Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Plague-time Casualty Rebound: Backyard Floricanto

Michael Sedano

In past years, Casa Sedano has hosted numerous authors in our Living Room Floricanto and Backyard Floricanto. We had to cease celebrating with the pandemic. We're shut-ins, so that cessation had an extra sting.

Pandemic recovery appears on track to allow a resumption of non-family gatherings of people who follow mask and distance safeguards. What a relief. Zoom offered a telecommunication-transportation trade-off that was cool--todo el mundo had living room floricantos on the phone. 

Nothing supplants the immediacy, la cultura, of readers and audiences sharing a poem or story. And this Summer, they're back. 

Here's a column from 2016 when Casa Sedano hosted Jesus Salvador Treviño's launch party for his short fiction collection, Return to Arroyo Grande. A great time we had, and the joy multiplied later when Treviño's book went on to win an American Book Award that year.

The spate of heavy rain exhausted itself and overnight the weather turned Southern California gorgeous. And since it looked like Spring had sprung early and was here to stay, people planned outdoor events, like the publication party for Jésus Salvador Treviño’s Return to Arroyo Grande.

As the day for the gathering of friends and readers approached, Pasadena skies clouded and rain threatened to wash out the reading and move it indoors. The hosts, Barbara and Michael Sedano, were bummed because Plan B, moving indoors, would challenge space and seating plans.

Treviño appreciated Sedano’s La Bloga review of Return to Arroyo Grande, the most recent in the author’s trilogy of speculative and fantasy stories. Treviño shared the column at Latinopia, where Treviño publishes excerpts from his exhaustive video and film archives, while advancing Chicana Chicano arts and literature through essay, interview, and review.

In the process of sharing the file we agreed that Treviño would do a reading at Casa Sedano. Treviño would record it and share it at Latinopia. Pick a date. That was in November.

Time, weather, hour, planning, calendars, all came together just right. The slight overcast that day offered perfect illumination for photography; clean clear light with no hard shadows.

This was a party of friends, most of them writers and storytellers.  Guests had come intending to  relax, hear a reading, and celebrate the writer's achievement.

Nonetheless, the afternoon calls to mind the importance in a book’s life of marketing. Hitting the hustings doing readings and signing books gets the book in front of its readers and launches good word-of-mouth. All manner of salutary effects on writer, reader, and book result from a relaxed event and a good reading.

Treviño put a lot of work into the reading, crafting his presentation with a flair. He selects a gruesome outer limits-style story and does characters. He growls with practiced vocalics in an author’s endeavor to extract every ounce of drama from the scene. One imagines Treviño wrestling with that text when he was writing it, now he's wrapping it around his tongue for rapt listeners, he ponders has he muted the horror enough but given it possibility?

The story and the author’s interpretive reading draw appropriate shivers and “Uyy” responses from the attentive guests. They talk about it afterward.  Another day, when they read the story, they will hear the author's voice again, re-experience this moment of delight.

Jesus Salvador Treviño's Return to Arroyo Grande should already be on the shelf of any reputatbly stocked independent bookseller. The bookseller, or you, can get your copies directly from Arte Publico Press.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Children's Day/Book Day Celebrates 25 years! We Catch Up with Pat Mora

La Bloga has the distinct privilege to speak with author and educator Pat Mora on the 25th anniversary of Children's Day/Book Day. Below is our conversation.

Pat, give us some background on Children's Day/Book Day.

This literacy initiative is a collaboration of national and state library and literacy organizations, educators, presses, and readers creatively striving to share bookjoy and its importance. Culminating April 30th, it is a year-long celebration of reading and the love of books. Children’s Day, Book Day encourages April book fiestas, in libraries, schools, homes, parks, etc.

In 1996, I learned about the Mexican tradition of celebrating April 30th as El día del niño, the day of the child. I thought, “We have Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. We need kids’ day too, but I want to connect all children with bookjoy, the pleasure of reading.” I was enthusiastically assisted to start this family literacy initiative by REFORMA, the National Association to Promote Library & Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking. The Association for Library Services to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), has also been an active partner. Another enthusiastic national partner is First Book, who serve as judges for the Estela and Raúl Mora Award.

 Tell us about your love of reading and the origins of Bookjoy.

Well, I am a very lucky woman for many reasons, and one of the big reasons is I come from a wonderful family.  I had wonderful parents, very devoted parents both. I'm going to talk particularly about my mom when I talk about reading. My mom, who was born in El Paso, as was I and all my kids, was a reader as a little girl. Neither of her parents spoke English, but she was just a little girl on fire when she discovered books. And in fact, her father would call out in the evening and say to her, you know, turn off the light because she'd get on you just like in the story. She would get under the covers with her flashlight and be reading. So I'm a writer, thanks to my mom. I'm a reader, thanks to my mom.  Reading is a necessity, not a luxury. 

