Monday, August 31, 2015

Interview with Luis Javier Guerrero, founder of the Young Warriors Reading Project

Luis Javier Guerrero is a 40-year-old disabled veteran born in San Antonio, Texas. After enlisting and serving for eight years with the Marines stationed both in the United States and overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan, Guerrero eventually earned his Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice (Cum Laude) with a minor in Juvenile Justice from Grantham University; he is now working towards his Master of Science in Mental Health Counseling (with a specialization in Forensic Psychology) at Walden University.  Guerrero is currently employed with Harris County Juvenile Probation Department in Houston where he has served as a detention officer (2013-2014), and now as a juvenile probation officer.  He has been married for seven years to Angela and they have a blended family with five children and seven grandchildren between them.

I first heard of Guerrero through Twitter (@713guerrero) where he discussed his work for the Young Warriors Reading Project.  Guerrero learned of the great need for culturally relevant books for the young people he served in his role as their juvenile probation officer.  Through Twitter, he asked me and several Chicano/a writers for a donation of books; I happily sent him a few.  Additionally, I asked Guerrero if he would be open to answering a few questions for a La Bloga interview, and he agreed.

DANIEL OLIVAS: Why did you decide to create this program?

LUIS JAVIER GUERRERO: What really sparked the initiative to create Young Warriors Reading Project was when one of the probationers I had on my case file re-offended and ended up in detention.  I went to visit him and when I asked him if he needed anything, and even though I am limited on what I can bring him, I told him I would bring him a book.  At the time the first book I thought of was Outcry in the Barrio by Freddie Garcia.  I told the young man to not just read the book but to really absorb the message.  I told him when he finished the book to pass it on to other juveniles in his unit.  I told him the reader does not have to be Chicano or Latino because the message of the book can apply to anyone. 

Before I became a juvenile probation officer, I was a detention officer in the juvenile detention facility.  I knew back then the book selection juveniles had was not very broad and most of the books were damaged or incomplete (but they do have a plethora of Bibles).  I never gave the books much thought because I usually spent my shift talking with the youth about not just my screw ups as a chavalito and adult but what actions I took to correct them.  I would also tell them stories about my days in the Marine Corps and my adventures as a Border Patrol agent working along the Texas and Mexico border. 

It wasn’t until I left detention to further my career as a juvenile probation officer and when a former probationer landed back in detention that I realized the lack of books available to the youths.  I would also encourage the youth to write a one-page report on how the book they read resonated with them and/or what positive message(s) they are taking from the book and applying to their life.  We would also have book discussions.

So, with the Young Warriors Reading Project, my focus is juveniles in detention and also at-risk youth to keep them from getting involved in the juvenile justice system or re-offending.

DO: What do you see as the greatest need for these young people?

LJG: The majority of the youth in the juvenile justice system here are Latino and Black.  From my experience working with this population it is obvious that many of these young adult males lack a positive male role model.  Most of these young men end up falling victims to their environment and find themselves being absorbed into street gangs and the street life.  This is because the gangs offer a false sense of acceptance, love, and approval—something that they are missing in their homes.  I say false sense because that is exactly what it is: a gang cannot offer real love because the moment one of these young adults gets caught up and locked up, he is on his own.  The gang is not going to come to visit or be at court showing support. 

When it comes to the young women some of what I mentioned before also applies to them but there is a bigger threat to them and that is human trafficking.  Human trafficking can also apply to young men but it is more commonly seen in young females.  Houston is one of the major hubs for human trafficking and some of these young women can be from the local area or they can be transported here from other cities or countries.

Some of the youth do come from single parent homes but others come from homes where both parents work out of necessity and the youth are left unsupervised or with inadequate supervision.  This means there is a great need for programs that will engage and educate these young adults.  For the youth in detention they also need to be supported like with this reading project so they are not just spending their time thinking that from juvenile detention they will graduate to the adult system and that is how their life is destined to be.

In trying to establish this reading project my goal is to get these young adults interested in reading.  At first, I want to captivate them with memoirs from individuals that have come from or have experienced similar situations as them so they can relate to the topic.  In time I want to move them away from the memoirs and begin having them read books about their culture and cultural/political leaders and what makes their culture different and unique.  As we move on in the program, I will have them read books about other cultures and cultural/political leaders so they can expand their awareness.  I would include books on the Civil Rights and also on the Chicano Movement and what these events did for Blacks in America and Mexican Americans/Latinos in America.

