Sunday, July 21, 2019

Art, Arreguin, and What Lies in the Bardo

Lisa Alvarado, Returning Guest Columnist

Photo by Eva Blanchard Arce

Seattle artist Alfredo Arreguin has exhibited his work internationally, most recently at the Museo de Cadiz in Spain (2015). He has exhibited solo shows at Linda Hodges Gallery since 2001. Arreguin has a long and distinguished list of accomplishments. In 1979 he was selected to represent the U.S. at the 11th International Festival of Painting at Cagnes-sur Mer, France, where he won the Palm of People Award. 

In 1980 he received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the arts. In 1988 in a competition that involved over 200 portfolios, Arreguin won the commission to design the poster for the Centennial Celebration of the State of Washington (the image was his painting Washingtonia); that same year he was invited to design the White House Easter Egg. Perhaps the climatic moment of his success came in 1994, when the Smithsonian Institution acquired his triptych, Sueno (Dream: Eve Before Adam), for inclusion in the collection of the national Museum of American Art. 

A year later, in 1995, Arreguin received an OHTLI Award, the highest recognition given by the Mexican government to the commitment of distinguished individuals who perform activities that contribute to promote Mexican culture abroad. More recently, success has been cemented by an invitation to show his work in the Framing Memory: Portraiture Now exhibition, at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. One of his paintings included in this show, The Return to Aztlan, will remain in the permanent collection of the gallery. 

Arreguin's work is now in the permanent collections of two Smithsonian Museums: The National Museum of American Art and the National Portrait Gallery. In 2017 he was awarded to the keys to the city of Morelia, an honor only shared with Pope Francis.  In 2018 he collaborated with Doug Johnson for "In the Shadow of the Master" in Tacoma, and had a solo retrospective at the Bainbridge Island Museum of art.  It was so popular, the show was extended.

Alfredo Arreguin's work is represented by Linda Hodges Gallery in Seattle, Washington
Inverarte in San Antonio, Texas
La Llorona Gallery, Chicago, Illinois

For an in-depth online interview, click here

Here is a piece I wrote about Alfred and Frida.

Alfredo In the Bardo and Frida in the Cut

In the Bardo

In some schools of Buddhism, bardo (Tibetan བར་དོ་ Wylie: bar do) or antarabhāva (Sanskrit) is an intermediate, transitional, or liminal state between death and rebirth.

Milam bardo (mi lam bar do): is the second bardo of the dream state.

I chose this as part of the title of this essay. Essay, rumination, love letter to Alfredo Arreguin.

I will talk about Frida in the cut a bit later. I first found Alfredo’s work several years ago, chatting with people of Facebook, of all places. Whether it’s portraiture, landscape, or still life, Alfredo’s work is all at once representational and symbolic.

 In his paintings, the key subject is at first “hidden” against a patterned background, just like the emerging images in a dream. And like a dream, the background stays suggested, while the central image gradually comes into focus, capturing your attention. Liminal, you see, in the bardo, Alfredo takes you to the borderland of what exists in the “real” world and what we see in our mind’s eye, in our dreams.

Speaking of dreams, Alfredo’s intricate patterns, his ingots of color, precise in placement and repetition, remind me of Huichol beaded worship – animals, icons – all painstakingly built and layered bead by bead. Alfredo shapes his work, I think, in much the same way. Huichol beaded work, their yarn work, is an expression of the bardo; a present-time bridge from this world to the real world of the spirit, of what exists in a shared vision quest.

Alfredo invites you to see, and see past this world, into the tangible realm of the deeply felt, the perfect spirit. It is specific, in that the imagery springs from the roots of Mejicanismo, and by implication Chicanismo. It is universal, in that it assumes the viewer, from whatever background, understands the longing, and the revelations of the borderland.

And like the art and living message of our indigena brothers and sisters, Alfredo’s work calls us to reconnect, the re-construct from a borderland/bardo place of a Pan-American experience, something I truly understand. Alfredo was born in Mexico, and I am the child of immigrants, and the idea of border/ bardo is one that constantly shapes my self-definition, and I suspect shapes his as well. I want to share this poem about the power of the bardo, specific and universal. I hope it also serves as the introduction to my reaction to Alfredo’s re-creation of Frida.