What message do you have for teachers as a major resource for reading and literacy?

Well, as all good teachers know and I taught early In that case, then we're trying to introduce them to new kinds of books and to the subtleties of reading. How do we support them without having them feel deficient? And I think that's a real challenge, you know, and I think gifted teachers and I have through the years have a way of connecting with students.  Affirming what they are, what they know, and then supporting them to put that on the page. And that can happen with a third-grader.

Often individually, if a teacher was working with elementary school students, they can meet with parents individually and talk about how to create a space at home for study. Now, that's very basic, but there are things we take for granted, right? I mean, and encouraging parents, whether they speak English or not, to expect the child to read every day. 

I mean, I'm a grandmother now, and I am after my granddaughter on FaceTime, because they need to become readers. So it wasn't so much reading as a chore. It was reading as a joy ride. And just, you know, wherever I think kids can connect and find their joy in that world begins to expand for them. And then you have all the attention, skills, building out from that. And teachers have a lot of material to work with.

Talk about Children's Day/Book Day, its evolution at age twenty-five.

So I was just working on a piece because on the website, we're going to do something big for the twenty-fifth and actually, now we call it Children's Day/Book Day.  It was previously known as El día de los niños/El día de los libros. I realized we had to be more inclusive. When I was visiting schools for a local celebration and  I saw students who did not speak Spanish I could see on their faces, they did not feel part of the celebration.

So the reality is that it's wonderful to be bilingual and whether that's Mandarin or Spanish or Pakistani, whatever. But the reality is that English is the official language of the United States. This is a national celebration, Children's Day, Book Day, every day of the year. And then the celebration, April 30th. Great, and again, I think this is an important evolution that is more inclusive, reaching out to African-American students, Anglo students, Asian students, and Native American students. The joy of reading is for all.

Pat Mora Reads Book Fiesta on Vimeo


Thursday, April 15, 2021

As the Story Goes: Mexico's Children



Nicolas Gonzalez, kidnapper or pawn in his father's game

     When Eusevia Villalovos was fifteen years old, she and her sisters were washing clothes in the river near their home, a poor, tired rancho, Las Palmas, in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. Her boyfriend sat on a tree overhead watching. In 1909 having a boyfriend or girlfriend probably meant nothing more than an attraction towards one another. Parents and the Church held a tight rein on children, especially girls.

     In his novel, Al Filo del Agua, Agustin Yanez paints a portrait of rural Jalisco as dark, bleak, and barren, trapped in the Gothic past. “Village of Black-Robed Women…old women, matrons, maidens in the bloom of youth, young girls; they may be seen on church steps, in the deserted streets…glimpsed through very few, furtively open doors” (Yanez, 1955), echoes of Federico Garcia Lorca’s 1930s dark classic Bodas de Sangre, depicting sexual repression and violence in rural Spain.

     Bursting through the bushes from the opposite bank, 25 year-old Nicolas Gonzalez, a rich kid, a rancher's son, along with his friends, emerged on horseback, and in one fell swoop, lifted Eusevia from the water and onto his horse. She screamed, struck out, and tried to resist him, but he was too strong. From the tree, her boyfriend, helpless, could only watch. 


Eusevia Villalovos Gonzalez, 1950, victim, martyr, or woman warrior

     Nicolas carried Eusevia to his family ranch, Mitic, and deposited her with his mother, Micaela de los Santos Gonzalez. There, Eusevia remained, eventually submitting, marrying Nicolas, and by 1918 bearing seven children, one, the baby, Juanito, drowning in a Riverside canal, on the family's trek north.

     This is the meager story my family passed down through the years regarding the union of my grandparents, factual, no analysis, and no discussion,. I may have been the first to question the circumstances. My aunts and uncles told me “that’s the way it was back then,” "Mama never talked about it," and, “it was a different time,” but was it, really? 

     In Mexico, many young couples married back then in the traditional way, the boy respectfully asking his father to talk to the girl’s father and propose marriage. Kidnapping, brutal, violent, and destructive, was rare.

     When I told a friend the story, she answered, “Your grandfather kidnapped your grandmother, raped her, and forced her bear his children.” What went though my mind was, "Therefore, your mother and her siblings are all illegitimate, born of rape."

     I argued it wasn’t rape, not really. They were married, legally. My friend answered, “It doesn't matter. Your grandmother had no choice. She was forced to marry him. So, if she bore his children and didn’t want to be with him, that is rape, even if they were legally married.” 

     On my grandparents’ marriage certificate, after my grandmother’s name the words appear, “Vecina accidental de este lugar,” translation, “Accidental female neighbor of this location.” What could that mean? It's a phrase I've never seen on a certificate. I don’t know the legal designation, but it sounds like my grandmother married against her will. (Maybe a Bloga reader knows what this means.)   

