Monday, May 31, 2021

A New Life for My 2011 Novel, The Book of Want

By Daniel A. Olivas

In 2011, the University of Arizona Press published my novel, The Book of Want. The novel centered on Conchita, a beautiful, single woman of a certain age, who sees nothing wrong with enjoying the company of handsome—and usually much younger—men. She then encounters Moisés, a widower with a penchant for levitation, and begins to think about how this unusual man might fit into her life. Julieta, Conchita’s younger sister, walks a more traditional path, but she and her husband each harbor secrets that could change their marriage and lives forever. Their twin sons, both in college, struggle to find fulfillment: Mateo refuses to let anyone stand in the way of his happiness, while Rolando grapples with his sexuality and the family’s expectations. And the chain-smoking, coffee-drinking Belén, the family’s late matriarch, serves as our host while she advises, scolds, and cajoles her hapless descendants.

The novel received some very thoughtful, positive reviews, and my public readings were fulfilling and enjoyable. This book was a departure—of sorts—from my usual literary vehicle of the short story, so I was a bit concerned about how it would be received. Luckily, I cheated a bit in writing it since the narrative is built on interconnected short stories. But it was a novel, nonetheless, and I was happy I wrote it.

Flash forward a decade, and that very same novel will be streamed live by Circle X Theatre in a Zoom reading of my new play, The Book of Want, which is an adaptation of my novel. Directed by Dr. Daphnie Sicre of Loyola Marymount University, the play basically follows the same storyline as the novel but with appropriate updates and abbreviated or wholly abandoned characters. I learned very fast that it was impossible to include an entire cast of characters and story digressions in a stage version of my novel. Yes, I killed my little darlings to make this thing work.

But I had a lot of expert help! I wrote my play as part of Circle X Theatre Co.’s inaugural Evolving Playwrights Group 2021 Reading Series.

Culminating its inaugural season, Circle X Theatre Co. will present the reading series from their Evolving Playwrights Group. This group consists of five emerging and mid-career playwrights, who were paired with mentors/playwrights in conversation, and were challenged to create the play they were scared to write. I submitted an application to be part of this group last year stating that I really wanted to adapt my novel but was scared to do so because of the complexity of the novel itself—not to mention that I had only written one play previously. I was startled when I was accepted into the group.

I was assigned the wonderful playwright, Donald Jolly, as my mentor. My fellow emerging and mid-career playwrights are Nina Rose Carlin, Peppur Chambers, Jonathan Ceniceroz, and Khari Wyatt. Our bi-monthly, Tuesday evening virtual workshops were moderated by Jen Kays, the Artistic Director of Circle X Theatre, and Lisa Sanaye Dring, the Associate Artistic Director. And we had guest playwrights drop in to discuss their craft and answer our questions about the art of playwriting. It was hard work, but it was also joyful, fun, and enlightening.

One of the questions Donald Jolly very wisely asked me during a discussion chilled me a bit: “If you were to describe your play in one or two sentences, what would you say?” After a few moments of struggling with the right words, I offered what I thought was a sufficient response. And over time, I took that response and massaged it until I was ready to offer it to Circle X Theatre for the promotional materials. This is what I think my play is about:

What is love? For one Mexican American family in Los Angeles circa 2006, the search for the answer is as heartbreaking as it is comical. THE BOOK OF WANT is an enchanting blend of social and magical realism that explores what it means to be fully human.

Now our plays are ready for sharing with the world in Zoom readings. One play has already been streamed: Khari Wyatt’s exhilarating Starchild.

If you wish to see the other plays—including my Book of Want—just drop an email to Circle X Theatre and RSVP for all or some of the plays.



WHO: Circle X Theatre Co.

