Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Vincent Ventura and the Diabolical Duendes / Vincent Ventura y los duendes diabólicos

By Xavier Garza

ISBN-13: 978-1-55885-909-8

Publication Date: October 31, 2020

Format: Trade paperback

Pages: 130

Imprint: Piñata Books

Ages: 8-12

Monster fighter Vincent Ventura returns to battle another creepy creature in this third installment in Xavier Garza’s bilingual series!

Another family has moved into the house at 666 Duende Street across from Vincent Ventura’s, and once again there’s something mysterious going on. There’s a boy who constantly argues with himself. “You can’t tell me what to do,” Vincent hears him say, but there’s no one around. Who could he be talking to? When Vincent sees a green creature with glowing red eyes and needle-sharp teeth terrorize the boy into vandalizing a neighbor’s car, he knows there is another monster mystery to solve!

His cousin, Michelle, is one of the smartest kids around, and she quickly finds information in a library book on Latin American monsters. She’s sure the creature Vincent saw is a duende, which is similar to an evil troll or gnome. Is Sayer Cantú really a target of these wicked beasts?! Everyone at school knows he’s a troublemaker to avoid. Could duendes be forcing him to misbehave?

Once again Vincent Ventura recruits his cousins and gathers his monster-fighting tools—crosses, holy water, packs of salt, silver metal beads and slingshots—for the upcoming showdown. This bilingual book for intermediate readers, the third installment in Xavier Garza’s exciting Monster Fighter Mystery series, also contains the author’s black and white sketches of the creepy creatures. This spine-tingling short novel introducing Latino creepy creatures to kids ages 8-12 is sure to thrill a new generation of readers!

“Monster fighter extraordinaire Vincent Ventura battles his latest foe: the dreadful duende! Book 3 in Garza’s Monster Fighter Mystery series adds a little psychological horror to Vincent’s newest adventure, and this installment [is] a cohesive story centered on friendship and, more importantly, kicking monster butt. A case of lighthearted fun during the witching hour.”—Kirkus Reviews

Vincent Ventura's Series

Vincent Ventura and the Mystery of the Witch Owl 

Vincent Ventura y el misterio de la bruja lechuza

Once again, a monster has taken up residence in Vincent Ventura's neighborhood, and this time it's a witch owl! Vincent Ventura, monster fighter extraordinaire, is back in this second volume of the Monster Fighter Mystery series.

Contains the author/illustrator’s black and white sketches of witch owls.

Vincent Ventura and the Mystery of the Chupacabras 

Vincent Ventura y el misterio del chupacabras

Vincent Ventura, monster fighter extraordinaire, investigates the disappearance of neighborhood dogs, and the grisly trail leads to a mythical creature known as the chupacabras! Award-winning author returns with thrilling new bilingual series for intermediate readers!

XAVIER GARZA is the author of numerous books for kids, including Vincent Ventura and the Mystery of the Chupacabras / Vincent Ventura y el misterio del chupacabras (Piñata Books, 2018), The Donkey Lady Fights La Llorona and Other Stories / La señora Asno se enfrenta a la Llorona y otros cuentos (Piñata Books, 2015) and Maximilian and the Lucha Libre Club (Cinco Puntos Press, 2016). He lives with his family in San Antonio, Texas.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Más Antes: Cesar Chavez Opens An Urban Front. Ayer: Vietnam War Veterans Day

Michael Sedano

In addition of March being Women's History Month, March wraps with a pair of commemorations that aren't the kind of holiday that closes down banks and post offices, they're "days".

March 29 marks Vietnam War Veterans Day. It's to acknowledge guys who went to Vietnam, but also guys like me who were in uniform during the war but who did not get those fateful orders to show up at Ft. Lewis for overseas movement to Vietnam.      

March 31 is Cesar Chavez Day. The Post Office is open because it's not a federal holiday. Your state offices might be closed to mark the day as a State holiday. President Obama (link) called it a Day, and left it up to you to do something about it.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim March 31, 2014, as Cesar Chavez Day. I call upon all Americans to observe this day with appropriate service, community, and education programs to honor Cesar Chavez's enduring legacy.
Back in 1974, when it was still possible to look at the world from the back of a pickup truck, these UFW members rode the streets of Aztlán, headed for Soto Street's Safeway in Boyle Heights, then 5 Points in Lincoln Heights. A hot afternoon of educating shoppers, waving flags, shouting awareness.
Cesar Chavez leads the protest. He's brought a well-organized group of determined gente. They crowd close to the leader to hear him speak and to form a protective phalanx when a reporter pushes a microphone at the labor leader.

