Thursday, April 28, 2022

Consider Cano’s Question from Yesterday

 Melinda Palacio 

Where are the Chicano Intellectuals? Are they buried under student loan debt? Are they dead, an idea reduced to a meme or emoji? I think they’re among us, making art, daring us to take notice, and sometimes they’re recognized. I think of the playwright Luis Alfaro, the photographer and poet Marisela Norte, the painter Margaret Garcia, the teacher Mary Ortega, the lawyer Eddie Ortega, the playwright Lindsey Haley, people who have opened their door to provide a cultural center, spaces for books, music, and dance. The list goes on and on, but most don’t get the opportunity to share their intellectual insights on PBS or have a HBO show dedicated to Chicano Intellectuals. While not the Hollywood walk of fame, Luis Rodriguez placed his handprint on the Vroman’s Walk of Fame. 

However Cano has a point, while I can think of many thinkers with enormous intellect who could stand under the Chicano umbrella, I cannot think of someone like Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz who is willing to sacrifice herself for a life favoring intellect. Books don’t seem to hold the same reverence they held in Sor Juana’s time. She didn’t have the modern problem of having too many things or too many bigs. She didn’t have to ask herself which volume of poetry no longer sparks joy in her life. She treasured every book she owned. 

As I write this short response on my iPad in a hotel room on the road to California, I wonder if this very device isn’t responsible for the diminishing future of Chicano Intellectuals. In my travels I see less young people pull out a book from their backpack than I did twenty years ago. People seem to argue less about the meaning of passages in a book, let alone have a conversation without referring to a photo on their device. Perhaps, I am dating myself and am skating into Chicano curmudgeon territory when I notice a reverence for athletes, rockstars, and actors over intellectuals and literary artists in our community? 

At least we have La Bloga and intellectuals, such as Professor Cano to keep us on our toes.

Where are the Chicano Intellectuals?


The Intelligentsia

     I was listening to Cornel West talk on Public Television last week. A respected professor, scholar, and African American intellectual, West is the author of several books, his most influential Race Matters. In his talks, West is as comfortable referencing Frederick Douglas, Phyllis Wheatley, W. E. B. Dubois, Mark Twain, St. Augustine, Dostoyevsky, and Martin Buber as he is Toni Morrison, Bob Dylan, Alice Walker, John Coltrane, and Jay-Z, in the same vein as African American intellectuals today, like Michael Eric Dyson, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Joy Degrue, the late Bell Hooks, and Ta-nehisi Coates.

     As I listened, I began to think, where are the Chicano, Latino, Mexican American, Latin X, hell, I'll even take "Hispanic" intellectuals, especially these days when issues like Latino identity, ethnicity, immigration, nationalization, education, and art are at the forefront? Some might say we should look to Latin America, Carlos Fuentes, Rosario Castellanos, Octavio Paz, and Diego Rivera for our intellectual precursors. I'm just saying.

     American intellectualism grew out of the tradition of the 1920s, post WWI, scholarship of thinkers like John Dewey, and Jewish literary scholars, like Lionel Trilling, Hannah Arendt, Saul Bellow, Susan Sontag, Alfred Kazan, and Norman Podhoretz, powerful with both the mind and the pen. Their work opened the literary canon, from the staid formalist, “Art for Art’s Sake” theory, to the more progressive social literary theories of today, as well as commenting on all aspects of American culture. They got us looking inward, toward a more American identity, and away from Europe.

      The Harlem Renaissance lifted the voices of the early Black intellectuals, writers like Claude McKay, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Zora Neal Hurston, Alain Locke, and later Lorraine Hansberry. They not only created art, but they wrote reviews and essays, critiquing high and low brow “Negro” culture, paving the way to today’s African American intellectual tradition.


Mexican Anarchists and Intellectuals in Los Angeles

      One could argue New York was the bastion of “literate” cultures, where the Southwest was mostly agrarian and blue collar, still looking for culture. Yet, 1920s Los Angeles, for example, was home to 20-25 Spanish-language newspapers and periodicals, monthlies, weeklies, and dailies, a topic I explored in my third novel Death and the American Dream. Why? Because I wanted to know who was writing and reading these newspapers? Who were the Mexican, Californio, and Mexican American thinkers of the day?

