Friday, November 29, 2019

Grateful for Black Clouds on Black Friday

Melinda Palacio 

Fire broke out on Camino Cielo in Santa Barbara last Tuesday.  I wondered if my house would survive. We were lucky, no homes burned during the Cave Fire. Global warming means frequent fires are the new normal. 

My view from the car. I still have files, books and close packed in suitcases for a quick getaway. 

 The mandatory evacuation zone was blocks from my house.

The national forest fire brought crews in from as far away as Yuma. Seeing the trucks leave Santa Barbara was a welcome sight. Thank you firefighters near and far. I trust some got home in time for Thanksgiving. 

Three Pies done and a feast for 16 friends coming up. 

 I’m grateful for this writing life that now includes music. Gracias La Bloga subscribers. 

Black rain clouds also brought a double rainbow and good luck. Thank you. 

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving: Courtesy of Pabst Blue Ribbon

by: Daniel Cano                                                                        
Too little gratitude for a lifetime of labor
I was in my twenties the first time my dad told me this story. Of course, I heard it many times over the years, and it’s always stayed with me. In some ways, it’s helped me understand a lot about people and culture, about looking forward instead of looking backwards, about being too conservative or too liberal.

So the story goes. My dad, his cousin Aurelio (AKA Ted), and some other relatives were doing some construction work in the Hollywood Hills, remodeling a home for a well-known movie director. They often did side jobs on weekends to earn extra money. My dad and his relatives were union men, Plasters and Hod Carriers Local 300. Mostly, they worked on commercial buildings throughout L.A. the San Fernando Valley, and the South Bay.

On this particular job, my dad and Ted took care of the interior plastering while the others worked on the exterior. The director’s home was modern, flat-multi-level roofs and many large plate glass windows, eccentric, more Frank Gehry than Frank Lloyd Wright. The movie man had a fine view of the L.A. skyline.

He was still living upstairs while the work was being completed downstairs. One morning, he descended the stairs in his robe, his eyes bloodshot, and his hair a mess, a rough night. My dad and Ted were finishing the den. The cement on the walls had already dried. The director made it clear that these walls were important, focal points, since he did most of his socializing in this room.

They had applied the final coat of stucco, the smooth surface over the cement. The director told them he’d been thinking. He'd decided he didn’t want a smooth surface on the den walls, maybe something more stylish, but he wasn’t quite sure what. My dad and Ted looked at each other. Most walls they completed had smooth surfaces, ready for the painters’ rollers.

The director said he wanted something modern, more textured but not traditional Mexican texture he’d seen in other homes. He asked if they could show him some samples. This stumped my dad and Ted. “What samples? It was either smooth or a little texture.”

The job had been moving along, and they were nearly finished with their part. The last thing they wanted was a client to start making last minute changes. A lot of other workers would have finished, cleaned up and left. Time was money, but the two started tossing around ideas.

The stucco on the wall was sill soft, so Ted began experimenting. He took a trowel called a float, used on rough, exterior walls. He started making different designs. “That’s nice, but no, that’s not it,” the director would say after each attempt. Like teachers with erasers, Ted and my dad would take his trowel, wipe away the markings, and smoothen the wall again. They were in new territory here.

Ted would go outside to the pickup truck and return with a different trowel, ones used for sidewalks and patios, not interior walls, ones with beveled or serrated edges, but whatever he tried, the director would say, “Yeah, better, but that’s still not it."

My dad told me traditional plasterers would have gotten frustrated with the guy, asked for their pay, and left. But the director’s house wasn’t traditional, not a Craftsman, colonial, ranch, or English Tudor. It was more, well--American, L.A. chic, on stilts and built into the mountainside.

For some reason, my uncle had some straw (as in hay) in the back of the truck. He brought in a handful and tossed it up on the wall and troweled it into the stucco. “Oh, now that’s getting closer. I like that,” said the director, “but no, not quite it.”

The thing about my uncle Ted was he approached his work like an artist. He liked the challenge of creating something new instead of the same old thing, especially in a house like this, that begged for imaginative, progressive thinking. If he found the right texture, there wouldn't be another wall like this in all of L.A., maybe the world. It would be a signature piece, weird or not.

My dad could, well, let’s say “take it or leave it.” But one thing he always wanted was to please the client, especially Hollywood types, deep pockets and recommendations to other moguls.