For me, the boycott protest offers an opportunity to capture close-up portraits of Cesar Chavez with my own camera. This is a special opportunity so I use Plus-X film and have the reward of richly toned black & white portraits. Regularly, I load Tri-X film. As usual, I employ my 35mm Army camera, a Topcon with a 58mm f/1.4 lens.

Photographers around the world exposed thousands of frames of the labor leader, published them, hung them in the Smithsonian, maybe even won a Pulitzer Prize for their fotos. The world has no shortage of fotos of Cesar Chavez. But they haven't seen these.

No one else in the world has these images, no other image of those thousands of images can replace these in particular. Every foto is a unique moment in life and time, and these are my fotos.

Boycotts make a difference.Boycotts Make A Difference.

Vietnam War Veterans Day 2021

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim March 29, 2012, as Vietnam Veterans Day.  I call upon all Americans to observe this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities that commemorate the 50 year anniversary of the Vietnam War.

Millions of Vietnamese died in a war fought from 1955 through victory in 1975. By the time the US finally pulled out on April 30, 1975, 58,256 United States military had been killed in that country’s war. In 1969 and 1970, I was a soldier, and in June 1969 I was told to “report for orders to Vietnam tomorrow.”

That night my wife pleaded with me to go to Canada. She feared I’d be number 58,257. I told her I wouldn’t know, and she could go on with her life. I was going to report. Like the Draft, it was my turn.

But it didn’t happen that way. This is the story of how a tiny little fit of pique probably saved my life.

"Sedano," the company clerk spots me leaving the chow hall. His Boston accent calls out from the office window. “Report tomorrow for orders to Vietnam." 

The building at Ft. Ord where the Army processes its doomed, forms a long, dark tunnel. Strip down to skivvies, take your clothes and yellow shot record booklet to the first station.

Lean to the left. Soft hiss. Stamp the shot record. Lean to the right, another air gun pumps crap into that arm. Stamp. Move along, hold still don’t move.

Guys who flinch away from the stainless steel nozzle walk the rest of the line with coagulating blood oozing where the air gun blasted apart the skin.

Men recoil at seeing needle stations, jostling into one another as if that can bypass the stab. The air smells of the tension of today’s soldiers and the thousands who’ve come and gone before us today. 

"Move along" the medics say, stamping the record with that station's disease and handing it back. Thud. Yellow fever. "Move along." Stamp. Bubonic plague. Thunk. "Move along." Halitosis. Athlete’s Foot. Immortality. Thunk thunk thunk.

Ahead of me, moving toward the rectangle of light marking the end of our stay at Ft. Ord, silhouettes of soldiers emerge into pools of light before darkness swallows their presence. I turn to look behind me to see calaveras smiling at me out of pools of darkness. We already, all of us, are dead. I take a deep breath, hold it. Lean to the left. Thunk. "Move along."

Outside a voice screams repeatedly.

"Move away from the window before you open your orders. Move away from the fuckin' window before you open those orders, troop!"

I step into the light and noise to find another line: The Orders window. Step to the white line. Sound off. Receive your manila envelope. 

Off to one side, men stand stunned, mimeographed pages in triplicate flapping in the gentle Monterrey Bay summer breeze.

"I’m going to Vietnam" 

"I’m going to Vietnam" 


They look at no one in particular, empty voices echoing each other’s destination. They knew it. It’s why we’re here.

"Private Sedano reports for orders" I say. 

The clerk turns to a pile. Not here. Turns to another pile. Not here. He looks into the room and calls my name. 

“Yo!” I recognize the clerk who holds up an envelope. He makes eye contact with me.

"Step away from the window before you open that envelope" the Sergeant barks. I about face and step away from the window to join the stunned ranks. My finger has a mind of its own. The finger flips open the envelope. The eyes scan the military verbiage. 

Assigned to Ft. Lewis “fur asg as indic” report to…what does it mean?

Mid-January 1969. I start basic training. A-3-1, the best damn company on the hill, Sir!

I’m an old man among teenaged boys. I can vote and I can buy a drink. I’ve been drafted out of graduate school, a newlywed in September, a Thanksgiving letter from Richard Nixon.

Old, young, we look the same in green and mud. We’re not the same, though. One kid is a puny guy who quickly becomes the target of a trio of bullies. They call him “Mama’s Boy” and taunt his weakness mercilessly.

“Double time, harch!”

Every time Drill Sergeant takes us out, we hit this long, steep hill that we run, a green segmented beast stretching along the ridge line all the way to the top. And every time, our concealed Company Commander’s cackling laughter greets us near the top, where he pops riot control CS gas at the approaching platoon.

The laughing asshole enjoys knowing how CS gas burns sweaty skin, knowing that the platoon has double-timed up that long hill. Our sweaty  armpits, sweaty necks, sweaty nalgas, sweaty balls react to the chemical warfare agent and we burn furiously. 

