Friday, May 31, 2024

And Justice For All

Note:  I posted this in La Bloga's queue and, a few minutes later, the announcement was made that Donald Trump had been convicted on all 34 counts.  The question remains:  now what?

I'm writing this before the jury in the Donald Trump pay-off-the-porn-star criminal case reached a verdict. Whatever the verdict, there is plenty of speculation about what happens next.

What if Trump is found guilty? Will he be incarcerated? Placed on probation? Work release? The mind boggles. Imagine this surreal graphic: A former president of the United States wears an orange vest so he can pick up litter along the freeway. Workin' on the chain gang. Orange does appear to be Trump's favorite color.

According to the Washington Post, legal analysts are divided over whether Trump would get jail time if he is convicted. Under New York law, a nonviolent Class E felony carries potential sentences of probation or 1 1/3 to 4 years in state prison.

Some analysts said Trump’s age, 77, and the lack of a prior conviction would probably preclude a jail sentence.

What if Trump is found not guilty? Will that finally stop Trump's rants about a witch hunt? Will he be humble and grateful, like Mother Teresa, or will he continue to slander the judicial system of the country he claims will one day be "great" again? I know what I would bet, if I were a gambling man. On the other hand, he has several trials on his schedule. Trump may become an expert on court proceedings. Maybe he'll write a book. Wouldn't that be special?


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, May 30, 2024

Chicanonautica: Poetry and/or Violence in La Gallera

by Ernest Hogan

The cover snagged me like a fishhook through an eyeball. Blazing red, black, and yellow. Screaming roosters. Fighting cocks. I had to pick it up.


It was La Gallera by Ramón Palomar. In español. The blurb called him “el James Ellroy español” and compared him to Jim Thompson. Hmm. Could it be something that could help me in my never-ending struggle to improve my Spanish?

I checked it out and read it with the ready on my phone. And enjoyed it.

Set in Spain—there’s a lot of joder rather than chingar—in the year 2000, it recalls a simpler time before smartphones, and cocaine was more organic than the synthetic drugs of our troubled era. 

Gallera, according to means either “coop” or the feminine version of gallero, a fondness for cockfighting, a cockfighting fan, or breeder of fighting cocks. Though there is a woman who gets sexually aroused by cockfights in the first chapter, the title seems to refer to the coop, in a literal and metaphorical sense. Like the Mexican film genre—search in YouTube for movies with gallero or gallo in the title—the point is that people have a lot in common with roosters in the ring.

Rather poetic. As Alejandro Jodorowsky said, “Violence is poetry.”


La Gallera could be called noir (French for black—why not negro?) but leans more to the conjoined hardboiled literary subgenre. The movies are remembered more than the books. Sigh. Polamar has a James Ellroy/Jim Thompson feel for crime and criminals. Spain provides a lot of fresh elements to the mix. There’s a Puerto Rican colony. Words used in odd ways are probably underworld slang. The coke dealers are Columbian but the irony of the New World invading the Old isn’t made apparent. Even back in 2000, American pop culture references abound. 

The description of a woman’s breasts as being like Flash Gordon rocketships is worthy of Raymond Chandler.

More fresh blood glittering in the sun than midnight shadows and neon reflected in dark, rain-slicked streets.

It gave me my crime fic fix, while showing me a few new things. Maybe it was that it was in Spanish but it seemed like surrealist poetry—without the hot-blooded Hispanics, surrealism would have been mostly dull exercises in Freudian/Marxist theory. Acts of violence become Luis Buñuel scenarios, but it may not be the intent.

I will be looking for more of Palomar’s work. I’ll recommend them to “you nameless assholes who don’t understand Spanish” as William Burroughs so delicately put it. That is if they're ever translated.

He may end up suffering the same fate as Paco Ignacio Taibo II, which reminds me, I should reread some of his detective novels . . .

La Gallera would make a great movie, but if Norteamericano corporate entities continue to dominate “Hollywood” (that is no longer a physical place), Anglo sensibilities that allow roosters to be sacrificed only to the likes of Colonel Saunders wouldn’t want to invest in it, but maybe some futuristic Santeria will have us living on Planet Gallera in a few years.

Ernest Hogan commits literary mayhem. His latest book is a Guerrilla Mural of a Siren’s Song: 15 Gonzo Science Fiction.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

The Wild Ones- Los Bravos

By Megan Lacera and Jorge Lacera 

Illustrated by Jorge Lacera


Publisher: Children's Book Press

Language: English

Hardcover: 48 pages

ISBN-10: 0892394528

ISBN-13: 978-0892394524


From the creators of Zombies Don't Eat Veggies! comes a heartwarming and epic tale of four best friends who turn to the mythical monsters from their respective cultures to help them save the only home they've ever known.


