Friday, February 15, 2019

Culprits: Snake Farm

Culprits: The Heist was Just the Beginning
Edited by Richard Brewer and Gary Phillips
Polis Books – 2018

One of my favorite reads from 2018 is the anthology Culprits: The Heist was Just the Beginning, edited by Richard Brewer and Gary Phillips. I say that not because I have a story in the collection, but because the idea behind the “linked” stories intrigued me from the first time I heard about the project, and the end result is every bit as intriguing and satisfying as I hoped.

The set-up is basic: a group of criminals pulls off the theft of something big. The editors ask in the book’s Foreword, what happens after the heist? “We wanted to know what happened to the crew once the big job was over and done. Where did they go? What did they do? Who did they do it with … or to? How did they spend their cut of the loot? In other words: What happened next?”

Phillips and Brewer wrote out the heist chapter and created a crew of specialists (financier, safe-cracker, wheelman, etc.) The job is the theft of a multi-million-dollar slush fund kept by the right-wing “North Texas Citizens Improvement League” on the grounds of an eighteen-thousand-acre cattle ranch known as the Crystal Q, outside of Fort Worth.

Seven authors were contacted, and we were asked to pick a character from the descriptions provided by Phillips and Brewer. Here’s the description of the character I chose:

Vivian Dollarhyde -- a woman of color who is one of the few of the female persuasion who is often considered for these Alpha male crews. She is an expert cat burglar, as well as being a master in martial arts, climbing and parkour, all of which make her invaluable in getting in and out of tight spots.

Brett Battles, Joe Clifford, David Corbett, Gar Anthony Haywood, Jessica Kaye, Zoë Sharp
, and yours truly made up the writing gang that filled in the meat on the bones of the original descriptions. The finished product is a great read – suspense, action, duplicity, loyalty, even a bit of street-level justice. Thanks to Gary and Richard for including me.

For a taste from Culprits: a few pages from my contribution, Snake Farm.

Snake Farm
©Manuel Ramos -- all rights reserved

“It’s been almost a week and you still don’t have any leads? What the hell you doin’, Garza? It was a fuckin’ riot in the middle of the Crystal Q. At least a half-dozen assholes shot up the ranch and each other. I can’t believe that no one’s talkin’, no one knows shit.”

Antonio “Tony” Garza recognized the red hue creeping up his boss’s neck, then along his jaw, nose, finally the forehead. Big Jim Spencer’s face looked like a pudgy glob of pink bubblegum. It meant the chief of police was ready to hit something, or someone, and Garza tensed up.

“Believe it, boss. Even Harrington is playing dumb. You know what his statement said. Claimed he didn’t know what the hell happened at the house. Says he was busy with details for the party. By the time he got to where the action was, no one was left except the dead and wounded ranch hands. Then, when the feds figured out where they split up the money, the only one around was the dead guy, who no one knows, and he ain’t talking.”

He moved a few inches further from Spencer and tried to be inconspicuous.

Garza wanted to tell Big Jim that the Crystal Q wasn’t in their jurisdiction and that every North Texas agency from the FBI to the county dogcatcher claimed the case as theirs. The Kilroy Police Department wasn’t in the mix, official or otherwise. But Big Jim was convinced that some of the thieves scattered into “Kilroy’s bailiwick.” Big Jim obsessed after a headline, something to grab the attention of the suits in Austin.

“When I hired you, I thought you was an upgrade to the usual inbred mutants that wanna play cops and robbers.” Big Jim talked as slow as the tumbleweeds that bounced against the curb of Main Street. “Not by much. You ain’t exactly J. Edgar. If I hadn’t needed someone immediately, I might’ve passed you over, just ’cause your history is sketchy. But I hoped with your degree from UT and your experience over in Lubbock that you’d add somethin’ to our department. So far, I ain’t seen it. Not sure you’re all that cut out for police work.”

Garza flinched. He took the job in Kilroy because he didn’t have much choice. He needed a fresh start more urgently than Spencer needed a replacement. The trouble in Lubbock—that damn Clara Johnson, no way she was only sixteen—had driven him out of Buddy Holly’s hometown, but so far it hadn’t caught up to him in Kilroy. Clara had cost him a lot of money. Well spent, but expensive.

“We’ll get something, boss.” The words sounded hollow. “If I could lean on Harrington’s wife, Gracella, that’d be a good place to start. But I can’t even get on the ranch, much less have a one-on-one with Mrs. Harrington.”

“Do whatever you have to do. The shoot-out has stirred up too much negative attention for Texas. The damn Citizens Improvement League is making life miserable for cops. It’s bullshit politics but if you can’t get results, I’ll find somebody who can.” He slapped his palm on his desk and Garza took the cue that it was time for him to leave.

Tony drove the dinged-up department Crown Vic straight to his house. Slow but steady. The car had suffered seven years of police abuse and Garza didn’t like to test it. He was the least senior cop on the force, which meant he drew the most senior wheels. Fifteen minutes to his rented house on the edge of town and he saw all of Kilroy on the way. The four-room shack was the only place he could afford.

