Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Havana Libre Noir. Facebook Clunk. News 'n Notes. On-line Floricanto.

Patriots, Terrorists, Médecin-Spy Malgré Lui 

Review: Robert Arellano. Havana Libre. NY: Akashic Books, 2017. ISBN 9781617755835 1617755834
Michael Sedano

“Gusano” is one of those cuss words that sounds as ugly as the odio it expresses toward upper- and middle-class Cubanas Cubanos who fled Fidel’s revolution. Gusanos got out with burning resentment and all they could carry off the island. They landed in Miami and turned South Florida into the richest city in Latin America. That burning resentment led some to finance terrorism back on the island. And they call themselves gusanos, like that’s a good thing.

Back on the island, the abandoned gente adjusted to decades of hard times. A materialist would say a medical doctor in Havana earned less than a Miami taxi driver. That doctor might be an entitled pig like the director of a certain pediatric clinic, or a dedicated medical professional working at street level, seething at rationed medical supplies, lazy colleagues, an uncaring government.

That’s background for the events that unfold in Havana and Miami in 1997. Manolo, the doctor with the red lunar and open heart, is the main character of Arellano’s arresting Havana Lunar. Reading that one enhances reading Havana Libre, since the narrator alludes to information from that book multiple times. Ni modo. Read Havana Libre then read Havana Lunar. The two are equally fun, and isn’t that one reason to read espionage thrillers?

Other reasons to seek out your local bookseller, or the publisher direct route, include Havana Libre’s employment, with attribution, of a James Bond trope requiring capture torture hopelessness, followed by a deus ex machina escape and rescue. Despite its excitement, Arellano’s moments of brilliance will slow down appreciative readers. The writer’s landscapes make for superb experiences in irony and sardonic wit. Arellano grows especially evocative capturing the astonishment of an FOB, a rube in wonderland, that no one else notices the quotidian excess in la Yuma.

Readers need to be on their guard not to miss Arellano’s metaphor comparing liberation from abusive marriage to joining the gusanos in la Yuma. One of the supporting characters, Mercedes, a beauty from Manolo’s own rural hometown, threw herself into the wilds of the big city. When Dr. Manolo helps her get a job at the Havana Libre hotel, she reflects on her state.

Had she made a difficult choice? Yes. Did it involve what might be seen as a betrayal? Maybe. She was not able to conceive it but otherwise. It was a sacrifice for the well-being of the child. If she had not been in love with him once, she would not be here now. If he had not become abusive and that as such unrecognizable from the man she once loved, she could not have made the decision. But that did not mean that she couldn’t tell her daughter someday about her father. She could tell her about the one that her mother had loved. 235.

There’s purity in Mercedes’ spirit and appreciation of Love. Substitute “Cuba” for “him” and Arellano is arguing that defection makes a perversion of patriotism, yet the abusive power of the state and its endless “special periods” of deprivation influence a desperate person’s justification to abandon  home, family, friends. Mercedes looks to birth and motherhood, the old and new Cuba. The gusano looks to blow up buildings back there.

Betrayal, treachery, patriotism, loyalty, these are the coin of exile and the underpinnings of many novels of the Cuban diaspora. Arellano uses them without naming them, building a plot mixing the doctor's defection in Miami where he will infiltrate the terrorist organization bombing tourist places in Havana. One is Manolo's father, a gusano who fled alone decades before. Son intends to betray the father. The father has already betrayed la patria and la familia, now his betrayal of the stranger-son will cost lives.

Readers may be cruising along through the pages--Havana Libre is an engrossing story--thinking how you gonna keep him down on the farm, now that he's seen Miami? There’s lots of envy in that cynical eye the doc casts on aisles packed with merchandise, the money thrown down for lunch that would feed a neighborhood for a week back on the block, the existence of food. In Miami, Mercedes waits an hour for a scoop of low-grade vanilla ice cream.

Why go back to that crap, especially since Cuban secret service set Manolo up such good cover documents that defecting-in-fact would be a walk in the park, for a traitor.

But just as that unspoken plot twist seems imminent, Arellano pulls a fast one and has the terrorist Mendoza easily discover Manolo’s deception. He's not a spy, he's a sucker. And naive. No one is anonymous in this neighborhood, especially the new guy on the block identified in the chisme stream as the defecting homeboy.

