Friday, November 30, 2018

Fire and Rain Santa Barbara

Melinda Palacio

Rain clouds above a burnt out Santa Barbara hillside, view from my house.
Rain returns to California like a scorned lover who can’t remember what the original argument was about. For the past two days, the rain was the kind the entire state has been praying for. I’m sure the land appreciated the many hours of a soft gentle patter. However, there were fits of thunder, rare for the west coast, as well as wind, and sheets of water falling sideways and banging on my glass French doors. Wikipedia calls the winter phenomenon a Pineapple Express or an airborne river out of Hawaii. This burst of frenetic downpour feels like the singer Sia belting out one of her famous lines into your ear, “I want to Swing from a Chandelier.” 

Ever since fires have become more prevalent in California, the idea of rain, however badly we need it, makes me feel anxious that there might be another deadly episode of mudslides, such as the one in January that killed 17 people in Montecito when the 101 turned into a river of mud. The view from my kitchen window is of an exposed, burnt out hillside. The lack of rain since the Jesusita Fire in 2009 that consumed the house and hillside means there is some protection from a future fire because there is no fuel left to burn, but it will be a long time before the hill returns to the verdant state it was when we first moved in over ten years ago. Most of the state is covered with burned out hills and I can only imagine the heartbreak in the town of Paradise where an entire town was destroyed by fire. 

Rain used to be a seasonal expectation until drought became the new normal in California. On social media, a teacher posted a photograph of her young students staring outside the classroom window at the water falling from the sky. The picture made me a little sad, rain shouldn’t be such a rare sight. However children who are five to seven years old have only known drought. I am reminded of the Ray Bradbury story where children lock a little girl in a closet during the one hour the sun come out on Venus. I hope we return to a state where water and rain are not such an odd or deadly phenomenon. 

