Thursday, October 18, 2018

Portrait of a "Bonus Baby"

    Daniel Cano                                                                        
Richard "Buzz" Hernandez
1958, my cousin appears confident in his Orioles uniform, a wide smile on his handsome face, the Stockton sun beating down on him. He is on one knee. A baseball bat rests on his thigh, his left hand lightly holding the Louisville slugger, the index finger and thumb of his right hand point to the meat of the bat, the part that will get him into the major leagues.

Beneath his baseball cap, deep furrows wrinkle his brow. Does he squint only to ward off the afternoon brightness or to disguise a slight angst, a fear of disappointing family, friends, and hometown fans, their dreams riding on his 20-year-old shoulders? Under his Orioles wool jersey, the dark colored sleeves are cut at the elbow, probably with scissors, the way his father taught him.

In high school, an All-City and American Legion star, he blasted homers in ball parks across Los Angeles. With the Stockton Ports, he’s one bright star among many, all hoping to one day play under Baltimore’s bright lights.

Has he grown road weary, three years in second-class buses and cheap hotels, playing in stadiums from Bisbee, AZ to Aberdeen, S.D., Canada to Arkansas to Paris, TX and back to Stockton, California, Los Angeles barely two hundred miles away?

He must recall the night he signed the contract, a $25,000 bonus, in his parents' living room, among family, reporters, his agent, and Jose Alfredo Jimenez staring out at him from a pile of his mother’s favorite records. The newspapers dubbed him, “Bonus Baby.”
Santa Monica, semi-pro baseball team, circa 1939, bottom row, Buzz Hernandez, batboy

On Los Angeles’ Westside, kids take up bats, balls, and gloves, to be like him, just as he wanted to be like his father, Rufino, and Santa Monica semi-pro ball players Manuel “Lalo” Serra, Johnny Hoag, Frank Talamantez, brothers Felix and Angel Guajuardo, Pete Osti, Davy Robertson, Sammy Romo, and Matin Alcala, who, in 1939, lived the dream, until Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito intervened.

Are those furrows on his brow permanent? Triumph is close, so close, maybe a season away, but home is close as well, about five hours south of Stockton down Highway 101.

Daniel Cano has published three novels, Pepe Rios, Shifting Loyalties, his Vietnam War saga, and Death and the American Dream, winner for historical fiction by the Latino International Book Awards. His work has been anthologized in numerous publications in the U.S. and Europe.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Iron River

By Daniel Acosta

  • Hardcover: 225 pages
  • Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press 
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1941026931
  • ISBN-13: 978-1941026939

A river runs through young Manny Maldonado Jr.’s life, heart and imagination. Sometimes at night it even shoots through his brain like a bullet. But this river isn’t water, it’s iron—the tracks and trains of the Southern Pacific railroad that pass along his tight-knit neighborhood in the San Gabriel valley just ten miles east of L.A. The iron river is everything to Man-on-Fire, Man for short to his friends, Little Man to his uncles and cousins. He watches it, he waits for it, he plays nears its tracks, he listens for the weight of its currents (strong currents flowing east pulling two hundred boxcars, light current going west with less than fifty cars), he whiles away long summer days throwing rocks and bricks at it with his friends Danny, Marco and Little. They line up cans and bottles in mock battles to try to throw it off track. But nothing derails the iron river, and nothing stops the vicious stinking cop Turk from trying to pin a man's murder on the four young boys.

Starred Reviews

“A dense story with rich associative leaps, the novel will prompt discussions about race, class, sexuality, and gender.” —Kirkus Reviews

"An essential title for any library." —School Library Journal 

Daniel Acosta was born and grew up in California. After a half year as a novice in the Claretian order, Daniel left the seminary and enrolled at California State University, Los Angeles. Following college, Daniel was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. He was discharged from the Army in 1972 and returned to CSULA to earn his teaching credential. Daniel earned a Master’s Degree from CSULA and spent thirty-four years teaching English and creative writing at Mark Keppel High School in Alhambra, California. A former member of the L.A. Barrio Writer’s Workshop, Daniel retired from teaching in 2007 and returned to his writing. His fiction has appeared in national print and digital periodicals. Iron River is his debut novel. Daniel is the father of four. He and his wife, Linda, live in Rosemead, California.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Grande Memoir Well Worth Reading

Review: Reyna Grande. A Dream Called Home. New York: Atria Books, 2018.
ISBN 9781501171420
Michael Sedano

I stared past the point of my bayonet and focused my gaze across Monterey Bay to the misty spot where Santa Cruz lay hidden behind the morning fog. The first chance I got, I promised myself, I would go there, to the city with the roller coaster, but especially seeking the complete opposite of the Army, the University of California campus. When I finally got there, I couldn’t find it.

