Saturday, February 24, 2018

A Reminiscence and A Trip with Moe by Antonio SolisGomez, Part I

The librarians at the old Carnegie Library had seen their share of characters walk through the double front doors during the time that Tucson had grown from a small pueblo to a good size city. But my librarian co-workers weren’t prepared for the entrance of Moe and Fernando. Frankly neither was I. Moe looked menacing even when he was trying to look pleasant. He had a crooked nose and several deep scars acquired in countless prison and barrio brawls. The rest of his face was etched with lines of troubles and adversities. His posture honed from years of needing to be tough, and needing to hold his own regardless of the odds against him, was tilted back ever so slightly. His head was also thrown back so that the back of his hair touched the collar of his shirt. He stood a couple of inches over six feet and he was muscularly built. Fernando was as tall as Moe but much thicker in the arms and chest. Whereas Moe was turning heads because his Indian features and battle scarred face gave him the look of a never defeated warrior, Fernando was turning heads because of his handsome looks. Fernando was my compadre and homeboy, and we had known each other since we were youngsters.

 “Who’s that?” I was asked by the librarian next to me, when I waved to Moe and Fernando from behind the reference desk.

The question was asked both with apprehension and fascination. “Just a couple of ghosts from my past,” I answered.  
Eduardo Zapata Aguirre aka Moe, Lalo

I had to admit they were quite a pair to look at. They had a presence that was captivating and a little scary. Fernando and I stayed in touch by telephone and every so often his furniture accounts brought him to Arizona. But he hadn’t informed me that he was stopping in. “Orale carnal,” I greeted him and went around the desk to where he stood to give him a big hug and to shake Moe’s hand. Guys like Mo are funny about hugs. Their machismo, learned inside prison walls doesn’t allow for much touching between men.  Moe’s handshake was purposely limp, similar to the handshake of humble Mexicans or Native Americans, but which in his case was done so as not to imitate that John Wayne ‘grip em til they fall to their knees’ that is cultivated in the United States.

Right away Fernando said, “hey man, Mo and I came to get you so that we can go down to Mexico to see Arturo. Wanna go?”

This was classic Fernando spontaneity. It was difficult to get Fernando to keep appointments because he was up for anything that sprang up and in a moment’s notice he was gone. Too bad for you if you were planning to see him later that day.

“Slow down vato,” I answered, more to catch my own breath at the surprise of seeing both of them in this setting.

The context of my friendship with them was East Los Angeles. And East Los Angeles of the late sixties and early seventies when we were all battling the ‘establishment’ during the Chicano Civil Rights Movement, that we simply called ‘El Movimiento’.

“Let me see if I can get someone to replace me on this desk and we can go get some lunch and talk,”I said. “Hang out here and I’ll be right back,” I added as I turned and quickly went to the back office to find someone to cover for me.

L to R Fernando Morales, author, Arturo Carranza Arocha, 1992

As I made my way to the office, I couldn’t believe Moe was standing out there. The last time I had seen him was at a large party that Con Safos Magazine hosted in the early 1970's.

The day of the party was warm and the sky was a clear blue, providing outstanding views of the entire city. The hill, where the magazine had its workshop, was one of several that lie east of downtown Los Angeles. In other parts of the city, hillside properties had become chic and prices had skyrocketed.  In the barrios hillsides homes were modest and one could still detect the conditions of poverty that had relegated the dwellers to hillsides in the first place. The hill where we were partying was known locally as Rose Hill, named after the two land developers, Hill and Rose. It was a large hill, covering several square miles, and most of its slopes were well dotted with homes that clung precariously. The roads were often steep, far exceeding conventional grading requirements and naturally potholes abounded. The very top of the hill and the west facing slope that stopped at the Lincoln High School athletic field that fronted Broadway Street, remained virgin. The homes of Rudy and Rafas two of our Con Safos editors, were situated on the eastern slope close enough to the top to have million dollar views of the city and beyond.

On this west facing slope, that changed vesture with the seasons, now golden, now green, we drew the name Con Safos in fifty foot letters in white chalk. It would last but a season, we knew, but during the time that it was visible, it could be seen from the downtown city hall; and it was there the day of the party.

People started arriving just after midday. It was an outdoor gathering and most of the people were in the front portion of the yard or out front at the edge of the hill conversing with each other. We were wearing our Con Safos T-shirts, greeting people and offering them something to drink. We already had several ice filled metal tubs cooling bottles of wine and beer and more was being brought by guests. It didn’t take any effort to introduce people as most of the few hundred people that arrived knew each other. I was making the rounds and listening to bits and pieces of conversation. When I spotted Al Zapata, my co-worker I went over to welcome him. He was with Moe, his cousin and a few others.

Moe had come with his usual entourage of 'pintos' but they were off to the side and he was hanging out with his sister Armida and her friend Francisca Flores, the editor of the feminist and left leaning magazine La Regeneracion, the same title of the publication of the Flores Magon brothers. Since his attack in south central a couple of years ago, Moe was rarely in public without his soldiers to guard him. Back in the late 1960’s, he had been attacked in south central outside a hamburger stand when he had gone to see some friends who had been robbed. A group of Afro-Americans attacked him and he was struck on the head with a 2x4. He spent three weeks in the hospital and the anticipation of a race war between Chicanos and Afro-Americans rippled throughout the barrios and ghettos.

