Friday, May 31, 2019

I Madonnari Italian Chalk Festival Santa Barbara 2019

Melinda Palacio

Every year over the long Memorial Day weekend, Santa Barbara's mission turns into a creative street chalk palette. The festival, now in its 33rd year, brings to life familiar masterpieces and some original artwork all on the ground. If you are busy camping or paying respect to our fallen heroes, there's plenty of opportunity to see the chalk art after the crowds have gone. I suspect there will be more crowds this weekend. If you still can't make it, I've taken some photos to give you an idea of what you can expect for next year, or next weekend. As long as there's no big rainstorm, the art will remain vibrant and visible for weeks.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

What's in a Name?

The Gonzales home, Santa Monica, 1934
     In the late 1930's, when he was a teenager, my uncle Chuy obeyed when his mother insisted he return to the family ranch, Mitic, in central Mexico, some shenanigans having to do with him and an older woman from the neighborhood whose husband was away, locked up in jail, I think it was. You know how the chisme mill works in Chicano neighborhoods? The truth is probably buried in there.
     By all accounts, Chuy was a good kid, maybe a little too naïve, yet bold. When his mother told him to return to Mexico, he balked. He was an American. Born in Mitic, he came to the U.S. at seven or eight years of age, with his parents and siblings right about 1920.
     The last time I spoke to him, of course, we didn't discuss the older woman. Still, today, as I write this, his voice comes to me from another place, yet, it's as clear as the day we spoke, eerie, right? They're gone now, his entire family, so I'm glad I got a chance to talk to him before he went to the other side. I hear him in English, though, occasionally, he slips into Spanish, words and no body. “Danny Boy,” he called me. Made no difference my hair was rapidly graying, to him, I was always Danny Boy.
     He made his home in Venice, when the canals still smelled of oil. Beatniks roamed the streets. Abbot Kinney catered to drunks and winos. There was no Marina, only Mud Lake, where, in summer, Westside families frolicked in the thick water, oil derricks in the distance.
     Chuy bought his first house near Oakwood Park, where a Venice gang, the Dukes controlled the neighborhood. There he started his family, until he could afford a larger, nicer house, still in Venice but east of Lincoln boulevard. In those days, few people wanted to live west of Lincoln, or near the beach and the riff-raff hanging out on the boardwalk. Man, how times have changed.
     In the ensuing years, he would work long, hard hours, and acquire enough rental property to secure his, and his children’s futures. Not bad for a gardener who started out with a push lawnmower.
     He was raised in Santa Monica, where he attended school and worked, until his sudden departure to Mexico. He hadn't wanted to go, but once on the ranch, he enjoyed the Mexican lifestyle, both the work, the play, and the time to rest. He especially loved the horses, coming to buy his own and treating it like he would have a new car in the States. 
     He described his mother's ranch, Las Palmas, as small, desolate and very poor. “I don’t even think it’s there anymore,” he told me.
     But, in Mexico, no never knows for sure. 
     On day, while I was eating at a popular Mexican restaurant in West L.A. I chatted with the bartender. He told he had come to the Westside from San Gaspar, Jalisco, and knew Mitic well.

     “Ever heard Las Palmas. I think it’s gone, now.”

     "No, it's there. All those towns are very old."

     In Mexico, anything is possible.

