Friday, February 21, 2020

Woman and Mardi Gras Spirit Killed

Melinda Palacio

Wednesday, marked the last week of Carnival in New Orleans and what would have been the beginning of six days of nonstop parades. A tragedy, which has yet to be explained put a halt to the Nyx Parade, famous for throwing purses to Mardi Gras revelers. A woman who decided to find a shortcut by passing in between two tandem floats died. She tripped over the hitch for the floats.  There's so much ugliness of Mardi Gras that goes by in the name of fun and revelry, but I often wonder if it isn't time for big changes to come to Mardi Gras. Does the city need giant parades, sometimes four in one day or evening, all throwing beads and plush toys made in China, all wrapped in plastic. It's rare that this kind of accident happens. Fat Tuesday is in a few days. I'll write a little more on my next post. The woman's name was Geraldine Carmouche, she was 58. I hope her family and friends find peace within this terrible accident. I was going to write more about Wednesday's kick off of the last week of Mardi Gras. I'll pause to gather my thoughts. The parade was appropriately cut short. Thursday's parades were cancelled due to bad weather. It's hard to let the good times roll among such tragedy. 

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Argentinian Journal: The Road from Iguazu

First view of Iguazu falls from Brazil
   Tuesday, Jan 14, 2020 Iguazu airport, 11:30 A.M.
     Now, leaving Iguazu to Salta, farther northwest, closer to the Peruvian border.
     On reflection, the town of Iguazu, which we passed in the van, yesterday (our hotel well outside the town and taxi service spotty), is kind of a hip, jungle outpost, a lot of vegetation, warm and humid, and filled with cafes, restaurants, and quaint hotels.
     Iguazu’s draw: it’s waterfalls, one of the world’s largest, two times taller than Niagara and four times wider. Of course, the town caters to the thousands of visitors who come from around the world.
     It is an old town with banks, schools, and businesses. Like many Latin American countries, tourism is one of Argentina’s top grossing industries, to the dismay of many proud Argentinos, who prefer to believe their country’s economy is sound even without multitudes of foreigners tromping through their towns and villages. It isn’t.
     [Side note: soy has replaced wheat and beef as Argentina’s top export. For 2019, soy will take a backseat to a classic painting, El zuavo by Van Gough and some other works bringing in nearly half-a-billion dollars to the Argentine economy. But what country wants its export numbers to be based on the sales of paintings?]
More like a prison than a mine
     Yesterday, we visited an amethyst mine, not high on my bucket list of places to see. Surprisingly, the mines are a hit with foreigners who like the bright, purplish, crystalline-type stone. Squads of tourists, including our group, followed their tour guides throughout the quarry that looked more like an underground prison than a mining complex.
Brutal conditions for any miner
Is the payoff worth the work?