     By 1930, Anglo migration to California from the Midwest and East surged, the population of Los Angeles County close to one-million people, 170,000-200,000 of them Mexican, some fleeing the 1910 Revolution and the 1925 Cristero War, others native Californios. They not only worked the fields, mines, and railroads, but many moved into real estate, law, and agriculture. Many of them gave voice, in both literature and art, to social injustices and helped create the early labor movements in the Southwest.

     As I attempted to show, in my novel, there were many important Mexican “literate” voices in the 1920s, one of the most influential Ricardo Flores Magon, along with his brother Enrique, and members of the Mexican Liberal Party, who published Regeneracion, a political newspaper widespread in Spanish-speaking America, Mexico, and Latin America. With its English translation by William C. Owen, Regeneracion reached readers across the United States and into Europe. 

     Since Magon and the Magonistas resided and operated on both sides of the border, they often saw themselves as bicultural. Magon was even tried in Los Angeles, unjustly, and died in an American prison. Magon was also the voice of the Mexican Revolution. Historians say it was he who wrote the lines for Zapata, "It is better to die on one's feet than live on one's knees," and "Land and Liberty."

      The concept of a border wasn’t as definite at the turn of the 20th century as it is today. For a few cents, and a signature on a piece of paper, people moved freely across the border, taking and bringing their property and ideas with them. Indo-Hispanic cultural tradition wasn’t only captured on paper but in music, especially the nortena and corridos, well into the 1940s by such radio hosts as Pedro J. Gonzalez, up before dawn each morning, with his group Los Madrugadores, to entertain and educate Mexican workers on their way to their jobs.

     However, can we discount the early journals, diaries, letters, and interviews of those Hispano-Indo-Mexicans who originated and settled, not only California but other cities throughout the Southwest, even into Michigan, Kansas City, and St. Louis where they migrated to work the dairies, stockyards, and railroads?

     As a teacher for nearly thirty years, I saw future generations of Chicano-Latino-Indo-Hispanic students and friends earn doctorates, and excel in many intellectual fields, including those who wrote novels, poetry, and essays. To me, their excellence has earned them the right to call themselves doctors, scholar-writers, novelists and poets, but with that right comes a certain responsibility and obligation -- to publish and speak out, vociferously, in the tradition of the early intelligentsia.

     So, I’m mystified as to why I don’t hear more Mexican-Latino intellectual voices as I do other voices in the media. Where are they? On cable’s MSNBC, anchor Alicia Menendez, daughter of long-time Cuban American congressman Robert Menendez, has done her best to bring on more female, Latina voices, but they are mostly political. For a time, there were quite a few raza scholars, journalists, novelists, poets, and essayists in the public square, but today it seems they’re relegated to the classroom.

     Who decides what or who is a “hot” intellectual commodity, worthy for publication and a place at the lectern, the scholars themselves? It is true, scholars often dismiss any form of popular writing, poetry, novels, and essays, as intellectually relevant. As one noted scholar said when he was asked why popular writers weren’t respected in academia, “You don’t turn the zoo over to the hippopotamus.”

     Maybe a problem is that our "Latino" identity is fluid. We can't even agree on what to call ourselves. Not all Mexican Americans identify as “Chicano,” a term many Chicano Study scholars refuse to abandon, which I understand since Mexico's children are still the largest ethnic group in the U.S. For sure, Central Americans, Cubans, and Puerto Ricans don’t see themselves as Chicano, but many do see themselves as “Latino.”

     Are we all so radically different that we don’t have a common culture? Personally, I think when a people share the same language, religion, and hemisphere, they also share many of the same values and cultural traits. Being from California, I experienced times in the military when I had more in common with a Puerto Rican from New York than a Mejicano from a tiny town in Texas. If there were no Mexicans in a platoon or company, Puerto Ricans and Cubans immediately took me into the fold.

     After all, American Jews come from every country in the world, but they seem to agree on their Jewishness, as a religion and a culture. African Americans didn’t all migrate from the deep South, yet they have created something of a common culture, even in their acceptance of their brethren who hail from Africa, Europe, and the Caribbean. African Americans have no qualms integrating Afro-Latinos into their culture.  There's power in numbers. Today, it seems Chicano scholars are fighting over who is more indigenous than Hispanic, when part of the clave of being Chicano was mestizaje, the whole point of Corky Gonzalez’s, Yo Soy Joaquin.