En este sueño
estoy completa.
No tengo que guardar
las historias de otra gente.
No tengo que buscar y escudriñar
a través de los restos de sus palabras.

En este sueño
paso mis dedos
através de la cabellera de Frida
Con esa cabellera,
tejo flores obscuras
del color de la sangre.
Y me dice
que el jaguar viene a traerme
su poder.

La medicina que calma este dolor
es como comida para
calmar esta hambre.

En este sueño
hago magia
con el lodo del Rio Grande.
Arropado en corridas y música ranchera,
que son el hechizo y el encanto
que anula la edad
del olvido y el adoctrinamiento.

En este sueño
tengo un amante
cuya cara es de piedra,
como el antiguo marcador del templo.

Su boca es carnosa,
sus ojos están entrecerrados y

“Ven conmigo mi India,
mi pequeña perdida.
Recuerda quien eres.
Recuerda quien eres.”


In this dream,
I am whole.
I am no longer
saving other people’s stories,
scavenging their words;
sifting thru their remains.
In this dream,
my fingers run
thru Frida’s hair.
In this hair, I plait
dark flowers
the color of blood.
She tells me
the jaguar comes
to bring me power.
The medicine
to end this pain,
the food for this hunger.
In this dream,
I have made magic
from the mud of the Rio Grande.
Wrapped in corridas and ranchero music;
are spells and incantations
to undo
the age of forgetfulness
and indoctrination.
In this dream,
I have a lover
whose face is stone;
ancient as a temple marker.
His mouth is full,
his eyes half closed.
He whispers:
“Come to me, mi India,
mi pequeña perdida.
Remember who you are
Remember who you are.”

In the Cut

Agency is the ability to express your true self on your own terms. It is the power to think for yourself and act in ways that shape your experiences and life trajectories. Alfredo’s portraits of Frida reveal his root understanding this essential truth. It utterly rejects the common trope in the most recent cult of Frida expropriation - Frida as victim; with the artist and the viewer indulging in the voyeurism of pain. Alfredo never stoops to that. In every painting depicting her, she is vibrant, aware, her gaze resolute and self-aware. This is the greatest homage and the deepest understanding of one of the twentieth century’s most important artists.

I tried to capture that agency in writing about her and strengthening the agency in myself.


I am the catch
in your throat;
the wordless cry,
I am the cloud
that follows you;
at the slightest provocation.
I am the scar
that has
become a flower.
I am the pilgrim
you brought home;
the Jew you hid
from the fire.
I am your dark sleep.
I am your dream
of finding someone
whose arms
will hold you
when daylight comes.

Frida was never her wound, her physical limits, her crushing disappointments in private life.

She takes her life and as alchemist, transforms it into art, into awareness, into a psychic rebar stronger than any back brace. She gives all comers as good as she gets. I chose the phrase “in the cut” – a hip hop term meaning hidden in the ‘hood, but also someone at the top of their game, their quintessential self.

Frida will always be the foundation for Latinx artists of all persuasions, as we emerge from the ‘hood., as we gather onto ourselves our own rebar, forge our own identities.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Love It or Leave It

True patriotism hates injustice in its own land more than anywhere else. -- Clarence Darrow

Loyalty to the country always. Loyalty to the government when it deserves it.-- Mark Twain

Love it or leave it. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, this was the consistent message from Nixon and LBJ, the Klan, university presidents, military generals, dirty cops, Young Americans for Freedom, the GOP, neo-Nazi apologists, and other right-wing co-conspirators. Progressives and liberals who demanded changes to the racist and oppressive capitalistic system, and who did not heed the warning to “love it or leave it,” became targets of harassment, intimidation, threats, violence, imprisonment, assassination.

Love it or leave it. Some wise-guy Chicanos, in response to the anti-democratic slogan, hung banners that proclaimed, “This is Aztlan! Love it or leave it.” The message was lost on all but a few cultural nationalist activists. 

Love it or leave it.  Many did leave. Anti-war draft-dodgers fled to Canada or Mexico. Embittered artists ex-patted to Europe. Burned-out communists and socialists migrated to Russia or Cuba. Home-grown radicals left their families and class status and went underground, some with violent revolution on their agenda.