Vivian Dollarhyde stretched on the faded living room carpet. Her lime green workout clothes—skimpy shorts, skimpier top—popped, as she liked to say, against her skin’s sweaty glow. She’d been at it since five a.m., two hours before Tony woke up. She’d run her daily five miles in the grayness of the morning moon, safe from prying eyes who might wonder about the dark-haired, obviously not-white stranger. Then for ninety minutes she tormented the used elliptical and a few weights Tony kept for those rare times he thought he should exercise. She finished with yoga twists and Pilate stretches. Tony tried not to think about it but he imagined himself jumping on her prone body and burying himself in the sanctuary of her overheated flesh.

“Hey, baby,” he said. “Looks like you could use a drink.” It wasn’t quite lunchtime.

He opened the refrigerator, extracted two Lone Stars, twisted their caps, and offered her one. She chugged half of the bottle before she looked at him.

“I have to get out of this town. I’m going nuts.” She sat at the rickety table and patted her body dry with a gray towel she’d found in a closet.

“You just got here, Vivian. What’s the rush? Besides, it’s way too hot, and I’m not talking about the weather. Every brand and style of cop is all over this part of Texas. From Fort Worth to the Oklahoma state line. South to Waco and west to Abilene. It’s like a war zone. Anyone even just a little bit off is getting rousted by state police, Rangers, you name it. You and your pals riled up more law enforcement than we’ve seen around here since they shot JFK.”

“How the hell would you know that? You’re older than me but you ain’t that old.”

“Whatever. I’m just sayin’.”

Vivian wadded the towel into a ball. “That goddamn pilot.”

"Oh, Christ. Here we go again.”

“You don’t like it, get out.”

He thought about reminding her that they were in his house. He kept quiet.

“I got the right to complain. Ellison tried to kill us and he almost made off with all the money. O’Conner should’ve never let him in on the job. But the old man’s getting soft. I should’ve told him to fuck off when he said he needed me. Practically begged. Said I’d get a bigger share since I had special skills. What bullshit. All the good that share is doing me now. Can’t even buy myself a decent steak. Hell, not even a hamburger.”

She stood up, dropped the towel on the floor and headed for the shower in the narrow bathroom. She lifted the tank top over her head and turned to Garza. “None of it would’ve happened without me. Seven million. Now look where I am.” She shrugged her shoulders. “Stuck in this pissant town, as far as I could go after the shit hit the fan, a bag of money that I can’t use, sharing a bed with your horny ass. Story of my life.” She disappeared into the bathroom, grumbling to herself.

Tony thought about joining her in the shower but decided the mood wasn’t quite right. Vivian liked to play. But she was too wrapped up in her trouble. Too focused on how she was going to get out of the state with her money without confronting the cops or the guy who’d double-crossed the crew at the safe house. Or maybe she wanted to deal her own justice to the pilot.

She’s crazy enough to blow it all on revenge, he thought.

He again looked around the shack for any sign of the money but it was a fruitless search. She’d promised him a cut of her take, although she hadn’t said where she had it stashed or even how much she had. Tony calculated it was more than a hundred grand, easy. Maybe half a mil, maybe a million? There had to be mountains of money at the Crystal Q.

She’d told him that after it went cockeyed in Fort Worth, O’Conner dropped her off on the edgy outskirts of town. Cops everywhere, no time for long goodbyes. She left the shotgun from the job with O’Conner—too conspicuous to carry around—and she hadn’t brought anything else from her own collection of guns since O’Conner provided all the equipment she thought she’d need. She didn’t like the way she felt without a weapon but accepted it as part of her situation.

She’d run long and hard to the only person she knew in Texas who would take her in. On the point of exhaustion, she found Garza in Kilroy. Her toned body, strong lungs, parkour training, and iron will carried her across the wind-scarred merciless Texas prairie without much water or food. She described how she hid from police helicopters and curious coyotes and she cursed that she couldn’t quit thinking about how it had all gone bad.

Over the years he’d tried to stay in contact. He always had a cell number or email address for her except when she was on the run or sweating out the latest fallout from one of her jobs.

She never failed to circle back to him. Her career, as she called her sins and crimes, didn’t bother him. Vivian was the forbidden fruit, the type of girl his mama warned him about. Good thing he’d let her know he was leaving Lubbock. Here she was, in all her half-naked glory, relying on him to keep her safe and hidden from the heat with more money than he would ever make in Kilroy and all he had to do was bide his time until she made her move. Then he would get his share. Or maybe, take it all.

(continued in Culprits: The Heist was Just the Beginning.)



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

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Chicanonautica: Live From the SFF Latinx Bundle

by Ernest Hogan

When I first started doing this column, I seemed to be the only Chicano science fiction writer around, maybe even the first. That scared me. It was also lonely. But then I think about my days as a teenage science fan, and how often mine was the only brown face in the room.

Was I a lone Chicanonaut, floating at the end of long life-line?
After a decade of connection to the interwebs, I’ve found that it’s not true. There are others out there, Chicanos, Latinos, Latinx, Latinoids.

We don’t just seek out new life and new civilizations, we create them. We are them.

And now, Silvia Moreno-Garcia has curated the SFF Latinx Bundle, and I’m truly feeling part of a community of imaginative writers who come from the array of cultures that were affected by the influence of the Spanish Armada. Not just a new world, but new worlds.