We do not stop, we do not mask, we run through the billowing cloud of choking grey smoke screaming “Gas! Gas!” gasping with exertion and poison. We reach the crest and fall out.

This particular day the cackling asshole has particularly irritated me, so I am doubly pissed off when we fall out at the top in a grove of young live oaks and grass flattened by daily smoke breaks. I drop my pack and follow it to the ground.

The three bullies ritually approach Mama's Boy with the same kind of glee I hear in the Captain’s cackle when he gasses us. 

I snap. 

I stand up and in three strides I’m standing between Mama’s Boy and the eager bullies. 

"From now on, if you want to fuck with him," I say and look at the leader then the other two, "you'll have to go through me, first." 

The biggest bully makes fists and glares. I know he can kick my ass all by himself. He mumbles angrily, but steps back. The two henchholes deflate in confusion.

The three bullies remain cowed throughout what’s left of basic combat training. The kid does his thing and I do mine. Thanks to my moment’s blind rage, Mama's Boy has only the Army to torment him for the remainder of Basic Combat Training. 

Mama’s Boy hands that envelope to the soldier at the window.

I shall forever wonder if that day I reported for orders, it came after some officer tells AOR clerks, "We need one guy in Korea." 

Mama's Boy works in the AOR office. Like an automaton, he goes through the stack of tomorrow’s overseas replacements. They all get the same form, the one that sends them to Vietnam. The kid reads my name. He reaches for a different form, the one with APO SF 96220. He rolls the form into the platen and types my name.

“Step away from the window before you open those fuckin orders,” the bored Sergeant is screaming. Stunned men stand to the side. They look over at me as I decipher the orders.

“I’m going to Korea.”

Of course, I never see the kid again. I hope his name is not on that wall. If it is, that’s something I do not want ever to know.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Poesía desde Kansas City hacia el mundo por Xánath Caraza

Poesía desde Kansas City hacia el mundo

por Xánath Caraza


El jueves 25 de marzo de 2021 a las 7 p.m. CST comenzó en Zoom la celebración para el Mes de la Historia de la Mujer organizado por la Asociación Estudiantil de Diálogo Intercultural de UMKC.  Participamos en este evento Golda Soloman de New York City, Phyllis Becker de Kansas City, Kalpna Singh-Chitnis de Los Ángeles y la que escribe.


En esta nueva realidad cibernética tuvimos casa llena y una noche donde la poesía fue compartida desde el corazón hasta cada una de las pantallas que nos acompañaron.  Comparto que tuvimos la compañía una audiencia de países variados. Por ejemplo, un gran número de personas de Brasil nos acompañó, así como de Argentina, Chile, México, la India, Canadá y, por supuesto, de varios partes de Estados Unidos. Después de la lectura, hubo la oportunidad para una sesión de preguntas y respuestas donde compartimos sobre nuestros procesos creativos, hábitos para escribir y experiencias de vida.


A continuación algunas fotos de esta noche inolvidable, ojalá las disfruten. Las fotos fueron tomadas por Kalpna Singh-Chitnis y Steve Holland.


Thursday, March 25, 2021

Chicanonautica: The Living Death of Stereotypes


by Ernest Hogan



Stereotypes keep making the news, and I've been meaning to write about them for a long time. Now that a new world is forming and Dr. Seuss, Speedy Gonzalez, and Pepé Le Pew are competing with a horrendous mass shootings, it's a good time to get down to it. Of course, with all due respect to Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, and Ratsus.

A lot of people get the idea that stereotypes are always a bad thing and they should all be banned. This actually is a bad idea. Pardon me while I duck.

Okay, let’s start with the dictionary definition that comes up when you Google the word: a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.

It doesn’t say anything about it being insulting or derogatory. This is because stereotypes are not necessarily negative. There are positive stereotypes. People rarely complain about them.

And everybody uses stereotypes. Even you. Even me. It’s actually hard not to use them. They are a shortcut, a way of categorizing something that you aren’t familiar with. Part of the learning process. You make a simple rough sketch before you can do a detailed rendering or understanding.

It’s also what lazy people use instead of learning. If you learn a few randoms facts about anything then go acting like an expert, you are being obnoxious and stupid.

Stereotypes can get grotesque and ugly, and are often used to put, and keep, people down. I am against that, especially when the stereotypes are used by those with power against those who don’t have it.

I understand that people can get sensitive and not want to see certain things or hear or see certain words.

But I'm a peculiar creature with a thick skin. I’ve been called just about everything. At my current age and weird experience, it would be difficult for anyone to insult me.

Really. I’m a Chicano writer/artist/satirist. I’ve got that rasquache thing going, and that means that my sense of humor can be weird and vicious. Call me a bad name and I’ll pick it up, twist it up, and throw it back at you.