     The young couple, along with their children, fled Mexico during the last of the revolution and settled in Santa Monica, California, where Nicolas found a job in the brickyard and Eusebia, a stern disciplinarian, raised the children. By 1940, the couple had a total of eight children, two born in Santa Monica. 

     According to most people, and his children, Nicolas was a loving father, a hard worker who rarely drank, was committed to his family, and had strong values he passed down to his children. He died in 1940, in his early 50s, from emphysema, a slow, painful death, too many years breathing brick dust. I never met him but feel like I had. 

     When I was a child, each month, my aunt would take me to visit his grave in Santa Monica's Wood Lawn Cemetery. No one else in the family is buried there, not even my grandmother, only him, solitary, a few feet from a tall palm tree near the corner of 17th Street and Pico boulevard, but surrounded by his Santa Monica neighbors, many from the same region in Mexico as he. 

     Now, I'm the only one in the family who still visits. Most of his descendants hardly know he existed. I took my grandson, Nicolas, to visit one time and told him about his great-great grandfather. His name is but a coincidence.

     When I first heard the story of my grandparents, I asked, without much thought, “How could my grandfather just steal my grandmother without her father and brothers saving her, bringing her home? Why would Juan Gonzalez, Nicolas' father, considered wealthy, allow his son to marry a girl from a poor family, no dowry, and nothing to contribute to the family?”


Esther Gonzalez Cano, the youngest, changing bloodlines

     One aunt said my grandmother Eusevia’s family was so poor, the father could barely feed them, so Pablo Villalovos figured she’d be better off with the Gonzalez family, and he didn’t complain or go to the authorities. An uncle offered another explanation. Eusebia’s family had very light skin and Nicolas’ family dark skin, Indians. Juan Gonzalez figured Eusebia's light skin would lighten the bloodline, maybe for generations. I heard the two fathers, Juan and Pablo, became good friends over the years, visiting each other regularly.

     Of course, everything I learned I was told by relatives who had to jog their memories to remember, like my aunt who told me, “I don’t think my mother ever loved my father, and she made him pay for what he did.” My mother told me, “She never forgave him and we could tell.” Another aunt said, “In the Santa Monica, Mama (that's what everyone called her) was the boss and my daddy went to work every day, came home, and gave her the money.” My grandfather, when he had earned enough money, wanted to take the family and return to Mexico, to Mitic, the family ranch, where he was still Juan Gonzalez's son. My grandmother would never return to live, and only once to visit.

     I ask myself how much of this history is true, how much is calculated, and how much is imagined? When I think of everything I was told, and everything I learned and studied about Mexico, I wonder if my grandfather really did kidnap my grandmother.

     I recall talking to a family friend, Bart Carrillo, a WWII vet, who owned a number of restaurants on L.A.'s Westside during his lifetime. Bart told me when he was ready to marry his girlfriend, he asked his father, born in Mexico, how he should go about it. Bart wanted to ask his girlfriend's father directly, out of respect. Bart’s father said it had to be decided by the parents. He would ask the girl’s father, an intermediary, for his son. Father to father. It turned out the two men were good friends.

     When days passed, and his father didn’t come back with an answer, Bart, embarrassed, had to ask his dad if he had talked to his girlfriend's father and what had happened? His father said, "Oh, that. Yes, everything is taken care of. He gave his permission." 

     Bart was peeved. Why did they make him wait so long for an answer? His father laughed and told Bart the fathers had agreed the first day they talked, but they decided to play a small joke on the couple and let them sweat it out a few days. The two men had a good laugh over that, which got me to thinking. Could Juan Gonzalez and Pablo Villalovos have planned the kidnapping and marriage? 

     Pablo Villalobos knew his daughter, Eusevia, would not agree to marry Nicolas since she had a boyfriend and didn’t even like Nicolas. Juan Gonzalez didn’t want to see his son rejected by any girl, let alone one from a poor rancho, so, it makes sense the two men might encourage Nicolas to take matters into his own hand and simply take the girl, with impunity. No one would object, not the parents, and not the authorities. The fathers may have thought she’d get over it after a few days.


The great-great-great grandchildren

     In the end, the two men, the elders, responsible for their families, may have concluded, the families were more important than the two children. With Eusevia married to Nicolas, it would lessen his own burden on having to provide for his large family. Eusebia would be taken care of, and her own children would be the grandchildren of wealthy rancher. On the other hand, Juan’s offspring would have light skin and, perhaps, change the family bloodline forever, giving his descendants a easier path into the upper echelons of Mexican society, where color mattered.

    I mean, it makes sense and is logical, as the story goes.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

2021 Children's Bilingual Book Festival



For more information visit 




National Hispanic Cultural Center

 a division of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs




April 15 - 18, 2021


9am - 5pm (MDT) Via Zoom



No Registration Required

A Free, Multi-Generational, Community Event.


Four days of author readings, book events, workshops and more, featuring children's bilingual books in Spanish and English and Native languages and English.  Free and open to the public.

