Monday, April 22, 2024

Comentario al libro _Corazón de agua, Heart of Water_ por Carlos Cumpián

Comentario al libro _Corazón de agua, Heart of Water_ por Carlos Cumpián


Corazón de agua / Heart of Water de Xánath Caraza

(Somos en Escrito Literary Foundation Press, 2024)

Traducido al inglés por Sandra Kingery

ISBN: 979-8-9902068-2-3


Multilingual poet professor Xánath Caraza’s new English and Spanish bilingual collection Corazón de Agua, Heart of Water provides readers with her intimate sensorial observations in crisp elemental language expressed in mainly free-verse. She captures cataloging almost-haiku like topographical cycles of nature parallel to our human hearts’ emotional fields of contraction and expansion. Close readers will also discover there’s a bold face type contrapuntal poem interwoven in each poem.


There are undercurrent references of what has become our modern plague’s “lockdown” appearing interwoven with strong seasonal biological and ecological cycles as in her poem The “Origin of My Blood”, “…furrows are formed on my skin as black tears slide down. Distance is more painful with this unexpected pandemic” doing so while cognizant of our society’s interdependence on people doing their jobs which Caraza celebrates and has concern for as in the poem Raven, “I think of those who travel on the metro every day, without masks, without distance between them, without knowing what they will become.”


I found Caraza’s new poems reminiscent of ecological-minded poets like Diana de Prima’s early work on the natural world as well as Gary Snyder’s mindfulness love of Nature rooted in Zen practice which she suggests in lines like in her title poem, “I stir a memory to let it go. When invoked, it vanishes. I add the sighs provoked by the mares that gallop on the prairies. I imbibe the bright green, brilliant daybreak, heart of water.”


Corazón de agua / Heart of Water de Xánath Caraza

(Somos en Escrito Literary Foundation Press, 2024)

Traducido al inglés por Sandra Kingery

ISBN: 979-8-9902068-2-3


El poemario más reciente de Xánath Caraza, una colección bilingüe en español e inglés, Corazón de agua, Heart of Water, brinda al lector observaciones sensoriales íntimas con un lenguaje nítido expresado principalmente en verso libre que la poeta captura al catalogar, casi a manera de haiku, ciclos topográficos de la naturaleza similares a la contracción y extensión emocional del corazón humano. Los lectores atentos también descubrirán que hay un poema en negritas, a contrapunto, entretejido en cada uno de los poemas.


Hay referencias subyacentes, a lo que se ha convertido el “Confinamiento” de nuestra plaga moderna, vinculadas a fuertes ciclos biológicos y ecológicos, como en su poema “El origen de mi sangre”, “…se forman surcos en la piel / al deslizarse lágrimas negras. / Duele más la distancia / con esta inesperada pandemia”, mientras, es consciente de la interdependencia de la sociedad con el trabajo que la gente hace, lo que Caraza celebra y le preocupa como en el poema “Cuervo”, “…pienso en los que viajan en los metros / cada día, sin máscaras, sin distancia / entre ellos sin saber en lo que / se transformarán”.


Descubro reminiscencias de eco poesía en el nuevo poemario de Caraza, como en los primeros trabajos de Diana de Prima sobre el mundo natural; así mismo encuentro el amor intencional a la naturaleza originado en la práctica Zen, de Gary Snyder, que la poeta sugiere en los versos de su poema “Elíxir”, “…Revuelvo un recuerdo / para dejarlo ir. / Al invocarlo se esfuma. / Agrego los suspiros / provocados por las yeguas / que galopan en las praderas. / Bebo el verde esmeralda, / brillante amanecer, / corazón de agua”.