I’m also a free speech fanatic. My career has been a long fight for the right to be outrageous and, yes, insulting.

I often try to insult certain people in my work, and it’s a joy when they let me know that I’ve been successful.

Yeah, now and then people I didn’t mean to hurt get caught in the crossfire. I never claimed to be writing for everybody. I’m always warning people about me. I am my own warning label.

I also don’t expect the entire fucking universe to be according to my liking. I learned that long ago.

As a cartoonist--cartooning is a language of stereotypes, like hieroglyphics--I have studied the history of the art form and know that stereotypes come and go. Like individuals, societies use stereotypes, then outgrow and then discard them. Cartoons from even just a few decades past have images and jokes that are considered just plain wrong today. As long as I can remember, there have been controversies. 

I remember that some Chicano students petitioned Dr. Demento against playing Lalo Guerrero’s The Ballad of Pancho Lopez. When I told my dad, he said, "They have to go home and ask their parents about Lalo Guerrero." Treasure of the Sierra Madre was banned from television in L.A. because of Alfonso Bedoya's role as Gold Hat, the "we don't need no stinking badges" guy. And the Frito Bandito got offed by MEChA . . .

Some Latinxs have come to the defense of Speedy Gonzalez--who is the closest we have to Hollywood creating a Mexican superhero, and he won an Academy award--and does anyone mourn the Frito Bandito? I won’t mention Go-Go Gomez, who was a human version of Speedy on the Sixties Dick Tracy cartoons.

I still don’t think the old, stereotypical stuff should be banned. It shouldn’t be randomly presented as children’s entertainment either. It needs to be studied, remembered, dissected in broad daylight in front a live audience. Also, things activists in the U.S.A. find offensive are seen as part of the landscape, and even are beloved, down in Mexico. Different generations often disagree. Is the decor of Mexican restaurants demeaning?

We all need to talk.

¡Hijole! I got rambling here . . .

I’ll end with a bit of advice. The best way to fight back against abusers of stereotypes is not be what they think you are and put it in their face. It’s something I can’t help, being so damned nonstereotypical, with the Irish surname, what my grandmother called my “paddy” accent, being interested in all kinds of things that “Mexicans'' aren't supposed to know about, and constantly going where no Chicano has gone before.

Chicanonautica is the best defense.

Ernest Hogan wears a spaghetti western bandido moustache because people keep mistaking him for black or Arab.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021




By Ricia Anne Chansky and Yarelis Marcial Acevedo


Illustrations by Olga Barinova


Spanish translation by Yarelis Marcial Acevedo, 

Francheska Morales García and Sharon Marie Nieves-Ferrer



ISBN: 978-1-55885-918-0

Publication Date: May 31, 2021

Bind: Hardcover

Pages:  32

Imprint: Piñata Books

Ages:  4-8



This appealing bilingual picture book about a dog afraid of storms will resonate with children who face natural disasters.



Maxy is a happy puppy who lives with Clarita and her family in a house filled with laughter and music on the island of Puerto Rico. On sunny days, Clarita and Maxy go to the park or on adventures under the flamboyant tree. On rainy days, they stay inside and play games or read books.


But one day, Maxy sees everyone rushing around, putting things in boxes. Someone say, “María is coming!” That night, Hurricane María roared ashore; there was thunder, lightning and lots of rain. Maxy was terrified! Finally, the power went out and the house and everything around it was completely dark. The next day when they went outside, they saw destroyed homes, flooded roads and knocked-down trees—including their beloved flamboyant! There was no electricity for a long time, and everyone had to stand in long lines for food, gas and even water to drink.


Eventually, power is restored and Maxy thinks everything is going to be okay. Until one day, the clouds start to gather and he hears thunder and whistling winds. Trembling and whining, he races under the bed! Eventually, and with the help of loved ones, Maxy—like many children who go through natural disasters—learns to overcome his fear and appreciate the benefits of rain.



RICIA ANNE CHANSKY is a professor of literature in the Department of English at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez. This is her first children’s book.


YARELIS MARCIAL ACEVEDO, a graduate student at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, plans to write her dissertation on children’s literature. This is her first children’s book.


OLGA BARINOVA is a children’s book illustrator based in Calgary, Canada.




Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Cuesta's Quest for Missing Farmworker

Review: John Lantigua. REMEMBER MY FACE: A WILLIE CUESTA MYSTERY. Houston: Arte Publico Press, 2020. ISBN 978-1-55885-907-4 

Michael Sedano


Let’s not call Remember My Face “problematic,” let’s call this detective yarn a cop-out. And no, not because Willie Cuesta, the Cuban-American private investigator formerly served Miami’s finest, and relies on a super-cop mentor for strategic grounding, and because we meet good cops. Let’s call Remember My Face a cop-out because it lets some really serious issues punch you in the gut then pulls a switcheroo and makes itself into a story of individual evil.