The Black Panthers stepped into the fray as did Opal Jones and a meeting was arranged to discuss and if possible resolve the situation. The meeting was a negotiated point and finally a place in East Los Angeles was selected. Fortunately, political awareness was well developed on both sides. They knew that nothing could be worse for their individual efforts than to fight among themselves and lessen their collective strength when they went up against ‘the man.’  Rudy Salinas, a Con Safos member who was present at that meeting reports, “Almost everyone was packing that evening and each person placed his weapon on the table in front of where he was sitting. I thought 'what the hell am I doing here?'  No one knew if they would walk out alive, including me. Fortunately, the key players seemed to know each other from prison and there was some trust established. The message from the Chicano contingent was that we could not have one of our leaders attacked in that manner. The response of the Afro-Americans was that they would take care of the perpetrators.” I think everyone gave a sigh of relieve as it could have been very ugly. 

Moe however was never the same after the blow to the head. His friends could not pinpoint exactly what it was that was different other than he was even less trusting of people, and he suffered painful headaches.

Joe Duarte from the East Los Angeles Task Force had joined Moe and Armida as had Al’s wife, Jerri. Moe and Francisca tolerated each other but generally found themselves on opposites sides of an issue. They were talking about the growing presence in East Los Angeles and elsewhere in California of immigrants from Mexico.  Moe, because he saw the southwest as occupied Mexico, was greatly in favor of Mexicans coming to help reclaim what was theirs and ours.  Francisca was the founder and CEO of the Chicana Service Action Center and the leading voice of feminist thought in Los Angeles. But she was involved in all the issues and she was grounded in community organizing since her early work with the CSO, that helped elect Roybal to the US Congress. It was her belief that large numbers of undocumented workers stressed the social infrastructure and diluted the efforts of Chicanos to better their social and economic conditions.

“Moe I know all that history,” Francisca was saying, “but Chicanos cannot tackle the problems of the Mexicans. They come here to work period. End of story. They look to a time when they can return home and have no desire to become citizens. You can’t organize people who can’t vote. Mexico needs to fix their own economy".

Joe Duarte responded. “I think all Chicanos feel a bit guilty about this issue. It’s a very emotional subject. But I have to agree with Francisca, we never…

Moe interrupted Joe mid sentence, “They will keep coming and nothing we do will keep them out… unless you start shooting them.”

I was called away as Francisca was explaining that Mexico needed to create economic parity with the Unites States.  She was well versed in economics and years before was a member of the Communist Party.  Moe had strong feelings against communists because of the dictatorships that were associated with the party and because he had some pedo with a group of Marxists who operated in East Los Angeles.  It was rumored that the Marxists had once shot up Moe’s LUCHA offices.  I hated to leave at this juicy juncture.
L-R Nati Cisneros, Frank Sifuentes, George 'Chapo' Meneses - photo by Oscar Castillo

I walked in amazement at seeing all the people that had showed up.  It seemed as if anybody who was somebody in East Los Angeles had come. Over there was the Reverend Madirosian, who was the Chair of the Chicano educational committee; Mel Sherman, the Director of the International Institute and his protege the ex-pinto addict Robert Bully Hernandez.  Bully headed One Stop Immigration, one of many new agencies that had sprouted in East Los Angeles with Federal money.  Grace Davis was there.  She was a longtime Chicana activist who now worked for Mayor Bradley.  Francisca had come with Armida and Gloria Molina of the Commision Femini; David Lopez Lee, a city council candidate; Professor Rudy Acuna; Roberto De la Rocha, the artist; Sal Castro, the school teacher at Lincoln High School who was the first Chicano teacher to advocate for  students; Sister Corita, the famous Catholic Nun Painter; Moctezuma Esparaza and Jesus Trevino the film makers and producers.     

When I returned, I spotted Magu, our radical Con Safos artist, at the center of another group that was talking about barrio aesthetics.  Within Con Safos, Magu often had to argue and convince us of his point of view, which was not so much that it was radical as much as that we were stodgy about what contemporary art entailed.  Magu had grown up as one of the vatos in old El Monte and he was  quiet and thoughtful, with a nice smile and a friendly personality that verged on shyness. He was also a very intellectual person and was already working on extending barrio motifs, such as the low rider car, into new realms and causing us, his fellow Con Safos members, anguish. His rendition of Oscar Acosta, as a brown buffalo for our Con Safos issue that carried the first chapters, was shocking to us and to Oscar, offensive because it depicted him with a diminutive penis.  Oscar and his sidekick Benny Luna were there, as was the woman who ran the Mechicano Art Center, Diane Arias an Anglo woman married to a Chicano doctor, our good friend Maxine Junge, and Tudi’s wife Adalberta.  Diane Arias, an intelligent but spacey kind of person had asked Magu to give her a short definition of barrio art for the book that she had been writing for the past few years. Magu looked at her with his kind eyes and said,

Brown Buffalo rendering by Magu

“I doubt that anyone could define barrio art in a short sentence….to reduce all the dynamics and essence of so many people and events is a daunting task and if someone can do it, I would pay my respects. I could give you platitudes or hyperbole of what it is…."