Just another rock
     The mines are fairly new discoveries, say the 1960s. Unlike Peru, with its abundance of poor Indians to work its mines high in the freezing Andes, Argentina has no Indians or large immigrant populations to do its undesirable work.
     When I asked about the miners, our guide, reluctantly, and carefully, answered the question with vague references to unemployed Argentines and skilled miners from neighboring countries. The pay is “fair”, whatever that means.
     One of my fellow travelers, a Chicano counselor with deep Mexican roots, refused to visit the gift shop after the tour of the mines. He said its merchandise was pulled from the earth by exploited labor. He thought the whole thing immoral. I agreed but argued the old capitalist refrain, “Well, it is bringing tourists to the region and much needed income.”
     As we prepared to leave, a column of vans filled with tourists lined the entrance. The gift shop was full. One woman in our group, a known shopaholic, swore restraint. She emerged from the store with a large bag and her credit card increased by $500. So much for restraint.
     From there, we drove to the Misiones region and walked the 17th century Jesuit ruins, San Ignacio Mini, a UNESCO World Heritage site, subject of Robert De Niro’s movie, the Mission. The Jesuits, with Guarani Indian labor, constructed a string of missions through the forest, about a day’s ride separating one mission to the next.
San Ignacio's workshops and classrooms
Remnants of the original Jesuit church
     The rebel clerics created schools, workshops, ranches and farms to convert and educate the Guarani people. Each mission specialized in the production specific merchandise. This way they could trade with each other. The Guaranis who refused indoctrination into the system escaped into the forest, and in some cases, waged war against the Spanish crown, including the Jesuits. Still, many Guarani swore their loyalty to the priests whom they saw as protectors against government soldiers and rebellious Indians.
     When Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay hammered out a treaty to divide the land, Brazil would not agree to the pact unless Spain cleared the region of all Jesuits and Guaranis, a little too much power in that relationship, I guess. The Spanish king agreed and set his soldiers on a path of destruction. It wasn’t long for the missions to fall into disrepair, followed by ruin. All this according to our guide who claimed mestizo heritage.
     He said of all the Incas once inhabiting what we now know as Argentina only about 1% remain. What did surprise me were the number of Argentinians who claim mestizo blood, part European, part Inca. The stereotype is that Argentinos see themselves as European, not quite, I learned.
     Outside of Buenos Aires, we visited an estancia, or what the rest of us would call a rancho or hacienda. Like Downtown Abbey, estancias can no longer operate solely on their production of wheat or cattle, so they have opened their doors to the tourist trade to make ends meet.
     I hadn’t been on a horse in close to a half-century, so when I saddled up and rode with about twenty-five others around the vast lands, led by a young gaucho, all I could think was—please, lord, don’t let me get a leg cramp now.
The gaucho's son now the artist
The Old Gaucho
     Yes, Argentina still maintains its gaucho heritage. The estancias are working farms and ranches, so after the tourists jump into the vans and buses and depart, the hard work begins. However, as part of an estancia’s show is a horse demonstration and folk dance by the gauchos(as).
     Of course, they are masters with horses, not unlike Mexico’s charros, Spain’s caballeros, or even the Arabia's horsemen, all who preceded the American cowboy, even if my countrymen don’t like to admit it.
     What caught my ear was after their performance, the lead gaucho said to the crowd of tourists, “Gauchos are mestizos, a mix of Indian and Spanish. We are proud of our heritage and our culture.”
     I’d never heard anyone call a gaucho a mestizo, or many other Argentinos, for that matter. It was only later, when passing through Argentina’s villages and towns, much like Spain’s architectural influence throughout Latin America, I noticed all the shades of brown, nothing like the European Portenos of Buenos Aires. Mestizaje is alive and well in Argentina, even if it is downplayed. Or as one guide told me, with a chuckle, “Yes, Portenos believe only they are Argentinos.”
     A few days ago, upon first landing in Iguazu, I could see from my window seat the green landscape surrounded by large swaths of water, different than any place else we’d visited. The destination of all that water, I would learn soon, the rivers and tributaries raging towards Iguazu falls.                                          
     As we boarded the van to the hotel, Brandon, our hearty leader, asked, “The driver told me he can drive us to Brazil, to see the waterfalls from that side, so is anyone up to going?”
     “Right now. They recently changed the law, allowing people to cross with only a passport, no visas needed, anymore. It will cost $50.00 each, but I guarantee. It will be worth it.”
     I checked the time, 1:00 PM, lunch time. I thought, isn’t a waterfall a waterfall, no matter from which side one views it? Just then, Brandon said, "It's an entirely different vantage point from Brazil. Besides, you can have a Brazilian stamp in your passport."
     So, we were off to Brazil.                                                                          
     The day was slightly overcast. I decided to leave my umbrella in the van and carry just a light backpack with water.
A view from Brazil
From Brazil, closer than it seems
     I can’t describe the magnificence of nature except to say Iguazu’s waterfalls were breathtaking, even more stunning than the Grand Canyon or Yosemite, if that is possible. From the Brazilian side, we walked a footpath closer to the waterfalls than is possible on Argentina’s side. No matter how many turns we made, or how far we walked, the waterfalls kept stretching farther and farther in the distance, like they would never end.
     You couldn’t just stand in one place and see it all. From any one place, all you could see was only one portion. From a new location, you could see a different portion. So, to see the entire falls takes views from both Brazil and Argentina.
     Then came the rain, a few drops at first then the deluge. No place to hide. Luckily, the air and the water were warm.
     I put my backpack under my lightweight jacket. The wind started. My umbrella wouldn’t have helped. Umbrellas were turning into kites. We ran. The footpath went up and down the mountain. We gave up. Or, we gave in. We let the rain soak us. When I looked at the women in our group, I thought--so glad men don't wear makeup.
     Through the mist, the massive falls roared like a monster. Two hours later and thoroughly soaked, but elated, we headed toward the exit. The Brazilians built elevators and a store right beside one end of the falls where, if the rain hadn’t wet us, the falls surely would have. That was the end of day one at Iguazu.
     The next day, under a clear blue sky and bright sun, we viewed the falls breadth, but not it totality,  from Argentina's soil. Hidden within the jungle, water, and spray was the metal and wood foot path winding through nearly every conceivable angle from which to view the falls, sometimes straddling the mountain at the lower levels before rising to the top of the falls itself.
First view of Iguazu from Argentina
But one small segment of the falls
     I gave thanks to my two dogs Rocky and Phoebe. Their insistence on a mile to two mile walk each day kept me in good enough shape not to embarrass myself. Then I saw them, boats carrying tourists up river and into the falls. “Look at them,” I called to my friends, above the roar of the falls. “Yeah,” Brandon said. “We have a 3:00PM appointment, right after lunch. We can’t be late.”
     We were at the top of the falls. I looked at the footpath, winding down the side of the mountain to the river’s edge and the boat landing. Going down didn’t concern me that much, nor did jumping on a high powered outboard dinghy and heading into the falls. I pushed the thought of climbing back up out of my mind.                                                                                
The long walkway over the falls