By this time, Ted and my dad were “into it,” but they were just about out of ideas, when Ted said, “Ray, wait, let me see what else I got.”

Ted went out to his pickup truck, looked around the bed, pushing aside tools, loose supplies, and trash. When he returned, he was holding a broken beer bottle by the neck. This confused both the director and my dad. “Let me try this,” Ted said.

Gently, and carefully, with slow, deliberate strokes, he raked the sharp, irregular edges across the soft stucco, creating circles, ovals, squares, and lines. Softer and grittier than sculptor’s clay, stucco takes skill and patience to manipulate. Too much pressure cuts too deeply.

As the design emerged from the material, the director’s face brightened. He leaped up and down, “That’s it! That’s it! Marvelous, genius, wonderful!”

My dad said he went outside and emptied a beer from their handy-six. He broke the bottle on rock and went back inside where he and Ted continued etching designs into the walls, curtesy of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

My dad and I would always laugh when he told the story. It was meant to be funny, a commentary on weird rich people. Yet, as we both grew older, we became more thoughtful. The story had transformed from humor into something insightful, about not giving up, about trying something new, even if you failed, about looking more towards the future and less to the past.

It was the attempt that counted, and like I said, it's still with me to this very day. I wish I would have had the wherewithal to tell my dad "thanks" for the lesson instead of just laughing, but even that gave us a special bond. Happy Thanksgiving, Pop. RIP. You deserve it.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019


Written by Elisa Amado
Illustrated by Abraham Urias

-Age Range: 12 - 17 years
-Grade Level: 7 - 9
-Hardcover: 104 pages
-Publisher: Annick Press
-Language: English
-ISBN-10: 1773212664
-ISBN-13: 978-1773212661

Thirteen-year-old Manuelito is a gentle boy who lives with his family in a tiny village in the Guatemalan countryside. But life is far from idyllic: PACsarmed civil patrolare a constant presence in the streets, and terrifying memories of the country’s war linger in the villagers’ collective conscience. Things deteriorate further when government-backed drug gangs arrive and take control of the village. Fearing their son will be forced to join a gang, Manuelito’s parents make the desperate decision to send him to live with his aunt in America.

With just a bus ticket and a small amount of cash in hand, Manuelito begins his hazardous journey to Mexico, then the U.S., in search of asylum. But in the end, dangers such as the crooked “coyote”or human smugglerhis parents have entrusted their son’s life to may be nothing compared to the risks Manuelito faces when he finally reaches America.

Manuelito’s titular character is just one of the staggering one hundred thousand children from the Northern Triangle of Central AmericaGuatemala, El Salvador, and Honduraswho have made this perilous journey to escape their war-torn countries. Many are now detained in Mexico, separated from their parents and without access to lawyers, facing the unthinkable prospect of being sent back to the homes and danger they risked so much to escape.

Drawing on years of experience working with child refugees like Manuelito, Elisa Amado’s powerful story, illustrated with striking poignancy by Abraham Urias, brings to light the dire circumstances of so many children, so close to home.


“Paints a searing picture.” —Youth Services Book Review, (Stephanie Tournas Youth Services Book Review)

“Compelling and powerful.” —CM Reviews, (Sarah Wethered CM Reviews)

“This hard-hitting graphic novel . . . is an eye-opening, moving, and timely read.” —School Library Journal, (Kelley Gile School Library Journal)

“A blunt, effective record of the refugee crisis that’s wounding the Americas.” —Kirkus Reviews, January 14, 2019

“Gripping and all too authentic . . . The book will raise questions, making it a great discussion starter for a class studying current issues.” —School Library Connection, (Karen Alexander School Library Connection)

“Guatemala-born Amado’s text is spare, direct, and emotional—communicating the anxiety and desperation that the characters feel, especially once their hopes for safety in the U.S. are dashed.” —Quill & Quire,
(Tasha Spillett Quill & Quire)

“A powerful and edgy graphic novel that explores the refugee crisis in a way that makes it accessible to younger readers.” —Globe and Mail, (Jeffrey Canton Globe and Mail)

“Neither author nor artist holds back in presenting the life-and-death scenarios unrelentingly happening now.” —Booklist, (Terry Hong Booklist)

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Anniversary 2019 - 2004 = 15ñera

Thanksgiving [sic] this year falls on Throw Back Thursday, November 28, 2019.  That date, November 28, fell on Sunday in 2004. In the news it was a day like any other day.

