Monday, July 31, 2017

La Tormenta at the Lost Souls Café

A poem after the paintings by Gronk

La Tormenta sips a double
Espresso at the Lost Souls Café
Alone on the long, sagging couch,
Listening to the young people
Chatter about art and sex and dogs.

La Tormenta is, of course, young
And rich and beautiful and
Could sit at a fancier café
Surrounded by old men with
Old money, old lies, old desires.

But she does not know who she is,
So La Tormenta continues to sit
In this café off of Spring Street down
An alley where the new loft-dwellers
Come and go, speaking of Michelangelo.

La Tormenta ponders her identity—
Even her name’s origin is hidden
In fog and memories of East L.A.
Memories in black and white, not
The Technicolor of Saint Minnelli.

La Tormenta knows a few things:
She has a secret lover named
Isela Boat, one of the infamous
Boat sisters of La Puente, the ones
Who killed their husbands with love.

La Tormenta smooths her black,
Silk dress; she tugs at the ends of
Her long, elbow-length gloves as
She assumes that her adoring fans are
Trying not to disturb her dark solitude.

And La Tormenta doubts that she will ever
Know if her soul is as beautiful as she feels.

[“La Tormenta at the Lost Souls Café” is featured in the forthcoming Crossing the Border: Collected Poems (Pact Press) which will be released on November 17, 2017.]

Sunday, July 30, 2017

"Wings" by tatiana de la tierra

Olga García Echeverría

July 31, 2017 marks the five-year anniversary of the passing of nuestra querida amiga, hermana, escritora lésbica and fellow blogera, tatiana de la tierra. Today we pay tribute to her by sharing one of her stories, "Wings," which was originally published in Without a Net: The Female Experience of Growing Up Working Class. Ed. Michelle Tea. Emeryville: Seal Press, 2004. 91-96. 

To learn más about tatiana de la tierra or to read more of her amazing work which delves into issues of memory, sexuality, identity, and language, please visit

Diosa Labiosa: tatiana de la tierra 


Placing a pink feather headband in my hand, my Abuelita Blanca kissed me good-bye, crying. I cried, too. I didn’t know why. The perpetually gray Bogotá skies joined in, sprinkling us with cold rain. I ran up the narrow metal staircase as wind bit my wet cheeks, into an airplane that would take me and my family far from Colombia. It was 1968 in May and I had just turned seven years old.

Thick, warm Atlantic air greeted us as we clambered, wide-eyed, out of our metal cocoon. The air in Miami was nothing like the air I knew in the Andean mountains. But being yanked from the love and protection of my aunts, grandmothers and great aunts was the most momentous change. It was bigger than air itself. I walked to the market with them, chit-chatted on the sidewalk, made corn arepas at the crack of dawn, collected eggs in the morning, accompanied them in the evening for hot chocolate. They cooked for me, bought dresses for me, introduced me to all their friends. But in Miami, everybody was a stranger.

At the airport I played with stairs that moved and doors that opened magically. A strange twig of a man who wore ripped denim and spoke halting Spanish greeted us. “Yo aquí para ayudarte,” he said, offering a warm handshake. Harvey was a friend of a friend of my dad’s; they embraced as if they already knew each other. My mom looked at him cautiously through her reddened eyes. Finally, she extended her hand.

Everything seemed brand new and shiny those first few days. All the blades of grass were uniformly green and stood properly on plush manicured lawns. The clean-shaven policemen wore immaculate starched uniforms and drove sleek cars crowned with blue and red domes that sometimes flashed and made wailing noises. Neat rows of containers housing exotic foods filled the spotless stores, where clerks counted crisp bills over Formica counters and gave back the change without stealing. Exquisite paintings graced cereal boxes and cans of soup, and luminous rays emanated from curvy Coca-Cola bottles branded with fire-red labels.

My father took me to a 7-11, where I marveled at the cans decorated with vivid color images of the foods they contained. “This one, Papi,” I said. We both scrutinized the can. It had a picture of reddish brown beans on the label. Beans, a mainstay of our diet, had to be soaked in water the night before and took hours to cook. Yet there they were in the palms of our hands, ready to eat. We went home with the can. My father opened it and heated up the beans with some rice. I could tell they were different; they were watery and didn’t smell right. Still, I brought a spoonful to my mouth. I gagged as the flavor hit my palette. They were sweet. Beans were supposed to be salty and spiced with onions, garlic, tomato, and peppers. They were supposed to be thickened with green plantains. They were not supposed to be sweet or watery.

My mom, who disliked cooking and had little time for it, took advantage of the cheap and instant foods. She went grocery shopping and came home with Kool Aid, white bread, processed cheese, frozen chicken pot pies, sugar-coated cereals, and Hamburger Helper. The Colombian foods I was accustomed to—fresh blackberry juice, farmer’s cheese, Creole potatoes, tamales, and empanadas—quickly became a memory.

But my dad’s hunger for familiar foods roared incessantly. He truly enjoyed eating and cooking and went to great lengths to find magical ingredients. He discovered that you could find fresh coconut milk in the shell, ripe guanabanas, cumin powder and plantains in bodeguitas like La Ideal and Los Pinareños. You could get an entire meal—a bandeja paisa with real arepas—at La Fonda, a Colombian restaurant. One day, my father took the bus and went foraging, his eyes bulging with the thought of Colombian food. He returned late in the afternoon, his shirt splattered with drops of sancocho, his breath greasy from fried empanadas, his belly expanded with sobrebarriga, his fingers sticky with dulce de leche. He was beaming. He brought us avocados, coconuts, yucca, plantains, and Colombian delicacies.

