Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Review: Barefoot Dogs. Paredes Keynotes Named. An August On-line Floricanto

Review: Antonio Ruiz-Camacho. Barefoot Dogs. Stories. NY: Scribner, 2015. 
               ISBN 9781476784960

Michael Sedano

Antonio Ruiz-Camacho is a bi-national writer, a Mexicano out of Toluca who lives in Austin, who caught a major break when his collection, Barefoot Dogs, got picked up by the Simon and Schuster imprint, Scribner.

Barefoot Dogs presents eight connected stories of a Mexican family forced into fearful exile, or self-imposed house arrest, after the paterfamilias is kidnapped. The crime affects not only the man's familia but also the servants, who are forced into exile with the fleeing employers.

In the opening story,  It Will Be Awesome Before Spring, there's a spoiled college girl whose European jaunt loses its allure in the wake of her grandfather's kidnapping.

The story shares little detail about 19-year-old Fernanda because she is so vapid there's little to say about her. She's never ridden a subway or a cab—in Mexico City. In Europe, sure. Her perspective is derived from firsts, the year we did this, did that, the year grampa got kidnapped.

When an associate describes a gang rape of a kidnapped woman, the storyteller gets so wrapped up in the horror he loses composure and when he stops to gather himself, the rich girl narrating the tale illustrates just how vapid: He has to pause, he looks shaken, like he won't be able to continue the story, and everybody around him is silent looking at him with wide eyes, everybody thinking, This is a joke, right?

Awesome isn't Ruiz-Camacho's only female narrator. He introduces Susana and her Chicana co-worker in a story of bafflement and powerlessness, Deers. Susy girl, Conchita calls her, needs the language and cultural translation Conchita provides, to navigate their job at McDonald's, as well as U.S. English.

Conchita's tragic story looms in the background the day a bear invades their workplace, while in an aside, Ruiz-Camacho illustrates how capricious a servant's life can be. Susana travels to Austin with her Mexicano employers, and settles into a big, rich house, "like the one where I lived with Doña Laura and her family for a few months until one day, out of the blue, she got mad and kicked me out".

The reader already met Laura, in the third story, Origami Prunes. Laura is an older and horny Mexicana who meets the male narrator in a laundromat where flirting quickly turns into tryst. There's tragedy at the end of this, the weakest story in the collection—it's a young man's cougar fantasy—save for some wonderful foreshadowing through metaphor and word choice.

They flirt, hold hands innocently but with loaded meaning. As they watch their clothes tumble in the dryer the sight suggests the clothing-free intimacy to come, and that naked arm shouts it out loud:

Later, we saw our own clean clothes tumble away inside the machines. she rested her head on my shoulder.
'Give me your phone,' she said.
Laura pointed the camera toward us. her slender naked arm outstretched, her flesh loose and freckled, and brought her face close to mine.

Among my favorite Los Tigres Del Norte songs is Tumba Falsa in which a man invents his wife's death to explain to his children where philandering Mamá has gone. It's a similar plot to Better Latitude, an apostrophe by a woman to the missing man, Don Victoriano Arteaga, who is almost 30 years his lover's senior.

The kidnapped paterfamilias has a mistress, Silvia, and six-year-old son. The boy's named after his grandmother, Laureano, a detail left unexplained but weighted when we meet Laura a few stories later.

The mistress invents a story that Dad is off on business to China. It's not the first invention; there's a fake wedding portrait. Laureano invents, too. Tells his mom that dad visits him in the backyard.
Laureano is a beautiful young man—all six-year-olds have that inherent quality. Broken-hearted, his fantasy is all the consolation he can find, until the mother's resentment surfaces and she strikes out:

The next evening, when he was packing his stuffed animals, getting ready for another fun day at the zoo with his daddy, I asked him when you'd returned from China. . . . He looked up at the map above his bed, then turned to me with confused eyes, as if considering the question for the first time. He said he didn't know, and kept stuffing animals into the bag. As he walked away I realized I'd learned to hurt him without leaving marks, next time I might as well whip him on the soles of his feet. . . . neither of us mentioned China again.

Soles of his feet becomes a motif in the closing story, Barefoot Dogs. In this instance, the youngest "legitimate" son of the family has fled to Madrid with his wife, newborn son, and old dog.

The man suffers from disconnectedness—he cannot look his baby in the eye, avoids spending time with him, and prefers to walk his dog. The dog suffers from sores on the soles of his feet. It's an eerie connection to Laureano's story, except far worse. The old dog has cancer and rather than put him down, the man elects to keep taking the pet on walks. That's a bit like never mentioning China again.