Carlos Cumpián

Autor de Human Cicada (Prickly Pear Publishing)



Friday, April 19, 2024

Mystery of the Missing Authors


I wanted to find analytical books about Chicana/o authors.  Easy enough, I thought.  Chicana/o Lit is an accepted literary category, right?  A credible topic for a university course?  That may be, but I quickly learned that there is a sobering lack of biographical and academic studies of Mexican American authors.  There must be several reasons for this, which I don't want to get into here in this short piece for La Bloga.  I will point out that I could not find a definitive biography or serious critique of Tomás Rivera, Sandra Cisneros, Ana Castillo, Denise Chávez, Michael Nava, etc., etc.  Maybe I looked in the wrong places?  Maybe I didn't go deep enough? Please point me in the right direction.  I'll be happy to list any books about Chicana/o authors that you recommend. I'm not looking for autobiographical works or reviews of specific titles.  Meanwhile, here's what I've got so far.   


Alfredo Véa’s Narrative Trilogy: Studies on La Maravilla, The Silver Cloud Café, and Gods Go Begging
Roberto Cantú
Cambridge Scholars Publishing - 2023

[from the publisher]

With the publication of La Maravilla (1993), Alfredo Véa entered the world of letters in full possession of his craft as a novelist, blending narrative fiction and engaging anecdotes with allusions to art (music, paintings, poetry) and autobiography (e.g., his tour of duty in Vietnam), written in the poetry and prose of the world with penetrating reflections on America (as an ideal), and the United States (as a country). Véa’s narrative trilogy was recognized for its attention to language, ingenious conception at the level of plot and theme, and broad reflections on American society, its history (politics, art, religion, the entertainment industry), and its role as a world power in the twentieth century, specifically during the Vietnam war. Although recognized as a writer of great intuition and exceptional creativity, until now, no book-length study has been written on Alfredo Véa as a novelist. In this book, each one of the novels in the trilogy is analyzed and interpreted from an interdisciplinary perspective and with the general reader in mind, as well as college and university professors and students of US and world literatures.

Roberto Cantú is Professor Emeritus of English, and jointly Professor of Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies at California State University, Los Angeles. For more than forty years, he taught courses on world and Latin American literature, including Chicana/o, Mexican, and Mesoamerican literatures. He is the translator (from English to Spanish) of José Antonio Villarreal’s novel Pocho (1994), and the author of José Antonio Villarreal and Pocho: A Mexican American Novel and its Tragic Plot (2022). He has edited several books, including An Insatiable Dialectic: Essays on Critique, Modernity, and Humanism (2013); The Willow and the Spiral: Essays on Octavio Paz and the Poetic Imagination (2014); The Forked Juniper: Critical Perspectives on Rudolfo Anaya (2016); and Mexican Mural Art: Critical Essays on a Belligerent Aesthetic (2021). In 1990, Cantú received Cal State LA’s Outstanding Professor Award. In 2010, he was recognized at his campus with the President’s Distinguished Professor Award.


The Forked Juniper: Critical Perspectives on Rudolfo Anaya
Roberto Cantú, ed.
University of Oklahoma Press - 2016

[from the publisher]
Widely acclaimed as the founder of Chicano literature, Rudolfo Anaya is one of America’s most compelling and prolific authors. A recipient of a National Humanities Medal and best known for his debut novel, Bless Me, Ultima, his writings span multiple genres, from novels and essays to plays, poems, and children’s stories. Despite his prominence, critical studies of Anaya’s writings have appeared almost solely in journals, and the last book-length collection of essays on his work is now more than twenty-five years old. The Forked Juniper remedies this gap by offering new critical evaluations of Anaya’s ever-evolving artistry.

Edited by distinguished Chicano studies scholar Roberto Cantú, The Forked Juniper presents thirteen essays written by U.S., Mexican, and German critics and academics. The essayists employ a range of critical methods in their analyses of such major works as Bless Me, Ultima (1972), Jalamanta: A Message from the Desert (1996), and the Sonny Baca narrative quartet (1995–2005). Through the lens of cultural studies, the essayists also discuss intriguing themes in Anaya’s writings, such as witchcraft in colonial New Mexico, the reconceptualization of Aztlán, and the aesthetics of the New World Baroque. The volume concludes with an interview with renowned filmmaker David Ellis, who produced the 2014 film Rudolfo Anaya: The Magic of Words.

The symbol of the forked juniper tree—venerated as an emblem of healing and peace in some spiritual traditions and a compelling image in Bless Me, Ultima—is open to multiple interpretations. It echoes the manifold meanings the contributors to this volume reveal in Anaya’s boundlessly imaginative literature.