It’s also a great deal.

For $15 you get eleven SFF Latinx ebooks. You can go to a book store, spend that much, and come home with only one paperback.

High Aztech is part of the bundle.

Even if you already have read High Aztech, the other books are worth getting.

I have already read and reviewed Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s tale of witchcraft and analog technology in Mexico City, Signal to Noise, James Steves-Arces’ speculation on future of religious conflicts, Soulsaver, and Rudy Ch. Garcia’s magic realistic phantasmagoria The Closet of Discarded Dreams.

I blasted through David Bowles’ Lords of the Earth, a reinvention of the kaiju (Japanese giant monster) genre by setting it in contemporary Mexico, and using preColumbian mythology. I’m glad to report that it is satisfying to both my inner child who loved watching Strange Tales of Science Fiction on Channel 9 in L.A. back in the Sixties, and to the old vato who became the Father of Chicano Science Fiction. 

Now I'm reading Sabrina Vourvoulias' immigrant dystopia, Ink, that is providing an interesting counterpoint to the current news coming out of Washington.

I look forward to writing some rave reviews.

I’m also looking forward reading to Carlos Hernandez’s  The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria, Lisa M. Bradley’s The Haunted Girl, Rosalie Morales Kearns’ Virgins & Tricksters, Daniel José Older’s Salsa Nocturna, , Kathleen Alcalá’s Mrs. Vargas and the Dead Naturalists. Diverse works from diverse cultures. 
What’s makes it even more exciting is, thanks to the wonderful, brave new world of digital publishing and the internet, it's not just a product, it’s an event! It’s a limited-time-only deal. There’s a countdown clock on the website, clicking away the seconds before . . .

You better go there and buy it now!

Ernest Hogan is working on a new short story, trying to finish a novel, and doing some cartooning. Not to mention navigating his personal life, and trying channel his reactions to the current political turmoil into creative energy.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Joelito's Big Decision: La Gran Decisión de Joelito

In support of Denver Teachers

Written by Ann Berlak
Illustrated by Daniel Camacho
Translated by José Antonio Galloso

  • Age Range: 6 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 1 - 5
  • Paperback: 38 pages
  • Publisher: Hard Ball Press
  • Language: English and Spanish
  • ISBN-10: 0986240095
  • ISBN-13: 978-0986240096

Every Friday evening 9 year old Joelito goes with his family to MacMann’s for a juicy burger. But this Friday is different. This time, Joelito’s best friend Brandon is standing in a crowd outside the fast food restaurant protesting the low pay his parents earn there. Will Joelito cross the picket line for a tasty burger? Find out in Joelito’s Bigt Decision (La gran decisión de Joelito), in English & Spanish. Ages: 6-12.


This is a wonderful book taking on a timely topic. What do you do when Friday is your favorite day because you get to go have hamburgers at your favorite restaurant, BUT, when you get there your friends are outside protesting? Folks that work in the restaurant don't make enough money to pay their rent and feed their families but the restaurant chain's owner is getting richer by the minute. Do you go in and eat anyway, or do you stay outside with your tummy rumbling in solidarity with your friends? Will you stand up or sit down (and eat)? Great story, beautifully told, terrific illustrations, and bilingual... wonderful! --Reach and Teach

“An important story that introduces a current event… Recommended for libraries looking to expand social justice and bilingual collections.” Selenia Paz, Helen Hall Library, League City, TX School Library Journal

“My current favorite book about activism is Joelito's Big Decision…. a story that is both explicitly about a particular action, but also about fairness, and a child's choices.” Innosanto Nagara, author/illustrator of A is for Activist.

"This is a terrific read for kids, one that will teach them about fairness and responsibility in this era of growing inequality and injustice. I recommend it highly." Sonia Nieto, Professor Emerita, School of Education.

“We are happy to promote and distribute Joelito's -- a wonderful new picture book for children on the rights of workers. Thank you Ann Berlak for writing such a needed book… Teaching For Change

“Teachers especially are encouraged to pick up a copy for their classrooms as they work to translate our admiration for fast food and other products into a meaningful discussion about workplace justice and social movement organizing. Indeed, as the publisher’s promotional headline reads, ‘no one is too young to learn that another world is possible.’” Andrew Stevens, Rank and File Canada

The bilingual children’s book is a great story, addressing serious social issues both adults and working families face each day. The Register, United Food and Commercial Workers Union Labor Start's Book of the Month September 2015 - LaborStart

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

From a work in progress...Birth of the First Child

Michael Sedano

The left arm is back after two months pinned to my side. A "separated shoulder" stopped me cold just as I neared the end of a big project I began back in July. It was incredibly frustrating.

Today, as I'm getting back to speed, I'll share what I was doing until I fell head over heels and tasted cement.

Over the summer of 2018 I had the pleasure of meeting regularly with Esteban Torres with the goal of writing an As-Told-To YA autobiography. My goal was to finish it in January. Last month.

When I went looking for autobiographies for raza boys I found Cesar Chavez and a raft of athletes. Torres and I weren't looking to portray heroism or great moments like striking out the side in the ninth inning of some baseball game. That's not what I want to write. And Torres' story demands telling (such as when he got Chavez together with the Mexican worker federations).