WHAT: Evolving Playwrights Group 2021 Reading Series

WHEN: May 22 - June 26, 2021 at 7 pm PST

WHERE: Live Streamed on Zoom

TICKETS: Free to the public

For more information visit:

Friday, May 28, 2021

Pandemic Neighbors and Porch Concerts

Melinda Palacio

The world is halfway open. Let’s hope the honor system doesn’t backfire and force us into another round of lockdowns. Signs in New Orleans no longer insists on people wearing masks for entry into a restaurant or cafe. Instead, the signs say something vague such as If You Are Fully Vaccinated, Masks Are Optional. Such signs seem to validate the people who are against wearing masks and vaccinations. I wonder if everyone is really complying or are they continuing selfish behavior? Presumably, the people at risk are the ones who have been selfish throughout the pandemic and have refused to mask and accept the vaccine for the good of everyone else. I’ve seen too many people die of this strange and no longer novel virus. 
One of the more positive things to come out of the pandemic is the camaraderie between neighbors. Neighbors who are friendlier because they spent so many months isolated from friends and loved ones. In a city such as New Orleans, everyone is a neighbor, not just the people who live adjacent to your home. In Italy, the pandemic brought balcony concerts. In New Orleans, porch concerts are how musical people entertain the neighborhood. Earlier this year, I remember seeing live stream porch concerts on social media and thinking how lucky the people with access to talented people are. Porch concerts and living room shows were great to watch online when the world was on lockdown. While I enjoyed hearing singers and musicians online from their living rooms, there’s nothing like live entertainment. There’s an energy and rumble in your stomach that you can’t capture while watching a show online. I will give social media credit for bringing events I might not know about to my attention. 
If it weren’t for a post online, I wouldn’t have found out about the porch concert by Margie Perez. She status update was simple, said she would be playing music on her porch and invited all her friends to join in both as audience and entertainers. The musicians kept arriving, mostly from her neighborhood. The scene seemed like something out of a movie set, but that’s just another day in New Orleans. 

Thursday, May 27, 2021

American Education: "Stuck in Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again"

Who chooses what we study and why?

     On May 24th, Bob Dylan turned 80. What a surprise to to see how many cockroaches (writer Oscar "Zeta" Acosta's term for Raza and our will to survive) hopped on social media to bid the American musical bard their best wishes. There I thought my cousin Johnny (RIP) and I were but a few Chicano fanatics of Dylan’s work, going back to the 60s, and not just lovers of his most popular songs, but “wordy” gophers mining his lyrics for cultural insights into enigmatic images, even up to his newest albums, including Rough and Rowdy Ways (2020), containing the long, cryptic, Murder Most Foul, a  fragile three-chord spider web spun around JFK’s assassination. 
     Like the Spanish writer Pio Baroja, who continued writing novels up until his death at 85, Bob Dylan defies time and shows us we should not allow the years to define us in any way. The voice of a generation (a phrase Dylan detested) continues to inspire and entertain, for that is the primary job of the artist, to bring pleasure. 
     So, I thought I’d go back into my own personal Bloga archives and tune-up a piece I wrote when Dylan received the Nobel Prize for literature, stirring up a controversy among literary-types, both writers, scholars, and readers, begging the question: what is art and who decides its value?