Wrapping the novel in a James Bond secret agent pastiche propels the reader through the plausible and implausible, stupid captors, pain thresholds, the rescue and debriefing back in Havana, sans a roll in the saddle with some jinetera. But then, the alluring shrink makes an offer Manolo won't refuse.

Thousands of lives could have perished along with the Havana Libre hotel, but thanks to the doctor's patriotism, the plot failed. The perverted patriotism of the gusano foiled, the Salvadoran bombers captured, and in his wake, a large ambiguity back in Miami, the father-son plot in abeyance. Could be worth a third novel in the series. I'd like to see it.

I have one problem with the novel, its indecision on what expressions to translate and what to let speak for themselves. I hope it’s a heavy-handed mildly xenophobic editor insisting on these dilatory impositions on the flow of the story. They do nothing to build ambience and ethos. Code-switching has uses in the community that a novel ought to respect consistently. While there are some expressions that can be said only in the one language, Arellano or the faceless editor need respect other expressions and let them be. Whomever does it, there's preference for appositional translation, saying something in Spanish then a comma and the equivalent in English. Gente talk like this, but there's a grammar to it that does not demand automatic immediate translation.

But then, the imposition of English upon the Cubano's Spanish thoughts and encounters, is far from consistent.

In one case, the bomber speculates on glitches in his effort. If confronted he plans to leverage intimidation, useful with battered employees like these in Castro's showcase tourist hotel. The plan is wreak emotional terror by “exhibiting the usual signs of a burgeoning complaint. ¿Como te llamas? ¿Hace cuánto trabajas aquí? ¿Quien es el manager?” 243

Back in Miami, a few pages on, Manolo’s gusano father code-switches a farewell, but the editor or writer doesn’t trust the reader to survive without translation, electing instead of apposition, as if the character code-switched in conversation, we get a separate sentence. Because the reader wouldn’t get it otherwise?

I am going to speak with the American doctor and explain how you defected and chose not to go to the conference. Y quiero que sepas algo antes de irme.” I want to tell you something before I leave.245

The tactic makes little sense considering a putative readership. Gente interested in Cuban literature are gente in all likelihood with linguistic resources equal to the sentences provided. For the yanqui reader slumming in unaccustomed literature, foreignness is what they seek, foreign is what they get. Missing a phrase here or there adds to the ambience of the novel and a reader's understanding of  characters. Arellano's pointed descriptions of how crummy conditions are in Vedado, his elegant expressions capturing the immigrant’s disgust at consumerist excess, are bonuses. Even if you hated Fidel, you will be happy you read Havana Libre and will seek Arellano's two other novels.

Don’t come to Havana Libre expecting a thorough bashing of the Cuban revolu, though the title is a backhand of sorts. The rum coke and lime drink is called a "Cuba Libre," except in Cuban bars where it's called "Una Mentirita." But this novel isn't about a political Havana libre, nor an eponymous hotel. El pueblo keeps Manolo going, it's an evocation of revolutionary zeal but also the doctor's commitment; things are tough, but they're equally tough for us all. Keep going.

For soft-pedaled bashing, visit Miami. It's a disgusting culture which the denizens--exiles, gusanos, second generation--don’t see it anymore, they don't see much, whizzing past in their SUV. The cultura of Manolo’s neighborhood is warm, human, time-immemorial, and Mercedes might be in his future, he can take her for a ride in his Lada. Who wouldn’t go back?

Not that Havana Libre is for the quotidian reader. Reading it is reserved for people seeking interesting information about Cuba and insight into an immigrant’s culture shock upon landing on dry land. Robert Arellano writes for people who like excellent writing, who prefer a writer delve into important ideas rather fluff up a novel with a lot of bang-bang padding.

Brooklyn's Akashic Books is taking discounted orders (link) for the book in anticipation of a December release. Early December arrival will be just in time for the stocking stuffers your loved ones so enjoy, that you're known for. Havana Libre is sure to become the hit of the season's loot for those certain readers on your list.

Facebook & Things That Go Bump In the Night

I suppose I should track it for frequency, but Facebook has been declaring itself convinced that links to daily La Bloga columns are verboten potted meat product and erased from the entire universe that is Facebook.