In a hallucinatory moment walking the dog, the man comes face to face with his missing father. Back in Mexico, the old man has been Fed-Ex'd to the family in pieces, starting with a foot. The spectre of Don Victoriano tells the man to get shoes for the dog, that the dog will be fine.

The dog will be dead soon, as the man's father surely is dead somewhere in Mexico, where murderers hang chunks of bodies from trees, one story describes. In the end, however, the man finds it within himself to abrazar the old man until the cucui disappears. Perhaps that's a portent that his son will finally have a father who demonstrates love.

Love, that's the absent quality from all these stories. Anomie, hostility, vapidness, sexual abandon, these infuse the lives of these people. Maybe there's hope for those driven from their homeland into exile. But maybe not; these are some mucked up people. Is it that the rich are different, or just this family?

Ruiz knows the names and relationships get a bit convoluted. Or is he Camacho? There's a moment in one story where a Mexicano meets a hyphenated Mexicana living in the US hace años. She corrects him and tells him her last name is the second part of the hyphen, not the first. Barefoot Dogs is somewhat in the same boat, as Mexican-American literature. Is this Mexican? United States mainstream? a variety of Chicano literature?

There's an Arteaga Family Tree at the end of the collection that will help a reader connect all the characters to one another. Not that it's needful, for each story stands alone. There's some brilliant stuff here. The tree of lives injects a satisfying sense of organization, after the fact, where there is so much chaos surrounding the characters.

Good short fiction by Chicana Chicano writers isn't rare, but it's rarely published by the big New York houses. So here's a bi-national Mexicano, Antonio Ruiz-Camacho, who catches a break on his first collection and it comes out of Simon and Schuster imprint Scribner. ¡Ajua! Whither raza?

Rich Mexicans. Europe. Upper crust US neighborhoods. Not too much attention to los de abajo and U.S. issues. Keep the stories in the moment, don't confront big wrap-around social justice themes, keep that stuff in the background. Maybe ahi 'sta el detalle for raza writers.

And it helps to write good stories, it helps a lot.

mail call
LA Area Veterans To Tune In to Vital Services

The Army and Richard Nixon cut me loose in August 1970. I travelled by Greyhound down the Pacific Coast to LA, getting reacquainted with my wife (we were married a month when I got my first Draft notice) and the U.S. economy. Wow: hearing English everywhere; no ration cards; real dollars instead of Military Payment Certificates; if North Korea invaded I would read about it instead of be killed; and time to get a job.

My era Veterans returned home and rebooted life as we knew it. Most of us. Veterans of the Obama-Bush père et fils wars are being put through a wringer now that they've completed their service. "What have you done for me, lately?" seems to the the attitude of Congress.

Here's a small step for a man or woman down on their luck.

Click here to RSVP via Eventbrite's website.

Conference on Américo Paredes Names Keynotes

La Bloga friend Roberto Cantu sends an important update to news of the 2016 Conference on Américo Paredes.

The conference, scheduled for the El Sereno campus in May 2016, is the result of the long-term planning and close collaboration between Mexican and Chicano faculty at California State University, Los Angeles, the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the University of Texas at Austin.

The faculty representing these three institutions are pleased to announce the conference participation of ten renowned keynote and featured speakers. These include Richard Flores (University of Texas at Austin), John Holmes McDowell (Indiana University), Oscar J. Martínez (University of Arizona), film director Robert M. Young and award-winning actor and director Edward James Olmos.

This conference on Américo Paredes will also include scenes from plays by Chicano dramatist Carlos Morton to be performed under the direction of Mexican actress Alejandra Flores, and panel sessions on various topics related to the conference's theme. The full conference program will be announced in mid-February 2016.


August On-line Floricanto
Nina Serrano, Briana Muñoz, Joel Méndez, Hatto Fischer, Eleazar Valdez

Organized by Sharon Elliott, the Moderators of the Facebook group, Poetry of Resistance: Poets Responding to SB 1070, nominate five poets for this first-in-August On-line Floricanto, who submit work in English, Spanish, Greek, and German.

