Thursday, October 31, 2019

Elements of Style Take Many Forms

     by Daniel Cano                                                                          
On the Altar of Rhetoric, Death, and Sacrifice 
     Something just hit me. Today is Halloween. I suppose I should have written about the dead or Dia de Los Muertos. Truth is, holidays don't hold much inspiration for me anymore.
     I don't have an altar with photos of ancestors, nor do I have little shots of tequila, a Dos Equis, or chimichangas should they decide to visit. Anyway, my mom would be furious if I left liquor for my dad. I can hear her now, "It took me a lifetime to get him to stop drinking, and here you are encouraging him to drink again, what? For eternity."
     If anything, I believe my ancestors' spirits live within me. I can hear Pops. "Don't go to the cemetery, Mijo. Save your gas money. Altar? For what?The Bruins are on TV Saturday. I'll be here to watch it with you."
     I'm not much on myth or Aztec ancestors. Chances are I'm not Aztec anyway, Chichimeca, if anything. I haven't done any Ancestry swabs, don't need to. Why waste $150. I'm fifty percent indigenous something or other, forty percent Iberian, five-percent other European, probably by way of France, and a few percentage points sub-Saharan Africa, probably North Africa."
     What does interest me is language, past and present.
     Bob Marley got me to thinking when I heard him sing, “Old soldiers, yes, they rob I/ sold I to the merchant ship.”
     Now, most music lovers recognize this line from the first verse of Marley’s classic reggae hit, “Redemption Song.”
     The words are powerful and drive home an important message about slavery. The problem is that Marley’s use of the personal pronoun “I” is grammatically incorrect. Stands out like a sore thumb. It should be “me”. Now, don't start yelling at me. Give me a chance to think this through.
     Here is the edited version: “Old soldiers, yes, they robbed me/ sold me to the merchant ship”.
     Most of us don't give it a second thought. We accept Marley’s misuse of “I”, except, maybe, the language police. And, no, not all English teachers are rigid about language. Some of us have gone over to the dark side to join Kurtz. After all, language is as much cultural as it is grammatical.
     I learned, over 30 years of teaching composition and literature, English teachers don't know everything about grammar. It’s way too complex. This surprised many of my students. That's why Strunk, White, and Google were created.
     But the good English teachers, regardless of how much grammar they knew, could effectively communicate the basics of grammar so that students could understand and apply the rules to their writing and speaking. After all, that is the main point, right? Effective communication--rhetoric.
     When I complained on Facebook about the overuse of the word “literally,” a friend, Aaron Casillas, responded, and rightly so, that “Language is alive.”
     Right! Language is alive. It's transitional. It changes. There can be no such thing as "Make English Great Again." It is only great if it progresses and matures. What was ungrammatical for one generation might be perfectly acceptable to another. It’s kind of like the Bible.
     Fundamentalists believe we should follow the Bible today as in the times it was written.
     Did those who wrote the Old and New Testaments know that in 2019, most people around the world would be able to read and write, to watch live newsfeeds on electronic pocket devices, and fly from LAX to Jerusalem in a matter of hours?
     In Genesis, Moses (or Noah, the judge is still out) writes about God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. For her disobedience, Sara, Lot’s wife, was turned to salt, which meant the end of Lot’s bloodline. So, to solve the problem, his daughters filled the old man with wine, had sex with him, and bore his children. Would any rational, moral human beings today, who lost mates, consider modeling themselves after Lot’s daughters just to keep their bloodline from dying out? I don't think so.
     Did anyone tell Bob Marley he used the personal pronoun “I” incorrectly? I don’t think so, either. If we take Marley in context, his word usage is perfectly fine. In the Caribbean, Africa, and good ol’ jolly England, many people speak as Marley does. I once heard Rod Steward, in an interview, say something like, "Me 'n me mates was...."