Over in Iraq, Falluja caught hell overnight from U.S. planes in Bush the 2d's illegal war. The "mission accomplished" the year before, Shrub was making speeches about defending our shores by attacking over there. Over there, six men died, average age 22 years old. QEPD.

The news reported that a species went extinct. The last male Po'o-uli fell to malaria in Maui before it could breed. 

La Bloga started that day. And that was it, for November 2004. December got started like someone learning to drive a stick shift, chugging and lurching into the rest of the year. RudyG, Manuel Ramos, Michael Sedano.

You'll find a clickable index on the left of every La Bloga column, where you can join us in a La Bloga Throw Back Thursday jaunt to the first columns of the  oldest established permanent floating Chicana Chicano Literature blog in the world. Some say the mouse can do, click and take a stroll down memory lane. The oldest posts are at the bottom.

Rudy Garcia, Manuel Ramos, and I, met via CHICLE, a Listserv managed by Teresa Marquez at the Zimmerman Library at the University of New Mexico. When the University decided to cut itself off from the outside world and yanked CHICLE, Rudy Garcia proposed the three of us remain in contact with the outside world via a new entity called a Weblog.

Hey, CHICLEras, Chicleros, check in via the comments link at the bottom of the page. Be sure to click to be included in the Comments chain! ¡Que Viva CHICLE!

I started out as the Friday columnist. Fridays were relatively easy for me to get out a column since I was almost totally non-productive. I was pulling 50-hour weeks in an ISO9000 environment, training and managing corporate quality in 13 north American locations.

The local outside sales force reported for weekly sales meetings at noon, when I would set them to corporate busy work. There went an hour but I got free lunch. Then I'd check managers of the three telemarketing rooms, where tension rises as closing time nears and their dollar totals hover near goal. 

Willy Loman isn't wrong in his obsession with his commission. There's a lot of money riding on a few small-dollar orders when you're working a million-dollar territory and it's Friday closing and you need five grand to make your nut.

Year-To-Date, Last-Year-To-Date, Current Month, Current Quarter, This Week's Goal. That relentless goal of 115% of last year's sales is that hair-suspended sword overhead. It's not enough to "book" the order, the merchandise has to be invoiced by closing time, or the sale isn't a sale for this week. That's out of their control.

From my desk, I'm monitoring Purchasing and Shipping, reassured the training system works and customers will receive the expected stuff in the boxes we ship them next week. Lots of waiting and phone calls, so I have time to finish a La Bloga column during the day, unless I posted around 5, then made the commute. I'm going six to six, entering in the darkness and leaving in the darkness. Some days I don't see the sun.

And thus we began La Bloga. Three vatos who were doing something else, had never met in person, but were socios from hanging out together talking literature, writing, and cultura, long-distance. 

That is why there is an internet--gente with like interests would never otherwise connect, never get the chance to make something like La Bloga. 

Órale, Rudy and Manuel, look at that. We're fifteen, and ten strong:
Monday: Daniel Olivas. 
Tuesday: Michael Sedano.
Wednesday: Rene Colato Laínez. 
Thursday: Ernest Hogan. Daniel Cano.
Friday: Manuel Ramos. Melinda Palacio.
Saturday: Rudy García is retired for now.
Sunday: Olga García. Amelia Montes.

Almost four and a half million visits in this time. Thank you, gente. 

 November 25, 2019
La Bloga welcomes Guest Columnists, and encourages writers to join us as a La Bloga weekly or bi-weekly columnist. Saturday is open.

To email us with inquiries about a Guest slot, or taking on a deadline, clicking the mugshots at the top of the page opens your email program.

You say it's your birthday? Happy birthday to you, too.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Interview of Mercy Tullis-Bukhari by Xánath Caraza

Who is Mercy Tullis-Bukhari?

I am a poet, essayist, and fiction writer who is Bronx-bred Afro-Latinx, Honduran and Garifuna, of Jamaican descent. I am also a Callaloo Fellow, and obtained my MFA (my second Master's) in Creative Writing from The College of New Rochelle. I was named one of the “8 Authors Bringing Afro-Latina Stories to the Forefront” by Remezcla magazine and I was a Pushcart Prize nominee in 2016 for my essay "Black Dolls for Everyone." I am an English Language Arts high school teacher in the Southeast Section of The Bronx. Currently I am completing my first novel, having my third book of poetry edited, while living in New Rochelle, NY with my two children. 