The sun shines through
     Once securely in the boat, at water level, the falls looked taller, magical, but harrowing. Our driver sped through rapids and rough waters, slapping the boat's bottom, as if hitting cement. I felt like a kid again, and I savored the trip, making it without much trouble. In the humid, warm air, the tepid water of the falls was refreshing, especially directly under the bulk of water coming off the 300-foot cliffs. We wrapped anything we wanted to stay dry inside waterproof bags, including our shoes and a change of clothes.
     That evening at dinner, exhausted but energized, we realized our visit to the falls was more than just tourism as usual, it was engaging with the elements. We’d experienced nature's force, held on to her hand as she led us into secret caverns and crevices, revealed her mysteries. Of course, the Guaranis saw all of this as sacred. If we felt it in the course of a day, they had internalized it over a lifetime.
Emerging from a massive dunking
     The flight to Salta takes about an hour. Supposedly, we will be a few mountain ranges away from the Andes. Salta claims one of the largest Inca ruins in Argentina. It is not only remote but desolate, even with it's charming little city.
     From Salta, we fly down to Mendoza, wine country. I’m not much into wine, and coming from California and spending a portion of my youth in Spain, I don’t think I’ll be tasting much better wine than I already have.
Does Eva Peron really rest in peace?
     Two images come to me, as I think about Argentina, one, the cemetery at Recoleta and a crowd of people around one particular mausoleum, the name Duarte, Eva Duarte Peron engraved in stone. Her body went missing for years, only to return home after the people threatened those responsible with death. The second is of me walking into El Ateneo, a classic theater in Buenos Aires turned into a bookstore. Yes, Latin America still reads.
El Ateneo, books are the main show here
     At first, the beauty of the architecture disguises the hundreds of thousands of tomes on the various levels. Then, the books themselves appear, standing colorful and haughty, survivors in a quickly changing world.
     Up on the stage, I see what is set for a performance, possibly some really good storytelling.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Pura Belpré Award Ganadores 2020

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

2020 Author Award Winner

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe, written by Carlos Hernandez and published by Disney-Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe brings us a story about thirteen-year-old magician Sal Vidón as he moves to Florida where he meets Gabi Reál, an aspiring journalist and student council president. Together they try to solve the mystery of how Sal “breaks the universe” and why they are the only ones who can see the hole.