Cuatro días de lecturas de autores, eventos de libros, talleres y más con libros bilingües para niños en español e inglés e idiomas nativos e inglés. Gratis y abierto al público.



This is the list of authors and illustrations/ Esta es la lista de los autores e ilustradores.



Alexandra Diaz         

Amy Córdova y Boone         

Ana Siqueira 

Anna M. Nogar          

Cathy Camper          

Concepción Saucedo Martinez        

Enrique Lamadrid   

Eric Velasquez          

Jessica Gonzez           

Maria Gomez 

Matt de la Peña        

Naibe Reynoso          

Raynelda Calderon  

René Colato Laínez   

Robert Liu-Trujillo   

Rocío Cervantes Garcia        

Traci Sorell    

Viviana Torres          

Xavier Garza 

Xóchitl Guerrero       

Yolpaki Xihuit

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Perfectly Unique Book, Nearly Perfect Bee


Review: Carribean Fragoza. Eat the Mouth That Feeds You. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2020.

Michael Sedano

Grove Press is one of them. Black Sparrow is one of them. City Lights Books makes three.  

Browsing the shelves of a top-notch bookseller looking for something unique, literature on the leading edge of stuff all your friends will be reading six months from now, you know you won’t go wrong picking up a title from Grove, or Black Sparrow, or City Lights. 

That has never been more true than with City Lights Books’ 2021 short fiction collection, Eat the Mouth That Feeds You by Southern California writer Carribean Fragoza. You won’t go wrong on both counts—unique, and trend-setting. Eat the Mouth That Feeds You belongs in your Shopping Cart at the publisher’s website (link)

Above all, Eat the Mouth That Feeds You treats readers to gem after gem of interesting, provocative, impossible writing. Carribean Fragoza crafts grammatical sentences that challenge the capacity of language to contain a story when it emanates from a coherency-defying imagination. There are outlandishly daring events written about here and no one's surprised to find themselves in such settings. "Supernatural," "strange," "weird," hardly covers what's happening in these fictions, but it's close.

Readers won't find work like this everyday, nor from ordinary publishing juggernauts. Nearly every element of this book challenges convention, composition, vocabulary, idiom, character, setting, coherency. Here is how those things are done now. 

Fragoza’s characters stumble into events that can take off on independent trajectories with the characters along for the ride, usually with aplomb in the face of profoundly absurd quotidian anarchy. This is their world, welcome to it. Watch the writer pull it off. She’s an incredibly disciplined writer, mostly, letting weirdness spin out of control before the writer finds a semblance of reason that makes for not-quite orderly metaphors. She puts a lot of responsibility on her readers to anchor her characters with understanding and empathy, and if not, open-mindedness.

The collection opens with a training story. That is, “Lumberjack Mom” serves to train readers how to consume the style in this ten-story early work of tomorrow's literary luminary. The lead story's the most straightforward fiction in the collection, and while astonishing in its understatement, “Lumberjack Mom” comes at you like a gruesome sight compelling you to stare in amazement despite all that asco.

A family falls apart when the man abandons them. To the children narrating their story, Mom’s behavior doesn’t strike them out of the ordinary: Fathers cause resentment, Mothers need to release their stress. Kids help out. This is how the world is.

What isn’t ordinary is when mother turns obsessively to destroying the family’s possessions, ripping out plants in the garden, chopping up the furniture. The kids support mom in her not spiraling out-of-control endeavors. It’s a natural world where kids matter-of-factly buy Mom a sharp axe, read lumberjack textbooks, provide logs for her to chop, transporting her to the woods to chop down trees.

This family must be rich to afford all this destruction, but logic is anathema to fantasy, so let’s not talk about that part. In fact, it’s best to allow the universe of the stories full steam ahead and don’t ask questions, just watch.

The second story, for example, “The Vicious Ladies,” is a gem of perversity. Fragoza crafts a dark underworld of cholas, house parties, drug dealing. The narrator is a college woman in summer, abandoning her books for passive licentiousness. She’s the enabler, not the one who gets it on. There’s rich tension for a reader watching her throwing away her future by giving in, with no reason whatsoever, other than inertia. And that’s how the tale ends, the character going headlong into nowhere, the reader frustrated, objecting that the author did this to them.

Dismal as the setting makes one, Fragoza’s compelling narration impels you helplessly into the story, maybe you know these girls, you sure don’t like what you see from these mensas:

“It was like watching a clandestine baptism. The girls faithfully dropped their bodies into the invisible waters that would make them new. And the noz did. Each emerged from their trip smiling, like they’d all seen some variation of a god that was gentle and kind and sometimes very funny.”

God. Funny. Mujerismo. Abortion. Readers will find enjoyment, and perhaps outrage in the collection. There’s the spiteful saint who explains people turn to her for miracles because they’ve lost faith in god. “Sabado Gigante” provides badly needed comic relief before the collection impels you to its unsettling final two stories. 