Thursday, November 29, 2018

A Veterans Day Story:Unlikely Espontaneo

Daniel Cano


     The next day, the Mexican newspaper, El Diario, reported that the man had been drunk and out trying to impress his rich friends, just like thousands of other tourists who made fools of themselves each weekend in border towns from Reynosa to Tijuana. But this time, one of them had gone too far, and he, unfortunately, had to pay the price.
     That was the gist of the story El Diario’s reporter filed, more-or-less. One Baja publication, Accion de la Frontera, a more investigative magazine, learned that the subject in question was a Vietnam veteran, and its reporter blamed the tragedy on out of control PTSD, as well as the fact that the U.S. entered wars, sent young men to fight them and didn’t provide the psychological support they needed when they returned. In the U.S., most newspapers hadn’t even covered the tragic event, except for man’s hometown newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, whose short account could be summarized something like: American tourist gravely injured in Tijuana bullfight mishap.    However, for those present that day, nobody really understood what had happened, and among them, their versions varied.
     The crowd had been restless from the boredom and unnecessary suffering of the first two bulls. The bullfighters seemed to be playing it safe. Who wants to die in a border town? The true aficionados began to stomp their feet and holler just as the third animal rushed into the arena, kicking up a cloud of dust and hooking its horns wildly at the hot afternoon air. With nothing solid to attack, the animal retreated to the toril, the red wooden gate from which it entered.
     A slight movement captured its attention, a gray shadow at the other side of the ring. In seconds, the beast homed in on the lone figure entering its territory. The man heard the applause. He also heard jeers and whistles, but none of it mattered. He moved forward, perhaps a bit irrationally, but determined of his every step.
     The monosabios swooped in to prevent a tragedy. They scampered through the callejon between the barrera and the bleachers, cursing the well-dressed intruder who stood inside the arena just beyond their reach. A hefty security guard entered the ring and carefully moved towards the man. But before the guard could reach him, the man moved closer to the bull, away from the safety of the barrera, the red barrier surrounding the ring. He stood barely 20 feet from the animal.
     The crowd quieted. The security guard stopped. The bull turned to face the man. Everything slowed. The security guard retreated, slipping through the opening in the barrera and took his place where the police, bullfighters and a recently arrived doctor waited, peering at the man before them.
     Nobody knew what to make of the man. An espontaneo, a spectator who suddenly leaps into the arena without warning during a bullfight was usually a raggedly dressed local teenager seeking instant glory and a chance to impress an agent or impresario. Usually, the monosabios would grapple with the espontaneo, and the police would cart him off to jail; or worse, a bull would drive a horn into him. But for a poor Mexican kid, what did it matter? It’s either that or head illegally across the border to pick fruit, work the gardens of the rich, or wash dishes in a dank L.A. restaurant. Still, it’s a chance, a bleak opportunity at fame; and hadn’t the great Manolete started as an espontaneo?
     But what of this older man, Raul Armenta? He sported brown Ralph Lauren chinos and a baby blue John Ashford polo shirt. He wore top of the line Rockports. His year-old Range Rover was parked right across the border in a 24-hour San Ysidro parking lot. He hadn’t planned on jumping into the arena. Oh, he had often dreamed of it in his youth, and even strategized how he would do it. The obsession with the bulls had come early in his life and remained deep in his subconscious, taking residence there among his other obsessions and psychological pathologies, those he chose to bury among the tangled mess in his brain. Some years earlier, the Veterans Administration had approved his claim for PTSD, 30% disability. He didn’t need the money. He just wanted the truth recorded in his military record, exposure to Agent Orange and too many firefights and atrocities to remember, especially those few months patrolling the Song Ve River Valley as a paratrooper and recon ranger.
     At 54, Raul had once again begun to obsess over his year in Vietnam. He’d never felt guilty, not really. In fact, it was just the opposite. He’d always been proud of his military service, saving the Vietnamese citizenry from the throes of Communism, keeping the country safe for Catholicism, the religion of his people. He also believed that if the U.S. didn’t have the heart to fight wars, it shouldn’t start them.
     Raul had managed for many years to control what he once told his psychologist were “urges of the psyche.” His notions about the whole Southeast Asian affair had begun to change. He had come to feel he deserved to be recognized as a PTSD survivor, even though it took him long enough to admit it to himself. PTSD…. Who knew? One day he might need the benefits the claim afforded him.
     He had done and seen a lot of shit, he told his shrink. If some guys in his platoon had self-destructed and taken innocent Vietnamese lives, he had stayed true to himself. When they executed the farmer’s son, Raul had fought to protect the kid, that is, until his friends threatened to “blow him away,” and tell everyone he was a traitor if he didn’t turn the kid over.