On Saturdays we took the bus to Miami Beach and went swimming by the pier, on the southern tip. There, I dug my toes into the sand and bobbed in the salty ocean. My mom, who was pregnant, sat on the beach and read a book while the rest of us played in the water. We ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with Kool Aid. Once, as a treat, we went to Kentucky Fried Chicken after being at the beach all day. They had a special offer—two pieces of chicken with a biscuit and a small Styrofoam cup of mashed potatoes and gravy for $1.29. We got a special and sat down to share the food. I bit into a drumstick. It was good, crunchy and spicy. But as I swallowed I recalled what happened the day before we left for Miami, and my stomach became queasy.

We were in El Libano, at my great aunt’s house. It was our last day there. I was in the corridor that faced the garden when I saw that Cuki, my favorite chicken, was being hunted down. “Run, Cuki, run!” I screamed as I saw a shiny machete swinging in her direction. I gripped the wooden porch railing as she ran, headless, fluttering her golden brown wings in a futile attempt to levitate. Cuki, who used to peck at my feet when I showered on the patio beneath blue skies, was our last supper. I missed her, and I missed the black earth that caked my feet when I played in my great aunt’s garden.

Our first home in our new world was a room in Harvey’s house. Blond, blue-eyed and eccentric, Harvey slept on the beach, washed dishes for a living, and drank rainwater that he collected in an oxidized metal container in the back yard. He nourished himself on tropical concoctions, blending whole papayas with fish guts and honey. Restaurant napkins for toilet paper and roadside-discarded produce for dinner were his gifts. He taught my mom to walk on the grass to extend the life of shoe soles. He came home every few days to drink the rainwater, wash up and change clothes. Harvey didn’t believe in pesticides so roaches crawled freely on the walls and even on us. He didn’t believe in banks or the government, either. His living-room library was stocked with books about politics, anthropology and history. He let us live in his house for free, until we could afford to rent a place on our own.

Another Colombian family soon joined us, moving into the room across the hall. The coziness of our home disappeared with the violent intrusion of our new neighbors. José Miguel was my dad’s military companion from Colombia. He was a construction worker, thick and muscular, who wore a constant snarl on his face and stank of liquor. His wife, Irma, took care of us while my parents worked. My mom came home earlier than expected one day. My brother and sister and I were cowering in our room as José Miguel beat Irma. Their little girls, Nubia and Cacallo, were screaming throughout the house. My mom grabbed a broomstick and busted in on him. “Bestia!” she yelled, leading a sobbing Irma into our room.

The scenes repeated like tired reruns. When José Miguel wasn’t home we were free to run and play, but as soon as we heard his boots step into the house, we froze. “¡Chito!” we warned each other, walking on tiptoes, trying to be invisible.

But not everything was bad because I was with my brother, Gustavo Alberto, and my sister, Claudia. They were my only friends. The three of us walked around the neighborhood together, marveling at the gringo houses and the gringo lawns and the gringo postman and the gringo talk. Gone were the mountains that ringed Bogotá, the matriarchs in the countryside, the gamines who begged for money on the street, the fresh air. We didn’t understand why we had left Colombia or what the future held for us. So we did what we knew how to do, no matter where we were. We played. We ran and kicked bottles, climbed trees, played tag. We dueled as cowboys and Indians. I wore my pink feather headband and protected my tribe. My brother brandished his miniature machete. My sister was the village elder, scheming to outwit the troops.

In August, three months after our arrival, my little sister was born. Natasha came home in a white wicker crib that my mom had bought used for $1.50. Cushioned with a new white satin pad and lined with pink balloons floating in flannel, the crib wobbled on uneven legs. Natasha, who was conceived in Colombia, was the only U.S. citizen in my family. She was a real gringa and even had golden hair. She was my life size doll. I changed her diapers, prepared her bottles, and cradled her in my arms.
My childhood had come to a close. Summer was ending and school was about to start. Irma found a job and couldn’t take care of us any more. My mom worked as a maid in the Tudor Hotel in Miami Beach and my dad worked in a paper factory. I was the oldest, so my responsibilities increased. I began to cook, clean, and take care of my siblings. I became a miniature adult. “Wash that plate!” I scolded. “Clean up that mess!” I nagged. But my commands were never responded to in the way that I expected.

If we hadn’t left Bogotá I would still be wearing my gray uniform to school and learning to pray the rosary. I would come home to my mom and play outside and do my homework and have arroz con lentejas for dinner. I would be a seven-year-old girl, just like all the others. But Bogotá grew distant every day. After four months in Miami it seemed that we were there for good.

School was an enclosed city surrounded by banyan trees and hibiscus bushes where I became indoctrinated into another people’s culture. Gimnasio Palestina, my first grade school in Bogotá, was a private school in a small brick building. But Shadow Lawn Elementary took up an entire block. It was made of concrete and had dozens of classrooms, a cafeteria, a gymnasium and a playground. In Bogotá my school had one class and one teacher, but in Miami there were hundreds of students, many teachers, and a principal. I was the only light-skinned girl in my class and one of the few Spanish speakers in the entire school. I couldn’t speak English and was just beginning to understand some of the words.

I sat in silence at my desk with a thick pad of baby-blue-lined paper and a yellow number two pencil that had been given to me for free on the first day of school. Mrs. Clara sent students to the chalkboard to write words that she dictated. She called on me; I stood at the front, looking at my feet, frozen. She read her list: ocean, river, stream. I fingered the chalk and she repeated the words, eventually chanting them as if they were commands. “Ocean! River! Stream!” I didn’t even attempt to write on the board; I went back to my desk, my fingertips dusted with white chalk.

I dreaded those public moments that highlighted the fact that I was a foreigner. Sometimes I sat at my desk, plotting my revenge. I would master the English language. I would infiltrate the gringo culture without letting on that I was a traitor. I would battle in their tongue and make them stumble. I would cut out their souls and leave them on the shore to be pecked on by vultures.