The title story balances discomfort against insight in a challenging metaphor. “Eating” is the verb of the “Eat the Mouth That Feeds You,” a daughter consumes her mother bite by bite, for lack of memory. The active indicative form of being nurtured is feeding. From what is eaten, Girls absorb and become their mother’s history. Metaphors lurk on the menu, but in the darkness some pose a challenge to read. This must be why one blurber calls this "Chicanx gothic tales".

“Mysterious Bodies” begins as a horror story. A woman feels mollusks, clams, barnacles, spreading throughout her sinews. Not horror, an awful truth: Angelica’s pregnant. Eduard gets some pills. Right-to-Lifers need to get into Angelica’s thoughts without remonstrance. 

“Me Muero,” the last offering, is going to make readers really uncomfortable. The narrator’s dead, the body splayed out on the patio while familia circulate around her nonchalantly. The soul checks out the food and the chisme, revisiting her body to monitor her putrefaction. Here’s compellingly gross writing, with a delightful Fragoza touch of surprise in its last sentence.

Too bad the cover art doesn’t reproduce well enough to notice the wings on the girl looking back at the camera. Not knowing what to expect from the book, such a foto with that arresting title, a browser sees the City Lights imprint, buys a copy, not knowing what to expect, but with high expectations. 

Eat the Mouth That Feeds You, like the last sentence in the book, turns out as good as you expected. Better.

A Taste of Near-Perfection 

Three images of a male Carpenter Bee in flight fulfill a goal to take even a single image: a brilliantly detailed golden bee suspended in mid-flight at the point of landing or feeding. The other day, I created three nearly-perfect images that achieve that goal. 

I'll continue taking fotos of this bee. Now the goal is a full-frame, no crop bee. These images are not cropped, this is the entire image. I use a 70-300mm lens, racked to 300mm. The glass focuses at around 4 feet, so this is as much bee as the lens produces. I own a 100mm macro lens that I can capture a nearly 1 to 1 image if I can get close enough and hold the camera steady while the bee flies in focus.

Approaching the Ocotillo the bee begins to slow down
The bee flies at the near-focus distance of the lens. Hand-eye-camera coordination achieve oneness and I track the Carpenter Bee in the viewfinder while holding down the shutter release.
The Canon T2i fires 3 frames in rapid order before it stops to process. What you see is what you did not get. When the shutter opens, the view goes blind and the image goes onto the sensor. A moment before, everything looks great in the eye. What you get is what you got. This time, everything comes together. A goal accomplished feels good. I haven't seen this insect since the day I captured its portrait. Right time, right place, right equipment, right on.
ISO1600 300mm f/5.6 1/3200s Hand held, open sky.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Commentary on the Book ‘An Exercise in the Darkness’ by Elizabeth Lara


Commentary on the Book ‘An Exercise in the Darkness’ by Elizabeth Lara


In An Exercise in the Darkness / Ejercicio en la oscuridad, Xánath Caraza has given us poems that vibrate on the page. The writer’s ink, imbued with a throbbing life force, is barely contained by the white spaces that surround it. Nature envelopes her, speaks to and through her. Color, light, and sound play against each other. The world shifts between dark and light, between internal and external landscapes: gray skies over shimmering lakes; a blue dragon on the face of the moon; birds devouring her fears.


Each of the 66 poems in this volume is dual in nature: first we encounter a poem in prose, followed by a very brief poem of no more than six short lines. In the prose poem, certain words and phrases are highlighted in bold; these become the text of the short poem that follows. The short poem – sometimes only one word – speaks to the subtext of the prose; it may crystallize, complement, or confront it. For example, in the poem, “Se extiende en las manos / It Extends in My Hands,” the poet turns her eyes toward the sunrise. Her dream – “a tranquil dream I embrace in the early morning sun / sueño que abrazo en la claridad” – is fading, and the birds are now silent. Magically, the golden light of dawn flows from her hands. And yet, these four short lines follow:


It fills

and reflects

the night

around me


This is mysterious: despite the bright light of the dawning day, we find the writer in darkness; night is embedded in the preceding text.


The book is divided into three sections, arising from three geographical spaces that the author has inhabited: Fertile Land / Tierra fértil (Mexico); The Great Plains / Las planicies (Kansas); and Random Punctuation / Puntuación aleatoria (Vermont). Running through all the poems is the author’s rootedness in nature: when Caraza opens a window on her creative process, she plants her words in the soil of the earth; when lonely or broken-hearted, she imagines the moon extending a hand, or envisions the passion of water as it strikes the rocks.