Autobiography, literature generally, creates a rhetorical process--Identification. Learn by reading, or "Literature as equipment for living," Kenneth Burke wrote, saying that literature should "size up a situation" for a reader so everyday life comes easier, and all those  situations and decisions add up to big things on purpose.

Esteban Torres' career makes it difficult to avoid being awestruck at "the first" or "the only" status. The vato graduated from Garfield, goes straight into the Army and finds himself patrolling the Iron Curtain. He comes home, falls in love, joins the UFW in the middle of the Red Scare.

The Chicano gets elected Shop Steward at the Chrysler Plant in Maywood. Next, Walter Reuther sends Torres to organize South America when Detroit starts building cars there. Torres organizes South America.

Then Torres goes public sector. Esteban Torres becomes the United States Ambassador to UNESCO and moves his familia to Paris. Jimmy Carter brings Torres back from Europe to work in the White House. 

Out of a job with Reagan's win, Torres comes home. He closes down the toxic BKK landfill in Covina and rides that to Congress. Backtrack to the movimiento years; Torres and the Union start LULAC. Torres fails to incorporate the City of East Los Angeles. By the way, the police riot during the Chicano Moratorium interrupted a permitted event. Torres is the one who paid the fees and signed for the permit.

A Chicano does all this, from Garfield High School to walking with Jimmy Carter in the Rose Gardeen to sitting down to talk with Nelson Mandela, puro wow. Torres sat as Speaker Pro Tem of the House of Representatives, third in line to replace a vacant executive.

Some young man carbuncular assigned to read an autobiography in tenth grade English needs to know about this life. Not because Esteban Torres had all those salaried titles when no one else did, but because Chicanos and Chicanas from East Los belong in those roles. 

Being the First is an index of delay and systemic shortcoming, not a beneficence bestowed upon a First or Only tipo tipa. This storyteller's endeavor is not to pound a kid over the head with this.  Exposing Torres' magnificent attainments as those of a commoner is the point, for the Firsts and the Onlies of the world. 

Interestingly enough, so many Firsts and Onlies in the world confess to a notion of "imposter syndrome." For any reader, Torres' biography informs an affirming perception of belonging and being qualified for challenges.

And the point of all this for a YA reader, for a boy in his adolescence especially? I ponder, what did I need to read when I was a kid that woulda been my Burkean literature as equipment for living? Torres and I talk our way toward those questions. A great life like the one being lived by Esteban Torres is made up of everyday experiences every boy goes through, will live through, will size up and make choices.

Esteban and I, we converse. I'm an inveterate talker but restrain myself. So is he.

Esteban recounts events and I listen. We focus on beginnings--early "firsts" because everyone has firsts, many of them a kid doesn't notice, doesn't put them together right away. Torres' career has so much adult significance but I focus upon his experiences nearer those of his YA reader. Here, for example, is Esteban Torres' reflection on a man's first pregnancy and birth.

Torres has been attending Art Center on the GI Bill and is heading to Madison Avenue to jump feet-first into the dog-eat-dog advertising game. His fiancée talks sense to him

Instead of a walk-up cold water New York flat, Arcy and I found a rental behind a larger house in East L.A. It was to be the first of many addresses with a half in it, like 1243 ½ Ford Street, until we could buy our first house to raise our family.

When I hear a man say, “My wife is pregnant,” I want to correct the attitude behind the statement. No matter how much help your wife receives from her mother and sisters, a wife cannot go through the pregnancy without the constant involvement of her husband. “We are pregnant” is the only accurate statement.

We read a popular book on babies written by Dr. Spock. Today, as soon as they learn they’re pregnant, couples read a book like The First 12 Months of Life, and because Dr. Spock’s book is still in print, many parents read both. 

All responsible parents-to-be should read-up on what to expect during pregnancy. It’s not just the mother and the baby, there are new demands and expectations in store for the father-to-be. Gathering as much information as a man can, makes him well prepared to be a good father.

All around, people offer advice and consejos and myth and emotion. Reading offers the author’s cool, observer’s voice. That voice of fact can buffer the intensity of a wife’s experience, the husband’s responses. Day by day, a pregnant couple bears it together, but each in their separate ways.

In the morning, I go off to Chrysler for ten hours absence, surrounded by co-workers. Arcy has those ten hours alone, until she has someone to talk to.

But of course, she can only distill her nine hours into a few minutes. Words, nor tears, just don’t do enough to fill the empty hours. I’d come in the door, and no matter the soot covering me from the grimiest day in the pit, Arcy needed me, I needed Arcy, we needed each other’s abrazos.

Thankfully, Dr. Spock prepares a family for some of these trials. You live the parts the book leaves out, and you're on your own. Then things happen and it's like it says in the book. Like ganas. The book tells about how a mother’s body drives the need for ingredients in strange food combinations like ice cream and pickles. Try patas en vinagre and a pink concha. Fortunately, the panaderia is next door to the carniceria, and they’re a short walk from the house.

How will you know when it’s time? The book and our doctor told us in detail, because “when the water breaks” doesn’t mean a lot if you’ve never experienced the onset of labor. My mother and grandmother reassured us, “you’ll know and if you can’t tell, Arcy will.”

