Friday, September 20, 2019

Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice

Melinda Palacio

Linda Ronstadt Tribeca Film Festival
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice

On Wednesday, I went to see the documentary, Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice. I can’t say enough good things about this film. The only shortcoming might be the shortness of clips of her singing. However, longer samples of her songs would turn the ninety-five minute run time into something too long for one sitting. For a fan such as my late grandmother, a longer film would be welcome. Linda Ronstadt’s music was the soundtrack of my childhood. Sometimes, my grandmother would play her albums on repeat the entire day. She never tired of Linda. 

As a female pioneer and rockstar queen, Linda Ronstadt was versatile enough to own every single genre of music. She is the only woman with 5 platinum albums and one year she appeared at the top of the carts in Pop, R&B, and Country, all at the same time. Her voracious variety in musical taste, echoed the smorgasbord of music in my grandmother’s house in Huntington Park, where I grew up. Before Ronstadt’s double platinum album, Canciones de Mi Padre, my grandmother had no idea Ronstadt was Mexican. She simply loved her voice and enjoyed all her hits, but she especially loved the album that spoke to her in her language. 

The documentary shows Ronstadt’s determination to produce the album of songs in Spanish for herself. Not being fluent in Spanish didn’t stop her. Linda enlisted Rubén Blades to help her with her Spanish diction. The success of the album silenced the record company naysayers. 

Yet, for all her determination and success, Linda was lonely and insecure. Another saying comes to mind, It’s lonely at the top.  I was surprised to learn that with all of her success, awards, and a voice that was liquid gold, she doubted herself. Although I can relate to her insecurities, it’s hard to understand the feeling in someone who is so talented. During the film, I kept waiting for the moment in the film when there is a fall from grace or when the hit records hit a dry spell, but she had a stellar career. Every time she ran into roadblocks, she insisted on knocking them down. She proceeded with her vision, and never failed to produce an award-winning album. 
Of course the absolute heartbreak of the film is the ending and seeing that she has lost her vocal range (and most of her voice) to Parkinson’s, a disease her mother also had. Music is such an important part of her life. To have been one of the greatest singers and to have the gift taken away is devastating and tragic. The testament to her grit is how she is able to share the heartbreak with the world. One can’t help but admire her. 

The few months I wasn’t able to walk after I broke my leg left me yearning to do more than hobble. I couldn’t wait to skip, run, dance, sprint again. The ordeal was a tough lesson in humility. When I hurt my arm in yoga, I couldn’t play guitar and I became agitated with thoughts that I might have to give up something I loved. The old saying about not appreciating what you have until you no longer have it is the toughest lesson. I was lucky to recover from my injuries. Linda Ronstadt graciously shares how hard it is to lose the thing she loves the most: singing with her family. What courage and grace it takes to share such a vulnerable moment with the world. 

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Where is Monserrat Fontes?