     Historically, as Chicanos, we know the impact of Spain on the Americas. I remember in a bar in Granada, I used the Spanish word asina, as in "that's how" or "like that." I followed it up with, a pata, as in "walking" or what I thought was "on foot." My Spanish companeros burst out in laughter. One said, "Those words haven't been used since the 17th century." So I say thanks to my ranchero grandparents holed up in the mountains of Jalisco for who knows how many generations before coming into the light.
     But, we should also understand the linguistic impact of British and French colonialism on Caribbean islands, as well as the invasion of pirates who ravaged and raped much of the region. I don't think the outlaw mariners had much regard for grammar.
     They didn’t educate the natives or the slaves. In fact, I’d venture to say that few pirates and low-level administrators had much education themselves. I’m sure they didn’t give a hoot about the use of the personal pronoun “I”.
     Marley constructed the lines in his song as he knew people understood them, in their proper colloquial use, the poetry of people. As musical lyrics, in Marley’s song, “Old soldiers, yes, they robbed me,” doesn’t flow, as does “Old soldiers, yes, they rob I.”
     Here, it all becomes as about the sound, a clear mellifluous resonance pleasing to the ear, especially the Jamaican ear. The “me” is harder sound, nearly stopping the cadence, as do many consonants. Whereas “I” is a vowel, and all vowels have a soft, lilting sound.
     By using the "I” instead of the "Me," Marley turns the object into the subject, if not grammatically, then in usage. The “I” becomes the hero, the dominant figure, doing the action, instead of the object, the victim, which receives the action. In a way, Marley’s verse offers the captured slaves dignity, placing them at the same level as their pursuers, the old soldiers.
     The grammatical explanation is the "I" is always the subject of a sentence, and the "Me" an object.
     Believe it or not, I remember my first days of school and my excitement. Then somewhere up the line, teachers started throwing jargon at us, like object of the preposition, split infinitives, and past, perfect tense, without giving us proper explanations.
     I tuned out, early, maybe fourth or fifth grade, not just for a semester, but for the rest of my K-12 education. I wish my teachers had shown me the beauty of language, how the sounds were like music, not only as in musical instruments, but nature’s music, like the sound of a woodpecker striking a tree trunk and its echo in the forest, sparrows singing to their mates over the hum of electric wires, the breeze and fluttering leaves in the early afternoon, or squirrels chirping at each other from one tree to another. The sounds rising from our voices are much the same, life's music.
     Marley was trying to capture a sound, not a rule. In fact, one might argue, our greatest human advancements come from those who do not accept society’s cherished rules but challenge and break them, like Galileo fighting the pre-renaissance notion that the world was flat. How many men and women did Church and Society punish, torture, and execute for holding such crude, paganistic beliefs as a globe-shaped world?
     Or how about Willie, Waylon, and Cash, Owens, and Haggard challenging country music’s 1960s Nashville tradition, to the point of having their music banned for its rebellious sound. They were even dubbed “Outlaws?”
     Consider Chicano 1960s educators, putting their degrees and reputations on the line by arguing against an entrenched academy the validity of Chicano, Latino, or Mexican Americans Studies in the traditional college curriculum. Or a politician like Edward Royball, the first Chicano congressman from East L.A., whose house was firebombed and his family threatened, for doing his job of advocating for his mostly Chicano constituency. The power structure of Los Angeles and the Southwest wasn’t ready for a courageous Chicano voice.
     We call these folks iconoclasts. Those who fought to be "subjects" when the world wanted to keep them "objects."