“Well if it captures the essence," Diane interjected before Magu could add to what he was saying, "that would do. I just need something short.”

Magu smiled and looked at Oscar and Benny who were already snickering at Diane’s naivete and toking-up on a joint which they passed to Magu.  Magu took a good deep drag and with held breath uttered

“Artwork based on Chicanada culture including the notion of place, with eclectic motifs.” 

“Yes that’s very good,” Diane said as she busily wrote in the notebook that was her constant companion.

Benny was pacing and bouncing energetically as was his custom, seldom ever being able to stand still.  He was making comments to Oscar, who was enjoying his high and looking around at the people.  Benny could no longer contain himself and said to Magu
“Bullshit! You just want to rip off the lowrider lifestyle and all the homies.  Don’t hide behind all that intellectual garbage.” This was classic Benny Luna, who in the very near future would attack Oscar Acosta for writing about Chicanos in his novel “The Brown Buffalo,” claiming that Oscar was just an opportunist who came to East Los Angeles to exploit Raza.
Adalberta, always poised to strike men whenever the opportunity arose, also jumped in
“Yes Magu that’s all fine and good but people in the barrio can’t afford fine art. There’s a lot of people out there who all they know is work or taking care of children. I know that for a fact, my husband just takes off and expects me to tend house.  You macho guys think that women don’t have a brain and you expect us to be your mothers.”

“Poor Magu,” I thought to myself as I left to mingle with another group.  It was early and already it looked like a party.  There were groups everywhere on the hill.  Some were just staring at the city and trying to spot landmarks such as the brewery on main street in the Clover barrio, or the Los Angeles river that long ago separated downtown from the Chicano barrios of the East Side.  Other groups were leaning against cars that were parked on the illegal dirt road that ran along the crest of the hill. Cumbia music was blaring from Rafas’ stereo and here and there some bodies were wiggling to the rhythms.    

I saw that the meat was being brought out and I headed over to the long tables that we had borrowed from Father Luce’s Church of the Epiphany. Chapo had marinated the meat before wrapping it in the burlap and he was incharge of unearthing it from the pit where it had cooking the entire night and carving it for the guests. Even though it was buffet style, still there was a lot of work to feed that many people and we missed many of the great conversations that were taking place. It was only until the early evening after all but a few close friends had left that we were able to relax completely. Tudi was already drunk. He had been serving the wine and toasting with everyone that he encountered on his rounds.  Rafas too was out of his gourd, having met up with Benny and Oscar and their seemingly inexhaustible supply of mota. They were now supplying the small group that was left.  We had set up some chairs at the edge of the hill. Rafas was sitting atop the hood of someone car, playing his guitar and singing his original song about a barrio boy.

Rafas on the guitar photo by Oscar Castillo

     “hey little vato let me sing you a song”

Several joints were being passed around, the smell of the herb wafting deliciously around all of us. Moe sat next to me bolgarding a joint that Oscar had rolled especially for him. They had never met before but their mutual experience in law, Moe as a jail house lawyer, and Oscar, of course, as the defender of Chicanos indicted on all sorts of scams.  Moe was particularly interested in Oscar’s strategy of attacking the composition of the Grand Jury.

“How in the hell are you going to get away with that?,” Moe asked incredulously.

“It’s simple shit, Moe, I’ll subpoena all the judges to testify.  I’ll cross examine their asses and ask them why there are no Chicanos on the Grand Jury”.

Tienes muchos huevos Oscar, Moe complimented him.

"Somebody got to show them son’s of bitches," Oscar answered back, obviously enjoying the admiration that he was receiving.

Meantime Rafas was still singing and his brother Bear was beating the rhythm on a beer can with a fork. Tudi went to his car and brought back his clarinet and saxophone and offered them to Oscar.

“Choose your weapon God damn it,” Tudi told Oscar playfully.

Oscar looked at Art as if saying “you gotta be shitting me” but he took the clarinet anyway and after inspecting the mouth piece critically he made everyone laugh when he poured some wine on it as if to sterilize it.  Art laughed too and said in reference to Oscar propensity for drugs and women.

“Hell Oscar you put more garbage in your mouth than you’ll ever get from me”

It wasn’t long before they were both jamming along with Rafas’ guitar. Bear the percussionist had been joined by Maxine on an old watering can, Father Luce on a garbage can lid and John Figueroa, our Puerto Rican member, on maracas.  It must have sounded dreadful but we were having a great time.

