Friday, June 21, 2024

Poetry Connection: Creating Community Through Poetry and Typewriters

Melinda Palacio, Santa Barbara Poet Laureate 

Fourteen poets gathered on State Street for First Thursday on June 6 to type free poems, composed on the spot, on any subject, for anyone. Thanks to Simon Kieffer who provided typewriters and tables, we were able to make this month’s event even bigger than last September, when we only had five poets on five vintage typewriters. It was wonderful collaborating with Simon to bring poems to so many people. We had poets who could write poems in Spanish, English, and German. At least those are the languages that people requested. I know we had poets who could also write in French and Russian at our typewriter poetry extravaganza. 


Typewriter on-demand poetry has become a cherished event for all the poets involved. I love how the event keeps growing as more local poets have expressed an interest in participating. The first hour is always slow. At 5pm, people are still getting off of work and First Thursday Early Birds are still trying to figure out what exactly is going on with the long tables and people seated in front of a typewriter. Some folks are still a little bashful once they figure out that we are offering them a free poem. There is no gimmick, the poems are free and you do not have to provide your email or phone number or offer a tip. In fact, in consideration of the city’s panhandling ordinance, it’s best if you expressed your gratitude with a smile. However, we were not panhandling, but offering a free service with no requirements or expectations for compensation. Kindness in the form of a free poem. 


In addition to free poems, we offered entertainment, thanks to Mark Zolezzi and Jesse Felix of the Gruntled. Mark on vocals did a great job of using his microphone to explain about the free poem business. My typewriter had a meltdown and the ribbon was completely destroyed. Although we had one typewriter down, I had planned to take a break to take in the scene and capture some photos and to play some music. Mark and Jesse were kind enough to let me use their set up and play some songs on my ukulele. I ended my short set with one of my original songs, “Letter to Time,” that I often play on guitar. Our poets enjoyed hearing The Gruntled over our clacking of keys. I was sad to learn that it was The Gruntled’s last performance. Jesse Felix is moving to New Mexico. Santa Barbara loses another creative and kind human. My selfish wish is that he will be in town visiting when we have our next typewriter on-demand event. 


By six o’clock, once people figure out they can receive a poem for free, is when I wish we had enlisted more poets and brought more typewriters. Some of our poets were overwhelmed with orders. Next time, I will make sure to brief each poet and let them know not to start more than one poem at a time. However, I understand the instinct not to turn anyone away. At any given moment there were six to seven poets available to type. 


Poets had the opportunity to get to know someone outside their regular circles. We meet people out on the town with their family, friends, and pets. There’s something so gratifying and spiritually rewarding about providing poems for free to a stranger. I especially enjoyed learning people’s stories. The human connection and interaction is always my favorite part of typewriter poetry. I have no doubt that in our next iteration, the event will be even bigger. Look for another typewriter extravaganza this year. 


*An earlier version of this column was published in the Santa Barbara Independent

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Friends in Cuba




On the steps of the capitolio, Cuba's National Palace

  Juneteenth? President Joe Biden made it a national holiday in 2021. I didn’t think many Americans knew about Juneteenth. I taught a community college course in ethnic literature before I retired in 2016, and I knew nothing about it. Had it been another American secret?

     Lincoln abolished slavery in 1863, when he signed the Emancipation Proclamation, but slavery continued. Even after the Civil War, two years later, in 1865, Americans continued the heinous practice of owning other human beings. Imagine, northern armies riding around the South telling slaves they were free. After 200 years of bondage, where did they go? What did they do? What did they even think? You’d think newspapers, telegrams, and messengers could have announced it sooner than men riding around on horseback, or just, maybe, nobody was in a hurry to really end the slave trade in the U.S. Free labor! That’s a big deal in a capitalist country.

     Way out west, Anglo Texans held on to their slaves, even after suffering a massacre at the Alamo in 1836, a battle with Mexico's forces, that was as much about legalizing slavery in the Lone Star Republic as it was about independence, which Texas received in 1848, with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Yet, it still wasn't until months after Congress outlawed slavery with authorization of the 13th Amendment, Texas, probably, and this is just an educated guess, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, too, had to set their slaves free, on June 19th, two years after Lincoln had outlawed slavery.

     On June 19th, 1865, the U.S. Army rode into Texas to enforce the law: “No more slavery anywhere in the country. The end of free labor,” but, over the years, where were the celebrations, the music, the fireworks? 