Meet Valentina and her best friends Jasmine, Andy, and Xander. They've lived in the Wild Oaks apartment building their entire lives. They are the Wild Ones!Legend has it, there's a monstruo lurking deep in the forest of their town. No one has ever seen it, but the Wild Ones believe it exists. But something's going on that's more menacing than any monstruo--greedy developers want to tear down their home. The Wild Ones know what they have to do: find the monstruo and convince it to help them save their home. Come join the Wild Ones on this epic adventure!


De los creadores de ¡Los zombis no comen verduras! llega una historia épica y conmovedora de cuatro mejores amigos que recurren a los monstruos míticos de sus respectivas culturas para ayudarlos a salvar el único hogar que han conocido.


Conoce a Valentina y sus mejores amigos Jasmine, Andy y Xander. Han vivido en el edificio de apartamentos de Wild Oaks toda su vida. ¡Son Los Bravos! Cuenta la leyenda que hay un monstruo escondido en lo profundo del bosque de su pueblo. Nadie lo ha visto nunca, pero Los Bravos creen que existe. Pero algo está sucediendo que es más amenazante que cualquier monstruo: inversionistas codiciosos quieren derribar su hogar. Los Bravos saben lo que tienen que hacer: encontrar al monstruo y convencerlo de que les ayude a salvar su hogar. ¡Únete a Los Bravos en esta aventura épica!




"Reminiscent of 1980s ensemble adventure films, this amusing graphic novel by the creators of Zombies Don't Eat Veggies! covers serious topics via a breezy, upbeat narrative. Lacera's dynamic, retro-style art renders the group's tween antics and their palpable rapport, as well as four monsters from different cultures around the world." -- Publishers Weekly


"Full-color panels of charming digital illustrations make this an accessible graphic novel, and the main characters' enthusiasm results in a lighthearted tale interspersed with details about folklore... Wild monsters from diverse cultures lurk (and smirk) in this not-so-scary story of fighting for home." -- Kirkus Reviews


"Megan Lacera and Jorge Lacera's sophomore picture book, The Wild Ones, is as inclusive and endearing as their much-praised 2019 debut, Zombies Don't Eat Veggies...Jorge Lacera's brightly colored digital illustrations, featuring both panels and full-page spreads, are dynamic and energetic, keeping up the excitement and fast pace." -- Shelf Awareness


"This stylized picture book adds some comic book flair to its story of four friends fighting to save their home." -- Foreword Reviews



Megan Lacera grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, with a book always in her hands. She became a writer and creator of characters and worlds for entertainment companies. After reading many stories to their son, Megan realized that few books reflected a family like theirs: multicultural, bilingual, funny, and imperfect. She decided to change that by writing her own stories, like her award-winning picture book debut Zombies Don't Eat Veggies! You can learn more about Megan and Studio Lacera at


Jorge Lacera is a children's book author and illustrator, and currently an art director for a video game studio. Originally born in Colombia, Jorge grew up in Florida drawing anywhere his parents would let him. After graduating with honors from Ringling College of Art and Design, Jorge worked as a visual development and concept artist. As a big fan of pop culture, comics, and horror movies, Jorge rarely saw Latino kids as the heroes or leads. He is committed to changing that. The family currently resides in Montréal, Quebec, Canada. You can find him online at

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Review: There will be days, Brown boy

Review: Alejandro Jiménez. There will be days, Brown boy. Mouthfeel Press, © 2024. (link)

By Guest Reviewer Rey M. Rodríguez


            Any reader of Alejandro Jiménez’s thought provoking and compassionate new book of poetry entitled, “There will be days, Brown boy,” should disavow all preconceived notions of what they may think it means to be Brown in the United States and simply let the words on the page touch their soul.

The book is divided into four parts: For those days when your belonging is questioned; For the days when all you want is to return home; For the days when you forget who you come from; and For the days we need to be gentle with ourselves. These divisions and the book’s title beg the question who should read it. Of course, Brown boys and by extension Brown people, but I would argue all people should, because it is both an expression of Jiménez’s writing and a culmination of a long history of personal and societal pain and trauma that we must all be aware of and confront with the same grace, moral anger and dignity that Jiménez accomplishes with his writings.

            To understand why this book had to be written, it must be put into context. Why would a Brown boy’s belonging be brought into context at all? Jiménez describes what it means not to belong throughout the book, but it is especially personal in “You’re Mexican” when he writes:

You’re Mexican until you make your way toward the dinner table [a white college], and one of them loudly says, here comes the beaner, and they all laugh and one of them tries to have your back: he’s not that much of a beaner. They laugh. You sit with them and eat your dinner anyway because this is the price of the American Dream.


Jiménez does not state it explicitly, but the price to pay is racism that was planted by Europeans when African slaves were brought to what is now the United States in 1619. For Brown people it is also that seed of hatred planted by Christopher Columbus in 1492 and, more importantly, by Cortes in 1519 when he invaded what is now Mexico. Cortes instead of embracing the indigenous cultures of this “New World'' attempted to destroy and erase the civilizations of the Mexica and Maya, among many others, through disease, burning of books, and war and destruction of major cities such as Tenochtitlan — all in pursuit of gold.

