Wednesday, October 21, 2020

La divina Catrina / Oh, Divine Catrina



By Aracely De Alvarado

Illustrations by Claudia Navarro



ISBN: 978-1-55885-910-4

Publication Date: October 31, 2020

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 32

Imprint: Piñata Books



Catrina, a Mexican skeleton, searches for just the right outfit to wear to a Day of the Dead dance in this bilingual picture book for children ages 4-8.



The Mexican skeleton Catrina has been invited to a Day of the Dead dance, and she’s searching for just the right outfit to wear.

She pulls her Aunt María’s dress from a dusty chest, but it has a stain! There’s a skirt made of fine cloth, but it looks like a dusty old drape. Purple shoes that don’t fit, a pair of pants that are too short and a blouse missing a button—what will she wear? Finally, she finds a dress that’s perfect; in fact, it’s divine! With fancy necklaces, lavish earrings, rusty rings and bracelets galore, Catrina will be the envy of all at the ball! Dare we say, she’ll be dressed to kill!

This bilingual picture book told in verse familiarizes children with the Mexican Catrina, an iconic figure representing death known to many through Day of the Dead celebrations. Claudia Navarro’s richly textured, playful illustrations will enthrall kids ages 4-8 and inspire their creativity in fashioning just the right costume for their own party.



“What to wear, what to wear? The age-old lament takes on a different nuance as Catrina la catrina, a fashionista of the skeletal sort, desperately searches through her ancient trunk for an outfit befitting her station. De Alvarado’s tribute to José Guadalupe Posada’s iconic catrina successfully captures the dressing-for-a-party frenzy. However, Navarro’s cocky catrina steals the show. With the perfect touch of the macabre, la divina Catrina expresses consternation and delight as her frantic search for the perfect outfit progresses.”—Kirkus Reviews



ARACELY DE ALVARADO, a preschool teacher, wrote her first story because she wanted to develop and enrich her students’ vocabulary and language skills. She is the author of Luna luminosa, ¿dónde estás? / Luminous Moon, Where Are You? (Piñata Books, 2020) and Los pingüinos / The Penguins(Palibrio, 2014). Aracely studied artistic design, drawing and oil painting. She is from Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico, and lives in California with her husband.



CLAUDIA NAVARRO was born in Mexico City and studied graphic design at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Her publications include Kayapó, jíbaros y cashinahua (Nostra Ediciones, 2014), Quiero ser un héroe (Nostra Ediciones, 2019), El viejito del sillón (Ediciones El Naranjo, 2016), El velo de Helena (Ediciones El Naranjo, 2019), La Frontera: El viaje con papá / My Journey with Papá (Barefoot Books, 2018) and El regalo (Pearson Educación, 2013).

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Playing with the artist's fire.

Review: Carlos Almaraz: Playing With Fire. 

Michael Sedano

"I live in Frogtown," the freshman woman said in her introductory impromptu speech on the first day of class. I sat up and looked around. I was the only surprised one in the classroom of locals at Cal State El Sereno. I was from out of town and didn’t know about Frogtown. I didn’t know about Chicano Art, either. 

The shy young woman expressed herself effectively, especially because her topic was “chicano art” and I learned everything I knew about Chicano Art in 1975 from that talk. Maybe 1976. After class, the speaker asked if she could introduce the class to her informant, a Chicano artist. I didn’t catch the name.


On special guest speaker day--hell with the syllabus, que no?—her friend, a plaid-shirted, bearded painter, used the chalk tray to display some of his canvases and explain the questions he had about “chicano” in art. He wasn’t going to offer a definitive answer, but dang, I looked at that man’s work and instantly learned what Chicano Art looks like. In a Platonic world, Carlos Almaraz’ paintings of dogs and cars and echo park are the Ideal every other work of Chicana Chicano Arte gets held up against to appreciate. 


I’m making up the part that guest speaker was Carlos Almaraz. But I suffer from Anomia and the painter’s name slipped away the moment I shook his hand white man style. My eyes, though, remember. I see those canvases, I know that painter’s name is Carlos Almaraz. I also remember a thousand dollars stood irremediably between me and owning one of those canvases so beautifully displayed in Director Elsa Flores Almaraz and Richard J Montoya’s biography, Carlos Almaraz: Playing with Fire.


The Netflix program means if you have the money you’ll never be limited to remembering. The production lavishes light and special effects upon an encyclopedic exhibition-on-video whose merits far outweigh its single defect. Carlos Almaraz: Playing with Fire, becomes arguably perfect owing to that defect.


Netflix enormous cafeteria of video offerings makes finding this film a chore. It deserves to be splashed across the virtual front page of any Netflix message. Gente need to see this life. People who love life need to see this film. Per Netflix, people who watch Documentaries, Social & Cultural Documentaries, LGBTQ Documentaries, will seek out this work. Raza, for absochingaolutely sure, check it out. Órale.