The Forked Juniper illuminates both the artistry of Anaya’s writings and the culture, history, and diverse religious traditions of his beloved Nuevo Mexico. It is an essential reference for any reader seeking greater understanding of Anaya’s world-embracing work.


Rolando Hinojosa's Klail City Death Trip Series:  A Retrospective, New Directions

Stephen Miller & Jose Villalobos
, eds.

Arte Público Press - 2013

[from the publisher]
Mirroring the linguistic and cultural evolution of those living on the Texas-Mexico border, Rolando Hinojosa’s Klail City Death Trip Series examines relations between Mexican-Americans and Anglo-Americans born and raised in the fictional Rio Grande Valley town of Klail City, Texas. Depicting the transformation of a place and its people “from a sleepy agricultural and ranching backwater of Mexican and American society and history” over a 30-year period, the series comprises fifteen books—published between 1973 and 2006—and reflects the importance of the growing Hispanic population in the U.S.

The people of Hinojosa’s Klail City, which has been compared to William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County and Gabriel García Márquez’s Macondo, have dealt with the same issues as their real-life counterparts living along the border, including discrimination, generational change, drug violence and the quest for women’s rights. The editors of this scholarly volume assert in their introduction that the series, with volumes in English, Spanish and a mix of both languages, “may well be the most innovative and complex project of literary creation ever conceived and realized by a writer based in the United States.”

The eleven essays in this volume consider both broad and specialized aspects of the Klail City Death Trip Series. Divided into two sections, the chapters in the first half examine the series as a whole and look at general topics such as cultural hybridity, the individual’s needs versus those of society and the influence of Hispanic literary tradition on Hinojosa’s work. The essays in the second half explore more specific aspects, including Klail City youth going to war, women’s search for autonomy in the face of societal and familial tradition and a comparison of Hinojosa’s The Valley with Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show as examples of Hispanic and Anglo literary traditions that developed in the same region.

Also included is an interview with Rolando Hinojosa, the Ellen Clayton Garwood Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the recipient of numerous literary awards, including the most prestigious prize in Latin American fiction, Casa de las Américas, for the best Spanish American novel in 1976 and the Premio Quinto Sol, the National Award for Chicano Literature, in 1972. This collection is an essential tool for scholars and students alike in understanding the work of Rolando Hinojosa and the people living a bilingual, bicultural life along the Texas-Mexico border.

Ilan Stavans
Northwestern University Press - 2003

[from the publisher]
The Hispanic Malcolm X. Writer. Activist. Civil rights attorney. Obese, dark-skinned, and angry. Man with a surplus of personality. Man of vision. All the above describe Oscar "Zeta" Acosta. El Paso-born, Acosta became a leading figure in the Chicano rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s, winning landmark decisions in civil rights cases as an attorney. As a tireless writer and activist, he had a profound influence on his contemporaries. He seemed to be everywhere at once, knowing everyone in "el movimiento" and involving himself in many of its key moments. Tumultuous and prone to excess, he is the Samoan in Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. In 1974, after a last phone call to his son, Acosta disappeared in the Mexican state of Mazatlán.

Hailed as "a fine, learned homage" (Kirkus), "a kaleidoscopic portrait" (Booklist), and "a game of mirrors" (The Washington Post), Bandido is a veritable tour de force. Through interviews and Acosta's writings (published and unpublished), Ilan Stavans reconstructs—even reinvents—the man behind the myth. Part biographical appraisal, part reflection on the legacy of the Civil Rights era, Bandido is an opportunity to understand the challenges and pitfalls Latinos face in finding a place of their own in America.



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, April 18, 2024

Chicanonautica: Sci-Fi Gonzoing While Chicano in Class

by Ernest Hogan

Once again, I taught a class at (problematic, it was online via good ol’ Zoom) the Palabras del Pueblo writing workshop. I called it “Gonzo Sciene Fiction, Chicano Style” to give myself a excuse to plug my new book, Guerrilla Mural of a Siren’s Song: 15 Gonzo Science Fiction Stories. Self-promotion is important, kids, do it whenever you can get away with it—hell, even when you can’t get away with it!  It’s called professionalism.