One pivotal afternoon, I squirmed in my seat. I had an itch between my legs like a red-hot ant bite. Finally, I arched my hand toward the ceiling to ask for permission to go to the bathroom. Mrs. Clara looked at me; I knew no words to express my state of emergency. I pointed to the door; she stared back blankly. The whole class looked on. I grabbed my crotch, squeezed and grimaced. Finally, she understood, but as I darted out of the room, warm pee exploded between my legs, trickling into my socks, and splashing in droplets on the floor. I ran out of school, my moist shoes pounding on the speckled tile, squeaky drum beats echoing in the corridor.

Past the banyan tree by the playground and through the neighboring streets, I sprinted as if being pursued. I ran with the inside of my legs soiled, wet and sticky with urine, sucking oxygen into my bursting lungs with wrenching gulps. I wished that the stiff metal airplane that had ripped me from my home would just take me back. Pumping my arms, I wished for silver angel wings that glided or long broad eagle wings that soared. But I knew that my flapping was useless.

Born in Villavicencio, Colombia and raised in Miami, Florida, tatiana de la tierra was a bicultural writer whose work focused on identity, sexuality, and South American memory and reality. She completed a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Texas at El Paso and a Master of Library Science from University at Buffalo. tatiana was a founder, editor, and contributor to the Latina lesbian publications esto no tiene nombre, conmoción and la telaraña. She is the author of For the Hard Ones: A Lesbian Phenomenology / Para las duras: Una fenomenología lesbiana, Xia y las cien mil siernas, and the chapbooks Porcupine Love and Other tales from My Papaya, Píntame Una Mujer Peligrosa, tierra 2010: poems, songs, and a little blood, and Pajarito, pajarito, régalame una canción. She passed away in Long Beach on July 31, 2012.  For more on tatiana and her work visit 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Jon Marcantoni - On Point and On Target

Jonathan Marcantoni is committed to Latinx literature, showcasing writers and has a lot of strong, and some would say, controversial opinions. (Perfect for La Bloga, right?) He's a Puerto Rican transplant to the West - living in Colorado. He definitely is all about pushing the envelope on what's considered Latinx literature, and has a critique of Latinx writers and the marketplace. Take a closer look at what he thinks and why. 

Jonathan Marcantoni is a Puerto Rican novelist and publisher of the recently created La Casita Grande Editores, an imprint of Black Rose Writing, which specializes in Latino and Caribbean literature. His books “Traveler’s Rest,” “The Feast of San Sebastian,” and “Kings of 7th Avenue” deal with issues of racial politics and corruption in both the Puerto Rican diaspora and on the island. “Tristiana,” due out in 2017, will be his first Spanish-language novel. Marcantoni’s work has been featured in the magazines Warscapes, Across the Margin, Minor Literatures, PANK, The New Engagement, and the news outlet Latino Rebels. 

Talk about your journey as writer, and then as editor. Describe the joys and challenges of both.

Man, well, that's a long story that starts with being a little kid of about six years old, and taking my first acting classes, and around that time, my dad was getting me into books. He as a big sci fi and horror fan, especially Stephen King. And he saw I was really into making up stories and creating characters, so when I was eight, he got me a computer program for young writers, and this was the early 90s, so it was a very rudimentary program, like a picture book, almost, and I would write vampire stories and stories about gypsies and things like that. 

But the first real thing I wrote was a theatrical adaptation of A Christmas Carol, which my drama teacher let me put on with the class. I was eight, maybe nine. Which is to say, writing was always tied to the theatre, or at the very least, performance, and that had the biggest impact on me up to today. I found at an early age I could write skits and monologues very quickly. I never had the anxiety about producing things, it just flowed from me. 

And as a teenager, my friends and I started our own theatre group, called Orwell's (after a multi-purpose café in downtown Augusta, GA, where I spent much of my teenage years), and I wrote my first two full length plays with them. We also did crazy things like doing car chases in residential areas and fight scenes in abandoned buildings. Jesus, it's amazing we weren't arrested. 

Even though I had written short stories as well, and poetry--reading Langston Hughes made me want to be writer. Him and Toni Morrison, more than anyone else, the music of their language inspired me like few other things did. And then I discovered Hubert Selby Jr. and stream of consciousness and other types of avant garde literature, but I didn't see those influences until much later, around the time I read Marquez's Autumn of the Patriarch, which also employs stream of consciousness, that I saw that was the way I wanted to write, and that it could be accessible. 

I wanted to be an actor, then a film director, spending time at a film school in Atlanta for a brief period. I was kicked out, to be honest, and then I found myself working three jobs and barely keeping a roof over my head, and so I didn't have the time or ability to dedicate myself to theatre and film, which both required me to have financial support. My home life wasn't good, I was already living away from that mess, and did not want to return. But then I ended up selling three short scripts to an independent studio in Atlanta and since I could write at any time and it would not interfere with supporting myself financially, and I was actually getting paid, so I dedicated myself to writing.

I still want to return to the stage, and my next full length work will be a play. I'm also trying to get film projects off the ground. In a sense I feel like an outsider in the writing world. I see myself as a performer first and foremost, and most writers are these introverted types or socially awkward types that I have never had much in common with. The writing world bothers me. I feel academia has too much of an influence. Most young writers have been taught horrible things about storytelling, and so much of my work involves re-teaching them about how to tell stories. The adventurous, vagabond history of writers has been lost to a stuffy, pretentious, upper class egotist version of "the writer" that is reprehensible to me. 

No wonder reading books isn't as popular as it used to be. Most books would benefit the world more if they were wallpaper. The fact that I navigate through a world where I don't fit in outside of the most anarchist elements of it, is probably my biggest struggle. I wish I could say that getting published was the hardest thing for me, but it wasn't. I first was published when I was 22. I wrote my first book at 21. Even though it took six years for that book to be released, by the time I turned 30 I had three books out and had edited an international essay anthology and was Editor in Chief of a publishing house (Aignos). 