DO: How can interested people help?

LJG: Others can help by donating books that will captivate and inspire these young adults.  My reading project is a little part of my wife’s organization which she has created to work with at-risk young women.  My project includes both young men and young women, but eventually I too will incorporate working with at-risk young men.  People can also help by supporting her organization as well at which in turn can also help this reading project.

Right now, I am a one man show so my resources are limited.  In building my library, I have included books I have read and have reached out to many authors to help with donating books to this cause.  The response I have received from Latino authors has been incredible and more than I could have ever imagined.  I have received emails from authors praising the project and sending me books; I even had one author personally call me which really left me floored because I am a huge fan of his from the UFC fights; the person I am referring to is “Stitch” Duran professional cutman, he has also sent me a few copies of his book.  My list of donating authors is growing by the day.

[Luis Javier Guerrero may be reached at] 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

"Let Yourself Be Sidetracked By Your Güiro" & Other Musical & Culinary Notes

Barbara & Michael Sedano at their home.  They are holding a Güiro which Michael hand carved. 
Reporting from Pasadena, California, with La Bloga co-founder, Michael Sedano and his wife, Barbara.  Michael has more talents than we know.  First, he is often busy at his computer managing the La Bloga site or posting his Tuesday articles.  What you may not know is that Michael plays the piano and, in a corner of his house, his piano is surrounded by various instruments which include Güiros that he makes by hand from bamboo bark.  He tells me that the poet, Alurista, wrote “Let yourself be sidetracked by your Güiro” (from Alurista’s poem, “Nation, Child, Pluma Roja").  As I’ve discovered, playing the güiro is indeed quite the experience once you let it sidetrack you. (Read what Michael has written about the güiro here.)

Playing the Güiro
Michael also enjoys cooking and writing about non-gluten foods and recipes he's discovered.  The day I came to see him, he didn’t cook for me (as he had done during my last visit).  Instead he was very excited to take me to “Amara Chocolate & Coffee,” a Venezuelan Restaurant he wrote about last fall (click here for his review).  He knew I had made "arepas" (a corn-based flatbread) back in Lincoln, Nebraska, with the help of my Colombiana student, María Antonia García de la Torre and he wanted me to try Amara’s arepas here in Pasadena.  So we headed to Amara's café. 

The arepas at “Amara Chocolate & Coffee” restaurant were indeed sublime. They served me an arepa stuffed with creamy black beans and non-dairy cheese.  I even tried their famous Venezuelan hot chocolate (which I had with almond milk).  

Amelia Montes & Amara Barroeta at "Amara Chocolate & Coffee"
Amara Barroeta loves what she does.  She, along with her husband, Alejandro, have created a sensuous culinary delight in every cup of chocolate, coffee, baked good, or culinary dish they prepare.  Amara’s passion and love come through. 

Barbara,  Amelia, and Michael at "Amara Chocolate & Coffee"
Often, when I tell people that I have diabetes, they think I cannot eat many foods or what they think are “dessert” dishes.  They also think that I only eat foods or dishes that are “sugar free.” I can certainly go to most restaurants and choose foods that are both delicious and that won't suddenly raise my glucose levels.  There are ways to do this.  Here's how:

First-- a note on the term “Sugar Free.”  Sugar is a carbohydrate found in most foods.  For many years, we have been tricked into thinking that we should only eat something that is free of sugar (hence the term "sugar free").  But carbohydrates are important to the body.  It’s not the carbohydrate (sugar) that is the problem.  It’s the “kind” of carbohydrate and the amount of fiber in the particular food that needs to be considered.  For example, a cup of raspberries is not at all “sugar free.”  It has 15 grams of carbohydrates.  However, along with those carbohydrates, one cup of raspberries also contains 8 grams of fiber.  When a food has over 5 grams or more of fiber, you subtract the number of fiber grams from the carbohydrates.  Eating a cup of raspberries, then, only contains 7 grams of carbohydrates.  Its estimated glycemic load is only 3.  The lower the glycemic load number, the less it will affect one’s glucose levels in the body.  Those of us with Diabetes (type II) always need to keep a low count on our glycemic intake.  So what is meant by glycemic load?