In the first section, we experience with her the sound of the rain, birds singing at dawn, the plantain leaves that frame her view. From the opening words of her first poem, “The symphony of this forest engulfs me / La sinfonía de este bosque me envuelve”, Caraza plunges the reader into the darkness from which she writes, where the underlying silences are so profound that we can hear our own breathing, where birds, frogs, crickets, and fish croak or chirp, sing or swirl in a wild accompaniment to her songs. Together the sounds make a chorus; even the raindrops are musical instruments. In “Sound / Sonido”, she writes: “… every waterdrop is distinguishable, it tells us the thickness, the roughness, the texture of the leaves … / … cada gota se distingue, nos dice el grosor, la rugosidad, la textura de las hojas …”. Water from a well shape-shifts into blue ink, and then becomes a memory of hydrangeas on a mountain path. Water is everywhere throughout the collection; the sulfurous water in “The Natural Spring / Ojo de agua” is the life force, her lover: “… boiling water, I melt in your arms. /… Agua hirviente, me derrito en tus brazos”.


The Great Plains / Las planicies, the second section of the book, evokes the voices of the ancestors and the world of dreams. Here, in a region that often lacks for water, water abounds – rain, snow, and fog; rivers and seas; tears. Mythic figures are born out of the earth: in “Another Place / Otro lugar”, a chorus of women arises from “the pulsations of mud / las pulsaciones de barro”.  Of a goddess-like figure whose heart of jade so frightens her lovers that only fire dares to kiss her, Caraza writes, “She called herself water, and the wind howled between the syllables of her name / Se llamaba agua y entre las sílabas de su nombre ululaba el viento”. The author frequently reflects on the writing process and the interplay between writing and reading. In “Tornado of Memories / Tornado de recuerdos”, the poet opens a book of poems that awaken her deepest memories. As she reads, what strikes her most are the letters on its pages; she sees the white of the paper as merely a cloak tangled among them. In “The Quill / La pluma”, the ink is a plant whose roots sink into the paper. The poet’s pen and paper are instruments she will use to write a new landscape.


Immediately, as section III opens, there is a change in the light, paralleling the transition from winter to spring. Caraza begins with a street scene; blue flowers are scattered everywhere “until the streets are filled with miniscule corollas that drown our sorrow / hasta llenar las calles de minúsculas corolas que ahoguen la tristeza”. Even as she faces the inevitability of death (“From the Passage of Time / Por el tiempo”), in the poem that follows she responds with its counterpoint: “The river calms the demons. Its current makes illusions flow. / El río calma los demonios. Su corriente hace fluir la ilusión.” Again and again, her poems call to each other across the pages. In one poem the maple trees “weep as their translucent blood is drained for humanity / sollozan al perder su translúcida sangre para la humanidad”, and in the next the poet herself drinks of the “water from the tree of the north / agua del árbol del norte”, an experience so erotic that she urges it to “Flow within me, impregnate me  / Fluye en mí, préñame”. With the poem “Windows of Joy / Ventanas de felicidad” the writer has now fully come into the light. The poems are full of sounds and colors, from the rumble of thunder to the indigo night sky. Still, love remains elusive; it calls her name, yet with the sound of a train departing it seems to vanish once again. In the final poem, “From Winter to Spring / De invierno a primavera”, Caraza pens a final reminder of the power of words, commanding her poetry to “… rend the pages. Sprout from the subsoil of this book that is born of the darkness / … rasga las páginas. Brota del subsuelo de este libro que de la oscuridad nace”.


While the book’s structure, with the prose poem followed by a short poem, evokes the haibun, and the use of repeated words engages the reader much like a sestina, Caraza’s forms are completely original. One way to proceed through the book is to move in linear fashion, reading each pair of poems together. And it’s possible, of course, to read only the prose. Nevertheless, the author designed the two elements of the poems to be independent of each other, so a reading of the short poems, composed of only the words in bold, offers an entirely new text.



If there were any one word to sum up this collection, it would be "mystery".  Caraza writes from within the vortex. Her words literally crackle with electricity. In whatever order the poems are read, whether it is her heart that is breaking or her breath melting the ice, they tell a compelling story. For the poet, syllables, letters, and words are embedded in the lived experience, not just of human beings but of trees, flowers, rivers, the sky. The language of nature and the human body – the writer’s body, in particular – are intertwined. While Caraza has invited the reader to accompany her on her journey through the darkness, she has not forgotten about the power of the light.



Elizabeth Lara

Silver Spring, Maryland


Friday, April 09, 2021

Interview - Maria Hinojosa

This week:  a special short interview with the award-winning journalist, Maria Hinojosa, as conducted by guest contributor Florence Hernández Ramos.

First, Hinojosa's bio taken from her publisher's website page.