     It was a thunderous statement that sounded in Stockholm, when the Swedish Academy bestowed the 2016 Nobel Prize for literature on Bob Dylan, putting the American rocker right up there with names like Mann, Yeats, Faulkner, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Eliot, Camus, Alexandre, Mistral, Lessing, Garcia Marquez, Neruda, Morrison, Cela, Saramargo, and other literary giants. 
     Since I’ve been a fan of Bob Dylan’s music for five decades, I was delighted with the Academy’s choice. But as a teacher and writer, the honor the academy bestowed on wily "song and dance man," as he refers to himself, left me perplexed. If a rock ‘n roll singer-songwriter can win the Nobel Prize in literature, what does that say about literature? 
     Should educators, literary critics, and readers now consider songwriters of popular music in the same category as novelists, playwrights, and poets? Does it signal a cataclysmic "times they are a changing" moment in classic literature and open the canon to, what some might call, the lowest form of art--rock ‘n roll, the music of  John Lennon's working-class heroes?
     Are Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Dr. Dre, Tupac, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Beck, and Carole King now eligible for the Nobel? Is classic poetry, suddenly, relative? What about Chicano/Latino and Latin American idols, like Lydia Mendoza, Ritchie Valens, Los Lobos, Los Tigres del Norte, Chalino Sanchez, Lalo Guerrero, Ruben Blades, or an album like “Chavez Ravine”? Is their oeuvre considered literature? After all, I’d go as far as to say popular music influences more people today than books. 
     More Chicanos would recognize the introductory strains of Lalo Guerrero’s “Pachuco Boogie” to the first words of Rulfo’s classic Pedro Paramo, “I first came to Comala…” 
     The Swedish Academy has maintained literature should not be evaluated by craft alone (art for art’s sake) but by its social impact, as well. Hemingway was a stylist, and an icon for many novelists. He received the Nobel Prize for his contribution to the craft of writing more than the themes of his stories. In fact, his work avoided overt social issues. 
     Yet, critics blasted John Steinbeck’s inelegant prose throughout his career, but according to most studies, Steinbeck’s novels have had a greater social impact on readers around the world than Hemingway’s, and sell more books, even today. “The Grapes of Wrath”, with its stylistic and literary missteps, brought political and public awareness to the plight of farmworkers in the 1930s more than any other piece of writing. In Dubious Battle, Of Mice and Men, and East of Eden shone a bright light on labor and unions in this country, moving out of the modern era and into the 1950s.
     If you mention the Joad family, many Americans would immediately recognize the name. Steinbeck made the Okie an American myth. Few, I’d guess, would recognize the name Nick Adams, or even Santiago of the Old Man and the Sea fame. 
     So, is literature in bad shape today? How could downtown Westwood, home to UCLA, a premier world-class university, not have a single bookstore? Is Amazon an indication?
     It’s jarring to hear how few Americans read newspapers, magazines, or books, even electronically. Apparently, most Americans get their news on mobile phones, tablets, and laptops, especially Facebook memes, which many tend to believe without fact-checking sources. All of this would be great if it supplemented, or even replaced, the written word, but it appears as though all of it is displacing literature. 
      A few million Americans watch cable television, a scary prospect, due to a station's bias, sometimes spilling outright lies then claiming it's just opinion. Others receive their news from major television stations, which provide, in a 30-minute segment, not counting commercials, about twenty minutes of sanitized news, so as not to hurt viewers sensibilities. 
     Most world literatures began with sacred books meant to enlighten and lead one to salvation, or, at the very least, educate spiritually and intellectually. After Guttenberg invented the printing press, the wealthy classes read for edification and entertainment, using most of their leisure time, a scarce commodity, if one can refer to it as that, to tradesmen, craftsmen, artists, farmers, and housewives, many who were illiterate. Reading wasn't encouraged among the working classes, in Europe or the so-called New World. During slavery, a literate slave was considered a threat to the system, and he or she could be executed. After emancipation, did the U.S. all of a sudden fill schools with newly freed slaves and teach them to read? Hardly. 
     Jonathan Kozol’s books on American education, beginning with Savage Inequalities, described how public schools in the poorest parts of the country provided the worst educations; yet, in the same towns and cities, public schools in the wealthiest parts provided superior educations. Today, there is even a wider divide between students who study in private vs. public schools. 
     Public education is a privilege and open to everyone, and most Americans beyond the age of seven can read. Yet, when it comes to literature, realistically, how many working-class people who toil eight-to-twelve-hour jobs (sometimes two jobs) each week, come home, sit down, and open the latest novel on New York’s Bestseller’s list? I mean, how many even consider the concept of “leisure” time? 
     Teachers of literature and composition love reading. Of course, unlike everybody else, they are paid to read and study, which gives them an advantage, and the time. Consequently, it is a thrill for teachers to help students navigate the “murky waters” writers often create in their fiction, hoping that when the waters clear, the writer’s words will inspire, enlighten, and entertain. 
      It is difficult for teachers to understand how students can read yet choose not to. How does a literate person ignore the experience of a lifetime: reading the words passed down to us by great minds? Unfortunately, if parents don't read, generally, neither will their children. So, it is no wonder students can’t handle the literature college teachers assign. 
     Joseph Conrad’s novel, “Heart of Darkness” is one of the most assigned books in introductory college English courses and one of the most difficult to read. It was reported that on the book’s publication Conrad told a reviewer his book contained "too much meat for the average reader." If Conrad considered his novel difficult for experienced adult readers in the 1800s, how much more difficult is it for students today, particularly inner-city kids who graduate from the schools Kozol describes in his books? 
     I’ve taken that ride with Conrad up the Congo River many times, and each time I hop aboard, I find the payoff more rewarding than the last trip, but the journey is still difficult. It is the same with Juan Rulfo’s, “Pedro Paramo”, a more difficult and complex challenge than even Conrad’s, yet, even if written in the 1950s, today the novel might be more relevant for a peek into Mexican culture than when it was written. 
     The question is this. Do we continue foisting literature that was meant for literate 19th century readers with plenty of luxury time on their hands to 21st century technology-driven eighteen and nineteen-year-olds, with little time on their hands? Or is it time to transform education and, as the Swedish Academy did by awarding Bob Dylan the Nobel prize, expand the meaning of literature? 
     Is Tupac’s ode to his mother, “Hey, Mama,” any less profound than Dylan Thomas’ ode to his father, “Do not go gentle into that goodnight,” or Bob Dylan’s, “It’s Alright, Ma, (I’m Only Bleeding)”? Should we empower today’s students by letting them read and, yes, watch, “Zoot Suit” along with “The Tempest,” accompanied by a knowledgeable teacher to guide them on their journey? 
     Maybe educators should begin to listen to students, to learn where they encounter deeper thinking, el cante jondo, as Spain's gypsies call their more mystical flamenco. Perhaps students access their own Socrates, Popol Vuh, and Sor Juana Inez de La Cruz in the nooks and crannies of their homes, or even on their mobile phone playlists? Is there magic in a text exchange between two students confronting an overbearing problem? Have they experienced an epiphany in their own answers? 
      In the early 1970s, just as I began college, I recall finding nuggets of gold buried in the racks of college and small independent bookstores, tomes never assigned, like Omar Salinas’ “Crazy Gypsy,” Marcus Duran’s short story “Retrato de un Bato Loco,” Luis Talamantes’ “Life Within the Heart Imprisoned,” and Marta Cotera, “When Women Speak.” 
      Unfortunately, as many educators try to make these changes, movements around the country stifle them, to silence the voices, when we all know America breathes in every corner of the country and not only one, and often it feels as though we're "stuck in Mobile with the Memphis blues again."