The glycemic load measures different kinds of carbohydrates and their impact on the body and blood sugar.  The more fiber a food has, the less glycemic load.  This is why eating an apple with all the fibrous parts of it included is so much better than drinking apple juice without its fiber.  Drinking apple juice (or any "juiced" fruit) is like mainlining sugar into your system.  There is no fiber there to slow down its affect on the body. This is why "juicing" is not a good idea for those of us with diabetes, type II.  

The University of Sydney has a wonderful website which explains the glycemic load and also includes a web search.  Type in any food and it will tell you the glycemic index for that food (click here). 

The day I went to "Amara Chocolate & Coffee," I did my usual walking/exercise (which also brings down glucose levels) and I chose foods there carefully.  I did not have the sugar encrusted churros (although they looked lovely).  Nor did I have any of the other baked sweets.  However, I was quite satisfied with the arepa, the delicious creamy black beans, and the almond milk chocolate.  It’s all about choices and being knowledgeable about carbohydrates and the glycemic index!  

Amara Barroeta, owner and cook, "Amara Chocolate & Coffee"
And thank you to Michael and Barbara Sedano for a lovely Venezuelan cafe afternoon in the heart of Pasadena, California.  Abrazos!  May you, dear readers, choose your foods well and have a most delicious culinary experience this coming week!  And don't forget to "let yourself be sidetracked by your güiro!"

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Santa Fe--more livable than Denver

Playing Lotería with Juan

My wife and I took in award-winning artist John Picacio's Lotería reception at the Jean Cocteau Cinema in Santa Fe, Thursday night. Owner G.R.R. Martin showed up to support him and treat his guests as guests of his own digs. We all played Lotería, with prizes galore, except for me, but I suspect the game was rigged.

Prints of Picacio's re-interpetation of the classic Mexican game cards and sets of cards were the prizes. Luckily, everyone had a chance to sample a local favorite, George R.R. Martin's own ale. It was good enough to have more than a couple, but that wouldn't have increased my chances of winning a prize. My Lotería tabla sucked.

One guy in the back must have held the twin of my tabla because he'd periodically yell, "Bullshit!" after Juan announced the next card. I take that back; that guy couldn't have had a shittier tabla than mine. One round finished, and there was a single bean on my tabla. Did I mention it was cursed?

Juan's event alone was worth the trip, but we'd also come down for a little vacay, and in the next days, I at least discovered more about what we've lost living in Denver than about what Santa Fe still has to offer. Not that it's paradise.

Other ways Denver sucks

A Denver Post headline this morning: "Denver building implosion to bring closures." It's about a high-rise being demolished, but it could also describe well the damage being done to Denver's communities by so-called gentrification.

Starbucks signs push out Chicano murals, "bistros" push out affordable family restaurants. The process resembles someone cutting their own throat in order to have their say. Actually, more accurately, cutting the throats of long-time residents who have roots in the community. Investors buying houses to flip them for a profit. So, "American."

Arguments for "gentrification" commonly center around economics. But the community suffers from those economics--higher property taxes for the aged and less prosperous, less parking, more traffic, young professional drunks on the streets, outrageous prices for food and drink, among many other financial burdens.

It's hard for me to understand how the young, supposedly educated, professional "gentry" allow themselves to be exploited, crammed into multi-storied apartments, overcharged for what the old residents know was once less costly. And much more livable.

Then in contrast, there's the city of Santa Fe where my wife and I are spending a few days. New Mexico itself is not wide open to developers. Although it's not perfect, all around is evidence of the community preserving itself, culturally, architecturally, liveably.

We entered a place called Tiny's, to hear Chris Abeyta's 4-man band of keyboard, congas, and guitars. And no cover charge. I ask the bartender what's on tap. "Jägermeister," she says, not kidding, and I know I'm in a real bar, not some preppy Denver brewery. I order a glass of Santa Fe Nut Brown Ale that costs $3.50, almost half of what Denverites allow themselves to be charged. Down here, I could afford to become a bar-n-grill lover.

Sometimes it's the little things that indicate what you've lost. A small Native American woman approaches us. "You wanna buy some nice earrings?" We pass on it, and she continues down the bar offering her hand-made jewelry. A while later, a Chicano offers to sell us red chile at a reasonable price. It wasn't hot enough for me, so, it's another pass.