As a child, who guided you through your first readings?
I am the youngest of seven. My sisters were readers, and would always go to our local library to borrow books. The Grand Concourse Branch behind Bronx Lebanon Hospital was our local branch. Whenever any of my sisters went to the library, my mother would force them to take me along. Being annoyed, they would take me, but would allow me to wander off in the library while they had their private time. 

My father used to get Archie comic books for me, as well. Every week, we would go to a particular newsstand in a subway station to get the recent Archie books. I was so young, that I cannot recall the newsstand or where we came from or where we were going, but we were always at this particular station. I remember enjoying the comic book on the way home, then rereading it several times before putting it aside, anxiously waiting for the next time we would be at that particular train station for another Archie comic book. 

How did you first become a poet?  

I used to journal my thoughts and feelings. Although I was the youngest of seven, the sibling who was closest to me in age was nine years older than me. My childhood was rather lonely, so my creativity was what kept me company and occupied my time. In one of those trips to the library, I borrowed an anthology of poems specifically geared towards children. I loved the images in the anthology, and the way the words were put together in a way that was different from a story. Immediately, I noticed how so much could be communicated in a few words, with connections that expanded my imagination. In my loneliness, I challenged myself to do the same, to say what I was feeling and what I was thinking in a concise and creative way.

What else would you like to share with our readers?

I am a Black woman who is of Latinx heritage. My children are Honduran-Pakistani-American, Black, with Muslim names. I speak openly about my experiences as a Black woman, and the fears I have for my children in this world we live in. I become taken aback when people immediately dismiss my experiences and fears as generalizations and paranoia. I am an intelligent woman, an extremely thoughtful individual who was raised to see people as individuals. We are, physiologically, not different from each other but as Toni Morrison states, we have all been raced. Because of how the world is created, especially with our current administration, I am constantly reminded of my blackness and of my children’s multi-ethnic background. As a mother with awareness, I feel obligated to inform my children of the ways of the world while still reminding them to be above ignorance and value others as individuals. I feel hurt when people who have always been good to me, whom I have considered my friends, feel hurt by my beliefs, when my beliefs come specifically from interactions with the world as a Black woman. I want white people to understand that my art is inspired by my experiences, not by theirs. I want white people to understand they need to listen to what people of color are saying about their experiences, without minimizing them. White people need to accept that slavery lasted 400 years in this country, and the institution ended--solely through a document--only 160 years ago. The residual effects of that institution inspires me as a writer and as a mother. 

Mercy, thank you for sharing some of your poetry with La Bloga readers.

La Vida of an African-Latina American

You speak Spanish?
Let me hear you speak Spanish.
You grew up around a lot of Puerto
Ricans, right?
You Brazilian?
Black people don’t speak Spanish.
How is this light-skinned woman your mother?
Pero no saliste como tu mamá.
If only you had your mother’s skin color.
¡Este pelo musuco!
Get a perm to fix your hair.
You got some good hair…back there. You should not
have made them into dreds.
You Cuban?
You are not Black-Black.
Yo no speak-eh good inglés, pero eres Negra.
Yo no speak-eh espanish to you.
Those kids don’t look like you.
How are these light-skinned children yours?
Those kids must look like their father.
Whose children are those?
Are you their nanny?
Are you their babysitter?
Te casaste con un indio, mamita. Mejorasta
          la raza.
Mixed kids are so beautiful.
Mira esa negra.  ¿Qué se cree?
Comb her hair well before you bring
her in this salon.
You are exotic.
You are not like other Black women.
Speak Spanish to me.  I won’t understand
you, but, yo…that shit be turnin’ me on.
Teach your children Spanish.
We are not really Black.
You gotta be Dominican, ma.
You ain’t dark-skinned.  You Hispanic;
          you got that honey-brown tone.
¿Cómo conoces las pupusas?
How did you learn Spanish?
I don’t want grandchildren with
nappy hair.
You have pelo liso now.
Bebes café como un indio.
You are too pretty to be Black.
You are cute, but not pretty.
Pareces una mona.
No hay nada en esta tienda para ti.
Do you work here?
Mira mami, ¿tus pelos abajo son como tu pelo arriba?
¡Qué fea la negra!
You must be proud of your
light-skinned mother.
Is all that your hair?
Being angry must be a cultural thing.
You won’t go far in life
          if you stay natural.
And, why do you know Spanish?

