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1. The Fabricator

Speculative fiction by Daniel A. Olivas

            Rigoberto sat on the large, cold boulder.  His eyes rested upon the lake’s calm surface discerning no more than a ripple at the base of the partially submerged tree twenty or so yards from where he sat.  Probably a happy family of waterbugs enjoying the safety of the root, he thought.  He noticed another ripple in the middle of the lake and imagined that a Loch Ness-type monster would languidly rise out of that small aquatic disturbance once Rigoberto had walked away, out of sight.  But this was not the Highland region of northern Scotland.  No.  This was a carefully planned, gated community in the suburbs with a man-made lake carved out in the middle of it all, for the recreation and esthetic enjoyment of its residents.
            Rigoberto rubbed his hands together and then cupped them before blowing warm breath into his palms making an almost whistling sound.  The lake made him remember Mrs. Lewis, his favorite English teacher in high school, who once lectured on Virginia Woolf.  He recalled how he chuckled when she described how Woolf committed suicide, filling her pockets with heavy stones and then walking slowly into a lake.  Which lake?  Someplace in England.  Right?  He couldn’t remember.  Time dims memory.  And Mrs. Lewis had lectured to him over twenty years ago.  But Rigoberto remembered the odd look Mrs. Lewis threw his direction when she heard him chuckle.  It wasn’t an angry look but it stopped him in mid-chortle and his face had grown hot and red and he’d felt stupid.  At the time, he didn’t know how to describe that look.  But now, as he sat on the boulder, with the stone’s coolness seeping through his thick woolen slacks, he finally could describe it.  It was a look of disappointment.  Nothing more.  But it was enough.  Just enough.  Too much.
            “Mi cielo,” were the words that pulled him from his reverie.  “Mi cielo,” she said to Rigoberto.  “What are you doing here?”
            Rigoberto didn’t turn around.  He blew into his hands again.  She walked over to him making a crunching sound on the well-raked gravel.
            “Sonia,” said Rigoberto still not turning in her direction.  “Hola, mi amor.”
            Sonia lowered herself onto the boulder, almost leaning into Rigoberto, but not quite.  He could feel her warmth travel the quarter-inch of empty space to his shoulder and arm.  Rigoberto took in Sonia’s scent, a whirling mix of cigarettes, coffee and lemon shampoo.  He thought of Mrs. Lewis.  Her face.  White, perfect complexion.  Six months pregnant at the end of the school year.  Beautiful, peaceful face.  Except for that one look of disappointment.  A willet appeared out of the shrubs and walked gingerly to the lake’s edge.  Its gray-brown feathers reminded Rigoberto of his favorite tweed jacket, the one he wore when he and Sonia first went out on a date.  He couldn’t believe that this remarkable woman, this published poet – an award-winning poet – would agree to go out with him.  Even for coffee.  But she did.  After a reading at the Barnes & Noble.  After she’d read from her second book of poetry.  He’d sat in the audience because his girlfriend asked him to go.  Arlene.  Poor Arlene!  She had dragged her boyfriend to a poetry reading and he ended up asking the poet out for coffee afterwards.  And the poet had said yes.  And Arlene didn’t know what to do so she slinked away, into the New Releases section.  Six years ago this September.  And he couldn’t believe it when Sonia said yes to his marriage proposal a mere five months after their first date.  This beautiful, brilliant woman.  And he wondered if Mrs. Lewis were still alive.  And whether the child she had carried was now a young man or woman, in college perhaps, falling in love, living a separate life from the lovely, disappointed Mrs. Lewis.  And he wondered if he and Sonia would ever decide to have children.
            “Catherine called,” said Sonia.
            “My sister?”
            “No,” she said.  “Kabayashi.”
“She needs you to come a bit early this morning.”
            The willet pecked at something hidden under the water’s surface.  Rigoberto finally turned to his wife.  He caught his breath, forgetting how exquisite this woman, this poet was.
            “Why?” he whispered.
            Sonia leaned into him.  “Several last minute bodies.”
            “Oh,” he sighed.  “Oh.”
            “She said you’d be happy.  The artist in you, and all.”
            “You’re the only artist in this family,” he offered.
            Another willet appeared from the shrub and approached the first willet.  The morning’s sun began to warm Rigoberto.
            “You should go,” said Sonia.  “Catherine sounded a bit panicked.”
            “Yes, of course,” he said.
Rigoberto stood and his movement startled the birds.  They looked up suddenly, in unison, but didn’t fly away.  Then Sonia stood.  This time the willets could take no more and took flight.
“I’m surprised there aren’t more birds here,” she said.
Rigoberto reached for Sonia’s hand and kissed it.  Without a word, he turned and headed toward their house.
                                                *                      *                      *
“You should be able to finish them,” said Catherine as she scratched her left ear with long, gleaming, red nails.  “So, don’t start panicking.”
“I never panic,” said Rigoberto.
“I know, I know.”
Rigoberto walked to the first table and lifted the sheet.  Perfect, he thought.  Wonderful job.
“Castro Brothers?”
“Of course,” said Catherine in a calmer voice.  “They do beautiful work.”
“Makes my job easier.”
Rigoberto dropped the sheet and scanned the other three draped tables.
“Four in one day,” he said.  “All Castro Brothers?”
“Don’t tell me.”
Catherine sighed.  “Sorry.  One is from Gretsch Mortuary.”
She pointed to the table at the far end of the room.  Rigoberto went over to inspect.  He lifted the sheet.
“I know,” said Catherine.
“No life at all.”
“I know.  I’m sorry.”
            “Forces me to use too much imagination.”  Rigoberto dropped the sheet.  “Sam Gretsch embalms the way I cook.”
“Yes.  Sorry.”
“Do you know what I wish?” said Rigoberto.
“I wish I could make a mold.  Just in the hard cases, you know.  Just once.”
Catherine walked over to him.
“Don’t even think of it,” she said.
“I know.  I just….”
“We’d be prosecuted if anyone found out.  That’s in the statute.  This has to be a hands-off process.  Artistic.”
“You don’t have to lecture me,” he said.  “I helped write the damn law.  Testified before Congress, you know.”
“I know, but you make me nervous when you talk about making molds.”
Rigoberto rubbed his hands together.
“Well, I guess I have to get started.”  He looked around the room.  “I’m in a grandmotherly mood.  Any sweet abuelitas here?”
Catherine looked about the room.  She pointed to a table.  “I have a nice, old aunt for you.  But no grandmother.”
“Good enough.  Let me see the file.”
Catherine clicked over to a large, metal desk across the room and riffled through a pile of files.  She said, “Ah!” and plucked out a manila folder.  She brought it to Rigoberto who already perused the aunt.  Without looking at Catherine, he took the file and flipped it open and scanned the several pages’ worth of information.
“Looks good,” he murmured.
“Yes.  It’s an easy position.”
“Yes,” he said looking at Catherine.  “Sitting.”
“On a living room couch.”
Rigoberto smiled.
“Dear, old Tía Raquel will never leave us,” he said.
“Yes.  Never.”
“How much time to I have?  Before they pick up the bodies?”
Catherine looked away.
“How much time?” asked Rigoberto, this time a bit louder, a little tenser.
“Well, they all have to be picked up tonight.”
“That’s why I called you at home,” said Catherine trying to keep her voice from trembling.  “We’ve never had this happen before.  It must have been that interview you did.”
Rigoberto shook his head.  “I told you we shouldn’t have let them in here and ask me questions.  I told you.”
“But it’s a lot of money, getting four in one day, don’t you know?  A lot of money.”
Rigoberto walked over to his workstation and grabbed a camera.
“Then you should hire another fabricator.”
“There aren’t enough to go around,” she said through a forced smile.  “The state only gives ten licenses a year, you know?”
“I know,” he said as he took a few shots of the aunt.  He removed the sheet completely and continued to take pictures.  Catherine turned her head.  “Remember, I help write the law.”  He lowered the camera and admired the aunt.  “Pretty good body for sixty-seven, eh?”
Catherine didn’t respond but she turned to look at the aunt.  He was right.  She did look pretty good.  Rigoberto took a few more shots.
“That should do it,” he said.  “Now for some sketches.”
He walked to his workstation, returned the camera, and searched for a sharp pencil and a new tablet.  He found them, pulled a chair over to Tía Raquel, sat down, and started to draw.
“All of their personal effects here,” said Catherine pointing to a stack of labeled, plastic boxes by the desk.  “Clothes, jewelry, everything.”
“You can start the fabrication tomorrow,” she said.  “Just focus on the pictures, sketches and measurements today.  The bodies will be picked up around 6:00 or so.”
“Who’s going to fabricate me when I die?” said Rigoberto as he penciled in more detail.
Catherine admired Rigoberto’s easy strokes.  The aunt’s face already took shape.
“Sonia might not want such a reminder of you when you leave this world,” she said as she patted Rigoberto’s shoulder.  Catherine could feel his muscles tighten under her touch but she didn’t remove her hand.  “Memorial fabrication isn’t for everyone.”
Rigoberto stopped sketching and looked up at Catherine.  He wondered why she got into the business in the first place.  She had little stomach for the bodies, she possessed paltry compassion and even less artistic sensibility.  But Catherine saw the opening.  A way to make money once the memorial fabrication law passed.  But was she only about making money?  Didn’t she want to fall in love?  Maybe get married?  Anything romantic?  Rigoberto never felt comfortable enough around Catherine to ask.  So he’d probably never know.
“I need to work alone,” was all he said.
“Yes, I’m sorry.  Yes.”
Catherine lifted her hand from his shoulder and stood there for a moment.  Rigoberto turned back to the aunt.  With that, Catherine clicked out of the room.  When she closed the door behind her, Rigoberto stood with a crack of his knees.  He walked to his workstation and turned on the ancient CD player, the one his father bought him when Rigoberto graduated from middle school.  You can’t buy a new CD player anymore.  But he refuses to give up his old CD collection.  Sounds better than the new technology, he likes to say.  Nothing beats the warmth, the depth of a CD.  John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom” came on.  Rigoberto smiled, got into the beat, and returned to his seat.
                                                            *                      *                      *
The hours passed.  One, two and then three bodies were completed: photographed and sketched with measurements put into the computer for Sylvia to start designing the basic body structures to be refined later by Rigoberto.  He stretched and rubbed his eyes.  He noticed that the CD player was silent, for how long he didn’t know.  Rigoberto wanted to push on.  Finish well before the 6:00 deadline.  He walked to the last body and pulled the sheet.  A boy.  No more than eight, maybe nine.  What a shame, he thought.  Rigoberto pulled the file and opened it.  Fernando Torres.  Age nine.  In the personal information all that was written in a tight, controlled hand was the name of the boy’s favorite book: My Friend Fernando.  Rigoberto opened the personal effects box.  A red shirt, blue shorts, a pair of Nikes and white socks.  And the book.  Rigoberto picked up the book, pulled up a chair and sat down by the boy.  On the cover was a smiling, playful, floppy-eared, brown and white puppy.  The pages curled at the edges like the boy’s tousled hair; it had been read and re-read during his short life.  He turned the first page and saw the copyright year: 2003.  So long ago.  Before the boy was born.  Before Rigobertowas born.  The pages were not quite brittle.  He turned another page and read aloud: “My Friend Fernando by María Elena Menes.”  Rigoberto touched the boy’s hair.  It didn’t feel real: too soft, not of this earth.  He sighed, looked at his watch, and sighed again.  Rigoberto cleared his throat, turned the page and began to read the book in a soft bedtime voice: “This is the story of my friend Fernando who is the best friend anyone could ever have.”
            The book was not long.  It had bright pictures on each page.  When he reached the end, Rigoberto closed the book and said, “The end.”  He looked at the boy.  Of course this was his favorite book.  A book with his name in the title.  A silly little story about a talking puppy who becomes friends with a butterfly.  But it was his favorite.  Rigoberto stood and walked over to his workstation.  He plucked a fresh pencil out of a smudged, ceramic mug and picked up a drawing tablet.  He walked back to the small body.
            “So,” said Rigoberto.  “Let’s begin, my boy.  Let’s begin.”
                                                *                      *                      *
Rigoberto swirled the cream in his coffee slowly, with calculation, as Sonia read the newspaper.  Yesterday had sucked his energy; he hurt and each movement took great effort.  His eyes fluttered up to Sonia.
“Why?” he asked.
“Why here?”
Sonia put down the paper.  “What?”
“Why do we live here?  This state?  It’s not home.  It’s not L.A.”  As Rigoberto said this, he kept his spoon moving steadily in his coffee.  The morning sun came in brightly, happily into their kitchen.
“Well,” she ventured slowly, “you went to college here.”
“And then you stayed.”
“And then you met me.”
“And I’m from here.”
Sonia pulled her chair closer to the table with a squeak.  “¿Por qué?”
“I mean, you know, this state.  This state.  It’s hot.  Hot.  Too hot.”
Sonia scratched her nose.  “This is about weather?
            Rigoberto put his spoon down on the napkin.  He watched the cotton soak up the coffee creating a small but steady bronze stain.  “Never mind.”
Sonia looked at him for a few moments.  Her eyelashes fluttered and she took a deep breath.  “Okay.”
            “I mean,” said Rigoberto, “I don’t have to be here.  Wedon’t, I mean.  You know?”
            “But Californiahasn’t passed the fabricator law.”
            “I know.”
            “My state has.  This state.  And MassachusettsTexas, too.”
            “Yes,” he said.  “I know.  And New Hampshire.  But I’m not from any of those states.”
            “Yes,” said Sonia.  “Why?”
            “California almost passed that proposition.”
            “Proposition 40859.”
            Sonia frowned.  “You remember the number?”
            “Yes.  It was easy.”
            “Odd number,” she said.  “I mean, strange.  Hard to remember.”
            “No,” said Rigoberto.  “It’s my grandfather’s birthday.  So I remember it.”
            Sonia’s eyes widened.  She coughed, a forced cough.
            “What?” he asked.
            “You,” she said.
            “I what?”
            “You never mentioned that to me.  About your grandfather.”
            “April 8, 1959.  His birthday.  I told you.”
            Sonia stood up.  “No.  No you didn’t.”
            Rigoberto wiped his forehead.  “Yes I did.”
            “No.”  She walked to the sink and looked into it.
            “I know I did.”
            “Because it’s important to me.  That’s why.”
            Sonia turned on the water and rinsed a cup.  “I know.”
            “To me.”
            “I know,” she said.  “Forget it.”
            “Yes,” said Sonia.  She turned off the water and looked out the window.  She saw a bird, not a willet, by the lake.  It pecked at something in the grass.  “Forget it,” she whispered.
            Rigoberto gazed at Sonia’s back, his eyes moving slowly from her short, black hair, to sharp shoulders, and then small waist, sliding around pleasant, wide hips, down long legs and finally resting at her small feet.  He didn’t want to talk about yesterday.  But he had no choice.
            “One of the bodies was a boy,” he said.  “Young.”
            Sonia turned, not quickly, but she moved with a deliberation that startled Rigoberto.
            She walked back to the table and sat down.  “Who would want to have a child fabricated?”
            “Actually, you’d think children would be the most common,” he said softly.
            “I don’t know that.”
“But they’re not,” he said growing more animated as if he were lecturing.  “Usually older people.  People grown used to so that it would be hard not to have uncle so-and-so sitting on the couch with everyone else while the TV buzzes away.”
            “Yes,” said Sonia.  “I understand that.”
            “Yes.  Me too.”
            They sat in near silence for a moment with the hum of the air conditioner offering a constant white noise.
            “What position?”
            He looked at her but didn’t answer.
            “Position?” she asked again.
            He cleared his throat.  “Standing.”
            He cleared his throat again.  “In the backyard.  With a ball.”
            Sonia reached out and touched Rigoberto’s arm.  “Outside?”
            “Yes,” he said.  “Yes.”
            “Outside?” she said again as she moved her hand from Rigoberto’s arm to her lap.  “More coffee?” she finally said, reaching for his cup.
            “No,” he said.  “Tomorrow.”
            “Tomorrow I begin the fabrication.”
            The air conditioner clicked off.  They sat staring at his empty cup.
                                                *                      *                      *
Though he missed L.A., Rigoberto appreciated the night sky here.  The heat of the day had ebbed into a comfortable, slightly breezy evening, and the stars—God, those stars!—almost frightened him with their brilliance.  He stood, frozen, at the beginning of the red brick walk, head angled back, admiring the celestial bodies, ignoring the bustle of partygoers coming and going from the two-story house.  Sonia slid her arm around his waist.
            “Ready, mi cielo?” she asked.
            Without turning away his gaze from the sky, he said, “Funny you call me that.”
            “Am I really your heaven?”
            Sonia pulled in deeper and leaned her cheek on his shoulder.  “Cómo no.”
            “¿Verdad?” Rigoberto said, now turning to her.
            “Of course.  Time to go in.  Meet some of my friends.”
            “But it’s so beautiful outside.”
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2. The Cha Cha Files: a Chapina Interview With Maya Chinchilla!