Entering the roadway marked as “UC Santa Cruz” I couldn’t see the University for the trees. Astounding, the forest primeval all around. I stopped the car on an empty road. Somewhere to my left came the notes of a string quartet. Desperate, I pulled to the roadside and my wife and I headed in “route step march” through the redwood forest detritus. I pushed aside a ferny growth and spotted a rough-hewn timber structure. We had found UC Santa Cruz, the student union, and in Mozart’s enchanting rhythms, the opposite of military marching cadences.

Reading A Dream Called Home does that to one. Reyna Grande’s memoir of her first year of college at UCSC pumps up a reader’s own memories of that first year, whether that was in Isla Vista or back East. The roommate. Eating anglo food. The isolation of being the only brown face in sight. For Grande, she arrives feeling a refugee and liberated. She’s also nearly completely unprepared. For her, being away at college is not just about growing up, it's about eating.

Grande settles into a dorm as the only raza. She doesn’t know that a suitable population of raza across the gully and into the woods in one of the other residential colleges. A community college transfer, PCC hadn’t guided her post-acceptance process, so she took residence hall potluck.

What if she had known? What if her father hadn’t left her in Mexico? What if her mother hadn’t left her in Mexico? What if the Grande sisters and brother had lived an alternate life? It’s a question fundamental to memoir. Grande raises it early in the book in one of the author’s characteristic sparkling passages.

Betty turned to me and said, “Do you think things would have been different if they had never left? Do you think we would all be together as a family?”
Reyna Grande at Vroman's Pasadena CA

In the preceding paragraphs, Grande builds to Betty’s question. The girls led parallel lives. Reyna got beaten regularly by her father, often having no idea what she’d done. Betty was beaten regularly, by mother and stepfather, who screamed her sins as they pounded her flesh. Thus, Betty’s question, and big sister’s responsibility to paint a rosy picture.

If Reyna wanted to lie, the setting itself--grandmother’s home in Iguala--composes the writer-sister’s response, “silver moonlight streamed through the gaps in the wall made of bamboo sticks tied together with rope and wire. Her moonlit eyes looked at me with so much hope and innocence” Where big sister calls home now, redwood forest scents the night air.

“There’s nothing we can do to change it, Betty. But know what I want? I want to one day look back and say that it was worth it. All the pain, all the heartache.”

It’s up to readers to help answer if that dream is coming true. Riveted-to-the-page readers will be asking the same question because so many immigrant readers will share their own versions of this immigrant’s experience. The difference is, of course, Grande is a Writer, with a capital “W,” while the average reader eagerly devours any literature where they see themselves.

Reyna Grande is an immigrant from Mexico. That’s a big deal, according to the executive editor of the press, Johanna V. Castillo, who welcomes readers to “this magnificent memoir, a potent contribution to the ongoing discussion of immigration in the United States.”

That’s how marketing sees A Dream Called Home. There’s a montón of second- and third-generation, and longer time Californ' raza readers with twenty-two bucks to spend for a chance to see themselves in a book. Sabes que, though? There’s lots more in this memoir if a reader, or critic, or marketer, looks beyond Grande’s Chicanidad.

Alex Espinoza listens to a gesture
Memoir, especially, is a literature that offers what Kenneth Burke calls “equipment for living,” meaning a reader sizes up ambiguous experience through the lens of the memoirist’s story. The literary character and the reader, of course, lead separate existences. The writer’s art draws and binds them together.

The story of first-in-the-family to go to University addresses an enormous readership. Choosing to spin immigration will sell books and make an impact in a substantial market. Seeking that grander public challenges marketing expertise, but the payoff in sales alone makes the effort valuable.

Doesn’t matter if you’re a Southie from Boston or a Sureña from Bell, you won’t know to bring your own bedsheets that first night, unless you learn from this immigrant. Clearly, A Dream Called Home makes its “potent contribution” across class and ethnic lines. Every first generation college kid is going to recognize commonalities with that kid from Highland Park and Pasadena City College.

Spanish phrases and appositional translation indicate some effort to expand readership to the monolingual in English reader. For example, the girl going to college tells her mother farewell and all mom can muster is ahi nos vemos. Four pages later, the words are still digging into the author’s thoughts when, watching parents dropping scions off at the dorm loaded with good stuff, she feels Sin padre, sin madre, sin perro que me ladre. Italics call out the expression in standard if outmoded style, and the next sentence goes: “Without a father, without a mother, without a dog to bark at me.”