The story--a Spanish-speaking private eye tracking down a missing Mexican farmworker—takes us down an immigration exploitation rabbit hole of deep South corruption mixing wingnut political machinations and heroin.


The story skillfully introduces its characters effectively and spins the plot with interest. Readers will find the storyteller’s voice offers a reliable narrative and insightful reading of good guys and bad guys. It's a fun read, not a hard read. When you learn a fact, it’s a fact. When a bad guy dissimulates, you know it. 


Note, however, the author does like to toss in misdirection, and that’s some of the fun. For example, the incredibly hot daughter of a villain, comes looking for Miami action, and while she’s breathing hotly into Cuesta’s ear, he’s raising a reader’s suspicion the villain sent his daughter to Mata Hari the dick. (Give a woman credit for knowing what she wants).


There’s a lot of grey coloring perceptions of Cane County. Quite a number of folks open-carry in a mixture of defiance and entitlement--women wear rhinestone automatics in designer holsters, for example, and pick up truck rear windows wear gun racks. Those Mexicans get here illegally, but the harvest isn’t going to get done without all these Mexicans coming in and turning things around, so the big labor contractor is a pillar of the community.

The name Cane County may be alluding to Jean Toomer's seminal novel Cane. Lantigua seeds the writing with numerous allusions such as to song lyrics. Except for some of the local color descriptions, the allusion just sits there, but it's good to remember Toomer.


Some stuff is invisible, in Cane County and everywhere else. For instance, it’s really easy to disappear a worker. This deeply serious fact is part of the cop-out of the novel. Cuesta discovers this enormous problem right under our noses, and it’s a plot device, not a causa.


People, recruited from deep down in Mexico and Central America, land in Florida at the end of a coyote trail. These anonymous souls work with false names and follow the seasonal pisca, month to month like the wayward wind. If some man goes off without a word, that’s it. Maybe he went to California to get work? Maybe he found good pay, but not in the fields? Maybe he found a mate and settled down somewhere? All they know back home is the money stopped arriving and there’s no food.


Maybe a right wing zealot kills these men for fun and racism? Wouldn’t it be a kick in the head if, amid the decades-long struggle of the Immokalee farm workers, a novel tackled the facts of that head-on?


Then again, maybe Florida’s politics of hate has nothing to do with the fun of reading Willie Cuesta’s mystery, despite using a landscape screaming with actual real-world injustice?


Remember My Face, despite the evocative title hearkening the burdens of sending money back home, isn’t really about those issues. They’re the background and don’t have to be more.


In a large sense, that’s O.K. Like Dick Cheney during Vietnam, the novel has other priorities. For one, there’s a strong purification motive operating within Remember My Face, a Cubano-Mexicano rapprochement.


There’s little love lost between some Cubans and some Chicanos. Fidel Castro popularized the term “gusano” describing Cuban capitalists who fled the island rather than serve the revolution. Chicanos, quick to pick up a colorful slur, found a sizeable conservative Cubano population whose politics earned “gusano,” making the term part of the lingua franca of political speech. That’s the kind of language that lands a person in Facebook jail.


Author John Lantigua and Arte Publico work to dissolve ethnic boundaries entre raza. The Cuban-American dick, hired by a flag-waving loud Cubana, finds lethal danger in search of a missing Mexican. Noble and brave, the Cubano saves the day for a couple of Mexicans in an unexpected happily-ever-after resolution of the original case that opened the rabbit hole we went down but didn’t touch the sides.


Having a Cuban exile sugar-plantation owner with a decent heart play an honest role in one of the novel’s multiple climaxes, is another offering of cultural amistad. That his trusted employee is deeply involved offers a token to the disbelief that such a character could exist.


Black folks get caught in the middle with the short end of the stick, and aren’t left out of the book as allies. Willie Cuesta discovers disappearances of black workers, too. And finds a cooperative black labor broker to fill in important plot points. The labor contractor is useful in the author’s instructional motive telling about serious, and real, consequences of migrant farm labor so essential to the economy people look the other way from the desmadres.


Among the more interesting tactics Lantigua employs in his informative mission is having the farm owner characters be the voices who explain how readily disappearable--and thus exploitable—is Mexican migrant labor. These people know what’s going on and they’re that cold-blooded about it. 


The reader wants to see the landowners get theirs in the end. Lantigua uses the reader’s prejudice to set up the seduction scene, and to goad suspicion the dowager plays an enthusiastic role in the bloodshed. The grower image numbers among the many expectations Remember My Face raises, then doesn’t necessarily deliver. 


