Friday, September 29, 2023

Communing with Art through Poetry

Melinda Palacio

*An earlier version of this article was previously published in the Santa Barbara How do you best enjoy an art exhibit? Do you read every description ahead of time, or after you’ve had a chance to feast your eyes on the artwork? 


Last week, I offered a writing workshop that drew a wide variety of people; I even saw someone from my gym who is not a writer. In the all-levels writing workshop, my favorite students were those who have never taken a writing class, who took a chance on themselves and were brave enough to share their work alongside the published authors and poets who participated. This is a workshop that I cannot wait to lead again. It was fun for me and fun for everyone who participated. 


For the workshop, I chose the inside/outside gallery at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. The collection features one of my new favorite artworks, a Keith Mayerson painting entitled: Someday we’ll find It, the Rainbow Connection, the lovers, the dreamers, and me 2023. The painting is of Kermit the Frog riding out of the swamp to Hollywood on a yellow bicycle. I can’t think of a happier image. Prior to the workshop, I stopped by the gallery to spend some time with Kermit. Everyone who sees this painting smiles. It has a happy effect on people. 


Even if you somehow managed to have never seen Sesame Street or a Muppet Movie or know what a Muppet is, the idea of a fuzzy green frog, dressed in an equally green collar, riding a yellow bicycle with basket is cheerful enough. For someone new to writing, the art is accessible. What grabbed me, besides the subject Kermit, was the dappled light, the determination on Kermit’s face to peddle through any circumstance to meet his goals and the collective knowing that ‘we will find it, the rainbow connection.’ There’s a sense that Kermit is riding outside of his world into the unknown, an adventure not just for himself, but for his community and audience. The collision between the inner world and the outer in a single artwork is what connects each piece in the Inside/Outside gallery. The external scene informs the inner world, whether real, fictional or in between. 


A cohort of sixteen people joined the workshop. Everyone had at least thirty minutes of uninterrupted time to write about an artwork in the gallery. The experience of sitting with a work of art and writing is meditative. Next time you can't get out into nature, try an art museum. 




Thursday, September 28, 2023

Surrounded by Memories


The talisman

     Above my desk is a framed bullfight poster, faded over the years. It announces the bullfight at the Downtown Tijuana Bull Ring, El Toreo de Tijuana, Sunday June 9, 1963, at 4:00 P.M. On one half, it reads, “Featuring the number one bullfighter of the world today,” and in large bold red letters “PACO CAMINO,” right under his name, “Victorious in Mexico’s Bullfighting Season and the 1963 Fair of Madrid, Spain.” Impressive, right?

     On opposite half is a once colorful printed image of matador Paco Camino, forever captured in youth, blue and gold suit of lights, his mouth agape, his expression defiant, his sword raised triumphantly in the air, and, behind him, charging a red muleta, a massive beast, banderillas in place, the animal’s horns appearing to pop out of the painting. I believe it’s my oldest personal possession, since I was fifteen, everything else abandoned somewhere along my life’s journey.

     Though it’s in front of me, I often forget the poster is there, among other objects I’ve saved, family photos, gifts from students, and souvenirs from my travels, my mind always cluttered with other things. But, if I think about the poster, I remember Sunday afternoons in the early 1950s and 60s visiting my Mexican aunt and uncle’s home in Santa Monica, or my grandmother. At the time, there was only one Spanish-language television station in Los Angeles, Channel 34, which they watched regularly, unless there were those television programs about wild animals in Africa. They enjoyed those, too. I spent many a weekend at my relatives’ homes, to escape the chaos of my own family home, two bedrooms crowded with five younger siblings.

     The bullfights, either from Mexico or Spain, came on every Saturday, at 4:00 P.M. on the Spanish language station. It wasn’t that my grandmother, aunt or uncle were bullfight aficionados. No, they watched because that’s the only program on at that hour, in Spanish, even if they laughed heartily when a bull chased a fat picador from the arena.

