Estoy anclada
y esta casa mojada por la lluvia
esta casa azotada por el viento
hecha polvo
y materia que crece
Esta casa soy yo


The house you constructed was devastated
I saw how it happened,
how the walls and bricks cracked open.
The roof flew
over bones
and the grassy landscape exposed,
threw roots under the plants of my feet.
I am anchored
and this wet house, wet because of rain,
this house whipped by the wind
made into powder
and matter that grows,
I am this house. 

Poem by Natalia Treviño from Lavando La Dirty Laundry

Mexican Bride

Natalia Treviño
Centered above her king-sized bed
in Nuevo Leon, a large crucifix, a resin-bloodied
crumpling Body of Christ—the only art
hanging from her smooth plaster walls.

A lamination of Mary, Mother of Sorrows tucked
across and below the frame of her vanity.  Wedding
gifts for all new brides, decorations surrounding the spirit
in the bedroom.  As if the dimensions of the body

nailed at the limbs would lead new husbands
to handle the living curves of their brides.
As if a slain nude, thorned at the crown above her
head, could help rigid legs relax, for fire. 

Poem by Xánath Caraza from Sílabas de Viento (translation by Sandra Kingerly)


Llueve en la América profunda
Llueve en el corazón
Se abren los trigales con el viento
Desde las nubes grises
Se desprenden gotas
Que alcanzan las espigas
Las mueve, las alimenta
Llueve en las praderas
Sopla el viento en la Esmeralda tierra
Se provoca la tormenta
En los maizales
Sonidos huecos de lluvia entre las hojas
El viento corre entre los dorados campos
Los doblega y levanta en un eterno vaivén
Siento la humedad en la piel

                        (Iowa City, octubre de 2012)
Xánath Caraza

It is Raining

It is raining in deepest America
It is raining in the heart
Wheat fields open with wind
Drops slip
From gray clouds
Reaching stalks
Moving them, feeding them
It is raining on the meadows
Wind blows on emerald land
Provoking storms
In corn fields
Hollow sounds of rain on husks
Wind runs between golden fields
Bending and lifting them back and forth
I feel damp skin

                                    (Iowa City, October 2012)