Olmos and Montoya sound good reading the writer’s beautifully constructed sentences so packed with usefulness that I want subtitles. I want to see the words and hear them. Some of this already is built into the work as Zach De La Rocha reads from Almaraz’ own writing as the camera moves down canvas or page where the artist leaves his thoughts. You expect professional work from professionals, so these performances from De La Rocha along with Edward James Olmos and Richard Montoya are not what make Carlos Almaraz: Playing with Fire a must-see.


Almaraz, with Magu, Frank Romero, and Beto De La Rocha, started Chicana Chicano Arte on its trajectory into the Unitedstatesian and global art world. I say “chicana” to emphasize Judithe Hernández is the fifth member of Los Four. The film isn’t about that, but gente let’s be clear. 


It’s an incredibly personal film to viewers who lived in Los Angeles during the post-movimiento years. I remember students at Cal State Los Angeles telling me, their professor, excitedly about going to see Magu. Magu explained it all. 


Footage of Magu captures the seminal artist’s insight and good nature when Magu explains Chicanos are different from Mexicanos, for example, “we ate Kix cereal and drove Chevys, gringo cars.” For me, I was enchanted hearing Los Perros in the farmworker segment. Those guys were so skilled they needed to be discovered along with their contemporaries, Los Lobos.


Music by two members of Los Lobos gives the film a distinctive energy familiar to listeners. Yet, the most telling musical moment comes from Verdi, when the biography turns to the artist’s alcoholism and self-destructive existence. Frank Romero remembers Carlos was living with two men. Almaraz resided in a section of New York city where opera singers lived. The music is “Labiamo,” a famous operatic drinking song. It’s subtle and a nice touch of joyous doom. Another órale just for that one.


Critics interviewed in the film, including fellow artists and friends of Carlos Almaraz, quickly name Monet, Renoir, Degas, as Almaraz equals. Collectors and gallerists emphasize Carlos Almaraz’ originality, passion, all-consuming intensity. The Directors set out to prove the critics right, to show how the artist translates and lays those emotions onto painted canvas. This film gets it done. Carlos Almaraz: Playing with Fire is a fulfilling account of a life lived well beyond the verge.


About that defect.


I suppose some film school student will pick at a nit here and there—an awkward dissolve like the Disney to Warhol face that makes you squint;  another that calls attention to itself with a “wow, this is Film,” a take too short here, a take way too long there, bad cuts. Is that lengthy sunset take saying we’re near the end of this film? Montoya fights off low energy and slowing down the film writing skillfully of the artist’s lustful behaviors that left his friends shaking their heads. “You’re doing what?”


Animating Almaraz paintings turns them into pastiches of themselves. The film is a tribute to Carlos Almaraz and his work, but some of these are no longer Almaraz’ work.


Early on in the film the Directors decide they need to improve Almaraz’ finished work. They do cute tricks like giving Mao a heart and have him wink at you. The flip books, of course, must be flipped.


For “Magic Green Stage” these Directors animate each figure in the painting. Almaraz’ original composition lacks a rabbit. To correct Almaraz’ mistake, the Directors add their own rabbit. Then they have their rabbit leap through the ring the Yaqui deer dancer holds. What the heck?


These effects are, like the opening Titles, visually wonderful. Echo Park water shimmers in the starry night, flames shoot out and disappear into the air, surfaces glow with translucence. But none of that exists in the real work. The artist did not install those features. What he said is all he said.

I hear all these special effects are really expensive. Good to have deep pockets producers, but why do it at all?


“Carlos feeds our soul,” a critic says in the opening minutes to set the mood for the next hour and twenty minutes. “Beauty in every stroke” says another. “Like he paints with butter,” the extreme close-up sums it up, pans ocean waves of color and brush strokes and thickness. In a hundred years, this twelve-foot painting will be the only evidence burrito stands ever existed and were real, the artist says. Truth is important to this artist and he invests every work with that value. The animated special effects aren’t true.

I suspect there was enormous debate around the table on these changes to the artist’s work. We’re talking deficit-difference in these decisions. The Directors argue, via structure, the boy Carlos Almaraz grew up fascinated with animation. In a clip, Almaraz says he wonders how you make images move, make them evolve, create emotion in people? Animation would have been something Carlos himself would do, were he living in LA with today’s media, instead of 1969 when the artist returned from the NYC scene and a mental hospital. If he coulda he woulda.


I believe he coulda and woulda, too.  He didn't. That guy up in front of Speech 101 was a genius, I saw it in his work, I heard it in his clear voice, I understood what he was saying. And viewers see on screen and hear in this script that genius. The Directors didn't correct the artist’s voice, they let the words speak for themselves, al menos. You hear genius in this artist's words when he says fuck quality, it’s quantity, make art affordable to all. 