Rafas and two unidentified men- Photo by Oscar Castillo


Friday, February 23, 2018

Building Bird Forgiveness, the Book

Melinda Palacio

Preview of my new poetry book, Bird Forgiveness

            Over the past four years, I've been working on two writing projects at the same time, a new novel, which remains in progress, and a new poetry book, Bird Forgiveness. Although I've been working on the novel longer than the poetry book, the poetry book won out and is in the final stages of editing and production. I wouldn't recommend working on two different books at the same time. I somehow always give into the myth of multitasking. Perhaps, multitasking is a genuine way to get more done at the same time. I don't really know anymore. Sometimes life forces you to get excited about more than one thing. The downside is rooms with piles of books and paper and other scraps of projects left undone because it's challenging to work on multiple items and get them all done to my satisfaction. Add to that a family tragedy like your grandmother dying a slow death to make all of your projects seem overwhelming.

            The moment when finishing what you've started seems overwhelming, Anne Lamott's 1995 book, Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life, still holds true. The big takeaway from Lamott's book is the scene when she describes her ten-year old brother having a meltdown because he had put off a report on birds that was due the next morning. He knew he didn't give himself enough time to finish the project and her father helped him out, sat down beside him and put his arm around her brother and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird'. I'm sure glad Anne Lamott shared that story with the world. The concept is about taking baby steps, breaking a big project down to smaller, more manageable chunks. Take the writing of a novel, for example, and look at it scene by scene, chapter by chapter, sentence by sentence, word by word. This is how a book comes to those traditional lovely last words, The End.

With my book, Bird Forgiveness, the idea of finishing the collection bird by bird doesn't apply only to the writing of the poetry collection, but to life in general. I wasn't concerned with taking on poems about the many different birds. This is a collection of poems that is as much about doing right by birds and the environment as it is about people and human relations, as the title poem suggests. And what has made all the difference is having an editor and publisher, Andrea Watson from 3: a Taos Press, champion this book without putting pressure on me to have a certain amount of poems finished by a particular deadline.

Being passionate about multiple types of writing and projects is a good thing. Once a book is finished, you simply can't shelve it and move onto the next project without giving the book another thought. There is still marketing, readings, and workshops to offer in connection with the last book, all the while working on the next book, as well as new poems and stories. However, I can shuffle my tortillas and get my novel to a stage where I am proudly displaying a cover and endorsements. For now, I'd like to share some of the words from three poets who were kind enough to send in their reviews for the book while the manuscript was still in progress and on its way to becoming the forthcoming book, Bird Forgiveness from 3: a Taos Press, coming soon to an independent bookstore near you (alert your favorite bookstores).  


Endorsements for Bird Forgiveness:

As a lover of birds, I am a lover of Bird Forgiveness.  As a lover of poetry, I love these poems because though beaked and winged, in pain and in joy, they also take flight out of their occasion. With a focus on birds, the world is renewed, and the poet reminds us it is we who need forgiving. Melinda Palacio's birds touch us everywhere they fly: from the drowning of a homeless woman in Audubon Park to the oil spill damage to a duck. Like the birds she loves and mourns, Melinda Palacio migrates her songs between two coasts, Gulf and West, Latino and Anglo—and she asks for the poetic freedom birds have. Sometimes the poems appear as near sonnets, sometimes in utterly free shapes, but always this is a book of fierce mourning for the birds that fall at our feet and for a grandmother who dies under her watchful care while caged birds quarrel. In the end Melinda Palacio sets all her birds free, and we remember what birds and poets have most in common—their wild song.  

—Rodger Kamenetz, To Die Next To You

How wonderful to think that Melinda Palacio is writing poems so delightfully human, so unexpected in their movements  from wit to profundity, so uncompromisingly honest. Who else would recognize a bluebird as Elvis? Who else ask birds for forgiveness? Her finest book yet, Bird Forgiveness is a work of great modesty, invention, and abiding respect for all the living world.

—Rodney Jones, Village Prodigies

Bird Forgiveness is a deeply nourishing and exquisite book about living. Melinda Palacio
masterfully explores confinement, liberation, freedom, and flight. Abundant joy and wonder run through the poems—from the harpy eagle, to a bluebird named Elvis, to instructions on how to wash a duck—and they examine human behavior and relationships with wisdom and grace. This is a delightful, unforgettable book from a marvelous talent at the top her game.

Lee Herrick, Scar and Flower


Where I'll be tomorrow: Beyond Baroque, February 24 for the Nasty Women Poets anthology reading at 4pm. If you're in Venice, say hello. Peter J. Harris follows at 8pm. 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

A Generation Thankful for What They Had and Ignoring What They Lacked

Daniel Cano                                                    
                                                   Los Unidos, University High School circa 1944