     Usually, they’d talk, and I’d lie on the rug, lost in the strange, foreign spectacle, complete with drama, music, and pageantry, tragedy but a second away. In those days, they’d show everything, from the beginning as a new animal rushed into the arena to the grisly end, and two horses dragging out the dead animal’s carcass, nothing like any sport I’d watched or played. The fiesta brava struck a chord, a real enigma.

     I had to know more, so I searched the local library and, surprisingly found a section on bullfighting, extensive, at least a half-shelf, for a community library in the western part of Los Angeles. I first read a book by the man they called the godfather of American bullfighting, Sidney Franklin (born Sidney Frumkin), a Jew from Brooklyn N.Y, who began his career in the 1920s and became a full-fledged matador, in 1945.

     Then there was a book by writer-painter-torero, Californian, Barnaby Conrad, who fought in the 1940s and ‘50s, the darling of the moderns, like Hemingway, Truman Capote, John Steinbeck, and so many celebrities, writers and actors. Conrad’s book, Matador, became a taurine classic and a bestseller. I can’t forget the tall, slim, handsome Philadelphian, John Fulton Short, who, like Conrad, earned the coveted alternativa, making him a professional torero. As a painter, one of Fulton Short’s mediums was real bull’s blood.

     Yet, the encyclopedia, the motherload of bullfighting books in English, was Ernest Heminway’s Death in the Afternoon, not only an encyclopedia but bible, delving into the mysteries of victory and defeat, violence and tragedy. Hemingway explained, in detail, not just the art of bullfighting but the stories of the greatest bullfighters, the lexicon and the history.

     I recall the biographies of Manolete, Carlos Arruza, and Conchita Cintron, a “rejonadora,” woman who fought on horseback and dismounted for the kill. How strange, as I write, all these names and ideas rushing into my head, and I haven’t thought about any of this in decades, not since the last bullfight I attended, when I saw a torero brutalize an animal, and I realized I could no longer condone what I had once infatuated me. I understood it was, for me, no longer a mystery of man’s victory over darkness but man’s inhumanity to animals.

     But, back to 1963. Each week in Los Angeles, before the Sunday corrida in Tijuana, the Los Angeles Times advertised the bullfights in the newspaper’s Calendar Section, and Monday morning wrote reviews of Sunday’s corrida in the Sports Section, to the chagrin of true aficionados who argued la fiesta brava wasn’t a sport but an art.

     In Los Angeles specific Mexican cafes and restaurants tacked up posters promoting each Sunday’s corridas. There was a Hollywood bullfight club, Club Taurino de Hollywood, and noted celebrities would travel to Tijuana in droves, each Sunday, and fill Tijuana’s hotels, party, and, on Sunday, at 4:00 P.M. crowd into the first rows, sunny section, in the old Tijuana bullring downtown. So many people from Southern California began attending, Tijuana’s empresario, Rafael Gaona (how could I still remember that detail?) constructed a new, larger bullring, a 25-thousand-seater they called La Plaza Monumental, or the “Tijuana’s Bullring by the Sea,” so close was it to the Pacific shores.

     Before Hollywood’s adoration of the Wests, Chamberlins, abdul-Jabbars, Shaqs, Kobes, and Jordans, movie stars and starlets admired the toreros of the day, like Paco Camino, Alredo Leal, Manuel Capetillo, Rafael Osuna, and El Cordobes. I guess everybody was reading Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, but instead of flying off to Pamplona, they headed south to Tijuana.

     In my bedroom, I began hanging posters on my walls, my own small collection if taurine paraphernalia, not only posters but capotes, banderillas, and muletas, and I could hardly wait for the next week when cafes and restaurants in Santa Monica and West Los Angeles hung up the new posters. On Mondays, the day after the bullfight, I’d sneak up to wherever I saw a poster hanging and swipe it from the door or wall. Sometimes, the posters were just cheap paper copies. I liked the ones printed on cardboard. They looked so much better, more professional.