book cover by Rio Yañez and Yolanda Lopez
Maya Chinchilla is a Central American/Guatemalan poet, performer, video artist, and educator.  She is a “bridge” the way that feminist and lesbian writer, GloriaAnzaldúa describes “bridge” in her book Borderlands/La Frontera. Anzaldúa writes: “Caminante, no hay puentes, se hace puentes al andar” ("Voyager, there are no bridges: one builds them as one walks").  In her newly released collection of poetry, The Cha Cha Files: A Chapina Poetica, each poem is a carefully crafted “bridge” the reader crosses, entering and journeying into and through a Central American/U.S. bildungsroman, a reflexive and powerful coming-of-age lyrical narrative.

La Bloga is very fortunate to have Maya with us today to talk about her work. 

Amelia Montes:  Welcome y Saludos, Maya!  First--tell us how you came to poetry.

Maya Chinchilla:  Poetry opened up my world in so many ways.  I could tell you so many stories about this, but one of the ways I first started writing poetry was as a form of poetic code in my adolescent diaries.  I think I secretly wanted someone to find them, so they would know the depths of my little kid, later teenage, angst, and heartbreak—my observations about how unjust the world, my parents, my sister, and of course, the kids at school were to me and others.  Some of those themes have shifted in attention and depth, but that need to connect is still there.  I am inspired by the musicality and play with language that poetry offers, and the push to use the space on a page, and sometimes the stage, carefully.

Maya reading: Brava Theater at "Our Mission, No Eviction" fundraiser, in
San Francisco. Photo by Jean Melesaine
My intention was to show up as a full poeta in ways I had never personally seen.  Although I identify with a whole host of writers and artists from different backgrounds, growing up, I didn’t see anything like me or know any other Guatemalan (hyphen) American queer writers telling stories like mine.  I am first and foremost writing for that little kid who played with gender and other expectations, who essentially had to fight her way out of a suffocating silence.  She is still here because of this creative work.

Also, I wanted the whole book to be a work of art that could travel beyond myself as an individual.  The cover is intentional as well; Rio Yañez and Yolanda Lopez collaborated to create the most beautiful reflection of the many parts of me and the characters inside my head that I could have ever imagined.  If I could, I would have covered the whole inside of the book with illustrations too, but I might do that in another project. 

Amelia Montes:  As I read through your collection, I felt Gloria Anzaldúa’s work infused within your writing.  Her work in Borderlands/La Frontera is a call to all of us to arrive at la “conciencia de la mestiza”—“to be the bridge” and I feel that is exactly what you are doing here: giving us a perspective that we have not read.  You are breaking more assumptions and stereotypes of the Latina/Latino, as you say in “Baby Holds Half the Sky,” “I was born a bridge.” 

Maya Chinchilla:  Anzaldúa, along with many other women of color writers from her generation, have been important influences in my life, my work, and my teaching, and have especially pushed me to consider and reclaim the many languages we speak as well as the languages we are told not to speak.  The bridge is more than a burdensome metaphorical structure used to connect two places, but is a perspective and experience all unto itself.

As well as reading women of color writers for the first time as an undergrad, I studied poets like Martín Espada, José Antonio Burciaga, CherríeMoraga, Sandra Cisneros, Audre Lorde, June Jordan, Lorna Dee Cervantes, for example, and Latin American Poets like Giaconda Belli, Daisy Zamora, Otto Rene Castillo, Rubén Darío, Pablo Neruda, Roque Dalton, Claribel Alegría, Gabriela Mistral, to name a few.  Something about these poets, some I read in both Spanish and English, split me open and gave me permission to write as a cultural translator of sorts, until I recognized the “in-between-ness hyphen life” as a unique position place of endless possibility.  

Amelia Montes:  I love how you say “in-between-ness hyphen life.”  I think you’ve just given more readers/writers permission to be more conscious of this “unique position place.”  And so you divided your collection into four sections. 

Maya Chinchilla:  Yes, each section and poem can be read on its own, but experiencing the sections together is like reading a narrative of my life. 

Amelia Montes:  Yes!  In Part I, “Solidarity Babies,” we arrive at a historical moment where children of 1980s Central American revolutionaries now have a voice and are using that voice to give us their perspective.

Maya Chinchilla:  Yes, one of the driving forces behind (especially) my early work was to tell stories from the perspective of a second generation Central American in the U.S., who was hungry for her own history and reflection that is not mediated by one-dimensional stereotypes.  I decided I needed to write myself in where we are often left out.  There are definitely autobiographical elements to this work that provide the grounding for these stories, but there are parts that are also about imagining oneself into being when no one is hearing or seeing you and you want to be seen. It is absolutely imperative that U.S. Central Americans tell their own stories as many have already started to do.  Everyone wants to romanticize parts of our culture such as the pyramids, the revolution, the colonial cities.  They romanticize the Mayas as if they are only in the past, but many of us are hybrid beings consuming pop culture, and repurposing it with all our conflicts, contradictions, and cultural baggage. 

The picture with the group is taken in my childhood living room in Long Beach, California.  My mom is in the center back with glasses.  I am up front holding the white cat and my dad is left front.  The people in the picture are members of a  Guatemalan solidarity organization of which my parents were members.  
Amelia Montes:  In reading this last poem from Part I, “Central American-American,” the lines “am I a CENTRAL American?  Where is the center of America?” are so powerful given this particular moment in history where so many young children are fleeing Central America and now find themselves in detention centers on this side of the border. 

Maya Chinchilla:  As of late, there have been moments that I have screamed at the television or computer screen:  “We’ve been trying to tell you about this ‘crisis’ since the 80’s!  We are here because you were there.  You caused this.  You exported military and government resources and your 'gang problem' and your drug war exploited our colonial history . . .” We are all implicated in this.  We can’t just send this problem away.  Our immigration policies need to take into consideration our humanity and the ways U.S. policies have directly affected people’s ability to live peacefully. People don’t just want to come here.  They would stay where they are if that were possible.  They want to live decent and productive lives without fear of repression, violence, and hunger. 

Seeing those pictures of the young children curled up on bare mattresses placed next to teach other on the floor, behind gates, and bars, in over-crowded detention centers, as if they are criminals for surviving their harrowing journeys—it tears me apart.  It’s about survival.  Pure and simple.
No one put them on trains or sent them on this journey as if what lay across multiple borders was some sort of easier lifestyle.  Many of them are without parents because they have been victims of violence, or their parents made the journey to the U.S. earlier for similar reasons.  

They leave because there is no other way.  In their faces and their stories, I see my friends and family members who came to the U.S. previously; thinkers, workers, teachers, business people, family members, who are now integral to helping make this country run.  Militarizing the border, incarcerating and deporting people does nothing to solve the problem.  It does not help to reduce the amount of people searching for a better life nor does it contribute to our collective healing.  No one is looking for a savior.  You should share our outrage and encourage stories that don’t treat Central Americans as victims, but as canaries in the mine, story-tellers with wisdom that reveal something about all our humanity. 

That particular poem, for me, was written many years ago when I was looking for a cultural movement to call my own that was specific, and didn’t just assume that I fit under some umbrella generic version of Latino-ness that erased all these tensions and concerns I felt.  It’s so strange to hear people talk about your people as if you’re a ghost or a problem to be fixed.  Ask us.  I’m sure we have lots of suggestions. 

Amelia Montes:  Your words here are so powerful and important, Maya.  They connect with what you wrote in Part II regarding “the unicorn.”  You write:  “What if I tell you that I am usually the only one of my kind.”  The unicorn is a universal myth spanning the Greeks, the Middle Eastern civilizations (Indus Valley Civilization) and Asia too.  But you bring it home to what is happening now.

Maya Chinchilla:  The Central American unicorn is a metaphor for that feeling you get when you are seen as who you truly are with all your parts intact.  Not just as a daughter or student, or teacher or queer, woman, or immigrant, or Guatemalan, or poet; fragmented –only allowed to exist one piece at a time.

I could also describe it like this.  I am a Voltron of the worlds I walk between.  My right arm is a Queer fierce femme red lion.  My left arm is second-generation Guatemalan green lion, still coming to grips with its struggle.  My right leg is a blue lion that negotiates space with the Chicanos/Chicanas/Latinos/Latinas in my world. Lastly, my left leg is a yellow lion who pours her heart into a "Hello Kitty" diary while listening to The Smiths.  When you know what they are like, when they are complete, they hang in the imagination like a protective nahual. 

The Unicorn is that feeling of recognition that is illusive if you are not reflected in the media and culture as a full and complex human being.  If your eye is tuned to it, you can see it despite the non-believers.  Seeing someone who is similar to you, and who just gets it, it is the sweetest feeling because the heaviness and loneliness lifts in that moment. 

Maya Chinchilla, photo by Rio Yañez
Amelia Montes:  I see in your description and in this section, there is much “play” – a kind of wondrous creation of identity. The poem, “Guatemala Place of Trees” is one such piece. 

Maya Chinchilla:  Chapines are all about that play with language.  We have this dry playful humor that comes out even in the darkest of moments.  In my family, someone is always playing with you.  Some of these poems reflect that play.

This is one of those poems that couldn’t exist in sentences traveling across the page.  It’s a list of possibilities, messages, taunts, and reminders that slice the page in half forcing you to look at all its parts.

Amelia Montes:  Yes, and the poem “Chapina Dictionary,” links up as well.  The use of the letter “X!”

Maya Chinchilla:  Again, more playfulness.  I am fascinated with the “X” as a political statement or as a reclaiming, but also the sounds of words, the fear of the “X” in the English language and the embrace in Spanish.  In this poem, there is desire to explain, but in that Guatemalan way of playing with language where there are several levels, where you’re not sure if you’re in on the joke and another story emerges.  This poem is inspired by so many things, in particular, my study of Spanish from the bilingual yet English speaker experience.

Maya Chinchilla, photo by Rio Yañez
I first learned the alphabet in Spanish.  The “Ch,” the “LL,” and the “ñ” are letters you sing in the alphabet with their own sections. I have had to spell out my own last name for people in both languages; I have had to correct the pronunciation in English (Chinchilla, like tortilla . . .) almost every day of my life.  I am intimately aware of the possibilities of using "Ch," or "C," "H," to spell my name.  Also, sounds.  The sounds of some of these words and the ways we use them in different regions of Latin America has always fascinated me.  Some of the words are favorite words, some are words that I collected polling some friends one night online . . . many of them are specifically words and slang used in Central America.  Others are the ones that stick to you, having shared space with other Spanish speakers and infiltrators. 

Amelia Montes:  In Part III, you are respectfully honoring the elder mujeres (“Homegirls and Dedications”) while also proudly voicing a queer epistemology.  It’s a powerful section.  The lines in “Jota Poetics,” are key to this section: 
Broken Tongues Speak
Jotas into harmony
full of living theory
and supported creativity

Maya Chinchilla:  Yes to all of this.  Again, more reflecting and more imagining what our language of self looks like.  Raw, burning, wild, wanting to be desired, with all the edges and necessary tenderness. 