     Or, maybe, I'm "off" here, and it’s that the entire tradition of Intellectualism is a thing of the past? Since it is reported that less than 90 percent of the American public has read an entire book in the past year, is literature, in all its forms and genres, for that matter, are the arts, generally, on life support, and the plug dangling from the wall, or are the arts transforming into something unrecognizable, like techno music and computer-generated art?

     It seems that the acquisition of wealth and possessions, today, more than ever, governs the American ethos. The most popular forms of music are like infomercials for violence, Gucci, gold chains, cocaine, guns, sex, pickup trucks, booze, and honky-tonks. Will Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram soon make the NY Times Bestseller List? The blockbuster movies feature superheroes and zombies. The Fast and Furious franchise is number one with young Mexican-Chicano-Latinos. Excited about a movie called El Chicano, I could hardly sit through the cinematic disaster. What a waste of excellent acting talent, but if violence and demons sell, the results are understandable.

     Lord knows, I’m not one to look to the past or “Make America Great Again” propaganda. I’m in the camp of those who say, “It never was great,” whatever great means. We pretend to detest China but nearly everything in our closets and medicine cabinets is produced there. China and Saudi Arabia own more U.S. real estate than the average working American. Russia is destroying its neighbor as the world watches, the conclusion: buy a nuclear weapon, or, what Putin is showing the rest of non-nuclear Europe, “Watch what I’m doing to them because I can do it to you, and nobody will help.”


Barrio Philosopher

     So, I’ll to listen to what remains of the American intelligentsia, African Americans, who focus insightfully on ethnic cultural issues, coming out of the Southern Black church tradition; and the Anglo intellectuals, who are becoming more political than social or cultural, except maybe for Neil Postman, Noemi Klein (though Canadian), Thomas Freidman, and a few others. For Chicano/Latino intelligentsia, I guess, until they show up, there's Danny Trejo and Gustavo Arellano to set us on the right path.  

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Sandra Cisneros' Virtual Event


Sandra Cisneros, Award-winning author of "House on Mango Street"

by UCI Illuminations


Date and time

Thu, April 28, 2022

5:00 PM – 6:30 PM PDT



Online event


To register visit,



Meet Sandra Cisneros, author of the beloved novel “House on Mango Street,” about a young girl growing up in the Latino section of Chicago.


About this event

Please join us for an inspiring evening with author Sandra Cisneros, author of the beloved novel “House on Mango Street,” about a young girl growing up in the Latino section of Chicago. Sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes deeply joyous, this novel depicts a new American landscape through its multiple characters. The author will be introduced by Professor Rodrigo Lazo (English). Q and A moderated by Professor Héctor Tobar (Literary Journalism).

This event supports our year-long theme, “For a more perfect union?” and contributes to campus-wide discussions of wisdom in the world. How does literature help us reimagine community in a changing world? How is literature a conduit of wisdom that attunes us to ancestors, history, the environment, other people, and ourselves? Please join the conversation by attending this and other events organized around these themes.


For more information and to register visit,



Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Illustrated Picture Books Building Flexible Minds

Michael Sedano

Wednesday is children’s bilingual illustrated books day. What a mouthful to say, and quite a lapful to enjoy, what with squirming kid, oversize book open, two colorful pages of delightful illustration and engaging text in Spanish and in English.  

Last week, La Bloga-Wednesday's Rene Colato Laínez shared Jorge Tetl Argueta and Felipe Ugalde Alcántara’s Viento, Vientito. Wind, Little Wind. Alcántara’s cover illustration, whose waves echo Japanese woodblocks, immediately let me judge the book by its portada. 


I have a little friend who’s needful of this book, so she will have it. I have also from the publisher, El Niño de maíz. The Boy of Maize, by Mario Bencastro and Christina Rodriguez.

As I leaf through these two gems, I credit the publisher, Piñata Books an imprint of Arte Público Press, (link) for providing an extensive library—a series of books for sale—of similarly published works. Parents and grandparents of children coming to literacy will want to visit the publisher’s website weekly to help that kid keep up with a growing appetite for literacy in two languages.