If memory serves

     Which brings me to the day I rode my bike up Pico boulevard, towards Westwood, where there was a Spanish restaurant, El Matador, no, not Mexican but Spanish, like paella-Spanish. I knew they hung a poster on the main entry to advertise Tijuana’s Sunday bullfights. As I approached, I said, “Yes,” there it was, hanging right where I thought it would be, a beautiful poster featuring Paco Camino, in 1963, the world’s number one bullfighter.

     It was about noon, the restaurant not yet open for business, but the front door open. Rather than just take the poster, something drew me inside the open door. It was dark. Nervously, I stepped inside. I could just make out a long bar then booths, tables and chairs. A large man saw me and approached. “Can I help you,” his voice boomed?

     I asked, shyly, that since Sunday’s bullfight had already passed, if I could have the bullfight poster hanging on the front door. I guess he wasn’t ready for that. He said, “Come in, come in.” I stepped deeper into the cavern. “So,” he said, “you like bullfight posters?” I told him I had a collection hanging on my wall at home. He smiled and with one finger, motioned me inside. He asked me to follow him, which I did.

     He took me into the bowels of the restaurant. I’d never been in a place so elegant. There were a few employees rushing about. The man walked down a flight of stairs. I was right behind him. At the bottom, I saw rows of wine bottles, hundreds of them. It was cool down there. He took me into another room, a museum of bullfight posters, not the small carboard ones I’d been collecting, but large mural-size posters, the kind they display on the walls outside the major bullrings in Spain.

     We walked from one to another, he pointing to his favorites, originals, some very old, and some autographed. I stood there, mesmerized, the beautiful life-like prints of paintings rendering men and bulls in deathly combat, every painting different. He told me where and when he’d collected them, during different fiestas throughout Spain, Mexico, and Latin America, and over many years. After, we walked back up the stairs, he asked me my name and told me he was the restaurant owner. I didn’t know how to respond. He looked rich and distinguished. I was just a working-class Mexican kid afflicted by a passion we both shared.

     Once outside in the light, I thanked him. Really, I had no words just emotions, kid emotions passing through me, unable to put into words, or to tell him how much his kindness had affected me. He reached out and took the poster from the door. He handed it to me and wished me luck.

     Now, as I look up at the poster on the wall in front of me, I remember, it’s not just a poster but history, a part of my past, for better or worse, and, like all objects we all have around us, they tell a story, if we are open and willing to listen.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Los Angeles Libros Festival 2023


Viernes 29 de septiembre de 2023 

9 a.m. - 12 p.m.

Evento virtual para las escuelas

Transmitido en vivo vía YouTube


Sábado 30 de septiembre de 2023 

10 a.m. - 4 p.m.

Biblioteca Central

630 W. 5th St.

Los Angeles, CA 90071


Un festival del libro bilingüe para toda la familia

Los Angeles Libros Festival ofrecerá dos días de programación en vivo con cuentacuentos, autores locales e internacionales, talleres de arte, conciertos y mucho más.

El viernes, Los Angeles Libros Festival será virtual con todos los programas transmitidos en vivo vía YouTube.

El sábado, el festival se llevará a cabo en persona en  la Biblioteca Central en el centro de Los Ángeles.

·       Participa en el reto en línea para acumular insignias virtuales y la oportunidad de ganar libros.

·       Explora el calendario de eventos del festival.

·       Llévate a casa los libros del festival con tu tarjeta de biblioteca o compra tus copias en la LA librería.

·       Lee el blog del festival.

·       Aprende más sobre los autores, artistas y narradores orales que participarán este año.

Para información adicional o para comunicarte con el comité organizador, envía un correo electrónico a


Friday, September 29, 2023
9 a.m. - 12 p.m.

Virtual School Day

Streaming live on YouTube


Saturday, September 30, 2023

10 a.m. - 4 p.m.


Central Library

630 W. 5th St.

Los Angeles, CA 90071


A Free Bilingual Book Festival for the Whole Family

Los Angeles Libros Festival will offer two days of entertainment for all ages featuring Spanish-language and bilingual storytelling, performances, workshops, and award-winning authors.

