Thursday, May 13, 2021

A Mother's Day Tale: Fighting for the American Dream

                                                                               

The Dream Maker

    My mother told me she and my father married after the war, in 1946. It wasn't an easy time. Many of their relatives and friends didn't return from Europe or the Pacific, kids like Nick Villa, Trini Hernandez, Chava Guajardo. Their Japanese friends were returning from relocation camps, after losing everything. Families had to find a way forward.

    My parents moved in with my father’s family, who lived in West Los Angeles, two blocks from the railroad tracks, off Sepulveda and Santa Monica boulevards, where many immigrant families settled, taking up residence in wood shacks and old frame homes scattered among the warehouses that lined the tracks.

     When employment in the area was slow, a man could always find temporary, back-breaking work, loading and unloading cargo, or working in the packing sheds near the railroads, nothing desirable but better than starving.

     Today, most of the old neighborhood shacks and dirt lots have vanished, giving way to the 405 freeway at trendy Santa Monica Boulevard, or to apartments, condos, high tech companies, dog grooming businesses, and an assortment of companies, some suspiciously anonymous, no names on the doors or buildings.

     At the time, it was considered the heart of the old neighborhood, a mixture of Mexican, Japanese, and migrants from Oklahoma and Arkansas. According to my mother, her new neighborhood “was not a good arrangement.” 

     People lived in shacks facing dusty, dirt alleys. You could hear the trains all day long. To her, it seemed people were piled on top of each other. “Everybody was there, living in your grandparents’ house," she recalled, "your dad’s sisters and their kids, his brothers, grown men, and their kids. It was a mad house. Nobody seemed to work steadily." Some barrios just can't be romanticized..

                                                                                     

Early days in the Sawtelle, my Escarcega cousins
                             

     She said living there was a shock, compared to her Santa Monica neighborhood, about three miles west, where everybody knew each other, mostly relatives and friends who migrated from San Juan de Los Lagos and Jalostotitlan. Families lived in their own homes, and had steady work in the brickyards. Once children married, they moved out to their own homes. If families came from Mexico, they stayed with relatives until they found a job and their own homes.

     My mother said she lived with my father’s family for about six months, until she found a location, she laughed, close to the Sawtelle City Dump, near Olympic and Barrington. 

     That was when I was born. My mom said our house was small, more of a shack, and rented for twenty dollars a month. She missed Santa Monica, her family and friends.

     We lived in West Los Angeles, what the old-timers called Sawtelle, the original name, for about two years. My parents must have separated for a brief period because I remember my father visiting us in Santa Monica, at my grandmother’s 22nd Street house, where my mother and I lived with her unmarried sisters, all of them fawning over me, the only child in the house, dubbed el consentido, "spoiled, pampered, and coddled" according  to el diccionario conciso internacional de Simon and Schuster.

     We didn’t stay long. From there, we moved down the hill, to a wood bungalow, owned by a woman I remember as Chavela, who owned other property in the area and lived, with her family, in the front house.

     My dad’s mother had died, and my grandfather, Maximiano Cano, who migrated north in 1917, during the Revolution, moved into an adjoining room. 

     An Army veteran, my father found work as a laborer for the City of Los Angeles, a good steady job but low pay. My mom, always the youthful, go-getter, found a work at Sacks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills, where many of her friends also worked. Each day she rode the bus to her job from West L.A. She said a few times she had to make the long trek from home on by foot, when the bus didn't come.

     She remembered spending most of her time in the famed department story folding and organizing clothes on the different display tables. Her supervisor, a sophisticated, beautiful woman, really liked my mother and appreciated how hard she worked. When a promotion to the next level opened up, my mom figured she was a shoe-in. Instead, the job went to a newly hired Anglo woman. My mother told me her supervisor admitted they made her promote the other woman. That my mother was Mexican was never mentioned.

     During this time, my grandfather, who had been hurt in a work accident, took care of me. In 1950, my sister Kathy was born. By this time, my mother had found a job working at Gilfillan, an electronics company on Bundy Drive near the Santa Monica-West L.A. border. As she jogged her memory recalling these days, she said we always lived in places “one step ahead of the bulldozers.”

     In postwar Los Angeles, developers on the westside were quickly demolishing the old shacks and buying up farmland to make way for the new track-homes that would covert much of the vacant land to new suburbs The West Los Angeles Soldiers Home, administration and hospital, along with UCLA, and many new companies needed housing for the employees in their growing businesses.