     But now, at this moment, that was all far behind him, and he could barely fathom the reasons for walking towards a bull in front of 4,000 strangers in the bullring known as El Toreo de Tijuana or what American aficionados called the Downtown Bullring. The thing about Raul Armenta was that when he set his mind to accomplish something, he usually succeeded, and here, today, one good pass with the capote was all he wanted.
     It had all been easy. First, he bought a $50 ticket in the shady section, first row and took his seat among Tijuana’s elite. When the third bull of the afternoon came roaring out of the toril, Armenta dropped from his concrete seat into the callejon. No one really noticed the disturbance until he stood in the ring. A short cry came from the fans closest to him.
     Instantly, he moved to where a bullfighter had draped a capote over the barrera. He swiped the cape from the red wall, turned, and walked toward the center of the ring before anybody could react.
     A sick feeling entered Raul’s stomach when he noted the weight of the stiff canvas in his hands. He moved to unfurl the cape in front of his body, but the thick material wouldn’t cooperate, and instead what should have been the movement of a ballet dancer filled with grace and beauty became an awkward movement of an amateur tripping over a heavy piece of magenta and gold-colored material.
     The beast put its snout to the ground and stayed close to the toril.
     Raul studied the animal, and thought--a manzo. He remembered Hemingway’s description in Death in the Afternoon. A manzo was the most dangerous kind of animal. A manzo was cowardly, unpredictable, and edgy. Bullfighters hated fighting manzos and usually dispatched them after a few ceremonial passes to temper the fans who demanded excitement.
     The ring attendants, monosabios (wise monkeys), stood anxiously around the barrera and looked for the right moment to rush into the ring, tackle Raul, drag him from the arena and take him to jail, where they would learn he was a university vice-president whose salary exceeded $100,000 a year.
     As the absurd spectacle unfolded, the fans sensed danger, possibly death. Their whistles and jeers ceased, except for a group of college-aged drunk Americans, shirtless and tanned, in the Sunny Section, upper level, where they raised their extra-large cups of Corona in a mock salute. They cheered Raul, encouraging him forward. One way or another they wanted blood. They had paid for it and felt they deserved it.
     The bull raised its head. Raul balked, his stomach turning at the reek of hay, feces, and urine. He saw a trickle of blood running from the bull’s shoulder to its front leg, soiling the sand at its hoof. The animal let out a cry, like the sound of a cheap bugle.
     “Ho!” Raul grunted, beckoning the animal forward.
     Raul stood about six feet tall, nearly 170 pounds and not much fat. He still moved well for an older man. Every Saturday he played basketball with seven or eight friends, educators, all Vietnam vets he’d met working at nearby colleges and universities. After two or three games, they’d head for a local bar where they’d drink a few pitchers of beer before heading home for lawn-cutting, weeding, painting, and the research projects some of them still attempted. They'd begun a support group at the local VA administration complex in West Los Angeles.
     Imagine if his friends could see him now? They’d think him mad--and what would they say when learning he’d spent the night in Tijuana? Fine, go visit for a day, have a meal, do some shopping, maybe even go out to Rio Azul, where the rich Mexicans shopped. But don’t spend the night in Tijuana; that’s just not cool, and forget about saying he had been to a strip club, no less. Christ! That was high school out-of-control testosterone stuff (and only after being good and drunk). But the newer clubs were upscale, state-of-the-art, not like the old border dives. Tijuana had gained a lot of style these past few years--cartel money.
     But was this really Raul, the master organizer, the Raul who sat in senior staff and board meetings giving concise updates on the workings of his division? The cool one who had learned to stretch the facts, smother the negatives, and say what the brass wanted to hear, how his budget, millions of dollars, had been well spent down to the last penny? What questionable accounts? The president’s contractor friends? Sleight-of-hand audits? No such thing.
     Raul had been to a public policy institute in New Haven and learned to move accounts around like one of those street magicians sliding a pebble under walnut shells. The auditors, though, had started putting the screws to him, and he knew it would be just a matter of time before the piper would come calling, just like the military CID captain, who'd visited him in 1985, asking about the incidents in the Song Ve, which Raul said he'd forgotten. The captain had used the word "atrocities".
     The monosabio called to him, "Put down the cape slowly, move backwards, and you will be safe." Raul heard but ignored him. Instead, he moved forward, calling to the beast, "Just one pass, my friend. Just one pass."
     When the animal rushed toward him, Raul planted his feet, held out the capote, and, along with everyone else, he waited. His adversary's eyes reminded him of other eyes he'd seen so many years ago, in another time and place.