Love it or leave it. Some returned to face a paranoid, uptight America. Disillusioned Vietnam War veterans morphed into anti-war protestors. Weather Underground cadre turned up as professors, lawyers, and next-door neighbors. Civil Rights Movement leaders stood trial and went to prison, or community service, or on book tours.

Love it or leave it. The four dead in Ohio did not have the option to leave. Nor did the murdered Jackson State students, Ruben Salazar, Los Seis de Boulder, numerous Black Panthers and Chicano activists, Ricardo Falcon, victims of Native American genocide, MLK, Malcom X … It’s a never-ending list.

Love it or leave it. Like a well-trained demagogue, Trump resurrected the old slogan, with a twist. His message was, “If they don’t love it, tell them to leave it." At his recent Mussolini-style rallies, the chant, “Send her back,” apparently directed at Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., has erupted to cheers and a laughing, approving Trump. This week, hard on Trump’s racist coattails, a Virginia church hung a sign that reads, “America: Love or Leave It.”

Love it or leave it. And so, we spiral out-of-control back to the “good old days” of blind patriotism, where criticism of the country is not allowed, where standing up to racist authority is attacked as being disloyal, where, in fact, any questioning of or opposition to the power in control is condemned as treason.

Love it or leave it. Here’s all I can say to that: I love my country. I’m fearful about the future of my country. My country needs to change. Trump and his lapdog followers are dangerous racists. I support the Congresswomen singled out for abuse by Trump. I believe in freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion, even though the President of the U.S. obviously does not. These ideals must be protected and nurtured if we are to survive as a democracy.

I'm not going anywhere.



Manuel Ramos writes crime fiction. His latest is The Golden Havana Night (Arte Público Press.)

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Chicanonautica: How to Win the Second Annual Extra-Fiction Contest

Somos en escrito, The Latino Literary Online Magazine is doing a second annual Extra-Fiction Contest. So if you’re an American writer of indigenous-hispanic background (Native American, Chicanan, Latina/o/x) born in the USA or from Latin America residing in the USA, and write in English, Spanish of Ingléspañol, click that link and check it out.

Also, like last year, I, your humble Father of Chicano Science Fiction will be the judge, picking the winners.

To give you La Bloga readers an edge, I’m going to give you some advice on how to win this contest.

First, I really don’t have anything in mind as to what I’m looking for. I’m keeping my mind open. Wide open.

Next, I’m hoping to get my mind blown. This isn’t easy. I’ve been soaking my brain in all kinds of weird stuff since I was a toddler in East L.A. back in the Nineteen-Fifties. 

This shouldn’t be a problem for writers from la Raza. Rasquache--dare I say recomboculture?--has been a tradition for us since Teotihuacán.

Maybe farther back. Lately I’ve been thinking that the Bering Strait land bridge wasn’t the only way that people got onto these two great, big continents on this hemisphere. Different peoples from different places were pretty good at navigating the oceans going way back to prehistoric times. They came here, met up, made war and love the way people do . . .

There are probably some story ideas there . . .

Then there are my visions of the intergalactic barro . . .

But I digress, and oddly enough it brings me back to my point. The whole Latinoid continuum of cultures, civilizations is so vast, so diverse, so volatile. A bubbling cauldron brewing up the creativity that dances through our DNA.

Last year, when deciding which of the finalists would win, I went for originality. They were all good stories. I liked them. Some of them were more of the usual stuff you see in every anthology of Latinx fiction we’ve been seeing over the years. First prize went to the most far-out, they one that showed me things I had never seen before.

After all, this an Extra-Fiction contest. Not the usual, the routine, but something extraordinary.

So maybe you a story that is just too bizarre that most markets won’t touch it (I have a lot of those), or have an idea keep tucked away because, well, maybe it’s just goes too far, that is what I want to see.
Take the chains that Anglo-dominated society puts on your Latinoid imagination and let it run wild.
I’ll be here, waiting, with my mind ready to boggle.

Ernest Hogan is the author of High Aztech, “PeaceCon,” and is working on Zyx; Or, Bring Me the Brain of Victor Theremin.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Macondo Afternoon Seminars

The Macondo Writers Workshop is an association of socially-engaged writers working to advance creativity, foster generosity, and serve community. Founded in 1998 by writer Sandra Cisneros and named after the town in Gabriel García Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, the workshop gathers writers from all genres who work on geographic, cultural, economic, gender, and spiritual borders. An essential aspect of the Macondo Workshop is a global sense of community; participants recognize their place as writers in our society and the world.