Carlos Almaraz: Playing with Fire makes one of the United States’ most capable artists free to view at your convenience, with a subscription to Netflix. Sabes, this isn’t entirely Almaraz’ arte up there on screen, just as it's not free, but close enough. It’s not government work, it’s arte, Film. Carlos Almaraz: Playing with Fire is cultura for all to see.


Monday, October 19, 2020

Memories from East L.A.'s Public Housing Projects: “Do the Hustle”


By Dr. Álvaro Huerta

While growing up in East Los Angeles’ Ramona Gardens public housing project or Big Hazard projects, I was a petty hustler. Throughout my youth, I dreamed of pursuing one of three divergent professions: (1) professional thief, like Jesse James; (2) famous Chicano mathematician, like Sir Isaac Newton; or (3) stand-up comedian, like Richard Pryor. While I eventually became a community activist-turned-professor, I fondly recall my petty hustling days.

Evel Knievel

While living in Hollywood with my extended Mexican family, my cousin José showed me the art of stealing. “Always be cool and stay calm,” he said to me in Spanish. When bored, he would go to the local store with old tennis shoes and exchange them for new ones, walking out without paying.

When I was 5 years old, my older brother Salomón (critically acclaimed painter) and cousin Chato, both 7 years old, took me to the retail store Zody’s to “buy” a toy. With only $10 between them, they selected an Evel Knievel toy motorcycle based on the then-famous daredevil, stun performer. Nonchalantly, they then stuffed the middle-sized box with smaller toys before heading to the cashier. The cashier quickly realized that it was too heavy. Without warning me, they fled the scene of the crime, leaving me alone to face the consequences as a child petty hustler. Luckily, due to my age, I was let go.

Thankfully, my brother and cousin waited for me outside to return home together in tears and defeat.

There’s nothing like family!

Big Mac Hustle

Once I moved into the projects as a 6-year-old with my immediate family, I pursued petty hustling activities. Since my parent’s didn’t have money to take my siblings and me—all eight of us—to fancy restaurants, like Carl’s Jr., whenever I secured a couple of dollars, I usually ate at McDonald’s with my siblings and childhood friends. We walked about 1.3 miles, one-way, to the nearest McDonald’s on Morengo Street—not far from General Hospital.

On a hot summer day, my childhood homeboy Javier Morales invited me to lunch. “I’m treating,” he generously said. We were both 11 years old. Since Javier was an advanced petty hustler, once we arrived at McDonald’s, he introduced me to his “Big Mac hustle.” After ordering a Big Mac with fries and a Coke and sat down next to me, Javier took two bites of the Big Mac and told me “to take a big bite.” He then plucked a curly hair from his head and put it in the hamburger.

He returned to the cashier and requested to speak to the manager in private. He then quietly said to the manager: “There’s a hair is in my Big Mac, but I don’t want to make a scene.”

A few minutes later, Javier returned to our table with a large grin on his face, carrying a new Big Mac, large fries and a Coke. The manager even returned Javier’s money! "It never fails," he bragged.

On that glorious day, we ate like kings for free!

One week later, when another manager was on shift, we returned to McDonald’s. This time,  as his apprentice, it was my turn to perform the “hair-in-the-Big-Mac-hustle.”

Javier gave me some money and sat down at the table near the exit. I ordered the usual: “I want a Big Mac with fries and a Coke.”

Feeling anxious, I quickly returned to the table. Javier took two bites of the Big Mac, plucked a curly hair from his head, put it in the hamburger and returned it to me.

"Take a big bite," he said, “and ask for the manager without getting nervous!"

"Excuse me, Miss," I said to the white cashier in my East Los Angeles accent, "I want to talk to the manager."

"One moment," she said.

"May I help you, young man?" said the elderly white manager.

"There’s a hair in my Big Mac,” I nervously responded, breaking Javier’s golden rule.

After carefully examining the Big Mac, he walked towards the kitchen. "Please follow me," he said in a stern tone.

As I followed him to the kitchen, he interrogated me: "Do you see any men in the kitchen?"

"No," I replied, as my heart pounded erratically.

He then said, “Do you see anyone with curly, black hair?”

“No,” I meekly replied.

"I know this isn’t the first time you and your hoodlum friend played this trick with the-hair-in-the-Big Mac," he said. “So, if you tell who is responsible for this stupid plan, I’ll let you go without calling the police.”

Adhering to sacred code of the projects, once I gained my composure, I stoically said, “You’re looking at him!”

As a I reflect on my petty hustling days, I must admit that as a Chicano professor from the projects—and award-winning author with advanced degrees from elite universities (UCLA, UC Berkeley)—I’ve always (to the present) had to hustle to overcome the brutal constraints of systemic racism under American capitalism.