Illustrations delightful to adults. Kids learn to find delight through their own eyes and fingers and crayolas across the page (later), and also learn visual literacy from that smiling adult pointing to features for discussion.


Engaging text in Spanish and English engages when the adult makes it so. Reading to kids offers the literate world’s greatest pleasures. Speech teachers tell their uptight adult public speakers to read to children. Reading to kids requires not just words but sounds, beeps and boinks and toot-toot! When no one’s watching, Mr. or Ms. Uptight will really make a good growling critter noise.


Now, just remember how your body felt in that moment of grinning kid, growling adult, picture book, and make your body feel like that when you begin that speech in front of that audience. It’s not the same, but you make it close enough to get past the moment and into the message.


Reading bilingually evokes a bit of controversy from second- and third-generation raza. They speak English at home and in business. One of the spouses may be married-into-raza raza and Spanish genuinely is a foreign tongue to that parent. “I’d love for Mocosx to speak X’s grandparents’ language but…”


The only barrier is your lips and ears. Listen to other books read aloud in Spanish. For many, listening is a route to remembering pronunciation and which syllable accents go. Those second and third generation raza possess what linguists call a “competence-performance dichotomy.” Having grown up with and around Spanish, the English-dominant parent understands Spanish but is uncomfortable or incompetent orally. 


For the children of those families, competence-performance dichotomy is all they’ll have, until they study foreign language in middle school. And then, they’ll get “A” and possess a comfortable code-switching mind. That’s not a bad result, for people whose native language once was not English.

Monday, April 25, 2022

_La mariposa de Jackeline, Jackeline’s Butterfly_ at the Humanities Research Center

 La mariposa de Jackeline, Jackeline’s Butterfly at the Humanities Research Center

Xánath Caraza


El pasado 20 de abril de este año se presentó en el Humanities Research Center de Lycoming College La mariposa de Jackeline, Jackeline’s Butterfly con especial atención y celebración a los traductores de este poemario. El Director del Humanities Research Center es el Doctor Andrew Leiter quien amablemente nos abrió las puertas.  Los traductores de La mariposa de Jackeline, Jackeline’s Butterfly son la Doctora Sandra Kingery, Aaron Willsea y Hanna Cherres. Tuve el honor de ser invitada en Zoom. A continuación les comparto parte del discurso presentado por la Doctora Kingery y Aaron Willsea junto con imágenes de este evento que me conmovió sobremanera.  Las fotografías son del Humanities Research Center y de Maybel Mesa Morales. Este poemario fue parcialmente escrito con el apoyo del George B. Gaul Endowed Student-Faculty Research Program de Lycoming College.  


“It is such an honor to be here and to have the opportunity to introduce my 3 partners for this presentation and this book. First off, the amazingly prolific Xánath Caraza, who is joining us by Zoom, and who has written nearly 20 books now (I’ve lost count of the exact number). Almost all of Xánath’s books have been published in bilingual editions with my translation, and five of these translations were completed with students, including Hanna and Aaron.

Xánath’s books have garnered innumerable awards. To name just a few, all related to books I translated with students, here are three awards, all from the International Latino Book Awards:

In 2018, Lágrima roja, which Aaron and I later translated as Red Teardrop, was nominated in the category of Poetry, One Author, Spanish. 

In 2019, Metztli, which I translated with Kaitlyn Hipple ’18, was given Second Place for Best Collection of Short Stories—English.

And in 2021, It Pierces the Skin, which I translated with 18 students, including Hanna and Aaron, was given Third Place for the Best Bilingual Book of Poetry.

I am very grateful to Xánath for trusting my students and me to capture in English the strength and passion of her astonishing collections of prose and poetry.

I also want to briefly introduce my two co-translators. Hanna Cherres is a senior Spanish major, who is in the final stages of completing a Haberberger Fellowship in Spanish about Ecuadorian literature of the 20th century. She joined this translation project with me as a George B. Gaul Research Scholar last summer.

Aaron Willsea graduated from Lycoming College in 2020 with a Business major and a Spanish minor. He is passionate about translating, and this book is the second translation project he has completed with me since his graduation.