This has been going on for months, so it's not a perverse social media version of "trick or treat." Notices arrive in spates. One week is wiped out. Then another, another, until a month and a half disappears from La Bloga's postings on Facebook. Everyone's silenced, La Bloga, the individual writers, Friends and Friends of Friends who attempt to share the post. Banned.

There's a process. I read the manual. I say "no, La Bloga is not spamming its Friends and Friends of Friends." El Faisbuk thanks me for letting Fb know and promises to investigate.

A few days later a slew of Fb notifications scolls down my screen. Click the link. Absolution, the only Penance is we'll go through the same rigmarole next month.

Odd, que no?

La Bloga approaches our fourteenth year of regular dispatches to millions of eyes over those years. Gente worldwide interested in Chicana Chicano, Latina Latino Literature, Cultura, y más find La Bloga useful. Facebook regularly says we're spam.

Facebook is not La Bloga. The "F" word owns social media; its penetration of the churn of ideas makes it important, but merely a place to share links to La Bloga dailies. It's irritating that a central hub of exchange operates clunky, but so it goes.

Gente who share La Bloga with friends get the same "you're blocked, pendeja pendejo" message. It's not you, it's them. Use the process. Click the link and tell the Face you don't share spam.

I hope you have a bookmark (Command + D / Control + D) making La Bloga a click away on a regular basis, a useful pause on your daily trip along the information highway. If not, te invito.

Mail Bag
Chicago • This Week, Wine Snacks and Gente
La Bloga featured New Mexico sculptor Luis Tapia in August (link), a month before his survey show Borderless closed in Long Beach. A thematic assemblage of of Tapia's work is on display in Chicago through April 15. Don't think that's a lot of time to get to the show. Tempus fugit. And if you have time this week, attending a gallery opening will liven up anyone's day.

Luis Tapia: Sculpture as Sanctuary Opens on October 27th

You're invited to the opening reception of Luis Tapia: Sculpture as Sanctuary on Friday, October 27, 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm at the National Museum of Mexican Art.

For many, sanctuary can signify a holy place, a refuge, a ritual, a haven, or an oasis. It can also mean home, family, community, religion, and identity. The exhibition, "Luis Tapia: Sculpture as Sanctuary" engages and critiques contemporary global themes of Sanctuary and highlights the hand-carved masterworks by Luis Tapia (b.1950), a Chicano artist from Nuevo México.

Tapia and Tey Marianna Nunn, Ph.D. and curator from National Hispanic Cultural Center, Albuquerque, NM, will be joining us for the evening for an artist talk and tour in the Torres Gallery. Plus, Tapia will be signing his book, "Borderless The Art of Luis Tapia".

RSVP for the opening reception via Facebook (link).

Exhibition continues through April 15, 2018.

Chicago Chicano Shakespeare Theater Closing Amarillo Soon

Last Chance to See Amarillo

Chicago Shakespeare Theater is proud to present one of México's most celebrated theater ensembles, Teatro Línea de Sombra, as part of the inaugural Chicago International Latino Theater Festival, Destinos.

A man departs México for a land of dreams: Amarillo, Texas-but vanishes before reaching his destination. Far away, a woman reconstructs his journey, imagining what might have transpired not only for him, but for the thousands of other faceless men and women who have taken the same path-and for those who were left behind. Combining stunning multimedia projections, visceral imagery and poetic storytelling, the production is a rich theatrical meditation on the harsh realities faced by immigrants and their families. This production is presented in Spanish with projected English subtitles.

Playing in The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare, October 17-29, 2017, on Navy Pier (link)

Los Angeles
Los Angeles Theater Center Launches Encuentro De Las Américas

In a massive undertaking, Los Angeles' raza teatro brings top American theater to eager audiences. Fourteen productions across three weeks in the high-tech auditoriums of the LATC. Here's a link to the playbill. The festival includes several performances by Culture Clash, always a highlight of any theatre season.