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

ABC El Salvador



Written by Holly Ayala


Illustrated by Elizabeth Gómez



With this fun, unique ABC book, learning-to-readers will travel with Xiomara and her brother Kevin to some of their favorite places in El Salvador. Spanish and Indigenous-influenced Salvadoran words, with beautifully painted illustrations by award-winning illustrator Elizabeth Gómez, will guide children through the culture, history and traditions that make Salvadorans proud.



Con este divertido y especial abecedario, los primeros lectores de aprendizaje viajarán con Xiomara y su hermano Kevin por algunos de sus lugares favoritos en El Salvador.  Las palabras en español y salvadoreñas de influencia indígena, con ilustraciones bellamente pintadas por la premiada ilustradora Elizabeth Gómez, guiarán a los niños a través de la cultura, la historia y las tradiciones que enorgullecen a los salvadoreños.



Holly Ayala, estadounidense salvadoreña que apoya el fomento a la lectura publicando libros infantiles y participando y organizando festivales de poesía que promueven la historia y cultura salvadoreña. ABC El Salvador está basado en su visitas a El Salvador y con su trabajo con los niños y niñas de ese país.


A Elizabeth Gómez le encanta ilustrar libros para niños. Una Película en mi Almohada, un libro acerca de El Salvador, recibió el Premio Américas por sus ilustraciones. A ella le encantaría visitar todos los lugares y comer todas las comidas que se mencionan en ABC El Salvador.



Holly Ayala is a Salvadoran American who encourages child literacy by promoting Salvadoran culture and history through children’s books and poetry festivals. ABC El Salvador is based on Holly’s trips to El Salvador and her experiences working with children there.


Elizabeth Gómez loves illustrating children’s books. She received the Americas Award for her illustrations of A Movie in My Pillow, a book about El Salvador. She would love to visit every region and eat all of the food mentioned in ABC El Salvador.


Tuesday, May 25, 2021

His First Chuparrosa

His First Chuparrosa
Michael Sedano

The 4-year old stared often at the feathers and painted flower framed behind glass on the wall. Ruby red and glowing bright green feathers took the shape of a bird hovering at a flower nearly as colorful as the bird, if it was a bird. The boy had seen a flower but never a bird like that.

Two boys were sent outside to play. Concha was sent outside to watch the boys.

Concha watched the boys play aimlessly in the dirt alongside the weathered brown siding of the hand-built casita where the boys' grandmother lived. The older boy found a bit of cracked garden hose and flung it. The littler boy heard the sound of the hose whiz past his ear. When he turned to follow its path he saw it.