     I don't know why General Kelly's words weigh so heavily on me. I realize he was referring to the Dreamers who hadn't signed up to become legal residents or citizens when he said they should have gotten "off  their asses," insinuating they were lazy, as in Lazy Mexicans, since the majority of Dreamers are of Latino descent.
     Maybe it's because my generation remembers the dirty, lazy Mexican stigma of the 40s and 50s, that bothered me. I figured an educated man like Kelly should know the history of Mexicans in the Southwest and the labels used to demean us. So why would he use wording that raised such ugly stereotypes?
     One would think as an Irish descendent, Kelly should understand discrimination, and how the British and their descendants used it to exploit and dehumanize the Irish, not only in England but in the U.S., as well. Maybe because I am a veteran, I expect more of our military leaders, like General Kelly.
     As a descendent of the an oppressed people, maybe Kelly is adopting the behaviors of those who exploited the Irish. In his masterpiece "Pedagogy of the Oppressed," Brazilian educator, philosopher, Paulo Freire explains how oppressed people once they are liberated adopt the characteristics of their oppressors, since those behaviors were the only models they knew. So maybe in some weird way General Kelly has become like those who once oppressed and exploited his Celtic brethren.
     What I do know is General Kelly's words sting. They reminded me of a time when Mexicans freely crossed a border, manufactured in Washington, after, what the poet Walt Whitman, described as one of the cruelest wars ever waged, the U.S. war against Mexico. Educator Noam Chomsky has said that Mexico, to this day, has never "legitimized" the U.S. theft of Mexican lands. Mexico has only "recognized" it. There is a difference. Yet, even into the 1920s, Mexican migrants needed only to sign a few papers and pay a dime, if they had it, to answer the Yankee call for Mexican workers, much like the call that still rings clear today.
     So is it true, do immigrants need to "get off their asses," to stop the laziness? Back in 2001, my parents' comadre and compadre, described to me how their parents worked to scratch out a place for themselves here in the north. Lupe Herrera, who served during both WWII and Korea, then later made a career for himself at Hughes Aircraft, and his wife Peaches Rubio Herrera, who raised a family while working at high-security electronic and computer companies, shared their family stories, stories of sacrifice, hope, and hard work, a Mexican story, an immigrant's story.

     Guadalupe "Lupe" Herrera, whose friends pronounce his name Lup'eh or the Americanized Loop, still lives in the home where he, and Peaches (who sadly passed away some years after my visit) raised their four children, near Sawtelle Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard, on L.A.'s west-side, not far from where they grew up, in the town they still refer to by its original name: Sawtelle.
     Today, the neighborhood is a mix of 1920’s faux mini-Craftsmen bungalows, 1940’s stucco homes, 1960’s block apartments, Japanese nurseries, churches--from Buddhist to Baptist, and modern high-scale glass monstrosities owned by the ever increasing dot.commers.
     "Look. Here's a picture of Los Unidos, a Chicano club at University High School back in the '40s," Peaches said, pointing to an old black-and-white photo she’d placed on the coffee table.
     The students, young men and women, many of them now passed--in their youthful bliss, their faces frozen forever in time.
     "Lupe, that looks like you in the top row, middle, in the white t-shirt?" I asked.
     "Yeah. That's me."
     "I also recognize Mrs. Flores in the front row," my friend John's mom," I said.
                                                                Eighty-plus years young                                                                                               
     “Yeah, yeah. Boy, look at that, “Lupe said, as if transported into the past. “As kids, we used to go to the Nu-Art Theater every weekend. An usher always stood in the middle of the lobby making me, my brothers, and friends-- all the Chicanos, go to the left door and all the other kids to the right door. One day I told my older sister, Julia, about it. You know, I didn’t think much of it. I was just curious. But she was suspicious and figured they were separating the Chicanos from everyone else, so she went to the manager and asked why. He couldn’t answer her, and she told him she wanted her brothers to sit on the right side of the theater if they wanted.”
     Peaches said, chuckling, “Maybe they were trying to keep the troublemakers on one side.”
    Lupe insisted that the American kids were loud and rowdy too, and that not all Mexicans were rowdy, yet they still had to go to the "left" side. “Really,” he said, “it didn't matter to me. I wanted to sit with my friends anyway." He thought for a moment, and said, "Still, I never forgot it. I never did sit on the right side."
     “What about the Japanese kids,” I asked. “Where did they sit?”
     Lupe said he didn’t remember the Japanese kids going to the movies, or if they did, maybe they went to the Tivoli Theater (the Royal Theater today), a half-mile west on Santa Monica Boulevard.