Books and Moths
     I’ve been weeding my library of books I’ll probably never read again, even some special ones, kind of like clothes in a closet, some really cool clothes in there that haven’t been worn in years, and, I know I never will wear again—moth food.
     I see James Michner’s “Iberia” up there. It’s been with me since 1976, my Bible as I travelled through central and southern Spain as a student in 1977-’78. There’s a row of books my professors assigned me while I studied at the University of Granada, in the old university downtown, where students crowded into the cafes and plazas and discussed every topic imaginable.
     I see two Ramon Sender classics, “requiem por un campesino espanol,” and “La Tesis de Nancy”, a really charming read about a chatty American student in Spain trying to learn Castellano, even asking common working people the rules of grammar, as if thinking every Spaniard was a grammarian.
Ramon Sender to Lazarillo de Tormes
     There is a row of books by Chicano writers, poets, essayists, and novelists, some going back to the mid-to-late 1960s, the Chicano Enlightenment. When I retired, I passed off most of my classic Chicano literature books to a friend, Professor Jaime Cruz, who was working with at risk kids at a new library in Santa Monica. Sometimes, I think, I want some of them back. Then I remember the moths and the old shirts.
     I also notice my favorites scattered haphazardly about, books I pull out to skim every so often, like Hesse’s “Steppenwolf”, the short stories of Paul Bowles , Kafka, Chekov, and Hemingway, novels by the Bronte sisters, Rudy Acuna’s “Occupied America,” Thomas Merton’s “Seven Story Mountain,” Paz’s biography of Juana de La Cruz, and a smattering of books on religion-spirituality, peace, war, politics, sociology, education, and writing.
     At the top, in the highest row, are the autographed books, mostly Chicano and Chicana writers, friends I’ve met over the years at conferences, book signings, or award ceremonies where we shared the stage. Many haven’t published in a long time. I hesitate to say “have stopped writing,” because I know that even though I haven’t published a novel since 2009, I write four or five times a week.
     My excuse for not publishing more…. Well, I love the process, writing, revising, editing, publishing, and, of course, seeing the first copy arrive in the mail, but I don’t like the business aspect, and believe me, publishing is a business. When a writer or artist finishes a “piece,” like it or not, whoever produced it, sees a product, and like all products, they are produced to be sold.
     At this point, the artist becomes a salesperson. The more units sold, the better chance of having the next piece produced. For writers who publish with small presses, there is no powerful promotion machine, so the writer becomes the advertiser and bookstore.
     The reading circuit for writers is still the traditional way of selling books, but that ain’t an easy gig, the travel, the expense, showing up for an audience of five (if you’re lucky), and with the disappearance of so many bookstores, today, there are fewer and fewer venues to read. Even university publishers want writers who will hit the road and sell their books.
     On the shelf of autographed books, I spot Victor Villasenor’s “Rain of Gold”. I remember hanging out with Victor for an evening after he read and signed his book at Dutton’s Books (now deceased), in Brentwood.
The autographed copies
     After publishing “Rain of Gold,” Victor was a hot item, covered by major news-outlets around the country. Writing books was his thing, no teaching job on the side or any other work, so he had to sell his books if he wanted to eat.
     As we walked along San Vicente boulevard, Victor carried a satchel filled with flyers advertising his book. To my surprise, he stopped anyone passing us, introduced himself, handed them a flyer, and told them where to buy his book. Victor is gregarious and engaged many people in conversations. Some said they'd definitely stop by Dutton's and pick up his book. "That's how you do it," he said, or something to that effect.
     We went into a restaurant for coffee. He said, “Come with me.” We went into the men’s restroom. and he taped his flyers on the wall just above the urinals. He said, “A good place to advertise; it’s a captured audience.”
     We were both younger at the time, with a lot more energy and ganas. I’d just published my first book. He’d been at it for years and was giving me a lesson in marketing. He was hundred percent correct. What good is a product, even art, if it doesn’t sell, or put another way, if nobody reads, sees, or hears it?
     I once heard the writer Carolyn See tell an audience of writers, “If you already have a book published, forget about writing your next book. Work on selling the one you have.” She wasn't talking about selling for the sake of making money, necessarily, but for the purpose of expanding your "base" as one might say today.