     In Europe, the European Union and NATO celebrate Holocaust Remembrance Day. In the U.S., when the end of slavery rolls around, whether 1863 or 1865... crickets. Here, today, some politicians are trying to get teachers to stop teaching slavery or anything too sensitive, like Jim Crow, Indians on reservations, the U.S. invading Mexico, killing, pillaging, and taking the Southwest by force, or incarcerating Japanese in detention camps, afraid of offending children. 

     So, I thought, as I prepared to write today’s La Bloga post, how does this day, Juneteenth, affect me, or any Americans in 2024? We should be proud, a time to celebrate. The U.S. did the right thing. African Americans hold their own celebrations, usually small community affairs but nothing on a national or state level, as if the holiday is an embarrassment rather than s source of pride.

     With me, I guess, it’s about people, friends I’ve made over the years, of all ethnicities, just people, "everyday people," as Sly Stone sings, friends and neighbors, who share a common history, and a human bond, something beautiful, even if it is, sometimes, uncomfortable. All this reminds me of a trip I wrote about recently in La Bloga, an eye-opener of a trip, in so many ways, not just visiting a foreign country, but getting a sense of our history, making new friends, of all colors and creeds.

     It was August 2001. They told us our trip was the first commercial flight from Los Angeles to Havana since 1961, history-making. Cuba, Hispanola, the first populated island the Spaniards visited in the Americas, way back in the 1500s, and the beginning of the slave trade, first with the Taino Indians then with Africans, today, proud Cubans. 

     Tom, who sat next to me, was co-owner of an African American bookstore in Los Angeles. He said, “Man, I wish I could speak Spanish. I took classes in school but never learned anything.” He said it more to himself than to me. I gave him a few tips, like how to say, “Thank you,” “Hello,” and order coffee, that kind of thing.

      My friend, Benny Blaydes, a beloved counselor among students, where I taught at Santa Monica College, invited me to join him and his friends, all African Americans from Los Angeles, teachers, counselors, and a librarian. I was the sole Mexican. They said, “An honorary soul brother,” and the only one in our group who could speak Spanish.

     As educators traveling to Cuba, we promised the U.S. Treasury Department, which, for some reason, supervised travel to Cuba, to attend all functions Cuba Travel Service placed on our itinerary.

     Once in Havana, settled into our modern hotel, we received an orientation on Cuban culture, mostly question-and-answers, conducted by a young female professor from the University of Havana. After, the professor turned us over to a tour guide who took us through the city and pointed out important sites, walking us through Havana Vieja and ending up at the Museum of the Revolution, where we learned something about Cuba's history, its people, and the ingenious ways the U.S. government tried getting rid of Fidel Castro over the years, even an exploding cigar. The tour guide offered, "Yes, we are poor. The embargo has hurt us, so we live in a state of siege, a state of war, always prepared for an invasion."

     We understood what he meant when we noticed the empty shelves in many stores. Tom and I buddied up. We decided to explore the city together. We didn’t know if we should wait for an official escort or armed guards. We’d been so brainwashed by our media about life on the island. The tour guide told us we were free to roam. I asked, “Any place?” He answered, as if I was joking, “Of course.”

     So, we did, searching each neighborhood, surprised by new ways of seeing Cuba, kids playing with home-made toys, like we did back in the 1950s, making skateboards out of 2x4’s and old skates. Kids playing marbles. Young girls in colorful, frilly dresses, going to some celebration, maybe a birthday party. Men singing and playing guitars on park benches. Others arguing, in groups, debating something or other. Still, it wasn't just the pounding heat but the grinding poverty, the dust, and the decaying buildings that stifled the soul. Yet, the people persisted.

     The two of us, Tom and I, Americans, one black and one Mexican, adjusting, little by little, to the culture shock, especially the big one, the one Cuba-watchers in the states don’t mention, so many African Cubans in Havana, of all shades. For Tom, Cuba was disconcerting, a world of Spanish-speaking Africans.

     I told Tom it reminded me of 1966, when I arrived in Vietnam, a group of Puerto Rican soldiers was walking past, one, an Afro-Rican, said something to his friends in Spanish. A white soldier standing next to me, with a heavy Southern accent, murmured, “I’ll be got-damned, a Spanish-speaking….” You can fill in the blank. Was our America that segregated? Tom said, “Believe it or not. That’s how I feel, sort of out of place.”