The remark is one of those gems people who appreciate structure get a kick out in when they read A Dream Called Home. Grande packs the writing with relentlessly engaging literariness that sneaks up on readers who don’t see how they’re being forced to turn the page then find rich reward thirty pages later. A visual approximation of Grande’s literary structure often comes in film. A vast blackness discerns a tiny spot of light. Zooming in, the light grows into a planet. Zooming down onto the landmass, there’s a city, a street, a house, a window, a particular story.

In this conceptual movement, Grande plants seeds she grows into fruitful story elements and verbal gems. From the opening pages--a preview in the tradition of “tell’em what you’re going to say,” organization--in which Grande defines setting, characters, point of view and voice, she drops an awful fact: her father refused to let me go to UCI, she claims, and moves on.

Pages after this, she’s fluidly connected global insights to ever more intimate experience, she gets to the UCI story, a long line of connections and background laid down and the ugly statement makes sense.

After the harrowing first days in the foreign land across the bay from Ft. Ord, Grande begins to settle in. She counsels a homesick homeboy that college is a lifetime opportunity and clearly believes the truth behind that cant, she’s thinking like a literature major comparing her situation to an eighteenth century French literary creation.

And she has a male roommate—coed dorms—who installs a cute animated screen saver on her monitor, “a little dog ran around the screen, and I could feed him, give him water, and throw balls for him to catch. He even barked! That old Mexican saying didn’t apply to me anymore. I still didn’t have a father or a mother, but I finally did have a dog to bark at me.”

And that’s all in Inglés, there’s no Spanish apposition about her perra suerte. She’s begun to fit in. Then she discovers raza at Santa Cruz, and ahi nos vemos, home and more evidence in that "was it worth it?" debate.

Alex and Reyna enjoying one another's company
Grande’s experience in the middle school classroom takes a reader back to that night in Iguala, about it being worth it, and all. Becoming a best-selling author and welcomed into the heart of disparate communities to talk about her book, has gotten the author out of those classrooms, good and bad, a good thing, no? Yes, for the reader, this Chicana Up the Down Staircase makes it worth it, and so, Goodbye Mrs. Ship. (Like Abuela Evila’s name, that’s a bilingual pun.)

Reyna the critic shines as teacher and mother mature to a critical point in the writer’s career. Shel Silverstein fans need to brace themselves for Grande’s keen critique of classroom-approved materials like The Giving Tree.

“Years later he returns as an old man—just as miserable as always—and the tree is nothing but a stump with nothing left to give of herself. He says, “I don’t need anything. Just a place to sit.” So, she offers him her stump to sit on.
When I finished reading the story, I wanted to hurl it out the window and never let my students read it—especially my girls. I refused to believe that to be a good mother I would have to give and sacrifice all until what remained of me was only a dead stump.”

Reviewing a memoir is akin to that ekphrastic philosophy that measure a picture’s value at a thousand words. Coming in at just over 300 pages, A Dream Called Home is better read than reviewed. Given all those “hey, I did that, too!” and “so that’s what it’s going to be like” pictures, readers will be reading and pausing, remembering and smiling, and saying, yeah, it was worth it. Or, check with me in ten years, but so far, yes, it is worth it.

Home is, when you dream it, you get to write it. For readers, it’s worth it.

A Dream Called Home will sell out al local booksellers, so get your order in right away. Grande's touring the book now. It's an ideal book to read while waiting in line to vote. Word is, GOTV this year will bring long, long lines of gente who know voting on 6Nov18 is worth it. See the publisher's page for the deluxe treatment Reyna's garnered from this major Manhattan publisher. link.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Interview of Linda Garcia Merchant

Interview of Linda Garcia Merchant by Xánath Caraza

Linda Garcia Merchant is a founding member of the Chicana Por Mi Raza Digital Memory Collective (University of Michigan), and a Digital Media Partner of the Somos Latinas Oral History Project (University of Wisconsin Madison). Garcia Merchant is a doctoral student of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) specializing in Chicana/Latina Literary and Cultural Studies, and Digital Humanities. In 2016 Garcia Merchant was a Humanities Without Walls Pre-Doctoral Summer Fellow. An award-winning Chicana filmmaker, her films, Las Mujeres de La Caucus Chicana (The Women of the Chicana Caucus), Palabras Dulces, Palabras Amargas (Sweet Words, Bitter Words), Yo Soy Eva, and Thresholds are shown in courses on women of color feminism, global feminisms, queer and social movement both nationally and internationally.  In 2014, Palabras was featured in Dr. Bill Johnson González’s article, "The Limits of Desire: On the Downlow and Queer Chicago Film" for GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies.
In 2017 Garcia Merchant, as a Digital Scholar Incubator Fellow, through the UNL Center for Research in the Digital Humanities, created the Scalar research site, Chicana Diasporic: A Nomadic Journey of the Activist Exiled. A media rich, literary exploration of the political-ideological journey of the women of the Chicana Caucus of the National Women’s Political Caucus, 1973-1979 that has been selected for publication in the Fall 2018 American Quarterly special edition on Digital Humanities.
Linda is currently working on An Evening with La Tess, an experimental documentary on the life of award winning Chicana poet, activist and scholar Andrea "Tess" Arenas. In 2017 Garcia Merchant's essay on life in her hometown of Chicago, "The Urban Rural," was featured in the anthology Rust Belt Chicago.  Garcia Merchant continues to write, guest lecture, and present on Chicana Feminism, Chicana Filmmaking, community archiving, visual historiography, and short form filmmaking. She has written articles and blogposts for Dialogo, Mujeres Talk, The Chicago Reporter, Viva La Feminista and La Bloga