The green feathers magically had come alive. The bird flitted from flower to flower, and, for a moment, hovered in front of a red blossom.

"Que linda," Concha called from the shade.

The bigger boy saw the bird too. Are little boys murderers? Irresponsible little shits? 

The older boy flung the chunk of hard rubber through the air, hard straight and true. The hummingbird stopped floating and the rubber weapon and the dead jewel fell to the Redlands dirt. 

Concha screamed in agony. The smaller boy heard her pain and understood immediately something awful had taken place. The older boy stood over the pile of green and brown feathers staring stupidly at what he'd accomplished. Concha gave him a look of pity and picked up the carcass.

In a few seconds, Concha returned from inside carrying a hefty black book. The woman opened the Bible to some random page in the middle, laid down the dead bird and closed the book around it to dry. Concha told the small boy about la chuparrosa's magic and how she would keep the dried body for luck.

It wasn't lucky for the hummingbird. The boy didn't understand that part. He knew about lucky rabbit's feet, but didn't understand that part, either.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Luis Alberto Ambroggio on 'An Exercise in the Darkness'


Luis Alberto Ambroggio on An Exercise in the Darkness


In An Exercise in the Darkness, Xánath Caraza delights our senses with magical playfulness, astonishing us throughout the 66 duplicating poems in the collection. Skillfully selecting key words from every paragraph of her prose poetry, which are then marked in boldface, the author extracts a brief poem that is not a Haiku, Tanka or Haibun, but an original poetic offshoot that fills us with effervescent amazement. In her prologue, Elizabeth Lara writes: “The writer’s ink, imbued with a throbbing life force, is barely contained by the white spaces that surround it.” In this way, we travel through the three sections of this fascinating collection that reflect three of the author’s geographic spaces: Fertile Land (Mexico); The Great Plains (Kansas) and Random Punctuation (Vermont). With the rebellious ingenuity of her verses and style in An Exercise in the Darkness, Xánath Caraza, one of the most prominent voices in contemporary poetry from Mexico and the US, conjures the imagination of readers who share in the mystery of a world that oscillates between darkness and light. This triple duality is stylistically innovative with prose and its poetic echo, the ekphrastic expression of the illustrations and also the bilingual version created in an original fashion with the participation of translator Sandra Kingery and the interpretative diversity of nine of her students, as she explains in her introduction. Xánath Caraza’s collection An Exercise in the Darkness is a heart-shaped treasure chest that safeguards and reveals emotions with the preciosity of metaphors, images, and personifications. It captivates us, inhabiting nature and the “blood of the earth.”


Luis Alberto Ambroggio

North American Academy of the Spanish Language


Friday, May 21, 2021

New Books

A pair of new books providing insight into the lives and minds of a revolutionary icon and a legendary texmaniac.  Plus, a Zoom writers panel with homies from the Northside.

I embrace you with all my revolutionary fervor: Letters, 1947-1967
Ernesto Che Guevara
Edited by Maria del Carmen Ariet Garcia and Disamis Arcia Munoz
Foreword by Aleida Guevara
Seven Stories Press - September 7, 2021

[from the publisher's website]
Ernesto Che Guevara was a voyager—and thus a letter writer—for his entire adult life. The letters collected here range from letters home during his Motorcycle Diaries trip, to the long letter to Fidel after the success of the Cuban revolution in early 1959, from the most personal to the intensely political, revealing someone who not only thought deeply about everything he encountered, but for whom the process of social transformation was a constant companion from his youth until shortly before his death. His letters give us Che the son, the friend, the lover, the guerilla fighter, the political leader, the philosopher, the poet. Che in these letters is often playful, funny, sometimes sarcastic, and deeply affectionate. His life was short, and these twenty years, from when he was 19 until days before his death, show it was also incredibly rich and full.

As his daughter Aleida Guevara, also a doctor like her father, writes, "When you write a speech, you pay attention to the language, the punctuation and so on. But in a letter to a friend or a member of your family, you don't worry about those things. It is you speaking, in your authentic voice. That's what I like about these letters; they show who Che really was and how he thought. This is the true political testimony of my father."