[Álvaro  Huerta holds a joint faculty appointment in Urban & Regional Planning and Ethnic & Women’s Studies at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. Among other publications, he’s the author of Defending Latina/o Immigrant Communities: The Xenophobic Era of Trump and Beyond. He holds a Ph.D. (city and regional planning) from UC Berkeley. He also holds an M.A. (urban planning) and a B.A. (history) from UCLA. Image credit: “Petty Hustling,” Salomón Huerta (2008).]

Friday, October 16, 2020

Is It Too Early to Process the Pandemic? One Anthology Says No.

 Melinda Palacio

You may have seen this announcement on Tuesday, when the Gluten-free Chicano gave up his famous fried rice recipe. I'm honored to have a pandemic poem in this collection. When editor Thelma T. Reyna put out a call for pandemic poems on how Covid-19 has impacted our lives, I was skeptical about contributing to an event we were still experiencing as a global society. This was in the summer after just months of lockdown, when we thought we would be back to the same habits by the summer. Unfortunately, fall and winter and, all the wondrous holidays are off the table or on a zoom screen, along with all of our birthdays and weddings and baby showers and every kind of celebration. Pass the butter across your zoom Christmas dinner please. As if knowing the rest of the year is shot, a more sobering idea is that next year will also bring more isolation as the world scrambles to take back their lives and pick up where an unruly virus and global pandemic left off. 

I mentioned to Thelma T. Reyna that when she first asked me if I had a poem to contribute , I was hesitant. I kept thinking that I should mourn the time I had lost or that I should take several months to digest the trauma of the pandemic and to let the experience simmer, but that thought quickly floated away as I remembered my writing and publishing motto, "always say yes." Do you have something to contribute? The answer is always, Yes, whether you have to pull an all nighter to get the piece in on time or whether you just need to dust off a piece of writing that's in a drawer. That's the thing about us writers, we always have something in a drawer or file or notebook or an idea parked in our brain, such as the line I pulled out from a conversation with one of my musician friends who said, "I am not a prayer." I don't remember the context of the conversation, but I do remember the line and when I sat down to write my contribution to the pandemic, I gave the line to my poem that is now housed in the Thelma T. Reyna's anthology on the pandemic, When the Virus Came Calling

Yesterday, Jesus Trevino, interviewed a few of the contributors for segments on Latinopia. Thelma Reyna talked about how she curated the anthology and hand-selected the contributors. A renown business woman and writer, she was quick to realize if she wanted to be amongst the first to document life under a pandemic, she better act quickly. She produced a book that manages to put into words all of the emotions brought out by this pandemic with 120 poems and essays from over 46 contributors.  The book, When the Virus Came Calling, Covid-19 Strikes America, is a 2020 Golden Foothills Press book, available everywhere books are sold. Ask your favorite bookstore to order a copy for you. I will include my poem here for you to read. Stay tuned for information about Latinopia's archival zoom recordings. You'll be able to hear me read, "This Poem is Not a Prayer," on Latinopia. When you get your copy of the book, you'll be able to read Michael Sedano's essay, Richard Blanco's poem as well as the works of the other 43 contributors. 

This Poem Is Not a Prayer

Melinda Palacio

This poem cries on an empty street corner in blind daylight.

This poem doesn’t want a helping hand for fear of contamination. 

This poem loves isolation, but despises the box she’s confined to. 

This poem listens to finches, when they stop singing, she awaits a murder of crows.

This poem doesn’t want wide-eyed strangers to feel sorry for her, to tilt their heads as if they 

cared about what’s between the lines.

This poem wears an N-95 mask over her nose and mouth. The mask stolen from a young buck. 

This poem plays pandemic drinking games. 

This poem is not a prayer.

This poem sits six feet away from you, maybe six miles to be safe. 

This poem wears a tattered dress over bruised knees, her torn white-stockinged feet stuffed 

into scuffed black patent leather shoes.

This poem washes her hands while singing Happy Birthday to Me, Happy Birthday to Me, Happy Birthday Dear Dirty Hands, Happy Birthday to Me. Estas son las mañanitas.

This brackish green brown poem lives in a muddy pond, deaf to bird calls, she is indifferent to the lily eaten by golden frogs. 

This poem continues to cry alone, laughs when told touching is a thing of the past.

This poem says goodbye too many times and wonders when she may take your blue hand. 

This poem dies with you. 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Education: Just Another American commodity?


     Inside a private banquet room of a swanky San Francisco hotel, a group of community college teachers finished their meal, poured wine, and started to relax after attending an intense three-day education conference. None of them could afford a room in the hotel or a seat in the restaurant if a state grant hadn’t picked up the tab.

     One teacher, a young Ph. D., political science, said he was stressed. He needed to get back to campus. Only three weeks left in the semester, and he was behind schedule. He’d have to rush through the material if he was going to “get it all in.”

Most agreed, nodding their heads, but for one, who asked, “What happens if you don’t finish the material?”

     Others at the table gasped, the question anathema in education. The first teacher answered, “We won’t finish the text.”