     "Weird, man," I said, listening to the sounds of Spanish, and the laughter, Latino laughter, something I recognized. "I feel right at home."

     On the flight over, Tom and I had talked, like old friends, wondering about Cuba, a mystery to Americans, many who thought they knew more about the place than they really did, just like with Vietnam, so many fabricated stories leading to so many unnecessary deaths. In the states, we’d been fed fantastic news stories, Cubans slaughtering hundreds of thousands of Cubans during and after the revolution. Oh, I'm sure it had been ugly, Cuba's retribution on the dictator and his followers, it's lack of tolerance for those loyal to the government who questioned its new socialist policies.

     However, a library search showed Cuba’s executions after the war, though tragic, much less than say, executions in U.S. backed dictatorships, like Chile, Argentina, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and other revolutions around the world. Though, some might argue, so secretive are governments, no one can know the true numbers.

    Then there was the Elian Gonzalez affair. Who knew what to believe? Was Elian saved from communism by his mother who brought him to the U.S.? Or had Elian been kidnapped from his father who claimed to know nothing of the mother's actions? He wanted Elian back, or was he being manipulated by the government? It didn’t help Elian, when photos emerged in Miami newspaper covers, of him decked out with new flashy gym clothes and gold chains around his neck. 

     On the other side, in Cuba, we heard, Elian was back on the island, happily studying in a private school, surrounded by friends, his father working at his job as a service-worker, in Cuba a better job than even doctors and lawyers. Service workers, we were told, earned tips. What to believe? What was real? What was propaganda?

     Tom knew I taught ethnic and Chicano literature. On the flight over, he wanted to know what I thought about Cuba, like what we’d find, once we arrived, the kind of people we’d meet? I said I thought it would be like Belize, Guatemala, or Venezuela, a mix of Euro-Hispanos, mestizos, mulattos, and Africans.

     Once on the ground, closer than a bird’s eye view, we saw so many more Afro-Cubans than Hispano-Cubans. Tom wondered if Castro had led a racial rebellion rather than a socio-political rebellion. Or did he, like so many other leaders, use Hispano-Africans to help win his cause? 

     Tom saw it as something of a homecoming, so many Africans in one city, except, of course, for the Latino culture, the language, food, music, religion, and just about everything else, which was “Latinized.” We discussed how strange it all was, thinking of Havana as not even a Watts, more like a “black” East L.A in the Caribbean.

     We stopped for mojitoas at different bars along the way, musicians, the Afro-influence clear in the music, welcoming us inside, song and dance everywhere, more than in any other Latin American country I’d visited, or have visited since. On our way to the capitolio, Havana’s capitol, modeled, ironically, after the U.S. capitol in D.C., we walked across a main plaza, Plaza de San Francisco de Asis (1628), where the basilica of St. Francis (1548) is located. The hip, younger generation of Cubans, including a few, not so subtle, ladies of the night, have given the old plaza a modern feel, hip-hop echoing out of tape decks.

     In the corner, I saw a man standing in front of a small newsstand. I wanted a copy of Cuba’s party newspaper Granma. Tom followed me. The man, in his 70s, maybe 80s, ebony skin, a black-Cuban, smiled as we approached.

     I asked the man for a newspaper, and immediately, in a machine gun laden Spanish, he started asking me questions, about myself, where I came from, where I learned Spanish, about Mexico and my Mexican ancestors, about how long I’d be staying, where we’d be visiting, etc. etc.? I confess, I missed some of his words, as he swallowed the last syllables, something like a Spaniard from Andalucia.

     Like an uncle, the man called me, “Hijo,” and the more we talked, he switched to, “Mijo.” Tom got excited. He wanted me to translate. I tried. The old man was respectful of Tom, but he’d made a connection with me. His eyes gleamed as we talked.

     Funny thing, language, and culture. They get to the heart of things. If there was a color between the man and me, it quickly faded. We were two people, sharing a common culture, like a spiritual exchange. He could have been a relative, not Tom’s but mine. The affectionate term rang in my head, his shaky voice, “Ay, si, hijo/”

     He asked me to return another day. He looked sad when I told him I’d try but couldn’t promise anything. As we walked away, Tom said, “Man, that was something. I wish I could understand.”