I have been extremely fortunate, and it came down to people skills. I entered the publishing world by being an editor, which was another thing I fell into because i could make money at it, and being an editor has opened more doors for me than being a writer ever has. And the honest truth as to why that is, is that to editors, writers are suspect as people. A lot of editors look at writers as unruly children, while the editors are adults. And sadly, a lot of writers go out of their way to prove what unstable, mean, egotistical people they can be.They aren't the majority, I'd say its maybe 15%, but that 15% ruins it for everyone else. So the editor is the adult. I got my agent by being an editor. I got my first three book deals by being an editor. I got LCG because of my work as an editor. Editors have more clout, plain and simple.

But there is a sort of isolation, the writing world is full of people who really just talk to you if they think they can get some sort of professional advantage. Deep friendships that go beyond the professional, are pretty rare. You discover, especially as a gate keeper (editor), that a lot of writers are really just looking out for themselves. It is an industry that breeds desperation and competition above all else. For that reason, I count more actors, comedians, and chefs as my friends than I do writers.   

LCGE has a sharp analysis of the Latinx, the publishing industry and the stereotypes encountered by Latinx writer. Expound on that and discuss how that influences what you write personally, what you look for in submissions.

What I look for in my own work and I look for in submissions are two different things. What I write about it is very personal, coming from my own journeys in mind and in life. I have a great interest in power dynamics, social issues, and metaphysical questions of reality and meaning. But more than that, its my kind of storytelling, and when I review the work of others, I want to get a sense of their influences and their personality. I don't want to represent writers who are like me, what is the fun in that? 

I resent the terms Latino and Latinx, to me they are just left wing fascism. A way for supposedly progressive people to hole each other up into yet another tribe and question each other's purity to the cause. And what is the cause? It is an academic exercise in becoming white, in carving our space for the American Dream, which is a negation of our actual ethnic histories (as well as a blatant quest for wealth, to shed the "poverty" of Latin America). There is the misconception, which some Latinos, like Maria Hinojosa, fight against and she actually did a great piece in LatinoUSA about Latino conservatives, which highlights that the assumption that all brown and black people are liberal is this fabrication created by white people, but which many young Latinos (because they are ignorant, and older Latinos haven't bothered to educate them) latch onto, and then there are those Latinos who embrace that assumption. Yet so many brown so-called progressives are incredibly conservative, its frightening. 

So that whole scene I think is BS, and I want nothing to do with it. Like I've told others before, I use the term Latino in our publishing house just so white people know not to submit books to us. And that is it. But my writing and the writing I look for are, again, two different things. I don't want to sign books like mine, but what I do want are books that transcend or don't even care about this arbitrary, fictional group known as Latinos. For myself, I am a Puerto Rican writer, and I write from that perspective. The Bolivian dream has not succeeded, as beautiful as it may be. Being Puerto Rican is distinct, and that is to be celebrated. The same goes for every other nationality and group. What I look for at LCG, above all else, is whether the story I am reading is (1) entertaining, (2) marketable beyond a narrow "Latino" audience, and (3) I can't shake after reading. What I want these Latino writers to see is that great storytelling, while it may have a distinct cultural viewpoint, it speaks to something human and profound that goes beyond any one group. And what I have discovered in this past year is how so many writers find that refreshing, to be freed from the shackles of this group they never asked to be a part of. 

Discuss the tension between culturally-specific writing and universality of theme and message. How do you think the white, affluent controllers of canon affect and/or distort this?

The tension is that many of these writers have already been educated in a system where the tastes of the predominant culture has already affected them deeply. Most people who get into writing young, were first exposed in schools, some class, or a teacher, and they more than likely were not trying to get the student to look at things outside of the status quo. 
But I just want to take a time out to say that this kind of thing isn't inherently malicious. I think the online world (which is NOT the real world) and academia can make this sort of exposure into something sinister, when it really isn't. As a community, we have to recognize that we have left our native lands and are now a part of a society where we are not the dominant culture. While that may be malicious to some, it is just the reality. We are in a white man's world, and while racists exist and while the pressures of an industry that is infused with racism and misogyny and ignorance is a very real thing, most people operate on a level where those nefarious qualities are never considered. The academic world that is so aware of these currents and behaviors makes it seems like people are aware of what they doing, but the reality is that the "microaggressions" and dominant culture are very much sub-conscious. 

The thing is, as much as we can bash on Hollywood stereotypes and publishing industry pigeon-holing, and the complaints are legitimate, at the end of the day, if we are exposed to one way of doing things, then that is what we will gravitate toward. The same is true the world over. So what happens to a lot of people is that they gravitate toward one type of storytelling and they are guided in that way, and as they get older and perhaps more aware of their ethnic history, they become a bit more activist and "edgy", and then they become super self-conscious about what they are writing and it hurts the writing itself. Because the writing becomes about scoring points, politically, socially, especially within their group or tribe, and it stops being about telling a good poem or a good story, which is above all else, what it should be. 

But aside from that, if we are trying to fit into any sort of canon, whether white or Latino or whatever else, then we are sacrificing a crucial part of ourselves. You may start out wanting to be like your influences, but to truly grow as an artist is to be create work that influences others. That is inherently your own. The problem is that most people, of any ethnic background, are not looking at storytelling through that lens. They want to be somebody else because that somebody else got published. That leads to a lot of derivative literature, which is a virus to writers and disservice to readers. So the tension is partly what the industry demands and partly what we convince ourselves we should be. If we give in to our insecurities, then we lose, period. What makes great literature is the inherent humanity of the stories we tell, that should be the guiding principle, and while the industry does not reward that as consistently as it should, the industry does have room for people whose skills are so great, they cannot be ignored, either by the independent or the mainstream communities.

Who are other writers/presses you think get it right. What compels you/attracts you to a writer and their work? How does the LCGE Lounge fit into that? 

There are a lot of presses do the good work, such as ATM Publishing, C&R Press, Black Rose Writing (our parent company), Broken River Books, Jade Publishing, and a lot of others. The internet has allowed a lot of terrible crap to be passed off as literature, but it has also allowed many lovers of literature to really support up and coming writers of true talent. 