     “Then what happens?”

     “Well,” said the political science teacher, not sure if he was being punked, “if they go into politics, or want to talk intelligently about our political system, they won’t have gotten all the material.” The second the idea was out of his mouth, he realized how absurd it sounded.

     The teacher asking the questions pushed harder. The others listened. “Marv, you have, what, maybe 30 or 40 students? It’s a General Education course. How many students are political science majors, anyway, and of that, how many are going into politics as a career, or, for that matter, will need to talk intelligently about politics to survive in the future?”

     The table was silent. The political science teacher thought, then smiled, shyly, “Maybe four or five students are poly sci majors. Okay, okay, I get it. I just think it’s my job to make sure I cover all the material.”

     Someone else piped up, “In one seminar I attended, a Harvard researcher said multiple studies showed by the start of a new semester, most students forget 80 to 90 % of what they learned the prior semester, regardless of whether it’s a class major or not, even among Ivy League math and science majors.”

     When he returned to campus, the political science teacher queried his students. They told him it wasn’t the material that motivated them but the methods he used to teach them. He talked to his students who had transferred, graduated from universities, and were starting careers. They told him the dense material of political science rarely came up in their lives, but the ways they learned the material did.

     The above experience, where I was the one asking the questions, got me to thinking about students and parents stuck at home because of covid-19 and complaining how “online” education is failing. The thing is, for many low-income students, public education was already failing them before the pandemic, consider the rate of those leaving school before the 12th grade, or graduating and still not able to read, write, or compute numbers intelligently.

     Interestingly, some students excel whether in a live class or online. What they miss most is socializing, which they consider an important part of their education. They’ve come to understand the way to succeed in school is to not necessarily absorb the material but to manipulate the system, simple things, like sitting at the front of the class, asking questions, visiting the teacher during office hours, writing neatly, and showing an interest in the subject. They also master their teachers' methods of delivering the information, and they adapt to those methods. These students get the grades they want, and move on. 

     They also understand much of what they learned, they won’t retain very long, or just long enough to get the grades to get into the colleges of their choice. In education, we called them, “Those who learned how to play the game.”

     It is unfortunate, but this is what American higher education has wrought on society, especially today, where the wealthiest in society bribe universities into accepting their children for-- bragging rights, I suppose. 

     At a dinner party they can say, “My son-daughter is studying at UCLA, Princeton, Harvard, USC, Stanford…”  Higher education has become a commodity, and the university a store, not unlike Nordstrom, Sacks Fifth Avenue, Tiffany, Gucci, etc.

     The irony: those kids, whose parents paid for their admission to famed universities, once they graduate—or not, will inherit so much money they’ll never need a job, anyway. And if their parents paid up to $500,000 to get them acceptance into a brand-university, who is to say they won’t pay someone to do their class work?

     I once worked at a major university in California. A Republican governor (but I wouldn’t limit it to party), who used anti-Affirmative Action rhetoric, mainly in college admissions, to get him into office, thought nothing of requesting special consideration in admitting his nephew to the university.

     His nephew, the son of a wealthy real estate entrepreneur, barely had the grades and SAT scores to make it into the lowliest private college, let alone a premier public institution. As part of the request, the governor’s minion asked the university, if it could kick in a scholarship or two. Frustrated, my boss, the director of admissions said, sourly, “It’s the governor.”

     The kid never did graduate.

     As I read about K-12 students struggling to learn online, I thought back to my time in the classroom, and the academic wars—those professors who believed in doing it the old, traditional way, as opposed to those who said a change was needed. Education should keep up with the changes in society, good arguments on both sides.

    It makes me, even now, laugh, when I hear political pundits on the right, talk about American higher education as completely liberal, even socialist. Education might be one of the most conservatively entrenched professions in the country. Professors love change, in every field but their own.

     In my own discipline, English, we don’t really teach English but, I guess, "American", and not even as a language. What we really teach is reading and writing. Those aren’t languages but skills. Some creative-thinking teachers go so far as to say--writing is an art and should, perhaps, be taught as a craft, like painting, music, or sculpture. That discussion didn’t get far.

     The strictly formatted academic essay has been a mainstay in English, and most academic departments across the country for years. Teaching and evaluating this form of writing, the basis of most M.A. theses and Ph. D dissertations, remains much the same since the days of John Dewey’s 1916 ground-breaking book, “Democracy and Education,” which didn’t break a lot of ground but, at least, put a few cracks in it.

     Some of us in the department argued that few professions in the 21st century required that old, stilted type of writing. Why not teach the styles of writing our students will use most in their careers and daily lives? Those on the other side argued that until the universities changed the types of papers they required of students, we had to meet their standards. They had a point.

     So, students sit at home in front of their computers or phones and try to learn the various components of the college essay. But it isn’t only the writing. English departments demand that students also learn grammar, and not just functional grammar, as a supplement to their writing, but to hardcore grammar as if they are going to teach English.