Tahui! For Francisco X. Alarcón By Nina Serrano
Mexican or American By Briana Muñoz
I, Too, Am Singing America By Joel Méndez
Strong images By Hatto Fischer
Silence/El silencio By Eleazar Valdez

For Francisco X. Alarcón
By Nina Serrano

“My long time friend Nina Serrano has sent me this wonderful poem that she has kindly dedicated to me. I am very honored and moved by her cosmic words that encourage me to continue my work as a poet.” Francisco X. Alarcón

“Tahui!,” calls Francisco X. Alarcón
we respond with, “Tahui!”
carried on the echoing winds
in the four directions,
and above and below

Holy vibrations over the California
hills mountains canyons and deserts
creeks lakes rivers and sea
Over fields of growing
lettuce broccoli celery and grapes
Over trees bearing
oranges pears plums
and swaying palms heavy with coconuts

Francisco's call
heard by young and old
Gathers us in the ether and ambiance
of floating ancient dusty remains
for poetry community creativity and justice
Speaking words that sing to Mother Earth
exploding stars
in the constantly expanding universe.

Francisco is not waiting for laurel leaves
He labors for poetry constantly
If crowned his work will not change
He will continue as long as he breathes
to call, “Tahui!”
We will respond, “Tahui!”
in the four directions
and above and below.

Mexican or American
By Briana Muñoz

When I visit my family in Mexico,
I feel at home, closer to my roots,
A connection with this dirt
Mi tierra
Visiting historic places like las piramides de Teotihuacan
Taking shots of tequila with the drunk uncle Lencho
Every other word that comes from his mouth- a curse word.
I, speak my pocha Spanish with my cousins, and they laugh

When I’m in my AP English class,
And stand at the podium, sharing my
Literary analysis on Homer’s Odyssey,
I feel confident, at ease within literature
Then the teacher goes through her attendance sheet
And everyone’s last name is Williams and Johnson and Smith

I never represent the tilde in my last name
Not because I am not proud
Because it is too much work
To draw a scribble over the N

All the gringos pronounce it wrong either way

In the kitchen during the holidays
I am no help
Because all that I know how to cook is
A grilled cheese sandwich or macaroni and cheese
My abuelita doesn’t even know how to pronounce
Either of these things

I do not like menudo and I always pass on the pastel de tres leches
My family looks at me like I am crazy
I wear long sleeves during the summer when Ivisit my grandmother
So she does not scold me for all the tattoos on my body

But when my dad puts on his corridos and mariachi music
I sure know the difference between Antonio Aguilar and Vicente Fernandez

I may not be American
Y tal vez no soy Mexicana
That’s right, I am one hundred percent Chicana.

Briana Muñoz is a young writer from San Marcos, CA. She writes short stories and poetry inspired by her Hispanic culture and her surroundings. She has been published in Palomar College's Bravura Literary Journal and previously published on La Bloga. She plans to continue writing and sharing her works.

I, Too, Am Singing America
By Joel Méndez

As I scrub your dishes, pots and pans
With skin-piercing detergents in the greasy
Kitchens of your restaurants, hotels and grand chalets
I, too, am singing, America!

As I clean your lawns, parks and highways
In brazen heat and bone-chilling winds
And make you proud of your streets and railroads
I, too, am singing, America!

As I harvest your bounty under the scorching sun
In the bosom of your fertile fields while
Breathing pesticides that permeate your fruited land
I, too, am singing, America!

As I tile your floors and tar your roofs
And paint your walls with lead-filled hues
While my limbs grow numb and arthritic
I, too, am singing, America!

As I fine-tune and lubricate your gas-guzzling SUVs
Hand-wash and caress your sedans with the finest wax
My aching back and joints guarantee your gleaming cars
I, too, am singing, America!

As I count and assemble your disposable widgets and gadgets
Under artificial light and sweltering heat and floating ashes
Inhaling the rancid indoor air of your sweatshops and factories
I, too, am singing, America!

As I splinter the veins of your mines in search of precious metals
In the cavernous bowels of your majestic mountain ranges
Taxing my skin and lungs inhaling nauseating dust and gases
I, too, am singing, America!

As I care for your prolific poultry and inbred cattle
In the viscera of your prodigious farms and ranches
Surrounded by dusty silos, sloshing waste and squalor
I, too, am singing, America!

As I march into your battlefields and global confrontations
And leave the indelible stain of my blood in your trenches
To uphold the inalienable rights given by your Constitution
I, too, am singing, America!