In the end, it’s a regular murder mystery, remember that. There’s fun in what you expect to happen, what you know could happen, then you the reader get to watch action unfold for its own sake and what happens, happens. You read the novel you have, not the novel the author could have written. Remember My Face is a fun read for when you want just relaxation for a few hours. That's what mystery writing's all about.

Order Remember My Face from your local Independent Bookseller, or publisher-direct at this link.


Monday, March 22, 2021

Four Ways to Support Latinas/os during the Pandemic and Beyond


Dr. Álvaro Huerta organizes legalize street vending
event at Cal Poly Pomona (May 19, 2016)

By Dr. Álvaro Huerta

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only devastated the U.S. economy, healthcare system and educational way of learning, it has also exposed or exasperated the racial and class inequalities in the formal economy (and informal economy).  (The informal economy is also known as the unregulated economy, among other terms.) While it’s true that pandemic has impacted all citizens and residents, it’s especially true that Latinas/os and other racialized groups continue to contract and die from COVID-19 at higher rates compared to Whites. On December 10, 2020, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported on their official website that “…racial and ethnic minority groups are disproportionately represented among COVID-19 cases. The percent of cases for racial and ethnic minority groups are higher than the percent of these populations within the total U.S. population. Comparing the percent of cases and the percent of the total U.S. population by race and ethnicity provides an indication of disparities.” 

In the state of California, Latinas/os comprise about 40 percent of the population in 2019, representing a significant part of its low-wage and service workforce. This includes the formal and informal economy. According to the state’s official COVID-19 website, “COVID-19 disproportionately affects California’s low income, Latino, Black, and Pacific Islander communities, as well as essential workers such as those in health care, grocery, and cleaning services.”

In terms of the County of Los Angeles, where Latinas/os represent the largest racialized/ethnic group (48.6% in 2019), similar to the City of Los Angeles (48.5% in 2019), we’ve been hit hard with COVID-19 related infections, hospitalizations and deaths. According to an article by NBC News (Jan. 17, 2021), Latinas/os are dying at higher rates from COVID-19  compared to Whites: “Death rates among Latinos in L.A. are twice as high as in the rest of the population, according to Los Angeles County public health officials. And Latinos, who are about half of all county residents, are hospitalized three times more often than white people.”

 Given the disproportionate health and economic toll COVID-19 has had on Latinas/os, especially those who toil in the informal economy, which has yet to be accurately measured, our communities demand immediate relief. While not comprehensive, I propose the following recommendations (non-ranked), where much more needs to be done as we recover from this brutal pandemic (which the previous Trump Administration lied about and mismanaged!) and enter a new normal reality.


Government should provide direct financial aid to workers and petty-entrepreneurs in the Informal economy. While there have been two rounds of stimulus checks at the federal level to qualified individuals/families impacted by COVID-19, in addition to the recently passed/signed American Rescue Plan (or $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill)—without a single Republican vote in Congress—these checks, along with the business loans (i.e., Paycheck Protection Program or PPP), only go to those in the formal economy or regulated economy (e.g., filed taxes, established businesses). Unfortunately, many individuals who toil in the informal economy don’t file taxes, while they still contribute to the economy. In the case of the undocumented (or human beings on the move), by assigning them with an Employer Identification Number (EIN), etc., the government can (and should!) also help los de abajo / those on the bottom.


The idea of micro-loans in the informal economy is not unique to the United States. Internationally, many non-government organizations (NGOs) and for-profit groups have been successful for years in helping individuals/families in need, particularly in underdeveloped and developing countries. By providing individuals/families with small loans at 0% percent interest rates under affordable regular payment plans, non-profit organizations, for-profit groups and government agencies in the U.S. can make a major impact on the lives of Latinas/os who depend on the informal economy to survive (and sometimes thrive). In fact, Inclusive Action for the People—an economic development organization in Los Angeles—recently initiated a micro-loan program called the Semi’a Fund.


The promotores model (better known as promotoras) consists of a brilliant, grassroots idea/practice to enlist organic community leaders and trusted individuals to share vital information among community members. This includes navigating the health care system and promoting good health. In the U.S., we see Latinas in particular taking a leading role in these grassroots efforts. Recently, the County of Los Angeles, under the leadership of Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, has expanded the promotora model to deal with COVID-19. Given the lack of trust Latina/o communities have towards the government based on White America’s dark history of neglect, racism and marginalization, it’s imperative that we rely on and cultivate the existing organic leadership found in our communities to share important and reliable information and resources. More specifically, this is one way we can get more Latinas/os vaccinated!