I put fifty cents worth of Ethyl in the tank the day before, so I was ready when Arcy told me to warm up the Dodge. I took a deep breath and helped Arcy into the back seat where she could stretch out and get comfortable. Her labor pains had not begun.

I’d planned the route, Arcy and I had driven it. Just like practice. I drove straight out Sixth to Alameda, up to College, turned left. I exhaled with relief when French Hospital came into view. I drove around back to the Maternity entrance. Nurses wheeled Arcy into the hospital and I found a seat with a couple of other guys and that was it for us fathers. Sit around and wait.

I stood outside the newborn nursery at the window separating me from Carmen Torres. Nowadays, the dad can be right there helping with delivery, the mom and baby not surrounded by strangers.

The nurse brought Carmen to the window. My daughter is red-faced and her skin all splotchy. Sleek black hair peeks out from the knit cap. Her little eyebrows are dainty like her mother’s. I am in love in an entirely new sense of that word, love. My body feels like it's swelling up and bursting with something I know even though I've never felt like this before.

Staring into that baby’s shiny black pupils an enormous weight settles on my shoulder and I accept it eagerly. “For the rest of your life, baby girl, I will take care of you,” I say to myself. And thinking it, saying the words to myself, that “enormous weight” evaporates. I understand with perfect clarity in that moment. My responsibilities to this little girl and her mother are no burden.

Being a father offers me the challenge of my lifetime, one every father can take on himself, whatever his means and ability. It’s the challenge I see for myself in this tiny girl’s curling fingers, of providing a home, nurturing her, and making the world a better place.

Monday, February 11, 2019

65 Years

Miguel and Isabel Olivas
February 10, 2019

A poem by Daniel A. Olivas

In honor of my parents’ 65th wedding anniversary
February 6, 2019

Those are a lot of years, no?
For two beautiful brown folks
To be together.

Her family came from Jalisco to L.A.
Almost a hundred years ago escaping
The violence of the Revolution.

His came from Chihuahua to this same city
Around the same time also fleeing the
Revolution’s blood and broken promises.

Somehow these two brown folks found
Each other, fell in love, and married after
He came back from fighting in Korea.

With the familia around them, after Mass,
And after Mexican food at Yolanda’s
We cut cake and saluted them.

These two beautiful brown folks, suffered
And loved and struggled and laughed and
Cried—but it was worth it, that we know.

Those are a lot of years, no?
For two beautiful brown folks
To be together.

Friday, February 08, 2019

CSUCI Houses the Works and Archives of Michele Serros

Melinda Palacio

Michell Serros's first book

I still have a hard time believing Michele Serros didn't make it to see her 50th birthday. She had big plans to have a cinquentañera and she had more poems, articles, and books to write. The Oxnard native died at age 48 after a battle with cancer. Sunday, February 10, would be her 53rd birthday. Michele was one of the first, if not the first, author I had ever met. She was young and funny and years later, I had the pleasure of standing next to her at the Latino Book and Author Festival when my first book was published. She had friends all over the country and always managed to send a letter or call around Valentine's Day, her favorite holiday. It's appropriate that California State University Channel Islands will open the Michele Serros exhibit and archives in the John Spoor Broome Library Gallery. The reception will include readings of Serros' works and the screening of a short film called "Cielo or Bust: Honoring the Life and Works of Michele Serros and her Stories of Dead, Identity, and Oxnard" by director/producer Julio Alcala. The exhibit not only contains her papers, but also signature pieces, such as skateboards and the famous desk that Michele writes about in her 1993 book, Chicana Falsa. Coordinating her archives and the Michele Serros Multicultural Living-Learning Community, a dorm at CSUCI, is another amazing Chicana and friend, Dr. Jenny Luna who met Serros when the two were neighbors in New York.

Details: February 14: California State University Channel Islands, 1 University Dr., Camarillo, CA 93012, John Spoor Broom Library Gallery, reception from 5-8 pm.

Michele Serros and Melinda Palacio


This Saturday, along with Toni Wynn, I have the pleasure of reading from my latest book, Bird Forgiveness at the Core Winery. If enough wine is had, I will also perform the Bird Forgiveness theme song and my latest song, working title "Time." Rebecca Rose at the Santa Maria Sun wrote up a nice article on me and the upcoming event. Read the full article here.

February 9, Core Family Winery, 7:30 pm to 10: 30 pm, 105 W Clark Avenue, Santa Maria, CA 93455.

I'm holding up the Santa Maria Sun article by Rebecca Rose. 

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Pura Belpré Award Ganadores 2019

The award is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. The Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth. It is co-sponsored by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), and REFORMA, the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking, an ALA affiliate. 

2019 Author Award Winner 

The Poet X, written by Elizabeth Acevedo and published by HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

The Poet X is a tale about Xiomara, an “unhide-able” Dominican who “…was a little too much body for such a young girl,” according to Mami. As she deals with her extremely religious mother and other challenges, Xiomara writes poetry, which becomes “the most freeing experience of [her] life.” The book was published by HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. 

“Acevedo’s strong character and her captivating story, told through intense and lyrical verses, champion poetry as a way to understand the world and one’s self,” said Dr. Caponegro. 