     Beside Victor’s book is Monserrat Fontes’ “Dreams of the Centaur,” published by Norton, and winner of the 1997 American Book Award. Now, to win the American Book Award, your book has to be pretty damn good. I don't remember what Monserrat published after "Dreams," so I picked up my old I-phone and googled her name. It seemed like "Dreams" was her last book. How can that be, after winning such a prestigious literary prize?
1997 American Book Award Winner
I don't remember much about the story. I mean, it was 1996. I also can’t remember where I met Monserrat, a conference, I think, but she’d read my first book “Pepe Rios”, about a teenage boy who, after his father's mysterious death, leaves his family’s ranch in Mexico during the early days of the 1910 Revolution and, after being kidnapped by the rebels and facing many harrowing  experiences, finds his way to the banks of the Rio Bravo.
     Writing historical novels is exhausting, years of work. I reach up for Monserrat’s book. open it, and read the inscription to me. It’s inspiring, and she encourages me to keep writing. So many years ago. The reason historical fiction takes so much work is the inordinate amount of research necessary before and during the writing.
     I find a comfortable chair, open to Chapter I, and I begin reading. The pages turn, some quicker than others. To read it right, one can’t rush through historical fiction. That’s why it took me six months to read “War and Peace”, one copy in my car and one at home. I finished it while on vacation in Puerto Rico, and I was coming down with the flu. Funny the things books help us remember about out own lives.
     I wrote my first novel rushing home from my day job, eating dinner, saying hi to the family, then dashing to local libraries (no Google back then) to research. I’d return home by 7:30 or 8:00 PM. I tried spending quality time with the kids, at least an hour. By 9:00 PM, after the family was in bed, I’d head to the kitchen and write until 11 or 11:30, go to bed, wake up the next morning and do it all again. I saved Saturday for research and rested Sunday.
     As I read through Monserrat’s book, I am mesmerized by the story and the historical detail. My book paled by comparison. Monserrat had to have done an extraordinary amount of research to pull together her story. I peruse her "Acknowledgement" page. It's vast, with sources from University of Mississippi to Mexico and many places in between. She wrote this while teaching at University High School, a feat in itself. That's what, five classes a day, five days a week?
     She describes a beautiful scene of the protagonist Alejo breaking a wild horse, three-four pages of exquisite writing, heart-breaking emotion, and attention to detail, point by point.
     “Dreams of the Centaur” is filled with wonderful scenes and engaging storylines, the most moving, a mother’s love for her son, and finally, having to let go.
     Monserrat’s book is timeless. Her narrative regarding Mexico’s brutal system of incarceration under Porfirio Diaz shows human beings treated worse than animals, kept, not even in cells or cages, but, literally, in narrow, dirt pits and caves.
     Under his regime, Diaz's government tortured and kidnapped Yaquis from their ranchitos in Sonora and sent them to work on the henequin plantations in the Yucatan where many died, facing an entirely different Mexico, or as an overseer tells Alejo, an army deserter working on a plantation and claiming he is a free man and not a slave. “You’re not free. And you’re not in Mexico. You belong to the king.”
     The kings are those aristocrats who own the plantations, not unlike those plantation owners in the American South during slavery and Jim Crow. They answer to no government. In the late 1800s, using slave labor, the kings produced henequen to sell around the world and wealth to match.
     They created the laws, and even though Mexico outlawed slavery in its Constitution, it never stopped the practice of slavery, not in the past, and not even today. Consider southern Mexico, Chiapas, Campeche, and the Yucatan, as far as Central and South America, where the Maya, Inca, and other indigenous groups continue to be brutalized on plantations and in mines, under antiquated political systems.
     As I read “Dreams”, I realized Fontes' novel is a book about Latin America today, from the burning of the Amazon to the murders of nuns and priests in El Salvador to the drug fueled atrocities, all vile, legal crimes, perpetrated upon the most vulnerable Latin Americans.
     Whether the perpetrators are governments, corporations, or gangs, often one and the same, or go by such names as Nueva Generacion, Los Zetas, Chiquita, United Fruit, Dole, or Shell, they wreak havoc on the environment and on people’s lives and send caravans of migrants north, in a flight for safety, and for no other reason than to keep the flow of cheap labor moving, as well satisfying the unsatiated need of Americans to “get high.” It is the writer's responsibility to tell these stories, sometimes sacrificing their own well-being in process.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Close/ Cerca and Far/ Lejos