There I go, thinking like a teacher again . . .

When introducing themselves, students mentioned the Impostor Syndrome about being writers. I don’t have that problem; my credentials as one of the most successful Chicano writers of my generation are secure. But when it comes to being a teacher, that’s another plate of tacos.

I never wanted to be a teacher. I don't have a degree. I never did like school. All I have is over forty years of bizarre experience.

And there are people out there who like what I write. I guess it all counts for something. 

This was my second time doing this. I may get the hang of it yet.

I presented material from my updated notes. I tend to change my mind about things, and the writing biz keeps a-changing. I wrote a story over the course of the class, all the way sharing my creative process (hiljole! What a pretentious phrase). 

It was strange because I don’t usually think about what I do—I just do it. I find discussing the Art of Writing to be boring and irritating.

Interestingly enough, there were no surprises. I’ve been doing this so long that I know what I’m doing without having to ponder the mysteries of it all. Like I said, experience.

The story is called “Spawn of the New, Improved Tortilla Machine.” I was lucky enough to be inspired by all the craziness going on in the world, combined with the fact that I had promised I would write a story. The process was, and the result is, gonzo.

I’ve never been comfortable in a classroom. I tried hard to make this a non- or even anti-academic experience. Writing is not an academic activity and shouldn’t be.

Once again, I was impressed by the students. They were a diverse group from all parts of the Latinoid continuum. I tend to be Chicano-centric because Aztlán in the second half of siglo XX is where I come from, but I always enjoy other cultures that have been affected by contact with the Hispanic virus. We need to start cooperating on a global level—since we are most of the people in this hemisphere we need to come off as a majority so publishers stop dismissing us as a niche market. We have fantastic ideas coming out of a wide range of cultures—we keep creating new ones—that will make for great fiction that will entertain and enlighten the world.

For the next time—it pays well, often better than the writing itself—I will strive to make it more interactive and focus even more on the wants and needs of the students. Guess I’ll be updating those notes again.

One thing I need to work on is the market—where to send what you write. It’s something I need to do anyway. I’ve been spoiled this century, most of what I publish these days is the result of publishers and editors coming to me—thank Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca for the interwebs! But lately, I’ve built up a backlog of unpublished stories. I need to do some investigating of the mutating world of publishing. No doubt, there will be some hair-raising adventures.

Also, anybody interested in publishing one or more of these stories, besides this blog and Mondo Ernesto, I’m on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Another lesson in professionalism.

Ernest Hogan, the Father of Chicano Science Fiction, is the author of Guerrilla Mural of a Siren’s Song: 15 Gonzo Science Fiction Stories, a guidebook for the weirdness to come.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Los Angeles Times Festival of Books

From LA Librería 


The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is just around the corner. Join us on April 20-21 at the University of Southern California for a weekend packed with books, authors, illustrators, activities, more books :) and, of course, lots of fun! 


Come and check our wonderful collection of books in Spanish at the Book Festival!

Board books, picture books, comics, chapter books, young adult books, adult books...


Looking for libros? Don't miss our two spots!


* Booth #590, across the Children's Stage

Booth #003, next to the Latinidad Stage. We are the official bookseller for the Latinidad Stage.

Besides, there’s a terrific author line-up for all the stages. All outdoor stages and activities are free.

 Storytime and Author Book Signing hosted by LA librería


Come and say Hi/Hola!


