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

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Librarianship and Computers, a Short History. By Antonio SolisGomez

In the early part of 1980 computers were beginning to appear in libraries. The Tucson Public’s Main Library had a special unit that was funded by the state to answer difficult reference question that were sent there by smaller libraries without the resources to answer the questions themselves. This special unit had access to fee based electronic databases that were being marketed by a company named Dialog. It was the earliest version of online information and required a small unit with a keyboard, a built in printer and two foam cups to attach a rotary telephone. It was called a TTY.

I was working at a smaller branch and obtained permission from Administration to let me train on this new technology with Dave Kendal the librarian working the unit. Dialog provided a couple of hundred databases in the physical sciences, literature and in the social sciences.

Today, a person can use ordinary language and obtain information on Google but at that time, accessing these databases required using key words separated by and, or, not. It was called Boolean Logic. There were some enhancements that could be applied such as a key word within so many words of another key word and one could also search descriptors that were applied at the time the information was entered into the database. Additionally each of the 200 plus databases had peculiarities that a searcher had to know in order to obtain the best results possible. In many ways searching in this old way was infinitely more precise and eliminated false “hits” but not at all user friendly and thus not suitable for the general public as is Google.

Also appearing in the early 1980’s were the databases provided by Nexis and Lexis, the former a full text database of newspaper articles and the later a database of case law, now an indispensable resource for the law profession.
Circulation person operating machine that photographed the library user & book card

I transferred to the Tucson Public’s Main library in 1981 and by then the regular Main Library staff had obtained access to the aforementioned databases and they soon became an essential tool for answering the public’s information queries.

The computerized circulation system of the Tucson Public Library system was operational circa 1983-4. Heretofore books were checked out to the public by using a machine that photographed a person’s library card with the card that provided book’s title and author and its assigned Dewey Decimal number. The book’s card was then placed in a file by due date. The film had to be reviewed periodically to identify individuals who had not returned an item and the person contacted by mail. Reserving a book for someone was a time consuming process requiring clerks to check all returned books, against a hand written note indicating that someone was waiting for it.

The new computerized circulation system was to make everyone’s work much more efficient but it required a gigantic initial effort of digitizing every book in the entire system and to assigned it a barcode. There were hundreds of thousands of books in the entire system but somehow the conversion was accomplished.

One day during the Christmas season one of our clerks was able to use the circulation system to send an electronic message to a branch library: Merry Christmas it said. For our library it was the first appearance of an email.

Behind the scene, in the library's workroom where books were catalogued, big changes were also taking place. Cataloguing a book, that is deciding what its subject was and then assigning it a dewey decimal number, took an inordinate amount of time until an outfit called OCLC began providing a cataloguing service. OCLC revolutionized this aspect of libraianship as the great majority of a library's books could be catalogued in this manner, leaving only a few unique books that had to be catalogued by a the library staff.  

In 1988 I accepted a job offer in Santa Barbara as the Director of the Black Gold Information Center that answered reference questions from seven member libraries of Black Gold: Santa Paula, San Luis Obispo, Ventura, Lompoc, Santa Maria, Paso Robles and Santa Barbara. My office was at the Santa Barbara Main Library and I had another office on the campus of the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB).
An Electronic Bulletin Board

We answered incoming reference questions with the book collection of the Santa Barbara Public Library and also UCSB’s. We also answered questions with the aforementioned electronic databases and tried utilizing the emerging Electronic Bulletin Boards, but with little success.

In 1993, I was offered a position by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek Michigan. I accepted and began setting up the Foundation’s first library. My job was to provide for the information needs of the foundation staff, which entailed a host of services.

Two of those services entailed working with the new kid on the block, namely the Internet. Although computers with monitors were being purchased by the general public since the early 1980’s, as previously mentioned accessing electronic databases was accomplished via a TTY, a unit that originally functioned without a screen, the search results visible as a hardcopy print.

About the time that I started at the Foundation, web browsers were made available to the general public. The first one called Mosaic and then another called Netscape, made possible the display of information on a screen, leading to the creation of web sites. It also made possible the display of retrieved information from the Dialog’s electronic databases and from Nexis.

The Kellogg Foundation had a Technology Department that was responsible for operating and maintaining an internal computer network. Thus every staff person had access to this internal network and to other external networks via email which was quickly becoming a necessity for every aspect of economic and social life.

In 1994 I began purchasing all of the Foundation’s books from the brand new online bookstore named Amazon, which at that time was solely dedicated to the sale of books.
author in his office/library

Another aspect of my job was to help train staff in the use of the Internet to retrieve information.

In 1995 I was given the opportunity to work as a program officer in reviewing proposals, awarding grants and monitoring Non Profit Organizations that had received a grant.

One of the Foundation’s concerns was that the emerging Internet was not going to be available to everyone, in particular the urban and rural poor and minorities. They called it the digital divide.

Public Libraries which had been at society’s forefront in providing information was of particular concern as there was the fear that they would be unable to transition to the digital age, in particular because of the existing book culture that cast aspersions at digital information.
Percent of U.S. Households Using the Internet by Race/Origin

Gail McClure who was the Director of the Communications Department responsible for the library, designed several programs to address both the Digital Divide and Public Libraries and the Foundation awarded grants totaling several millions of dollars. Among the grants awarded was a multimillion dollar grant to the University of Michigan to convert their Library School to a multidisciplinary School of Information Science, another multimillion dollar grant to the Library of Congress to digitize some of their collection, another multimillion dollar grant to the New York Public Library to bolster their Business Collection and a few million to the primary national organization for public libraries the American Library Association, to further the understanding of Librarians regarding digital information.