     “Tom, you’re black, and I’m ‘white,’ Mexican. That old man is black, an African Cuban. It’s weird, right. Which of us do you think has a closer connection to him, you or I?”

     Tom thought about it. “I know what you mean. Man, I’d have to say that you and that old man are closer, like brothers, just something about the way you two talked. I could feel it.”

     “Yeah, that’s what I think, too. Strange, right, in some ways, how skin color doesn’t even matter.”

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

2024 Américas Book Award Winners

The Américas Award is given in recognition of U.S. works of fiction, poetry, folklore, or selected non-fiction (from picture books to works for young adults) published in the previous year in English or Spanish that authentically and engagingly portray Latin America, the Caribbean or Latinos in the United States. By combining both and linking the Americas, the award reaches beyond geographic borders, as well as multicultural boundaries, focusing instead upon cultural heritages within the hemisphere. The award is sponsored by the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs (CLASP).

2024 Américas Award Winners

Saints of the Household 
By Ari Tison 

Max and Jay have always depended on one another for their survival. Growing up with a physically abusive father, the two Bribri American brothers have learned that the only way to protect themselves and their mother is to stick to a schedule and keep their heads down.

But when they hear a classmate in trouble in the woods, instinct takes over and they intervene, breaking up a fight and beating their high school's star soccer player to a pulp. This act of violence threatens the brothers' dreams for the future and their beliefs about who they are. As the true details of that fateful afternoon unfold over the course of the novel, Max and Jay grapple with the weight of their actions, their shifting relationship as brothers, and the realization that they may be more like their father than they thought. They'll have to reach back to their Bribri roots to find their way forward.

Told in alternating points of view using vignettes and poems, debut author Ari Tison crafts an emotional, slow-burning drama about brotherhood, abuse, recovery, and doing the right thing.

By Pedro Martín 

Pedro Martín has grown up hearing stories about his abuelito—his legendary crime-fighting, grandfather who was once a part of the Mexican Revolution! But that doesn't mean Pedro is excited at the news that Abuelito is coming to live with their family. After all, Pedro has 8 brothers and sisters and the house is crowded enough! Still, Pedro piles into the Winnebago with his family for a road trip to Mexico to bring Abuelito home, and what follows is the trip of a lifetime, one filled with laughs and heartache. Along the way, Pedro finally connects with his abuelito and learns what it means to grow up and find his grito.

2024 Américas Award Honorable Mention Titles

Brighter Than the Sun 
by Daniel Aleman

Every morning, sixteen-year-old Sol wakes up at the break of dawn in her hometown of Tijuana, Mexico and makes the trip across the border to go to school in the United States. Though the commute is exhausting, this is the best way to achieve her dream: becoming the first person in her family to go to college.
When her family’s restaurant starts struggling, Sol must find a part-time job in San Diego to help her dad put food on the table and pay the bills. But her complicated school and work schedules on the US side of the border mean moving in with her best friend and leaving her family behind. 

With her life divided by an international border, Sol must come to terms with the loneliness she hides, the pressure she feels to succeed for her family, and the fact that the future she once dreamt of is starting to seem unattainable. Mostly, she’ll have to grapple with a secret she’s kept even from herself: that maybe she’s relieved to have escaped her difficult home life, and a part of her may never want to return.

Spanish Is the Language of My Family 
By Michael Genhart. Illustrated by John Parra 

As a boy prepares for his school’s Spanish spelling bee, he asks his grandmother for help with some of the words he doesn’t know how to spell yet. When she studies with him, she tells him how different things were back when she was a girl, when she was only allowed to speak English in school. This only inspires him to study even harder and make his family proud.

Based on stories author Michael Genhart heard from his mother as a child, Spanish is the Language of My Family is about the joy of sharing cultural heritage with our families, inspired by the generations of Latino people were punished for speaking Spanish and the many ways new generations are rejuvenating the language.

Simultaneously published in Spanish as El español es la lengua de mi familia, Michael Genhart’s text is as touching as it is poignant, and it’s paired with the striking artwork of multiple Pura Belpre Award-Winning Illustrator John Parra. Extensive material at the back of the book includes essays from the author about the history of Spanish suppression in U.S. schools and information about the Spanish alphabet.

Hispanic Star: Sylvia Rivera 
By Claudia Romo Edelman and  J. Gia Loving. Illustrated by Cheyne Gallarde.