                                                                              

The Old Soldiers Home

     My mother said when she laid eyes on those new, two-bedroom homes, with garages, driveways, and grass yards, she dreamed of living in her own. Realistically, she couldn’t see much hope since their prices were beyond her reach. Still, hope was just an emotion, right, abstract and fallible? If her parents had travelled from central Mexico, during a revolution, hauling six children, with nothing but their clothes, starting a new life in a foreign country, and buying their own home, who’s to say she couldn’t have her dream? Besides, she always had a hard time taking “no” for an answer. She was a woman who lived by dichos, "Dime con quien andas y te dire quien eres," "strike while the iron is hot," or "if there's a will, there's a way."  

     On a whim, she stopped at realtors’ offices and talked to the people inside, learning whatever she could about home searches, loans, and financing. She combed the neighborhoods to see if a good deal might open up. She continued pestering the realtors, an early researcher before the term became a cliche..

     It was 1952, and one of the agents told her about a home located in West Los Angeles, near Olympic boulevard and Bundy drive, that might fit her budget. The house was located on Granville Avenue, a beautiful street lined with large pine trees, right down the street from a public park, maybe a mile or so from where she and my father had rented their first home, near the city dump. She told the realtor she did not need to see the house. She wanted it regardless of the condition, “sight unseen.”

     She knew the area and had passed it often on her searches. To her, it was the most beautiful neighborhood in town. Mostly Anglo families lived on the street, which made no difference to her. In her mind, she was as American as anybody, born in the Santa Monica Hospital and educated in SM schools.

    When she learned the purchase price was $10,600, and a down payment of $2300, she saw her dream get hazy. She counted their savings. My dad had received a “mustering-out” pay from the military, which she saved, for $1,000. Coming from Mexican parents who preached saving over spending and buying a house over renting, she had also  managed squirrel away a few hundred more. Still, she was shy $1,000 needed for the down payment.

     She had inquired and found out a G.I. loan would secure the remaining mortgage, but raising $1300 in 1952 when workers averaged less than $60 a week seemed impossible.

     She walked by the house nearly every day, figuring a way to pay for it. One day, she got up her nerve and knocked on the door. The owners answered, nice people who listened to her. She explained how much she loved their home and told them she didn’t have enough for the down payment, but she was working on it. They told her they understood. She told them she would try to raise the money and hope they didn’t sell it before.

     She thought maybe she could get another loan on the house, a second, but no bank would approve it, not on their salary. She thought of asking her mother for a loan, but she’d always been taught borrowing from family was a bad idea. She realized she had nobody to turn to for the money.

     Disheartened, she returned to talk to the owners to tell them she was still working on it. As she talked, she was unable to hold back her emotion, and she burst into tears and sobbed. The woman who owned the house could see how much my mother wanted the house. She said she would be willing to carry the down payment at a reduced rate and a modest interest. My mom didn't think she'd heard correctly. They discussed it further. Yes, the woman said, in essence, she'd lend them the money. My made the calculations and realized it was possible. They signed the papers and made all the necessary arrangements.

     My mom said, "Grandpa was so excited he started going to the house even before the people had moved out. He wanted to keep the lawn and plants green, so he did the watering. I told him he couldn't go over there, but he wouldn't listen. He just said I didn't know how it worked."

      The responsibility of home ownership weighed heavily on my parents. They both had to work extra to earn the money to maintain the house. My father found a job in construction, brutal work, carrying cement all day across narrow scaffolds, but much better pay than working for the City, and still time for Little League and Boy Scouts. 

     The day of the stay-at-home mother and sole working father was quickly disappearing. After my parents purchased their home, their friends began buying homes near them, leaving the shacks near the railroad tracks and fighting to make their own dreams real.

     Many found work, mainly in electronic factories throughout the Westside, and at Douglas and Hughes Aircraft companies. No longer the slow community of Sawtelle, people began to call the area West Los Angeles. Electronics firms, toy factories, ceramics shops, and other companies opened industrial businesses set up shop. 

     Mothers began working eight hours a day, soldering microscopic size wires to boards that would control radios, televisions, and telephones. The times were definitely changing, and Chicana mothers were at the heart of that change. For some, making dreams come true is more about determination than a good night's sleep.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Videos: Día del Niño Bilingual Book Fest

 


Día del Niño Bilingual Book Festival is a virtual event celebrating kids! Featuring bookstores, authors, and creators from around the world who focus is the wellness, bilingual literacy and education for children. Here, you can watch all the author, illustrator and book lover readings. Let’s Celebrate Día del Niño!