Click here for details on the festival and tickets to Culture Clash. (link)

Penultimate Week of the Year's Antepenultimate Month On-line Floricanto
Txai Frye , Odilia Galván Rodríguez, Paul Portuges , Andrea Mauk, Garrett Murphy

“Cultural Awakening” By Txai Frye
“Painted Face” By Odilia Galván Rodríguez
“Gun” By Paul Portuges
“The Complete and Utter Failure of CNN” By Andrea Mauk

Cultural Awakening
By Txai Frye

Yesterday was the 49th anniversary of the iconic Black Power salute protest in Mexico City at the 1968 Olympics by John Carlos and Tommie Smith (10/16/68) …reminded me of this poem I wrote a while ago.

Fist held high
above my nappy head
like John Carlos
at the Mexico City Olympics
promulgating my defiant stance
refusing to goose step to your
non-rhythmic beat
taking one last look around
at the rapidly shrinking world
blinded by whitewashed sensibilities
the nostrils of my broad nose
flare angrily and my full lips
draw sneeringly back as my mind
prepares to regurgitate
the venomous poison
you forced fed me
in your second rate
excuses for schools
deciding that I shall no longer be
the sycophantic drone
that you want me to B
I am going 2 B the weak link
in your chain of fools
unleashing my warehoused aspirations
by embracing the knowledge
I culled from reading

...an activity you once labeled illegal
for me to do...
No longer will you B
able to hide anything
from me by putting it in a book.
I and so many like me
have stealthily entered
thru the hallowed portals
of Garden of Eden like
bibliotecques snatching down
the forbidden fruit that dangles
biting into it and allowing
the juices to saturate my mind
as the figurative fig leaf
falls away revealing what
was always there for me to see.
I realize that this is one appetite
that will never be sated
as the world opens up
and I travel through time and space
experiencing the mysteries of Egypt,
the vast riches of Africa...the pain
and suffering of my ancestors...
and so many other things...
As I cloak myself within my own proud
cultural coat of Black heritage.

h. Txai Frye - is a poet/open mic artist, whose passion is to write and read his poetry at various open forum venues. He is unpublished but currently working on a collection of poetry entitled, “Funk Epiphanosis.” Some of his poems have been featured on online poetry sites, and he was included in an anthology, “The Bronx Files, Contemporary Poetry from the Bronx,” with other poets whose lives were affected by growing up in the Bronx.
He has been involved with Green Earth Poets Café, a Brooklyn, NYC based nonprofit poetry organization promoting literacy, self-confidence, communication, community, and educational development among young people since its inception in 2013. h. Txai Frye has also participated in panel discussions involving unjust incarceration of our youth and other minorities. He is currently counseling a small group of aspiring poets on performance techniques in association with the NYC Queens Library – Lefrak City branch.

Painted Face
By Odilia Galván Rodríguez

dedicated to the women of Juarez who’ve lost their lives at the hands of monsters who think women are objects to be owned, used, and abused. Ni Una Mas!

She no longer paints her face
no foundation
no new love blush
she's even stopped
tweezing her eyebrows
lipstick an occasional
smear of lip-gloss
she wears for protection
on those devil desert nights
when the cold wind kicks up
the fecal speckled dust
that turn her eyes
angry-red and teary
as she walks home from work
at the maquila in the FTZ*
tumbleweed and trash passes
her on the streets
while the bitter winds
seem to slash up the town
she is alone and hurries home...

She no longer paints her face
because he always wanted her that way
never wanted her
to leave the house with him
without being bien arreglada
he’d admire her and say,
so feminine ~ so beautiful
this mask he loved so much and
wanted only for himself

The first time he slapped her
they were in the street outside
the restaurant where he’d taken her
for some drinks and a good dinner

The owner, who said his name was Manuel
had come over to their table
to say hello and make small talk
he’d addressed most of his words to her man
but had politely gazed over at her and asked,
como estas señora?
she’d responded with a faint smile
a subtle nod of her head

Then, after he left, her man asked
How do you know him?
Why do you think he came over to our table?
Did you motion him over?
Are you sure you don’t know him?
You did pick the restaurant ...
Is that why?

She had been too shocked to respond
all through the interrogation
all she’d wanted
was for him to stop
to eat their meal in peace
to converse about their day
to stop embarrassing them
who was this man anyway?