            These perverse notions of race persist today and explain why Jiménez's book had to be written. His poetry when read serves as a shield for that Brown boy who must confront and combat this more than 500 year old stain on the Americas. The verses also provide comfort to the reader that he is not alone in the battle to conquer these backward, racist notions and give hope for a day when the color of one's skin is celebrated equally regardless of the amount of melanin it might contain.

            Until that day, Jiménez’s poetry, and many books like it, are necessary to highlight both that racism exists and they serve as a guide post to how far we have yet to go to arrive at our reimagined world free of such bigotry. Jiménez quotes Eduardo Hughes Galeano, “My memory will retain what is worthwhile. My memory knows more about me than I do; it doesn’t lose what deserves to be saved,” and then on the next page the poet wrestles with this notion. What happens if memory is based on a false mythology, such as Cortes ``conquered” the Mixeca with 300 white men? Of course, they could not do it alone; they needed the allies of the Tlaxcalans and others, including disease and good luck to succeed. Memory to Jiménez can be a weapon, not only to do harm to others but something that brings pain and joy to the poet. In Colima, Mexico, where he is from, Jiménez can be free to be himself. In the United States where he lives, he experiences a country that rounds up people like him and puts them in cages – “adult and little ones alike.” For Jiménez the memory of his heart has room for many countries. The response to Galeano’s quote is to explain the complicated experience of an immigrant who still remembers living and existing freely in a country that is not the United States of America.

            A white person rarely needs to confront this notion of not belonging or somehow being a stranger in his own country. A Brown person does on a daily basis. But this reality does not absolve the white person from confronting this unfair and unjust situation. Quite the contrary, it requires that all explore it so that all may live in a more abundant world where all stories are free to be celebrated. And it is the pursuit of this American Dream where Jiménez’s book plays a critical role, because until this country achieves this dream then he must write his poetry to that Brown boy for those days when his belonging is questioned.

A poem that reflects in strong terms the hatred that Jiménez must have experienced is “[beaner].” He begins the poem as follows:

When you say it, mean it.

Your tongue must not stumble.

Wrap your whole mouth around it.


The poet is writing directly to anyone thinking about using this derogatory term that Anglos use to make Mexican Americans feel less than because beans are a staple of Mexican cuisine. Even as I write this sophomoric reality, it is laughable that it is a hateful term, but context is everything. If the speaker has power and privilege then use of a word, even a stupid one, can carry hateful weight.  Jiménez continues:

What a privilege, murdering,


knowing you have those borders

and those politicians and all those 

courts and all the constitution protecting you.

This stanza shows the power of a word to chill any idea that the Brown boy belongs. Regardless, Jiménez with the power of his pen challenges those who wish to use it and shields the Brown child from feeling the sting of its intent.

            Despite this need to shield, Jiménez also reminds the Brown boy (and any reader of his work) that he is loved and that he must carry on. It is the last stanza of the last poem of the book that conveys this message of persistence and hope. Jiménez writes in “If the Brown body”:

If the Brown body has no papers / exists where it is not wanted/ speaks broken En-

glish / speaks broken [whatever language is their mother tongue] / is deported/ is detained / is trafficked / is wronged / is silenced; If the Brown body disappears; If the 

Brown body reappears;


After we reemerge from these waters:


                                                                                 let us   mourn;

                                                                                 let us   grief;

                                                                                 let us   rejoice;

                                                                                 let us   create;

                                                                                 let us   try again;

                                                                                 let us   rebuild;

                                                                                 let us   rebuild;

                                                                                 let us   rebuild.


This is the world I want to live in for myself, my children and my children’s children.


-- -- -- 

Meet La Bloga's Guest Reviewer: Rey Rodriguez

Rey is a writer, advocate and attorney, who lives in Pasadena, CA.  He is currently working on a novel set in Mexico City and the Mayan Underworld and a nonfiction book on Proyecto Pastoral at Dolores Mission, a nonprofit serving the immigrant community of Boyle Heights for over 30 years.            

Monday, May 27, 2024

CHICANO FRANKENSTEIN on June 2, 2024: A Busboys and Poets Books Presentation

DATE: June 2, 2024

TIME: 6:00 p.m. (Eastern)

PLACE: Virtual


COST: Free!

An unnamed paralegal, brought back to life through a controversial process, maneuvers through a near-future world that both needs and resents him. As the United States president spouts anti-reanimation rhetoric and giant pharmaceutical companies rake in profits, the man falls in love with lawyer Faustina Godínez. His world expands as he meets her network of family and friends, setting him on a course to discover his first-life history, which the reanimation process erased. With elements of science fiction, horror, political satire and romance, Chicano Frankenstein confronts our nation’s bigotries and the question of what it truly means to be human.