Afternoon seminars are free and open to the public!

4:30PM  -  6PM

Science and Technology Building
One University Way

San Antonio, Texas 78224

Wednesday- July 24th
Writing Children's Literature

*Amada Irma Pérez*

Amada Irma Pérez has been a bilingual educator, consultant and presenter for more than twenty-five years. Her teaching experience includes kindergarten through university. She is an advocate of programs that encourage literacy and multicultural understanding. She believes that better communication will lead to world peace. Amada Irma Pérez speaks at local, state, national and international conferences and inspires diverse audiences of students, teachers, parents, businesses and community organizations. Her children’s books include Nana's Big Surprise/Nana, Que Sorpresa!, My Diary
from Here to There/Mi Diario De Aqui Hasta Alla , and My Very Own Room/Mi Propio Cuartito

*René Colato Laínez*

Known as “the teacher full of stories,” René Colato Laínez is the Salvadoran author of several bilingual picture books including I Am René, the Boy/Soy René, el niño (Piñata Books), Waiting for Papá/Esperando a papá (Piñata Books), Playing Lotería/ El juego de la lotería (Luna Rising). I Am René, the Boy received the Latino Book Award for “Best Bilingual Children’s Book”. Playing Lotería was named a “Best Children’s Book” by Críticas magazine and the New Mexico Book Award “Best Children’s Book”. Playing Lotería and I Am René have both been nominated for the Tejas Star Book Award—the K-6 bilingual counterpart to the Texas BluebonnetAward.

Thursday- July 25th
The Author Editor Relationship

*Leslie Larson*
Leslie Larson grew up in San Diego, California, in a working class family. She is the author of Slipstream, which Dorothy Allison  called, “A genuinely startling novel that caught me up in the lives of people used to being looked past, over, or beyond.” The New York Times called her second novel, Breaking Out of Bedlam, “A kick.” Sandra Cisneros said, “Leslie Larson is a writer of tales that are hilarious and heart-breaking at once—no easy feat, but the
mark of great storytelling.” A veteran editor and copywriter for independent publishers, Leslie is the recipient of an Astraea Foundation Award and a Hedgebrook Writing Residency. She has taught writing nationwide and her work has appeared in O (The Oprah Magazine), Faultline, the East Bay Express, More, Writer, and the Women's Review of Books, among other publications. She
lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Friday- July 26th
Hitting Send: Literary Submissions Strategies

*Tisha Marie Reichle-Aguilera*

Tisha Marie Reichle-Aguilera is a Chicana Feminist and former Rodeo Queen. Her recent fiction appeared in Voices de la Luna, The Acentos Review, Chaleur Magazine, The Lunch Ticket, and Ghost Town. She is an alumna of AROHO Retreat, Macondo Writers Workshop, and Las Dos Brujas. She’s also an organizing member of Women Who Submit, editor at VIDA Review and Ricochet Editions, and a former high school English teacher. She earned an MFA at Antioch University and is currently working on her PhD in Creative Writing and Literature at USC.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Truth, Beauty, Hang it on the wall. Part II:

Photo Essay: Rat-tail Night-blooming Cereus 
Michael Sedano

“This blossom is so beautiful compared to any other flower, it knocks my socks off and I could die tomorrow knowing I haven’t missed a thing” is quite a mouthful, so that’s why people describe something as kingly or queenly. The cactus flower of Selenicereus grandiflorus, for example, gets the sobriquet “Queen of the Night.”

Partially opened, this blossom is larger than Michael Sedano's head.

I don’t much hold with monarchism but, of course, I understand its etymology. Hegemonic position infects our vocabulary. A few generations ago, fans idolized Duke Snider even though he wasn’t the Home Run King. Duke Ellington continues to rule the big bandstand even as few people remember who was the King of Swing. Once your eyes fill with the wonder of a night-blooming cactus blossom you’ll forever feel fulfilled that your eyes know calling such natural wonders "Queen" understates the enduring Truth that is Beauty. Both are like Mercy, above this sceptered sway.

This Queen of the Night deserves her accolade, even if it is not true. There are lots of cacti whose blossoms get called queen of the night. And to be fully truthful,  “night” means different times to different flowers.