DAY 1 - Friday, April 30th

10:00 AM - Welcome

10:20AM - Juana Martinez-Neal

10:40 AM - Juliet Menéndez

11:00 AM - Andrea Olatunji

11:20 AM - Kelvin Jimenez

11:40 AM - Naibe Reynose

12:00 PM - Lola Dweck

12:20 PM - Bef

12:40 PM - Patty Rodriguez

1:00 PM - Bea Zamora

 

 

 

DAY 2 - Saturday, May 1st

10:00 AM - Welcome

10:20AM - Jackie & Magdalena

10:40 AM - Luis San Vicente

11:00 AM - Mexicanas Chidas

11:20 AM - Natalia Ruiz

11:40 AM - Rene Colato Lainez

12:00 PM - Maxie Villavicencio

12:20 PM - Araseli Rodriguez

12:40 PM - Veronica Salgado

1:00 PM - Robert Liu-Trujillo

1:20 PM - Pat Mora

1:40 PM - Julissa Arce

2:00 PM - Ariana Stein

 

 

 

DAY 3 - Sunday, May 2nd

10:00 AM - Welcome

10:20AM - Susie Jaramillo

10:40 AM - María Gómez

11:00 AM - Las Mandarax

11:20 AM - Olga Franco y Lina Galiano

11:40 AM - Mariana Llanos

12:00 PM - John Parra

12:20 PM - Elizabeth Ruiz

12:40 PM - Hola Amigo Box

1:00 PM - Joe Cepeda

1:20 PM - Jugando N’Play

1:40 PM - Teresa Morales

2:00 PM - Veronique Medrano

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

O.G. & Hail! Originals Gone Forever

Michael Sedano 

In 1973, USC's El Centro Chicano hosted three days of raza artists performing their poetry and prose in El Festival de Flor y Canto. Several floricantos followed that year to put Chicano Literature on the U.S. literary map. The USC festival is the only one that was professionally videotaped. And then the tapes were lost until 2009.

That year, I tracked down the only two extant sets of videos from the first floricanto--outdated U-Matic ¾" videocassettes. 

One set was in Kingsville, Texas, where librarians were uninterested in helping me physically locate cataloged tapes. Another set resided in a storeroom of the Tomás Rivera Memorial Library at UC Riverside. After numerous conversations with people at USC's Doheny Library, and ultimately the legal department, I got permission from a USC lawyer to digitize UCR's copies and make copies for distribution. 

Juan Felipe Herrera was UCR faculty, a key conecta. Juan Felipe found the only U-Matic cassette player on campus. A few plugs and cables, two weeks in the storeroom, and the job was done (link). I returned the Festival de Flor y Canto 1973 to its USC home in 2010.

But the job was incomplete. Two performances had gone missing. I found exceedingly poor quality audiocassettes (link) of Roberto Vargas and José Montoya's readings, but the videotapes went out on interlibrary loan and got eaten by time. 

I had such a beautiful goal of returning the floricanto to USC, but dissatisfaction burned in me at the absent videos. More important, I wondered what happened to the original source tapes? 

Back in 1973, on my way to photograph a performance, I stuck my head into the production van and stared longingly at the 2" Ampex reel-to-reel video recorders I'd read about in my Annenberg coursework. The tape on those machines is what I wanted to get my hands on. Digitizing from 1st-generation tape would vastly improve the 3d-generation signals I'd worked. Plus, I would finally finish my goal of returning the floricanto--all the performers and all the stuff that landed on the cutting room floor--to USC. I was really interested in stuff seeming desultory then, that would have incredible value today.

The January 28, 2014 La Bloga-Tuesday announced my goal to find those original tapes. After all, I'd found almost all of the performances. If those originals existed, I would track them down. Three months ago, I got a phone call.

"Michael, this is Sy. I have the original tapes."

I always reasoned that the videotapes in Texas and UCR were produced by someone connected to El Centro, and marketed by them. The money wouldn't have been a lot, but it would have supported a lot of tardeadas at el centro, or personal fund-raising goals. I didn't ask, they wouldn't tell. UCR didn't have the invoices in their files--I checked.

That was all a ni modo under the bridge. Here is a lead to The Tapes! 

I phone the man Sy got the tapes from. This fellow was always at the top of my list as the mysterious marketer. I was one step removed from being accurate. A fellow whose name I remembered, an insider I did not know back in 1973, had the tapes in his garage. He was dumping them and offered them to this other quondam insider.