Denver's now-gentrified bars don't allow people to enter and sell their wares. The community-feel and openness to supporting local residents went out the window when the IPhones and espressos entered. Plus, the bargains are gone.

We do a short stop at Omira's to hear Brian's acappella, sax and clarinet [no cover charge, again]. The Belgian draws are $4.50, but they're 8 and 9% potent. Then we head over to 2nd Street Brewery, where Tiffany Christopher's blues/folk is rocking the place [no cover charge]. Beers were $3.50 to $4.50. People are listening to her music and not texting like Denver's gentry addicts.

Santa Fe has gentry, gentrification, Starbucks, etc. But you can find parking. Free, not the $30 you might pay in Denver's LoDo. Traffic gets heavy, like everywhere, but the concentration of urban professionals is less per square block. You can drive to get to several locations without much difficulty. Controlled growth and controlled new construction. Not the spread-our-legs exercise that Denver's city government offers nearly any developer who's got the cash.

Perhaps what the Denver "gentry" have lost on most, besides the enjoyment of music with tickets costing $40 and more, are the other arts. Galleries, shops, gardens, museums, cultural events fill the pages and calendars of Santa Fe. Bistros are here, but not as if to preempt culture. Culturally deprived Denver "gentry" are the norm up north, and the poorer for it.

There are many more contrasts that speak to what I'll call the intelligence of nuevomexicanos who maintained enough control of their communities to not become a developer-raped Denver. Add your own to the list. Lament the loss. Or maybe try educating the "gentry" about how it used to be. If they don't believe any other kind of life is possible, point out Santa Fe on the map.

Commemorating 45 years ago

On August 29, 1970, the National Chicano Moratorium march and protest was held in East Los Angeles, with over 25,000, mostly Chicano people demanding an end to the war in Vietnam. As Jimmy Franco Sr. on says, "The experiences of an older generation need to be shared with the younger generation."

Read his article to hear some of those experiences. In Denver, though we had fewer protestors, we often marched with the Anglo anti-war movement activists. The streets aren't so often filled with protesters, as before. But the lessons are still there for handing down to younger people. Today would be a good day to share that.

Es todo, hoy, because I'm on vacation. Heading down to Albu to interview Victor Milán about his just-released book The Dinosaur Lords. Details, later.
RudyG, a.k.a. Rudy Ch. Garcia, fantasy author and travelogue cynic

Friday, August 28, 2015

Photo Essay: Summertime in Santa Barbara

Melinda Palacio

When my friend,  Karen Kersting from New Orleans decided to visit Santa Barbara, I made a vacation out of the trip too. Karen's project managing and design expertise were invaluable when our house in New Orleans flooded.  First, I joined her on the Sunset Limited, the Amtrak train that runs from New Orleans to Union Station in Los Angeles. After a short layover in L.A., we took a commuter train to Santa Barbara, where Steve picked us up and we played tourists in our hometown, venturing as far north as Cambria and Hearst Castle. August was the perfect time for a final Summer hoorah. The weather was perfect, hovering between 72 and 80.

Wednesday, I joined my friend in New Orleans and we rode the Sunset Limited to Santa Barbara.

Thursday: On the train, we saw two sunsets.

The parade of sunsets continued. Nothing like a sunset or moonrise over the Santa Barbara Harbor. 

The Santa Barbara Courthouse Gears Up for the movie Cabaret last Friday.

The Santa Barbara Courthouse at night.

Saturday: Let the road trip begin. First stop: wine tasting in the Santa Ynez Valley.

Sunday: Poetry reading at the Ojai Valley Arts Center.

Emma Trelles and I read to a SRO crowd on Sunday in Ojai.
In honor of the 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Steve read a poem about New Orleans.

Sunday: Sunset at the Douglas Preserve.

Monday: We toured beautiful Cambria and Hearst Castle.

Tuesday: Look closely and notice the elephant seals.

Tuesday: We took a quick trip to the Santa Barbara Zoo.

We take a different train trip, this one tours the Santa Barbara Zoo.

Wednesday: The last breakfast at East Beach Grill in Santa Barbara.