                                                                     The Tivoli Theater circa 1920s

     As a bachelor, Guadalupe Herrera Sr., Lupe’s father, began traveling to the U.S. in the early 1900’s working the railroads in Kansas and across the Midwest, where work was plentiful and Mexican labor welcomed, especially men trained in working the mines, railroads, and agriculture.
     He returned to Zamora, Michoacan, a city in Mexico’s central highlands, married Librada and the two decided to leave Mexico and the Revolution, not unlike those from El Salvador, Guatemala, and parts of Mexico escaping violence today. They traveled to California by way of Plasencia, an early Mexican settlement and resting point for Mexican families migrating west.
     Guadalupe and Librada settled in Santa Paula, California, where Lupe, his six brothers and one sister, Julia, were born. Ventura County’s vast strawberry and lettuce fields were magnets for Mexican workers. When not working in the fields, Guadalupe worked as a laborer, utilizing the construction skills he’d learned over the years. His goal was to buy a house for his family.
     He saved what he could, which was not enough to purchase the land for a house, so he borrowed $900 from the bank and bought a plot of land on a side of town where he knew the best school in town was located. Eventually, he built the family home on 12th Street in Santa Paula at the time Julia was about to enter junior high school.
     On the first day at Julia’s new school, the principal called her aside and told her she would have to leave and attend the school on the other side of town, at El Campo, located near the orchards, where the workers lived in homes, mostly shacks, owned by the growers, and where the field workers' children attended school. Never a couple to fear a struggle, Guadalupe Sr. and Librada protested. The principal would not listen. Lupe told me that it was "a standard thing" in agricultural communities for principals and teachers to tell the Mexican children they should work to help their families and not worry about school.
     He said, “A lot of the kids ended up working in the orchards when they should have been in school.”
     During the Depression, Guadalupe, a mason by trade, couldn’t find work in town. Unable to support his family, he was forced to rent out the family home and move into a shack in the orchards and pick lemons and oranges at a much lower salary. Not only hard-working but also astute, Guadalupe soon became a supervisor, but he still didn’t earn enough to adequately support his wife and children.
     When the family was living in El Campo, Librada became seriously ill. There was no money for medicine and little food in the house. With their mother weak and barely talking, two of the children, Julia and Alfred, decided to walk to town and search for a doctor. Fortunately, both children could speak English and Spanish. In those days, few people in town spoke Spanish. They found a doctor's office, but to their dismay, the doctor was out on call.
     Desperate, the two children told someone in the office about their mother’s condition. Once they finished explaining, they walked back home. Later in the day, they heard a knock at the front door. When they opened it, the doctor was standing there looking for the two children who had come to his office earlier. Today Lupe still thinks it was a miracle since the children hadn't left an address. The doctor must have knocked on every door in El Campo until he located them.
     When he saw Librada, the doctor immediately knew she was suffering from malnutrition. He started filling her with medication. He visited her each day for the next few days. He told the children to make sure they stopped by his office everyday after school to pick up vitamin supplements for her. Soon, Librada regained her health.
     "If it wasn't for him, our mom would have died," Lupe said. “My sister Julia always remembered that doctor…because, you know, he didn’t have to do that. We didn’t know it at the time but my mom had been giving us her food, so she wasn't eating anything. Our parents really sacrificed for us in those days."
     As the Depression took hold over the country, Guadalupe Sr. could not make the payments on his home in Santa Paula and lost it. He moved the family to West Los Angeles in 1937 where Lupe’s aunt Trinidad was already living, along with Lupe's older brother, Trini. Lupe's younger brother Edward had been living with another aunt, Luisita in Santa Paula. Lupe said that the times were so tough many families sent children to live with other relatives to make ends meet.
     When the Herrera family arrived in Sawtelle, they couldn’t find a house to rent. Lupe said, "There was nobody going to rent to a family with seven kids, no way!" he laughed, thinking of the irony, I'm sure. Not only does he have his own large home, but he built an apartment rental in the back.
     His aunt Trinidad and her husband, who had no children and had saved a little money over the years, bought a small house, and rented it to the family. "I remember that," Lupe said, "Nine dollars a month."

                                                    Lupe and Peaches Herrera, University High School Reunion
     Located on Nebraska Avenue, near Santa Monica Boulevard, the house, Lupe said, “…was just a casita, one bedroom, a tiny living room.” He held out his hands showing a room half the size of his living room. “It had a small bathroom and a porch.”
     Peaches said, chuckling, "It was small!"
     She said she had met Lupe's younger brother Edward before she met Lupe. "Eddie was a friend of my brother, Roji." She said each Sunday she and her brother stopped off at the Herrera's house to pick up Eddie on the way to church. She remembered a few times the weather was cold and rainy, and she and her brother would wait outside for Eddie.
     "Why doesn't he ever ask us in?" she had asked Roji.
     Peaches said years later, when Eddie was already her brother-in-law, she reminded him of those days and asked why he had never invited them in. Eddie told her, laughing, because the living room floor was so full of mattresses, there was no room for anybody to stand up.
     Lupe said two small beds took up nearly all the space in the one bedroom. He and Eddie slept in one bed, but he couldn't remember who slept in the other. His older brothers slept in the living room, each evening spreading out mattresses, and storing them away in the morning.
     I asked, “Where did your mother and father sleep?”
     Lupe started to answer, mumbled, then stopped, as if startled, he thought for a second, then said, embarrassed, "To tell you the truth, I don't know. I really don't know."
     Later Guadalupe and his sons added a room to the house, roughly 30x20 feet. Lupe said it was just made of plywood and simple, but to them back then it was like a mansion.
     “Do you remember what the furniture was like; did you have a stove?” I asked.
     Lupe said, "In the kitchen there was only a mesita."
     He couldn’t remember the entire family ever sitting down to eat at one time. "We must have eaten in shifts," he said. “Everyone was either working or going to school, so nobody ever seemed to be home at one time, except to sleep.”
     He didn’t remember anyone ever complaining. Mostly, they gave thanks for what they had and did not concern themselves with what they lacked, and, most certainly, they did not see themselves, or their parents, as an American general would come to see them.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

National Latino Children’s Literature Conference

The 2018 National Latino Children’s Literature Conference will showcase the works of authors, illustrators, and scholars which embody Latino culture and art as a means to promote literacy and reading in Latino children.