Maria Hinojosa’s nearly thirty-year career as a journalist includes reporting for PBS, CBS, WGBH, WNBC, CNN, NPR, and anchoring and executive producing the Peabody Award–winning show Latino USA, distributed by NPR. She is a frequent guest on MSNBC, and has won several awards, including four Emmys, the Studs Terkel Community Media Award, two Robert F. Kennedy Awards, and the Edward R. Murrow Award from the Overseas Press Club. In 2010, she founded Futuro Media, an independent nonprofit organization with the mission of producing multimedia content from a POC perspective. Through the breadth of her work and as the founding coanchor of the political podcast In the Thick, Hinojosa has informed millions about the changing cultural and political landscape in America and abroad. She lives with her family in Harlem in New York City.


FHR:  You have reported from all over the world. You have witnessed unfortunate, horrific situations. You wrote frankly about the PTSD this has given you. Has this left you feeling hopeless or hopeful?

MH:  Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with sadness and the amount of inhumanity that I’ve had to experience. Sometimes, it can truly feel overwhelming, but I have to find the energy to keep on going and so I try to focus on telling people’s stories the best way that I can. My post traumatic shock disorder, PTSD, does show up very specifically regarding September 11, but more recently regarding covid-19.

FHR:  One of the most capital-intensive ventures in radio is news-gathering or journalism. In spite of that, you founded Futuro Media, a non-profit new-gathering organization. Why did you do it, how do you keep it going and what difference has it made?

MH:  When I created Futuro Media, of course I was overwhelmed by the notion of having to raise money to do basic journalism. But what I realized is that we have a responsibility because of the growing diversity of the audience in the United States, and I am committed to telling the journalism that represents these stories and these perspectives. I think that’s why I went for it. I have always tried to think of the audience and their needs first, and that has guided me in terms of facing the challenges of raising the money to do this. Now that we’ve had so much success it’s a little bit easier, but always a challenge to raise the money for journalism

FHR:  Latino USA originally housed at KUTX public radio is one of the crown jewels of Futuro Media. Why was it important to you to bring Latino USA under the control of Futuro Media. Is Latino heard only on public radio stations – how can we find it?

MHLatino USA used to be a side project for me, but now it has become the center of my reporting. The same thing that guides everything that I do is tied to Latino USA and it is in fact the crown jewel of Futuro Media. We knew that that would be the basis for the creation of the company. Latino USA represents so much integrity and authenticity in terms of our voice and our journalism and we needed to make sure we were the ones who were going to be in charge of it entirely.

FHR:  Why was it important to author Once I Was You and what are your future plans for it?

MH:  I wasn’t planning on writing a book to be published in the year 2020, but a lot of things came together and kind of forced me, in many ways I felt pressured by the moment in history, to assume this responsibility. I committed myself to being really honest about my experience as well as telling the history of immigration in this country. The response has been really beautiful, mostly because it’s been very grassroots and very heartfelt and this has really brought me a tremendous amount of love and a feeling of having community. Not just of women, immigrants, Latinas, but of people from every background who are finding a way to identify with this book, and that is incredibly gratifying. We do have plans to be working on a YA version of this book, and the paperback will be out in the fall. I’m hoping to get on a plane and hoping to meet people who have read the book if I can!


Manuel Ramos writes crime fiction. His latest novel, Angels in the Wind, will be published by Arte Público Press April 30.

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Chicanonautica: Unplugged Con Gómez-Peña

by Ernest Hogan

El Maestro Guillermo Gómez-Peña needs no introduction in the Latinoid Continuum, but I have to do some explaining when discussing him with my colleagues in “science fiction” that includes fantasy, and often intersects with other realities. Funny how people who consider themselves connoisseurs of other worlds have problems with things outside this planet's Anglo/Caucasian ghetto. I’ve spent a lot of my career explaining myself to them, even though I’ve been involved in the genre since I was a snot-nosed punk.

My standard line is that he does on performance what I do in science fiction.

Then I usually have to explain what performance art is . . .

A better tactic would be to show some of his work. Flipping through Gomez-Pena Unplugged: Texts on Live Art, Social Practice and Imaginary Activism (2008-2020) by Guillermo Gómez-Peña, edited by Emma Tramposch & Balitrónica Gomez, guest editors: Elaine A. Peña & William Stark, would provide a clue of why I think GP's work is something that those who enjoy the outer reaches of global cultural phenomenon known as science fiction should be following. Too bad a copy won't just materialize when I need it.

The first noticeable thing is visuals. The art is packed with the complex language of symbolism that is the dominant trait of la Cultura. They say instantly in images what a writer has to say with a lot of words--or at least use them with like as master. Here it is. Who we are. What we are. How we live. They would make great covers and illustrations for my work.

Some people from outside of the Latinoid Continuum raise eyebrows at this point. What? Why is it all so weird and threatening? Where are the nice Latinos that will fit into our neoliberal infrastructure and get wealthy patrons to want to invest in us?

Like I’ve said before: Chicano (and its mutating variants) is a science fiction state of being. I use the term “science fiction” loosely, the way “ordinary” folks do, as a name for things they don’t understand. It could easily be surrealism, magic realism, or some new term being cooked up in a university Zoom meeting as you read this.