Amelia Montes: There is also disappointment in love or the experiences of the highs and lows of relationships.

Maya Chinchilla:  Love is integral to my transformation.  I have learned the most in those intimate spaces where theories fall away and you have to figure out how you really show up in the world.  Intimate relationships and their successes and failures show you exactly who you are.  There’s no running away from yourself when you show up for love and when you fail miserably.  Damn, sometimes my most dramatic stories come out with an unexpected humor and honesty in their hyperbole when I think I meant to write something else.  There’s no hiding here, and yet there are versions of myself here that are able to show up differently than I did in real life.  In the end, it’s about letting it go with a wink, a nod and a desire to channel that ferocity into the kind of transformative love that doesn’t need so much as it just is.

Amelia Montes:  In Part IV, “Cha Cha Files,” you come back to bridging Latinidad, to breathing.  It begins with “Wanted,” and having the space to breathe one’s truth, ending with “Nuestras Utopias:” “I wish I didn’t lose my breath when I need to speak my truth.”  Here, readers reach the writer’s maturity—a place of working through equilibrium. 

Maya Chinchilla: Yes, I intended for this work to embrace multiple arcs or grow like a tree with branches.  I like to read books in a nonlinear fashion, so I think you could pick any page and go on a different journey.  I also thought about this work with this particular spine from beginning to end as if witnessing snapshots of the main character’s journey.  In the editing process, I tried several versions and orders.  Another version closed the book, like a bookend, returning to the beginning.  I chose instead to leave the end with a sense of questioning, looking towards the future, and openness.  

Some of the earlier voices were more declarative with an urgency to define oneself with an expectation that if you didn’t get it, then you needed to do more work, not me.  The urgency is still there, but by the end, she is more comfortable with her complexity and uncertainty, and there is a peace and an openness to other possibilities or worlds.  I am embracing all parts of myself and believe that my/our survival depends on our creativity and ability to imagine alternative futures.  That brooding angsty girl is still there, but she’s not as hard on herself because she knows she sees the world for what it is.  This attention is a skill she needs to manage instead of just absorbing it all in the hopes of minimizing the impact of the world’s ills on others.  Now she’s letting that go in preparation for what is next.

Amelia Montes:  In addition to The Cha Cha Files, what other Latina writing would you suggest we read?

Maya Chinchilla:  There are too many.  I will be here all night so I will just name a few.  Anything from Kórima Press.  I am so in love with my Press-mates.  They are all so amazing and inspiring.  I’m going to take this opportunity to mention some names that are some of my favorites right now, and are probably not on a list of the usual suspects:  Vickie Vertíz, Rachel McKibbins, Sara Campos, Meliza Bañales, Alice Bag, Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, Lorena Duarte, Sandra GarciaRivera, Lizz Huerta, Ramona Gonzalez, Nancy Aide Gonzalez, and MelissaLozano. 

I also constantly think about the women I know that, in my mind, will always be writers but stopped writing because they had another gift to offer the world or something else took priority.  I think any one of them could still be writers, but for whatever reason, aren’t able to do it.  These are the women who motivate me to write as well.  When I feel doubt, I remind myself that any one of them could be writing, but often women are expected to take care of others or are just handling so many things that make it not possible. 

Amelia Montes:  Important words about women and writing, Maya!  Thank you so much for being with La Bloga today. Is there something I haven’t asked, that you would like to share with La Bloga readers? 

Maya Chinchilla:  This book really is a dream.  I am thankful to those that coaxed me to complete the work I have spent my life cultivating.  I am grateful to the many storytellers I have met on this path and feel a sense of peace that this work is now doing what it is supposed to do, and I can now release it as an offering for the ones who were meant to read and connect with it.  Hopefully, it raises some questions, offers some comfort, makes you smile, pushes you to write your own versions, and provides some clues that we were, we are, here. 

Maya Chinchilla, photo by Rio Yañez
BIO Maya Chinchilla
Born and raised in Long Beach, California, by a mixed class, mixed race, immigrant activist extended family, Maya currently lives and loves in the Bay Area.  Her work has been published in anthologies and journals including: Mujeres de Maíz, Sinister Wisdom, Americas y Latinas: A Stanford Journal of Latin American Studies, Cipactli Journal,and The Lunada Literary Anthology.  She is quoted (and misquoted) in essays, presentations, and books on U.S. Central American poetics; Chicana/Latina literature; and identity, gender, and sexuality. Maya is a founding member of the performance group Las Manas, a former artist-in-residence at Galeria de La Raza in San Francisco, California/ and La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley, California; and is a VONA Voices and Dos Brujas alum.  She is also the co-editor of Desde El Epicentro: An Anthology of Central American Poetry and Art.  She holds an MFA in English and Creative writing from Mills College and is a lecturer at San Francisco State University.  Maya is currently touring her first book, The Cha Cha Files: A Chapina Poéticaacross the country.

Check Maya Chinchilla's websites for touring details:  

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3. About politics, spec fiction, Zombie Baseball Beatdown

With Chicano and Latino speculative fiction* blossoming, I and others believe its authors can blaze our own trails to not follow the paths of mainstream Anglo authors. This might sound like a risky way of succeeding as a writer, but the rewards go beyond book sales and personal income. All across the planet, writers advocate and practice this.

Cherokee author Celu Amberstone says of Indigenous speculative fiction: “Our fiction is alive with new possibilities inspired by our cultural heritage, fiction that can offer new insights to our troubled world. As Indigenous peoples, we understand that the specters of colonialism and corporate greed still haunt Earth’s future. It is our responsibility to offer humanity a new vision of the universe.”

An Australian aborigine from the Palyku people, YA spec fiction author Ambelin Kwaymullinais another. In a speech earlier this year, she said, "We are, along with speculative fiction fans in the world, the people who know. We understand the great promise and the great flaws of humanity; we have seen both writ-large across magical kingdoms and alternate realities and far off planets. So the question for us is not what the future will hold, because we’ve already seen a thousand variations of it. The question for us is, how do we create the futures of our dreams and not our nightmares? Like other spec fiction writers before me, I believe humanity is now living in the times that will define what is to come for our species."

American author Paolo Bacigalupi expects even more for writers of any nationality: "The real purpose of novels of Sci-Fi, apocalypse, dystopia, etc. should not be escapist. A spec lit novel that doesn't tell about the present moment is no more meaningful than a romance or tea cozy mystery. If it doesn't, then why did it have to be Sci-Fi to begin with?"

I agree with all of the above. More in my alternate-world fantasy novel, The Closet of Discarded Dreams than in my short stories, issues of immigration and border "security," militarization of the police, gentrification of barrios, "Christian" intolerance have all played roles. As a Chicano in the U.S., when I write, the reality that we and others live pushes for inclusion. I can't imagine any other approach that would make my stories worth reading.

Here's an example of what I mean: French kids don't suffer weight problems, obesity, diabetes & hypertension like ours do. They get fresh and freshly prepared fruits, vegetables, fish and meat that are locally sourced; only filtered tap water for drinks. Three recess periods, a total of 90 min./day; and they walk or bike alone (if you can believe!) to school. No school on Wednesdays. All of this, U.S. kids are denied. It doesn't mean we're stupider than the French; we've simply allowed food corporations to victimize our kids. So what?

So how would a spec author include the junk food we're sold into a novel? How about the pink slime served in school cafeterias? Written into a YA zombie novel, with the two main, non-white characters, one the mexicano Miguel. Add racism and flash round-ups of undocumented workers. Sound like a stretch? Not so much, even after you realize that Paolo is not a Chicano writer.

In a podcast this month, here's what he said about learning the story and facts behind pink slime: "The politics makes you angry enough to write fiction--the company "ethics", and government "protection" [of our food]. The status quo doesn't see us being able to talk about the data surrounding us. I was a sci-fi reader growing up and spec genre held my interest. But lots of sci-fi books were dated and not relevant to kids. Zombiewas for my own joy, my own creativity, to feel passionate about. I knew that if I found something interesting, I could strive to make it interesting for my readers."

The publisher's synopsis of Zombie Baseball Beatdown: "In this inventive, fast-paced novel, award-winning author Bacigalupi takes on hard-hitting themes--from food safety to racism and immigration--and creates a zany, grand-slam adventure that will get kids thinking about where their food comes from.

"The zombie apocalypse begins on the day Rabi, Miguel, and Joe are practicing baseball near a local meatpacking plant and nearly get knocked out by a really big stink. Little do they know the plant's toxic cattle feed is turning cows into flesh-craving monsters! The boys decide to launch an investigation into the plant's dangerous practices, unknowingly discovering a greedy corporation's plot to look the other way as tainted meat is sold to thousands all over the country. With no grownups left they can trust, Rabi and his friends will have to grab their bats to protect themselves (and a few of their enemies) if they want to stay alive...and maybe even save the world."

The author didn't stop at publication. On the book's website, the political matters lace throughout the jokes, zaniness and funny, zombie madness. Here's a sample, and you might want to give the URL to your kids. (If you think this is violent, see the videogames kids play.)

How kids can prepare for a zombie outbreak in ten simple steps.
  • 70% of evil monsters come from nasty places like toxic waste dumps. 100% of documented zombie outbreaks originated from an infected food.
  • Protect Your Head. To a zombie, your brain tastes like the best food ever.
  • 9 out of 10 zombies say they prefer brains to any other food.
  • The brain size of kids who like reading is 1/10 larger than that of kids who don't.
  • On average zombies find bigger brains 33% more appetizing than small brains.
  • 92% were easily able to bite through a single layer of clothing, penetrating the skin.
  • 33% of zombies were unable to bite through 5 or more layers of clothing, and left to starve.

I recommend the book, even for some kids as young as twelve. Latino kids will sympathize with and enjoy Miguel, a main character. Politically, the book promotes investigation, exposing the facts gathered, organizing other kids, and the success of defending your beliefs about what's true, even when corporations and adults don't know or hide the truth.

Paolo is beginning to mull ideas for a sequel to Zombie. Not to critique, but  to suggest ways I think a sequel could improve over the first of the series, I note the lack of major girl characters. To all spec writers: the boys-only legacy of old sci-fi can and should be discarded. Research show boys will read books with girl protagonists and more, if they are intriguing and well written. And we need to help boys break down whatever impedes their working and living well with the opposite sex.

Secondly, I think the climactic battle (obvious from the title, but most of this is spoiler) has two huge real-world, emotional and action gaps that the author could have used to heighten conflict.

The hero organizes his friends in the final battle WAY too easily. Anybody who's had or worked with boys knows--organizing them is like herding olive-oil-slimed pigs in the middle of a muddy field, away from their trough of amphetamines. The protagonist Rabi should have had to more realistically overcome those problems. Yes, I know it was the climax, and maybe the author didn't want to give his hero too much to overcome. Still.

The second, emotional gap that the author missed out on was the trauma of who the boys had to beat, hurt and kill to escape the zombie breakout. Their friends, siblings, parents and adults they knew. According to my read, none of the boys had much trouble beating down their family and community. Obviously, in the real world, this would be major PTSD. (That coming in the sequel?) Adding bits of scenes about this conflict would have extended the big battle, which might be why the author excluded it. I won't say how he might have been able to do it; he's the author. As a reader, the gap left me unfulfilled, pick-pocketed.

Read the, buy it and give it as a present, order it for your room or library. If you're a Latino author, read it and see if you can say that we Latinos can't do the same or even better at bringing politics into our spec lit. For our gente to learn and read and enjoy.

Es todo, hoy,
RudyG, a.k.a. Chicano fantasy author Rudy Ch. Garcia

* Speculative fiction - spec lit includes fantasy, magical realism, horror, alternate world and alternate history, fables and science fiction, at the least.

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4. Window of Isolation: Louisiana's Leprosarium

Carville: Amid Moss and Resurrection Fern
Poems by Gina Ferrara

Poet Gina Ferrara's new chapbook, Carville Amid Moss and Resurrection Fern
(Finishing Line Press 2014) delivers a new way of looking at leprosy, now known as Hansen's disease. The beauty of these poems is arresting and surprising, given the once taboo subject of leprosy. The leprosarium at Carville operated for over a hundred years.

As a child in catholic school in New Orleans, Ferrara grew up hearing about lepers. Four years ago, when she visited the colony in Carville, Louisiana, she learned more about the lives of the patients. Carville is located off River Road, near Baton Rouge. However, it is essentially in the middle of nowhere. Ferrara captures that sense of isolation in her Carville Poems. The title references the fact that moss and resurrection fern can be found in the oak trees at Carville. Ferrara was taken by the physical beauty of the landscape at Carville and how the beauty of the land was intertwined and connected to the personal experiences of the patients. From "A Perfect Terrain": 'Drenched in moss and resurrection fern, the oaks stayed stoic--/a perfect terrain for the ostriches, swift-footed and flightless/that would never arrive.'

In writing these poems, Ferrara never lost sight of the loneliness experienced by Carville residents. "I wanted to convey how people who had the disease became isolated--very removed from the lives they had lived and previously known, " she said. "They no longer saw their families or loved ones. They had to establish a new and different way of living."

Residents at Carville may have been isolated, but they lived life to the fullest, put on dances and Mardi Gras balls, and published a newspaper with a circulation of over 250, 000. The poem, "Tea Hour on Point Clair Road," shows how the ladies would take their tea, 'The fingerless/Even the unmarred waited for the sips and stains of tea hours,/ Something miraculous as a cure/under a sun no longer at apex.'

Gina first began writing the poems in the spring of 2010 and finished the book over a period of two years. She approached Finishing Line Press because they had published her first poetry chapbook, The Size of Sparrows, in 2006. She met one of  the patients, Pete from Trinidad, who was about ten years old when he arrived and is now in his eighties. He is one of the last patients to live there, rides around on his bicycle, and is eager to talk to visitors. The lyrical poems, along with photographs by Elizabeth Garcia, offer a window into life at Carville, Louisiana.
Gina Ferrara

Carville in the Spring
Gina Ferrara

Sugar surrounds this sanctuary
far from ordinary or Galapagos.
The road ends each time
I check my appendages
for open wounds, red splotches in tandem.
I remember the last pliant hand I held.
Would the constellated sky feel like a hand?
Each finger with its own unblemished identity—
supple and tapering to a square tip,
the bony range of knuckles
buckling only to brush inside my palm.
I squint and scan for semblances of past lives.
Who is the gypsy? Who is the physicist?
I have my suspicions.
Today a woman arrived.
She strolls through the covered corridors
with memories of her identity and scepter,
helpless and unable to reign over the bacilli
waiting to uprise in time as unwanted suns.