     So, teachers follow the grammar books, spouting technical terms like dangling versus misplaced modifiers, participles, past and present, the subjunctive mood, active and passive verbs, indefinite pronouns and definite pronouns, infinitives and split infinitives…. You get the point.

     Imagine, kids who spend their days on phones, where they stream everything, news, music, movies, Tic-toc, twitters, Instagram, and who knows how many other sites, sitting through a daily grind of grammar, which, in most cases, has little to do with learning to write well. Then, they are ordered to write essays, using the old, outdated format.  

     I remember certain time of the academic year and sitting at tables with other teachers, a stack of student essays in front of each of us as we discuss the merits or demerits of each paper. I’d say, mostly, we agreed, but some teacher’s comments gave me insight into the educator’s mind.

     One teacher marked a student’s paper down a grade because the student dared to used the personal pronoun “I” once or twice in an otherwise beautifully written paper. The teacher said, “Expository writing can’t have a personal pronoun. It has to be objective.” Somebody else called out, “How can it be objective if we asked the students to argue a position?”

     On another occasion, a number of us agreed a student’s superb paper, even though it contained a few awkward sentences and a misspelling or two, typos, was focused, engaging, and intelligent. Another teacher didn’t agree. She couldn’t get past the few typos. She said, “Intelligence wasn’t in the rubric.”

     During other sessions, teachers argued even though a student had written a marvelous seven-page essay, since it didn’t explicitly contain, what English teachers call, a thesis sentence in the introductory paragraph, the student didn’t follow the rubric (the standards set down by the teachers themselves). Somebody else said, “The thesis is implicit in the paper. Anybody reading this essay would know the thesis.”

     The teacher who lowered the grade argued, “We said students had to put the thesis in the last sentence of the introductory paragraph. I don’t see it where it should be.”

     I recall arguing over an expository versus a narrative paper. The instructions were to select a topic and write a paper arguing your position. One student wrote a paper where she told a tragic story about rape, intricately weaving in both expository and narrative writing. When readers finished the story, the student had made it clear to all of us that rape was evil and should be an offense punishable by a long prison sentence. We graded the paper a “5”, the highest possible.

      “But,” argued one group of teachers, who gave the paper a “3”, barely passing. “it’s a story. She uses too much description and not enough exposition (explanation using evidence and abstract statements).

     I called out, “We all have our students read George Orwell’s short essay, “the Hanging.” It is narrative and mostly descriptive and leaves no doubt that capital punishment in the English colonies was cruel and often unjustified. If we tell our students Orwell was a great writer, and they model their writing after his, do we then punish them for it?”

     Another laughed, “Orwell would never earn a 5 paper in this group.”

     According to educator-critic Ken Robinson, the problem with education is that many professors and teachers teach as if their students are all going to be teachers. It’s easier to teach this way, to teach the way you were taught. The truth is, the future is changing so fast, no one can predict what will happen in five years.

     In the halls of academia, where, literally, many teachers stop to talk, a psychologist told me he was fed up with academic texts. “The whole text book business is a scam. The books are boring, long, and overpriced. I am embarrassed to even have to assign them. Tell you what, if I could assign Crime and Punishment to my students, I could teach them more about psychology than all the texts put together.”

     “Why don’t you?”

     “The Psychology department selected the text. They’d lose their minds if I didn’t follow policy.”

     Inside the halls of academia, whether K-12 or higher education, all of these discussions are taking place. I think about the kids sitting at home in front of their computer screens trying to make sense of it all. Probably, it doesn’t make sense to them because it doesn’t truly make sense to the people designing it all. I bet if they had turned it over to guys like Steve Jobs, they’d figure a way to make it work.


Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Luna luminosa, ¿dónde estás? / Luminous Moon, Where Are You?


By Aracely De Alvarado

Illustrations by Victoria Castillo



ISBN: 978-1-55885-911-1

Publication Date: October 31, 2020

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 32

Imprint: Piñata Books

Ages: 4-8



Juanito wonders where the moon has gone in this bilingual picture book for kids ages 4-8 about the phases of the moon.



Juanito looked outside one dark night and discovered the moon was nowhere to be seen! Where could it have gone? Is it hiding under the bed or behind a great mountain?


He wonders if the coyote took it to his lair, but the wily canine couldn’t catch the slippery moon. “Aaah-ooooooh, aaaah-ooooooh, aaaah-ooooooh,” he cries sadly. Maybe the cicada’s deafening screeches made it disappear! Or did the owl bewitch the luminous moon? Perhaps the frog drowned it in the lagoon! Could the fireflies’ bright lights have hidden its glow? Juanito just doesn’t know!


This charming story by Aracely De Alvarado introducing the phases of the moon to children is enlivened by Victoria Castillo’s bright, eye-catching illustrations depicting the nighttime sky and animals in their habitat. Kids ages 4 - 8, and some adults too, will enjoy repeating the sounds animals make—in English and Spanish!