What compels me to a manuscript is the same as if I were searching through a bookstore: writing that makes me stop in my tracks and forces me to pay attention to the words the writer shares with me. I could say its the writer's sense of place, their use of dialogue, their characters, or it could just be the atmosphere they evoke. Like all other arts, there is something to a good writer that is inherent and has nothing to do with training. I have been blown away by people with zero formal education, just because they have a raw sense of how to tell a story. Like I remind audiences when I do events, storytelling is an oral/performative medium, writing was created in order to account for inventories. Writing is actually a terrible way to tell a story. Stories are meant to be interactive and performative, which fantasy and sci-fi writers understand but hardly anybody else does. 

The LCG Lounge was created because I recognized the narrowness of our mission. Population wise, there just aren't a lot of Latinos and Caribeños. The Lounge allows writers from all backgrounds to participate in our experiment. And my philosophy is that if I encounter an amazing writer, I will write a letter of recommendation to another publisher so this talented person can get the exposure they deserve. The Lounge allows us to take a more humanistic approach to publishing rather than being bound to a single ethnic group. 

What would you describe as the internal challenges of identity Latinx writers face - Given the complex nexus of race, class and culture in our multinational make up, how would describe the forces of internalized oppression on the creative process? What would you say is the responsibility of the writer/artist?

Those are very distinct questions. The responsibility of the writer/artist is whatever they decide to take on. There is a real value to escapist art. There is also a real value to socially conscious art. And a single artist can combine those two things. The responsibility of art of self expression. In truly oppressive societies, the ability to merely be oneself is criminal, and in supposedly free societies, the ability to express your point of view is freedom. The United States allows a vast array of opinions, but the majority of those opinions do not equate into power.

The internet allows for such an avalanche of opinion that opinion becomes fruitless and empty. We can have all the opinions we want, but at the end of the day, those opinions change very little about the world around us, and internet bubbles or community bubbles exacerbate that sense of our actions being worthless. This is the age of true existentialism, even moreso than after World War One, our opinions don't only not matter, but that worthlessness is replicated endlessly through online prisms that make us feel important while nothing we say makes a difference.

I think one of the cruelest things we teach young writers is that their opinions matter beyond their own group of friends. Young writers are taught that their words are needed or essential ("the world needs your stories") but the reality is that the world could care less. The people who run the world pay absolutely zero mind about what some teenager in Nowhere, America thinks. 

Young writers should be taught to be true to their own self expression without thoughts of fame or world changing. To express your truth should be enough. Anything more will only lead to disappointment and depression. 

So responsibility does not extend beyond being true to yourself and helping others any way you can. 

As for internal and systemic challenges that Latino authors face--well, that has a lot to do with peer pressure. Latino writers are highly susceptible to expectations from the larger publishing industry and from their own communities. The biggest challenge to overcome is to understand your place in this big, complex world outside of what others may expect of you. A lot of what we do when we adhere to the "Latinx" framework of what the industry or our own communities expect from us is we sacrifice a part of our actual selves.

Intersectionality, as overused as that term is, is accurate in pointing out how multiple factors influence us. I have a black Puerto Rican mother and a European Puerto Rican father, both of whom loved Motown and equal parts white and black and Puerto Rican culture, and I grew up mostly in the U.S. and most of my friends growing up were black and black culture influenced me more than Puerto Rican culture for many years and movies and plays influenced me as much as books and music, man, music influenced me most of all. 

And I grew up in an abusive household and many of my relatives are racist and misogynist and the Catholic religion influenced me a great deal -- all those things and more a part of who I am, and the same long list of influences effect everyone else, and when you encounter the expectations of an industry which could care less about you, you are faced with the pressure of changing yourself to fit that industry. Peer pressure is real and nefarious.

So you have a choice--be yourself or be something you are only marginally relatable to. That is the question all minority artists have to ask, and the truth is that there is no right answer. There is only the answer that is right for you. But figuring that out, embracing who you are, is a process with no one right answer. And we ought to respect the place that any member of our community takes. Because the Latinx community is much a club and a cult as the status quo. Both have limitations and benefits, and if we are truly progressive and inclusive, we would respect whichever route a person takes instead of demanding purity to a cause that is not inherent from ourselves but rather adopted.

I notice that, to date, there are no women published by your press. Speak to that.

This is not something I am proud of, and the LCG Lounge has been where we have most attacked this issue. In 2018, we will have three female writers: Venus Morales, Sarah Rafael Garcia, and Elaine Vilar Madruga. We only publish 4 to 5 books a year, and this contributes to some imbalances, which I nonetheless fight against. 

Being a new imprint, we sought out books from  people we knew, initially, and the person who had a complete book was a man, Fernando Sdrigotti, same with the second author, A.B. Lugo, and when I decided to make our first Spanish book be one I wrote, well we suddenly had three books by men. As a new company, we had to go with what what we could get. There were a lot of female writers we had our eyes on, but they did not have complete manuscripts. A lot of this industry is timing, and one reason why the Lounge felt necessary was that being a new press, with a narrow focus, we really didn't have a lot of people to choose from. According to the CIA, nearly half a billion people speak Spanish, and the number of people of Latino descent is around 500 million, but the number of those people who are writers is far smaller, maybe 1 million, more than likely but less than that. 
And their works in progress are in varying degrees of completion.