On Friday, Los Angeles Libros Festival will be virtual with all programs streaming live on YouTube.

On Saturday, the festival will be held in-person at the Central Library in downtown Los Angeles.

For additional information or to contact the planning committee, email

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Way-Back Machine: Cocido Is Soup For the Ages

Michael Sedano

I've been eating Cocido as long as I remember food. Today's La Bloga-Tuesday column isn't that old, but it has some miles on it. The recipe first saw our screenpages as part of La Bloga-Tuesday piece on November 17, 2015 (link). when we celebrated the Bluebird Reading series that wound down to the last songbird at that time.

We remember you, Bluebird! Órale, what a memorable reading series!

With weather changing from balmy to breezy to downright miserable it's time for nourishing, hot, ever-ready comida. Soup is just the food to meet those standards. This beef vegetable soup--restaurants call it cocido de res, caldo de res, or just cocido--is easy to prepare. In cold kitchens, leave the pot on the stove on low flame to fill the room with aroma and keep the soup hot, and ready to eat, at the drop of a ladle.

The Gluten-free Chicano Cooks
When the weather outside turns frightful, it’s time for Cocido

The Gluten-free Chicano's second-earliest memory of food grows out of visits to my grandmother’s home on Lawton Street in Redlands, California. My mother would go to visit her mother and as soon as I stepped down into the kitchen, gramma would sit me at the rough plank table, turn to her wood-burning stove and ladle out a steaming bowl of cocido. She kept of pot of cocido going every day.

Same thing when we went to visit little gramma--my mother's grandmother--at the Las Cuatro Milpas tortilleria on Mt. Vernon in San Bernardino. There was always a pot of cocido going, along with a guisado and beans, and the world's hottest chile salsa--the air around it made me cough.

“No, gramma, pica!” I would object as she crushed toasted chile japonés pods into the caldo. I don't remember her exact words but it was something about the picoso being good for a boy's growth, how it would keep me healthy and strong. Especially that chile japonés, and sometimes a chile piquín. She was right.

The other day, a doctor walked into a hospital room I was occupying and asked if he was in the wrong room, “I’m looking for a seventy-year old man,” he declared. I tell everyone I owe my youthful appearance and resilience to eating chile every day. A day without chile, my motto goes, is like a day without sunshine. Except when I was in the Army where there was no chile to speak of (Korean chile was insipid and had no bite), I've enchilared myself nearly every day of my life.

A week without cocido is somewhat similar. I never tire of the rich beef broth and soft-cooked vegetables of my favorite food. In the twenty-some years I worked in Vernon, California, I lunched on cocido two or three times a week. Diana’s on Pacific, Avila’s El Ranchito on Santa Fe, and Millan’s mariscos on Soto, all in Huntington Park, were in a race for the best non-homemade cocido in El Lay. For The Gluten-free Chicano, the measure of a Mexican restaurant is the quality of its cocido de res.

But homemade cocido is always the best, for three key reasons: First, cocido is easy to make. Second, you have left-overs. Third, left-over cocido tastes even better the second and third day.

Ingredients – These vary based upon what’s in the reefer. In this instance, The Gluten-free Chicano forgot the carrots and ear of corn.

Beef rib bones.
Celery stalks and the root end.
Red papas.
Tomato (fresh or canned).
Bell pepper.
Helotes (or frozen cobbettes).

Cook by feel--Have a sense of what you're doing and visualize the final product.

Use a large soup pot. Salt and pepper the meaty bones then brown them with sliced onion and diced garlic in a little olive oil.

Add your water (make two quarts or a gallon, depends on how many mouths you're feeding, or who is eating), a pinch each of salt and coarse ground black pepper, a handful (a cup) of dried garbanzos, the root end of a head of celery, the carrot ends, and bring to a boil.

Cover the pot, boil on medium to high flame for half an hour or longer. The wafting perfume of the broth will beckon household members to the kitchen and everyone can stand around and get hungry. It's the smell of home sweet home.