We will be across the Children's Stage in Booth #590


Bilingual Storytime with Mrs. Angel and Ms. Kimi from Anaheim Public Library. April 20th, 11:00 am

Calling all LA Dodger fans, families, and especially children! Kathy Contreras will be signing copies of her new book “Born to Play Beisbol: The Magical Career of Fernando Valenzuela”. April 20th, 1:30 pm

Isabel Quintero, author of “My Papi Has a Motorcycle” will be signing copies of her brand new book “Mama’s panza”. April 20th, 2:00 pm

Holly Ayala will be signing copies of her fun and unique ABC book “ABC El Salvador”. April 21st, 3:00 pm


Meet Jorge Argueta, who will be signing copies of his book “Olita and Manyula The Big Birthday”. April 21st, 3:30 pm


Author of bilingual picture books, René Colato Laínez will be joining us and signing copies of his latest books “Do I belong here? / ¿Es este mi lugar?” and “Let's Play in the Park / Juguemos en el parque”. April 21st, 3:30pm



* Here’s what you can’t miss at the Latinidad Stage:


Festival goers will be able to purchase books by the featured authors below in our booth. Authors will participate in book signings following their panels.


Hora de cuentos con LAPL. April 20th and 21st, 10:00 am

Recommended for your little ones!


 Lil' Libros Storytime with Cindy Montenegro and Hazel Quintanilla. April 20th and 21st, 11:00 am. Recommended for your little ones!


* Lectura en español con Luis García, Carla Guelfenbein y Marisol Shulz. April 20th, 12:00 pm


Poetry Reading with Yesika Salgado, Angela García, Melania Marte. April 20th and 21st, 1:15 pm


* Exploring the latino wealth gap with Gaventura, Linda Garcia and Natalie Torres-Hadad. April 20th, 4:30 pm


* De aquí y de Allá: The first gen experience with Julissa Arce, Verónica Benavidez and Alejandra Campoverdi. April 21st, 11:30 am


* When Writing is personal: in conversation with Justin Torres. April 21st, 12:25 pm


* Oaxacan Influence: How a community has shaped culture in all corners, a conversation with the López Family, Odilia Romero and Mireya Olivera. April 21st, 1:20 pm


* Blood in blood out’ with Jimmy Santiago Baca and Taylor Hackford. April 21st, 2:15 pm


*Voto Latino with Gustavo Arellano, Angelica Salas, Sonja Francine Diaz y Gustavo Madrid. April 21st, 3:15 pm


*Everything Latinidad: Challenging the Myth of the Monolith Mario, Alberto Obando, Valentina, Alan Pelaez Lopez. April 21st, 4:00 pm


¡Ahí nos vemos!


Tuesday, April 16, 2024

28th Poetry Month, NELA the First

Back in April 1996, the Academy of American Poets declared the first National Poetry Month. Twenty-eight years of growth and having become the world's largest literary celebration, National Poetry Month comes to Northeast Los Angeles with the first annual NELA Poetry Festival. 

 Literary Festivals don't just happen. This initial foray into a large scale event reflects organizing prowess by unnamed members of host VCP SoCal Poets, helmed by Teresa Mei Chuc with James Evert Jones. 

I just returned from the 5th annual San Diego Writers Festival, a one-day event centered around a tent city of vendors. This first NELA Poetry Festival is all about the poets and their work. 

The two day schedule from 11:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. features two readers every twenty minutes. Five- and six-voice collectives read for an hour. 

It's a massive undertaking best appreciated by attending the free event next year. Visit the festival's website (link) where the list of readers with bios and photos likely represents hours of labor and multiple messages to gather such an extensive, yet partial, list of poets. 

The festival site, Los Angeles College Prep Academy, welcomes visitors with an agricultural work area, mural-adorned retaining walls, and a beautiful amphitheater. 

Another mural covers the main entrance to the instructional building. Visit the school website (link) for a more thorough introduction to this unique high school. 

I enjoyed only a short visit to the lively festival, intending to photograph The Rose Poets, Teresa Mei Chuc, Gerda Govine Ituarte, Shahé Mankerian, and Carla Sameth. These poets have work in the upcoming book, Altadena Poetry Review; Anthology 2024, edited by Peter J. Harris. When the anthology launches, I anticipate they will read and I can take their portrait. 
Holding the floor before the veteranas of Southern California poetry are younger voices such as Rhys Langston Podell who read from his unpublished manuscripts.