Gina Ferrara's work has previously been featured on La Bloga. Her latest full-length poetry book, Amber Porch Light was also recently reviewed by Frank Mundo in the Examiner.

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5. Cuba en Boston, NYC y Miami


El Museo de Arte McMullen en el Boston College presenta "Wifredo Lam: Imagining New Worlds", la primera exposición retrospectiva del importante artista cubano en Norteamérica en muchos años.

La muestra se inicia con una recepción el doming, 31 de agosto, de 7:00-9:30pm en el museo. 

Y permanecerá expuesta hasta el 14 de diciembre.

Wifredo Lam: Imagining New Worlds - August 30–December 14, 2014
Presenting more than forty paintings and a wide selection of works on paper by Wifredo Lam (1902–82), this retrospective is the first to examine the artist as a global figure whose work blurred boundaries among established artistic movements of the twentieth century. Lam was born in Cuba to parents of Chinese and African/Spanish descent. He gave expression to his multiracial and multicultural ancestry whilst engaging with the major political, literary, and artistic circles that defined his century.

The works displayed in Imagining New Worlds are drawn from major public and private collections in Europe, Latin America, and the United States and from all of the artist’s major periods. These outstanding examples reveal the imprint on Lam’s hybrid style of surrealism, magic realism, modernism, postmodernism, and the syncretic religion of Santería practiced in the Caribbean and West Africa. Also examined in the exhibition is the influence of Spanish baroque poets and Spanish, French, and Latin American avant-garde artists and writers like Pablo Picasso, André Breton, Federico García Lorca, Alejo Carpentier, Gabriel García Márquez, and Aimé Césaire. Exhibited together for the first time are many of Lam’s greatest masterpieces, allowing for a reexamination of the breadth of the artist’s oeuvre and chronicling how his poetic imagination inspired his depictions of "new worlds."

Organized by the McMullen Museum, Boston College, this exhibition has been curated by Elizabeth T. Goizueta. The accompanying catalogue contains essays by Claude Cernuschi, Roberto Cobas Amate, Elizabeth T. Goizueta, Roberto Goizueta, and Lowery Stokes Sims. The exhibition, which travels to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta (February 14–May 24, 2015), has been underwritten by Boston College and the Patrons of the McMullen Museum.

el Centro Bildner de estudios hemisféricos presenta la película
de Fernando Pérez (2003)
el viernes 12 de septiembre a las 6:30pm
Segal Theatre, The Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue (@ 34th Street)

Habrá una discusión después de la película.
Para más información o para asistir, envíe un mensaje a: bildner@gc.cuny.edu

Y en MIAMI, próximamente:

Cuba Out of Cuba: Through the Lens of Alexis Rodriguez-Duarte in Collaboration with Tico Torres
Cuban Diaspora Cultural Legacy Gallery
Freedom Tower at Miami Dade College, First Floor
September 19, 2014 – August 30, 2015

The Cuban Diaspora Cultural Legacy Gallery is a permanent space dedicated to the impact of Cuban culture on South Florida and throughout the world. The inaugural exhibition Cuba Out of Cuba: Through the Lens of Alexis Rodriguez-Duarte in Collaboration with Tico Torres presents a selection of iconic photographs of various writers, performers, composers, designers, and artists from the photographer’s Cuba Out of Cuba series. The exhibition will take a unique and historical approach in surveying the legacies of individuals who influenced the greater culture of their time. 
Rodríguez-Duarte was born in Havana, Cuba. In 1968 he moved with his parents to Miami, where he was raised. At the age of 10, he was given his first camera by his grandfather, which sparked his interest in photography. Today, he is an internationally renowned photographer whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Town & Country, and Harper’s Bazaar, among others.

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6. New Children's Books from Piñata Books- Arte Público Press

Estas manos: Manitas de mi familia / These Hands: My Family’s Hands

by Samuel Caraballo
Illustrated by Shawn Costello
ISBN: 978-1-55885-795-7

Publication Date: 10/31/14
Bind: Hardcover

Pages: 32

Ages: 4-8

In this heart-warming ode to family, the young narrator compares the hands of family members to plants in the natural world. “Your hands, the most tender hands! / When I’m scared, / They soothe me,” she says to her mother. The girl compares her mother’s hands to rose petals, which represent tenderness in Latin America.
Her father’s hands are strong like the mahogany tree; her siblings’ friendly like the blooming oak tree. Grandma Inés’ are the happiest hands, like tulips that tickle and hug tightly. And Grandpa Juan’s are the wisest, like the ceiba tree, considered by many indigenous peoples of Latin America to be the tree of life and wisdom and the center of the universe. His are the hands that teach his granddaughter how to plant and care for the earth and how to play the conga drum.
She promises to give back all the love they have always given her, “Dad, when your feet get tired, / My hands will not let you fall.” Samuel Caraballo’s poetic text is combined with Shawn Costello’s striking illustrations depicting loving relationships between family members. An author’s note about Latin American symbols will introduce children both to the natural world and the idea that one thing can represent another.

Cecilia and Miguel Are Best Friends / Cecilia y Miguel son mejores amigos

by Diane Gonzales Bertrand
Illustrated by Thelma Muraida
ISBN: 978-1-55885-794-0

Publication Date: 10/31/14

Bind: Hardcover

Pages: 32

Ages: 4-8

Cecilia and Miguel are best friends, and have been since the third grade when he gave her bunny ears in the class picture. Their life-long friendship is recorded in warm recollections of bike races and soccer games, beach time and fishing from the pier.
Their closeness endures separation, “even when he drove north to college and she drove west.” The relationship evolves and grows, but remains strong even when … he dropped the ring and she found it inside her flan … he set up one crib and she told him they need two … the twins climb into their bed and beg for another story. In this celebration of friendship, best friends forgive mistakes, share adventures and—sometimes—even become family!
Popular children’s book author Diane Gonzales Bertrand teams up with illustrator Thelma Muraida to create an album of memories that reflect their shared Mexican-American childhood in San Antonio, Texas: swinging at birthday party piñatas, breaking cascarones over friends’ heads and dancing at quinceañeras. Young children are sure to giggle at the adventures of Cecilia and Miguel, and they’ll be prompted to ask about their parents’ relationship as well as explore their own.
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7. Review: Journey to Aztlán Goes In Search of Its Audience

Review: Juan Blea. Journey to Aztlán. Parker CO: Outskirts Press, 2014.
ISBN: 9781478700371

Michael Sedano

With a title like Journey to Aztlán, no one reasonably expects the book to fulfill the title’s self-help promise and cultural mystery. Journey to Aztlán is not for nationalists looking for fantasy history, nor poets researching visions and philosophies of our separate Eden.

In this self-disclosing memoir, Juan Blea takes readers along on his journey to aware, self-sustaining sobriety, which he calls, Aztlán, or choosing life.

Journey to Aztlán accounts one man’s conquest of crippling depression and drug addiction. For Blea, expression is therapy, for certain readers likewise. For that audience, Journey to Aztlán offers a therapeutic, inspirational narrative of use in forming one's own narrative.

Structurally and stylistically, Journey to Aztlán is an easy, quick read. Blea begins in February 2000 in crisis, then flashes back to July 1977 and launches the story of the boy who lived to this moment. Each chapter moves the story forward, skipping months, or years, cataloging provocative, interesting incidents in Juan’s life, from how he abandons suicide that February to teaching, and writing books for people afflicted like Blea, in 2011.

Presented as a patient's autobiography, the novelist in Blea lets his creative juices flow in the description and selection of key events and people. Keeping the narrative interesting, selected chapters change voice from first person to third. The tactic shows off Blea’s considerable skills in the third person. More importantly, third person allows him to tell and explain matters succinctly that escape tidy first-person illustrations.

Cultural nationalists will hate the Aztlánish elements of the narrative. At a point in life when Blea thinks himself an expert on chicanidad, especially Aztlán, a wise Japanese scholar sets him straight in a nearly “you see, grasshopper?” scenario. Humbled, Blea vows to abandon his tolerance for “good enough.” He vows to hold higher expectations of his students, and himself. A focused pursuit ever on goal is another name for Aztlán.

The simplicity of the argument strikes Blea as noteworthy so he recreates a story involving a tough group counseling session that rejects his--the counselor's--magic formula to “choose life" which is how the therapist translates Aztlán for these clients.

It’s a familiar lesson couched in intercultural terms. Behavior, not commitment, defines value. Blea realizes he can’t go after Aztlán in a half-assed manner. He insists his clients can’t go after their goals half-assed and, like Blea, turn to the pen to write it down and work it out. In the book, Blea makes believers of them.

Creative nonfiction is fun to read up to that point the writer makes a message or moral. This is Journey to Aztlán’s narrative flaw, fortunately it's at the end and the reader makes accounts, doesn't leave too disappointed.

Blea doesn’t have a satisfying conclusion to the book. The story is ongoing so there's no ending there. But ending the book escapes Blea. The final paragraphs find him wandering around a message until he runs out of equivocations and stops.

What else could he do? Growing conscienticized to living with a concept that “Aztlán is within everyone” defies narrative's capacities and reader expectations. It's an insight best suited to poetry.

Contact the publisher’s website here for ordering details.

Marketing Your Work
Reviewed in La Bloga-Tuesday
Note: Self-published writers have equal opportunity to be considered for a review by La Bloga-Tuesday. La Bloga is a team of eleven writers, each of whom follows her or his own practice. This is Michael Sedano’s.

Among the pleasures of doing criticism are the regular letters from self-published literary workers wanting a review in La Bloga. It’s encouraging learning how many writers in Aztlán are being productive, finishing manuscripts in a broadening range of genres, looking for an audience.

It’s a unique privilege to read new voices, even if some don’t make much of an impression. It's good knowing we are out there. The gems, those are worth reading through handsful of pulp, and ill-edited work to find the gems and semi-precious treasures la cultura churns out.

For the most part, La Bloga-Tuesday reviews work from independent, university, commercial publishers by established or notable emerging authors. Owing to marketing power and prowess, their product is what I read mostly. Así es.

I report on books I enjoy, that have value for a readership. Some come to me off the library’s new book shelf, others recommended by readers, and accidents. I came across Juan Blea’s 2007 novel, Butterfly Warrior, serendipitously. I liked it enough to share in a La Bloga Review. I later ran into Juan at a National Latino Writers Conference and we chatted.

Juan sent me a press kit early this year, offering his new work after seven years. It was an ideal entrée to get Journey to Aztlán into the stack of to-be-reads and possible reviews.

For writers coming in cold, there are sure-fire ways to be left out. For example, I get inquiries similar in entirety to these:

“Dear La Bloga: Please send me a mailing address so I can send you a review copy of my novel. Signed,…”

“Dear La Bloga, I would like you to review my latest novel. It’s a 60s based unbelievable novel somewhere between Naked Lunch and Wuthering Heights. Signed…”

I look at hapless efforts like those, disappointed at the lack of respect shown the writer’s art. Like reading one’s work aloud, respecting the labor of creation demands an effective presentation of one’s work to a public.

Debut novelists seeking a review from any genre-appropriate reviewer need to make a credible and competitive presentation to earn consideration. The work of writing a book ends when the work of marketing the book begins. They are both sides of a one-sided coin.

Respecting one’s time energy emotion poured into finishing the manuscript demands spending more time labor emotion putting together a marketing campaign.

At minimum, bring the book to market with a press kit prepared with all the professionalism you and collaborators can muster. Your press kit doesn’t sell the book, it sells the would-be critic on ordering and reading the book.

The competition does it. Every successful book gets to market as the result of a marketing plan. Self-published authors are no different except they have a bigger hill to climb: no track record, no corporate money, no sales history. Y que?

Send a press kit like the pros do. There’s a fifty-fifty chance you get a reply. If you ask wrong, or not at all, it’s a hundred percent chance of No. When you ask again, take the second "No."

Just because you do everything right doesn’t mean it’s going to work. Think of the odds your novel faces from big-time competition and dozens of self-published authors with slick press kits. That’s why you have a competitive press kit!

There’s no limit on the number of winners. Give yourself that fifty-fifty chance of being one.

On a Personal Note

August 31, 1968 was one of those penetrating heat hot summer days in Los Angeles. The bride and groom kneeled for what seemed hours as the Monsignor droned on about marriage like a barbeque, the coals grow hotter, then cool, then the coals grow hotter.

That 23-year old groom turns 69 on his 46th anniversary next Sunday. I'm still having the time of my life.

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8. Poetry Para la Gente in El Salvador

Xanath Caraza

El 2o Festival Internacional de Poesía de Occidente, Leyla Quintana, 2014, organized by Fundación Metáfora was held in a variety of cities in El Salvador from August 10 to August 16.  Hoy comparto parte de esa experiencia.

First, let me discuss some important background information about El Salvador to give a broader context of this wonderful country to situate the significance of this creative gathering, the Festival Internacional de Poesía de Occidente.  El Salvador is a beautiful, small country in Central America that experienced a traumatic war in the 80’s.  Many Salvadorian families fled the country and came to the U. S. during that time, others ended up in Mexico, Canada and a number of European countries.  Lately, here in the U.S., our attention has been directed to the unfortunate situation of the children who are traveling alone from Central America to the U.S. and have been detained in the U.S., being placed in what seems to be more of a concentration camp than anything else.  We also hear about the tremendous violence that El Salvador experiences due to the Maras.