“A boy discovers that the moon is missing from the sky and enlists the help of nighttime animals to find it in this bilingual picture book. The animal sounds used in each character’s response to Juanito’s queries make for perfect read-aloud potential. The dreamlike illustrations depict Juanito as a young Latinx boy with brown skin and straight brown hair. STEM content and a Spanish lullaby pair up for a satisfying bedtime story.”—Kirkus Reviews



ARACELY DE ALVARADO, a preschool teacher, wrote her first story because she wanted to develop and enrich her students’ vocabulary and language skills. She is the author of La divina Catrina / Oh, Divine Catrina (Piñata Books, 2020) and Los pingüinos / The Penguins (Palibrio, 2014). Aracely studied artistic design, drawing and oil painting. She is from Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico, and lives in California with her husband.


VICTORIA CASTILLO is an illustrator, graphic designer, photographer and concept artist. She illustrated The Little Doctor / El doctorcito by Juan J. Guerra (Piñata Books, 2017). She lives and works in Houston, Texas.




Tuesday, October 13, 2020

The Gluten-free Chicano Cooks Fried Rice

The Gluten-free Chicano Cooks…
Gluten-Free Fried Rice With Chicken And Firm Tofu.
Michael Sedano

Cooking is like riding a bicyle, don’t fall off. Just get out in the kitchen and rattle those pots and pans. That’s el Gluten-free Chicano’s Method: just get into that kitchen and imagine what you want to eat and make that. It’s a perfect Method for the Antojado Cook who prefers Ad Hoc menus to “if it’s Friday it’s fish.”

After making a dish a few times, cooking’s like playing piano; it’s all in your fingers and the instrument. You don’t need to see the music, the recipe’s in your hands. 

For gente coming to cooking as more than survival, el Gluten-free Chicano offers a consejo: Cook what you order. Learn as you eat. Identify tastes and ask the order-taker when you’re stumped. Read recipes and cookbooks, get comfy with cooking-talk. 

Measure inexactly. Some of this, a little of that--learn what “a handful” means—those are in fact real measures in ancient, mostly unwritten, abuela avoirdupois systems and cocinas. I still hear Uncle Pete cooking down a piña for ice cream sauce. The fruit is right when the juice reaches the thickness of baby’s spit, he told me, pouring a viscous stream back into the boiling pot. Ya mero.


In his life roaming the halls of the world of work, the Gluten-free Chicano managed people who learned mistakes happen, so it goes. You’re not incompetent, you just need to assess yourself, have a plan, get stronger.

Competence grows from a next-time perspective. Like a writer reading her stuff aloud. Serve the dish and answer three questions with observable facts. 1: what did I like about the food? 2: What will I be sure to do again, or more of, next time? 3: What’s one element I’ll do differently, less or not, next time? That’s your menu plan for next time the dish comes up on your antoja roulette.

Every time you rattle those pots, make it the best you've done.


The Gluten-free Chicano is gluten-free for the reason of Celiac disease.  La enfermedad celíaca is as unkind a cut as ever struck a person who enjoys Asian food made with soy sauce.

Soy sauce, brewed with wheat, makes celiacs sick, so people like me avoid Chinese, Pinoy, Japanese, Korean, Thai food in restaurants. Few, if any, use Tamari in place of the intensely flavored soy sauce. 

Tamari is a soy sauce made without using wheat to kick-off fermentation. Flavors aren’t as intense as good brands like Kikko-Man, but only non-wheat Tamari is edible to el Gluten-free Chicano and other celiacs. Cooking Asian-inspired food at home makes good sense.

Dining Report, Lessons Learned.
1) I planned a dry rice, individual grains, a good balance of textures. That happened and I am satisfied to meet a standard.
2) I made just enough for the two of us and Barbara finished her entire serving. Not overwhelming her ever again. I don’t want leftovers unless I plan for leftovers, like rice, that’s the ongoing plan.
3) I’m going to get fresh ginger. I used plain wrap Tamari and will switch to San-J brand. I’ll take more detailed fotos, set up the remote and wash hands as needed to touch the equipment.

The following preparation worked quite effectively for numerous reasons, principally it is really good. Next time, my plan includes the three answers above. Making gluten-free fried rice is as easy is 1,2,3,4,5,6: Fry tofu. Fry rice. Add vegetables. Add meat. Add tofu. Eat.

50g. carbohydrates. link to carb counter.
Rice ½ cup left-over = 25g
Chicken meat = 0
Onion = 2g
Carrot = 1g
Tofu = 4g (cup)
Garlic = 1g
Bell pepper = 2g (1/2 a globe)
Tamari = 1g (tbs)
Pineapple juice = 8g (2 oz)
Sesame oil = 0
Celery = 2g (1/2 cup)

Tofu manufacturing has begun to package up two chubs in a shrink-wrapped tub. Each half is just right for two diners. I buy extra firm for frying and soup.