Crossing Borders:  My Journey in Music
Max Baca
and Craig Harris
Foreword by Daniel Sheehy
University of New Mexico Press - May 15, 2021

[from the publisher's website]
Max Baca is one of the foremost artists of Tex-Mex music, the infectious dance music sweeping through the Texas-Mexico borderlands since the 1940s. His Grammy-winning group, Los Texmaniacs, and his extensive work with the accordionist Flaco Jiménez established the Albuquerque-born and San Antonio–based bajo sexto player/bandleader as a spokesperson for a too-often-maligned culture. The list of artists who have contributed to Los Texmaniacs’ albums include Alejandro Escovedo, Joe Ely, Rick Trevino, Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel, David Hidalgo, Cesar Rosas, Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, and Lyle Lovett.

Max Baca was born to play music. By his eighth birthday, he was already playing in his father’s band. Polkas, redovas, corridos, boleros, chotises, huapangos, and waltzes are in his blood. Baca’s music grew out of the harsh life of the borderland, and the duality of borderland music—its keening beauty—remains a recurring theme in everything he does.




Manuel Ramos writes crime fiction.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Chicanonautica: Español y Más en el Radio Garden

by Ernest Hogan

A pocho like me needs to practice his Spanish and stay hip to the exploding galaxy of La Cultura. I like to play music while slaving away at the computer. It makes my days brighter.

 It's one of my secrets as a Latinoid writer/artist--my ethnicity hooks me up with all kinds of stuff that keep people complimenting me about my originality. "Where do you get those ideas?" I was born into it, unlike those poor culturally deprived denizens of this planet's Anglo ghetto.

I've written before about Radio Campesina,, and KUVO's Sunday programming. I have their apps on my phone, and often listen to them while thrashing away at weeds in my wife's garden. Now I am happy to say that I've added another, and it's something different. It's not just a station, and it embraces the world.

I'm talking about Radio Garden. When you get on the website you see an interactive globe, and sprinkled about the continents are green dots. Click on one of the dots and you hear a radio station. Lots and lots of radio stations, all over the Earth.

Whenever I feel like it, radio stations from all over the globe--the entire Global Barrio!--are mine to listen to. The entire Latin Hemisphere, Spain, the Philippines, parts of Africa . . . Worlds of music to explore. And the talk!

Not to mention the access to other cultures and languages, and if something interesting happens in a part of the world that you don’t know much about, just tune in to their radio stations, and eavesdrop.

Imagine, the internet making the world better . . .

Ernest Hogan is also known as the Father of Chicano Science Fiction.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The Everything I Have Lost

By Sylvia Zéleny 

Publisher : Cinco Puntos Press

Language : English

Paperback : 256 pages

ISBN-10 : 194762718X

ISBN-13 : 978-1947627185

Reading age : 10 - 14 years

Julia comes of age in the murder capital of the world. Where is her father? Why are they shooting guns? Who are “they”?

Julia’s best friend is her diary. She calls it “My Everything” —twelve-years-old at its beginning and fifteen at the end— a girl at the beginning, a young woman at its end, knowing more than she ever wanted to know.

Julia tells her diary everything about growing up in Juárez. At first, her family loses their house and their car, then suddenly her father is making lots of money. The family has a new car and a new house. It doesn’t make sense. Her father’s gone a lot, and her mother is always distracted and worried, busy creating art and wondering where her husband is.

Life in Julia´s urban neighborhood is strange too: there are shootings in the middle of the street, cars and neighbors disappear, pet cats and entire homes are left behind. Girls are disappearing somewhere in the city. She hears people saying that drug cartels rule the streets, but who are they? She only knows that she and her brother can’t play outside. And she is becoming a young woman in the midst of this confusion and uncertainty.

She wants to move across the river to the United States where her aunt and cousins live. Julia writes about all this and about things she overhears, things she doesn’t quite understand, and things she simply tries not to think about. Then her father vanishes for real and Julia and her brother go to live with her aunt in El Paso. What’s happened to Dad? Will he come back? Nobody wants to answer. And Julia can only make lists of those things she loses.


Foreword Review

The Everything I Have Lost captures a girl’s blossoming understanding of violence, family dysfunction, and what it means to grow up.