Yes, El Salvador is all of the above and has areas definitely not recommended to enter.  It is hot and humid, and is a country that is still rebuilding.  However, El Salvador is also poetry and through the hard work of poets and activist like those of Fundación metáfora (Robert Deras, Marisol Alfaro, Mixtli Alejandra, Anthony Molina, Nestor Duran, Vladimir Baiza, Lili Alfaro and Otoniel Guevara), El Salvador is changing minds, and bringing hope one poem at a time.

For the Fesitival itself this year, we,  the other guest poets and I, visited San Salvador, Santa Tecla, Santa Ana, Sonsonate, Ahuachapán, Caluco, Chalchuapa, Metapan, Coatepeque, San Marcos and other communities, reading poetry, as part of el 2o Festival Internacional de Poesía de Occidente, Leyla Quintana, 2014, from August 10 to the 16.  We, the poets, were taken care by all members of Fundación Metáfora, we had a special bus that picked us up and drove us to the different communities where our presentations and Q & A sessions took place.  I was not just surprised, but impressed by the numerous audiences that attended our readings. 

Of the readings we had, most were in public schools; many students were from junior high and high schools.  We read twice a day, one reading in the morning and a second one in the evening.  Many times our readings prolonged for almost three to four hours, and yes, I will do it all over again. 

During these readings with the bright, young people we met, it was hearing the questions that our young audiences had for us after our presentations that brought light and hope to me.  They, as many of our young audiences here in the U.S., want to be poets; therefore, these wonderfully eager young people in El Salvador also asked about what they can do to improve their writing skills.  They continued to inquire if we are born a poet or if we become one along the way.  What is more, they were inquisitive about where to publish, how to come up with a manuscript, or simply, these young audiences wanted us to hear them, the young people, read a poem. 

In the U.S., I have met several young men and women who are either originally from El Salvador or whose parents are from El Salvador.  I have wonderful poet friends from El Salvador too, who have lived here in the U.S. since the 80’s.  Visiting this small and beautiful country, for the first time, made me remember of my own childhood in Mexico, where with very few, but with tons of corazón and much curiosity, my friends and I learnt and discussed about poets and writers.  Some of us even became poets and writers thanks to those discussions and in a very few occasions thanks to an encounter with a poeta de carne y hueso. 

How important is it to remember or to know where we come from or where our parents have come from was a constant thought during my visit to El Salvador?    How important is it to know the history of our countries of origin and to learn about those powerful culturas prehispánicas that we, in many occasions, know very little about.  How important is it to hear los testimonios of those who experienced la Guerra, how hard and heart breaking it is to listen, or at least that was my own experience.  Will I go back to El Salvador, por supuesto, the same as I would go back wherever I am called to read la poesía.

Why is important for us to learn about la literatura salvadoreña?  It is vital since a great deal of our youth in the U.S. have raíces en El Salvador, simple and plain.  How many of us know about Leyla Quintana, Otoniel Guevara, Kenny Rodríguez, Salarrué, Roque Dalton, Luis Borja, Noé Lima, Argelia Quintana among many more poetas y escritores.  I invite you to learn more about our own poetas in the U.S. whose orígenes are salvadoreños and as well I invite you to celebrate them. 

Thankful and with hope I am, one poem at a time, one word one mind.




“La oportunidad de viajar y conocer a poetas con tanta sensibilidad me ha dejado el alma liviana, del festival me llevo historias hechas poemas, a través de esta patria sin tiempo comprendí lo que significa la lucha y el amor, como lo diría Silvio Rodríguez “¿Te molesta mi amor? Mi amor de juventud y mi amor es un arte de virtud” Eso era Leyla Quintana-Amada Libertad juventud hecha arte en revolución,  la conciencia y las letras se desbordan después de este encuentro, supongo que esta es la victoria que no esperaba dejar Amada Libertad, reivindicar la poesía y la mujer.”

Lourdes Soto, poeta



“Siempre participar en un festival de poesía es provechoso, pues se comparte el trabajo con un público en vivo, es posible confrontarse con otros autores contemporáneos, se idean proyectos compartidos. Pero la participación a este festival fue algo más. Creo que hemos logrado hermanarnos entre poetas a un nivel sincero y profundo y también creo que el público que asistió al evento, en su mayoría jóvenes, han entrado en comunicación con nosotros con entusiasmo. Me llevo, entonces, mucho más de lo que di: las historias de estas mujeres valientes, de las que tanto aprendí, y los ojos asombrados de éstos jóvenes a los que espero haberle enseñado algo.”

Silvia Favaretto, poeta


“El segundo festival internacional de poesía de occidente en El Salvador incluye el desarrollo de aspectos intelectuales, culturales, históricos y emocionales-vivenciales. Significó para mí una especie de graduación como poeta, porque el sentido de la poesía incluye emociones, asombro y disciplina, aspectos cumplidos literalmente.

Recibí además del apoyo a mi poesía, conocimiento in situ de un legado histórico de los sucesos de una guerra que han marcado a un país hermano,  el regalo hermoso de amistades auténticas que serán permanentes y que guardo como un tesoro entre las mejores. El cariño sincero de los estudiantes salvadoreños nos revela que la poesía llega a nuestra vida en momentos donde solo ella puede explicarnos el porqué se vive. Sostengo apretados a mis versos los de Leyla Quintana, para dejar claro en este mundo que la vida convoca a la rebeldía y a la lucha.”

Perla Rivera, poeta


“Traigo los ojos llenos de verde y juventud; el paladar ebrio de yuca y maíz. Mis honduras colmadas de palabras que resucitan anhelos enterrados en las montañas de la existencia. Traigo el testimonio de un amor. Amor es fuego que transforma el corazón; llama que lucha en vilo, siempre “en la punta del delirio”. Amado es el hombre, amada la tierra, Amada Libertad. La inútil e imprescindible poesía, tan como el amor, voz que busca el centro donde Verdad coincide con Libertad. Traigo de vuelta amigos nuevos y un manojo de Camelias que tanto había buscado Leyla en el manglar.”


Zingonia Zingone, poeta







In Other News


Hot off the presses! Angels of the Americlypse.  An Anthology of New Latin@ Writing (Counterpath, 2014)




Celebrating 100 years of Octavio Paz on August 28, 2014 at the Consulate of Mexico in Kansas City


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9. Codeswitch: The Poetic Fuego of Iris De Anda

Olga García Echeverría

today I awoke with fire
burning through my heart
speaking universal tongue
my spirit bursting like stars
a strong sense of desire
to rise up and manifest
feeling ready for revolt
and I ask you
where did you leave your Corazón?

Iris De Anda's recent book of poetry Codeswitch: Fires From Mi Corazón is an offering, a pumping heart, and in that heart are 4 chambers that burn. Rage. Love. Revolution. Evolution. The idea for creating 4 chapters or chambers in Codeswitch came to Iris late one night as she was drifting off to sleep. "This gave me a blueprint to work with, where I plugged in my personal medicine wheel and the poems that spoke to each section."

Heart Art from Codeswitch by Alfonso Aceves

Each chamber of De Anda's collection is full of Pocha poetry, and among the many poems is her anthem to Pocha reality, "To be a Pocha or not to be." In 2013, I had the pleasure of hearing De Anda read this poem live at a Mujeres de Maiz reading in East LA. The poem came out of her like a rhythmic chant with a punk rock flare:

because I'm my father's daughter
drowning in alcohol
seeking the metaphysical
calling back in time
my family line
a forgotten leaf
on the familia's tree
to be a Pocha or not to be

because I'm my mother's daughter
drowning in depression
seeking a connection
recovering memories
of a tierra I never knew
a forgotten trace
of ancestors in me
to be a Pocha or not to be

because I'm not good enough
for here or there
i love to hate my flag &
hate to love my creation
ashamed of spanish in the 1st grade
i'm sorry mami i never meant to hurt you
ashamed of english in abuela's embrace
i know you never meant to hurt me

because I'm merging culturas
every time I breathe
crossing borders
every time I speak
split forever into one
at the edge of possibility
to be a Pocha or not to be...

De Anda's poems sing, remember, rant, narrate the happenings, thoughts, and dreams of a girl/woman/mother who flies with crows, who sees herself deeply rooted in cultura, community, nature, healing, and art. The poet/narrator in Codeswitch has a tattooed spirit, piercings, glossy eyes. She dons steel toe boots and spikes. She digresses, questions, demands that life bloom amidst the strife. She taps into the spiritual-magical realm and calls out the Heart, hers and ours.

who invaded your divinity?
gave you false ideals & comprised liberty
tell you how to dress
how to feel
what to choose
what you can afford to lose
the reality is you were born free
daughters & sons of the galaxy
be bold in your search for truth and equality
where has humanity left their Corazón?

Iris began writing at the age of 13. "It was the best outlet I had at a time when I was suicidal. Writing saved my life," she says.  As a mother of three, a writer, and a co-founder of Here & Now (an art and healing space in El Sereno), Iris knows firsthand the art of juggling. "I wake up every morning and just go," she shares. "I make sure my kids have what they need to flourish and I write when they are not around or asleep, which is late night. I also have a very supportive husband who steps up...My art is driven by making this world a better place for them [my children, my family]." And that better world is about social justice, about No Papers No Fear, about unplugging from the Matrix and standing "barefoot in the grass" to watch a drifting cloud. It is about rising from the ashes like a burning phoenix.

This is not just poetry
it is justice screaming
thru us in constant
vowels & soliloquy...

This is not just poetry
it is life revealing itself
thru spoken word
this is the sound of urgency...

This is not just poetry
it is death beckoning us
thru dark nights
this is the typist bleeding...

Yet, despite the urgency and struggle, there is a constant reminder in De Anda's collection that each day begins anew:

There is no end
The cycle is beginning
Always mending
To live
To give to self
To love
To rebirth
Nurture the virtue
The veil unfolds
The gift is present
The knowledge gold

A highly motivated, do-it-yourself artist, Iris did not sit around and wait for the "literary powers that be" to validate her creative work. This past year she took publishing and marketing into her own hands and began her own press, Los Writers Underground. "As an indie author, I take pride in pushing myself to seek new experiences where I can share my work. I'm open to the possibilities that can stem from having my own press...It is my hope that Los Writers Underground Press can be a platform for writers who may not find a home in the traditional writing arena."

De Anda describes the journey of releasing her first book as both exhilarating and anxiety ridden. "I've had to balance a lot in my home life, as well as overcome some obstacles that presented themselves in the process. I've been lucky to have a supportive community around me."

Unlike Virgina Woolf's insistence that a woman must have money and a room of her own to write, Iris states, "I don't have money or a room of my own to write, but I have the ganas." Iris notes that as a woman of color it is many times a struggle to be heard, hence the creation of her own press and the self-publication of Codeswitch. She notes, "I acknowledge those that came before who opened the path for me. I also realize that there are more avenues of making our work available than previous generations." As a bilingual writer who loves subcultures and embraces alternative ways of seeing and living, De Anda shares that she tends "to identify more with our cultura of flor y canto than an academic take on writing. I want to break away from the idea that you need a degree to be a writer...Life experience and lots of reading are what made me the writer I am today."

When asked what she wants to leave her readers with, De Anda states, "I want my readers to be inspired into action. I want them to connect to the fires that move them and for them to create or step into their own journey with their entire Corazón."

You must rise above
cleanse again
like feelings & rain
create beauty to reflect
believe in truth & love
and most of all awaken
to your Corazón

Muchas felicidades and many thanks to Iris for sharing a bit about herself and her work here at La Bloga.

Iris De Anda is a writer, activist, and practitioner of the healing arts. She is a native of Los Angeles with roots in Mexico, El Salvador, and The Cosmos. She believes in the power of Spoken Word, poetry, storytelling, and dreams. She is a member of the poetry community Poets Responding to SB1070 and her poems have been featured here at La Bloga numerous times.

Codeswitch: Fires From Mi Corazón is her first book. It is available at www.irisdeanda.com as well as Amazon. It is also available at several local bookstores including Here & Now in El Sereno, Seite, Espacio 1839, Beyond Barroque, Skylight Books, Stories, and Vromans.

Upcoming Readings:

Seeds of Resistance: earth is my flesh
Friday August 29 @ 7pm
211 N Sycamore St
Santa Ana, California 92701

Luna Cafe
Friday, September 5th @ 7pm
1414 16th St Sacramento, California 95814

Poetry Express
Monday September 8th @ 7pm
Himalayan Flavors
585 University Ave, Berkeley, CA 94703

Seite Books-Libros
Thursday September 11th @ 7pm
419 N Rowan Ave
East Los Angeles, California 90063

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10. What future for Latino spec lit?

In a conversation this week, I was reminded again how mainstream academia doesn't consider speculative literature to be as respectable or of the same literary worth as what's called "literary fiction." U.S. culture traditionally looks down on us spec authors as not as refined and our works as not "worthy." Latino academics react much the same. [There's not one list of spec lit. I use: fantasy/sci-fi, magical realism, horror, alternate-world, paranormal and fables, at least.]

The argument goes like this. "Serious" book writers create literary sorts of books and are "better" writers. All of the most prestigious awards for fiction each year go to works of Literary Fiction. Genre Fiction, like spec lit, is "only for entertainment." Literary Fiction separates itself from Genre because it is not about escaping from reality, but provides a means to better understand the world and delivers real emotional responses. "Serious" works of literature are for highbrow, literary readers who believe genre fiction does not have much merit.

Of course, as a writer or reader, you don't need to choose between Latino spec or Latino literary works. You read and write what you want.

At the same time, out in the real world, Hollywood, cable and TV companies are on spec lit like moscas on mierda. You know that Hunger Games, Lord of Rings, Guardians of the Galaxy, and network TV shows like Extantand Touch--of my faves--proliferate, seemingly without end. Teen vampires, ghosts and zombies are everywhere on Netflix and cable, except in classrooms. Literary agents and publishers want to represent the next J.K. Rowling, maybe even a Latino one.

Mainstream, literary Latino lit is also still alive and has its audience and always will.