That big microophone is a vital element of the superb sound system NELA Poetry Festival provides. The speakers emit clean, crisp renditions of what's being said up front in the room's poor acoustics. What poets need to remember is the mic pics up sound in a big three dimensional clover leaf pattern. Lower the mic to chest level. and speak straight ahead. The mic hears you just fine and the photographer is all happy to see faces.
Teresa Mei Chuc 
Carla Sameth
Shahé Mankerian

Gerda Govine Ituarte

Christian Perfas (aka. 'Soul Stuf' within poetry circles) 

Friday, April 12, 2024

Santa Barbara Celebrates National Poetry Month

Melinda Palacio, Santa Barbara Poet Laureate

In Santa Barbara, Mayor Randy Rowse offered a proclamation for National Poetry Month on Tuesday, April 9. Dos Pueblos High School student, Anna Matthews, recited her award-winning performance of “The Listeners” by Robert Frost. She is the regional champion of the Poetry Out Loud Competition. The proclamation is nine days into poetry month and Santa Barbara has already seen at least three poetry events, including the Spirits in the Air Reading on April 1, Poetry Passages launch last week and the Santa Barbara Literary Journal’s launch of issue 10 at Chaucer’s Books on Monday, April 8. It’s been wonderful seeing our town show up for poetry. Chaucer’s was packed at the launch for issue 10, which featured nine Santa Barbara poets laureate. 


The Poetry Passages launch last Thursday, April 4, also featured our local poets laureate, but a different crowd showed up for the outdoor event. Santa Barbara is a wonderful town for poetry. Lea Williams said the event was magical: “The wind died down, the rain held off and there was joy and connection,” she said. “The readings and the speeches gave everyone there a lovely picture of how this all came together and why it mattered.” Ride the bus, read a poem.


As a co-organizer for Poetry Passages, the project to put poems on our city buses, I was a little worried the day of the event. We hoped for a nice day for our outdoor event, especially since the Santa Barbara Museum of Art offered to host us on the museum’s front terrace. Lea Williams and I were very excited about an outdoor launch party because it meant people celebrating First Thursday might stop and learn about the project and poetry month.


Patsy Hicks, Director of Education at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, said she had a contingency plan for rain. Later that day, there was a bomb threat downtown. Rain? Breeze? Bomb threat? Who would possibly show up? 


Some fifty people took seats around the museum’s entrance and on the portable chairs used for events inside the galleries. The museum’s portable microphone did the job and people stopped on State Street to listen to the poems that they can see riding on the buses. As a seasoned poet and event planner, I know that the best laid plans can go awry. Luckily, our event was a success. Patsy Hicks said it was a pleasure to host the Poetry Passages launch. “It had a great feeling of community of a story to be told,” she said, “a story of shared resources amid folks who have a real desire to communicate what it means to ride through and write about Santa Barbara.”


The Santa Barbara Museum of Art is also celebrating National Poetry Month with their Post Card Poetry. They are printing postcards that feature excerpts from poems written by a Santa Barbara based poets or facilitators of Writing in the Galleries.. There will be a new postcard each week in April, collect all four. I am honored that my poem, “And Me,” is paired with Keith Mayerson’s, Someday we’ll find it, the Rainbow Connection, the lovers, the dreamers, and me (2023). Sign up for my next Writing in the Galleries session at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art before next week. The workshop is April 18 at 5:30 pm, free with registration. 


If you want to hear more poetry from your poet laureate, I will be at the Lompoc Public Library this Saturday, April 13 at 1pm. The following Saturday, thanks to a grant from State Parks, we will have a free poetry celebration downtown. Turns out, our only state park is El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Park. Celebrate National Poetry month with an afternoon of poetry and music at the Alcehama Theatre, Saturday April 20 at 1pm. Poets include Perie Longo, Emma Trelles, Stephanie Barbé Hammer, Monica Mody, Diana Raab, and Takunda Chickowero; musical acts include the Gruntled, UCSB Middle East Ensemble, and Chumash Kiyniw Singers; and a few other surprises at this free event. 


*This article was originally published in the Santa Barbara Independent.



National Poetry Month Events


April 1, Spirits in the Air 10th Anniversary Reading 4:30-6:30 pm. The Good Lion 1212 State Street, free admission, no host bar. 