Given that Latinas/os are a vulnerable racialized/ethnic group with disproportionate rates of COVID-19 infections and deaths compared to Whites, as noted above, there’s a desperate need for a massive educational campaign in Spanish and English catering to this historically marginalized group on importance being vaccinated, along with wearing masks, practicing social distancing and washing hands. This includes relying on trusted community leaders to share medical information in a way that our people can understand via photography, music and online videos. This should also be done through their trusted sources: churches, schools, non-profit organizations, hair salons, barbers, taco stands, restaurants, bars and sporting events. This also includes Spanish-language media outlets (e.g., television, radio, print) and social media (e.g., Facebook, WhatsApp), etc. Also, let’s enlist popular individuals and groups in Latina/o communities, like Mexico’s Los Tigres del Norte—Grammy Award-winning norteño group—can make a big difference in educating our people on doing the right things when it comes to COVID-19. Los Tigres, for instance, recently released a song on COVID-19 and conducted a PSA on the importance of la vacuna (that’s “vaccine” in Spanish).

In short, now that we have three available and reliable vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson and Johnson), we must prioritize the most vulnerable groups amongst us, such as Latinas/os, along with other racialized and marginalized groups.

[Dr. Álvaro Huerta holds a joint faculty appointment in Urban & Region Planning and Ethnic & Women’s Studies at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He is the author of the award-winning book, Defending Latina/o Immigrant Communities: The Xenophobic Era of Trump and Beyond (2019). As a scholar-activist, he holds a Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning from UC Berkeley, along with an M.A. in Urban Planning and a B.A. in History from UCLA.]

Friday, March 19, 2021

Two Events Next Week And YourChance to Shout Stellaaaaa

 Melinda Palacio 

Last year, Jose Torres Tama gathered rasa to read as part of Teatro Sin Fronteras, a show I’ve had the pleasure of performing in New Orleans. It’s a lollapalooza of music, song, dance, poetry, and performance art. Margie Perez is one of my favorite performers in New Orleans and I’m honored to share the stage with her and everyone in this group. A big shout out to Jose for making sure our voices get heard. 

This event is free on zoom on Thursday March 25 at 6 pm New Orleans time and 4 pm California time. The five-day literary festival begins today. With a writer’s retreat weekend. This year’s festival is completely virtual with over 70 speakers and performers I’ve seen the dress rehearsal and I can tell you that members of Teatro Sin Fronteras hit it out of the ballpark. You won’t want to miss Thursday’s event, the powerful words, the lively music that will put you in a happy mood, word and dance performances. The show is different every year and this is one of the best. I will be reading new work that I am very proud of, however unsettling the subject might be. For a full lineup of the Tennessee Williams Festival, click here. You can send in your Stella shout entries until March 21. 

Chicanas, Cholas, y Chisme: Frida Remix March 19-March 28. Location, online, sign up to receive 7 free ten-minute plays. Show support for the wonderful work at Casa 0101. Frida Remix by CCC. Don’t miss the the short plays festival talk back. I’ll be moderating the panel on Saturday March 27 at 7pm PST.Thanks to the time of COVID-19 and zoom, I have back to back events in both New Orleans and Los Angeles.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Of Play Dates and Golden Carps


     When I was a kid, if I had told my dad I wanted to go on a “play date,” he’d probably have answered, “Why don’t you go on a real date?” The problem was that in the 1950s-70s, the term hadn’t been invented. We had no conception of a “play date,” a term that might even give deconstructionists a run for their money.

     Each summer, in the westside suburbs of Los Angeles, as kids and into our adolescent years, my friends and I would just meet in front of George’s house on our bikes (after finishing our chores), decide what to do, and take off, sometimes dumpster diving, looking for model airplane parts behind the Wen-Mac Corp building, discarded pieces of pottery and china from Sasha Brastoff, or electronic gadgets from electronic firms like Gilfillan and Magnavox.

     The closest thing to a “play date” was meeting early, packing a bag lunch, and riding our bikes up Bundy Drive towards the Santa Monica Mountains, find a place to climb the hills, and just hang out for the day, or maybe jump on the bus to Sorrento Beach, next to the Santa Monica Pier, and ride the waves all afternoon. When our imaginations faltered, we’d default to the neighborhood park, play whatever sport was in season, and end up in the “pool,” (what my parents called the “plunge”), playing tag, tucking our bodies into cannonballs and jumping from the tower, dunking each other, or playing Marco Polo until we dropped from exhaustion and lay out under the sun.


     During school, it was trickier, no “play date,” but a little scheduling, like reporting home to let Mom know I hadn’t been kidnapped, do my homework (if I couldn’t talk her out of letting me wait until later), be ready at the dinner table, so when Dad came home we could eat; then, if there was still light, I’d hit the streets, where there’d be a at least ten other kids waiting to play, “Red-light, Green-light,” Hide ‘n Seek, Simon Says, or football in the street, ‘til dark. In our teen years, we’d meet-up, guys and girls, at the neighborhood park, which was our Vegas, you know, “What happens in the Park, stays in the Park.”