But what's new are the young people, our children and grandchildren, who drive many of the markets, including in movies, videogames, graphic novels and books in other forms. In videogames, 3 are  Lego, 1 pirate, 1 auto, 1 war, 1 NBA, and 3 are spec-related, including #1 (SF war) and #2 (ghosts and Predator). 9 of the top 10 comics sold in Jan. were spec genre. Spec and War shared the top 10 in graphic novels in March. Right now there's no end in sight for the most sought-after stories that could become the next blockbuster.

I myself never sold 4 stories in the space of two years. So far this year, I've gotten 4 requests to submit to anthologies, which definitely don't result from my book sales. Ernesto Hogan is doing at least twice as well as me.

But the U.S. markets can't keep putting out the same ole white-hero stories, because many of our young people were raised or have become true internationalists. They hang with, date and marry across racial, class and cultural borders that were harder to cross in the last century. Yes, racism and prejudice are being enflamed in this country by right-wing vestiges of previous times. But the old fogies will die out. Will new young internationalists outnumber the new young prejudiced who inherited their worldview from dead parents? Time will decide that.

In the meantime and foreseeable future, Latino, and other, spec literature is a largely untapped source of new voices, perspectives, legends and unique cultures that interest the Anglo commercial world. They might shoot us on the streets, but they love J-Lo and Calle 13 and Mexican indigenous ruins and suck in the money from consumers looking for the exotic, the entertaining. The screen, for theaters or monitors, needs new material. And a lot of it will first appear in print and E-book.

This makes Latino spec authors ripe for the pickings. Every author is a desperate creature, willing to grovel for attention, publication or even a chance to read their works. Latino spec authors, maybe more so, speaking only for myself.

In the eastern U.S., latino and black authors are meeting, joining together and somewhat coalescing as collective entities. The legacy of slavery and U.S. Caribbean history naturally reflects the latino-black cultural and social ties. This has been manifested in Spec Cons, the We Need Diverse Books and some anthologies.

On this side of the Mississippi, peoples' cultures developed differently, especially from our  heritage where Latinos link with our indio past, whether from here or Latin America. If Latino spec lit writers hang with their "better half," los indios, we may see something different develop than what has out East.

In the Southwest, our work, our specific peoples and cultures, we ourselves, are mestizo. It reminds me of José Vasconcelos vision of a raza cósmica that re-connects to its indio roots. Like Ernesto Hogan's Aztecofuturism stories.

Interest in Latino spec has  taken off. There's new markets for it. It may not give such authors the respectability that literary authors receive, but young people, including Anglos, are ready for it. It can be "good" writing; it can be "serious, refined and worthy."

Just ask the next under-40-year-old if they'd buy into a videogame, comic, movie, cable series or graphic novel that was based on a spec book, written by a Latino, that had Latino and other characters. They'd probably answer, "If it was good, fun and exciting." They wouldn't say, "If it had literary worth."

Es todo, hoy,
a.k.a. Chicano spec author Rudy Ch. Garcia

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11. Ode to Rodney King. Review of Richard Blanco's Memoir.

This time I'm proud to present two pieces from two generous and esteemed guest contributors.  One is a poem written by acclaimed author and educator Gloria L. Velásquez. Sadly, her commemoration of yet another racially-motivated killing of a young man in the United States by officers sworn to "serve and protect" is repeated for the third time. 

The second piece is a review written by La Bloga's friend Thelma T. Reyna of a memoir by the poet Richard Blanco. The Inaugural Poet explains how he came to celebrate a diverse United States with all of its contradictions, promises, and aspirations.

Two sides of the same coin, presented by poets, as is appropriate. 


Ode to Rodney King

“Has anybody here seen my old friend, John?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He’s freed a lot of people but it seems
the good they die young
I just looked around and he’s gone.”

“Has anybody here seen my old friend, Martin?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He’s freed a lot of people but it seems
the good they die young
I just looked around and he’s gone.”

Michael Brown
He shot and killed you.
He murdered you
for being African-American.
No justice for young Black men
in Sundown Towns like Ferguson
where military police tactics rule.

“Has anybody here seen my old friend, Bobby?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He’s freed a lot of people but it seems
the good they die young
I just looked around and he’s gone.”

“Has anybody here seen my old friend, Michael?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He’s freed a lot of people but it seems
the good they die young
I just looked around and he’s gone.”

Anger today
Pura vergüenza
And in Solidarity con mi gente
Around the world
I join the Uprising with HANDS UP
Maldiciendo the Michael Brown shooting.

Written on August 16, 2014, San Luis Obispo
By Gloria L. Velásquez

Gloria wrote a different version of this poem at the time of the Trayvon Martin killing. At that time she explained, "The first two stanzas are from the famous song, Abraham, Martin and John, recorded by Dion in reference to the assassinations of President Abraham Lincoln, President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I first wrote "Ode to Rodney King" when Oscar Grant was murdered at an Oakland Bart station by officers. I was so horrified by what happened to Trayvon that I wanted to use the same point, thus emphasizing how this has gone on time and time again and just as I simply replaced Oscar Grant's name with Trayvon's, this emphasizes how our justice system has time and time again treated Black men in the same way with injustice, racial profiling and white privilege attitudes."


Review of For All Of Us, One Today

For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet's Journey
Richard Blanco

Review by Thelma T. Reyna

When Richard Blanco stepped to the podium on January 21, 2013 at the inauguration of President Barack Obama, I rose from my sofa in the living room and stood enthralled as I watched the TV screen. Along with hundreds of thousands of people in the Washington DC mall that day and millions watching this special event around the world, I witnessed history in the making--and this history was made by a poet!

Richard Blanco became the fifth Inaugural Poet in our nation's long history, joining the ranks of such literary greats as Robert Frost and Maya Angelou, two prior Inaugural Poets. But Blanco was more historic than even these venerable giants. He was:
•    America's first-ever Latino Inaugural Poet.
•    The first immigrant.
•    The first openly gay poet.
•    The youngest ever, at the age of 45.

His memoir, For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey (Beacon Press, 2013), gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the impact that being brought out of relative literary obscurity (nothing new for poets anywhere in America!) has on an author and how bestowal of a high honor can change a life in the proverbial blink of an eye. But Blanco’s memoir does more than this: it shows us the character and passion of an American rising star against the backdrop of inauspicious beginnings.

Reflection and Introspection

Blanco's memoir captures in a mere 112 pages the roller-coaster ride of being selected by the President to address the nation and the world as a poet, and of his preparation for this momentous honor. We learn of Blanco’s disbelief and joy when he receives a phone call on December 12, 2013, from the Presidential Inaugural Committee notifying him of his selection. To this day, Blanco does not know how or why. The important thing he recalls from that life-changing call is that he has three weeks in which to write and submit three new poems to the Committee, one of which will be chosen by the President to be read at the inauguration.

In the memoir, Blanco details the doubts and false starts he has as he creates his poems. Part of this stems from his lifelong struggle concerning his place in America and what it truly means to "be an American." He refers to it in his memoir as "sorting out my cultural contradictions and yearnings" (p. 25). Conceived in Cuba, his parents' homeland, Blanco was born in Spain as an immigrant. He emigrated to the U.S. as an infant and grew up in Florida. He now lives in Bethel, Maine. Blanco's love of country was never in doubt, but what exactly America represents to the huge diversity of people calling it home is a conundrum he's often dissected, and now he is forced to dig even more deeply within himself to find answers.

"Do I truly love America?" he asks (p. 31). "It was a question I had to answer honestly if I was going to write an honest poem. I began thinking of my relationship with America and how it had evolved through different phases, just as my consciousness of love had evolved....I saw parallels between a loving human relationship and the love we hold for our country."

Blanco's Story of His Cultural Roots

In the memoir, Blanco cycles back and forth between his feelings and reflections in writing the three inaugural poems; and memories of his family life: his childhood, his parents' sacrifices for him and his brother, his experiences growing up in two cultures. Blanco describes how his personal life story sometimes parallels that of President Obama: navigating two worlds on a daily basis as a person of color, and overcoming tremendous odds to be successful. He believes these similarities may have resonated with the President and affected his selection of Blanco.

Blanco’s immigrant parents left their loved ones in Cuba to start a new life with no resources other than their determination and hard work. They purchased a modest home in Florida in a Cuban-American neighborhood after years of labor and thrift. Though Blanco never lived in Cuba, he was surrounded most of his life by neighbors and friends who had, and who blended their new life in America with memories, rituals, foods, and festivities rooted in their native land.

Blanco's image of what it means to be American came from re-runs of popular television shows from his childhood--sitcoms like "Leave It to Beaver," "My Three Sons," "The Brady Bunch"--and the standard history lessons in school about Pilgrims, Washington's cherry tree, and patriotic songs: all packaged, glossy representations. It is not until Blanco is selected as Inaugural Poet that his soul-searching enables him to authentically articulate what America--the only country he has ever known and loved--means to him and to the world.

As the days pass, Blanco decides to weave his personal story only briefly in his new poems because he feels that an autobiographical poem, or a political one, is not appropriate for the occasion. He states: "I came to understand my role--the historical role of the inaugural poet--as visionary, and the poem as a vision of what could be..., reaching for our highest aspirations as a country and a people" (p. 27). The thrust of his message to the world needed to be: "What do I love about America?" (p. 60). "My initial answer was simply the spirit of its people."

Speaking To America About Love Of Country

For three weeks, Blanco reads favorite poets, meditates, writes and rewrites, working  long into the night. He carefully reads the Inaugural Poems of his predecessors. He seeks feedback on his three poems from poets he knows personally, including his professor and mentor at Florida International University, Campbell McGrath; Sandra Cisneros; Julia Alvarez; Nikki Moustaki. As he states in his book: "Most writers I know rely on someone they can trust with their work, which essentially implies someone we can also trust with our lives" (p. 57). This, says Blanco, is also how his career as a poet has been: not as an "all artists work alone" (p. 57) phenomenon, but as "teamwork, ...a reflection of unity and togetherness" (p. 58).

It is this spirit of collaboration and unity that expresses itself robustly in the poem ultimately selected by the Presidential Inaugural Committee, and by the President, as Blanco’s Inaugural Poem: One Today (pp. 87-91). This poem, says Blanco, was born of his personal life experiences watching people helping one another, in good times and bad, always focused on community. Blanco’s love of country, it turns out, is one that "demands effort, asks us to give and take and forgive and constantly examine promises spoken and unspoken" (p. 32). One Today acknowledges this.

Standing at the podium on that chilly day in January 2013, facing an endless sea of humanity silent and waiting, and with the most powerful leaders of America seated onstage behind him, Richard Blanco feels that what he is about to read is his “ gift to America." The purpose of his Inaugural Poem, he states, is to "transcend politics and envision a new relationship between all Americans....I wanted America to embrace itself and...feel how we are all an essential part of one whole."

He succeeds, as thousands of letters show him in the days and months to come, and people's reactions at his subsequent readings, signings, interviews, and travels demonstrate. His message in One Today resonated across the land.

A New Mission: Poetry As A Force In Society

Blanco realizes after the inauguration that his life will never be the same again. "The days ahead proved to be abruptly life changing," he writes (p. 75), "filled with unexpected experiences and realizations that were...unique parts of my journey as inaugural poet."  Always concerned that poetry in America is not "part of our cultural lives and conversations; part of our popular folklore as with film, music, and novels" (p. 101), Blanco fondly recalls children's elation at his poetic readings throughout years of sharing his poetry with them. He must build on this.

Touched deeply by people’s reaction to One Today, Blanco relishes the publicity and nationwide exposure that envelops him, sensing a mandate from the people. He states: "The messages from my country speak clearly to me of the great potential and hope for poetry in America... to keep connecting America with poetry and reshape how we think about it....to explore how I can empower educators to teach contemporary poetry and foster a new generation of poetry readers" (p. 102).

On Blanco’s return trip home, he felt "a responsibility to dare and dream up a new chapter that will rekindle poetry into a continuing American folklore--a folklore that would include the stories of gay America, Latino America, and immigrant America--everyone's America" (p. 108). He envisions a resurgence of poetry as a magnificent vehicle "to continue writing together until we are not just one today, but one every day" (p. 108).

If anyone can do this, Richard Blanco can. With his keen intelligence, egalitarian heart, boundless love for his fellow human beings, and a disciplined, devoted poetic soul—all of which gently suffuse his memoir -- Blanco shows us that he has the gifts to do this. It's not immodesty on his part that has convinced us, but rather his modesty and commitment to digging for truth and authenticity. Let us hope his journey promoting poetry for the sake of enriching our lives is long and successful.

[Blanco’s two other poems submitted for consideration were What We Know of Country and Mother Country. These are both included in his memoir.]    

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12. Chicanonautica: NeoAztecs Among Us

Once upon a time, before the Internet, I was turning in episodes of Brainpan Fallout on a floppy disc (remember them?) in a Mexican restaurant. I was careful not to get salsa on them. “This is like one of your stories,” someone said.

As a science fiction writer, I don’t try to predict the future. I just have a feeling for changes I see  happening and wonder What If, and If This Goes On. When I first started projecting Aztec and other preColumbian cultures into the future, it was seen as far-out and esoteric. Cortez on Jupiter, High Aztech, and Smoking Mirror Blues weren’t considered to be very bloody likely.

Now, in Silgo XXI, people keep telling me that the news seems like my stories, especially when things preColumbian manifest. 

This was from a news story from 2008:

Officials in Mexico City's governing body estimate that a decade ago there were about 50 Aztec revivalist groups in the capital. Today there are closer to 300, all part of a movement calling itself La Mexhicanidad, one of the fastest-growing urban subcultures around.
Also from the same year:
Mexico City mayor Marcelo Ebrard wants all city employees, from hospital workers to bus drivers, to learn the Aztec language Nahuatl in an effort to revive the ancient tongue, the city government said.