Meet Stonewall uprising veteran Sylvia Rivera―once just a kid from New York City. A transgender Latina, Sylvia became an influential gay liberation and transgender rights activist who fought especially for transgender people of color. In the 1970s, Sylvia and Marsha P. Johnson founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), a group devoted to providing services and advocacy for homeless LGBTQ+ people. Nearly two decades after her passing, Sylvia and her legacy continue to have an impact on the LGBTQ+ rights movement and remain an inspiration for marginalized queer people everywhere.

Hispanic Star proudly celebrates Hispanic and Latinx heroes who have made remarkable contributions to American culture and have been undeniable forces in shaping its future. If you can see it, you can be it.

9 Kilometers 
By Claudio Aguilera. Illustrated by Gabriela Lyon. Translated by Lawrence Schimel.

The sky is still dark when a young boy leaves home for school. He has a long path ahead: nine kilometers—over five-and-a-half miles—through the mountains and rain forests of Chile. But the boy doesn’t mind. While he walks, he can count butterflies and lizards, and he can think about where the 15,000 steps he takes every morning could lead. Nine kilometers could bring the boy across ninety soccer fields, up the world’s ten largest buildings, or into a classroom at last…

Set against the lush backdrop of southern Chile, this book features one of the many children around the world who travel long distances in order to go to school. After the story, thoughtfully illustrated back matter explores the unique birds of Chile and the courage of similar students’ journeys in other countries. Striking and timely, 9 Kilometers will open lasting conversations about social inequalities, the value of learning, and the resilience of those who push past obstacles toward a better future.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Twisted Tales from Texas

Review: Daniel Chacón. The Last Philosopher in Texas: Fictions and Superstitions. Houston: Arte Publico Press, 2024. ISBN: 978-1-55885-993-7

Michael Sedano

Daniel Chacón's The Last Philosopher in Texas (link) gives every writer permission to write whatever the heck springs to mind out of one's imagination, organize their writerly scribbles into a mass, and make a book out of them. There's one proviso: stuff has to be good reading. It helps if you have a febrile imagination and the ability to find a portal where ideas turn themselves into words on a page.  

Good reading takes good writing, which Chacón lavishes upon his readers in a sweet set of sentiments subtitled "Fictions and Superstitions". The Last Philosopher in Texas offers readers Fictions, an amalgam of one-pagers of crystallized events and moments, mixed with longer form writing of perplexities, and the short paragraphs called Superstitions. 


Readers will call the collection fun, and while that's enough, the collection's ethos grows out of a world of strained social relationships, people falling in and out of love and lust, couples breaking up, last chances, and broken memories. 


Individual personae might be male or female, straight or gay. They're raza middle-class tipos, college graduates, they come from and are of familia, and they're fitting into the world of work and love and marriage.


There's not a happy person in the book. Chacon's characters are caught in circumstances, some of their own doing.  


There's magic, too, that directs the trajectories of characters' actions, a magic that's like a portal into a different dimension, or where  broken or false memories leave a character dumbfounded with what should have happened but doesn't. Or does.


There's no single good reason to pick up Last Philosopher, other than having fun. Take a typical Chacon story, "Wonder Bread". It's a True story, says the introduction, pulling your leg. A fastidious fellow cuts a bologna sandwich with a sharp knife. A divagation briefly explains why he's using a sharp knife. Fellow adjusts cheap eyeglasses. A divagation and we learn why cheap eyeglasses. Holding the knife, our hero reaches for the slipping eyeglasses and blinds one eye with the pointed knife. Since the story's in the Fresno sticks there's a delay getting medical help. Jump in time now the hero's ashamed of the scar and eyepatch. Jump back in time to when he returns from the hospital. The sandwich has disappeared.


That's the story and it's true.


My favorite fiction is the ingenious "Authentic Mexican Food." It's not about cooking but shifting perspectives and simultaneous identities. A professional woman chooses a touristy place to eat, notices the women dressed in folklorico blouses making tortillas in the window. The woman goes into a dream of scholarly achievement while imagining herself a tortillera dressed in folklorico traje. The story ends with the point of view of a tortilla-maker as we realize the academic has switched identities and takes her place in a window making tortillas.


Another character imagines a girlfriend from más antes. He runs into her on a deserted block during the pandemic. He wants to catch up on all those years and the woman goes "huh?" It's not that she shares no memory with the fellow, it's that his memories are, to her, totally false and he either imagined what the woman denies, or he's gone through a portal into a different dimension where those thoughts are irrelevant.