When Manuel brought over the check
instead of their server
her man looked at her,
the devil in his eyes
then said, go and wait for me


she couldn’t really hear what was being said
the owner’s face got very red, his hands
desperate fists at his side, then gesturing
for this crazed man to leave
his place of business

while other patron’s eyes
followed him as he stalked off
through the door
he kept shouting, This, isn’t over yet
when he got out to the sidewalk
where she was waiting
he slapped her so hard
she not only saw stars
but his hand
left an ugly tattoo
on her beautifully
made up face.
*FTZ: Fair Trade Zone

Odilia Galván Rodríguez, poet, writer, editor, educator, and activist, is the author of six volumes of poetry, her latest, The Nature of Things, a collaboration with Texas photographer, Richard Loya, by Merced College Press 2016. Also, along with the late Francisco X. Alarcón, she edited the award-winning anthology, Poetry of Resistance: Voices for Social Justice, University of Arizona Press, 2016.  This poetry of witness anthology, the first of its kind, because it came about because of the on-line organizing work of Alarcón, Galván Rodriguez, and other poet-activists which began as a response to the proposal of SB 1070, the racial profiling law which was eventually passed by the Arizona State Legislature in 2010, and later that year, HB 2281which bans ethnic studies. With the advent of the Facebook page Poets Responding (to SB 1070) thousands of poems were submitted witnessing racism, xenophobia, and other social justice issues which culminated in the anthology.

Galván Rodríguez has worked as an editor for various print media such as Matrix Women's News Magazine, Community Mural's Magazine, and Tricontinental Magazine in Havana, Cuba. She is currently, the editor of Cloud Women’s Quarterly Journal online; facilitates creative writing workshops nationally, and is director of Poets Responding to SB 1070, and Love and Prayers for Fukushima, both Facebook pages dedicated to bringing attention to social justice issues that affect the lives and wellbeing of many people and encouraging people to take action. Her poetry has appeared in numerous anthologies, and literary journals on and offline.

As an activist, she worked for the United Farm Workers of America AFL-CIO, The East Bay Institute for Urban Arts, has served on numerous boards and commissions, and is currently active in Women’s organizations whose mission it is to educate around environmental justice issues and disseminate an indigenous world view regarding the earth and people’s custodial relationship to it. Odilia Galván Rodríguez has a long and rich history of working for social justice in solidarity with activists from all ethnic groups.

By Paul Portugés

the bullets had his face in the dove of his blood he begged God to take the
soul from his body so he wouldn't cry about his exile from time
he thought of all the empty shoes in his closet

all that was left were the ashes of a solitary bird he worried they wouldn't spell his name right feared forever and the shattered light without love
while bullets crushed their sorrows into stones into dust

he couldn't feel his face as they joined the club of funerals all the cells became embers as he saw a star in his hand
he thought about his mother whom he loved like a mountain
he'll never forgive the shooter for forcing them past the door of chains

he swore he could smell snow as he watched his garden green heard mourning doves cry out his name on a t.v. screen

Paul Lobo Portugés-- Taught creative writing at UCSB, UC Berkeley, USC, SBCC, Cuesta College,, and the University of Provence. Books include Sorrow and Hope, Breaking Bread, The Visionary Poetics of Allen Ginsberg, Saving Grace, Hands Across the Earth, The Flower Vendor, Paper Song, Aztec Birth, The Body Electric Journal, The Silent Spring of Rachel Carson, and Ginsberg: On Tibetan Buddhism, Mantras, and Drugs. Poems are scattered in small magazines (Hambone, Chelsea, River Styx) and anthologies (El Tecolote, Overthrowing Capitalism, The Asian Writer, Naropa Anthology, Spectrum--So Cal Poets Anthology), across the Americas, Europe, Latin America, and Asia. Wrote a few films including The Look of Love. Behind the Veil, Shakespeare's Last Bed, Fire From the Mountain. Poetry videos include To My Beloved, Kiss, The Lonely Wind, Lovers, Of Her I Sing, Fathermine, Stones from Heaven, The Killing Fields of Darfur, Who on Earth. Received awards from the National Endowment, the Ford Foundation, the Fulbright Commission.

The Complete and Utter Failure of CNN
By Andrea Mauk

Almost a day like any other
In a city built on top of another
The novelist sits at his desk
In his 4th floor apartment
Stuck for a word,
The reporter takes notes for his story
Over pan y cafecito, strong with canela,
As he watches college students with
South African accents
Practice their Spanish and
Dance down the street
Towards the Frida Kalho.