Speaking of reading, it just gets better as you read Gómez-Peña. These performance texts, poems, and “philosophical tantrums” (sometimes they’re all of the above all at once) are as much a joy to read as they are to experience as part of a performance. Watch out, they inflame the imagination and are powerful Chicano sci-fi, and I say this as the recognized Father of Chicano Science Fiction.

I caught a lot of these through the miracle of the interwebs, but when reading them assembled in a book (my compliments to the editors) they take on a larger dimension, form an epic panoramic vision of what's happening on this planet, this civilization, these strange rumblings in the Global Barrio . . . 

I find myself drifting into a fantasy where I go back in time and show this book to myself back in 1971. His adolescent mind is blown. He’s reminded of the “new wave” speculative fiction he was reading at the time, but has questions:

“It’s like the great new wave novel, but you say it’s also real? You mean the future will be that . . . bizarre?”

“What the last several decades have taught me is that the fatal flaw of science fiction is that it all tends to be too conservative.”

He’s obviously shocked, I show him the references to “Ernest Hogan” in the book.

“He really thinks that the world is becoming more like your . . . my work?”

“Well, yes.”

My younger self’s eyes twitch. Beads of sweat appear on his forehead. Foam leaks out of his mouth . . .

But seriously, if you want a handle on the way the world is going, Gómez-Peña Unplugged will give you a good start.

Ernest Hogan is adjusting to changes that haven’t happened yet, and working on that novel. 

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

2021 Tomás Rivera Book Award Winners

Texas State University College of Education created The Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award in 1995 to honor authors and illustrators who create literature that depicts the Mexican American experience. It is named in honor of Texas State University distinguished alumnus Dr. Tomás Rivera. https://www.education.txstate.edu/ci/riverabookaward/about.html


Dreaming with Mariposas


Sonia Gutiérrez's Dreaming with Mariposas, written in a Tomás Rivera and Sandra Cisneros bildungsroman vignette style, recounts the story of the Martínez family as told through the eyes of transfronteriza/transboundary Sofía Martínez, "Chofi," Francisco and Helena's daughter, as well as multiple narrators, emulating oral tradition. The novel embraces food as a communal practice with the ability to heal a family through storytelling. Dreaming with Mariposas presents glimpses of poetic diction in times of anti-rhetoric, inspiring readers to reclaim their sacred spaces and voices and to pursue dreams even when the future looks dismal. Chofi witnesses institutional racism, sexual harassment, and colorism and learns to navigate her parents' dreams and her dreams as she discovers her superpower, the strength of her Mexican Indigenous heritage, and the spirit world.



Feathered Serpent and the Five Suns: A Mesoamerican Creation Myth


Long ago, the gods of Mesoamerica set out to create humans. They tried many times during each sun, or age. When all their attempts failed and the gods grew tired, only one did not give up: Quetzalcóatl—the Feathered Serpent. To continue, he first had to retrieve the sacred bones of creation guarded by Mictlantecuhtli, lord of the underworld. Gathering his staff, shield, cloak, and shell ornament for good luck, Feathered Serpent embarked on the dangerous quest to create humankind.
Award-winning author and illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh brings to life the story of Feathered Serpent, one of the most important deities in ancient Mesoamerica. With his instantly recognizable, acclaimed art style and grand storytelling, Tonatiuh recounts a thrilling creation tale of epic proportions.



The Spirit of Chicano Park/ El espíritu del parque Chicano


Join Bettie and Bonky as they discover a magical park located in the most peculiar place, under a bridge! They learn to love their new home in Barrio Logan, a neighborhood with a rich history in San Diego, California. Through the eyes of a mystical señora they travel through a historical journey of a community's struggle to build a park.


The Spirit of Chicano Park/El espiritu del parque Chicano is a bilingual, children’s picture book that depicts the history of the creation of a historic park located in the community of Logan Heights in San Diego, California. The park was founded in 1970 as a result of a community Take Over of the land. The park was born out of a community’s struggle to create a place for family gatherings amidst the destruction of their community through the enforcement of eminent domain and the building of Interstate 5 freeway and the Coronado Bridge. The park is located underneath the Coronado Bridge. Massive cement pillars support the bridge and fill the park’s landscape.  Community artists painted murals on the pillars that depict the history of the park and the history of the Chicano community. Housed in the center of the park is a one-of-a-kind stage called a Kiosco. The park is a living legacy of the people of Logan Heights, now also known as Barrio Logan. It is a vibrant park with community activities, dance ceremonials, and political gatherings occurring on a regular basis. Chicano Park is known nationally and internationally because of its art, but also because it became a symbol of hope and self-determination for the Chicano/Mexican-American community throughout the United States. The park was designated as a Historical Landmark in 2016.