     Just as is in our own day how some would have us believe our world is not heating; that it is all a political hoax meant to kill jobs, even if those jobs pollute our planet. To them, the world is still flat. They decry the rebellious voices trying to sound the alarm.
     Yet, there is something to be said for rules, for order, reflecting God’s symmetry, or the order of the cosmos, as the old poets, like Blake, Shelly, Alexandre, Whitman, and Paz wrote, lines with rhyming couplets, perfect repetitions of sounds, exact feet and meter, the antithesis of "free and blank verse," postmodernism anathema.
     Of course, we must have some order, God's order.
     After all, farmers set their clocks to the sun's rising and setting, or, at least offers us that poetic illusion. We now know the sun and moon remain relatively still, and it is we who move. Either way, there is order everywhere around us. If we think the world is disorderly now, look back 150 years.
     In the old west, horses dropped their waste on Main Street. Maybe, eventually, somebody would come by and clean it up, maybe not. People placed their waste in buckets, went out back and tossed it into an alley, behind businesses, homes, or in holes. There were no showers, so perfume was used to hide the reek of human odors. Women used bees’ wax to hide the pits and other imperfection on their faces. Consequently, in winter, if a woman stood too close to a fireplace, the wax on her face would melt, hence the old adage, “Mind your own bees’ wax.” Talk about disorder, and that was during a time when 300-400 people lived in a town.
     Today, in Los Angeles alone, we have upwards of 20 million people living in close proximity to one another. Even with all our problems, I marvel at the order of it all.
     Our streets, as a rule, don’t reek of human waste. Garbage disappears each Friday morning in large trucks that pass by, often before any of us is awake. In the bathroom, a push on a small metal object, and the body waste is flushed away. A turn of two knobs gives us hot and cold water to shower, daily, if desired, wash our faces, and brush our teeth. There are metal boxes in our homes to place our dirty dishes and clothes, where in a matter of an hour or so, our dirty utensils, plates, and clothes are clean and placed back in their proper spaces. We have other metal boxes, well, today, they are more like fiberglass and plastic, with four wheels, that in minutes, will whisk us around town to complete tasks.
     Of course, I hear the complaints about homeless camps, traffic, illegally dumped trash, etc. However, when one considers multitudes living in relative luxury and, I’d go so far as to say, peace, that is a marvel in itself. The reasons for this order, I’d have to say, are society’s rules.
     So, can we use the pronouns "I" or "Me" however we choose, or are there rules?
     I cringe when I hear someone say, “Me and Mary are going to the mall.” If we remove Mary from the sentence, the speaker is saying, “Me is going to the mall.”
     My bet is the speaker really wants to say, “I am going to the mall.” Let's stick Mary back into the sentence. The speaker should say, “Mary and I are going to the mall.”
     The only reason Mary comes first is what we call “usage.” We don’t want to appear arrogant, as if the “I” is more important, so we give Mary a little dignity, and place her first.
     The grammar rule for this is simple. The subject, or the person or thing performing a function, is always “I”. The object, or the person or thing receiving the action, is an object, and will always be “me.”
     Consider, “He threw the ball to “me.” That’s how we’d say it, right? Let’s get Mary back in, and the sentence becomes, “He threw the ball to Mary and me.” Get it? Whether Mary is a part of it or not, the pronoun will still be “me.”
     I am sure Bob Marley, an iconoclast, knew this. The man was a musical genius. Carlos Santana called him a prophet. Hyperbole? Maybe.
      They say rules are made to be broken. But they also say only those who know the rules should break them, true genius. Either that, or the ancestors will come to haunt me for refusing them an altar with tequila and a homecooked meal.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers

 By Celia C. Pérez

*Age Range: 9 - 12 years
*Grade Level: 4 - 7
*Hardcover: 384 pages
*Publisher: Kokila (September 3, 2019)
*Language: English
*ISBN-10: 0425290433
*ISBN-13: 978-0425290439

From the award-winning author of The First Rule of Punk comes the story of four kids who form an alternative Scout troop that shakes up their sleepy Florida town.

When three very different girls find a mysterious invitation to a lavish mansion, the promise of adventure and mischief is too intriguing to pass up.

Ofelia Castillo (a budding journalist), Aster Douglas (a bookish foodie), and Cat Garcia (a rule-abiding birdwatcher) meet the kid behind the invite, Lane DiSanti, and it isn't love at first sight. But they soon bond over a shared mission to get the Floras, their local Scouts, to ditch an outdated tradition. In their quest for justice, independence, and an unforgettable summer, the girls form their own troop and find something they didn't know they needed: sisterhood.


"Writing with wry restraint that's reminiscent of Kate DiCamillo... a beautiful tale of the value of friendship against unconquerable odds." --Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

*"Four unique personalities form a crew with a mission in this engaging, well-plotted second novel from Peréz."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

*"A perfect title for school and public libraries seeking realistic books about friendship."
School Library Journal (starred review)

*"Perfect for preteens becoming aware that friendships can be complicated, and that the world is more so."
The Horn Book (starred review)

"Thought-provoking, timely, and laugh-out-loud funnyStrange Birds explores friendship, community, and the role each of us plays in creating a better world."
—Aisha Saeed, New York Times bestselling author of Amal Unbound
Strange Birds is an inspiring story about the power of truth, and of true friends.”
—Rebecca Stead, New York Times bestselling author of the Newbery Medal winner When You Reach Me

Celia C. Pérez is the author of The First Rule of Punk, a 2018 Pura Belpré Author Honor Book, a 2018 Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children's Book Award Winner, and a 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Fiction and Poetry Honor Book. She lives in Chicago with her family where, in addition to writing books about lovable weirdos and outsiders, she works as a librarian. She is originally from Miami, Florida, where roosters and peacocks really do wander the streets. Visit her at

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

DDLM: FXA Reads. From a WIP: Unionizing Argentina

Francisco X. Alarcón is a good friend of La Bloga who has walked on. Adelante, Francisco! Here is our friend reading a pair of works outside Doheny Library the first day of the Festival de Flor y Canto: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow. One never knows what tommorow has in store, verdad?

Latinopia Word Alarcon Two Poems from on Vimeo.

Union Solidarity: A Value in Action
Michael Sedano

Esteban Torres represented eastern Los Angeles county in the House of Representatives for eight terms, earning a reputation as a fierce environmentalist when he led a campaign to clean up the BKK toxic landfill in Covina. A Graduate of Garfield High School, Torres entered public life as a Union organizer in the Chrysler Maywood plant. He became the first Chicano Shop Steward then Torres joined the national UAW, who "lent" him to the International Metalworkers Federation because, being a Chicano, he was the only UAW executive qualified to take the risk of organizing the entire continent.

Michael Sedano is wrapping the final chapters of a YA "as told to" autobiography of Congressman Torres. With Labor Unions under severe stress from conservative politicians, La Bloga shares this anecdote from a key moment in Torres' career and labor history.

Background: US and European automotive manufacturers found skilled workers for cheap in South America. Walter and Victor Reuther of the United Auto Workers spearheaded an initiative to train South American unions in U.S.-style bargaining and negotiations, ergonomic practices for worker health, and history of the labor movement. Torres got the assignment. In an essentially one-man organizing effort, Esteban Torres Unionized the South American metal trades. Workers won harmonized wages, improved working conditions, unique benefits. Unionization helped countless familias find home and security.

The Argentina part of my South America Organizing mission ended in a major accomplishment with Unión Obrera Metalurjíca affiliating with the International Metal Workers Federation. Workers of the world were uniting. They would bring the automakers to the bargaining table.

But it all almost blew up in my face during what should have been a regular automotive plant visit. I was viewed as an outside influence when the local workers already had sophisticated organization.

Management’s worst fears grew from UAW historical tactics. In the 1930s, sit-in strikes and worker solidarity won important concession from the bosses. I did not represent the UAW, a United States union, I came as a representative of the International, and my goals were educational. They had my agenda in advance.

Outside the meeting room, the workers on the assembly line were not part of my intentions. They called a "wildcat" strike. The workers stopped the line and sat down. It was a sti-down strike and as a Union man in the plant, I was sitting-in, too.

Like in the U.S., the Argentine assembly line stretches half a mile under a steel-skinned canopy. Steel beams and sheet metal enter at one end, a car exits at the other. In between, workers perform their tasks on parts that cruise past hanging from an overhead chain or pulled along hooked to a concealed tractor. Every worker follows a plan, minimizing steps but performing the same motions over and over, controlling the moving target, side-stepping to keep up with line speed, finishing the job then  turning to meet the relentlessly oncoming next partial assembly.

At a designated time, workers push the closest STOP button and the line grinds to a halt. Hanging pieces of work-in-progress rock back and forth on their hooks and slowly come to a halt. Partially-formed auto bodies sit emptily where someone was making it into a Ford.

Workers arrived prepared. For three days and two nights they remain at their workstation, eating, chatting, singing songs to bolster their conviction. At night workers spread their jackets and cardboard in the backseat frames of cars on the line.

Had I lied, entered the plant under a false flag to instigate this costly defiance?

Management negotiated a suitable conclusion to the labor action with the striking workers. I was under a microscope and closely questioned by my hosts, but in the end they knew I was on-site when workers engaged a long-planned action.