Zéleny's lively novel, written in the form of a diary, captures Julia's voice perfectly as she matures. Julia's life is very different from most readers, but Zéleny's approachable, inviting writing makes it resonant on a broad scale.―Donna Scanlon

Publishers Weekly

Conveying the grim challenges Julia faces, Zéleny creates a fierce, funny, and full-of-feeling protagonist whose staccato diary entries pull the reader along.

Latinx In Publishing

Sylvia Zéleny makes her claim as one of the true contemporary voices to be heard on the US Mexican border. Her powerful stories are not to be missed and will hold canon for many young readers looking to identify with text for and by their own culture…The Everything I Have Lost is a beautifully sublime story of a young girl coming of age en la frontera.―Chelsea Villarreal

Sylvia Zéleny is a bilingual author from Sonora, México. Sylvia has published several short-story collections and novels in Spanish. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Texas at El Paso where she is currently the Director of the Online Creative Writing MFA program. In 2016 she created Casa Octavia, a residence for women and LGBTQ writers from Latin America.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Guest Review: Dreaming With Mariposas

Guest Review: Sonia Gutiérrez Dreaming with Mariposas. McAllen, TX: Flowersong Press, 2021.

David Hollingsworth

Sonia Gutiérrez, author of Dreaming With Mariposas (link),  cites Tomás Rivera and Sandra Cisneros as two of her biggest literary inspirations. I've never read any of Rivera's work, but I've read "House on Mango Street" by Cisneros, and the influence is palpable. Both follow a young Chicana as she comes of age in the world(s) she grew up in. The biggest commonality is structural, though: both are a series of vignettes from the perspective of their protagonist, often only two or three pages each. 

That said, while Gutiérrez is influenced by Cisneros, her voice is very much her own. Her background as a poet gives her a playfulness with words that helps give a creativity to her writing without making it so metaphor-heavy that it begins to feel abstract. Her prose is imaginative, but easy to digest. It also features a moderate amount of Spanish dialogue. If you grew up in a Chicana/o household or neighborhood, it's nothing you haven't heard before, but if not, just be aware that you may want a Spanish to English dictionary (or Google Translate) at the ready. 

The story of this book, at its core, is about a young Chicana woman coming of age. Like "House on Mango Street" there is no coherent plot, but there is still an arc underneath it all. I think of it like a photo collage of someone growing up: it's not documenting any one particular event, but each individual piece is a snapshot that tells its own story, and taken together and viewed in order, you see the progression. 

In the beginning, she is a child observing the world around her. By the end, she's a young woman trying to make her way in the world on her own terms. 

These stories aren't just about the protagonist, either. They're not even just about her parents, her sister, or her abuelito, either. They're about all the community she grew up in, the Mexican-American working class of north county San Diego (Oceanside/Vista/San Marcos/Escondido). As someone who is half Mexican and grew up in Vista, it was wonderful to see representation done so well and honestly, showing both the beauty and pain that is both particular to where the story takes place and universal to the human experience. 

Overall, I very much enjoyed this book. It made me think and feel in a way that I know will stick with me in the way memories of all good novels do. This is a fantastic piece of Chicana literature, but it's also just a fantastic piece of literature in general.”

Meet the Guest Reviewer
David Hollingsworth is an educator, writer, activist, and podcast host from Vista, CA who currently resides in Burbank, CA with his wife, Kat. 

David works as a non-student teaching assistant for UC San Diego’s Eleanor Roosevelt College and hosts a podcast called A Mouthful of History with two fellow historians. 

Hollingsworth earned his MA in History in 2018 from San Diego State University with an emphasis on US and Latin American history, and his BA in International Studies from UC Irvine with an emphasis on Latin America in 2014.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Tía Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore’s 16th Annual Virtual Celebrating Words Festival!

All are invited to Tía Chucha's Centro Cultural & Bookstore's 16th annual Celebrating Words Festival on May 28, 29 and 30. As we emerge from a pandemic imposed isolation, T
ía Chucha's will provide a space for connection that supports the mental health and well-being of our community. This year's festival will feature immersive virtual programming and a drive-thru experience focused on using the arts, literacy, and ancestral teachings as viable ways of healing and transformation. This festival is Tía Chucha's offering to you as our community, an offering that we hope inspires you to expand your imagination, healing, and consciousness.

Virtual Programming: May 28, 2021, from 5 pm – 10 pm, and May 29, 2021, from 12 pm – 10 pm.