Highlighting the literacy needs of Latino children and their families, the conference also serves as a forum for librarians, educators, researchers, and students to openly discuss future information and education needs necessary to promote Latino literacy.

This year’s conference will be held at UTSA’s Downtown Campus in San Antonio, TX.

 February 22-24, 2018 
UTSA’s Downtown Campus
San Antonio, TX

Keynote Speakers

Rafael López

Rafael López is an internationally recognized illustrator and artist. A children’s book illustrator, he won the 2016 Pura Belpré medal from the American Library Association for his illustrations for Drum Dream Girl and the 2010 Pura Belpré medal for Book Fiesta. In 2012, he was selected by the Library of Congress to create the National Book Festival poster. He has been awarded the 2017 Tomás Rivera Children’s Book Award, three Pura Belpré honors and two Américas Book Awards. The illustrations created by López bring diverse characters to children’s books and he is driven to produce and promote books that reflect and honor the lives of all young people.

Monica Brown

Monica Brown, Ph.D. is the author of many award-winning books for children, including Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People (Henry Holt), winner of the Américas Award for Children’s Literature and an Orbis Pictus Honor for Outstanding Nonfiction, and Waiting for the Biblioburro (Random House), a Christopher Award winner. Her picture book Side by Side: The Story of Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez/Lado a lado: La historia de Dolores Huerta y Cesar Chavez (Rayo/HarperCollins) was an NAACP Image Award nominee and Tejas Star Book Award finalist. Monica’s books are inspired by her PeruvianAmerican heritage and desire to share Latino/a stories with children. “I write from a place of deep passion, joy, and commitment to producing the highest possible quality of literature for children. In my biographies, the lives of my subjects are so interesting and transformational that I am simply giving them voice for a young audience. I don’t think it is ever too early to introduce children to the concepts of magical realism, social justice, and dreaming big!”

Margarita Robleda Moguel

Author of over 30 Latino/a children’s books and winner of the Juanes de la Cabada Fine Art of Children’s Tale Award.

From Margarita: On the migration card, when I leave Mexico, I put in occupation: to be happy. In doing so I remember that everything I do has that goal. Happiness, not as a state of mind, but as realizing my sense of life: being a better person. I think the frog is my nagual. Through his eyes I see things that I have the impression that no one else sees, these discoveries I translate into songs and stories, articles for the newspaper, conference themes, and in recent times in poems and photographs, such as those of the Moon. For many years I have dedicated myself to sing and tell stories to children, now I have opened the age limit until the age of 112, because I consider that the 113 as that changes the character. I struggle day by day so as not to lose my temper.

Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Ms. Mccall is the author of Under the Mesquite (Lee & Low Books), a novel in verse. Under the Mesquite received the prestigious Pura Belpre Author Award, was a William C. Morris Finalist, received the Lee Bennett Hopkins/International Literacy Promising Poet Award, the Tomas Rivera Children’s Book Award, and was included in Kirkus Review’s Best Teen Books of 2011, among many other accolades. 

Ms. Garcia McCall was born in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico. She immigrated with her family to the United States when she was six years old and grew up in Eagle Pass, Texas (the setting of both her novels and most of her poems). She is currently a high school English teacher in San Antonio.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Is Anyone Goin' to San Antone?

Review: Literary San Antonio. Bryce Milligan, Ed. Ft Worth: TCU Press, 2018. ISBN 9780875656939

Michael Sedano

The summer after high school graduation, I flew to a speech tournament in Houston Texas. The return trip, by train, stopped overnight in San Antonio Texas, where I took an an enchanted walk in the warm summer night near Alamo Square.

Walking into a bustling shopping area was like being in San Bernardino, except bigger. I felt delighted no one would ask after my grandmother, and every beautiful Chicana I saw on the street wouldn’t be a Prima.

I told that story to Mario Robledo one night at Bravo Battery, a HAWK missile outfit out of Fort Bliss Texas. Mario was a 19-year old vato from the streets of San Antonio, Regular Army. There was nothing holding him to the best city in the USA, so he joined up.

The shit-kickers played this song down in base camp, by Charley Pride, "Is Anybody Goin' To San Antone?" When I saw the album cover my mind was officially blown Texas-size. One kid exclaimed "Charley Pride can marry my sister!" Over subsequent years multiple business trips into San Antonio confirm high school me's opinion of the best city in the world, and good people all around.

I imagine Mario put in his 20 years. Robledo today, enjoying his late 60s a retired contented man. He’s holding a copy of Literary San Antonio in his lap and saying,”I’ll be darned, who would’ve thought, there’s no place like home.”