Although I represented the International federation, the U.S. State Department represented my interests. The local U.S. labor attaché demanded a full account of my role. As it turned out, Argentina's Ford workers didn’t need a UAW lesson on historical sit-downs to recognize a useful tactic to get Management to sit-down and talk. I just happened to be there at the right time when workers seized the means of production--their labor--and withheld it. I had the good fortune to be there and demonstrate solidarity. 

Solidarity is a Value of the Union Movement. You hear a lot about Values. A Value is a behavior someone can witness. A Value isn’t merely an attitude, which is a predisposition to act one way rather than another. Values express themselves in actions. Values produce behaviors others can hear, see, touch, count, and define your motive, what you stand for.

That sit-in would be only the first way I'd get to demonstrate U.S. and International solidarity with Argentina's metalworkers. My host, Augusto Vandor told me, “We are so proud that you’re here representing the United States auto workers, that you’re representing the IMF, because we like those organizations, and we want you to be with us on March the first, where we’re going to celebrate our Plan de Lucha.”

I did not know el Plan de Lucha, but clearly I was offered an honor. I did some research. Plan de Lucha, I learned, was a massing of Labor followed by a march to the Capitol. As an honored visitor, I would march in the front rank with the banner carriers and Union leadership. Una manifestación por la calle principal, thousands of us. I had visions of a happy, festive Labor Day march down Whittier Boulevard, gritos and mariachi supplanted with Argentine touches.

After an evening of fellowship and a few beers to conclude my research, I took a taxi to my hotel. When the cab turned on the main avenida toward my hotel I remarked to the driver I’d be marching this street in tomorrow’s Plan de Lucha. He laughed heartily.

“Every year,” the cab driver told me, “Labor holds that manifestación on March the First. And every year, the Army greets them with clubs and bullets. The marchers in the front rows get beaten and dragged into vans. They're jailed, some are killed, and every year, every year, they come back and do it again.”

I was still thinking about what the cab driver said, the next morning as I laced on my steel-toed work shoes. The heavy leather soles offered the kind of support my feet needed for a long walk, or a darting run from a police riot.

Sure enough, up the avenida we march, a huge excited mass. And sure enough, the Army is at the steps of the Capitol to greet us, seething with anger separated from us by wooden barricades. 

This year, the Union assembled without attacks. The country was changing, the Union was gaining influence behind a united front. Solidarity is a Value in action.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Interview of Juan Morales by Xánath Caraza

Interview of Juan Morales by Xánath Caraza

Xánath Caraza: Who is Juan Morales?
Juan Morales: I grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where I was raised by my Ecuadorian mother and Puerto Rican father. We lived just outside of the military base, Ft. Carson. When my father retired from the US military after 31 years, both of my parents fell in love with the city and mountains. After high school, I ended up studying English and Creative Writing at Colorado State University-Pueblo in Southern Colorado and then getting my MFA at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. I was fortunate to have great mentors and teachers that challenged me and helped me find open doors that included the work that went into the three books I have published so far: Friday and the Year That Followed (Fairweather Books, 2006), The Siren World (Lithic Press, 2015), and The Handyman’s Guide to End Times (UNM Press, 2018). Each book has been built on a foundation of storytelling at its heart and ways I have tried to continue challenging myself as an author in form, style, and in exploring different sides of my heritage and culture. Currently, I am in my 13th year of teaching at Colorado State University-Pueblo, where I started as the Director of Creative Writing. Now, I am the Department Chair of English and World Languages, which I have learned is a new way to support my students and colleagues. I love teaching and working with students, many who are first generation and from a similar background, but I find all of them hard-working and excited to discover that they have things to write and contribute to their community.

XC: As a child, who first introduced you to reading?  Who guided you through your first readings? 

JM: Looking back, I can see myself being introduced to reading both at home and at school. My parents would regularly read the Bible and attend Bible study on Tuesday evenings. My older sister, Esther, used to read Stephen King and similar authors, so I always loved going into her room to look through at these creepy books with curiosity. Finally, my older brother would always read dense, history books in the basement in front of the turned-off TV. Without knowing it, having books around the house and seeing my family reading normalized the image of holding a book and then going somewhere else. They made it easy to get hooked.