We can easily see that that today public libraries made the transition and that computers and databases compatibly co-exist with books and that public libraries have made possible access to computers by the general public that lacks no and/or limited access from home. There were many stake holders in making this transition possible, foundations like the W.K. Kellogg were but one of several others as were private corporations like Microsoft and of course the government at all levels.

Friday, October 12, 2018

CILDE -- Latino Crime Fiction on Campus

I recently had the pleasure and honor of participating in the 8th International Hispanic Crime Fiction Conference, also known as CILDE, which stands for La Conferencia Internacional de Literatura Detectivesca en Español.  The Conference was held on the campus of Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, home of the Red Raiders and Buddy Holly.  This was the second time I made a presentation at Texas Tech, and I have learned that Tech is a place where Latino crime fiction is taken very seriously. The Conference is the product of the hard work of several people and organizations.  At the heart of the event are a couple of professors who have become my good friends: Jorge Zamora and Rodrigo Pereyra.  

These two educators are experts on all things involving crime fiction, especially Latino, Latin American, and Hispanic crime fiction. Drop the name of an author of Mexican noir, and these guys can tell you the twists in the plots of the author, or mention a Cuban writer of private eye tales, and Jorge or Rodrigo will give you the names of the Cuban's main characters.  Their work, and the work of the teachers and students who made presentations, eloquently put to rest the old arguments about whether this type of fiction is "Literature," and whether such writing can command the respect of academics, critics, and "mainstream" authors.

Aldona Pobutsky
This year's conference began with a bang, of course.  Aldona Pobutsky of Oakland University called her opening keynote Airing Mexico's Dirty Laundry through Crime Fiction:  The Poquianchi Scandal.  Using a  1976 Mexican movie as background, Pobutsky related the sordid true tale of a scandalous brothel that included corruption at the highest levels of government, murder, and exploitation and enslavement of women and children. She set the hard-edged tone for the Conference's later discussions about the power of crime fiction, the inherent opposition to the status quo found in most crime fiction, and the consistent ability of crime fiction to highlight and criticize current social issues.  

Pobutsky is completing a book manuscript on the cultural legacy of Pablo Escobar and his contemporaries, Branding Pablo Escobar. Her other projects include a book chapter on Pablo Escobar in the visual media to appear in the Colombia Reader, and an essay on real-life narco “trophy women” who had relationships with (and survived) the infamous drug lords from the Medellín and Valle del Norte Cartels. 

Here's the movie.

With Aldona Pobutsky and Lucha Corpi

Another special guest at the Conference was my friend and inspiration, Lucha Corpi.  Lucha spoke about her long, mysterious and complicated relationship with her main protagonist, Gloria Damasco.  Lucha's talk was entitled La página roja:  Gloria Damasco, Black Widow and I.  She related her experiences and conflicts with the prejudices against crime fiction held by fellow writers, even close friends.  But she also spoke about how her character, Gloria, guided her and revealed herself so that her stories could be told.  

One important point about Lucha's talk:  She announced that her appearance at the CILDE Conference would be her "swan song."  She does not plan to travel again outside of California to talk about her writing. Time for reflection about and appreciation for what she has accomplished with her writing.  My time with Lucha in Lubbock was time well-spent.

Lucha and I conducted a lunch time workshop, a great way to spend time with students and answer their questions about detective fiction and writing in general. Several young writers were in the group, which was highly encouraging.

A few of the students with Lucha Corpi and Manuel Ramos

The bulk of the Conference consisted of presentations on a variety of topics.  Titles for some of the talks will give you an idea about the diversity and depth of the research being done on Latino crime fiction.  For example:  

Nuevas versiones de la novela criminal centroamericana: Moronga de Horacio Castellanos Moya

La masculinidad hegemónica: Un análisis de las interseccionalidades en dos Tex-Mex Legal Thrillers de Carlos Cisneros

La Habana se desmorona: el cuento policiaco de Leonardo Padura

Spain’s “Country Noir” Genre: Dolores Redondo’s Baztán Triology

Cultural, Linguistic, and Historical Hybridity in Black Widow’s Wardrobe and Eulogy for a Brown Angel by Lucha Corpi

Espacio urbano, crimen e investigación en Regreso a la misma ciudad y bajo la lluvia de Paco Ignacio Taibo II y O Silêncio da Chuva de Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza
When it was my turn to talk, I couldn't avoid the political crisis that surrounds all of us, every day. My talk was entitled The Relevance (?) of Crime Fiction Escapist Literature in 21st Century USA. My conclusion, you might guess, is that such fiction is highly relevant in these times. One could say that writing crime fiction can be an act of resistance. In that spirit, I may publish my talk here on La Bloga, one of these days. 

The 8th CILDE was an outstanding success and I  know the organizers are already talking about, and planning for, the next get-together.  There's even talk of taking the show on the road, say, to Mexico?

Jorge Zamora, Manuel Ramos, Lucha Corpi

Congratulations to all those involved in producing and presenting this Conference.  More info about CILDE here.

On stage with some of the participants including Aldona Pobutsky, Rodrigo Pereyra, Lucha Corpi, and Jorge Zamora



Manuel Ramos writes crime fiction.  His newest book is The Golden Havana Night.  Launch party:  Tattered Cover (Colfax), October 22 at 7:00 p.m.