As I toil proudly in the 187 hues and tones
Interlacing the legacy of my ancestry, I bestow on thee
The transcendency of my Raza Cósmica’s genome
Anticipating the day you become a rightful part of me…

I, too, am singing, America!
© 2008 jjméndez

My name is Joel Méndez. I am a retired high school mathematics teacher and enjoy reading and writing poetry. I particularly enjoy reading and writing poetry that stimulates self-reflection and the type of poetry genre that creates awareness of past, current, and future political dilemmas and historical events affecting us all. Originally from the Rio Grande Valley Region of South Texas, I spent my early childhood in the labores. Mechanization in agriculture interrupted our migrant farmworkers life and forced my family to move to the midwest where my parents and older siblings joined the factory labor force. I came of age in the tough streets of the multicultural, multiethnic, multiracial barrio in Chicago. I split my time between Santa Fe New Mexico and Chicago and, at times, in my beloved Texas.

Strong images
By Hatto Fischer

If I could only rip apart those rocks
against which lean the winds of the seas;
they come and go at free will, but chained
to them is the magic projection of Camus' Sisyphus
as if we live only now and then in virtual worlds
reflecting how our imagination can stretch out
like the hand of the hungry beggar for some food.

If I could only cry out loud, but am nearly drowned in silence,
the injustices in the world are like the waves created by
the large boats cutting through the water and ignoring
whatever small sized vessel might be close by, in the way,
so like the blind man I do not see far, only hear
the sounds the winds make along the shores of the island
on which I have been stranded for years by now, by now.

Dusk writes with a pen the things to be remembered
for tomorrow will be another rough day with many tasks
left incomplete since most of the people have left the city
in preference for another way of life, and in being abandoned,
I walk alone through empty streets and hear only my footsteps
like the lost sounds of by-gone times curling now around lamp posts
as if paper wishing not to be carried away by the winds, the winds.

Step by step I scale the stairs till up at the top I find an answer
to what I have been searching for all along. It is the news of elections
in a far away land near the Aegean sea which has undertaken it
to try a different way while leaving uncertain what shall be questioned first.
Metallic is the sound of change when women hit on their pots out of protest.
It is no longer just the winds which are making the sounds of change.
Swept along the streets are now newspapers screaming out the news of today.
Faded into history are shades of those days when it was not a becoming to exist.
Time and again, news are a reminder of the precarious nature of life itself.
Swept along are also the memories which flow down the stairs like wine.

Έντονες Εικόνες
By Hatto Fischer
Translated by Katerina Anghelaki Rooke

Αν μπορούσα μονάχα να σχίσω τους βράχους
που πάνω τους ακουμπούν οι θαλασσινοί αέριδες·
εκείνοι πηγαινοέρχονται ελεύθερα, αλλά αλυσοδεμένη
πάνω τους είναι η μαγική προβολή του Σίσυφου του Καμύ
σαν να ζούμε μόνο τώρα· αργότερα θα ζούμε σε ουσιαστικούς κόσμους
και θα καθρεφτίζεται η φαντασία μας όταν τεντώνεται
όπως το χέρι του πεινασμένου ζητιάνου για λίγο ψωμί.

Αχ να μπορούσα να φωνάξω, αλλά έχω σχεδόν πνιγεί στη σιωπή,
οι αδικίες σ’ αυτόν τον κόσμο είναι σαν τα κύματα
που σηκώνουν τα μεγάλα πλοία όταν σχίζουν τα νερά κι αδιαφορούν
αν κάποιο μικρό σκάφος βρεθεί στο δρόμο τους,
έτσι κι εγώ, σα νάμουνα τυφλός δεν βλέπω μακριά, μόνο ακούω
τους αέριδες που πνέουν στις παραλίες του νησιού
που σ’ αυτό έχω αράξει χρόνια τώρα, χρόνια.

Το δειλινό γράφει με πένα αυτά που πρέπει να θυμώμαστε
γιατί αύριο θάναι άλλη μια δύσκολη μέρα με πολλά έργα
που ποτέ δεν περατώθηκαν αφού οι περισσότεροι κάτοικοι άφησαν την πόλη
γιατί προτίμησαν έναν άλλο τρόπο ζωής· με εγκατέλειψαν,
μόνος περπατώ στους άδειους δρόμους κι ακούω μόνο τα βήματά μου
όπως οι χαμένοι ήχοι περασμένων καιρών που τυλίγονται τώρα γύρω απ’ του δρόμου τα φανάρια
σα νάταν χαρτί που δεν ήθελε να το πάρουν οι αέριδες, οι αέριδες.