It was such a pleasure to work on this project with Hanna and Aaron because they were true collaborators throughout the project.  Sometimes when I work with student translators, I need to be very circumspect about offering suggestions, because the students will tend to accept my translation as the “correct” translation (as if there is ever just one correct translation). Hanna and Aaron, on the other hand, had no problem with rejecting suggesting that I would throw out there if they had come up with something better. (Which is exactly the way it should be.)  

Hanna, Aaron and I all translated all of the poems individually, and then we compared our translations, selecting words and phrases, sometimes from my translation, sometimes from one of their translations, and sometimes something new that none of us had come up with in the beginning. This was a true collaboration, and Hanna and Aaron’s work made the translation immeasurably better.

Lastly, I want to introduce the subject of the book: Jackeline’s Butterfly honors and commemorates the memory of Jackeline Caal, a 7-year old girl from Guatemala who made the 2000-mile trek from Guatemala to the border of New Mexico with her father in search of asylum.

Jackeline and her father turned themselves in to US Customs and Border Patrol in December 2018, and her father requested what is called a “credible fear interview” to explain why they were not safe in Guatemala and needed asylum in the US.

Eight hours later, Jackeline began vomiting and spiked a very high fever. Her father says that they were not given food or water during those eight hours that they were in custody.

Jackeline’s father reported her illness, but it took more than 90 minutes for Jackeline to be seen by medical authorities. They then transported her to the hospital, but unfortunately, she died the next day.

It took the US government 8 days to acknowledge that a child had died while in Customs and Border Patrol custody.

The head of the American Academy of Pediatrics, called Jackeline’s death “preventable.” The autopsy confirms that Jackeline died of a bacterial infection known as streptococcal sepsis. Early medical attention might have prevented her death.

The ACLU released a statement that said: “This tragedy represents the worst possible outcome when people, including children, are held in inhumane conditions. Lack of accountability, and a culture of cruelty within Customs and Border Patrol have exacerbated policies that lead to migrant deaths.”

So on that tragic note, I’m going to turn the program over to Hanna who is going to talk a little bit about the project and then read some poems with Xánath. Then Aaron will do the same. Xánath will conclude our presentation with a few words at the end.”

—Sandra Kingery


“The translation process for me has been such an incredible journey. I really have enjoyed being able to work with Sandy on these projects and over time have been able to develop my own style of translating, which is a very rewarding experience. Translating powerful works of poetry such as La Mariposa de Jackeline are as challenging as they are enjoyable, because maintaining the message of each poem is as important as each individual word. Being able to work with Hanna and Dr. Kingery was a real pleasure as well because no one was afraid to voice their opinion or challenge a translation, which ultimately leads to the best possible translation I believe.”

—Aaron Willsea


Friday, April 22, 2022

Northside Pride: A Drive-By Exhibit

From the Northside Arts Collective -- an exhibit that honors the artistic and cultural legacy of Denver's Northside.  Welcome to the 'hood.


Press Release

Coatlaxopeuh by Arlette Lucero

Information: Maruca Salazar or 303-477-6037

Northside Pride: A Drive-By Exhibit

A “drive-by” is usually a very negative thing. But in this case, it lets anyone driving by the corner of W 32nd Avenue and Clay Streets in North Denver see the creative Latino talent with roots in that part of the city. In fact, most people park and walk up to enjoy the details.

Featured in Northside Pride: A Drive-By Exhibit from the Northside Arts Collaborative is the work of more than 36 local artists in numerous genres – visual art, music, literature, film, poetry, storytelling, photography and theater. The exhibit also includes a short history of the Latino influence of the Holiday Theater which is next door and was once a venue for Spanish-language movies. It is now leased by the Museum of Contemporary Art for multidisciplinary presentations.

The exhibit banners hang in the windows of an empty storefront which at one time sold fabulous quinceñera dresses and most recently was a frozen yogurt shop. The building is owned by the newly formed Denver Cultural Property Trust whose goal is to provide affordable spaces for creatives while preserving important cultural icons.

The Northside Arts Collaborative is the coming together of creatives committed to preserving and strengthening the Latinx/Chicano culture, history and aesthetic of the Northside.