2019 Illustrator Award Winner

Dreamers, illustrated by Yuyi Morales, written by Yuyi Morales, and published by Neal Porter Books, Holiday House Publishing, Inc.

Dreamers is a tale about an immigrant mother and her son who were “[u]nable to understand and afraid to speak…” until they found the library.The books in the library taught them many things and gave them the confidence they needed to succeed and dream in their new country. The book was written by Yuyi Morales and published by Neal Porter Books, Holiday House Publishing, Inc. 

“Morales’s stunning mixed media illustrations celebrate the power of children’s books and libraries and the ability of immigrants to create new lives and stories,” said Pura Belpré Award Committee Chair Dr. Ramona Caponegro.  

2019 Author Honor Book

They Call Me Güero: A Border Kid’s Poems, written by David Bowles, and published by Cinco Puntos Press.

They Call Me Güero: A Border Kid’s Poems is a tale about a 12-year-old, red-headed, freckled Mexican-American boy’s daily adventures. Through poetry, Bowles chronicles Güero’s middle school journey as he deals with bullies, girls, and the perils of being a misfit. Life can be tough for a pale-skinned border kid, but Güero learns to cope by embracing rich family traditions.  

2019 Illustrator Honor Books

Islandborn, illustrated by Leo Espinosa, written by Junot Díaz, and published by Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin Young Readers Group, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Islandborn is a tale about Lola, a young immigrant Afro-Latina girl who has to draw a picture of her birth country for school but doesn’t remember that place. Espinosa takes us on a vibrant, colorful journey as Lola discovers the island through the memories of her family and friends. 

When Angels Sing: The Story of Rock Legend Carlos Santana, illustrated by Jose Ramirez, written by Michael Mahin, and published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division.

When Angels Sing: The Story of Rock Legend Carlos Santanais a tale about the famous musician's quest to discover his unique musical sound. Santana's exploration is beautifully depicted with bold colors and striking illustrations that reflect his Latinx roots.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

GF Company's Coming. Dominic's Dialect Dispensation. Mexican Schools Baroque. Tet

The GF Chicano Cooks
Gluten-free Chile Relleno Casserole-Company Style Because We Have Good Eggs
Michael Sedano

Farm-to-table eggs taste better, they really do.
Crustless vegetable custards, aka Quiche, get put together licketysplit and make an elegant setting after suitable baking in a hot oven. Fast, easy, elegant--just what the cook with other things to do looks for in nutrition. The Gluten-free Chicano is no exception, especially when his daughter's McDonald's Urban Farm (link) this season features uniquely colored hen fruit. These beautiful eggs deserve special treatment, so company wasn't coming but the Gluten-free Chicano made the just-layed eggs fancy-style by beating them to a hard fluff and baking a faux cheese souffle con chiles.

There's no requirement to beat the egg to a hard fluff then diluting with cream. Fast, fast, fast, use a fork to break up four to six whole eggs, proceed.

For company-style, I used extra egg whites because i kept three yolks for Hollandaise sauce the next morning.

Get the oven to 375º or 400º.

You can use canned whole chiles; I had a bag of Hatch mild from Alfredo Lascano's La Pelada (link)

Grease a presentation-quality shallow dish. Lay the stemless chiles whole on the bottom. Chop if you must, or use canned and chopped chile.

Grated cheese makes a flavor difference. Tillamook sharp yellow cheddar is the Gluten-free Chicano's preference, though adding some Vermont or Irish cheese makes good sense, if there's on-hand inventory.

Those beaten egg whites get mixed in with the yolks, a cup of half and half or a combination of whole milk and whipping cream. Melt ¼ stick butter and stir it in.

Add pinches of salt, black pepper, ground cayenne.

Pour the eggs onto the chiles and cheese. Dust the top with Paprika.

The Gluten-free Chicano cooks for two. Increase the volume of milk and eggs and fill that pie pan to the top to feed four. 

Put the assembly on a pie pan and slide into the oven. Neglect it for 45 minutes.

Test then allow to sit for five minutes or more. Servings will be steaming hot.

The custard is ready when the jiggling stops and a blade in the middle comes out shiny and uncoated. Don't open the door. Leaving the casserole to cook in there without spilling heat out an open door ensures the eggs fully cook. The biggest trouble people have with custard dishes is a soggy middle. (Microwave that to fix it.)

Ingredients (carb counter):
¼ lb or 2" off a chub or 1 loose-pack cup grated good cheddar cheese.
4-6 farm-fresh eggs from McDonald's Urban Farm or a local farm-to-table producer.
1 cup milk or half-half or cream plus milk. Add milk if you need more volume to feed more people. (carb advisory-check)
¼ stick butter.
Chopped spinach, sliced onions, minced or slivered garlic, bacon crumbles, diced good ham. Bake a sliced tomato on top.

40-45 minutes.

Mastering the basic savory custard with cheese is a gateway to fine, fast, easy elegance. Next you'll be making Spanish Tortilla and wowing your dining guests and finicky eaters. 

Reheat leftovers for a few seconds in the microwave, covered.