“Carlos Hernandez takes us on a rollicking adventure with Sal and Gabi that spans multiple universes and challenges our understanding of dimensions,” said Peterson.

2020 Illustrator Award Winner

Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln, illustrated by Rafael López, written by Margarita Engle, and published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division.

Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln is a story about Venezuelan born Teresa Carreño who started playing the piano as a very young girl and was writing songs by age six. Forced to flee Venezuela, she moved to New York, traveled to other cities to play the piano, and was invited to play for President Abraham Lincoln.

“Creating a sense of time and place through the use of colors and mixed media, Rafael López brings the story of Teresa Carreño to life,” said Pura Belpré Award Committee Chair Maria X. Peterson.  

2020 Author Honor Book

Lety Out Loud, written by Angela Cervantes and published by Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc.

Lety Out Loud introduces readers to a variety of immigrant experiences through Lety Muñoz, an English language learner who spends the summer volunteering at an animal shelter. Although initially hesitant to speak out, Lety learns to use her voice to stand up for others.

The Other Half of Happy, written by Rebecca Balcárcel and published by Chronicle Books.

As Quijana enters seventh grade, she feels in between, grappling with a new school, new friends, and her half-Guatemalan heritage. She struggles to find her place within her friendships and family, stumbling and succeeding on her path to discovering her authentic self.

Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré, written by Anika Aldamuy Denise, illustrated by Paola Escobar, and published by HarperCollins Children’s Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers.

In this inspiring picture book biography, Denise lyrically shares the life and work of librarian, storyteller, author and library advocate Pura Belpré. Following her from Puerto Rico to her new life in Nueva York, Denise’s text captures Belpré’s lifelong passion for storytelling and public libraries.

Soldier for Equality: José de la Luz Sáenz and the Great War, written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh and published by Abrams Books for Young Readers, an imprint of ABRAMS.

The story of Mexican American activist and World War I soldier José de la Luz Sáenz is told with exquisite detail in this picture book biography. His struggle against racism and injustice in early 20th century Texas is presented in a concise but thorough manner, complemented by extensive notes.

2020 Illustrator Honor Books

Across the Bay, illustrated and written by Carlos Aponte and published by Penguin Workshop, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

In this book, Carlitos lives happily with his mother and abuela in Cataño, a ferry ride away from Old San Juan. As Carlitos wonders about his father’s life away from them, he journeys to the city. Over the course of his search, Carlitos encounters the vibrant sights and sounds of the city.

My Papi Has a Motorcycle, illustrated by Zeke Peña, written by Isabel Quintero, and published by Kokila, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Daisy’s father is a carpenter who comes from work in the evening to take her on an electrifying motorcycle ride where she gets to see her grandparents’ yellow house, the church, and also other carpenters at her dad’s work as well as the changes in her busy Latinx neighborhood.

¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market, illustrated and written by Raúl Gonzalez and published by Versify, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Little Lobo and his dog, Bernabé, make their rounds in a bustling border town market in this charming story that is sprinkled with Spanish and cultural references throughout. There is always more to see and do at el mercado, so let’s go because you never know who you’ll find there.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Across the freeway, through the trees, a Vision. And Another.

"La Nueva Reina" by Judithe Hernández Studio, La Plaza Village, Los Angeles CA

And another

"Aliso Dreams" by José Lozano, La Plaza Village, Los Angeles CA

Michael Sedano

La Bloga has followed Pola López' hand-painted restoration project of a mural a mile northeast of a pair of spectacular new-technology murals we'll follow now. The murals grace a new residential development near historic Olvera Street, "the birthplace of Los Angeles." Visiting is a short walk from Union Station.

Unveiled in 2019, the mural designs have been printed on massive sheets of vinyl, then clad onto the façades of the structures. For José Lozano and Judithe Hernández, seeing their work in such magnificent scale must be an ongoing pleasure.