At school, I got sucked into the world of reading even more with other classic 80s and 90s reading initiatives: the Pizza Hut Book It Program, where you’d get a free personal pan pizza if you read a certain amount of books, the Scholastic Book Fairs with the flimsy, colored, newspaper order forms with almost too many books to consider, our third-grade teacher who would always read Where the Sidewalk Ends to us just after lunch, and of course our school library, which was physically at the center of our school. I loved just about every book we read for our English classes, like The Westing Game and Hatchet, so I was excited to discover you could check out as many books as you wanted from the library. I spent most of my time in one of the library’s far corners where they kept the sci-fi and paranormal books. It gave me a great introduction to short ghost stories, urban legends, Bigfoot, unsolved mysteries, aliens, and far off galaxies. I still remember these taller books with strange extraterrestrial landscapes and spacecraft landing on planets not yet discovered. Some of them had brief descriptions of the place and why they were being explored. Other just showed space travelers en route to somewhere else. All of this moments taught me about opening my imagination and finding possibilities.

XC: How did you first become a poet? 

JM: In undergrad, I wrote fiction and poetry while struggling to figure out which one I wanted to pursue for my MFA (once I learned what an MFA was). In the end, my mentor, the poet David Keplinger, gave me a much-needed nudge toward poetry. I was still wanted to be a fiction writer, and I didn’t fully understand that I was a poet yet. I still had a lot to learn about poetry and about myself, which I got to do in grad school and over the years as a professor. To this day, I still write with my students in my journals and whenever I can find time. I also wish I had the strict writing schedule that some writers have. Looking back, I also owe a lot to my friends in high school and in the early part of college when I was doing drama and theater and when we started a ska band. The drama and theater gave me so many lessons about performance and the courage to stand on a stage with an audience. I had the chance to lose myself in characters and dialogue. Meanwhile, the band continued the lessons of performance, and it also taught me about rhythm, musicality, and the lyrical elements of creation. How poetry can intersect with punk, rock, and hip hop. It also let me exorcize the cliches, tropes, and other mistakes we need to make as young writers in order to grow.

XC: What else would you like to share with our readers?

JM: I am excited to share that
The Handyman’s Guide to End Times was named the Winner of the 2019 International Latino Book Award, Single Author in English category. I am grateful for the recognition for this prestigious award and in a category where I was surrounded by so many talented writers, who are doing important work in poetry today. I am also grateful to everyone who has supported the making of this book and the community of people who have given me the opportunities to share the book in such imaginative ways. The end times are clearly a collaborative effort. Some more readings are coming up, including a visit to Notre Dame in November to meet students, to do a reading, and some other great activities with Letras Latinas. Otherwise, I continue teaching, chairing, traveling, and trying to find time to write the next collection of poems, which is well underway.


XC: Juan, thank you for sharing your poems with La Bloga readers

JM: The following poems originally appeared in The Handyman’s Guide to End Times (University of New Mexico Press, 2018). For more information on the book and to order it, visit

The Zombie Sisyphus Dream

Lying at the bottom of
a half-collapsed
room, the floor slanting
on me. I am injured
but I punch and kick
the zombie head.
It tumbles up, pauses,
and then clatters back.
The head wears eyes
that starve, jaw full of
hungry gnashing,
the neck gone except
choice tendons dangling.

There is no boulder to push
upward here. The real hell
is wondering why
I want to stop
and greet my last marvelous error
biting through my clothes,
into my flesh,
and why I never do.

Poco a Poco

Perhaps I shouldn’t hang hopes
on five syllables, three words
caught in my mind, that say “little by little”
on the leaner days,

a song that soothes uproar like

prayers mom and dad speak for me.
Ornate like their St. Christopher medal
carefully pinned in my car, the mantra sails me
on to where I’m from, to where I’m going.

Praise for a Finished Job

Harbor away HGTV resentment
for using tools you will never afford
and for stockpiling workers.
Your pipe no longer leaks,
and you can’t find where you burst
then repaired the wall.
Because you’ve hidden it like a pro,
you can stop singing out f-bombs.
Your hands clicked your home apart
and rebuilt it like Atlantis resurrected.
Admire the glow of a small victory.