Literary San Antonio is the perfect book to pass those endlessly empty hours on the mountain, or  provide immediate gratification for a browser who enjoys tastes of serendipity. Leaf through and you’ll get caught. The book serves every reading interest from merely curious to literary scholar.

Period work, 19th century writers like the quondam giant Sidney Lanier narrating a mythic storming of the doomed Alamo, and the 1960s’ Ricardo Sánchez, explaining "chicano" as a lexical item. The Meaning of Chicano. Rarely anthologized work like Josephina Niggli’s Saints Day, and work intended only for a print audience, like the final story. Niggli's war story captures a grunt's eye view of a war of attrition.

Journalism combined with political organizing collects Emma Tenayuca’s classic example of argument while providing a contemporary shudder at how little changes in raza life, The Mexican Question in the Southwest.

Small politics with larger scope come into focus through columnist Jan Jarboe Russell's account of the battle of the Alamo among society women, Letter from San Antonio. No retreat! No surrender! Hay otra voz, especially among the mover and shaker tipas who look after local culture.

Speculative fiction readers will delight in the out-of-body experiences in O.Henry’s story The Enchanted Kiss. Modern readers will give the syntax and dialect spelling a friendly reading. The palsied twisted Chuy Pingarrón finds a spot in literary history with Candy on one side and Arty from Geek Love on another, and the sausage man in Tod Browning’s Freaks in back.

The editor's note on O.Henry and local bridges makes a story of itself, and the period piece draws a memorable connection. What do iron and aluminum ring like?

The city’s teatro history, wasn’t available or perhaps what the editors found seemed as bathetic as certain cowboy laments described in the introduction because the editors went for quality, and drama is tough to sell. Quien sabe, right? Gregg Barrios' work gets an editorial nod, but all things being equal, one exemplar is what we share.

A memory play, Sterling Houston’s Driving Wheel is a worthy sample with the play's echoes of August Wilson in both dialogue and use of place to delve into intense family issues.

The volume’s raza side enjoys good proportion in the poetry and fiction chapters. The sixteen poets, principally women, illustrate why there never can be enough poetry, nor enough poems fully to capture the richness of theme and style that populate a region’s rhetorical discourse in poetry.

Carmen Tafolla, Laurie Ann Guerrero, and Rosemary Catacalos are three laureates of their town and state, and Naomi Shahib Nye is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Nye’s segment leads with a sadly apt prose piece about guns and bullets and time.

Reading the editor's biographies of the writers constitutes a deeper layer of San Anto literary history. There’s a montón of degrees, several MAs, and a Ph.D. in the mix. Niggli held MA. That persistent thread of brilliance that shines out from before Emma Tenayuca’s time, is certified by these paper accomplishments, as if their art doesn't already speak for itself and their pueblo.

There's lots of nuggets and delights across the genres. Readability goals achieved. A right way to eat a taco moment in Mary Guerrero Milligan's Loteria:La Rosa, wondering if taco is the folded-in-half kind, or the wrapped kind I grew up, also called a burrito? I got a chortle from the clash of vocalic styles, the colloquial meets the medieval, that culminates a wonderful paragraph in Ph.D. Norma Elia Cantú’s ekphrasis, “La Chola.”

Big hoop earrings. Big hair. teased bouffant.… defiant but also a bit fearful; she knows her future. Sees it in her tías… La chola fears cancer. Fears so many things: her boyfriend, her dad. Fears her uncles. Fears poverty. Fears illness. Fears old age. But most of all she fears them, the men who rule and decide for her. But maybe she’ll show them all. Become la reina del sur. Her own boss. Take no shit from nobody, as she is wont to say.

It’s important that kids see themselves in the books they have to read, in process of finding books they want to read. Like Literary San Antonio, no matter where that kid reads, kids and their folks will pass it around. I wonder if Robledo would have gone a different direction, if his high school let him read about his girl back home? I hope she wasn't afraid of the guy I knew on that Korean mountaintop.

A collection like that of Literary San Antonio's answers lots of cultural needs, not in San Antonio alone, and comes in a package diversity-palatable. Except to the most hidebound of the DRT, Daughters of the Republic of Texas, whose mismanagement of the thing itself, the Alamo, reflects a long-simmering tension between raza daughters, like Adina de Zavala, and anglo daughters.

The publishers obviously intend people to read this book without struggling with its 416 pages. TCU Press has chosen a extra large page dimension and large, legible even without glasses type.

Lots of gente and just plain folk have their San Antonio conectas, memories, and empty spots they won’t know existed until they get their hands on the print or electronic version of a fabulous sequel to the publisher’s Literary El Paso. Order Literary San Antonio via your local brick & mortar bookseller.

Loving Floricanto Update

At least two poets' biographical materials reached me after the Valentine column was put to bed. One, Briana Muñoz, notified me her materials shipped tardy, but that email has yet to arrive. Another, Moderator Sonia Gutiérrez, got tangled in the vagaries of email and ultimately arrived. Here's a link to the St Valentine On-line Floricanto updated.