And more recently, in a piece that compared the Aztecs to the Nazis, and criticized multiculturalism:
Imagine an alternative history where the Aztecs sail across the Atlantic Ocean to set up their pyramids of sacrifice in Paris.
And there are those who have given the Aztecs a New Age makeover, convinced that they were all really peaceful vegetarians, and all that talk about war and human sacrifice is just racist propaganda. You can see them climbing Teotihuacán and Mayan pyramids to recharge their energy on the Equinox.
More akin to my NeoAztecs and Aztecans is the Mexica Movement. Mexica being what the Aztecs called themselves.
Their website is interesting, going beyond the Chicano Movement’s visions of Aztlán. All the native peoples of the Américas including the mestizos (a word they don’t like) are one people, the Nican Tlaca, and their nation is Anahuac.
The United States of Anahuac . . . hmm . . .
Other words they reject are Hispanic and Latino, which they consider racist nods to European cultures.
I’d quote from them, but their homepage warns, in bigger letter than these:
They also have a page to help those who want adopt Nahuatl names.
I remember how thirty years ago, I was excited at meeting girls named Xochitl. These days I run into a lot of Nahuatl and Mayan names on Twitter and Facebook. Welcome to my world.
Meanwhile, our culture here in Anahuac is going Aztecan. Young people are being sacrificed, by each other, and by militarized law enforcement agencies. I wonder what gods they are being sacrificed to.
Ernest Hogan is addicted to getting published and to committing acts of creative blasphemy. He’s found people who think it's amusing, and who help him. He has made sacrifices over the years, and now there’s no stopping him.

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13. Colores de la Vida

Review by Ariadna Sánchez

A vast variety of colors cover the universe. Their presence in the environment provides human beings with the inspiration necessary to create exquisite art pieces. Colors can cheer the spirit up in only seconds. They transform a lonely soul into a cheerful one by giving hope and serenity to it.
Colores de la Vida by Cynthia Weill has fabulous folk art by Artisans from Oaxaca, Mexico.  Weill’s perfect combination of art and colors results in a boost of power of the immense world of colors in English and Spanish. Page by page, Colores de la Vida is an open invitation to admire the beauty in our surroundings.
Visit your local library to check out other great books written by Cynthia Weill. Reading gives you wings!
For additional information regarding Weill’s work click the following link:
Listen in Spanish Cynthia Weill Interview

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14. Should Criticism Sting?

Michael Sedano

La Bloga’s Saturday columnist Rudy Ch. Garcia reviewed Boy Zorro and the Bully (El Niño Zorro y el Peleón). Published in English and Spanish, Rudy calls it “a Latino book” on how to handle bullying, finding Boy Zorro on the whole worthwhile. Click here to read the review and Comments from Rudy's July 26 column.

The publisher and author wrote back, objecting to calling Boy Zorro "a Latino book, arguing that "using Spanish merely makes the topic accessible to more readers". Author, Kat A. expresses restrained anger when she avers,

Rudy. Rudy. Rudy. You practically missed the book altogether. Starting with the misclassification of it as “A Latino Book”. This is a book about “Bullying”. You made it a book about Latinos and then used the book as a platform to go off into different tangents about race, skin color, lack of female representation…are you helping or hurting those who actually do something

The publisher, Katherine Del Monte, focuses on the positive messages the book conveys, only once tangentially acknowledging Garcia’s critique that illustrations paint everyone except one kid and the principal pink.

Mr. Ramos, the principal, does the right thing, stays strong, and all outcomes are favorable – no matter their skin color or race.

The author and publisher’s responses reflect one of those hard facts of writing: once the writer has sent the piece “out there,” it belongs to the reader. And the critic.

Sadly, "criticism" has come to mean its lowest common denominator, fault-finding and punishment, so people hate criticism. Maybe it's part of the national character, to take critique as a personal affront.

To be criticized is good. In its most exalted form, criticism compares a concept of perfection to the work at hand and declares how the piece at hand measures up to perfection. Most literary criticism reflects versions of the latter. It shouldn't sting. Indeed, it's an honor to be compared to perfection.

A reader or critic comes to a title with her or his own expectations for the book and reads it through the lens of expectation, plus one’s capacity for the writer’s style and invention. In writing the critique, the critic will say what he or she likes, what he or she doesn’t like, and offer qualitative observations related to the work.

In Rudy's critique, he likes Boy Zorro for its critically important message. His enthusiasm is tempered by ways the book could do a better job for its readers.

Whatever the assessment—love it, hate it, wish it was something else—it belongs to the critic and reflects that critic's sensibility. A work “means” what the reader says it means, regardless of the author’s or publisher’s intent. We do, of course, share a language, so most of the time, we "get" one another. But now and again a Boy Zorro comes around, where critique and intent rub each other the wrong way.

Favorable or not, taking into account a critic's observations--Rudy's expectation that illustrated children's books reflect a child's world by featuring diversity in gender and skin colors--won't diminish established intentions but certainly enhances the likelihood a future book will attract wider readership and more favorable critical responses.

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15. Eduardo Galeano. Hands up, don't shoot.

[Daniel Olivas will return soon enough.]

La Bloga regularly covers many Latino, and other, authors, but not as many journalists as other genre writers. Below are excerpts of a sudamericano's  vivid, realistic writing style that makes Hunter Thompson's gonzo journalism seem like baño graffiti.

In a La Bloga post earlier this summer, poet Martín Espada mentioned Uruguayan author, Eduardo Galeano. The Atlantic Monthly said of Galeano:
"A native of Uruguay who was forced into exile under the country's military regime during the 1970s, Galeano has always identified with the losing side. His Open Veins of Latin America, published in Mexico, 1971, employed captivating, elegiac prose to chronicle five centuries of plunder and imperialism in Latin America. Radically different in style, Open Veinsquickly became a canonical text in radical circles, selling hundreds of thousands of copies in the Southern Hemisphere. In a period of social upheaval, guerrilla warfare, and dictatorship, the book, composed in three months of intense labor, Open Veins was banned by the Pinochet regime."

Although Galeano recently "disavowed" some of his style, credentials and phraseology used in Open Veins, his legacy can't be derailed, even should he become more conservative in his later years.

Elsewhere, he's been described this way: "Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano is among the greats of our time. His writing has it -- that indefinable quality you can’t describe but know as soon as you read it. He’s created a style that combines the best of journalism, history, and fiction and a form for his books that may have no name but involves short bursts of almost lyrical reportage, often about events long past."

His most recent book, Mirrors(publisher, Nation Books), is called "one of the great books of this century, a history of humanity in 366 episodes, from our first myths to late last night."

The following passages--taken from TomDispatch.com--are excerpts from Galeano’s history of humanityMirrors -Stories of almost everyone, something you should consider reading if you want a different, great read.

Photograph: Saddest Eye in the World
Princeton, New Jersey, May 1947.
Photographer Philippe Halsman asks him: “Do you think there will be peace?”
And while the shutter clicks, Albert Einstein says, or rather mutters: “No.”
People believe that Einstein got the Nobel Prize for his theory of relativity, that he was the originator of the saying “Everything is relative,” and that he was the inventor of the atom bomb.
The truth is they did not give him a Nobel for his theory of relativity and he never uttered those words. Neither did he invent the bomb, although Hiroshima and Nagasaki would not have been possible if he had not discovered what he did.
He knew all too well that his findings, born of a celebration of life, had been used to annihilate it.

His enemies say he was an uncrowned king who confused unity with unanimity.
And in that his enemies are right.
His enemies say that if Napoleon had a newspaper like Granma, no Frenchman would have learned of the disaster at Waterloo.
And in that his enemies are right.
His enemies say that he exercised power by talking a lot and listening little, because he was more used to hearing echoes than voices.
And in that his enemies are right.
But some things his enemies do not say: it was not to pose for the history books that he bared his breast to the invaders’ bullets,
he faced hurricanes as an equal, hurricane to hurricane,
he survived 637 attempts on his life,
his contagious energy was decisive in making a country out of a colony,
and it was not by Lucifer’s curse or God’s miracle that the new country managed to outlive 10 U.S. presidents, their napkins spread in their laps, ready to eat it with knife and fork.
And his enemies never mention that Cuba is one rare country that does not compete for the World Doormat Cup.
And they do not say that the revolution, punished for the crime of dignity, is what it managed to be and not what it wished to become. Nor do they say that the wall separating desire from reality grew ever higher and wider thanks to the imperial blockade, which suffocated a Cuban-style democracy, militarized society, and gave the bureaucracy, always ready with a problem for every solution, the alibis it needed to justify and perpetuate itself.
And they do not say that in spite of all the sorrow, in spite of the external aggression and the internal high-handedness, this distressed and obstinate island has spawned the least unjust society in Latin America.
And his enemies do not say that this feat was the outcome of the sacrifice of its people, and also of the stubborn will and old-fashioned sense of honor of the knight who always fought on the side of the losers, like his famous colleague in the fields of Castile.

He was butterfly and bee. In the ring, he floated and stung.
In 1967, Muhammad Ali, born Cassius Clay, refused to put on a uniform.
“Got nothing against no Viet Cong,” he said. “Ain’t no Vietnamese ever called me nigger.”
They called him a traitor. They sentenced him to a five-year jail term, and barred him from boxing. They stripped him of his title as champion of the world.
The punishment became his trophy. By taking away his crown, they anointed him king.
Years later, a few college students asked him to recite something. And for them he improvised the shortest poem in world literature:
“Me, we.”

The Berlin Wall made the news every day. From morning till night we read, saw, heard: the Wall of Shame, the Wall of Infamy, the Iron Curtain...
In the end, a wall which deserved to fall fell. But other walls sprouted and continue sprouting across the world. Though they are much larger than the one in Berlin, we rarely hear of them.
Little is said about the wall the United States is building along the Mexican border, and less is said about the barbed-wire barriers surrounding the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on the African coast.
Practically nothing is said about the West Bank Wall, which perpetuates the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and will be 15 times longer than the Berlin Wall. And nothing, nothing at all, is said about the Morocco Wall, which perpetuates the seizure of the Saharan homeland by the kingdom of Morocco, and is 60 times the length of the Berlin Wall.
Why are some walls so loud and others mute?

Lied-About Wars
Advertising campaigns, marketing schemes. The target is public opinion. Wars are sold the same way cars are, by lying.
In August 1964, President Lyndon Johnson accused the Vietnamese of attacking two U.S. warships in the Tonkin Gulf.
Then the president invaded Vietnam, sending planes and troops. He was acclaimed by journalists and by politicians, and his popularity skyrocketed. The Democrats in power and the Republicans out of power became a single party united against Communist aggression.
After the war had slaughtered Vietnamese in vast numbers, most of them women and children, Johnson’s secretary of defense, Robert McNamara, confessed that the Tonkin Gulf attack had never occurred.
The dead did not revive.
In March 2003, President George W. Bush accused Iraq of being on the verge of destroying the world with its weapons of mass destruction, “the most lethal weapons ever devised.”
Then the president invaded Iraq, sending planes and troops. He was acclaimed by journalists and by politicians, and his popularity skyrocketed. The Republicans in power and the Democrats out of power became a single party united against terrorist aggression.
After the war had slaughtered Iraqis in vast numbers, most of them women and children, Bush confessed that the weapons of mass destruction never existed. “The most lethal weapons ever devised” were his own speeches.
In the following elections, he won a second term.
In my childhood, my mother used to tell me that a lie has no feet. She was misinformed.

Lost and Found
The twentieth century, which was born proclaiming peace and justice, died bathed in blood. It passed on a world much more unjust than the one it inherited.
The twenty-first century, which also arrived heralding peace and justice, is following in its predecessor’s footsteps.
In my childhood, I was convinced that everything that went astray on earth ended up on the moon.
But the astronauts found no sign of dangerous dreams or broken promises or hopes betrayed.
If not on the moon, where might they be? Perhaps they were never misplaced. Perhaps they are in hiding here on earth. Waiting.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Rubén Salazar
NOTE: The end of August will mark the 44th anniversary of the murder of the Mexican-American journalist Rubén Salazar during East L.A.'s National Chicano Moratorium against the Vietnam War, 1970. He was killed by an L.A. deputy, much as Michael Brown was by policeman Darren Wilson in Ferguson this month. The after-quake by enforcement officers has made Ferguson our Gaza, for the moment.

Hands up, don't shoot,

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16. Chicana Films Need to be Included in Mexican American Studies Curricula. Award Winning Filmmaker Linda Garcia Merchant Tells Us Why!

By Guest Writer:  Filmmaker, Linda Garcia Merchant

Tony Diaz of Librotraficante and Nuestra Palabra, DAY ONE at Mercado Mayapan (photo by Kathryn Haviland)
I finally met Tony Diaz in person, in 2012, at a weekend conference that acknowledged the 40th anniversary of the Partido Raza Unida Convention at Mercado Mayapan in the Segundo Barrio area of El Paso, Texas.  One of the cornerstones of the modern Chicano Movement in El Paso, Mercado Mayapan, was originally a factory, that in 1981, was repurposed by a group of Chicana laborers, La Mujer Obrera, as a job training and social center.

I had "virtually" met Tony three years earlier when I was interviewed on his “Nuestra Palabra" show to promote several Texas screenings of my first film, Las Mujeres de la Caucus Chicana (2007).  Las Mujeres had been invited to screen at the Museo Alameda in San Antonio and was to be the debut of the Mexican American Community Center (MACC) in Austin as part of the 2008 Sor Juana Festival Tejas, sponsored by the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago. 

I continue to be a fan of the work Tony does with Librotraficante and, more recently, taking on the incredible challenge of creating a resource for Mexican American Studies (M.A.S.) in Tejas. 

"Reel Chicano Filmmakers" (L to R: Sean Arcy, Jesus Treviño, unknown,
Dennix Bixler, Linda Garcia Merchant (photo by Kathryn Haviland)
In June of 2014, Tony wrote an article for The Huffington Post, Latino Voices entitled, “Top 10 Chicano Films for M.A.S.” which included 15 of the top Chicano films to have as a resource for M.A.S.  I looked at the list and immediately tweeted a message to him that said, “Great!  Where are the women?  We make films too!

Tony is a great guy and a true activist in the sense that the work is always about inclusion.   His immediate response was:  “What would a list of Chicana films look like?”