Church bells compete with
The traffic that rattles and honks
Without rest,
As voices rise up asking
The question of the day.
Do you remember?
¿Te recuerdas?
It depends on a person's age,
I've found,
As to whether they have
Their own memories or
Recollections borrowed from
News clips
And retellings.

The domestic workers
Return from the markets
With bags of fresh frutas y verduras.
To the buildings on the plaza,
Where they will turn on
Their novelas and begin to
Prepare la cena
For their employers who
Work in the tall office buildings
En el Distrito,
A place they almost never go.

The tourists take pictures
of pre-Colonial art and
Archetypal colonial architecture
With long-lensed Nikons,
Their appreciation unaware
Of charged politics and
Bloody history.
They only see the beauty
Of things, but seem
Oblivious to the people,
The foot traffic of everyday living.
The workers with lunch pails,
The woman hawking tamales,
The children's voices
carried from the playground
Across the boulevard.

The siren sounds
And the first reaction is to freeze,
Then to panic,
Then to reason,
They've already completed the drill.
It must be a mistake.
Then the blindness, the blur
Running for the street
As the sound of the rumbling
Rises up from the deep.
Maybe it is our fault,
We are being punished
for our corruption
In the government,
For those that worship
Narco saints,
A wake-up call to the world,
History does repeat itself,
Or maybe it is
the ancestors,
Tall and strong and
Very angry,
Trying to rise up through
the rubble...

Oh, the rubble,
The rocking ground,
The roar below,
The buildings crashing to the ground,
The CNN reporter
Uses the phrase, "Pancaked."
And suddenly I realize
Not everyone exited.
There are mattresses
Tumbling down,
And it's worse in Puebla,
Devastation in Oaxaca,
Still shaking in Chiapas,
Which I understand
At some peripheral level,
But I realize in that moment
That I am the most selfish person
In the world
Because you are supposed to be
In Mexico City,
And amongst the nine million,
The shrieks and wails and terror,
CNN has not managed
To pick you out of the crowd
And train the camera
On your face.

Andrea García Mauk grew up in Arizona, where both the immense beauty and harsh realities of living in the desert shaped her artistic soul. She calls Whittier, CA. home. She sells real estate, fights against gentrification, and teaches theatre there. She has also lived in Chicago, New York and Boston. She has worked in the music industry, and on various film and television productions. She writes short fiction, poetry, original screenplays and adaptations, writes and produces plays for children, and has completed two novels. Her writing and artwork has been published and viewed in a variety of places such as on The Late, Late Show with Tom Snyder; The Journal of School Psychologists and Victorian Homes Magazine. Both her poetry and artwork have won awards. Several of her poems and a memoir are included in the 2011 anthology, Our Spirit, Our Reality, and her poetry ishas been featured in Hunches de Poesia and in several issues of Mujeres de Maiz “‘Zine.” Her poetry is also published in Poetry of Resistance: Voices for Social Justice and Sonadores: We Came to Dream. She has also been a moderator of Diving Deeper, an online workshop for writers, and has written extensively about music, especially jazz, while working in the entertainment industry. She has a cookbook project on the back burner. When she is not writing, she loves to take road trips, sing in front if an audience, and spend time with her dogs and horse.

By Garrett Murphy

Showoffs display in-air hubris.
They hijack the skies
for the usual egomania
of the ugliest of US
while they fancy themselves starring
in some remake of Top Gun.
All sane moods end up feeling
many shades of…
So why the name of “Angels?”
What did you expect
for them to dub themselves?

Garrett Murphy is well-known in the Bay Area poetry scene as a political and human nature satirist. He lives in Oakland, CA, and has written several chapbooks of poetry and prose, The Ugly Salon and Other Stories(short fiction), Now Showing (poetry and fiction), the novel Yang But Yin: The Legend of Miss Dragonheel, and, most recently, What We Claim...What We Are (poems and stories, in which "Why We Call Them the Blue Angels" also appears). He has also had works published in theSacred Grounds Anthology, the New Now Now New Millennium Turn-On Anthology, Street Spirit, and At Home in the Land of the Dead, among others.

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