The Last Stop: Karen takes the Sunset Limited back to New Orleans.
She returns to her job as wonder designer and over all super project manager at Alane Designs. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Libros de Lorito

El catálogo de la distribuidora de libros iberoamericanos Lorito Books se enfoca en títulos infantiles en español y bilingües a fin de fomentar el aprendizaje de un segundo idioma.Según Pam Fochtman, presidente de la empresa, la selección de títulos que producen como audiolibros o distribuyen desde Latinoamérica y España promueve la apreciación de la cultura hispana y celebra su riqueza. 

Fundada en 2009, Lorito se enfocó inicialmente en la producción de audiolibros en formato bilingüe para acompañar la lectura del libro impreso y facilitar el aprendizaje. Sin embargo, en años recientes se ha visto una demanda creciente de material literario original en español, lo cual impulsó la iniciativa de distribución de libros infantiles en español para el mercado estadounidense. Actualmente en el catálogo de Lorito figuran más de 400 títulos infantiles y juveniles de México, Chile, EE.UU. y España.

El enfoque principal de la colección es el libro mexicano, ya que, según Fochtman, refleja la demografía de nuevos lectores en el sector bibliotecario de EE.UU. Entre los clientes más importantes de Lorito están las bibliotecas públicas, lo cual refleja la misión comunitaria de la empresa. Según Fochtman, al ver su realidad lingüística reflejada en un libro de la biblioteca, el usuario puede llegar a identificar la biblioteca como parte de su vida familiar y animarse no solo a leer más, pero quizás también a participar de alguna clase o taller.

El criterio de selección se basa principalmente en que la voz literaria sea auténtica tanto creativa como lingüísticamente.

"Mi prioridad es siempre que el libro refleje el uso auténtico del español", dijo Fochtman. "Sobretodo el español de México, ya que esta variante corresponde a un porcentaje muy alto de lectores latinos en EE.UU., y es una forma importante de elevar el perfil de la cultura mexicana en el país".

Fochtman confesó una afinidad especial por la cultura mexicana, ya que estudió en ese país durante sus años universitarios y más adelante trabajó de voluntaria en un orfanato en Chihuahua. Estas experiencias reforzaron su deseo de construir puentes culturales entre EE.UU. y México, dijo.

"Creo que hay mucha negatividad inmerecida entre ambos países, y puentes culturales como la lectura podrían ayudarnos a rebasar estas barreras", consideró.

Las novedades de esta temporada destacan la diversión y la aventura como condiciones esenciales para el aprendizaje. Entre ellos se destacan "Óscar y la máscara misteriosa" y "Domingo Teporingo, invierno" del escritor e ilustrador mexicano Marcos Almada Rivero. 

En la serie de Óscar, el divertido tlacuache o marsupial mexicano encuentra todo tipo de objetos que lo ponen en contacto con criaturas y elementos de la cultura mexicana pero siempre mediante la aventura y la diversión. 

Para los lectores más avanzados, "Domingo Teporingo" narra las aventuras de invierno de un conejo teporingo muy curioso que habita con otros animales en El Refugio en uno de los bosques del Popocatéptl.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Salsa: Un poema para cocinar / A Cooking Poem

Written by Jorge Argueta
Illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh

  • Age Range: 4 - 7 years
  • Grade Level: Preschool - 2
  • Series: Bilingual Cooking Poems
  • Hardcover: 32 pages
  • Publisher: Groundwood Books; Tra Blg edition 
  • ISBN-10: 1554984424
  • ISBN-13: 978-1554984428

In this new cooking poem, Jorge Argueta brings us a fun and easy recipe for a yummy salsa. A young boy and his sister gather the ingredients and grind them up in a molcajete, just like their ancestors used to do, singing and dancing all the while. The children imagine that their ingredients are different parts of an orchestra — the tomatoes are bongos and kettledrums, the onion, a maraca, the cloves of garlic, trumpets and the cilantro, the conductor. They chop and then grind these ingredients in the molcajete, along with red chili peppers for the “hotness” that is so delicious, finally adding a squeeze of lime and a sprinkle of salt. When they are finished, their mother warms tortillas and their father lays out plates, as the whole family, including the cat and dog, dance salsa in mouth-watering anticipation.

Winner of the International Latino Book Award for Guacamole, Jorge Argueta's text is complemented by the rich, earthy illustrations of Duncan Tonatiuh, winner of the Pura Belpré Award. His interest in honoring the art of the past in contemporary contexts is evident in these wonderful illustrations, which evoke the pre-Columbian Mixtec codex.