I Saw Celia Perform

…at S.O.B’s with my lover one night—
heard la habanera sing praises
to palm leaves waving whispers of a lost homeland,
of loved negritos bembones being killed,
to carnavals of life,
of salacious black girls con
enough tumbao to make men…

I listened to Celia’s songs,
knowing its familiarity but not its words,
telling my lover,
“Yeah, Abuelita used to play that song.
Abuelita told me her cipota stories,
Of hearing her neighbors say,
Celia está en el pueblo performing,
tenemos que ir.”

…in this West Village night club
overflavored with energy sucking in
other cipotes from abuelitas who had Celia
LPs stacked next to the record player
right under the deviled Jesucristo.
Lifting and showing just a little leg skin
suavecito con sabrosura,
I held on to my lover smiling for Celia’s voice,
emanating high notes without any pain,
louder than the band that needed her to
stay with the tempo.
I reveled in her trip of Latina-ness,
of giving position to Spanish speaking
Africans in the world of limbo-forced ethnic boxes
--I teared,
inebriated por que Cuba really estaba libre in this
smoke-filled, small venue as she waved her regal-colored dress
trimmed with glittering studs, and finessed a wig
spreading and shining
like a sunflower blossoming towards the sun.

My lover and I talked about AZUCAR! with
missed dreams of Cuban fantasies trapped in
highballs of coca, lima y ron, of Latinos
dismissing the non-Castilliano, of
women who still can rock a crowd
after generations of abuelitas and cipotes.

He held on to me because Cuba was freeing itself
from my Honduran-Jamaican existence as I sang

“¡No hay que llorar,
La vida es un carnaval¡”

and I called Abuelita at her home
aware of the hour difference and said
“Vi la reina, Abuelita.”

Vi La Reina.

La Gringa’s First Ride to Los Hondos

Esta gringa flew to Honduras when she was five years old on
the lie that she was going to meet Mickey Mouse because
esta gringa could not stop crying while boarding this
monstrous-size thing that was supposed to stay afloat

high in the air. We flew from Kennedy Airport into clouds,
then over pineapple plantations and banana fields, cows
roaming and campesinos working, sand and beaches con
hondos strong as the ancestors pleading from esta grown

gringa to go back. When we landed, esta gringa asked, Where
is Mickey Mouse? Because, of course, Mickey Mouse should
be waiting for esta gringa on the tarmac. Her mami ignored the
question. She pushed her pass the initial slap of hot humid air,
took her down the aircraft stairs, walked her across the tarmac
into the building of the airport. We searched for our suitcases
in a room where suitcases were thrown at random places on
the floor. We were like roaches scattering when the light goes

on, looking for our bags, yelling across the room “encontre una”
when we found a bag. Mami, slipping a ten dollar US bill
to the woman who manually checked the suitcases we found,
patted the top of the tightly packed items of clothes and soaps
and shoes and more clothes and unknown ducktaped packages
from Tia Melba y Tia Lorna y Tia Carmen (all of whom were
not really mis tias), for abuelita, fulano y fulano y fulano. We

had to return to the airport the following week for one missing
suitcase. Esta gringa, played futbolito barefooted in the sand
that was her soil. Within the confused gaze of the neighbors,
esta gringa swam in the sand granules, and poured buckets of
sand on her head. Esta gringa washed the sand off her body in
the big sink behind the house, the same sink her mami used
to handwash our clothes. Esta gringa chased chickens around
the house, danced punta, ate la comida of split coconuts, and
heard her mami yell to curious passerbys con urgullo, “¡Ella
es Gringa! ¡Ciudana Americana!” Esta grown Gringa looks

back at a time when Gringa status mattered. Esta gringa watched
a Garifuna man walk to a canoe with a net, come back to shore
with fish in his net. She watched a Garifuna woman take a fish
from that net, scrape the scales of that fish, split it open, salt it
and fried the fish en aceite de coco. Her mami squeezed lime on
the fried fish and tajadas. Esta gringa, ate fried fish con tajadas

for lunch. Gracias a dios, Columbus said, that Honduras saved
his lost ass from the depths of the storm, y esta gringa was
saved from a contrived fantasy world of fake-believe dreams
and its minstrel mouse.