I grow one “Queen of the Night” cactus that opens after dark and fully opens at 1 or 2 in the morning. I can photograph it with 8 minute exposures in distant porchlight. With first light, its delicate petals collapse into wet limp tissue that desiccates to an abstraction. That one's not the “Queen of the Night” featured in today’s Chicano Photography feature on La Bloga-Tuesday.

I call her the Rat-tail Cereus for its sinuous tubular pencas. Botanists know her as Selenicereus grandiflorus. Grande es, que no? That is I behind a just-opening flower in the first foto above.

The Rat-tail is special at both ends of her journey. Early in her budding she promises grandness as she elongates from a hairy nubbin to a ten-inch trumpet that glistens with nectar. At around 5 p.m. she opens her tightly-wound tip showing bright yellow promise. 


Her form and color become eye-opening at the waning of light at around 7 p.m. This “night-bloomer” gets really spectacular between 730 and 800. Good thing because the light is gone after then, and all the color values get mucked up--I eschew artificial lighting and let the camera do its thing--as the flower continues growing beauteously in darkness. The fully spread blossom makes herself available around ten p.m.

Looking closely at a petal, all those ridges are like the veins on a butterfly wing. The penca pumps those petals full of volume, unwrapping the flower from the inside, sending nourishment into expanding and spreading surfaces, on the surface her ridges and folds sparkle and glisten from within. 

But gravity exerts a toll on those extended white and yellow petals and the coronal Calyx. With first light the extended white tips wrinkle and curl. Minutes pass too quickly for the collapsing corona that twitches as it collapses inward. Only the Stigma thrusts forward fruitlessly beckoning unknown guests to her hidden nectar now sealed tight behind her dying translucence.

She makes a big exit, sometimes. Each flower opens and collapses according to its destiny, one maybe not so pretty and photogenic as a compañera.

My plant made four fulfilling flowers this season on four nights, one after another. Perfumeless, and unvisited by a pollinator, the fourth blossom exuded a sweet citrusy scent as the lady makes one last offer to form a pitaya, and seed. 

The portraits of the lady in today’s foto essay come from three of those four flowers. One started out spectacularly then collapsed formlessly the next day. 

Friends look upon the close-ups of the dying flower and evoke painter Georgia O’Keefe. That’s an honor I didn’t intend but I see strong resemblances in what O’Keefe sees and what my lens captures. The Stigma, the star, offers a passage to pollen. Pollen grows below the Stigma in a forest of Anthers. Deep in the base where the ovaries await pollen, sweet nectar pools in such abundance it leaks into glistening droplets on her outer skin. No critter visits, she blossoms and disappears, exists only to be seen.


These are digital photographs. I use ISO800 and experiment with f/32 or f/5. f/32 produces deep focus in close-up. f/5 blurs the background and offers a shallow depth of field. I set the camera, a Canon T2i with a 100mm macro lens, on a tripod during the full daylight. I focus on the unopened bud and put the lens to manual focus. Low light focusing is a problem with this camera, totally unreliable. The combination of f-stop and manual focus assures a competent exposure. I connect an RF remote to the Canon. Radio Frequency allows me to write at my computer while now and again pressing the remote.


I press the button hundreds of times hoping for a good deep dark foto. I’ve captured maybe one or two acceptable ones. You can’t orate a damn if your feet hurt, and you can’t photograph worth a damn if there’s no light. I can’t do anything about the light but I’m considering it. Next year. This cactus is done until 2020, and then, as today, only one span of hours on only one night of the year will you see with your own eyes.

This is Part II of my ongoing documentation of the ephemeral beauties growing along the shady driveway of Casa Sedano. Part I features color blossoms in daylight (link). None of those Part I blossoms are called "queen" of anything. So it goes for Flowers of Color. Never good enough despite being drop-dead gorgeous.

In closing today's slide show, I note these images print spectacularly at large sizes on archival material like paper, canvas, aluminum. 

La Bloga isn’t a commercial site, so if you’d like to hang fine art prints of any image at home or office contact Michael Sedano by email.

You can print these watermarked jpegs at home using photo paper. The image will be about 7” x 10” and won’t fade for a few months. The archival prints I make last 100 years properly conserved, but we'll never know.