     This got me to thinking. United States history is short, less than 300 years. Cut off from their ancestral homelands, Americans of European and African descent, know only the U.S. territory as their home. Oceans, mountains, and deserts separate them from the motherland. Most have lost contact with family there and their roots, all part of the American spirit, I guess.
Francisco Gonzales, Mitic thriving
     But mestizo roots in the Americas, including the U.S., grow wide and deep, and in some cases, barely steps away from the motherland, a car’s drive or short plane ride. Family visit each other on both sides of the border, that is until someone changed the rules and made it harder to cross. Even for those who never visit Mexico, it's there, both physically and psychically. It hangs over Los Angeles, San Francisco and the entire Southwest. Even those little pueblitos are there, sometimes burgeoning, sometimes just lost in time.
     “Mitic,” (Mee-teek) two syllables, is how my uncle pronounces the name of his father's ranch. My aunts pronounced it Mitique (Mee-tee-keh), three syllables. They even argue about it. What's in a name, right? And though they rarely visited, it remained in their imagination, magical, almost mythic, for better or worse. My aunt Josie once said to me, "You always want to talk about Mexico. It was awful. That's why we're all here." Then she would reminisce about being a young girl on the ranch, and how much she missed her grandmother and grandfather.
     Anyway, how old are these American settlements? After all, the name "America" was here before the pilgrims landed in the east. There was a time when the southern border wasn’t the southern border. Meso-Hispano-America was one. As I once heard Chicano writer Rolando Hinojosa say, "We (his family and our people) have been a growing in concern in these parts for many generations," or something to that effect.
     In their book Beyond the Codices: The Nahua View of Colonial Mexico, the editors Arthur Anderson and James Lockhart published the letter of Miguel Lopez, a colonized Indian from a town near Jalostotitlan, Jalisco, who wrote a petition to the Spanish King for the removal of the near-almighty local priest, the vicar Francisco Munoz.
     Lopez claimed the [Spanish] priest beat the Indians mercilessly, took their food, and had a lady for his personal use.
     In the Indian language Nahua, the name of Lopez’s settlement is Mizquictlaca. Lopez also used the shortened version, Mizquitic, probably to satisfy the Spanish chroniclers, who avoided extra letters.
     As I read Lopez’s letter, I wondered if this could be my grandmother’s village. I turned the page. There, I read the Indian Lopez noted the name Mitic, just as my uncle Chuy had pronounced it.
     Located in the province of Jalostotitlan, near San Gaspar, there could be no doubt it was my family's paternal home. Lopez sign his letter and dated it 1611.
     Who knows how many years earlier the first Tecuexe Indians settled there? By the 17th century, it had already been a well-established Mexican community.
Where the spirits of ancestors roam
     My uncle Chuy told me that as far as he knew, his grandparents (my great grandparents), Juan Gonzales and Micaela de Los Santos, knew no other home than Mitic.
     At the turn of the 20th century, the Gonzales family of Mitic lived relatively well. Juan invested in land and cattle. In those days, Mitic was a thriving community. By 1920, the Mexican Revolution ravaged the land, sending many fleeing their ranches and heading north, crossing at El Paso del Norte, the location Mexicans and Indians have crossed hundreds of years before Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.
     My uncle Chuy said, “Today, it's only a few ranches.”
     When I visited in 2002, our cousins had turned the ranch into commercially successful dairy, complete with electric milking machines and acres of farm land ready for planting. Mitic is a survivor.
     From that little rancho, the mestizo American branches of the Gonzales-De Los Santos-Villalobos family reaches to Santa Monica, Venice, Alhambra, El Sereno, Eagle Rock, Rancho Cucamonga, Newberry Park, Santa Ana, San Jose, and Fairbanks, Alaska. They are as much a fabric of the American tapestry as any European family, maybe even more, by 1000 years.
     So, when a Fresno State University professor argues in his book that Mexicans and Latin Americans don’t assimilate into U.S. culture as successfully as Europeans have before them, one must question not only this professor’s research, but his intent, as well. After all, there is more to a name if we take a little time to study it.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Where Are You From? ¿De donde soy?

Written by Yamile Saied Méndez
Illustrated by Jaime Kim

Age Range: 4 - 8 years
Grade Level: Preschool - 3
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins (June 4, 2019)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0062839934
ISBN-13: 978-0062839930

This resonant picture book tells the story of one girl who constantly gets asked a simple question that doesn’t have a simple answer. A great conversation starter in the home or classroom—a book to share, in the spirit of I Am Enough by Grace Byers and Keturah A. Bobo.

When a girl is asked where she’s from—where she’s really from—none of her answers seems to be the right one. Unsure about how to reply, she turns to her loving abuelo for help. He doesn’t give her the response she expects. She gets an even better one.

Where am I from?
You’re from hurricanes and dark storms, and a tiny singing frog that calls the island people home when the sun goes to sleep....

With themes of self-acceptance, identity, and home, this powerful, lyrical picture book will resonate with readers young and old, from all backgrounds and of all colors—especially anyone who ever felt that they don’t belong.

Este resonante libro ilustrado cuenta la historia de una niña a la que constantemente se le hace una pregunta simple que no tiene una respuesta simple. Un excelente tema de conversación en el hogar o en el aula: un libro para compartir, en el espíritu de I Am Enough por Grace Byers y Keturah A. Bobo.