WHAT: Northside Pride: A Drive-By Exhibit

WHERE: SE Storefront at W 32nd Avenue & Clay Street, Denver

WHEN: April 8, 2022 – until space is no longer vacant


• Abarca Family Collection/Latino Cultural Arts Center

• Alfredo Cardenas: Artist

• Anna Orozco Flores: Novelist

• Arlette Lucero: Artist

· Bobby LeFebre: Colorado Poet Laureate

· Canción Mexicana/La Raza Rocks/KUVO: Public Radio Programs

· Carmen Deina Beall: Holiday Theater & Beall Family Historian

· Cipriano Ortega: Musical Artist

· Daniel Salazar: Artist

· Felicia Gallegos Pettis: Actor

· Flor Lovato: Poet

· Frank Zamora: Artist

· Geraldina Lawson: Storyteller

· John Flores RIP: Artist

· Juan Fuentes: Photographer

· Latinx Leadership Class of North High School: Photographers & Poets

· Leo Tanguma: Artist

· Lewis Flores: Artist

· Magdalena Gallegos RIP: Novelist/Historian

· Manuel Aragon: Photographer

· Manuel Ramos: Novelist

· Mariachi Juvenil de Bryant Webster: Musicians

· Mario Acevedo: Novelist

· Maruca Salazar: Artist

· Meggan de Anza, Artist

· R. Ch. Garcia: Novelist

· Stevon Lucero RIP: Artist

· Sylvia Montero: Artist

· Tony Ortega: Artist

Photos and Poetry by Latinx Leadership Class of North High



Manuel Ramos writes crime fiction. His latest novel is Angels in the Wind.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Chicanonautica: Sci-Fi Self Portraits and the Chicano Imagination

by Ernest Hogan

As things often do these days, this started with an email. Alex Hernandez, one of the editors of Speculative Fiction for Dreamers: A Latinx Anthology, invited me to a Zoom event: Latinx Visions Workshop: Mutants, Monstrose, y Migrants. It would feature artists creating science fiction versions of themselves.

It would also be another opportunity to commit self-promotion in public. I said yes.

Unfortunately, it was scheduled to take place when I was at work. We decided that I could do something in advance, and make a quick, fashionably late appearance if I could get home in time.

It would also get me back into drawing. Writing has been eating up most of my time lately, not to mention knocking my brain into safe mode. One of my goals for the near future is to make drawing, and spontaneous cartooning and surrealism, part of my life again.

An idea hit me immediately. Since my imagination is my superpower, I had my skull bubbled out, and my hypothalamus bursting forth as a third eye. I did a thumbnail in my on-the-run sketchbook, then sat down at my neglected drawing board . . .

Alex liked it, and asked for a few sentences explaining how it relates to my “Latino/Chicano” identity.

I obliged: 

I'm amazed that the Latino/Chicano imagination isn't recognized as a superpower or a deadly weapon. It's like I can shoot rays out of that invisible hypothalamus/third eye and cause reality to warp. Or maybe it's my Aztec nose? Just a bit of ancient Chicano wisdom.

Then I got to thinking. The imagination of those of us in the Latinoid continuum is a definite phenomenon in all of the arts. I never thought about why. It’s always there, in my head, and no matter where I go.

The reason is because of our mestizaje— the fact that we come from a complicated, volatile mix of cultures, going way back to the Muslim occupation of Spain and recomboculture of Teotihuacán, and maybe even the controversial possibility of an Olmec/African connection, or the yet to be discovered lost civilizations of the Amazon Basin that probably genetically engineered the banana.

And it’s not just a done deal in the past, we keep adding to our rasquache— cultural appropriation of a different kind. When we find ourselves in a new place, encountering new cultures and languages, we make use of them and add our own stuff, making it our own. We don’t just seek out new life and new civilizations, we are new life and new civilizations.

When the day came, I did manage to get on the tail end of the workshop. Alex has shown my picture and read my statement. Students were inspired. They drew their own science fiction versions of themselves, creating and defining their own identities; encouraging to see in this age when pre-packaged identities and lifestyles are being peddled by corporations all across the interwebs.

Don’t just consume, create. Your lives, and the future, will be better for it. Another bit of  ancient Chicano wisdom.

Ernest Hogan is the Father of Chicano Science Fiction. He has a story in Speculative Fiction for Dreamers, and a preface and story in El Porviner, ¡Ya! Citlalzazanilli Mexicatl.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022



By Mario Bencastro

Illustrations by Christina Rodriguez




ISBN:  978-1-55885-946-3

Publication Date:  May 31, 2022

Format:  Hardcover

Pages:  32

Imprint: Piñata Books

Ages: 5-10



Gorgeous bilingual picture book introduces children to indigenous origin story of Latin America.