Then the fact that immigration, spirituality, and self help books make up a large portion of what women write about (many times due to industry expectations), which are all books we won't accept, then we will have a deficit of women,

But even at Aignos, I encountered a massive gap between how many women would submit books and how many women wanted to be editors. I have always hired more female editors versus female writers. But that is where the role of an advocate comes into focus. The advocate should not just be a supporter, a cheerleader, a gate keeper. The role of an advocate, as a man, is that when I sign a women, I teach them how to to be an advocate for themselves and other women, so that they can become a gatekeeper, so that when they help another female, it isn't due to a man giving them a chance, but rather that a woman gives them a chance, and that woman teaches them the ropes of the industry so that the following generation knows mostly of women given them chances. My being an advocate means nothing if men maintain the power. It has to be passed on. But the problem arises when men do not educate those who come after them.  We are, for now, the gatekeepers, so change has to come from the way we see our role.

So I have signed women, and I pushed men into 2019 publication dates so I could make 2018 a majority female year. Through the Lounge, we have actually published more female works than male, and this may be that many females who contact us just don't have complete manuscripts, and it may be that we are pushing for women in a narrow demographic to write things they aren't used to.writing about it, and that takes education as well. If we are gatekeepers, we have to educate others how we got to our position and how they fan take on that position. But it takes time.  

Tristiana, your novel,  addresses the body politic, what shapes it, coerces it, corrupts it. What do you see as its relevance? Why this particular theme for you? 

I feel that power and how power adapts to situations forms the basis of all culture. Our species is made up of winners and losers, the defeated and the victorious, and while it is morally satisfying for  the defeated to decry the victorious, if the shoe was not on the other foot, would we not do the same? So much of progressive doctrine is based on a world where we have not died for our beliefs, or killed for our beliefs, our beliefs are toothless, and I want to remind readers that the evil we like to point out in others exists in us as well. I want my readers to understand that our moral superiority is largely a fiction, we are just recreating the world in the same image, just maybe with a leader of s darker pigment. That is not real change. I believe to understand that is the lesson we have most overlooked in our community. 

How does the current situation in Puerto Rico influence you personally and creatively? 

The evolving and historical situation between the US and Puerto Rico effects me in terms of relatives and my personal feelings about what is happening on the island. That is a situation that worries me a great deal. I grew up in Puerto Rico as much as I did in the United States. The two were always present.

Creatively, the whole situation inspires me on a human level. What has happened in PR is not different from many other places in the world. So it inspires me how humanity is so different yet so much the same. We like to think there is a lot that separates us, but humans react to bad situations is largely the same ways. The whole scenario helps me see how we are connected. I feel that, and this also comes from my university studies of Greek theatre, we have not evolved a great deal over the last 10,000 years. We largely fight over the same things, and while Latino and Native activists like to blame everything on Europeans, the same patterns of oppression have been present in all people, the world over, as long as we can document. 

The whole situation makes me feel that there ar ebigger questions to ask than identity, or race, or tribe. Tradition is a prison, so why focus my creative energies on it. I should push myself beyond what is expected of me, and I push those I mentor to embrace the same mindset.

What is something not in the official bio? I am a strange mix of nerd and athlete. I love running and I love shows like Doctor Who and Star Trek. I am a foodie and a traveler, and it irks me to be placed into any sort of group.

LCG Press, an imprint of Black Rose Writing, a publishing house geared toward new and inventive Latino and Caribbean literature. 

We want genre books, literary fiction, avant garde poetry and narrative. 

We want to get away from traditional Latino subjects to instead promote literature that is universal and speaks to issues across cultures and ethnicities. 

We also seek to change the dynamic between publisher and author, where we place greater emphasis on professional development as well as creative development, enabling our authors to have the confidence and resources to reach a wider audience.

Tristiana: An imaginary corner of Latin America. A beautiful and violent land, where a group of men and women debate within the comfort of the world of ideas until they are confronted by the cruel reality of political violence. Revolutionaries who remind us of past figures (those who failed and those who succeeded). Colonial shadows hang over the proceedings. Enemies from within, ever-ready to hand over their people for a fist full of cash. The epic tale of these Tristianos, displayed in paintings and murals - whose lines reach out toward a past of struggle and dreams of a liberated future."

"I want the reader to question the nature of civilization and whether it truly protects us from natural forces or from ourselves. I want the reader to consider concepts like feminism and militarism and social justice and ask themselves whether we really want a different kind of world, or if we just want a world where us and our friends are in charge. Are we transforming power, or merely continuing the power dynamics we have always known?" - Jon Marcantoni

Join author Jonathan Marcantoni in the National Hispanic Cultural Center Library in Albuquerque, August 5th from 2 to 4 pm for an interactive reading event, drawing from the material in his books “Kings of 7th Avenue” and “Tristiana”. 



At the National Poetry Slam, 70-80 nationally ranked teams converge bring thousands of participants, fans and volunteers to one city for a week of celebration, competition, and powerful voices. Each team will compete at least twice; scores are calculated across the tournament, and at the end of the third night Semi-Finals and Group Piece Finals are known. 

After four Semi-Finals bouts, the winner of each moves to Finals, from which the champions are chosen. The prize for winning is giant sword-through-a-stack-of-books trophy along with a cash award. And more importantly, bragging rights.

I would be remiss if I didn't list the team that's competing from Albuquerque. (where I now hang my hat)

Marcial Delgado
Eva Marisol Crespin
Matthew Brown
Damien Flores
Mercedez Holtry

Coached by former Poet Laureate of Albuquerque - Jessica Helen Lopez

Now Available at
All Access Festival Passes – $75 
Save $10 with special early bird pricing when you purchase an all access Festival Pass before July 1st !

Semi- and Group Piece Finals – $25 (Early Bird)
17% savings with advance ticket purchase of Semi-Finals and Group Piece Finals. This offer will not be available at the door.

Semi-Final Bouts – $15 (a la carte)

Group Piece Finals – $15 (a la carte)cash award.

Friday, July 28, 2017

War Remembrances or Lack Thereof in New Orleans

Melinda Palacio

On top of what's left of the Jefferson Davis statue

As the toppling of the monuments became imminent, the city of New Orleans was overrun with people from out of the state, wielding guns, in the name of protecting the Civil War era monuments, including those of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, PT Beauregard and an obelisk commemorating Reconstruction Era white supremacist attacks on the city's integrated police force. I think everyone breathes a little easier now that the statue die-hards, as well as the statues themselves, are gone. I decided to do a little dance on the naked platform. Your guess is as good as mine as to what will top the empty platforms. 