Cut the vegetables into spoon-size or slightly larger portions. Cut the cabbage in quarters.
Use the entire pepper and pull out the stem later.

Add the vegetables to the boiling soup stock. Cover and simmer on medium flame
an hour or longer, or until the meat falls off the bone. Add the corn on the cob in the last ten minutes if you like
a crispy bite, otherwise put the corn in along with the other vegetables.

This is medium flame, doesn't touch the bottom of the pot. This lets the soup cook at a leisurely pace that
intensifies and melds all the flavors to full wholesome richness.
Serve generous portions of vegetables and broth in large bowls.
Garnish with crushed chile japonés or chile piquín. Serve with lemon or
lime halves. Restaurants serve chopped onion and fresh cilantro, and
room-temperature rice. A spoonful of rice dipped into the
hot soup cools off the soup. If you're avoiding complex carbs, no rice.

Get a good quality tortilla de maíz. If possible, a tortilla made without guar gum or preservatives, just corn, lime, and water. For wheat-eaters, a freshly rolled tortilla de harina hot off the comal is a good option. Don't place flour tortillas against corn tortillas or you contaminate the gluten-free food.

A successful bowl of cocido leaves nothing but huesos and maybe a bit of cabbage stem.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Una celebración internacional para el Mes de la Herencia Hispana por Xánath Caraza

Una celebración internacional para el Mes de la Herencia Hispana

Xánath Caraza


Quiero comenzar la semana con una invitación para el 11 de octubre en la Ciudad de Kansas para celebrar el Mes de la Herencia Hispana que organiza el Dialogue Institute de Kansas City, la Cámara de Comercio Hispana de Kansas City y la organización Tamale Kitchen.  Habrá una cena para recaudar fondos.  El Doctor Eyyup Esen será el invitado distinguido, así mismo Murat Akyuz presentará cómo trabajar con caligrafía turca y Belma, estudiante de secundaria, leerá un par de poemas en español. Tengo el honor de ser la poeta destacada de la noche. Ojalá y nos puedan acompañar.


El 11 de octubre en la Ciudad de Kansas se celebra el Mes de la Herencia Hispana organizado por el Dialogue Institute de Kansas City, la Cámara de Comercio Hispana de Kansas City y Tamale Kitchen. No olviden que la cita es el miércoles 11 de octubre de 6:30 a 8 p.m. en la sede de la Cámara de Comercio Hispana que se encuentra en 107 W 10th Street., en la Ciudad de Kansas, MO, 64105. Este evento es gratis y para toda la familia. Los esperamos.

Friday, September 22, 2023

New in Paperback for September

Here's a rundown of new paperback releases for the month of September. Quite an interesting pair of books. And, as someone recently said, it's okay to buy books you may never read. You're buying art, supporting writers and bookstores, and odds are that you are going to read some of your stash. Happy book hunting art patrons, and the hoarders, too.

Also in paperback for September:

The Hacienda, Isabel Cañas
Our Share of Night, Mariana Enriquez
two books in Cormac McCarthy's The Passenger series --- The Passenger and Stella Maris


Murder and Mamon
Mia Manansala
Berkley - Sept. 19

[from the publisher]
Lila Macapagal’s godmothers April, Mae, and June—AKA the Calendar Crew—are celebrating the opening of their latest joint business venture, a new laundromat, to much fanfare (and controversy). However, what should’ve been a joyous occasion quickly turns into a tragedy when they discover the building has been vandalized—and the body of Ninang April’s niece, recently arrived from the Philippines, next to a chilling message painted on the floor. The question is, was the message aimed at the victim or Lila’s gossipy godmothers, who have not-so-squeaky-clean reputations?

With Ninang April falling apart from grief and little progress from the Shady Palms Police Department in this slippery case, it’s up to Lila and her network to find justice for the young woman.

The Calendar Crew have stuck their noses into everybody’s business for years, but now the tables are turned as Lila must pry into the Calendar Crew’s lives to figure out who has a vendetta against the (extremely opinionated yet loving) aunties and stop them before they strike again.