Daniel is joining us on the virtual Busboys stage to dive deeper into how the issues in his novel reflect the experiences of marginalized people in our society today. Copies of the book will be available for purchase before and during the event, so make sure to order your copy before we’re out of stock! Your purchase of the book includes shipping anywhere in the United States via USPS.

Register for FREE now by going to this link.

This event is free and open to all. Our program begins at 6:00 p.m., and will be followed by an audience Q&A. Copies of CHICANO FRANKENSTEIN will be available for purchase before and during the event. Please note that this event is virtual and will only be livestreamed.

We ask that guests RSVP in order to receive direct updates about the event from Busboys and Poets Books


"Richly imagined, Olivas delivers a new classic."

     —Wendy J. Fox, Electric Literature

"Daniel A. Olivas has crafted a novel that is a triumph of storytelling, a work that bridges genres to tell a story that is urgently relevant, deeply human, and profoundly moving."

     —Gerald A. Padilla, Latino Book Review

"Inventive and compellingly readable Latinx retelling of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s classic."

     —Anushree Nande, The Rumpus

"If it were summer I'd say this is a classic beach read, but it's Spring, a season of renewal, for reanimation. Sounds like a perfect season for reading Chicano Frankenstein."

     —Michael Sedano, La Bloga

"An exciting contemporary adaptation of Mary Shelley's classic."

     —Emily Martin, Book Riot

"Part science fiction and part political satire, Olivas’s timely latest explores the pitfalls of assimilation and probes what it means to be 'human.'"

     —Publishers Weekly

"The way Olivas builds on the classic Shelley story and sets it within a futuristic context makes it an intriguing read that will speak to disenfranchised voices and spark discussion among its readers."

     —Jeremiah Paddock, Library Journal

"Chicano Frankenstein makes the most of its sharp futuristic premise with its compelling characters, fast-paced story, and biting political satire."

     —Kristen Rabe, Foreword Reviews

"In the captivating landscape of his new novel Chicano Frankenstein, Daniel A. Olivas masterfully weaves a contemporary retelling of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s classic, infused with a legal twist."

     —Orlando Ortega-Medina, Daily Journal

Friday, May 24, 2024

May Brings Music and Poetry in Santa Barbara

Melinda Palacio, Santa Barbara Poet Laureate

 In one of my busiest weekends, Saturday began with the high energy needed to entertain folks at the Farmers Market. I played music with the Ladies Social Strumming Club, the group of all women string-instrument players. I feel fortunate that Maria Cincotta, who also founded the Brasscals, put together a group of supportive women who gather every other week to learn new songs on guitar, bass, or ukulele. Maria is patient teacher and band leader. I’m not always available to join, but she allows me to drop in whenever they can. Playing music with other women has improved my guitar skills. Saturday morning was my third time performing with the lady strummers. Our set this year consisted of 12 songs; last year, we only had six tunes to offer. We’ve come along way together. 


A few hours later, I resumed my Poet Laureate duties at the Architectural Foundation of Santa Barbara (AFSB). Last month, I received a phone call from Bay Hallowell, Gallery Committee member. She heard the suite of poems that I wrote for Colleen Kelly’s Dichotomy of Laundry exhibit and asked if I would write some poems for the Ruth Leaf collection. In our conversation, we decided to invite more poets to participate. I was able to include 11 poets. It was a special event with Ruth’s family in attendance of the closing reception. Ruth’s daughter told us that the art exhibit represented her late mother’s soul, something that is evident in her hand-colored etching and woodcuts. Hearing excerpts of her letters and the poems inspired by her art was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday afternoon.


I was happy to discover the cozy gallery at the AFSB. The corner house at 229 E. Victoria is easy to miss, but worth exploring the Santa Barbara treasure that is only open on Saturdays from 1-4pm. Ruth Leaf’s art exhibit is no longer on display, but you can sign up for their mailing list or visit the website to find out about future exhibits in the beautiful space. 


My day ended with an assignment for the Independent to review Cody Jinks at the Santa Barbara Bowl, always a fun time at the outdoor music venue. 


Next weekend may be Memorial Day and a holiday weekend for most, but poetry continues with the Mission Poetry Series, this time via zoom at 1pm. Hear inaugural poet Richard Blanco and the winners of the Alta California Prize: poets Fred Arroyo and Amelia Rodriguez.


This year, I will be participating in the I Madonnari, not as a chalk artist but as a poet and musician at the stage at 1:45 to 2pm, in a short fifteen-minute set. If you miss this short window, I hope to see you at First Thursday in June, where I will join other poets in offering typewritten poetry on demand. Come and receive a free, personalized poem in front of Old Navy on State Street from 5-8pm. 

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

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Reflections on the First Racially Integrated Military


          Dedicated to those who didn't make it home.                                                                 

After patrol, exhausted, no color lines, Washington D.C., 1967  

     Recently, I read something I’d never heard, and that was, throughout history, Vietnam was the first American war fought by a racially integrated military, which meant, from Korea, back, every U.S. military campaign had been fought by a segregated military. In 1948, President Truman signed into law Executive Order 9981, desegregating the military, but the policy was mostly ignored, that is, until Vietnam.