Written by Juan Felipe Herrera. Illustrated by Blanca Gómez.

           *Age Range: 2 - 5 years
*Grade Level: Preschool - Kindergarten
*Board book: 14 pages
*Publisher: Candlewick; Bilingual edition
*Language: English/ Spanish

Some things are close — cerca. Others are far — lejos. With sweet simplicity, these charming dual-language board books engage young children.

El árbol de limones está lejos de mi casa. The lemon tree is far from my house.

The little boy’s house is far from the city, and the city is far from the ocean. What about the mountains in the distance, or the clouds in the sky, or the sun that shines over the boy as he walks?

Mi cuarto está cerca de la cocina. My bedroom is close to the kitchen.

As she walks from her kitchen through a daisy-filled yard to the house next door, a little girl notices things that are close to each other — just as the little boy she goes to visit is close to her.

Juan Felipe Herrera is a poet, artist, and activist. He was the U.S. Poet Laureate from 2015 to 2017. He is the creator of Jabberwalking and the author of Imagine, illustrated by Lauren Castillo. He lives in Fresno, California.

Blanca Gómez started drawing illustrations for her mom when she was a child. Now she illustrates for people from near and far, all over the world. She lives in Madrid, Spain.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The Road to Leipzig 1945

Michael Sedano

“What the Hell is that doing there?” My dad’s vehemence wasn’t unusual but this time his irritation rang with something else. The cover of the big thick book had the Nazi swastika against a white circle. I recognized what I’d done and snatched the volume off the table and hid it away spine-first. I thought the author had been stupid to put that piece of crap so blatantly out there, but then, I knew my dad’s stories, and the symbol sold books about the 16-year old war.

I was probably 5 when I first heard about my daddy’s war. This puts my Dad only 5 years distant from the last days of World War II, 6 years from being an orange picker with a high school diploma. He was picking la naranja again, and smudging in winter, with 2 kids and a Good Conduct Medal.

Dad showed me the armbands, some fotos of dead German soldiers, a newspaper foto of his smiling face sticking up from the tank. He looked so young, even to my mocoso eyes. He told me haunting stories about killing people. About the dead German tank commander said to bear an eerie resemblance to my father's face. A barn filled with machine-gunned civilians. It was war.

They were never going to get rich on an orange picker's sueldo
but that didn't stop my Dad from 100-box days when the
grove was good.
Dad sat in the machine gunner’s forward post on 19APR45 when his tank, the C’est la Guerre, led the 69th Infantry Division to the front door of Leipzig City Hall. The war was won. If you saw the movie, Patton did it all by himself, casí. “We gave it back,” my Dad told me as he closed the shoebox of memories.

Dad wouldn’t have been the first GI inside the building, but as the machine gunner riding in the nose of that tank, my Dad was the closest GI to the front door when the driver set the brakes and WWII was over. A Chicano won WWII. My Dad never said that. William L. Shirer went that whole book and didn’t say it. I say it: A Chicano orange picker from Redlands California won WWII in Europe. It’s true.

By the time the Army allowed my dad and his platoon into the building, all the good stuff was gone. Rank has its privileges. A few worthless German marks littered the floor, some brand new Nazi armbands. Here's a chrome bayonet that slicks in and out of a decorative sheath, in all likelihood the guy who wore it in a goose-stepping parade was killed during the assault.

This is the crew of C'est la Guerre, the first U.S. tank
to reach Leipzig City Hall, where this bill littered the floor.
Dad autographed a one hundred thousand Mark bill and sent the loot home to Berdoo. Germany was printing money at will and the bill looks like it's fresh off the printing press.

C’est la Guerre’s crewmen signed a one hundred mark bill. Along with my Dad, these are the first GIs to reach Leipzig City Hall. History has forgotten these warriors. Somewhere a family has a similarly autographed bill. I hope they know it's a treasure.

McCann, the Loader on C'est la Guerre, remained in contact with my father the rest of their lives. Just as dementia was seizing my Dad's future, they'd planned a reunion so my nearly-blind Dad could view the Fall colors back east. When McCann died, my mom decided my Dad didn't need to know that. She said goodbye to Mrs. McCann for us. Thank you for your service.

Two armbands complete the collection. A variety of GIs signed their names and addresses. I looked up a couple. The address in Chicago is a building erected in 1900. It stands. I know one GI who returned there after WWII. Hillsboro TX buried a man whose particulars suggest he was with the 777th Tank Battalion that day in Leipzig. Another Chicano who won the war. Chippewa III 22 signed both armbands.

I am happy my Dad did not downsize his Army souvenirs. I’m downsizing my possessions and happened upon my Dad’s last Army stuff, the memories he kept in his strongbox. Dad, I won’t let go of your memories. I’m not waiting for VE Day to say “thank you for your service.” And I add, thank you for holding in those nightmares. I remember your stories, I understand holding it in can break a man. You did that for us.

The last time I sat with my father in his bedroom at home, his mind was back in the field. He wanted to reset the firing stakes for their new position. He was on the road to Leipzig, resting now, dug in and ready. I could hear it in his voice.

69th Infantry Division, 777 Tank Battalion, on the road to Leipzig, April 1945.
The soldier stands over the machine gunner's hatch.