Purportedly original tapes--the O.G.s of floricanto in the entire United States--were now in three locations. Sy had a reel. The middle fellow had a reel. The third fellow had two reels. Or so I heard.

Are they 2" tapes? Yes, 2" tapes. That's the only fact I thought I knew for sure.

Then the crucial question: Can you make copies?

Like the ¾" U-Matic media I worked with, I figured finding a machine to play 2" Ampex tape would be an expensive proposition. I'd have to go out glad-handing media people to ask for money to pay to digitize the originals. Or if I could collect the entire set, I'd see if Barbara Robinson at Doheny Library had a budget for the project?

Sy's son works in media. He'll do it. Problem casí solved, que no? Those tapes, that have been missing since 1973, have to make their way from a garage in wherever, to a garage in another town, to Sy's pad, to el hijo's studio.

I waited two months then called Sy last week to see if he'd collected all the tapes from both guys' garages. Yes. Not good news.

Sy reports these are not the original uncut material. Tom Reddin Productions, likely, ran off the original performances onto these tapes. Someone copies this second-generation material onto those U-Matics I digitized, then put the "original" tape into storage. 

Roberto Vargas and José Montoya's performances? That's in Sy's hands now. 

This is something good to understand: I'll never know. I'm as done with that project as I'll ever be, and I'm satisfied leaving it unfinished. It is what it is.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Mujer colosal, Colossal Woman by Xánath Caraza

 

Mujer colosal, Colossal Woman by Xánath Caraza

 

 ¡Feliz Día de la Madre! Happy Mother’s Day!

 

Mujer colosal

 

Para la cabeza colosal número 3 de San Lorenzo, Veracruz, México

 

Mujer colosal, tu piel de oscura

piedra para la eternidad.

 

El ceño aguerrido, fruncido,

muestra tu fiereza.

 

Tus pómulos delatan feminidad.

Sensuales labios negros sellados

con pétrea carne sin estrellas.

 

Mujer guerrera, rompes la tradición.

 

Jerarca jaguar, llevas la fuerza

del huracán en el mentón.

 

Tu ancha nariz absorbe el copal

blanco que guía al inframundo,

a la cueva del cocodrilo donde

corre la sagrada agua olmeca.

 

Tus ojos profundos se encadenan

con los míos, frente a ti estoy.

 

Te reconozco, espejo ancestral.

 

Oscuridad volcánica, naces

del vientre de la tierra. 

 

Mujer colosal, femenina

cabeza olmeca, hembra jaguar.

 

El cráneo cubierto con distintiva

protección, tu lugar has ganado

con valor, con sensualidad.

 

Las ciénagas olmecas florean para

dejarte ver el mundo una vez más.

 

 


Colossal Woman

 

For Colossal Head Number 3 from San Lorenzo, Veracruz, Mexico

Translated by Sandra Kingery

 

Colossal woman, your skin of dark

stone for all eternity.

 

Your battle-hardened brow, furrowed,

uncovers your ferocity.

 

Your cheekbones reveal femininity.

Sensual black lips sealed

with stony flesh without stars.

 

Warrior woman, you break tradition.

 

Jaguar chief, you carry the strength

of the hurricane in your chin.

 

Your broad nose absorbs the white copal

that leads the way to the underworld,

to the crocodile cave where

sacred Olmec water runs.

 

Your deep eyes shackle themselves

to mine, I am before you.

 

I recognize you, ancestral mirror.

 

Volcanic darkness, you are born

from the bowels of the earth. 

 

Colossal woman, feminine

Olmec head, female jaguar.

 

Your skull covered with distinctive

protection, you have earned your place

with valor, with sensuality.

 

Olmec marshes blossom so

you can see the world once again.

 

Friday, May 07, 2021

Angels in the Wind


This post is BSP (blatant self-promotion) for my upcoming novel.  Forewarned is forearmed. 

I celebrate the publication of Angels in the Wind on May 20.  I haven't yet seen the actual book but here's a look at the front and back covers.




The event on May 20 (6:00 PM MDT) will consist of a conversation between Professor Jorge Zamora of Texas Tech and me, along with a short reading from the book.  Maybe a few Q&A.  We plan to have fun as we talk about crime fiction, literary murder, and angels.  If you want to join us, there is no charge to attend but you have to register.  Here's a link to the page where you can register, along with the form to order the book.  We are expecting the finished book some time after May 16.