In a land where the yellow jaguar lives and the sun rises behind green mountains, “the earth was filled with joy” when Balám, the boy of maize, was born. He climbed on top of a big, blue turtle, and along with an assortment of other animals, began the journey to the village.


Excited to spread the word about the child’s birth, the creatures worked together—each utilizing its special skills—in perfect harmony with Mother Earth. The turtle walked so slowly that he sent the louse ahead to give the good news to the townspeople. But the louse fell asleep in the road, so the toad swallowed him and said, “I will take you with the message.” The toad, exhausted from taking big leaps, was swallowed by the snake, and the snake, unable to cross the river, was swallowed by the hawk. When the bird flew into the village, the louse delivered the message, but long days and nights passed and still the boy did not arrive! Would the great turtle be able to deliver the special boy?


Capturing the essence of nature while telling the mythical story that unites Central American countries around the importance of corn, this enchanting bilingual picture book introduces children to the Mayan origin story of a people made of maize. Written by acclaimed Salvadoran writer Mario Bencastro, it contains beautiful illustrations by accomplished children’s book artist Christina Rodriguez.



MARIO BENCASTRO is the author of numerous award-winning books, including a bilingual picture book, Un tren llamado Esperanza / A Train Called Hope (Piñata Books, 2021), and a novel for teens in English and Spanish: A Promise to Keep (Piñata Books, 2005) and Viaje a la tierra del abuelo (Piñata Books, 2004). Bencastro lives and works in Florida.


CHRISTINA RODRIGUEZ is the illustrator of several picture books for children, including We Are Cousins / Somos primos (Piñata Books, 2007), Mayte and the Bogeyman / Mayte y el Cuco (Piñata Books, 2006) and Un día con mis tías / A Day with My Aunts (Piñata Books, 2006). She graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2003 with a BFA in illustration.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Recovery: Good Friday For A Colibrí

A Good Friday: Sad Story Reverses Course



SweetiePie T. Cat, II, lies in readiness behind the Echinopsis mound. The pair of Mourning Doves busy themselves pecking seeds scattered six feet from the lurking grey bird-killer. The doves peck and wander, they peck ever-nearer the cat’s strike zone. A soft four-note coo of contentment changes instantly to a short alarmed churp! Fluttering wings leave a tiny cloud of dust in their wake, SweetiePie The Cat scratches at the vacant spot.

She’s a good cat, but SweetiePie is a cat. She kills. Lizards no longer abound in the backyard, not at ground level where the cat like some feline St. Michael subdues my serpent population. I miss those lizards, my little dragons. 

Rats and mice I miss not at all. SweetiePie is a ratter par excellence. Sometimes I discover, by smell, a rat corpse behind a curtain. It’s less asco than an olfactory measure of SweetiePie’s value.

My earliest memory of the chuparosa starts with a whirling length of rubber garden hose striking a green and red hummingbird and both falling to the earthen driveway. I must have been three years old watching helplessly the older boy’s senseless violence. I remember Concha running to gather up the limp body. She pressed it to dry in the pages of the Bible she carried from harvest to harvest up the Central Valley. I hope it brought the luck Concha deserved after she disappeared in 1968.

I remember seeing the bird as a wonder in a world just opening to my perception. The bird’s color in bright morning sunlight held me rapt. But my brother and I were there. We could have stayed inside. And that piece of hose lay there. Who cut that hose that length, why? How does the lethal weapon appear at our feet at this instant, curled and hardened by sunlight? It flies straight and true. I see the blurring hard rubber hose close the distance between my brother’s hand and the floating green wonder. 

A near-perfect exchange of velocity when the hose collides with the bird, both drop like rocks.

When SweetiePie T. Cat comes trotting proudly to Barbara’s lawnchair, something in the cat’s mouth catches my eye. My first thought is she’s gotten tangled with spiderwebs and leaf detritus and I’ll save her some irritation. Closer inspection, though, that’s not leaves. I think that could be a mouse, or a Sphinx moth. My heart sinks as I realize. 