The title fiction is the book's final story, and the most "finished" fiction in the collection. The story also highlights a singular flaw that mucks up the lives of many characters, alcohol. A fellow with a BA in Philosophy takes a job flipping burgers in a woebegone Texas waystation between here and there. 


He's a local celebrity, "the philosopher," people call him. The Philosopher walks into a bar... is how many a joke starts. In this story the philosopher walks into the bar to the loud greetings of "here's the philosopher!" and he talks philosphy with these rural Texans, earning him free drinks. So he drinks them. And he drinks some more. He fries his brain. The story wraps with the philosopher confessing his love for a beautiful homeless vato and the two of them go off into the sunset to live happily ever quien sabe.


No one is going to accuse Daniel Chacon of writing happily perverse stuff, not until they've read all the happily perverse stuff that makes up The Last Philosopher in Texas. Readers should be concerned for these people--they are not well off nor happy--but the writer sloughs off the care and woe behind humor, trickery, and the reader's enthusiastic curiosity to see what's going to happen in the next fiction or superstition.


Monday, June 17, 2024




La centenaria Benemérita Escuela Normal Veracruzana “Enrique Conrado Rébsamen” se fundó en la ciudad de Xalapa, Veracruz, México, en 1886, con el fin de formar profesores desde una enseñanza integral y ciudadana. A través de diferentes reformas educativas, en el presente, herederos de esa historia de innovación pedagógica, la Oficina Programa de Lectura, donde laboro, se empeña en enriquecer una cultura lectora dentro y fuera de nuestro espacio, a partir de la lectura, la escucha atenta, el diálogo y la interacción como personas, grupos y comunidad.

En la medida en que la lectura sea un acto voluntario de pensar y actuar, que genere diálogo a partir de lo que se lee, la vida entra a las aulas conformando identidades personales y culturales, en contextos diversos, promoviendo diferencia de opiniones sobre el mismo texto, la contrastación de lecturas, así como la posibilidad de argumentar y de llegar a acuerdos, incentivando además el gozo de la sensibilidad y la apreciación artística. 

Por ello, entre nuestras acciones se encuentra el acercamiento a novedades editoriales, a la poesía en este caso, al presentar la última producción de Xánath Caraza, quien ha recibido a lo largo de su fecunda trayectoria, diversos reconocimientos y logrado un reconocido lugar en las letras.

El pasado día 10 de junio, en colaboración con la Universidad de Missouri en la Ciudad de Kansas, se presentó ante un nutrido grupo de estudiantes, docentes y público en general, en primer lugar, el poemario Corazón de Agua, del que se ha dicho que brinda al lector observaciones sensoriales personales, como referencias a procesos sociales como el confinamiento, vinculada a ciclos naturales, ecológicos.

El segundo poemario, Tejerás el destino, sigue el continuo interés de Caraza por volver a sus raíces mexicanas, en este caso prehispánicas, al centrarse en la figura de Macuilxochitzin, poeta azteca que tejía con sus palabras el destino de una cultura, de las hazañas de sus hombres, pero sobre todo plasma sus sentires de mujer, hija, cronista, esposa y madre, legando una visión del mundo del siglo XV mesoamericano.


Friday, June 14, 2024

Growing Intentionally via Systemic Thinking (GIST)

Today's guest contributor is Frank Dávila, educator, writer, and co-founder of the Colorado Alliance of Latino Mentors and Authors (CALMA.) His essay explores "personal engagement in a conscious manner."


Growing Intentionally via Systemic Thinking (GIST)

A Conscious Awareness Approach

Frank S. Dávila, PhD


Have you ever wondered where you would be at this very moment if you had chosen a different profession or career? You are not here by accident. You made a choice to pursue a career or your passion or simply to follow a new and exciting experience. And if you didn’t take any initiatives to find your best pathway, that too was a choice!

Once you landed on the selected path, you sought ways to prepare yourself with the skill sets and possibly seek certification to be accepted and recognized in your chosen field.

At this point, after years of work and experience, the realization to consciously review your current state has surfaced as a priority. The opportunity to respond to your inner thoughts and self-reflection or to ignore them, becomes a pivotal point that will serve to further clarify whom you have become. It has to be a conscious decision that gives you permission to manifest who you are and what you can freely and consciously contribute as you continue to grow.