     How did I miss that? I mean, I’ve seen movies of racially segregated units, like in the Civil War, WWI, and WWII, so why was it such a surprise? Maybe I never thought about it. Maybe I just took for granted all of us in uniform were Americans, regardless of color. Yet, if I give it a lick of thought, I recall 1966, myself, a 19-year-old-kid reporting for duty at Fort Bliss, Texas, I, one of many from around the country, bunking beside other soldiers, eating, working, and living together. We didn’t give skin color much thought.

     In the 1950s, I grew up “American,” for that’s how I identified as a kid on Los Angeles’s integrated Westside. What did I, or any of my friends, know about race, ethnicity, segregation, or integration? Our teachers didn’t discuss the topic in school. Though I knew I descended from Mexicans, I saw myself as American as the next kid. It never seemed to be a big deal.

     Oh sure, we saw racial and ethnic stereotypes in the movies and television, Zorro, the Cisco Kid and Pancho, Charlie Chan, and Amos and Andy. There were flashes of Civil Rights clashes from someplace called “Alabama” on the television news, the dogs and water hoses, but nobody talked about that, either. By the time we reached high school, we saw the images of Watts burning, and the news anchors using the word “riot,” something about cops getting tough with a kid on a bike and letting the situation get out of control. To us, it was more a situation of police abuse than race.

     All that was like, far from us, like it was happening in another state, or country. Alabama, Mississippi, and Watts might as well have been Austria or Angola. Out here on the Westside, we just went about the business of graduating high school and growing up, the American Graffiti generation. We had our problems, sure, but nothing like we saw on television. That was like my mom saying, “Eat your vegetables. Children are starving in China.”

     Situated between the Pacific Ocean and, say, Beverly Hills, the Westside was mostly “White,” relatively peaceful, many of the early residents New York transplants from Jewish neighborhoods, like Brooklyn, old-time Dodger fans, Midwesterners looking for open land and fresh air, and poor migrants from Oklahoma, Arkansas, and parts of Texas, escaping the Dust Bowl. We were separated more by class than by color.

     Japanese had been on the Westside since the early 1900s, farming and opening the first nurseries and developing the gardening/landscape businesses. A few Chinese owned laundries and restaurants. Mexicans had a longer and more complex history, some families going back to the early Californio days, when California was still Mexico, but most came between 1890s and 1925, refugees fleeing the Mexican Revolution, the religious wars, and others answering Amerca’s call for migrant labor to work the fields, factories, and railroads, especially during WWI.

     Except for small pockets of segregated communities in Venice and Santa Monica, there weren’t many African Americans on the Westside. Those who did settle here migrated from Louisiana and Texas. The larger black communities were on the Southside, out by what we know today as Southcentral and Compton. One African American friend of mine, a Vietnam veteran  raised near Central Avenue and 120th Street, told me he’d never been to the Westside, until he was an adult.

     I guess you could say many of us out here, beach kids or suburban kids, were oblivious to race. Oh, I knew I was Mexican, Stan was Japanese, and Dickie was “American,” which meant “white,” but we didn’t think much of it. We played ball, joined clubs, and attended school together. 

     During football and basketball season, the Japanese kids, who attended a Japanese afterschool program, had their own team, the Flying Lions. Mexicans and White kids played together on the Bulldogs. The kids from Westwood, the wealthier kids, were in a day camp, Tacaloma, and had their own team, and that was our league. Sports was the great equalizer. If you were good, you were good; sometimes we won, and other times they won. 

     I remember one black kid in the neighborhood, James Walker. He lived on Cotner, something of a Chicano slum, where most of us lived, at one time or another, and home to the local “homies.” James Walker wore khakis and a white t-shirt, or Pendleton. That’s how he saw himself, as a “homie.” I’d seen him hanging with the “guys” at the neighborhood park, but nobody really knew him, not well, anyway, and he didn't really know them, other than as "homies," and the role they played in the circus.

     The kids from Santa Monica and Venice, where there was a more significant African American community, had more exposure to black kids than those of us in West L.A. Still, from what I’d been told, except for sports, as kids and in school, the black kids pretty much stayed to themselves, many of the early black families educated and members of the NAACP.

     When I entered the army, it was normal for guys to group up by ethnicity or hometown, like city and state, “homies.” Chicanos from L.A. found each other and hung out together, same with white guys, and black guys, like New Yorkers with New Yorkers, guys from Philly with guys from Philly, etc., etc. It wasn’t like anyone was avoiding anybody. It was natural, organic. There weren’t many Asians, that I can remember, maybe one or two, usually Japanese, in each platoon. We couldn’t tell a Jewish kid from any other white kid. Native Americans often hung out with Chicanos or with kids from their hometowns.