This cat can’t catch slow Mourning Doves with a pounce, from good cover. How in nature can this cat bring me this tiny, expiring life? Is she dead already, there's a bare spot on her chest, pink flesh no longer feathered. That's sadness right there.


Is she alive? A girl. A Black-chinned Hummingbird, the elusive bird whose red helmet glows in just the right light. This body’s barely the width of three fingers long, she’s warm. She lies still, no trembling, no faint heartbeat. Absent its tiny soul possessed of such vibrant energy when she swoops down out of the sky to whirl about the yard with a male, does she dream of shirrping and dashing in unabandoned freedom, a moment of whizzing up to the feeder, dip and sip, then flight? 


Dream, or no dream, this is wrong. Colibrí never belong in the hand. Not here, not now. Here she lies because a cat’s gotta cat. Birds have to die. But not today, it’s Good Friday.

What happened?


Has SweetiePie T. Cat located a nest? Easy pickings for an opportunistic cat. One thing cats understand is deontic logic. Find a nest and the bird must return. Two birds. Hide and reach out, take the prize to Barbara.

Has the hummingbird tired of swooping out of the sky, whizzing like falcons in tightening gyres before flitting to the red plastic feeder instead of a flower? But now, the little Colibrí laughs at the foolish male, so sure of himself, lurking near the feeder, to pounce on her. Instead, la donna e mobile, she's found a pink wildflower, sticky and filled with the late afternoon's nectar. 

The Colibrí hovers, sips, drinks deeply before she flits to another flower’s pink nectar, unaware the cat has insinuated itself near enough to dart. Unlike the doves, the surprised picaflor lifts off with lightning reflex but here, in the meadow thicket, the bird moves not fast enough to escape a single uña. 

She's hooked and brought to ground. At first, she struggles feebly under licking tongue. The bird feels the cat’s breath as SweetiePie noses into the soft warm breast and licks off downy feathers exposing pink breast skin. 

The triumphant cat brings her prize to her humans, to be near Barbara. That's when I spot what at first I thought, I’d hoped, to be a moth in the kitty’s claws. From now on, I shall check that cat's muzzle against another hummingbird.

Weeks ago, a hummingbird nest appeared on the patio cement. I looked around for shattered eggs, or evidence of devoured babies but found no evidence how the nest got here. I placed the nest into a vine, weaving a fantasy of discovery and a hummingbird family moving into the ready-made nest. I would observe and photograph the hatchlings’ feedings, the fledglings’ first flights, they’d be my friends and generations of hummingbirds would hang out with me until sundown.

My eyes provide the sole evidence of the bird’s existence. My hand owns a sensation of warmth without weight, looking into my hand I see a fluff of feathers. 

The Black-chinned Hummingbird’s body limp in fright, the inert form slumps hopelessly in my hand, grey eyelids closed against life. I warily enclose my fingers around her until I feel a slight resistance from her downy softness. To squeeze more would crush bones. 

I breathe slow, warm breaths across her. Repeatedly, wufff wuuff wuuufff, I fill my hand with a gently warm climate. If she dies in the next few minutes she won’t be cold. Wuuuffff.

Wishing her never to have found the cat's claws, never to have been pinned to the earth between talons, glad that, a moment before the teeth seize her for a lethal shake, I intervened against the cat’s nature and the bird’s destiny, I stroke the bird softly, cooing my own eulogy for the dying animal. 

She opens an eye. Shining like obsidian, the black orb unleashes torrents of empathy in me. “So sorry, little bird,” I apologize as I place her into the abandoned nest. She stares back at me with no remonstrance, only resignation. 

I fashion a hospice for her passage. After draping a dishtowel between my camera, a book, and Barbara’s drinking glass, I place the nesting bird into the solace of what darkness the texile allows. Her passage shouldn’t take long, poor little bird. 

I shall allow the little bird to die on her own time, out of sight, inside the tent. Until I return, her body shall remain safe from the lurking cat. I adjust the covering and we make final eye contact.

A half hour later, I return to the hospice tent. The cat has remained at a distance, feeling my dudgeon but unchastised, verdad? I give myself an instant to prepare myself for the sight, I lift the dishtowel from my camera and book. 

The nest sits empty. 

It has been a good Friday.