Dr. Zamora has a law degree from Mexico (UNAM 1984) and a PhD in Spanish Literature (TTU 1999). He was an international business lawyer for 10 years and teaches undergraduate courses in Business Spanish, Spanish Translation, Spanish Legal Studies and other Spanish courses for the professions; he also teaches graduate courses in Contemporary Latin-American Literature. His literary fields of interest include horror and the grotesque in Hispanic fiction, Hispanic crime fiction, and the Hispanic historical novel. His publications include several articles, a book on the grotesque and a co-edited anthology of studies in Hispanic crime fiction .

A few writer friends were kind enough to read advance copies and I am pleased to quote their endorsements.  Thank you!

“Manuel Ramos is a legend of Chicano noir and he’s done it again with Angels in the Wind. Gus Corral is on the case in Melton, Colorado, a small town with some big secrets and characters who might just remind you of a long-lost cousin. In this gripping noir, there’s sexy jazz, rolling bluffs, a missing teenager, and the weight of history at every turn. Utterly readable and atmospheric, I couldn’t put this book down.”
Kali Fajardo-Anstine, author of Sabrina & Corina

"A labyrinth of misdirection and treachery. Manuel Ramos shoves his very flawed PI, Gus Corral, back into the fray and we cheer as he bulls his way toward justice amid a tangle of family secrets, mayhem, and murder.”
Mario Acevedo, co-author of the high-drama western, Luther, Wyoming

“I absolutely loved Angels in the Wind: A Mile High Noir. Manuel Ramos pulls all the right strings in a novel that is at once heart-pounding and tinged with melancholy. Ramos’s protagonist, Gus Corral, is a Latino everyman with grit and heart who is forced to reckon with small-town hurt and prejudice. There are not too many authors who can craft a mystery with such depth and complexity. A fantastic read.”
Jon Bassoff, author of The Lantern Man

"More than just a detective novel, this book is a reflection on the changing landscape of the West and the redemptive power of family. The work of a storyteller at the peak of his form, the return of private investigator Gus Corral reminds me of nothing less that The Long Goodbye set in Colorado. Thrilling, heartbreaking, and engrossing, Angels in the Wind is the best yet from one of the masters of the genre."
David Heska Wanbli Weiden, author of Winter Counts

Finally, quotes from a few reviews.


“Fans of contemporary regional mysteries will look forward to Gus’s further adventures.”
--Publishers Weekly

"Ramos is an authentic voice, and Angels in the Wind is another Mile-High Noir winner."
--The Denver Post

"Ramos hits his stride with his Gus Corral character in this novel of teenage runaways, small town culture, [and] ugly bad guys....  Readers of the earlier Gus Corral novels will be happy to meet this introspective, no-nonsense problem-solver who doesn't get himself into deep caca by rushing into stuff."

-- La Bloga

Enough about my book.

Later.

___________________________________

Manuel Ramos writes crime fiction.

Thursday, May 06, 2021

Chicanonautica: The Persistence of Quijote

by Ernest Hogan


Years after it finally came into being, I got around to seeing Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. I wanted to see it, but these years have been overwhelming. Enough to make a humble vato get in his troque and go searching for windmills to tilt with.


I liked it--I’ve been a fan of Gilliam ever since the early Monty Python days, even though he often gets carried away with his imagery in the European art film tradition, losing track of the story, which I understand, also being an artist whose inspiration come visually, leaving me struggling to come up with appropriate verbalization. He also does better when adapting someone else’s story. 


Like I said, I liked it. It brings the whole myth that launched the novel as an art form into the twenty-first century. El Quijote faces off with the corporate entertainment industry in a dazzling, surreal fantasmagoria that will confuse folks who like a straight forward story line, but delivers with an ending that brings it all together in a satisfying way.


Makes me wonder if the younger generations know about Cervantes’ original novel. Oh well, they can always Google it . . .


It kept me thinking, even as I drifted off into a dream-filled sleep, and into the next day, when I found myself liking it even better.


Then, I had a revelation . . . The novel (that is--gulp!--expanding into a trilogy) Zyx; Or, Bring Me the Brain of  Victor Theremin that I’m working on is an updating of Don Quixote. Honestly, I had no idea I was doing it, but looking at it now it all becomes clear: Victor Theremin, the Chicano science fiction writer who has lost track of where his life ends and the sci-fi begins, is a modern Quijote, the AIs are his Sancho Panza. 


Oh well, maybe it will help when I go off looking for a publisher.