Cuando se le pregunta a una chica de dónde es, de dónde es realmente, ninguna de sus respuestas parece ser la correcta.
Sin estar segura de cómo responder, se dirige a su abuelo amoroso en busca de ayuda. Él no le da la respuesta que ella espera. Le da una aún mejor.

¿De donde soy?
Eres de huracanes y tormentas oscuras,
y de una ranita cuyo canto llama a los isleños para que vuelvan a casa cuando el sol se va a dormir....

Con temas de autoaceptación, identidad y hogar, este poderoso y lírico libro de imágenes resonará con lectores jóvenes y viejos, de todos los orígenes y de todos los colores, especialmente cualquiera que haya sentido que no pertenecen.


"Lyrical language and luminous illustrations. An ideal vehicle for readers to ponder and discuss their own identities." —Kirkus (starred review)

"A much-needed title that is a first purchase for libraries and classrooms." —School Library Journal

"An enchanted, hand-in-hand odyssey [and] opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the many, many backgrounds, roots, histories, of those who live in these United States." —Shelf Awareness

"This touching book addresses a ubiquitous question for children of color, and in the end, the closeness between the girl and Abuelo shows that no matter the questions, she knows exactly where she’s from." —Booklist

"Although the book begins as a gentle riposte to narrow cultural and ethnic categorizations, its conclusion reaches out to all readers, evoking both heritage and the human family." —Publishers Weekly

Yamile Saied Méndez was born and raised in Rosario, Argentina, in a family with roots from all over the world. She now lives in a small mountain town in the United States with her Puerto Rican husband, five multicultural kids, two bilingual dogs, and a herd of deer that love to eat her flowers. She’s a graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Visit her at

Jaime Kim was born South Korea and moved to the US when she was eighteen. Her favorite things are the sun, moon, and stars--which is why they always creep into her artwork. She lives in North Carolina.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Memorial Day 1969, 2019

Memorial Day 1969. Ft. Ord, California
Michael Sedano

Basic Training builds strong bodies and washes minds. Unless a man is a total dud and gets his ass bounced out of Basic, military training infects a person’s spirit and over 8 weeks intensive physical training, even a dissident develops a powerful sense of personhood unique to soldiers and Veterans.

Double-time up the same hill grows easier daily, and soon the men reach the apex and keep going, building up a good sweat not winded at all. A man develops a sense of uniqueness and accomplishment running in circles inside a tear-gas filled room, without a mask, reciting your your name, serial number, and your First General Order before fleeing to sweet salt air of Monterrey Bay. Week after week, drill and ceremonies, running, rolling in dirt and crawling in mud, firing guns, throwing hand grenades, fighting in hand-to-hand combat, the Army builds a man’s sense of bravado and savagery.

Visiting Ft Ord Basic Training February 1969: Barbara Sedano, Private E-1 Michael Sedano, PFC Marcel Sedano

By the last week of Basic Combat Training, the Army has its hapless trainees softened up for the pièce de résistance of combat preparedness, crawling under machine gun fire. The training highlight comes with exquisite dramatic flair.

It’s just before dusk when the Army musters three training companies behind wooden bleachers in a hidden dell. Over a hundred of us fill the rows in orderly fashion and when our company is ordered to take your seats we shout our allegiance, “A Three One, the best damn company on the hill, Sir!” and 40 asses hit the boards with the sound of a single nalga.

Our bleachers face a flat dirt space 30 yards long. It’s a movie set. Dim lights on twenty-foot poles cast eerie shadows. Barbed wire fences criss-cross the sandbag-checkered plain. We’re going to crawl across the field under those barbed wire fences.

To our left, where we will begin tonight’s exercise, a gentle hillside rises dotted with the California Live Oaks that make this part of the Salinas Valley so serenely picturesque. A disembodied voice broadcasts from a MASH-like loudspeaker, distorted and ominous. Don’t stand up.

The M-60 machine gun fires 500 7.62mm rounds per minute. Every fourth round is a red or green tracer so soldiers can witness the firepower of bullets traveling 2800 feet per second.

The final glow of day limns the ridges above with a golden halo when the darkness before us roars to life with the deep throated thunder of that machine gun spitting bullets before our eyes, weaving a lethal tapestry of red and green lights strung across the field. Two M-60s fire continuously for minutes. Thousands of rounds pulverize the earth of the shadowed hillside. Then the dim light catches massive clouds of Ft Ord's light brown dust rising roiling and swirling completely obliterating the beauty of the serene hillside behind a lethal curtain of power.