Book Drive-Thru Experience: May 30, 2021, from 11 am – 3 pm at Vaughn G3 Learning Academy, 11200 Herrick Ave. Pacoima, CA.

Live Events

Check out all of the events will be live streamed on Tía Chucha's YouTube Channel and Facebook. Make sure to follow and subscribe! No registration required. For a complete schedule, visit this link.

About Tía Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore

The Northeast San Fernando Valley has a population of about 500,000 – the size of the city of Oakland – yet it had no bookstores, art galleries, or full-fledged cultural spaces until Tía Chucha's opened its doors in 2001. Thankfully, various local organizations have for decades provided services to address the many survival needs of a large number of economically insecure families and individuals in this area. Believing that it is also everyone’s right to explore and develop their innate creative gifts, Tia Chucha’s founders set out to correct the historic absence of life-enhancing artistic and literary options for this sector of the population. Melding vision with conviction, Tia Chucha’s was created as a space to embrace the equally important artistic development of our lives as human beings.

Tia Chucha’s began as a café, bookstore and cultural space owned and run by Los Angeles Poet Laureate Luis J. Rodriguez, his wife Trini, and their brother-in-law Enrique Sanchez. In 2003 Luis, along with singer/musicologist Angelica Loa Perez and Xicano Rap artist Victor Mendoza established a next-door sister nonprofit to incorporate a full range of arts workshops. When in 2007 the cultural café and bookstore disbanded as an LLC, it donated its assets, including inventory, shelves, equipment, and more to the nonprofit to carry its mission forward.

Tia Chucha’s cultural center now provides year-round on-site and off-site free or low-cost arts and literacy bilingual intergenerational programming in mural painting, music, dance, writing, visual arts, healing arts sessions (such as reiki healing) and healing/talking circles. Workshops and activities also include Mexica ("Aztec") dance, indigenous cosmology/philosophy, and two weekly open mic nights (one in Spanish, the other in English). It also hosts author readings, film screenings, and art exhibits as well.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Notes from a Poet

 Melinda Palacio

A question I’m often asked is a vague inquiry about where I get my inspiration. My answer to where poems come from may sound equally vague and elusive, especially after a year of lockdown and experiencing the world from my living room window. The window is a sliding door onto the balcony where I spent many hours bird watching, reading, writing, learning the ukulele and participating in readings and meetings online, where most of life took place. 
While I joined many bakers in the sourdough  brigade, keeping sourdough starter healthy and at the ready to turn into bread wonders and crackers, I realized I had to stop with the bread production and consumption. Although I don’t have an allergy to wheat, I don’t have the metabolism of young person and I staying indoors doesn’t help either. With the world awakening, it was easy to neglect Seymour (the name of the sourdough starter. I am a little sad about Seymour demise. Seymour is no more. While I no longer have to keep the pet in the refrigerator, I think I’ll give up baking for a while all together; at least until my expanded waistline shrinks a bit. All that work at home means I need a good diet, even my dog is on a diet. She was a pudgy puppy when we adopted her. We are helping each other get back into shape. 
No matter what I’m writing, I often start with a phrase or a sentence, usually taken from my notebook. For a few months, I had fallen out of habit of writing in my journal and I experienced a dry spell with little ideas. Now, that I’ve returned to the practice, I have more projects because I can remember those sparks of and ideas that nag me in the middle of the night. I used to think that if the idea was good enough, I’d remember it the next day. However, these days, I can’t even fool myself into believing this is true. Ideas, whenever they arrive must be honored by immediately writing them down or else they will move on, and believe me someone else will be ready to listen and jot down that stroke of genius. I’ve found that it’s important to respect those ideas and breath life into them by following through with them by starting with a visual manifestation of the words, a simple jotting down of a a phrase or word or sentence or allow yourself to get as much of the idea on paper as is possible before going back to sleep or attending a meeting or doing some task that prevents you from finishing the thought. 
I do not have a set notebook for jotting down all the ideas that pop into my head. I would certainly recommend having just one place to turn to. I grab the closest piece of paper, notepad or blank journal. The most important thing is to write down the idea, especially if I know the idea will become a poem or story, or song. 

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, Mexico. 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 by foot, when the bus didn't come.

     She remembered spending most of her time in the famed department store 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 shoo-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 tract-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 mom 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, and 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.