Never Whistle at Night
Edited by Shane Hawk and Theodore C. Van Alst, Jr.
Vintage - Sept 19

[from the publisher]

Featuring stories by:
Norris Black • Amber Blaeser-Wardzala • Phoenix Boudreau • Cherie Dimaline • Carson Faust • Kelli Jo Ford • Kate Hart • Shane Hawk • Brandon Hobson • Darcie Little Badger • Conley Lyons • Nick Medina • Tiffany Morris • Tommy Orange • Mona Susan Power • Marcie R. Rendon • Waubgeshig Rice • Rebecca Roanhorse • Andrea L. Rogers • Morgan Talty • D.H. Trujillo • Theodore C. Van Alst Jr. • Richard Van Camp • David Heska Wanbli Weiden • Royce Young Wolf • Mathilda Zeller

Many Indigenous people believe that one should never whistle at night. This belief takes many forms: for instance, Native Hawaiians believe it summons the Hukai’po, the spirits of ancient warriors, and Native Mexicans say it calls Lechuza, a witch that can transform into an owl. But what all these legends hold in common is the certainty that whistling at night can cause evil spirits to appear—and even follow you home.

These wholly original and shiver-inducing tales introduce readers to ghosts, curses, hauntings, monstrous creatures, complex family legacies, desperate deeds, and chilling acts of revenge. Introduced and contextualized by bestselling author Stephen Graham Jones, these stories are a celebration of Indigenous peoples’ survival and imagination, and a glorious reveling in all the things an ill-advised whistle might summon.


Manuel Ramos writes crime fiction. Read his latest story, Northside Nocturne, in the award-winning anthology Denver Noir, edited by Cynthia Swanson, published by Akashic Books.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Chicanonautica: Bharat, Aztlán, and Other Places, Real and Imaginary

by Ernest Hogan

New words. I keep learning them all the time. With new words come new worlds. They change your perceptions and conceptions. That’s why language is always an issue. 

I learned a new one recently: Bharat. It’s what they call that subcontinent that the Anglos have been making us all call India for the last few centuries. It’s been around for millennia. Somehow, it’s taken me sixty-seven years to learn it. 

Empires die, but their symptoms live on.

In Bharat, it and India are used interchangeably. Right-wing factions want to go back to the Sanskrit original name. Of course, it’s sending out shockwaves.

Changing names changes things. As a Chicano trickster satirical science fiction writer, I mess around with names, it’s fun, and a special sort of magic.

I renamed the Pacific Northwest Sasquatchlandia after visiting it. 

The old name and my old conceptions didn’t fit my newfound knowledge and experience.

I call the region where I live Aztlán. No, I am not part of a separatista movement to secede from the United States of Norteamerica (Would it even be possible? I should ask a lawyer sometime . . .), I just don’t see my homeland as afar-flung southwestern quadrant of an empire that rotates on a Nueva York/Washington D.C. axis, and I recognize and respect our ancient civilizations and their modern manifestations.

My life, and writing, is richer for it.

Now, India is in a position to become its own Aztlán. Decolonization happens, cabrones.

This will not just change perceptions and conceptions in Bharat, but all over the planet.

Take the controversial word Indian . . .


It’s universally used and catch-all term for brown-skinned peoples who are not considered civilized. Similar to the way Martian is used for people from other planets.


What if, through the magic of bureaucracy (we all know how powerful that is) India ceases to exist with the right sequence of keyboard strokes—what we used to call “paperwork.” Poof! No more India, only Bharat.

What about all the brown-skinned who have had the label Indian inflicted on them all these centuries? Without an India, can there be such a thing as Indians?

Can we imagine a world where there is no such thing as an Indian?

All around the planet, people will have to be redefined. A lot of us will have to redefine ourselves. Come on over, baby, there’s a whole lot of transmogrification going on!

New words. New worlds. Probably chaos. Bureaucrats, keepers of political correctness, and those who worry about cultural appropriation will be horrified. The electronic paperwork will take generations.