PFC Michael Sedano leaving Pasadena for LAX, July 1969. Next stop: Korea.
Like a single organism we hundred soldiers rise helplessly at the spectacle. Moved by the unmitigated destruction we're witnessing, we stomp our boots screaming mindlessly at the raw destructive power. We are a cheering, whistling mob consumed with the glossolalia of eager stupidity. We are raring to get out there and crawl under those ribbons of fire!

I complete Basic Training and move into Radio School. We’re in the Army now. My wife leaves Isla Vista, rents a hovel converted from a farmworker shack, and I go AWOL every night. She works at Macy's to pay the rent. The Army pays me an extra twenty bucks for being married.

Memorial Day Weekend arrives and Ft. Ord is all abuzz. John Wayne and The Green Berets are coming to Ft. Ord movie house. The lines move slowly past the ticket booth. Guys who were in Vietnam last week pay their dollar to watch a movie about Vietnam. Guys who will be in Vietnam in a few weeks lay down a dollar. A buck private gets $115.00 a month, before deductions.

The Green Berets is a good song but a dull movie, plodding along event to event, character to character, breaking its monotony with tastes of battle. As the plot drags out, the confrontations with Charlie Cong grow increasingly lethal to our guys.

Finally, our boys are up against it. Holding out on a hilltop redoubt, VC sappers have begun to penetrate the wires. Characters we recognize are getting shot up. Charlie doesn’t miss. It looks bad for our side.

Every soldier in the house, and John Wayne as well, would prefer to duke it out with those rotten enemy, but desperate measures demand John Wayne call in “Puff, the Magic Dragon”, in real life a propeller-driven airplane mounted with three 7.62mm Gatling Guns on one side. The driver tilts the airplane so the gun side points down and fires. 18,000 rounds per minute pelt the earth when Puff does its stuff.

On screen-- as in real death-- red and green tracers ribbon down onto Viet Cong bodies. People are dropping like flies. The camera pans actors in throes of screaming agonized run-but-it-don’t-do-you-no-good horrible meat grinding death. For every tracer that strikes the place beneath, four unseen slugs hit with lethal reality.

Ft. Ord movie house explodes like we did in those bleachers, tonight with wilder cheers and louder whistles than during training. This is what we are trained for. This is why we are here at Ft Ord on Memorial Day 1969. "I want to be an airborne ranger. I want to go to Vietnam. I want to kill old CharlieCong. hup hup hup."

Light reflects off the screen illuminating a full house of soldiers. These men are boys a few months out of high school who can’t drink and can’t vote, and me. I’m a 23-year old with 17 years of education and like those kids, I’m stomping the wooden floor with  fevered intensity, screaming out of mindless bloodthirst and raising a cloud of light brown dust left behind by the boots of thousands of souls who came to this theatre before me and whose spirits fill me and every soldier in that surreal John Wayne moment fifty years ago this Memorial Day.

SP4 Michael Sedano, Memorial Day 1970, Hq 7/5, Camp Page, Chuncheon Korea

Monday, May 27, 2019

Conversation with Odilia Galván Rodríguez by Xánath Caraza

Conversation with Odilia Galván Rodríguez by Xánath Caraza

Odilia Galván Rodríguez is a poet, writer, editor, and activist. She is the author of six volumes of poetry. Her latest, The Color of Light, (FlowerSong Books, 2019) is an extensive collection of chronicles and poetry honoring the Mexica (Aztec) and Orisha (Yoruba) Energies, which she worked on during her time living in Cuba and Mexico. Also, along with the late Francisco X. Alarcón, she edited the award-winning anthology Poetry of Resistance: Voices for Social Justice (University of Arizona Press, 2016). Galván Rodríguez has worked as an editor for various print media such as Matrix Women’s News Magazine, Community Mural’s Magazine, and Tricontinental Magazine in Havana, Cuba. She is currently the editor of Cloud Women’s Quarterly Journal online and facilitates creative writing workshops nationally. As an activist she’s worked for the United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO and the East Bay Institute for Urban Arts, has served on numerous boards and commissions, and is currently active in women’s organizations whose mission it is to educate around environmental justice issues and disseminate an indigenous worldview regarding the earth and people’s custodial relationship to it.

Odilia, could you share with La Bloga readers about your new book, The Color of Light?