Mayor Mitch Landrieu's speech on why this cause was so important to him and to the city of New Orleans can be read in its entirety in the New York Times. "These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized confederacy; ignoring the death; ignoring the enslavement, and the terror they actually stood for," Landrieu said. 

On Tuesday, I visited the National World War II Museum for a friendly competition titled, BB's Stage Door Canteen Idol.  The show is similar to American Idol, except singers perform songs that were written or recorded in the 1940s. The winners of each preliminary round will advance to perform in the finale on August 15 for a cash prize of $1, 000 and the title of Stage Door idol 2017. Similar to the American Idol tv show, the judges offered criticism and suggestions for improvement. Judges gave the contestants grief over everything from their choice of shoes to their choice of arrangement for the songs. 

I was surprised that they chose their youngest contestant, 14-year-old Hannah Bonnette, as the winner with her rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." A representative of the Stage Door Canteen told me over the phone that the judges actually voted for someone else. However, the young singer and smart young cookie brought 70 of her closest friends. The competition was judged by three judges, including the entertainment manager of the Saints, a voice teacher, and the producer from  Bustout Burlesque New Orleans. 

My vote went to my friend, Nancy Staggs. She's the reason I found out about this fun competition. Nancy was the total package when it came to 40's style and voice. She was pitch perfect and one of the judges compared her sound to Natalie Cole. She did an outstanding job, and I'm not just saying this because she's a friend, singing "Since I fell for You,"a song that requires a strong voice with lots of range. Standards and Blues are Nancy's strong suits. She's a natural. She was a very good sport about not winning the popular vote. "I am happy with my performance," she said. Nancy also says she will definitely compete next year. Somehow, the three judges were split, giving more weight to the audience's vote. Let's help Nancy bring more friends to next year's competition. 

Another contender was Kelly Dixon, who one of the judges dinged for wearing her glasses on stage. I think that's the only thing they could fault her for because she has a natural talent. She was pregnant and she sang the most soulful version of God Bless the Child. I would have been satisfied if either of these talented ladies would have won, especially, my friend Nancy. The Toulouse Quartet were also in the running (in my opinion). The judges dinged them for wearing black character shoes and for not relating to the audience. They sang a local favorite, "You Are My Sunshine," and their arrangement and harmony made me want to sign up and sing in a quartet.  

The winner, Hannah Bonnette. Judges compared her to a Disney princess.

Nancy Staggs, a professional singer judges compared to Natalie Cole.

Kelly Dixon

Toulouse Quartet

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Confirmation Dress

Daniel Cano

I wanted to know what my mother remembered of Mexico or at least what she had heard about it. She was born in Santa Monica, California, in 1926. She told me that she thought her mother had taken her twice to visit the family ranch in Mexico as a child. Then she went again, reluctantly, in her late teens, after spending three years in Olive View Hospital.

When she was about thirteen, my mother was misdiagnosed with tuberculosis. In the 1940s, doctors didn’t always take the time necessary to examine children carefully or correctly diagnose the disease that afflicted so many poor, young Mexican, and lower-class kids. Considered a highly contagious disease, many children and adults ended up in sanitariums, isolated from society.

Complete and total rest in a dry climate was the most common cure. My mother told me, “What should have been my best years of my life, I spent at Olive View.” Then thinking, she added, “It wasn’t until I was an adult that a doctor who examined my lungs told me, I’d never had tuberculosis. The doctors had made a mistake.”

When she was finally released from Olive View, she tried to make up for lost time. She finished high school, worked at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills, went to dances, movies, and beach parties. Mexico or her parents' lives in Mexico were the furthest things from her mind, so when her brother Chuy invited her to visit the family ranch in Mitic, Jalisco, she answered with an emphatic, "No!”
She was about eighteen or nineteen years-old at the time. Chuy was relentless. He insisted, but she had no interest in going to Mexico or in visiting family she didn’t even know. But her oldest brother persisted. She knew he had sacrificed for the family. He left school to work and help support his mother, brother, and sisters after their father’s, untimely, death.

She remembered, “We all worked, but my brother Chuy would leave home, go work in other states, and send my mother his check, every week.”

Her father, Nicolas, was in his forties when he contracted emphysema after working for years in Santa Monica’s brickyards.

My father once told me, “In those days, they didn’t wear masks or any type of protection. They worked in clouds of red dust all day with just hankies over their noses and mouths. They didn’t know they were breathing in pieces of brick. Over time, their lungs just disintegrated. They ended up choking to death.”

My uncle Chuy finally convinced her. Who knows what he promised her. As she spoke to me, and thought about it, she came to realize, as if working through a math problem: "Chuy, my brother," she said, chuckling, "had lived in Mitic for a few years. He had a girlfriend there. I didn't know then, and he didn't want my mom to know, and he was taking my mom with him. I guess he figured I could keep my mother distracted while he went to see his girlfriend. But, I think he had a baby, too. He might have even been married but nobody really knew. My brother was private."

Mitic, was a once thriving village until revolutions, revolts, and draughts devastated most of it, sending the people fleeing to San Juan, Aguascalientes, and the United States, many to Santa Monica, where the people from Los Altos de Jalisco had already settled in and around Pico Boulevard and 20th Street, going back to the late 1800s.

I visited Mitic in 2012 and my elder cousin Francisco, and his family still own and work the ranch. The old adobes are gone, replaced by a modern brick home, cows, and the automatic milking machines. In the distance, corn fields and trees cover the hills. Other dairy and cattle ranches dot the landscape. A small river runs adjacent to the property. It is a beautiful ranch, but still, even today, it was a jarring half-hour taxi ride over a pot-holed dirt road from San Gaspar, the closest town. I can only imagine what my mom endured in 1946.