1.     Who is Linda? 

I remember being with Felicitas Nuñez, one of the founders of Teatro Chicana, looking at a series of beautiful paintings she had produced. I exclaimed, “you’re an artist!” Felicitas looked at me with this puzzled look and responded that she didn’t really think of herself as a fine artist.  At the time I was puzzled at her response—the art was as wonderful as any gallery work. It wasn’t until I was on the plane ride home that it occurred to me what she might have meant.  I don’t really think of myself as a poet/writer/filmmaker/photographer—I do work very hard to be a good storyteller. I am sure that in those moments of production, where I have worn all these creative hats—I could own those definitions in those moments.  I often wonder if this is what Felicitas meant by not being a fine artist.

I write because I don’t know a better way to tell a story to more than one person at a time.  I write because writing is a conversation and all the great things in the world have happened because of simple conversation.  Mi abuelita always said todos temenos historia – we all have a story and it is up to each of us to listen, and learn and share—in that order.  Writing is what we all do, in every engagement and interaction—the difference is that some of us put all that conversation on paper, maybe as memory, mostly as necessity.  So I’m a poet/writer out of necessity, because I come from a long line of really good storytellers.  Mi mamá y abuelita both excelled at engaging an audience through stories that were always parables of some kind—all their stories had some moral outcome.

2.     As a child, who first introduced you to reading? 

I come from a family of readers of everything—mi abuelito read both Chicago daily newspapers, cover to cover. I took up the habit at three when he would bring the newspapers home. Mi abuelita home schooled me, as she had home schooled her own children, until we all began elementary school.  We always ate dinner together and that is when you better be ready to talk about what you learned in school that day.  I have distinct memories of sitting at the table at 10 and having to explain the Alamo from my fourth grade teachers lesson to mi abuelito.  He didn’t look up from the meat he was cutting and quietly said, “that’s not what happened,’ and proceeded to tell me the version he knew, as a Mexican Texan from the valley.  I learned a valuable lesson that day—that history has more than one author and that my instructor was not the absolute authority on that history. That foundation of reading and discourse has instilled in me a lifelong love of both traditional and organic learning.

3.     How did you first become a writer?  

I have written since I was little, but I didn’t share much of anything until high school. The first time my work went public, I wrote a holiday story about an evergreen that made the ultimate sacrifice to be a family Christmas tree for a little boy who got sick and stopped visiting the tree—my English teacher suggested I turn the story into a scripted performance that would be our class entry for the school’s holiday event.

I grew up an only child, losing mi abuelita very young. My mom was a single mother and had to work, so I was left alone to cultivate an active imagination—every fly or bug I met had a history, a family story. I also read a lot and had favorite stories that I still read frequently—the Arabian Nights is still one of my favorite books.

I was more of an essayist than a poet—okay so maybe I was a very private poet, never thinking my stuff was good enough to share with the world.  I never thought of writing as a profession—as a first gen college student I was supposed to get a good education to then have a solid foundation as a middle class, gainfully employed, Chicana.

I didn’t really get back to writing until I started a blogsite with three other women called Two Tight Shoes.  If I had to give the exact time I began to write seriously or credibly, it was during this time, with these women, as we weekly opined about the world. The idea behind Two Tight Shoes came from the old southern saying, “Life’s too short to wear tight shoes.”  Our logo included a pair of ballet shoes because of the strength they represent.  I have always felt the strongest, most resilient feet were those of a highly disciplined ballerina—especially since the softness of the material of toe shoes, hides the strength of the feet inside.  I certainly found my strength to become a writer, working regularly on the craft; workshopping with my co-authors; and ultimately taking chances to give more creative work, like poetry to an audience on the blog site.