The really strange thing is this isn’t my first Quijote novel. Walter Quixote; Or, Love in the Time of Terroism was a deliberate adaptation of the story, making it about the life and loves of a young Chicano artist in Phoenix in the years 2001 through 2003. Don’t bother looking for it--it was never published. Fed up with my struggles to establish myself as a science fiction writer, I tried to walk away from the unholy megagenre, and go mainstream. Unfortunately, the publishing world recoiled in horror of my creation. After years of rejection, I was told that it was just too damn weird for anybody in New York to publish.


So I went crawling back to sci-fi, where they still are disturbed by my presence.


Oddly, enough, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, isn’t Gilliam’s first Quijote adaptation: I’ve long been saying that Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a twentieth century version of the story. Think about. There are a helluvalota parallels. You lit students out there can thank me later.


I know that El Quijote, the book and the character, are controversial as part of La Cultura to anti-Hispanic/Puro Mejicano types. Like it or not, we have been influenced by Hispanic culture ever since the first hijo de la chingada. In the Mundo Nuevo, El Quijote evolved into the charro, and the vaquero, who was Anglicized into the buckaroo, and translated into the cowboy, who without the quixotic compulsion to seek Truth, Justice, and True Love under a blazing sun is just a common redneck. His grey-bearded avatars can still be seen on the dusty roadsides of Aztlán, in their Rocinante-ish vehicles surrounded by light-flashing police cars.


Tezcatlipoca help me, I’m one of them. I’m going to keep writing these books, and battling these windmills. I just can’t help it.


Ernest Hogan is currently leapfrogging between the original Quijote and John Ormsby’s English translation on his phone.


Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Run, Little Chaski!: An Inka Trail Adventure



Written by Mariana Llanos 

Illustrated byMariana Ruiz Johnson 



Publisher : Barefoot Books 

Paperback : 32 pages

ISBN-10 : 1646862171

ISBN-13 : 978-1646862177

Reading age : 4 - 7 years 



In this tale set in the ancient Inka (sometimes spelled Inca) empire, Little Chaski has a big job: he is the Inka King’s newest royal messenger. On his first day delivering messages he stops to help several creatures in need along the way, causing him to nearly miss his sunset deadline. But the kindness he bestowed on these animals winds up helping him in surprising ways. Will Little Chaski be able to deliver the royal message on time? 


Descriptive language and bold illustrations give readers insight into Little Chaski’s nervousness and excitement as he runs the Inka Trail, working earnestly to fulfill the responsibilities of his new role.



También disponible es español


¡Corre, Pequeño Chaski!: Una Aventura En El Camino Inka 






Mariana Llanos is a Peruvian-born writer of children's literature. Her books include Luca's Bridge, Eunice and Kate, Kutu the Tiny Inca Princess, and Poesia Alada. In 2017, she was selected as the Best Latino Artist by the Hispanic Arts Council of Oklahoma, where she resides. She is a member of the SCBWI and currently serves as the Inclusion and Diversity Chair for their Oklahoma Chapter. When she’s not writing, she enjoys baking, spending time with her children, and visiting schools to ignite the love for reading.


Mariana Ruiz Johnson is an award-winning children's book illustrator and author. She lives in the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina with her husband and two children.



Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Guest Columnist Thania Muñoz: Latina Motherhood, a Pandemic, and Belonging

Note: In 2008, today's Guest Columnist, Thania Muñoz, posted exclusive reports from Crime Fiction's international big-bash as our  Roving Reporter at that year's La Semana Negra (link). She was a student doing research in the best way. 

Dr. Muñoz writes, "I got to say, it feels like a full circle. La Bloga supported me in my early years as an academic, not even in grad school yet, and now I am a profe, a mami, and a researcher. Thanks for all the mentoring and support! It meant to me a lot then and now!" 

 It means a lot to us at La Bloga then and now. What a wonderful journey Dr. Muñoz has shared with us here at La Bloga. Thank you, compañera. Adelante!

Our Birth Story: on Latina Motherhood, a Pandemic, and Belonging
Thania Muñoz D.


Sinan Sol was born at home, in our bathroom, unexpectedly. 

 

I was pregnant at the beginning of the pandemic. When my university closed down, my husband started working from home, my daughter’s daycare closed, and I was pregnant with our second child. I taught my college classes online and did yoga at night to alleviate sciatica discomforts. My doctor’s appointments were spread out and every time I did have one I was told, “The hospital protocols are changing everyday, so just be prepared to labor mostly at home and head out at the last minute. It’s better to spend the least amount of time at the hospital during these unprecedented times”. 