Drain the tofu well. Work on a cloth kitchen towel.
Slice the rectangle into four or five lengths.
Dry both sides on the towel.
Cube the slices. 
Dry each side on the towel. 
Prepare a slick frying surface with non-stick coating. 
Add ¼” of vegetable or peanut oil. Make it smoking hot.
Slide the tofu into the hot oil. Keep flame high and cook five minutes a side--turn the chunks when the surface has browned lightly.

Make chicken broth. Reserve the chicken. This meal used a drumstick and thigh.

Cut and tear the flesh off the chicken leg. 
Chop lightly.
Use a deep bowl or zip bag to mix or whip together this marinade:
Slice three rounds off an onion and chop. 2 garlic cloves, chopped. 4 or 5 slivers of bell pepper. A few shakes of powdered turmeric, ginger, paprika. 5 drops sesame oil. Big splashes (1TBS) tamari, pineapple juice, water. 
Marinate the chicken meat for at least an hour. Refrigerate, even for half an hour.

Use only yesterday’s rice that is dried and individual grained. ½ cup. The more rice you add, the larger a frying surface you need to keep the grains separate. Start with a big pan.

In hot vegetable oil medium flame:
  • Wilt some chopped onion and garlic.
  • Stir in the rice. Let it pop a little; some grains get toasty tan.
  • Add 1 sliced fresh carrot, 1 stalk celery, cubed bell pepper. Move these ingredients around in the pan over medium flame for a minute or until the carrots aren’t rock hard.
  • Add the chicken meat and marinade. If you made a cup of marinade, drain the meat before adding to the rice. Add a TBS of the marinade. You don’t want wet fried rice.
  • Raise the heat, stir, cook for a minute or until the liquid surrounding the rice and meat starts bubbling. It reduces to a carmelized tamari-flavored sauce.
  • Add the browned Tofu.
  • Stir around to mix fully the ingredients and get the tofu warm.
  • Serve.

Reading Your Stuff Aloud in Plague-time. New Anthology When the Virus Came Calling: COVID-19 Strikes America.

Last week, La Bloga-Tuesday featured a video reading of my personal essay, one of 120 contributions Thelma T. Reyna curated, from 44 contributors, for Golden Foothills Press, in the just-published When the Virus Came Calling: COVID-19 Strikes America (link).

My reading is my way to encourage readers to get the book, have it on hand when Zoom readings come available. It's a wondrous collection, a joy to be included among the authors.

La Bloga will have an interview with Thelma Reyna in an upcoming column.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Una cita literaria en el Writers Place en Kansas City por Xánath Caraza


Una cita literaria en el Writers Place en Kansas City por Xánath Caraza


El 6 de noviembre a las 7 p.m. CST el Writers Place en la Ciudad de Kansas abre sus puertas para una lectura poética en Zoom con María Miranda Maloney, Edward Vidaurre y la que escribe.  Será una noche para celebrar la palabra y Día de muertos. Ojalá y nos acompañen.


Maria Miranda Maloney is an editor, publisher, educator, and the author of The Lost Letters of Mileva (Pandora Lobo Press 2014 and Yuguru 2019) and The City I Love (Ranchos Press 2011). Her work has appeared in The Bellevue Literary Review, MiPOesias, The Más Tequila Review, Acentos Review, Huizache, The Texas Weather Anthology, Huizache, Progetto 7Lune Poesia, Xispas: Journal of Chicano Art, Culture and Politics, Smithsonian Latino Virtual Museum, The Catholic Reporter, and Texas Review, as well as other national and international journals. She is the founder of Mouthfeel Press. She was born and raised in El Paso, Texas. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Texas at El Paso. She currently lives in east Texas. 

Edward Vidaurre is the author of seven collections of poetry. He was the 2018-2019 City of McAllen, Texas Poet Laureate, a four-time Pushcart-nominated poet, and publisher of FlowerSong Press. His writings have appeared in The New York Times, The Texas Observer, Grist, Poet Lore, The Acentos Review, Poetrybay, Voices de la Luna, as well as other journals and anthologies. Vidaurre resides in McAllen, Texas with his wife and daughter.


Xánath Caraza is the author of fifteen collections of poetry, and two short story collections. Caraza has been translated into English, Italian, Romanian, and Greek; and partially translated into Nahuatl, Portuguese, Hindi, and Turkish. For the 2018 International Latino Book Awards, she received First Place for Lágrima roja and Sin preámbulos/Without Preamble for “Best Book of Poetry in Spanish” and “Best Book Bilingual Poetry”.  Syllables of Wind received the 2015 International Book Award for Poetry. She writes for La Bloga, Seattle Escribe, SLC, and Monolito.