Out there in the elements. Rising and setting sun casting shadows inescapably covering and altering the look of the art. Cameras are fooled by the contrast of full sun deep shade, imagine the perplexed tourist insisting there's mural in that white spot. Designed on an easel, now in situ the mural finds competition for attention: traffic and advertising signs, dusty fences, sidewalks lined with tent encampments. And totally beautiful because of all that, que no?


Technology failed. 

She's peeling off at the seams. 

She, personification of the city's full name, El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles. Guadalupe. She's peeling and everyone can see it.

Hernández will restore la nueva reina to her position on those two walls, once the vinyl has been removed. That will be a hand-painted replacement, per the artist's Facebook remarks.

I'm speculating the installation failure stems from the building joints, not adhesive failure. When two surfaces join, contractors gun in silicone or polyurethane sealants to weatherproof the structure. Sealants guys push backer rod into the joint. Then the crew guns in the sealant and "tools" the synthetic rubber forcefully against the concealed backer rod. The sealant cures fully in 72 hours, during which polymerization exchanges moisture in the air for stuff in the sealant, releasing acetic acid or alcohol vapor to evaporate into the medio ambiente.

I used to sell those materials; I trained the guys who sold that stuff, at any rate. The peeling seams look like "outgassing" problems. Vinyl that covers joints covers the exhaust path of those vapors. There are miles of sealants in those buildings, lots of vapor building up during the cure time.

Who's going to pay for this? That's where outgassing and substrate preparation enter the problem-solving phase. Did the workers do the job wrong? Did the architect specify incompatible materials? What actually got installed in those joints? Was the sealant fully cured, 72 hours is a standard guess, not a sure thing. If the weather has been dry, insufficient moisture is available to initiate curing. Was the sealant properly manufactured? Are batch number documented? Ay de mi, so many questions and fingers pointed.

Not my business, but it used to be. I have horror stories.

Sabes que? I'm gonna start hanging around the scaffolds in the coming weeks while crews strip la reina panel by panel, see if I can score a piece of nueva reina. Where will I display my prize? Nowhere. The historic originals will be properly and environmentally disposed of per the L.A. City Mural Ordinance.

Monday, February 17, 2020

‘Once upon a Bad Hombre’ by Xánath Caraza

‘Once upon a Bad Hombre’ by Xánath Caraza

Gabriel Hugo is the author of Once upon a Bad Hombre, the X Series, The Martian Ones, and The Fluid Chicano. He has collaborated with authors on several anthologies and his poetry has been featured in various literary publications. Gabriel is also the founder of The Raving Press, an independent publishing imprint in the Rio Grande Valley, publishing works primarily focused on issues affecting Chicanos and other minorities in the United States. He is also an actor, appearing in two films available on Amazon Prime Video. Gabriel Hugo lives in Mission, Texas with his two sons Hugo Kuahutemoc and Jose Moctezuma, a.k.a. “The Bro Team”. 

"A new administration is in power in the U.S. promising to enact a 'solution that is final' to the 'immigrant problem'. Despite the rhetoric, no one seems to care that immigrants are going missing in increasing numbers, as their fellow compatriots continue with their daily lives watching their telenovelas like any normal day. Meanwhile, a mysterious ash falls across the U.S. and Mexico, and no one knows its true source. When Marco, a reporter for the Daily News Report, is assigned to investigate rumors of a secret immigrant panel headed by the president's staff, his investigation uncovers truths too dangerous to reveal to the general public, and he is taken off the story. Facing the choice of keeping the truth in the dark, or telling the world one way or another, Marco decides to go underground and head all the way to Mexico City to reveal the plot against all people of Mexican descent. Along the way, Marco is triggered by people complacently sitting around in public spaces watching telenovelas in cafes and hair salons, which drives him to shoot the TV sets to send a message, but no one seems to get it. Will Mexicans stop living vicarious lives of fantasy through their telenovelas and live life to the fullest? Or will time run out once Marco reaches his destination and reveals the news of an impending Mexican apocalypse?"