 

Although I did think about having my baby at home, my husband refused. During my first pregnancy and this one, he feared complications that could potentially put me and our babies in danger. I, on the other hand, have always been afraid of hospitals, knowing too many statistics about the mistreatment of Black and Latina women— they never felt like safes place for me. Even if sometimes people just by looking at me are not sure if I am Latina, when I am in pain or afraid, I feel more comfortable communicating in Spanish. The few times I had been stopped for traffic violations and when I had my first encounters with immigration officers, my brain switched quickly to Spanish; unable to communicate in English, cops and la migra always dismissed me while rolling their eyes.  

 

36 weeks

 

Sometimes in the evening, when my back and sciatica pain was unbearable I would recite mantras and prepare mentally for the day my baby decided to come: “Ride the wave”, “It’s easier to remain in control than regain control”, “This won’t last forever”, “Every contraction is one less”, “I embrace the wisdom and innate knowledge of my body” —these were my favorite. I repeated them out loud for weeks while I bounced on my yoga ball to open up my hips and be ready for labor. During those evenings, I also thought about my grandmas, mis abuelitas, women who gave birth to 5 and 10 children. I thought about how they had prepared me for labor, how they created big families for my children to cherish. But I also felt scared. I never had a chance to talk to them about pregnancy and motherhood. They passed away when I was still too small to worry about these things. I am well aware not all their pregnancies were happy ones. I also know they lost a few children, but I would lay down most nights thinking about how they had relatives close by and vecinos ready to help out; I’d also remember my neighborhood when I was a child in Mexico, a big warm barrio, where I knew all the kids, their parents, and never felt alone. Here, as I was laying down in a suburban house in Maryland, far away from my family in California and Mexico, a few nice neighbors, no Latinx neighbors, I didn’t know their kids or if they would help us if we needed help. I felt alone. I’d dream of giving birth and not been able to communicate with my husband in English. I’d practice all my mantras in English as a way to make sure I didn’t lose my Mexican English while I was in pain, giving birth in a white hospital, in a white city in Maryland. 

 


My kids’ middles names are in Spanish, Sol and Lucía. Both are bright. Both are bold. Both mean light and glow. We decided as a family to give them my husband’s last name. Davaslıoğlu. A long name full of otherness and Turkish roots. Mexican, Turkish, American. I wanted their names to interconnect all of their heritages. People in the U.S will probably say their names with a gringo pronunciation, so at least I wanted to resist through spelling. But I also wanted their names to be creative and share the light and shine I felt while I carried both in my womb. I wanted their names to inspire creativity. While I wish they choose artistic paths, I know this is out of my control. As the daughter of immigrants, I was supported to go to school so I could go to college and find a job. When I decided to graduate with a Spanish language and literature degree I was asked by family, ¿vas a encontrar trabajo?  Are you going to find a job?  I’m a professor of Latin American Literature now, I somehow successfully managed to merge my love for creativity, books, and trabajo. I will support my kids in whatever career and life path they choose. I hope they don’t feel any debt to me. I hope they are unapologetically creative.

 

“El sol” - Huichol Art

 

The morning my contractions started I went on a walk around the neighborhood. It was 11 am when I called my mom and my sister. They both told me they would pray for me. The semester was still not over and I had to grade final projects. It didn’t seem like the best week to have a baby, but of course, it was the perfect time. I still had two weeks before my due date, it was just starting to feel like summer in Maryland, and I was worried I would have to push my baby out while wearing a mask. As I finished my walk, my contractions were getting stronger. Sinan Sol’s amanecer was coming. 

 

I labored at home. We had a lunch as a family and my daughter and I napped together while my husband rushed to finish up work meetings. As my daughter and I laid down together in her room, I stared at her small happy face[i]. She likes to touch our arms while she sleeps, but my contractions were so strong I couldn’t hold still. I sang to her while I moved around, kneeled and buried my face on the mattress trying to breathe through another contraction; at one point my eyes couldn’t hold my tears anymore, I cried due to the pain, and because I knew this was my daughter’s last day as an only child. She couldn’t sleep for long and joined me --- we walked around the room breathing loudly. She drank my coconut water and asked me to share my snacks. I laughed so hard when she completely took over my mug and drank the whole thing. She was my little doula and kept me distracted as my contractions became more painful. We started a bath together, but she eventually left with her baba to drop off her furry sister at her sitter’s house. While they were gone, my contractions became so strong I couldn’t walk around anymore. I kneeled down next to the toilet. I couldn’t keep any food down. I threw up a couple of times and drank water to keep me hydrated. I was alone in the house. I kept repeating my mantra, “ride the wave…. ride the wave” whenever the contractions hit. “It has only been a few hours, I probably have a few more” -- I told myself many times, while I kneeled, swayed my hips, buried my head on pillows, or sat in the tub. But the tub was so uncomfortable, I cursed at all the videos I watched that recommended baths to ease contractions. My daughter, on the other hand, came back home, jumped into the tub, and told me the water was so nice. I started to howl.  