Βήμα-βήμα σκαρφαλώνω τις σκάλες ώσπου στην κορφή να βρω μιαν απάντηση
σ’ αυτό που πάντα έψαχνα. Είναι τα νέα για εκλογές
σε μια μακρινή χώρα κοντά στο Αιγαίο πέλαγος, που αποφάσισε έτσι
να δοκιμάσει κάτι το διαφορετικό, ενώ αφήνει αναπάντητες επείγουσες ερωτήσεις.
Μεταλλικός είναι ο ήχος της αλλαγής όταν οι γυναίκες διαμαρτύρονται χτυπώντας τις κατσαρόλες τους.
Δεν είναι πια μόνο οι αέριδες που φυσούν την αλλαγή.
Στους δρόμους τώρα οι εφημερίδες ουρλιάζουν τα σημερινά νέα.
Έχουν σβήσει μες στην ιστορία οι σκιές από τις ημέρες εκείνες όταν δεν ήταν σωστό να υπάρχεις.
Ξανά και ξανά τα νέα θυμίζουν την επικίνδυνη φύση της ίδιας της ζωής.
Σαρώθηκαν και οι αναμνήσεις που κατρακυλάνε τα σκαλιά σαν το κρασί.

Starke Vorstellungen
By Hatto Fischer

Wenn ich nur die Felsen zerschmettern könnte,
Felsen gegen die sich Winde der Meere lehnen.
Sie kommen und gehen ganz ungehindert, aber an den Felsen
sind angekettet magische Projektionen die Sisyphus nach Camus betreffen.
Es ist als würden wir jetzt nur noch in virtuellen Welten leben,
und unsere Fantasie spiegeln als würde sie sich hinausstrecken,
gleich der Hand eines hungrigen Bettlers für etwas zum Essen.
Wenn ich nur laut aufschreien könnte, aber ich ertrinke fast im Schweigen,
denn die Ungerechtigkeiten in dieser Welt sind wie Wellen
von Riesenschiffen verursacht, wenn sie durchs Wasser schneiden,
und dabei kleine Boote in der Nähe kaum achten ob im Wege.
Gleich einem blinden Mann sehe ich nicht weit, nur höre ich
Geräusche die der Wind entlang dem Strand der Insel verursacht,
jene auf der ich seit dem Schiffbruch ganz alleine gestrandet bin.
Der Abenddunst schreibt mit einer Feder auf was morgens zu erledigen sei.
Es warten vielen Aufgaben, viele davon die Unerledigten weil die Menschen
die Stadt verlassen haben. Sie zogen ein anderes Leben vor, so fühle ich mich
einfach und verlassen; darum wandere ich alleine durch leere Straßen
und höre nur meine Schritte neben Töne längst vergangener Zeiten
die sich jetzt um Lampenposten wickeln wie Zeitungspapier
das nicht davon getragen werden will vom Wind, vom Wind.
Stufe nach Stufe steige ich der Treppe empor bis ganz oben,
ich eine Antwort nach der ich schon lange suche, finden will.
Ich will wissen des Wahlergebnis in einem fernen Land am Mittelmeer.
Wie ich höre hat es sich vorgenommen einen anderen Weg zu gehen,
und darum ungewiss lässt was zuerst in Frage gestellt werden soll.
Blechern der Ton wenn die Frauen aus Protest auf die Töpfe schlagen.
Es ist nicht nur der Wind der Geräusche von Veränderungen ertönen lässt.
Durch die Straßen wehen Zeitungen die Nachrichten von heute ausrufen.
Verblassen sind die Schatten jener Tage als es sich noch ziemte zu existieren.
Wiederholt erinnern die Nachrichten wie prekär das Leben selber geworden ist.
Mitgerissen werden dabei Erinnerungen die wie Wein den Treppen runter fließen.

Hatto Fischer is a German poet who lives in Athens. Greece, where he edits the website “Poieink Ai Pattein / Create And Do” http://www.poieinkaiprattein.org/poetry/poems-by-hatto-fischer/

Silence/El silencio
By Eleazar Valdez


Earth's smile.
A caress
Time doesn't wait.
A whisper
The blue sky is about to wake up.
A peace
The road is about to end.
Life continues without looking back.

El silencio
La sonrisa de la tierra.
Una caricia
El tiempo no espera.
Un susurro
El cielo azul esta por despertar.
Una paz
El camino esta por terminar.
El ayer
Y la vida sigue sin mirar atrás

Eleazar Valdez: Born in Michoacán Mexico, he came to the United States at the age of 13. Despite his undocumented status, Eleazar has a Master’s degree in Latin American Literature and wants his story to be an example for others in the same situation.

Currently he is a DACA Co-Organizer at Fresno Immigrant Youth in Action.

1 comment:

Odilia Galván Rodríguez said...

Thanks Michael! Always a pleasure to see what's cooking over here at La Bloga.