     As we began training, working together, and forming units, everybody started making new friends and acquaintances, outside their social groups. It was strange. I realized I shared more interests with a WASPY kid from San Francico or Pittsburg, or a black kid from Chicago, than I did with a Mexican kid from San Angelo, Texas, let’s say. Many Chicanos (a word I use here loosely) who spoke better Spanish than English hung out with other Spanish speakers. Culturally, we were different in so many ways. They'd get down on us for mot speaking Spanish like them. 

     I remember hearing urban black guys call rural black guys, good-naturedly, “Country” because they considered them “backwards,” as in their accents and behavior, sometimes too submissive. Of course, the country black guys thought the city black guys arrogant, loud, and “bullshitters.” The country black guys often had more in common with country white guys than with "city" blacks. Guys who read the bible started hanging out with other guys who read the bible, regardless of color. Nerds found other nerds. Intellectuals found intellectuals. Musicians found musicians. Some Puerto Ricans spoke only Spanish, sometimes, barely able to speak English. They stayed close together, both black and white, New Yorkers and those from the Island.

     Like a lot of Chicanos from L.A., my extent of black culture were oldies and Motown, but music can be a powerful connection. It exposes a people's soul, their vulnerabilities and their power. Once I was settled in the army, I bought a portable record player. At the time, right after high school, I was really into everything Motown. even more than I was into the emerging England invasion rock ‘n roll. Even the Chicano East L.A. sound was a derivative of Motown and "soul" music.

      When I put on the music, black guys would crowd around my bunk to see what music I had. We got to know each other. They were the first group of guys I heard “philosophize” about so many subjects, sometimes, about nothing at all, “street existentialists.” They’d go on and on, like scholars, discussing, analyzing, arguing, and ragging on each other.

     After a year, or so, I still had mostly Chicano friends, but it got to where I had different friends for different occasions. I had hillbilly friends, Italian and Irish Catholic friends, North and South black friends, and Indians from South Dakota and Nebraska. Once in Vietnam, we had no choice but to depend on each other, life and death, no joke. We knew which guys we could depend on and which guys to avoid or keep a close watch over. I guess, we got caught up in the collective “I,” one for all and all for one.

     I don’t think many of us really believed we were fighting for democracy and freedom, nor did our D.I.'s believe it We came to understand that was just government propaganda. We were fighting to keep each other alive, to do our jobs, and to win. We were fighting for tradition, for those who came before us, for those who died on foreign battle fields, for our families, and because that’s what our government said we had to do, that or go to jail.

     Some of us came home and served together stateside. We’d survived the “shit” together, so we were tight. When D.C. blew up in riots after MLK was assassinated, we hit Washington’s streets and brought a semblance of peace back to the residents. The military was more like a job than an obligation, and, like in all jobs, some guys worked harder than others. We also saw stereotypes breakdown. We knew “White” guys weren’t always the heroes, like Hollywood had brainwashed us into believing. They could be as cowardly, lazy, or courageous as anybody else. Sometimes, the meekest guy might stand up and be the mightiest.

     One night, in downtown Fayetteville, North Carolina, we learned about “liberty and equality for all,” the values and morals politicians wanted us to impose on the Vietnamese people, except, it was a scam. A group of us went into a bar to drink and watch near-naked dancing girls up on a stage. We got our beers, except for Simpson, a black kid from L.A. The bartender said he couldn’t serve him. When we protested, the barkeep told Simpson he could take his beer, but he had to drink it outside. I don’t know who started the brawl, but the M.P.’s had to come in and stop it. If Simpson, who was by our side in Vietnam, couldn’t drink then none of us would drink.

     “Equality for all!” Yeah, and how about the billboards, announcing, “Support Your Local KKK.” We knew about white supremacy, and we learned about racism. How could our country fight to export democracy and equality to other countries when we didn’t even have it in our own country? 

     I thought, in the ‘70’s, it was getting better, like character over race and reaching the top of the mountain and all that. Then, I watched January 6, and the attack on the capitol, a lot of military guys leading the charge. So much for “brothers in arms,” and all that. 

     I guess an integrated military didn’t do a lot, in the long run, for the country, other than provide politicians more fodder to send to our enemies to cut down, while the big boys rake in billions on Wall Street and Silicon Valley. What I did learn, though, was, at the core, the real human core, we all are pretty much the same, and skin color is just that -- a color.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024


By Xavier Garza


ISBN: 978-1-55885-996-8

Publication Date: May 31, 2024

Format: Trade Paperback

Pages: 149

Imprint: Piñata Books

Ages: 8-12


This thrilling bilingual short novel introduces young readers 

to spooky Latin American lore!


Vincent and his dad are on a bus in Mexico, headed to his late mom’s village of Nagual, when he hears a loud animal roar! Oddly, no one else seems to have heard it. Looking out the window, he is surprised to see a girl running alongside the bus; he’s even more amazed when she turns into a jaguar! And then he sees a sinister sight: a woman with a cadaverous-looking donkey’s head whose glowing red eyes burn as if on fire! Even in a different country, there’s another monster mystery to solve.