This excerpted from a novel, a work-in-progress

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Crossroads

By Alexandra Diaz

  •             Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  •             Grade Level: 3 - 7
  •             Hardcover: 336 pages
  •             Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
  •             Language: English
  •             ISBN-10: 153441455X
  •             ISBN-13: 978-1534414556

After crossing Mexico into the United States, Jaime Rivera thinks the worst is over. Starting a new school can’t be that bad. Except it is, and not just because he can barely speak English. While his cousin Ángela fits in quickly, with new friends and after-school activities, Jaime struggles with even the idea of calling this strange place “home.” His real home is with his parents, abuela, and the rest of the family; not here where cacti and cattle outnumber people, where he can no longer be himself—a boy from Guatemala.

When bad news arrives from his parents back home, feelings of helplessness and guilt gnaw at Jaime. Gang violence in Guatemala means he can’t return home, but he’s not sure if he wants to stay either. The US is not the great place everyone said it would be, especially if you’re sin papeles—undocumented—like Jaime. When things look bleak, hope arrives from unexpected places: a quiet boy on the bus, a music teacher, an old ranch hand. With his sketchbook always close by, Jaime uses his drawings to show what it means to be a true citizen.

Powerful and moving, this touching sequel to The Only Road explores overcoming homesickness, finding ways to connect despite a language barrier, and discovering what it means to start over in a new place that alternates between being wonderful and completely unwelcoming.

En Español

Jaime y Ángela descubren lo que es vivir como inmigrantes indocumentados en los Estados Unidos en la continuación de El único destino, libro ganador del premio Pura Belpré Honor.


“An incredibly heartfelt depiction of immigrants and refugees in a land full of uncertainty.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Diaz paints an insightful, realistic picture of a place that’s filled with opportunity but simultaneously rife with discrimination, which is especially important reading for today’s children.” —Booklist

“Fans of The Only Road will appreciate following Jaime and Ángela on the next phase of their lives, while teachers and librarians may find the text useful to counter unsubstantiated myths about Central Americans fleeing to the US.” —School Library Journal

Jaime and Ángela discover what it means to be living as undocumented immigrants in the United States in this timely sequel to the Pura Belpré Honor Book The Only Road.

Alexandra Diaz is a Cuban-American spending her time between Bath, England, Santa Fe, NM, and the rest of the world. She has an MA in Writing for Young People from Bath Spa University and has led various workshops since she was fourteen. As a result of being homeschooled for most of high school, she’s fascinated by teenage school life and the drama that occurs in those quarters. One of the reasons she writes is to experience life in someone else’s shoes. She is a “jenny of all trades” having worked as a nanny, teacher, film extra, tour guide, and dairy goat judge (seriously). She currently teaches creative writing and circus arts, though not at the same time. For more information, got to

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Stock Up on Stocking Stuffers: Part I

Editor's Note: Leading up to Christmas day, La Bloga-Tuesday presents "stocking stuffer" ideas. Inexpensive gifts of great value make the best kind of stocking stuffers.
Review: Juan & Armando Tejeda. Raíz XicanX. Digital recording.
Michael Sedano

Season’s spending decisions begin to take serious measure of one’s resources. At the same time, people you love answer “nothing” when you ask. One thing most people don’t need is more things. Music is one of those you can have your cake, and eat it, too, things. Believe me, I know.

I’ve spent the past months digitizing my vinyl record collection. Cardboard cartons of albums are heavy masses of treasure and memories. I don’t need those things, the albums, but yes to the memories. So a big Yes! to the music things, especially yes to unique collections of up-tempo happy musica, like Raíz XicanX from primo hermanos Juan and Armando Tejeda.

Raiz XicanX (link) offers multiple pleasures as music and performance.

First, music you’ve never heard before but sounds like music you’ve heard all your life. Chicano music.

This is good stuff, a musicologist’s delight. That’s the Raiz part, a tour of Los Tejeda primos' artistry comprising these classic musical styles. As the website for the album describes, "a collection of 17 love songs to and from la Raza that range from original indigenous cantos and corridos to traditional Conjunto Tejano, to blues, boleros, country, cumbia, rock, and jazz."

In the middle of the playlist comes the XicanX sound that makes a listener sit up and take notice with a big grin on their face.

The album closes with more roots music, an exquisite arrangement of the classic folk tune “La Llorona,” and like a bookend, a closing canto to the composer’s other daughter.

The opening track is a chant, the perfect beginning to an album with “Raiz” in the title. Imagine you’re around a campfire and someone starts thumping a two-beat rhythm on a drum, rattles on dancers’ ankles pick up the beat, a reed flute sounds three notes signaling a change to a relentless five-beat drumming chant, “ma ya quetz zal li”.

The last embers of indigenous campfire fade and the listener sits in a barracks during WWII, following the journey of the composer, Frank Tejeda, from San Antonio to Camp Bowie to the bloody Italy invasions accompanied by Longoria in the song. A different Longoria, Felix, was denied burial in his hometown Texas cemetery—whites only, sabes? That Longoria, and the river crossing are the subject of anonymous' “To Brothers Dead.” Tejeda’s corrido, like the poem, mourns the lives left behind in a senselessly-led attack.