 

Sinan’s birthday

 

I managed to text my family to let them know the baby was coming. I texted my friend to tell her Bellis would be staying with her that night. It was almost 5 pm and I was howling every 6-7 minutes. The pain was becoming unbearable. I was losing my sense of time. I laid down on the bed, next to my daughter, while my husband pressed down hard on my lower back as he did when Lucita was born. I was repeating my mantras in English. My husband kept telling me, let’s just go to the hospital now. He decided to call the maternity unit, the nurses were rude to him on the phone and said, “Just bring her here and we’ll check her”. As I got up to get ready to go, a big contraction hit. I was standing by our bathroom’s doorway then and the force of the contraction made me kneel down next to the tub. I screamed. Another contraction hit. I was now on the toilet and felt his head crown. As I told my husband “he is coming”, I felt another contraction. 

 

I was blinded. I couldn’t see. I couldn’t feel pain. I couldn’t speak. 

 

I caught my own baby and time froze. 

 

As I held Sinan Sol, wet and soft, his eyes shined. 

 

He didn’t fall on the floor or in the toilet as I was squatting on top of it. I caught my baby with the same hands Bellis couldn’t let go of while she napped earlier that day. As my husband quickly called 911, Sinan just looked at me quiet. He stared at me with his big dark eyes. He fit perfectly in between my hands. I saw the blood on the floor and my legs turned weak. He stared up at me, to reassure me, yes, he was here. My husband handed me a blanket and Sinan let out a big cry. Kemal and I smiled. He started to cry again. My daughter came into the bathroom and said to him, “baby, don’t cry”. I stared at her and time froze again. She was there the whole time while his brother was making his way into this world. They met just minutes after he gave me his first look. I started to cry. My two kids were in the same room, while the placenta was still inside of me. The children of two immigrants, sharing their first phrase in English. 

 

As I was sitting on the toilet looking at my two kids, I felt grateful I didn’t have to speak or be touched by someone else. I was at home with my family. My legs were still weak as the paramedics wearing masks helped me walk down the stairs. I did it. I did it. I did it. I kept repeating quietly in English. I can’t never leave this house now. Is this how “belonging” feels like?   

 

Umbilical cord cutting at home

 

I napped in soft pajamas and two kids in my cuarentena. The pandemic took away summer and quick visits from friends. I had to show my breasts to a lactation consultant through Zoom to figure out how to feed Sinan successfully. 

 

While there are moments I feel invincible, strong, for raising two kids in the middle of a pandemic, I yearn for the company of my family and for help. I delivered my own baby, but I haven’t truly rested since. My home feels my own and as a now family of four we have slowly transitioned to a new routine.  But, my quiet neighborhood is not a sanctuary. This country does not feel like a sanctuary either. A year later after my son’s birth, family and friends are still getting sick, friends have passed away, and many others are suffering emotionally and economically from this pandemic. 

 

Sofa naps with Lucita

 

I didn’t feel afraid when I gave birth to Sinan on a Monday in May 2020 at home . My English did not fail me. I actually didn’t even need it. While I still feel out of place, as Latina in a white neighborhood in Maryland, I have two kids that taught belonging it’s not necessarily a place. Belonging can mean moments, a touch, a phrase. The birth of my son at 5:30pm in the middle of a global pandemic was one of these moments for me.   

 

 

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Thania Muñoz is a reader, a researcher, and an Assistant Professor of Spanish, Latin American and Latinx literature. She is an immigrant from México and has familial ties to Türkiye. Thania immigrated to California in 1998 and since 2015 lives in Maryland. Her journey of immigration to the U.S is part of her familial lineage. Her grandfather was a bracero in California and her maternal side of the family immigrated to Southern California because of his move; her mother moved back to Mexico in her twenties, but eventually made the journey back to the U.S along with her family. Thania grew up being called an “immigrant” - a term she found uncomfortable at first, but that now cherishes as it has shaped how she experiences the world. She received her Ph.D. at the University of California, Irvine in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese in 2015. 

 

 

 

 



[i] I use she/ her pronouns for Bellis, but she hasn’t announced her pronouns yet. We are waiting patiently for her and Sinan to decide on their chosen pronouns.