I remember attending an arts opening and chatting with a fellow board member when her MD husband came over to say hello. I told him I had undergone a sonogram and I needed to have my gall bladder extracted. He looked at me and raised his glass of Merlot and said: “Frank, I can do that, and I am damn good!”

I share that because we are amazing leaders and professionals who do not need to take a backseat to anyone. Yet, some of us shy away from openly sharing our skills and background perhaps thinking we are not as prepared, intelligent or as polished as others around us.

We should take pride in our accomplishments, obviously in a manner that is not ostentatious. Being consciously aware of our presence and gifts can be beneficial if we develop an approach that is amiable and inviting.

To better illustrate being consciously aware, think of when you hear or see a baby cry in pain or when you are in a car accident. At that very moment, nothing else matters! You are fully conscious of the present situation. You devote your attention to finding a solution.

And then think of instances where you are chatting with a friend or colleague while simultaneously responding to a text message. Or perhaps you are having lunch with friends and you didn’t notice that they just asked you a question.

The contrast is quite vivid. Have you zoned out at your work place or with your career or in your daily life? Do you sense that at times you are walking through the day, checking off the tasks completed but not stepping back and reflecting on the impact of your work? Are you consciously and intentionally involved in you and your productivity?

Some of the traits that demonstrate your personal engagement in a conscious manner include a higher degree of confidence, advocacy, forward thinking, problem solving, and being goal oriented.

When you are conscious of your surroundings and the multiple seamless layers that are interlaced in your day, you begin to understand the complexity of what tools you need, to improve your personal skills, increase your overall productivity, and to find the satisfaction and inner pride that lifts your spirit. That knowledge base increases your confidence since you are no longer frequently surprised by unforeseen circumstances.

Advocating for oneself is paramount. You are and will always be your best advocate.

Growing Intentionally via Systemic Thinking (GIST)

This acronym, GIST, is one way in which we can check our current and personal readiness as we meet our daily challenges. There are numerous pathways we encounter as we search for the optimum approach that best describes and resonates with who we are and desire to become. Do you get the “gist” of what I am saying?

Growth Factor

Some striking examples to best understand growth is to look at ways that prevent us from growing or moving forward. At times we simply trudge along, laboriously, with depleted energy, exhausted and frustrated. Our goal is to survive the day or a specific event. Other times, we are distracted or disinterested and choose to stay on the sidelines, not wanting to fully engage in a project or in an activity. In the military, there is a command that is called “mark time,” where the troops simply move the left and then the right foot up and down, striking the ground, but not moving. They are waiting for the command to march or to halt. Can you think of instances when you are just “marking time?”

On the positive side, we are growing when we sense the passion and vigor of the fruits of our labor. We feel our mind and soul being stimulated and with renewed energy to pursue even greater heights. When we describe what we are doing, our smile and demeanor exudes that inner pleasure and contentment as we share what we have accomplished.

Our growth reflects our personal quest to seek new adventures and opportunities with clarity, focus and relevancy. We set goals and look forward to new pathways. It is imperative to build a mindset to accept trials and tribulations as growth pieces that strengthen our personal armor. Although it can be challenging and unsettling, it will be an uplifting experience once we reach our goal.


Being intentional describes a manner in which we undertake a role or project with purpose and an outcome in mind. You can sense a heighten desire or “ganas” behind the inclinations, ideas, and projects you are wanting to conquer. It is a deliberate step that aligns with your feelings and emotions. I have friends and family members who have committed to the grueling task of a Marathon, Triathlon, or Ironman. The initial gains come relatively easy and then the next phases test one’s determination and grit. That inner drive to purposefully and intentionally stay the course becomes a consuming force.

When there is no genuine intent present in our efforts, complacency and stagnation will set in and our viewers will realize our heart is not fully committed to the task at hand. The initial momentum we created will tend to fizzle out if we do not intentionally pursue our dreams or projects with a sustainable approach that is dynamic and energized.


Taking a systematic approach involves identifying and appraising all contributing factors that become our guiding steps supporting our vision and mission. We set benchmarks with timely and relevant adjustment steps to measure how much we have grown. It is further essential to set concrete steps to reach our projected goals. This piece of the GIST process is by design an incremental process that tests your current strengths and capacity to explore and identify new and productive avenues.