U.S. Army tank C'est la Guerre in Leipzig, Germany April or May 1945

C'est la Guerre and other armor, Leipzig, Germany, April or May 1945

Swastika is too offensive to feature on La Bloga

Monday, September 16, 2019

Una Velada Gratis de Cultura Latina patrocinada por el Distrito de Parque & Recreación del Condado de Johnson en el Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center

27 de agosto de 2019

Susan Mong, Superintendente de Cultura, JCPRD

Una Velada Gratis de Cultura Latina patrocinada por el Distrito de Parque & Recreación del Condado de Johnson en el Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center

El jueves, 26 de septiembre de las 5:30—8 p.m.

OVERLAND PARK, KANSAS – La División de Cultura del Distrito de Recreación & Parque del Condado de Johnson junto con nuestros colaboradores comunitarios se complacen en celebrar el Mes de la Herencia Hispana con una noche para celebrar la cultura y la herencia latina.  El evento presenta poetas latinos, artistas, músicos, bailarines y exhibiciones de patrimonios culturales el jueves, 26 de septiembre de las 5:30 p.m. – 8 p.m. en el Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center, en la Avenida Metcalf 8788, Overland Park, KS.  Este evento es gratis para la comunidad.

Un grupo fascinante de colaboradores latinos se presentará a lo largo de la velada.  José Faus, poeta, artista y maestro presentará “Cambiaron Mi Nombre (They Changed My Name)” un relato de su historia como inmigrante de Colombia. Xánath Caraza, viajera, poeta y cuentista de México enseña en el Departamento de Lenguas Extranjeras y Literatura de UMKC presentará poesía.  Miguel Rivera, profesor del Kansas City Art Institute y artista de México compartirá su más reciente trabajo.  Calpulli Iskali nos deleitará con bailes mexicanos y presentará una oración tradicional.  Habrá pintura en vivo por Emily Álvarez, ilustradora y diseñadora de ascendencia dominicana y cubana; y música con Pedro Calderón, originalmente de Lima, Perú y Ariel Bugosen de Argentina.

Programa del evento

5:30—6 p.m.   En la recepción se ofrecerán muestras del restaurante El Salvadoreño y de la paletería Tropicana, ambos propietarios latinos.  Música en vivo con Pedro Calderón y Ariel Bugosen.
6 p.m.              “Cambiaron mi nombre” con José Faus, apoyado por el Humanities Kansas junto con el apoyo del Andrew Mellon Foundation.
6:45 p.m.         Presentación baile por Calpulli Iskali
7 p.m.              Presentación artística por Miguel Rivera
7:25 p.m.         Recital poético por Xánath Caraza

A lo largo de la velada habrá música tradicional interpretada por Pedro Calderón, originalmente de Perú, y Ariel Bugosen; Emily Álvarez estará pintando en vivo a lo largo de las presentaciones de dancísticas y musicales.

Así mismo, habrá dos exhibiciones abiertas al público para coincidir con el Mes de la Herencia Hispana de septiembre y octubre de 2019: trabajos de Miguel Rivera y la exhibición de patrimonio cultural “Latinos en la parte central”, producida por el Museo del Condado de Johnson.  Ambas exhibiciones se presentan en inglés y español, y estarán abiertas al público en las áreas Culturales Públicas del Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center, son gratis para la comunidad.  El horario de visitas es de lunes a viernes de 9 a.m.—9 p.m. y los sábados de 9 a.m.—5 p.m.

“Estamos orgullosos de celebrar la creciente comunidad latina en el Condado de Johnson y más allá de éste, dicha comunidad tiene una gran diversidad y gran variedad por país en términos de comida, costumbres y cultura.  El Distrito de Parque & Recreación del Condado de Johnson valora la diversidad e inclusión, y estos eventos y exhibiciones son una gran manera de ayudar a integrarnos como comunidad y a aprender a través de experiencias compartidas.  Nos hace más fuertes como comunidad”, dijo la Superintendente de Cultura, Susan Mong.