4.     What is a day of creative work like for you? 

A day of creative work really is 24 hours long. It is not that I work at some maniacal pace until I drop, but that work simmers in the back of my mind until it is ready to come to the front.  Walking is one half of the creative process—it is the time when I am using all of my senses to exist. I can hear birds and cars, watch what fascinates my dog in the grass. Being in those quiet moments is when I all the words in my head are fighting to get out. If there is too much going on in my head, I will stop and write it down.

Dreaming is the other half, especially those dreams that happen right before you are fully awake and are somewhat aware of what is going on behind the curtain of your conscious self. 

Finally, I’m a nugget writer—the nuggets are seeds. I have books and notes with single sentences I return to when they’re ready to be more than a single thought.  I love writing when the words come to fast, fight with each other to get on the page first.  I love following the breadcrumbs I’ve left myself and just seeing where they lead—often they lead to other rooms that I’ve already built.  It sounds like my head is filled with random often interrupted thoughts.  I think it was Isabel Allende that said she lives with the spirits that accompany her writing process.  I sometimes think all those words fighting to get out when I am writing, are all those spirits pushing and shoving me and the work.  Maybe that’s why I don’t think I’m a poet/writer—because I’m not alone in the process of writing!

5.     When do you know when a poem is ready to be read? 
I think poems let you know when they’re ready for the reveal.  The universe asks us very specific questions that can only be answered by the creative output.  I wrote a piece that became a visual historiography, that became a research site—each of those products occurred as they were ready for to answer the universe’s question about them.

Like all creative types I still struggle once a poem/film/essay has left the nest. I find myself still stressing over word order or choices, but I also have to remember that today is a different day from the day I wrote that work and I am a little different which means I would want to make changes that reflect that.

6.     Could you comment on your life as a cultural activist? 

Jeez, you mean how do I live my very loud life in every moment of every day?  Living loud means being true to yourself—my faith makes that possible.  My friends keep me honest about who I am being in any given moment.  I believe that we cannot build community in the world if we cannot build it at home.  Chicana feminist, Martha Cotera once said successful relationships like marriage always follow the rules of social justice—for me these include a foundation of respect and trust; a patience for being present; a generosity to listening; and an ability to always live grounded in kindness and through love.  I have had an amazing life up to this point—I am sad that so much of our history has been neglected for so long, but I am thrilled to see how many young Latinx scholars are recovering, reclaiming and discovering those histories as part of a new generation of identity formation.

7.     What project/s are you working on at the moment that you would like to share?

My most recent work Chicana Diasporic (link:> is a multi modal scalar site that explores the Chicana Caucus of the National Women’s Political Caucus and features Chicana Feminist activists from the 1970’s including my mom, Ruth “Rhea” Mojica Hammer. 

Chicana Diasporic would not be possible without materials acquired through eight years of working with the visionary Dr. Maria Cotera on the Chicana Por Mi Raza Digital Memory Collective (link:, a digital repository that recovers the work and voices of second wave Chicana feminists. CPMR isn’t just a project of recovery—it is a way of “decolonizing the archive” that preserves and presents our history within the larger movements of both second wave feminism and chicano ideology.  Our work allows students to engage with both the material and its authors through filmed interviews and material curation—then they have to write about it!

8.     What else would you like to share?

For a long time I thought I wrote because I was angry or in response to something that got me on a rant.  Eventually I realized it wasn’t so much anger, but passion that cared enough to want to say something about what I saw.  I just read a poem I wrote about the Chicago Public School system called “The Truth of August Heat” and thought, “hey that’s pretty good.”  Then I got sad because not much has changed.
I love being a grad student and instructor in Nebraska at this moment where I am learning about aspects of my research I hadn’t considered. Teaching undergraduate composition and rhetoric requires you to model a social justice process to create a community of learning for fifteen weeks.  Teaching Digital Humanities to help students understand how to research; how to follow a trail that fine tunes a research question; and that results in some visually rhetorical articulation of voice helps me to apply those same exercises to my own work.
I am now very interested in how students can better experience history that is not lived history—how do we remove the abstract nature of dates, events, people, and places and create a robust experience of history that incorporates some sensory connection to it. For example, we are aware of the numerous student demonstrations that occur during 1968, but what does it mean to be in an active space of demonstration? How is the body situated—what does it hear, see, feel?  I’m curious because I have discovered when students have some point of relatedness to history—like what they were doing when 9/11 happened, it becomes tangible, connected and interesting.

Photo credit: 

Kathryn Haviland
Adrienne Christian
Linda Garcia
Jessica Thomas
Steve Lemieux-Jordan