The boy monster fighter has never met his mother’s side of the family, but he knows his maternal grandfather Federico blames his dad for taking Luz away. Despite the tension, Vincent is excited to meet his granddad, Aunt Marina and cousins Pedro and Lupe, who looks suspiciously like the girl he saw running beside the bus!


Vincent soon learns that Lupe, like many others in the village, is a nagual, someone born with the magical ability to transform into an animal. His cousins tell him the Donkey Lady hasn’t been seen in years, so why has she come back now? They are also alarmed when Vincent tells them that his girlfriend Zulema, a witch owl, is coming to visit. Their grandfather hates witch owls! All too soon, this sixth novel in Garza’s bilingual Monster Fighter Mystery series culminates in a convergence of supernatural beings—witch owls, the demonic Donkey Lady, curanderos and naguales—all fighting in a life-or-death battle!


Praise for Xavier Garza’s Monster Fighter Mystery series:


“This installment in the ‘Vincent Ventura’ series is full of fun and surprises, with fast-paced chapters and a mystery that is sure to intrigue fans of Latin American folklore. The dual English and Spanish format makes this an excellent choice for youth bilingual and Spanish collections, and the bold artwork interspersed among the chapters is eye-catching and provides an intriguing close-up of the characters. VERDICT: Highly recommended for collections for youth and for readers of retellings, adventure, and fantasy.”—School Library Journal on Vincent Ventura and the Curse of the Weeping Woman / Vincent Ventura y la maldición de La Llorona


“Multifaceted portrayals of legendary spirits add depth to a narrative that is enhanced by dramatic black-and-white art… Nuanced folklore shines in this thrilling beginning chapter book.”—Kirkus Reviews on Vincent Ventura and the Curse of the Weeping Woman / Vincent Ventura y la maldición de La Llorona


“Monster fighter extraordinaire Vincent Ventura battles his latest foe: the dreadful duende! Book 3 in Garza’s Monster Fighter Mystery series adds a little psychological horror to Vincent’s newest adventure, and this installment [is] a cohesive story centered on friendship and, more importantly, kicking monster butt. A case of lighthearted fun during the witching hour.”—Kirkus Reviews on Vincent Ventura and the Diabolical Duendes / Vincent Ventura y los duendes diabólicos


“This fun, illustrated Spanish/English short chapter book has enough Mexican folklore and American teen angst to keep middle grade and reluctant readers interested in the otherworldly adventures of the monster-fighter extraordinaire.”—School Library Journal on Vincent Ventura and the Mystery of the Witch Owl / Vincent Ventura y el mistero de la bruja lechuza


“Garza’s cool series sequel offers a little mystery, a little action, and a lot of fun. A breezy read, Vincent’s latest adventure packs folkloric elements in a fast-paced tale that’s sure to entice reluctant readers. Similar to its predecessor, this bilingual novel contains both English and Baeza Ventura’s Spanish versions, with the latter being superior in readability. A real hoot.”—Kirkus Reviews on Vincent Ventura and the Mystery of the Witch Owl / Vincent Ventura y el mistero de la bruja lechuza


“Garza delves into Spanish folklore and adds action, horror, and mystery to create a wonderfully exciting book. This illustrated series-starter is formatted as a bilingual flipbook, with the Spanish text occupying one half of the book, and English the other. The descriptive Spanish and high vocabulary make it a strong addition to both elementary and middle school mystery sections.”—Booklist on Vincent Ventura and the Mystery of the Chupacabras / Vincent Ventura y el misterio del chupacabras



XAVIER GARZA is the author of numerous books for kids, including five previous volumes in the Monster Fighter Mystery series: Vincent Ventura and the Curse of the Dancing Devil / Vincent Ventura y la maldición del diablo bailarín (Piñata Books, 2023), Vincent Ventura and the Curse of the Weeping Woman / Vincent Ventura y la maldición de La Llorona (Piñata Books, 2021), Vincent Ventura and the Diabolical Duendes / Vincent Ventura y los duendes diabólicos (Piñata Books, 2020), Vincent Ventura and the Mystery of the Witch Owl / Vincent Ventura y el misterio de la bruja lechuza (Piñata Books, 2019) and Vincent Ventura and the Mystery of the Chupacabras / Vincent Ventura y el misterio del chupacabras (Piñata Books, 2018). He lives with his family in San Antonio, Texas.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Golden Foothills Poetry Anthology from the Green Hills of Altadena

BookReview: Altadena Poetry Review: Anthology 2024.
Peter J. Harris, Ed. Altadena, Ca: Golden Foothills Press, 2024. ISBN 978-1-7372481-2-5.
Michael Sedano
One of the nation's foremost poetry communities populates the northwesternmost corner of California's San Gabriel Valley, Altadena 91001. A pair of Co-Poets Laureate serve two-year terms organizing readings, workshops, events, culminating in a published anthology. This year's book, the thirteenth in the series, features 121 poets with 177 thoughts, covering nearly 300 pages of Golden Foothill Press' Altadena Poetry Review: Anthology 2024 (link).
Editor Peter J. Harris welcomed hundreds of submissions in the process of selecting works in section I of the three-section collection. 