“La migración ha sido un evento de vida importante para muchos en la comunidad, sin embargo las conexiones para la gente de la zona con Latinoamérica-en particular con México-existen desde hace varias generaciones”, dijo la Directora del Museo, Mindi Love.  “Queremos recopilar más historias, fotos y objetos relacionadas a las historias de la gente que no es blanca del Condado de Johnson.  Queremos que nuestras exhibiciones y colecciones reflejen la diversidad de la comunidad del Condado de Johnson, y las poblaciones hispanas y latinas son sólo algunas de las comunidades con las cuales esperamos establecer una relación duradera.”

La Velada Gratis de Cultura Latina en el Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center tomará lugar el jueves, 26 de septiembre de 5:30—8 p.m. y es gratis para el público.  Las exhibiciones latinas en el centro estarán abiertas los meses de septiembre y octubre, y estas áreas estarán disponibles para todos sin cargo alguno.  Para más información, por favor visite o llame al 816-826-2787.


August 27, 2019


Susan Mong, Superintendent of Culture, JCPRD

A Free Evening of Latino Culture sponsored by Johnson County Park & Recreation District at the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center

Thursday, September 26 from 5:30 – 8pm

OVERLAND PARK, KANSAS - The Johnson County Park & Recreation District’s Culture Division along with our community partners are pleased to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with an evening celebrating Latino culture and heritage. The event features Latino poets, artists, musicians, dancers, and heritage exhibitions on Thursday, September 26 from 5:30 pm – 8pm at the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center, 8788 Metcalf Avenue, Overland Park, KS.  The event is free to the community.
An exciting group of Latino partners will present throughout the evening. José Faus, poet, artist, and teacher will perform “They Changed My Name (Cambiaron Mi Nombre),” a recounting of his story immigrating from Colombia;  Xánath Caraza, traveler, poet, and short story writer from Mexico teaches at the UMKC Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures will perform poetry; Miguel Rivera, Kansas City Art Institute professor and artist from Mexico, will share his latest work; Calpulli Iskali will share a traditional prayer and Mexican dance; live painting by Emily Alvarez, an illustrator and designer of Dominican and Cuban descent; and music by Pedro Calderon, originally from Lima, Peru, and Ariel Bugosen, a native of Argentina.

Schedule of Evening’s Events

5:30 – 6 pm     Reception featuring tastings from Latino-owned restaurants El Salvadoreño and Paleterias Tropicana and live music by Pedro Calderon and Ariel Bugosen.
6pm                 “They Changed My Name” José Faus, made possible by Humanities Kansas with support from the Andrew Mellon Foundation.
6:45pm            Dance performance by Calpulli Iskali
7pm                 Artist presentation by Miguel Rivera
7:25 pm           Poetry reading by Xánath Caraza

Traditional music will be performed by Pedro Calderon, originally from Lima, Peru, and Ariel Bugosen throughout the evening; Emily Alvarez will be painting live during the dance and music performances. 

In addition, two exhibitions will be on view to coincide with Hispanic Heritage Month for the months of September and October, 2019: works by Miguel Rivera and the heritage exhibit “Latinos in the Heartland,” produced by the Johnson County Museum. Both exhibitions are presented in English and Spanish, and are on view in the Cultural Commons area of the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center, and are free to the public. Viewing is Monday-Friday, 9 am – 9pm and Saturday, 9am – 5pm.  

“We are proud to celebrate the growing Latino Community in Johnson County and beyond which is quite diverse and varied by country in terms of food, custom, and culture.   The Johnson County Park & Recreation District values diversity and inclusion, and these events and exhibitions are a great way to help us come together as a community and learn through shared experiences.  It makes our community stronger,” said Superintendent of Culture, Susan Mong.

“Immigration has been an important life event for many in the community, but area connections to Latin America - especially to Mexico - go back generations,” said Museum Director Mindi Love. “We want to collect more stories, photos, and objects relating to the stories of non-white Johnson Countians. We want our exhibits and collections to reflect the diversity of the Johnson County community, and Hispanic and Latino populations are just some of the communities with which we hope to form a lasting relationship.” 

The Free Evening of Latino Culture at the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center takes place on Thursday, September 26 from 5:30 – 8pm and is free to the public. The Latino exhibitions at the center will be on view the months of September and October, and area also available at no charge.  For more information, please visit or call 816-826-2787.