Thinking Process

As we think how these four areas interface with each other, we become more attuned and observant of our work and approach. We may realize we need to shed some personal habits that diminish our effectiveness. Thinking about our work and efforts will help us search for building blocks that will lead to a transformative mindset and process. Pausing to reflect and renew our personal growth will help us understand the core essence of what we want to accomplish.

Consider the GIST in your personal life!

Dr. Frank Davila, published author and co- founder of CALMA, is a retired public-school educator having served as a teacher, administrator at various levels, a university instructor, and state director of second language programs. He has a passion for writing essays on a variety of topics.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Chicanonautica: Cherchezing the Whither Goest Thou American Weirdness

by Ernest Hogan


The spring flowers died. Hello, triple digits. Memorial Day. Summer . . .

Emily and I hadn’t had any days off together for a while. But now, two in a row, we were thinking the same thing: Road trips! Pretend we’re playing hooky.

Besides, I was feeling cooped up. Needed to go out, see what the hell was going on. Cherchez the whither goest thou America weirdness . . .

Election signs finally began to pop up in Phoenix. A guy named Tony Rivero claims to be PROVEN CONSERVATIVE, REPUBLICAN, and TRUMP ENDORSED. Trent Franks self-proclaims being PRO-TRUMP PRO-TRUMP PRO-TRUMP promising to DEPORT ILLEGALS NOW! NOW! NOW! Abe Hamadeh’s signs have TRUMP APPROVED across the top, and often near them are other signs with pictures of him in a white toga and crediting him with saying “AMERICA WAS FOUNDED ON ISLAMIC PRINCIPLES.” 

According to news stories, the picture was taken in Mecca and the signs were paid for by Trent Franks.

These triggered futuristic flashes of Muslims for Trump rallies and brown folks wearing MAGA gear so they don’t get nabbed by deportation squads . . .

At a gas station, a white homeless guy didn’t talk, just stood and stared.

At a bus stop, a young black woman in an African/Mideast-style dress had headphones over her colorful scarf. I wonder what kind of music she was listening to?

All these dueling alternate universes. A good theme song would be Dueling Banjos played on thermamins.

Then, one candidate declaring himself to be a Democrat . . .

Off the 202, heading east, a billboard: LEGALIZE FREEDOM/GOD & COUNTRY.

Further on, a brown guy with a bullhorn blasted unintelligibly about something or other.

Eventually, the urban sprawl melted into desert with flower-crowned saguaros, and fire scars healing.


Further along: SECURE THE BORDER.

Finally, we came to Cypress Stewart Road, near Payson. A wonderful place to hike. Nature, with parts of the town leaking in, melting through the trees and hills. Big, fat lizards everywhere. Look out for the slippery gravel.

After tacos at La Sierra, we went to an antique store where Em bought some stuff. I took pictures of an invisible Mexican, a typewriter, and other artifacts of fading 20th century civilization.

Along Fossil Creek Road we saw a giant skeleton and a wooden eagle. Down the 260 a motorcycle whizzed past us. The passenger held a flapping American flag. The landscapes looked Martian along the 17.

The next day, we took off bright and early to have breakfast at the Coffee Pot in Sedona. I’m getting addicted to their huevos rancheros.

The election signs there had pictures of smiling women.

We hiked near Schnebly Hill Road, until it seemed too hot and colors got psychedelic.

Was the sign for a CONSTITUTIONAL CONSERVATIVE named Zipperman running for the Arizona Senate real?

There was another Zipperman sign as we entered Prescott. And a Trump flag on a tractor.

We checked out some of the surviving antique stores. Did the pandemic kill them off? Or did they just move? Can’t shake that postapocalyptic vibe.

Then, in the Peregrine Book Co., while we were signing a petition to pull Arizona’s abortion laws out of the dark ages, we found out that Trump was found guilty on all 34 counts in the hush money trail.

We checked the news. It was real. And there were no riots, or dancing in the streets.

Businesses in the conservative-leaning town were playing Bob Dylan songs.

The Memorial Day flags, being kept up for the 4th of July, took on a new meaning.

In a few days a Jewish female scientist/engineer was elected president of Mexico. I guess all things are possible.  And this summer of weirdness hasn’t officially started yet . . .

Ernest Hogan will be teaching his Gonzo Science Fiction, Chicano Style class again. online for the Palabras del Pueblo Writing Workshop in the fall.