And someday, for good or ill, whether anybody likes it or not, will people be born on Mars. Wonder what they will call themselves?

The ancient trickster, deep inside me, smiles, with sharp teeth.

Ernest Hogan, the Father of Chicano Science Fiction, has been an Indian, a Negro, and “stupid fucking white person” from time to time. Watch for his new story collection: Pancho Villa’s Flying Circus & Other Fictions.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Farewell Cuba, Mi Isla

By Alexandra Diaz 


Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books 

Language: English

Hardcover: 336 pages

ISBN-10: 1534495401

ISBN-13: 978-1534495401


Alan Gratz’s Refugee meets Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Esperanza Rising in this middle grade novel about two girls fleeing 1960 Cuba with their family inspired by award-winning author Alexandra Diaz’s family’s history.


Victoria loves everything about her home in Cuba. The beautiful land, the delicious food, her best friend and cousin, Jackie, and her big, loving family.


But it’s 1960 in Cuba, and as the political situation grows more and more dangerous, Victoria, her parents, and her two younger siblings are forced to seek refuge in America with nothing more than two changes of clothes and five dollars. Worse, they’re forced to leave the rest of their family, including Jackie, behind.


In Miami, everything is different. And it’s up to Victoria to step up and help her family settle into this new world—even though she hopes they won’t be there for long. Back in Cuba, everything feels different, too. Jackie watches as friends and family flee, or worse, disappear. So, when she’s given a chance to escape to America, she takes it—even though she has to go alone. Reunited in Miami, can Victoria and Jackie find a way to bring the rest of their family to safety?


Based on Alexandra Diaz’s mother’s real experiences as a Cuban refugee in America, this is a moving and timely story about family, friendship, and fighting for your future.




"This is a moving, poignant read." -- Booklist


"Readers will be able to relate to the coming-of-age elements while learning about an important and difficult part of Cuba’s history. An evocative and transportive read." -- Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW


Alexandra Diaz is the author of The Only Road, The Crossroads, Santiago’s Road Home, and Farewell Cuba, Mi Isla. The Only Road was a Pura Belpré Honor Book and won the Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature, as well as numerous other accolades. Santiago’s Road Home was an International Latino Book Award gold medalist and an ALA Notable Children’s Book. Alexandra is the daughter of Cuban refugees and lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, but got her master’s in writing for young people at Bath Spa University in England. A native Spanish speaker, Alexandra now teaches creative writing to adults and teens. Visit her at



Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Stepping Into the Stream Twice: LéaLA, Poesía En Nuestras Tres Idiomas

Reading Dialectal Material: Raza Eloquence and Poise
Michael Sedano

It didn't take long for the Spanish-language bookfair, LéaLA, to mezclar its Castellano-centric bent with its eye on the local market, only, it's about time. That long. Sunday afternoon, at Los Angeles' La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, three local poets read casí exclusively in Spanish at a highly professional, ambitious, and grand book fair. Dozens of publisher booths provided extensive choices of nonfiction, fiction, poesía, children's literature.

Next year when LéaLA hits town, LéaLA will be a must-attend event. If you find the LA Times bookfair a diverting few hours, LéaLA will prove itself a diverting three days, it's that good.

Olga García, Angelina Sáenz, GusTavo Guerra Vásquez

Maybe with the GOPlague shutting down public gatherings, LéaLA was making its come-back in a big, splashy way, taking over the grounds of the Olvera Street museum. Or, it's me; I. I've been out of circulation the past five years and I'm rediscovering the outside world after Alzheimer's. 

The poets spoke highly and pleased as ponche to be reading in Spanish only. The reading, organized by Angelina Sáenz, featured extraordinary Chicana writer Olga Garcia and, new to my ears,  GusTavo Adolfo Guerra Vásquez. Guerra's debut in my ears showed Sáenz' genius in pairing the two voices whose comic antics don't conceal incisive understanding of identity, language, indomitability.