April 4, First Thursday, launch party for Poetry Passages 5-6:30 pm on the Terrace of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1130 State Street.


April 8, Santa Barbara Literary Journal Volume 10: Reading at Chaucer’s, features seven local poets laureate, Monday from 6-7:45 pm, Chaucer’s Books 3321 State Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93105.


April 9, The Mayor’s Proclamation of National Poetry Month, City Hall, 2pm.


April 13, Lompoc Library features City of Santa Barbara Poet Laureate, Melinda Palacio at 1pm.


April 14, The Poetry Zone, 1:30 pm, back patio of the Karpeles Manuscript Library, open mic and featured poet is Jan Steckel.


April 18, Writing in the Galleries, write poetry at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art with SBPL Melinda Palacio, Thursday, 5:30-7pm, free with registration. 


April 20, Poetry in the Parks, an afternoon of poetry and music at the Alhecama Theatre, poets include Perie Longo, Emma Trelles, Stephanie Barbé Hammer, Monica Mody, Takunda Chickowero and Diana Raab; musical acts include the Gruntled, UCSB Middle East Ensemble, and Chumash Kiyniw Singers and host Melinda Palacio.


April 30, Amanda Gorman in Conversation with Pico Iyer, Tuesday 7:30 pm at the Arlington Theatre.  

Thursday, April 11, 2024

One History Seen through a Different Mirror


 by Daniel Cano                                                                           

Book sitting in a neighbor's box, just waiting....

As I gave my dog, Phoebe, her evening stroll, I noticed a box of books on the sidewalk. Most were throwaways, except for one, Ron Takaki’s book, A Different Mirror, a History of Multicultural America (1993). The book was practically new.

     Professor Ron Takaki, a Japanese Californian, by way of Hawaii, died in 2009. He was a preeminent scholar in the field of Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley. I’d read Takaki’s book, Strangers from a Different Shore (1989), his book about Asian migration to the U.S., a topic few Americans, including me, knew, other than generalities, even though my family was from the West Coast, home to most Asian Americans in the U.S. Our neighbors were Japanese.

     In 1990, or thereabouts, I heard Dr. Takaki speak in an auditorium filled with faculty at Santa Monica College, where I was teaching at the time. Takaki 's work, his writing and lecturing, was accessible to the public, edifying, engaging, and entertaining, something snobbish scholars avoided, preferring to couch their work in oblique academic jargon and complex concepts, I think so they can get away with calling their discipline a “science,” an old argument in higher education.

     Takaki began his lecture by asking, “How many of you know about Ellis Island.?” 

     Of course, nearly every hand in the auditorium shot up. 

     “Good,” Takaki said, and laughed, something of a cackle, like setting up a good joke. He then asked, in a serious tone, “How many of you have heard of Angel Island?” 

     Slowly, as if needing to think about it, only a smattering of hands went up. The majority of educators sat silent. Professor Takaki went on to explain Angel Island, adjacent to San Francisco, was the West Coast Port of Entry for Asian immigrants, mostly Chinese and Japanese, in the mid-19th century, "strangers from a different shore." He then asked, “As educators, if we know about Ellis Island, why don't we also know about Angel Island?” Silence.

     After an invigorating and inspiring lecture on his book about Asian America, Takaki made a bold pronouncement. He said something like, “If university students don’t know the real history of the U.S., and about all the people who contributed to its creation,” here he raised his voice, “I believe they are not worthy of a university degree.”

     Well, that got the attention of the erudite crowd. I remember hearing more than a few murmurs pass through the audience. As the only Chicano professor ever hired by the English department at SMC, about a 70-year-old institution at the time, I knew exactly what Takaki meant.

     In the late 1980s, early 1990s, “Ethnic Studies,” as a discipline, was just taking hold in the academy. In American higher education, the study of other U.S. cultures wasn’t new, but it hadn't yet been organized into a coherent program, department, or discipline. Educators like John Dewey, Howard Zinn, Edward Said, Bell Hooks, Noam Chomsky, Cornel West, Gloria Anzaldua, and others had begun looking at U.S. history beyond our mythical borders, yet, somehow, it threatened many traditional educators who wanted to believe the U.S. was solely a European construct.