Review: Veteran, Poet, Collects Disconnected Memories.
Michael Sedano

Dominic Albanese. Disconnected Memories, poems by Dominic Albanese. Port St. Lucie, FL. Leaky Boot Press, 2019.
 ISBN: 978-1-909849-69-3

“Sure, ay bin comin’ to touwn…” I said in my best Norwegian bumpkin dialect. Mrs. B’s eyes grew wide as she rose from her desk. As nonplussed as possible she suggested I find something closer to home for the monologue contest. I selected Barnaby Conrad’s The Death of Manolete, did it in SAE. I got the point. Don’t do dialect that ain’t your’n. Especially if you don't know the lingo.

My oral interpretation must have been funny peculiar, not funny ha-ha. Printed language and oral representations are langue et parole apart. Print cannot make the sounds of someone saying the words. Countless writers have done dialect text, a few successfully in English, magnificently successfully by raza poets. But I speak the language, I'm not held back by the text itself.

For some readers, text written as dialect distracts even as it calls attention to the bridge between speech and language, writing and talking, them and me. Others will see the line and hear the sounds back on the block and in the word savor their own compressed moments. Dialect does that, too.

Dialect writing possesses a distinct aesthetic that touches innate gregariousness for those who speak the dialect, that creates interest in exogenous readers looking for the "smell of the crowd." 

For some poets, not writing dialect, i.e. "straight" composition, could muck up their connection to their muse, that's the way they learned to write English. That's not the case for the writer of Disconnected Memories. Read the poet's biography in "straight" prose and note he's capable of clarity, spelling, coherence, all that shit.

This Critic reminds not just Albanese, because he's not alone in electing the dialect style. Alurista's most recent collection (link) offers a glaring example of dysfunctional spelling that can dilute the poetry in the syllable. Meaning resides in the reader despite the poet’s intent. Orthography represents a writer’s best chance to get their own meaning across. 

Dominic Albanese does dialect poetry the right way. Recently, he's brought forth a collection that earns respect for the poet qua poet and makes it worth the effort to decipher, overlook, or forgive his printed representations of oral communication. For all I know, this is how the vato talks and he's not writing, he's quoting.

I think I got his language OK, but I’m not going to endeavor some explanation of stuff like this one time I was writing an explicacion du texte on a line from e.e.cummings, “my jaws all gone”. I reasoned the persona must have been punched-out or had gum disease, pobrecito. My professor gently corrected my misunderstanding. Cummings is broke, his “jack’s all gone." Anglos say "jack" for "lana."

if only
I had not been
so ready to go mad
be bad
n have wild adventure
(still pissed off over Vietnam)
I would have got that shop
n been
a grumpy ole guy like he was
looking back… no telling

Albanese closes the 131-page collection with those lines. Spelling doesn’t distract, much, although the poet could go to extremes to catch the sound of that voice. Aurally, one spelling could go “be badnhave wild” more closely copying elisions natural to speech, but “badnhave” or “nbeena” would stop a reader in her his tracks like an arroba in a line of Chicano literature. The spelling conventions Albanese pursues with grammatical consistency fashion an “eye dialect” that shapes the page, bringing a visual coherency to a page on its white space.

Eye dialect aside, Dominic Albanese writes vitally important words. The young guy went through the Vietnam war and writes poetry about it. This poet has done something few people did and it’s time for Unitedstatesians to read about it. Some a ya will cry yr eyes out.

Albanese probably speaks the English of Brooklyn and Coney Island. It’s the sound of where the kid grew up among unmeltable ethnics; Italiano settlements, internal colony cultura with bilinguals living with monolingual immigrants. Albanese’s youthful recollections tell of wise guys, blueberries, ethnic expressiveness. Mother. Father.

never had a company
or a Enterprise
for me to
inherit… no wage slave… day by
week paycheck
truthfully I was
ashamed of his
honesty… acceptance
was way more attracted to
wise guys… steal it… fuck it…
what they gonna do
put ya in da Army n send ya to Vietnam
bet yr ass they would
then some years of rebellion

Vietnam. Novelists have the luxury of developing the intense terror and landscapes of combat—the helicopter scene in Mexican Flyboy (link) leaps out of memory—Poetry's economy is the perfect language for the unspeakable.

That war he fought inhabits this soldier’s mind, it hits him even retroactively, he remembers the past against what happened later.

When the poet was a kid not knowing it, Vietnam was already digging into his psyche, moments distilled and stored away until he needed their succor. In “Sleepwalk,” an old man relives fondly a boy's record hops, slow dancing to Santo and Johnny in adolescent heat. The poet's innocence is offered as an antidote to Vietnam and its ravaging aftermath. 

“don’t dance, float… I will show you”
that and Anny had a baby
uhuu uhuu
kept me alive
in Vietnam
I met her again we were both in
our twenties… she remembered tole
me “you were so sweet”
50+timeless years ago

The note of chagrin at the end illustrates the humor that offers another good reason to read Disconnected Memories. "Sweet" is just what a horny guy doesn't want to hear, it's like saying let's be friends. Irony's many faces permeates Albanese's poetry, adding a dimension most readers yearn for and get in ample measure.