The acoustic sound and easy rhythm of the next songs places a listener on a Saturday night in a lonely settlement somewhere in the vast south Texas llano. Maybe you’re in the Texas chapter of Annie Proulx' Accordion Crimes, a great novel whose Texas conjunto chapter visualizes gente gathering from miles around for dance, drink, and the local musicos, some Mexican hands who own an accordion, a drum, a bajo sexto. Their music mixes up styles from the locals as well as European immigrants. The muchachos can play it all.

Tonight's dance starts with a fast one, “La Piedrera/La Barranca Polka Medley,” at a gentle kind of fast because the viejitos are out dancing to some old favorites, tunes from when they were young. Then the conjunto slows it down just a little with a schottische, "El Senderito Schotís". Slower now, “Luzita Mazurka” segues into a waltz, “Ausencia Valz,” then wham!

“Barbacoa Blues”. He coulda had menudo but he got some cabeza instead. That’s where the viejitos went, back to their tables to eat while the young people take over in the studio. Bluesy hard beat gets everyone tapping their toes, nodding, and smiling at the English lyric of Chicano food, “put some meat inside,” with a Raelettes chorus for a few measures, and heavy guitar. Vocal backgrounds are by Juan Tejeda.

Raiz XicanX is a musical treat that arrives loaded with listenability and history. Juan and Armando Tejeda offer a musicology lesson in musical foundations of conjunto music. That’s why it’s called “Raiz” que no? New roots, too, are here. Dig that delightful genre explosion of diversity in tracks 12 through 14, until the closing three tracks bring you back to las raices with a tropical tambor-heavy El Canoero, a virtuoso interpretation of “La Llorona,” and the closing chant.

Raiz XicanX is a thing that isn't a thing--download it onto your thing that plays music, at this link, where you can listen to samples, and click to download individual songs or the full CD.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Ensayo fotográfico del Doctor José P. Villalobos

Ensayo fotográfico del Doctor José P. Villalobos
Xánath Caraza

Durante más de dos décadas un grupo de profesores, académicos, intelectuales españoles y norteamericanos han venido estudiando de forma conjunta la realidad de los hispanos en Estados Unidos.  Es precisamente fruto de este encuentro por lo que surge HispaUSA.  Una asociación sin ánimo de lucro, cuyos fines son estimular, fomentar e impulsar el estudio y la investigación en todas las áreas relacionadas con la cultura y la sociedad hispana en los Estados Unidos; así como fomentar la interrelación entre el mundo hispano de Estados Unidos y España.

HispaUSA tiene su sede en el Instituto Franklin de la Universidad de Alcalá de Henares, un centro que desde 1987 ha impulsado el estudio de Norteamérica así como la colaboración institucional entre Estados Unidos y España.

Este 2018 se llevó a cabo en Salamanca del 28 al 30 de mayo el XI International Conference on Chicano Literature and Latino Studies.

Hace unos meses publiqué en La Bloga algunas fotos que tuve la oportunidad de hacer aunque hubiese querido incluir más participantes del congreso.  Hoy presento otra selección de fotografías del XI Congreso Internacional sobre Literatura Chicana y Estudios Latinos de mayo de 2018 hechas por el Doctor José Pablo Villalobos de TAMU. 

Aquí una breve semblanza del Dr. Villalobos y a continuación algunas de sus fotografías.

José Pablo Villalobos was born in Mexicali and raised in Calexico, along the Baja and Alta California border region.  He is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Hispanic Studies at Texas A&M University where he teaches courses on Latino and Mexican literature and culture.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Downsizin' and Lowridin'

HOBBY: an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation and not as a main occupation.

Kris Diaz
Something a little different today.  Here's a recent interview I did with Kristofer Diaz, a guy I met a few weeks ago at a hobby expo here in Denver.  Kris is involved in the local car culture -- car shows, car clubs -- and part of that involvement includes scale modeling.  He puts together those plastic car model kits that many of us (the boys, in most cases) tried our hands at, before we quit in frustration, when we were young dudes checking out our uncles' copies of Hot Rod magazine, or watching the neighborhood lowrider cruise slowly by like a candy-colored fantastic fantasy. But, unlike most of us, Kris kept at it and is actually very good at this hobby, and, in my opinion at least, his models (the few I've seen) rise to the level of works of art.  