Garcia opens the reading with her wondrous war correspondent reporting from the war against the cucarachas infesting her kitchen, Ana Leticia Armendáriz: Matando cucarachas. The story is a highlight of Olga Garcia's rare gem, Falling Angels, Cuentos y Poemas. 

Garcia's account of a lone hero battling hordes of clever insidious roaches keeps the audience laughing with familiarity and recollecting their own battles versus relentless living condition.

Olga Garcia's a tough act to follow and GusTavo Adolfo Guerra Vásquez is up to the task. Órale to Angelina Sáenz for the pairing.

GusTavo Guerra shares the Chapino view on living in the U.S.A., something's Guerra's been at since age of nine and has a couple of college degrees under his mortarboards to show for it. 

Guerra has a hilarious takeoff on the names we call ourselves: "Chicano" "Chapino", how about, "Chapinchicano" "Guatemalcano"? Guerra's permutations on things we can call our gente once we've gotten over here makes a witty observation on the witlessness of ethnic divisiveness.

You ain't heard nada yet. The long-time Californ' writer delivers a syntax lesson in verse inspired by how raza locals gave him shit for saying "Vos" when he was first here.

Angelina Sáenz speaks with sonorous authority in fluid Spanish in a formal style. A poet of short lines and short poems, Sáenz confesses she worked really hard to translate her English-language work into today's Spanish translations. I couldn't discern the sound of work-in-translation, while another listener told me she heard word-for-word translation, English poems in Spanish.

Ni modo. This is good work in English and effective meaning in translation. Angelina Sáenz work comes unadorned with complicated word play against fancy comfortable settings. Hers is the poetry of the single mother, home from working the graveyard shift, tired but dedicated to making lunch for the kids. She will rest, grateful her duty is done, uncomplaining and fulfilled.

The Q&A in Spanish draws an emotional response from a woman who exults at hearing poetry in Español right here en mero el Lay. Enthusiastic give-and-take among the panelists share experiences and concern that Spanish is getting systematically erased in schools and society. Yet, the poetry and conversation illustrate how universally communicative Spanish is among people separated by dialect, geography, and politics.

The final questioner, a noted academic, asks about the sources of poetry, expressing interest into inspirations and motives these poets find writing in Spanish, and the motives and sources for writing in English. The question has seven clauses, each more intricate than the antecedent and would be wondrous in the linguistics seminar.

Sáenz smiles at the questioner, thinks about the question's complexities, how her panelists will compose complex answers and, and...and issues a simple succinct pura Chicana response, "¿Y que chingado Te importa?"

Everyone's Talking About the Chicano Spaceman 

La Bloga's Ernest Hogan was talking about not one, but two, Chicano spacemen, way back in 2009. (link). Then, in September 2013 (link), La Bloga-Tuesday covered a Keynote Address at University of LaVerne by one of those spacemen, José M. Hernández.

Hernández is the subject of a streaming--not in the theatres--biopic you may have heard about, A Million Miles Away. There's high excitement about the movie so La Bloga shares its 2013 column today, including a live video of the real Hernández.

The keynote speaker offers a genuinely heroic role model, astronaut José M. Hernández. A migrant farmworker born on this side, Hernández describes his fruitpicker upbringing crawling through mud so that the siblings enjoy taking off their Levi's so stiff from mud they stand on their own. Born here, during picking season, the future astronaut's siblings were born in Mexico, during the winter.

Hernandez' speech is puro chicano mezcla. Wacha:

You can take the boy out of the fields but you can't take la cultura out of the boy. Hernández' speech is a classic example of mezcla, or code-switching expression. His polished presentation identifies José M. Hernández as a perfect candidate for any school looking for bilingual role models for kids with their own ad astra per aspera dreams. Hernández' biography sells out in English from La Verne's bookstore, only a few Spanish-language copies remain.

Hernández' father approves the ten-year old's dream to be an astronaut. Set a goal, know what's expected, where you fall short, work to achieve. Otherwise your future is here in the fields picking strawberries con la familia. He applies eleven times and is denied. On the twelfth application, he wins appointment.