When the poet gets back from the war, in 1966, he sees loveliness on the San Francisco streets of the summer of love. He connects with a hippie chick and he’s ready to whatever, head over heels horny GI still struck out of his wits by the tours in the jungle. She looks into his eyes:

pain blood tears… a fear that she
said scared her… then she kissed
me before I could kiss her
we spoke of future… she said to me
I recall tone intent vibrations of words
“you will need a lot of time. more time than I
am willing to spend, but only love can let those colors
come out”
I never saw her again

Regret weaves in and out of Albanese’s life, things that never happened or almost, as well as what that 18 year old kid got put through. Every Veteran knows this—everyone who put on the uniform and absented themselves from home will never get back those 13 or 18 or 24 months. But only 7% of United States Americans have ever served in uniform and know what it feels like to step off that transport and admit you made it back, you're home.

ok I was 18 in Vietnam
let me see if I can just run
this waka noddle down
in 56 a bit longer en that ago
under duress… from Dulles
Ike sent Iron Mike n 600 troopers to
that swamp… for to defend economic policy
nothing more nothing less
as a “workers paradise” drank em self dead
Never forget 911 (I know I jump around)
Nixon killed 30.000 people a week
in Cambodia… (who cares?) right
be glad for Jerry Ford… he only hurt ya
with golf balls
then comes Ronny Ray gun
at about nine times a number a week

This soldier recognizes he was part of an unending war, nothing to regret, that’s how it is, fifty years on after his war, United States wars have never stopped. Vonnegut’s tag line, after living through the Dresden fire-bombing in World War II, completely encompasses the Veteran's lot: “so it goes.” 

For poet Albanese, there’s no regret, the old soldier has hope.

an old Ford Falcon drives by
better days written in blood on the side

Dominic Albanese lied in his title, Disconnected Memories. These poems are connected to the hearts and minds of the Vietnam generation. Us old people, the Love Children of the sixties. All of us.

But not solely. You few who pulled shock & awe against those hapless Iraqi conscripts, you Reservists who got extended time and again, read Disconnected Memories, you'll connect your time with your comrades across time. Kosovo. Ethiopia. Not South America, please.

Too bad those freaked out PTSD homeless guys can’t read these poems. They, too, have stories to connect, but this isn’t about them, it never is. 

Old Soldiers aren’t going to be alone getting hooked on Disconnected Memories. People who read poetry, who seek commanding expression and arresting ideas, will tell their friends to order the collection from Leaky Boot Press. Everyone knows poetry doesn't sell, so prove everyone wrong and buy Disconnected Memories.

Distribution is the bugaboo of all modern publishers, bookstores stock only limited publishers. Fortunately, mail and UPS narrow the distance with the flick of a virtual plastic card. Ordering from Leaky Boot is Poetic Justice:

Kris Haggblom
Poetic Justice Books & Arts
1774 Port St. Lucie Blvd.
Port St. Lucie, FL 34952

Website ordering:

Email order/inquiries:

Dominic Albanese Bio from Publisher Website
On the whole I would rather be in Philadelphia - W. C. Fields on his tombstone - I have been writing poetry since I was twelve years old, and within sight of where I am sitting at the moment are more than seventy-five notebooks full of poems. When I returned to the United States from Vietnam in March of 1966 I spent at least fifteen years--in the words of Bryon--being "mad and bad and dangerous to know." I suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, a malady that could not then be named--for a few years I had an almost terminal case of it. Crime, drugs, chopped reality, fast motorcycles, women, rum and cocaine, all of these just about killed me. I went to prison for a while. Through all of that I never stopped writing poetry, even if some of my poems from those times are as dreadful as the years themselves were. - I live a life now I could once only dream of, I got and stayed sober, I stopped being a thug and a lout. I have been mentored and taught what it is to be a man--and to be a good man at that. I have long known that it's not what we say we are that makes us who who are, but what we do. - Each poem in Disconnected Memories is a response to something that happened in my life, so you could say, in a way, that they are autobiographical. Some of the poems are quite old, some are quite new, but that's unimportant. What matters to me is what you, the one reading my words, makes of these fragments of a life. - Dominic Albanese is an American poet, mechanic and Vietnam War veteran. He has published five previous books of poetry: Notebook Poems (Finishing Line Press, 2014), Bastards Had the Whole Hill Mined (Les Éditions du Zaporogue, 2015), Iconic Whispers (Les Éditions du Zaporogue, 2015), Then n Now (Les Éditions du Zaporogue, 2016), Only the River Knows (Les Éditions du Zaporogue, 2018). Dominic lives in Florida

Beyond Baroque Site of Four Mexican Schools Literary Events • 2/10/19  4 to 6 p.m.

Beyond Baroque
681 Venice Blvd, Venice, California 90291

First of four in Narratives of the Southwest Series at Beyond Baroque: 
Mexican Schools: An Evening of Resistance Featuring Poetry by 
Angelina Sáenz, Fernando Salinas, 
Irene Sanchez, & Matt Sedillo
With narration by Sean Arce 
February 10, 2019

The fight for tomorrow has always started with the struggle for education. History past and present comes to meet in an explosive evening of poetry, prose, and narration grounded in historical research and educator/parent/student testimonios. The fight for tomorrow will be won in the struggle for the past. We are not just teaching history, we are making it.

Year of the Pig