     It was the same with my own kids, the two oldest, born in ’70 and ’72, when they reached the age of mobility, they’d be outside playing with the other kids, a mixture of Chicanitos and Chicanitas, maybe a Japanese and an Anglo kid. Even my youngest daughter, who came along in 1980, had a lot of liberty to run around and play outside without having to schedule it onto a calendar, but, by then, I began to see the change, fewer kids, the parks near-empty, schools closing for lack of enrollment, and not even enough kids to form sports teams.

     I still didn’t hear about the “play date” concept of youth entertainment, not until my grandkids came along, and I thought it strange the idea of scheduling kids’ play time. Standing outside the school, Mrs. Brady would ask Mrs. Reyna and Mrs. Chen if Chato and Wei could come to the Brady house for a “play date” with Skylar on Saturday? Once it was set, they put it on the calendar and wait until Saturday, but until then, the kids, apparently, just stayed home.


     That’s when I noticed fewer kids riding bikes or skateboards on the sidewalks or streets. At the neighborhood parks, everything was systematized, parents, or nannies, watching kids on the swings and slides, the courts and fields reserved for organized sports, inside a building a dance class, or a child-care class, no kids in cut-off jeans or, heaven forbid, barefoot, but everybody in the newest, most popular sneakers and Oshkosh shirts, careful not to get dirty.

     Gone were the bikes and the kids climbing trees or playing a pickup game of basketball, baseball, or football, not even soccer. In the 2000s, the “gaming” craze hit, kids stuck to computers and phones, and as for free, outdoor play--forget about it.

     Even today, as I visit various parks throughout L.A.’s westside to walk my dogs, twice a day, it’s rare to see kids running around without adult supervision. Mostly, adults, doctors, lawyers, and real estate agents have monopolized the courts and fields, Saturday, scheduled for kid sports teams.

     I live in a two-bedroom, one-bath, suburban home in an area where, in the 1950s and ‘60s, kids filled the streets. Today, it’s adults jogging or walking their dogs. Occasionally, a young couple will come by holding on to a toddler. No go-carts, homemade scooters, not even a skateboard in sight, except at the skateboard park, but only during specific hours.


          In Bless Mi, Ultima, Rudy Anaya’s Chicano classic, rural, New Mexico post-1940s’ kids meet up near the stream and ponds hoping to see the golden carp, the largest, most majestic fish in the water. I’ve read the book a number of times, and I have to confess, I had a hard time believing such a fish existed, even in fiction. Still, to the kids, the main characters in the novel, the golden carp was real, a god among all the other fish, if they were among the lucky ones to see it.

     I met Rudy one day when a friend invited me to hear him lecture at Cal Lutheran University, out in Simi Valley, back in the 90s. I just happened to see Rudy getting down from his car. I approached and introduced myself and said that I was there to hear his talk. He recognized my name and told me how much he enjoyed first book, Pepe Rios.

     He was due to talk twice, once in the morning and again at night. I had only planned on staying for the early talk, but when he asked if I’d be hanging out for dinner and the evening lecture, how could I say no. I stayed and was so glad I did. Well over 200, mostly white, students, faculty, and staff showed up, mesmerized by his stories of curanderismo, a beautiful sight I still recall fondly.

     Years later, as I thought about childhood and “play dates,” I thought about Rudy’s golden carp, as I stated earlier, a challenge to what Coleridge called “the willing suspension of disbelief.” 

     But what always affected me was Rudy’s writing, the beautiful language, and the emotions surrounding the golden carp, a sense of magic and wonder, an epiphany, I guess, and the magic wasn’t in the golden carp at all. It was in the mystical nature of childhood, a time of exploration, adventure, innocence, and ultimately, loss, for many, as violent and life-changing as a tumble into Dante's  Paradise Lost.

     In those immediate, post-Depression and post-WWII years, whether living in a rural, suburban, or urban area, we, children, often encumbered by our parents’ problems and emotional injuries, could wander freely, play in the street, ride bicycles, fill the athletic fields without an adult in sight, frolic at the parks, take buses around town, or just lie about under the sun and daydream. Rudy’s golden carp captured the marvels of childhood.

    Oh, sure, I understand all the reasons for change, for progress, for "play dates," and as surely as lighting strikes, so does reality: rampant materialism, the “pill”, gentrification, the proliferation of private and magnet schools, busing, the expenses of child-rearing, technology, and the fear (real or imagined) of letting kids roan about freely, yet, by scheduling every hour of a child’s day are we limiting children’s need to imagine, explore and discover the golden carps outside their doors, or as my father might say, to have real dates instead of play ones.