This book took me many years to complete because it is a compilation of poems dedicated to the Orisha and Mexica energies, or as many still call them – deities.  There is not complete agreement on this designation, deity or energy, but I went with calling them energies because as a spiritual person who is a deist, I believe in one god who caused the universe to be created but does not necessarily intervene in it – for me the Orishas and Mexica energies fit into this world view. Others would say that these two traditions are polytheistic – that they hold belief in many gods, but the people who today practice these traditions would disagree. The energies as I am calling them, are the ones who can be called upon to help and they do, but they are not gods or god. I only mention this because writing this part of the book, which contains only the very simplest descriptions of the energies, was the part I had most difficulty with. I did not want to reveal too much or too little. I also wanted to be in integrity with whatever I did share because spiritual beliefs are very personal and when you put them down in a book which is public, well, then what your write is open to scrutiny and criticism. But the most important part for me was not wanting to offend practitioners in including this information in the book, and back when I started working on it sharing information about the Orishas was tricky. The poems, well they are my offerings, and really the heart of the book so I hope people will enjoy them.

As a child, who first introduced you to reading? 

That is a hard question because both of my parents read. Mom was always an avid reader. She loved Agatha Christi, mysteries in general – her go to entertainment. She also read our text books once we started having those, I remember being really surprised to find her at the kitchen table reading my history text, and later in college she was especially interested in my psych and political science books. I began reading as a very young child, with my Dad, I would point to words on labels and he, noticing this, would sound them out with me. I think I was about 3 or 4 years old. He used to bring home a newspaper in Spanish, we were living in Chicago at the time, and I remember the same thing I would point and he would read to me and then he would tell me to “read” it. Of course, I don’t think I was very good at it at all but, by the time I went to kindergarten I was already reading. There were always a lot of books in our home.

How did you first become a poet? 

That is a good question. I was always writing. Started early –  writing in those diaries I would ask for and get for Christmas. You know the ones that come with a key and lock. I’m laughing at this, because I know how easy they were to open with a bobby pin or a paper clip. So there was nothing private about them. Anyway, I kept a journal from early on and was never really interested in poetry because what they give you to read in school are normally poems working-class poor children growing up on the south side of Chicago can not relate to. But low and behold one day Gwendolyn Brooks! Yes, her poem We Real Cool is the reason I am a poet today. I don’t remember what grade that was, maybe 5th grade, yes, I had Mrs. Elliott that year – one of the few lay teachers in my Catholic School. The year JFK was assassinated. Yes, she introduced us to Gwendolyn Brooks. Everything changed for me then, I started loving poetry. Knew I wanted to write it. I was always very private about my writing and didn’t come out as a poet until the late ‘70’s my first poem was published in a small anthology in Santa Cruz, CA under a pseudonym. That makes me laugh now. It wasn’t until I met the incredible Francisco X. Alarcón – ¡presente! who encouraged me and invited me to write more. I started sharing my work in a taller called Centro Chicano Latino de Escritores, and in the early 80’s was when my work began to be published in anthologies.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Just that if you are a writer or want to be, find like-minded people who will support and help you work on your craft, whatever that might be poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction etc. We have to get our stories and voices heard.  So, join or form a community of writers in your area and write together, then when your work is ready, submit it and see what magic happens!

The Color of Light

is shadow
there is not one
without the other
to delve further
into this duality
one must vision
reality bent
a descent
into seeing
what isn’t
a three-dimensional trick
in that world of flat magic
it’s tragic
when people refuse
to muse beyond
their edges
isn’t it?
and color only
inside their lines
their whole lives spent
not looking beyond
their assigned comfort
not feeling the others
who live with us daily
sharing the planet
on an invisible level
or is it?
some same plane
traffic jam
where some of us
are merely sideswiped while
others are rammed head-on
since birth in a collision

She Walks in Beauty

she walks 
in beauty 
in night
shadow dreams
a star specked shawl 
swirled across
her shoulders
free of wide world’s weight 
tonight she dreams
reality that fits 
she strolls
red earth mesas 
where gold bones 
are a sunken treasure 
all that is left 
of petrified trees
rock roots
in an ancient ocean 
to desert floor 
deep with messages
of the still rooted

Cloudy Serpent

from the milky
sky road
we were
in handfuls
from on high
seeding the earth
from molten
blue stars
we became flesh
from your
downy plumes
you made
flores bloom
as humans