     When Takaki opened his talk to a rousing Q&A session, I remember one professor standing and, subtly, accusing Takaki of introducing an illegitimate field of study into the curriculum, even hinting at the flimsiness of Takaki’s scholarly credentials, maybe assuming Takaki had received a degree in Ethnic Studies, of which some traditional scholars, like classicist Allan Bloom, were critical. The crowd quieted, waited, uncertainty creeping in. Takaki remained cool. It wasn’t his first time under verbal assault, having led the cultural wars at UC Berkeley. 

     He thanked the man for his comment, clarified his doctorate was in American history, and described the rigorous curricula students needed to study to pass courses in Ethnic Studies or to receive degrees in the field. Once again, he had the crowd behind him.

     Somewhere towards the end of his talk, Takaki said, “Even ‘Whites’ need to take back their history.” He was suggesting Americans, whose ancestors had emigrated from Europe, to be considered “educated” should know their own cultural backgrounds, whether English, Dutch, Irish, Pole, French, etc., why their ancestors emigrated and settled here, especially since we live in a global world.

     I’m nearly half-way through Takaki’s book, a fascinating read. I wish I’d read it earlier, years earlier. It’s storytelling based on historical research, referencing Shakespeare's Tempest, a play about the "other" and moving from the early days of the United States, starting with the relationship between the colonists and indigenous inhabitants, citing journals and early writings, and moving on to Irish and indentured servitude then shifting to early African migration in the Northern colonies, before slavery was even institutionalized, explaining why and how it became an institution and affected labor in the United States.

     In the early chapters, Takaki focuses on the founding fathers, from a different perspective. He’s always respectful, but he doesn’t hold back regarding their “real” views of slavery, forced labor, or their treatment of the Indians, especially, men like Thomas Jefferson, who suffered a moral dilemma, introducing laws to outlaw slavery, yet, at the same, time, building his fortune on the backs of African labor, while passing laws to take native American lands.

     Takaki includes much about early august Americans that many historians choose to avoid, or completely ignore, especially harsh language leading to the detriment of those they considered outsiders, but, understanding, even the outsiders were here to stay, a part of the complex American tapestry.

     I’m looking forward to the next chapters, where Takaki describes Mexican and Asian immigrants and how they became American, and the unique challenges they faced. Where Africans were forced to come to America to work, often under hellish conditions, the Irish out of starvation and desperation, Mexicans were already here. Later, others chose to cross the border, for whatever reason, much like the Chinese and Japanese, who emigrated to Gold Mountain, only to learn the gold belonged to someone else.

     I’ve always known about Takaki’s, A Different Mirror, but never took the time to read it, until now, imagine, after finding it outside a neighbor’s house. Coincidentally, I’ve been working my way through biographies of the founding fathers, to get a better grasp of this country’s foundation. In today's discourse, I hear so many people say, “The founding fathers this and the founding fathers that…,” many of them, clearly, understanding little about the men who founded the country. 

     Some of the early composers and signers of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights were outright atheists and agnostics, lechers and philanderers, brilliant and progressive, some siding with flamboyant France and others with cold, dark England. 

     Takaki’s book provides that conceptual foundation, and not in a dry, analytical scholarly way, but, as I said earlier, wrapped up in engaging stories about people, based on historical research, often in the words of the historical figures themselves, documented in diaries and letters, as uncomfortable and disconcerting as those words might be. 

     They are part of our history, the history that makes us all Americans, even if there are those who will never accept us, those who choose to muddy up basic historical study with complex concepts, like Critical Race Theory (CRT), a study that has no bearing on ethnic studies. 

     For me, I’ll keep my eye out for books in boxes outside neighbors' homes, especially now that we have so few bookstores in town, and no "used bookstores" at all, another way, I guess, to keep us all uniformed and ignorant.

Daniel Cano is author of the novels Pepe Rios, Shifting Loyalties (Arte Publico Press, University of Houston), and the award-winning, Death and the American Dream (Bilingual Press, Arizona State University).