In a remarkable publication schedule necessitated by the term of service of Altadena Poets Laureate, Harris and Golden Foothills Press publisher, Thelma T. Reyna, had only seven months from open call to printed copies and produced a magnum opus of contemporary U.S. poetry.
The anthology has three divisions. Part One publishes poets from the open call. Part two shares poems from an ekphrastic project of the Laureates in 2023 (link). Part three collects work from a cross-generational workshop, and comes with an introduction by Co-Poet Laureate Carla R. Sameth. 
Harris knows most of the poets in the collection but he relates an editorial anomia regarding poet names, selecting poems that move him personally. In his preface, Harris says he selects poems "that call to me." He chooses poems "that stop time in their own ways". The anthology collects numerous Poets Laureate, and awardees of American Book Award and Pushcart Prize, as well as numerous debut authors.
Altadena Poetry Review: Anthology 2024 represents a nationwide set of voices with southern California artists in the majority. The anthology's roster of poets reflects the region's diversity with work across ethnic, age, and gender lines. There's an extensive fourth section, not of poems but biographies of poets. After reading a particularly provocative thought, readers will find perspective by reading a poet's one-paragraph file.
Harris' "Foreword: Community Without Conformity," and Robin D.G. Kelley,'s "Introduction" will give readers keen insight into the process of selecting, and the critic's understanding of how the poems go together and fall into recognizable ways of looking at a world. Carla Rachel Sameth's "Places We Call Home: Cross-generational Ode to the Land Workshops", frames selections.
Poetry itself will deal in universals, a reader expects to read poems about love, sex, reverence, anguish, heartbreak, politics, anger, separation, death. Anthologies collect these from the submissions that reached the Editor, que no? Submission aside, readers expect unique takes on familiar themes and for the Editor to collect stuff that makes sense, together as a collection, stuff that makes sense individually.
In this, Altadena Poetry Review: Anthology 2024 exceed all expectations, offering readers a definitive portrait of contemporary poetry right now. It's like a Norton Anthology of contemporary United States poetry in 2023 and 2024 as seen from Altadena, California where Poets Laureate have been doing this for almost twenty years, and publishing for thirteen.
Robin D.G. Kelley's "Introduction" views the collection as a stream of consciousness where memory flows through to link poems into themes reflecting the poet's sense of purpose and aesthetic. Dig into the collection and see for yourselves.
Poets appear in alphabetical order, which adds to a reader's enjoyment discovering one's own organization of style and theme. Consider the richness exemplified in the first ten titles by seven poets: "May You Rest in My Love", "Shared Magic"; "Super Duper Toxic Masculinity"; "Saltwater Woman"; "Oh Palestine", "The Many Faces of La Llorona"; "Tin Man"; "Streamlight", "Letter to My First String Quartet, Live and Up Close"; "Star Catcher."
Kelley's suggestion that memory links these work strikes me as right on. Many poets possess memories built over years. More than mere memory, their poems reflect maturity and long years' experience living those universalities. Mature poets--old people, not-young poets--write poems with strong understanding of completion, finality, absence. Dying and death offer no mystery. Here, poems express resignation instead of regret, acceptance instead of anguish.
Two dementia and dying poems especially move me for their ethos and implicit strength, "The Essence of Us. Thirteen Profiles from Memory Care," by Linda Kraai, and Beatriz De Necochea's "Endless Angst". Each voice accepts what is, and finds balance in desolate landscapes.
The quartet poem delighted my own memory. People who dig chamber music probably share the childlike delight the poet breathes into the words.
Readers will enjoy what I call the "vocabulary poems," for example, "An Experiment in Poetic Physics" evokes "Baroclinic vorticity / (swirly plasma)", also, "WIMPS / (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles)". Turn to the biographies to learn the poet is an astrophysicist in her published poem debut. Elline Lipkin sends me to Webster's for "haint blue".
In a cornucopia of poetic delight such as Altadena Poetry Review: Anthology 2024, it's fruitless to catalog all the themes and attempt some forced-selection list of the best poems in the book. According to Peter J. Harris, here are the best poems of 2023-2024, and I, for one, take his word for it. I was privileged to read a draft and contributed a blurb to the back cover, so I was fortunate to spend many hours inside these pages.
Critical thinkers like people who read poetry, or would like to, will want to make up their own mind. Independent booksellers will order your copy from the book's distributor. Wise buyers will order publisher-direct, whose pre-order discount has just expired. Lástima.
Altadena Poetry Review: Anthology 2024, at just $19.00 publisher-direct, is poetry's best bargain.
Golden Foothills Press Publisher, Dr. Thelma T. Reyna at the anthology debut reading