At 18, my mother was fully Americanized and not a hint of Mexican ranch life in her. She wore slacks and blouses, Rita Haworth-style, at a time when ranch women in Mexico wore long, dark dresses down to their ankles.

"They were so poor," she said, referring to her relatives living in Mitic. "All they had to offer us were cooked beans and a little soup."

As my mother spoke, it was as if she had transported herself back into time. She was a teenager again. She said that while her mother stayed with relatives in San Juan, she decided to rough it and stay on the ranch with a young cousin, Patricia, whom she had met.

By the 1940s, the village was nearly deserted, the dirt streets empty, and many of the adobe homes decaying. Mitic had fallen onto difficult times.

"I had to sleep on…not even a bed. It was like a cot, and it nearly rested on the dirt floor."
She told me the house was old, made of adobe and in poor condition. At night when she tried to sleep, she could hear scampering in the house followed by banging noises. Sometime in the early morning, she opened her eyes and saw the face of a large rat staring back at her. She realized the rats were everywhere. It terrified her. The next day she told her mother she could not stay in that house another night. "I felt so bad because I had planned on staying a few nights, but the next day I packed up and left."

What made her departure worse was that she and her cousin Patricia had formed a bond. My mother remembered, “She was about fifteen and very pretty…a beautiful girl."

Patricia asked my mother to stay for her confirmation ceremony, which was coming up soon. My mother said Patricia had confided in her, saying she had nothing nice to wear for the confirmation.
Reluctantly, my mother left the ranch. She and my grandmother stayed with their cousins in San Juan de Los Lagos, while my uncle stayed at the ranch. At the time, San Juan was already a small city and a holy site for hundreds of thousands of pilgrims throughout Mexico who traveled there by bus, car, and on foot. The great Mexican writer Juan Rulfo captured the mystique of San Juan in a short story “Talpa” in his collection “The Burning Plains and Other Stories.”

My mother said her family in San Juan was middle-class. She remembered that one of her aunts was a teacher and college educated, but still their home was very modest. The children, her cousins, all played musical instruments, and she described them as "average" referring to their income. “They were all very friendly but didn’t have much.”

After leaving San Juan, they went to visit relatives in Aguascalientes, a major city, and back in the 40s, hours from San Juan. "Those relatives who lived in Aguascalientes were very, very wealthy."
My mother described how my grandmother's sister had married a banker. The family owned a house with many rooms, the floors covered in Saltillo stone, a courtyard and fountain, and maids to care for the children. These relatives, my mother remembered, were very polite and friendly but a bit reserved, and they were wealthier and more refined than any of the relatives that had come to the U.S., including her own.

As soon as my mom arrived home to Santa Monica, she excitedly told her mother she wanted to buy Patricia a confirmation dress. My mother said she picked the prettiest one she could find. She hoped the dress would fit. She and her cousin were about the same size. She wrapped it, took it to the post office, and sent it to Patricia. She wanted it to surprise her younger cousin.

A few months passed. She heard nothing from Patricia or her parents. Then, after what seemed a long time, my mother received a letter from Patricia's parents. They wrote, telling my mother how much Patricia loved the dress. However, Patricia had become ill not long after my mother’s departure. After a little time, Patricia grew worse, and she died. They thanked my mother for the dress and told her their daughter looked beautiful wearing the dress in the casket.

As she told me this, my mother looked at me and said, her voice cracking, "It was so sad."
I think there was a little tinge in her voice, as if saying, “So you want to know what it was like in Mexico and why our family came to the United States?”

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Telegramas al cielo/ Telegrams to Heaven

Written by René Colato Laínez
Illustrated by Pixote Hunt

Luna’s Press Books

(415) 260-7490

I am happy to present my new book Telegramas al cielo/ Telegrams to Heaven. Probably you know about Oscar Arnulfo Romero, the archbishop, who spoke for his people during the civil war in El Salvador. In Telegrams to Heaven, you will discover Oscar Arnulfo Romero, the boy, who has a dream to accomplish. 

As a Salvadoran, it is an honor to present the childhood of Oscar Arnulfo Romero to our niños. They also have dreams to accomplish.

* * *

Telegrams to Heaven recounts the moving childhood of Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez, who from an early age discovers the candor, light and power of the word, which he uses to pray and to write poetry, sending telegrams to heaven from
his heart. René Colato Laínez, the renowned Salvadoran writer, has written a touching story about the great Salvadoran prophet who dreamed from his childhood of being a priest, and became not only a priest, but also a bishop, an archbishop, and the great orator of his country. His word remains, for the Salvadoran people and the world—a prayer, a poem, a sweet telegram that Archbishop Romero continues to send in the name of his people to the heart of heaven. The colorful, modern illustrations of Pixote Hunt make us reflect with deep tenderness, showing us the innocence of the great Archbishop Romero as a young child.

Telegramas al Cielo narra la conmovedora niñez de monseñor Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez, quien desde muy temprana edad descubre la candidez, la luz y la fuerza de la palabra, la cual utiliza para rezar y escribir poesía, para desde su corazón enviar telegramas al cielo. El afamado escritor salvadoreño, René Colato Laínez, ha escrito una enternecedora historia del gran profeta salvadoreño que soñó desde su infancia con ser sacerdote y no solo lo fue, sino que también se convirtió en monseñor, obispo, arzobispo y el gran orador de su país. Su palabra permanece entre el pueblo salvadoreño y el mundo: como un rezo, como un poema, como un dulce telegrama que monseñor Romero sigue enviando, en nombre de su pueblo, al corazón del cielo. Las modernas y coloridas ilustraciones de Pixote Hunt, nos hacen reflexionar con profunda ternura, al mostrarnos la inocencia del pequeño gran monseñor Romero.