Kris was born in Brussels, Belgium, to Peruvian parents. His father's work took the family to Canada, then they immigrated to the USA when Kris was 4. He's lived in the Aurora, Colorado area since except for a stint in Detroit (the motor city, of course) where he went to college, met his wife, and started his family. He has two sons and works for Jefferson County as an engineering inspector.


Manuel: Why model cars?
Kris: I'm not sure why I got into cars at all, I remember noticing them and liking them from a very young age, but I was not born into a family of car people like some enthusiasts are.

M: What attracted you to this hobby?
​K: I think as an automotive enthusiast who didn't have much access to real cars, model cars was the next best thing.

M: Describe your hobby for someone who is not familiar with all that scale modeling is.
K: ​To me, scale modeling is building a miniature model car or truck to resemble the real thing as much as possible.

M: Are you a member of any modeling clubs or groups?
K: I help run a local facebook group and belong to countless other groups on facebook and Instagram.

Cover photo from the Colorado Model Car Builders Facebook page

M: Facebook or website info?

M: From your experience, are there many Latinos involved in this hobby?
​K: I've found a pretty strong Latino presence locally but especially of course on the west coast. I'm a lowrider builder so of course it's easier to find Latino builders.

M: How long have you been involved in scale modeling?
​K: Since 1989.

M: How did you get started?
K: In 7th grade a friend gave me a model car for my birthday and while I had no idea what I was doing, I got more and never looked back.

M: What are the skills, if any, you've developed because of your hobby?
​K: I've developed an attention to detail and research to produce the most accurate build. Patience of course. Since I'm also into real cars, I've learned a lot about how cars are put together before I ever actually got my hands dirty.

M: How has your hobby impacted your life?
​K: I think that I've been able to cross my hobby over into the real thing. I'm happier messing around with cars in any scale than I am hitting the bar or club.

M: Are there many young people involved in modeling? Boys and girls?
​K: Far and few between. I've seen a few jump in with the encouragement of their parents. What I've found is that a lot of builders are exposed early, then get out of the hobby to build real cars, start families, etc, then start finding the hobby again once they're older and have more time.

M: Do you encourage young people to get involved in this hobby?
​K: I do, I run a model car show and have a Make N Take, where a young builder can put together an easy model for free.

Cover photo from Compas Colorado Car Club Facebook page

M: Does your hobby include car clubs, car shows, drag racing, or auto sports, exhibitions, or projects?
​K: I belong to Compas Car Club and we hit car shows pretty regularly. But model cars is not a part of that. I do attend shows locally and do plan on hitting some bigger shows nationally.

M: Ever work on a life-size auto like one of your models?
​K: I have a life size auto that I do have a model of.

M: If someone wants to get started in scale modeling, what advice would you give them?
​K: Start with something simple to start building up your skills. The cars available have a wide range. There is a whole world of research and aftermarket materials available at your fingertips on the internet that can help you along that wasn't there 15-20 years ago.

M: What are you working on now, and what projects do you have planned for the future?
​K: The nice thing about model cars is that you can build whatever you heart desires for the fraction of the cost and space of a real car. So I'm one of those guys that goes overboard and picks up a lot of models for the "future". I have probably over 1000 models in my collection that I have every intention of building someday. I have put my hands on every one to some degree, therefore I have a LOT of projects. The nice thing is that if I get frustrated or bored with a project, I can box it up and put it away for later, and pull down another project. Currently on the table is a 90s Cadillac Lowrider and a bagged out 66 Chevrolet Suburban.

M: When is the next show or contest where readers of La Bloga can see samples of your work?
K: I attend random contests mostly locally, but my next show is June 9th 2019 at the Havana Cruise in Aurora (the Havana Mini-Cruise).

Thank you, Kris -- hope to see you at the next car or model show.



Manuel Ramos writes crime fiction.  His latest book is The Golden Havana Night:  A Sherlock Homie Mystery (Arte Público Press, 2018.)  It has cars.

The author tries his shaky hand at scale modeling.