My first reaction was to create a list of films for M.A.S. by and about Chicanas.  But that wasn’t really solving the issue of inclusion.  If anything, it was keeping us as far apart as we have been in movement politics.  A list of films about Chicano culture should include films by men and women about Chicano men, women, and children.  As there are all types of films available that fit this requirement, I felt it should be one list, not two.  However, understanding that this list had already been published by The Huffington Post, there was a good chance there wouldn’t be a follow-up to correct or include what I felt was half a list. 

It was then that I realized the inclusion of the filmmakers as well as the films would be important to this list.  I realized it was personal.  I felt that the women left off the list, including myself, had made great contributions to our culture, and had done so with little fanfare or acknowledgement which continues to render many of us invisible to the history and contributions frequently recognized as “Chicano.” 

So instead of just giving Tony a list with run times and authors, I wrote a passionate statement about why the inclusion of Chicana Filmmakers was important to the M.A.S. resource.  Here is that statement:

I love being a Chicana Filmmaker because we are many things.  We are primarily activists moving cultural production forward.  We are provocateurs, inciting free thinking and daring conversation to come from the open-ended questions we shout in the stories we tell.  In Matilde Landeta’s Las Trotacalles, there is a death scene where the group of women standing around the bed of their dying friend are not dwelling on the sadness of the moment, but are having a heated conversation about the existence of God. Landeta manages to bring the emotional arc back from curious to poignant with the dying woman’s last words about faith that silences both the women and the audience. 

Martha Cotera, founding member of Mujeres de la Raza Unida, and Jesus Salvador Treviño, filmmaker,
on the opening panel of the 40th Anniversary Commemoration of the Partido Raza Unida
Convention held at University of Texas, El Paso (UTEP) (Photo by Kathryn Haviland)
We are risk takers, high wire aerialists tiptoeing over fields filled with the landmines of funding and exposure, cultural and gender insensitivities, resistance, and oppression, all while juggling actors, creative financing, production, distribution, and places to work, that will support us and our families. 

Chicana filmmakers are family, bound by the bond of Chicana-ism and filmmaking, and the many battles fought to get things done.  We teach one another craft and technique, understanding the importance of the auteur in the creation of product.  We do not engage regularly, but we connect when it is important to do so.  When we do engage, it is with the understanding that our bonds are as old as our history in this hemisphere, pre tribal and pre colonial.  I say this because it is how I feel about one of the Foremothers of Chicana Filmmaking, Sylvia Morales, producer of Chicana(1979) and A Crushing Love(2009). 

Filmmaker Sylvia Morales with María Cotera, Chicana feminist, activist, University of Michigan professor,
at the 2011 MALCS Summer Institute at California State University Los Angeles  (photo by Linda Garcia Merchant)
When I first met Sylvia Morales, I was just beginning production on my first film, Las Mujeres.  Sylvia was beginning work on A Crushing Love.  It was Chicano Filmmaker, Jesus Treviño, who said we should meet as we were working on similar projects. 

Sylvia is tall, striking, as only Latinas can be beautiful, and the owner of the most piercing set of eyes that can and do stand as judge and jury at any moment.  “So you want to be a filmmaker,” she grumbled, a tiny smirk on her lips and looking at me with that famous raised eyebrow.  “Well, be prepared to always be broke and never completely satisfied with what you’ve done.”  She then went on to tell wonderful stories of her experiences at the Denver Youth Conference and what it took to make Chicana (1979).  To this day, I relish every moment of that first meeting and carry forward the important lessons I have learned from Sylvia about why we do what we do. Sylvia continues to mentor my work with honest feedback and constructive suggestions. 

Jesus Salvador Treviño shooting The Women Legacy Panel (photo by Kathryn Haviland)
The highlight of my filmmaking career has been two opportunities  to work with Sylvia on projects.  First, in 2006, shooting Martha and María Cotera’s interview at my cameraman’s house in Evanston for A Crushing Love.  Then in 2011, shooting panels and interviews for the Chicana Por Mi Raza Oral HistoryProject at the MALCS (Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social) Summer Institute at CSU (California State University) Los Angeles, including a presentation of Madres Por Justiciaby Teatro  Chicana.  Those four days in Los Angeles were the most exhausting and exciting of my life. 

I believe that Chicana/Latina filmmakers have a special Y chromosome imprinted with the words “not impossible.”  It is how I can rationalize our need to make films through the personal and economic challenge that comes from making film in a world consistently hesitant or disinterested in supporting us.  It is a challenge that presents itself as time away from children, spouses, and relationships in general.  Filmmaking insists on a complete state of distraction during pre- and post-production, that begins with the creative acts, with writing scripts, and continues through the editing of footage, and concludes with the endlessly expensive lottery of festival submission. 

Jesus Salvador Treviño shooting The Women Legacy Panel with Martha Cotera (photo by Kathryn Haviland)
However, this list isn’t just about the challenges that come with stories we tell.  It is about the simple fact that we are telling them.  Our “filmmaker” foremothers: Matilde Landeta, Sylvia Morales, Nancy De Los Santos, and LourdesPortillo, learned the structure of our craft and then redesigned that form in shapes that reflect a thousand years of tias, comadres y abuelas, teaching us how to tell a tale. 

Consider a young Latina in El Paso, Tejas; another in Kenosha, Wisconsin; and yet another in Las Vegas, Nevada watching A Crushing Love(Sylvia Morales, UCLA BA, MFA), Señorita Estraviada (Lourdes Portillo, San Francisco Art Institute MFA), or La negra Angustias (Matilde Landeta, Assistant Director during the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema).

While she watches these films, what seeds are planted in her mind, about the possibility of making film and becoming a filmmaker?  Does she go on to become the young woman that makes Las Marthas or Mosquita Y Mari?  I know she does.  I know we do. 

1.   Chicana. Director/Writer: Sylvia Morales (1979) (Classroom clock: 23 mins). History of Chicana and Mexican women from pre Columbian times to the present (Women Make Movies, distribution)

2.   A Crushing Love Chicanas, Motherhood and Activism. Director/Writer: Sylvia Morales (2009) (Classroom clock: 58 mins). Sequel to Chicana, Morales asks the question of Chicana activists and their children, how do they successfully juggle the needs of both the community and their families. Morales takes the question a step further by turning the camera on herself and her daughter.

3.  Senorita Extraviada, Missing Young Woman. Director/Producer: Lourdes Portillo (2001) (Classroom clock: 74 mins.) Story of the murdered women of Juarez Mexico is presented in a way that demonstrates the genocidal nature of the tragedy and the lack of action by the government.

4. Corpus:  A Home Movie for Selena.  Director/Producer: Lourdes Portillo (1999) (Classroom clock: 47 mins.) It has been said that this documentary presents Tejana singing star Selena Quintanilla 'from a Latina Feminist perspective'. Portillo chooses to include Latina scholars commenting on the lasting fame and iconic nature of her memory.

5.  La Negra Angustias. Director: Matilde Landeta Writers: Matilde Landeta and Francisco Rojas Gonzalez (1949) (Classroom clock: 85 mins.) At last a film about the Mexican Revolution with a woman leading the revolutionaries.  Starring María Elena Marques, who is better known for her role in Emilio Fernandez's film, La Perla.  

6.   La Trotacalles.  Director: Matilde Landeta (1951) (Classroom clock: 101 mins.) The second of three features Landeta was able to make within the male dominated structure of  the Mexican film industry. The film is about a group of streetwalkers, but without the moral judgements often applied to women in this profession.

7.    The Bronze Screen: 100 Years of the Latino Image in American Cinema. Producers/Directors: Nancy De Los Santos, Susan Racho, Alberto Dominguez (2002). (Classroom clock: 90 mins) A wonderful documentary that presents the rich and little known contributions on both sides of the camera by Latinos in Hollywood.

  8.  Pilsen: Port of EntryDirector: Kenneth Solarz Producer: Nancy De Los Santos (1981) (Classroom clock: 28mins.)  Documentary on the life of the Fraga family in the Pilsen neighborhood in  Chicago. Interesting in that it touches on the challenges of maintaining cultural pride with the ever present threat of gentrification.

9.     Antonia: A Chicana Story. Directors: Luz Maria Gordillo and Juan Javier Pescador (2013). (Classroom clock: 55 mins.) One of the foremothers of Chicana studies, Antonia Castaneda's life is presented through her writing along with interviews and conversations with colleagues and friends.

10.   My Filmmaking, My Life Matilde Landeta. Director: Patricia Diaz Producer: Jane Ryder (1990). (Classroom clock: 30 mins.). A documentary that presents the life and work of Mexican director Matilde Landeta.

11.  Mosquita Y Mari. Director/Writer: Aurora Guerrero (2012). (Classroom clock: 85 mins.) A coming of age story of young love that runs right into the fast paced life that is immigrant community. Written and Directed by Aurora Guerrero, this film is beautifully shot by Uruguayan cinematographer Magela Crosignani.

12.  Las Marthas. Director: Cristina Ibarra (2014). (Classroom clock: 66 mins.) A wonderful documentary on a little known annual debutante ball that honors the legacy of George and Martha Washington in the border town of Laredo Texas. Ibarra speaks to class and culture, inclusion, body image, and the public image of young women chosen to participate in this gala event.

13.  Adelante Mujeres. Director/Producer: National Women’s History Project (1992). (Classroom clock: 30 mins.) A quick and comprehensive study of the contributions of Latinas through history.

14.  Palabras Dulces, Palabras Amargas. Director: Linda Garcia Merchant (2009). (Classroom clock: 45 mins).  Featuring six original works of the multicultural, multigenerational spoken word ensemble La Dulce Palabra Spoken Word Ensemble.

15.  Las Mujeres de la Caucus Chicana. Director: Linda Garcia Merchant (2007) (Classroom clock: 93 mins) Recounts the turning points of six Chicanas who answered the call to action and came together at the 1977 National Women’s Conference in Houston.

Linda Garcia Merchant (photo by Kathryn Haviland)

Linda Garcia Merchant, an award-winning filmmaker and Independent scholar, is technical director of the Chicana Por MiRaza Project, a community partner for the Somos Latinas Oral History Project and the Chicana Chicago/MABPW Collection Project, a member of the LGBT Giving Council of the Chicago Foundation for Women and a board member of the Chicago Area Women's History Council. Watch the trailer for Linda's latest production 'Yo Soy Eva' , being released this fall.

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17. Chat with author John Nichols. New Mario Acevedo novel.

Con workshop - writing characters outside your culture

This year's Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' Colorado Gold Conference will be held Sept. 5-7, in Westminster [Denver]. Among other panels and workshops, author Mario Acevedo and I will be leading one [Sunday, 9:00am] called "Deep-six the Stereotypes: Writing Characters from Another Culture."

Its description: "How can writers diversify their fiction with vibrant characters from a different culture or background so their writing attracts 21st Century readers? Insights into what hooks / turns off agents when authors write outside their cultural experience."

We envision our audience largely being Anglos wanting to hear about writing non-Anglo characters. Not that I'm an expert, but why is this Chicano author willing to help Anglo writers write about Chicano, Latino, etc. characters? (I haven't asked Mario the same.) There are other questions that could be asked.

Do Chicano authors have a "responsibility" to help Anglo writers--already published more than we are--so that they can succeed even more? Can Anglo writers do a decent portrayal, from their non-PoC perspective and worldview? Questions could go on and on.

They remind me of two hours I spent in the Taos Plaza last month, during the Fiestas. I'd been there before, seen the sites, the festivities, the shops and artwork. That part of our--wife Carmen also went--trip was el mismo. The two hours were totally new.
I had a first edition of Milagro Beanfield War I'd wanted autographed and author John Nichols did that earlier this year. We exchanged surface-mail letters, I sent him my novel, he invited me down and I was to meet him in a café near the Moby Dickens Bookshop.

The Nichols website states, "As of July, I’m 73 years old, my heart is locked in permanent atrial fibrillation, congestive heart failure. I'm a walking time bomb ready to have a stroke." So, initially my intention was to do a La Bloga interview of the man who'd authored one of my favorite books about Chicanos, written by an Anglo. Maybe even his last interview.

When I was in the graphic/ad business, my company had produced the artwork for the movie's Denver premier, so besides a reader-author connection, I had remote connection to Nichols' work. The movie starred Rubén Blades, Sonia Braga, Melanie Griffith, Christopher Walken, et al; director Robert Redford; producers Moctesuma Esparza and Redford; Nichols did the screenplay.

If you've never seen the movie, you should. Not only for its humor and its background on New Mexican land/water struggles, but because it's good. For it's time, it was great. A major motion picture laced with Anglo/Latino talent.

After attempting to come up with insightful interview questions to ask Nichols, at some point I gave up. It felt artificial, irrelevant and not what I wanted to do. [Never even took a selfie of us.] I decided to simply meet the man who wrote the novel. Chat. Discuss, exchange stories, maybe laugh a little. Eat and drink (not that Nichols was/is in a condition to down traguitos with me).

At the appointed hour, I expected an old guy with a cane maybe made out of an agave stalk, hobbling or leaping like in the movie poster. The cane was simple and plastic. The man didn't jump around much. We ordered a bite, I'd have a couple of Negras, Nichols, some non-alcoholic drinks. And we began.

Another writer asked me, "What did you learn?" He meant, what great writing knowledge did I take away from the talk. I don't know that I have anything literary to answer to that and am not sure that I should.

In the two hours, I saw/experienced/shared in small ways several things. That Nichols, like on his website, holds family high on his list of achievements and experiences. That he holds Nature and being alone in Nature--something I've written about--high on his list of how we should spend our time on the planet, not only near the end of it.

Then there was his smile. And eyes. Nothing that you'd expect from a casi-muerto. What you'd expect from a twenty-year-old. What you'd expect from a kid starting out in life with crazy expectations and hopes and decades in front of him to accomplish anything he wanted.

I didn't expect his Spanish accent to be so gringoly obvious. My grammar is unschooled; his is in nascent stages of Span. 201, to be kind. But he was unashamed about using it. He didn't blush whenever his fluency fell or vocab was a bit off; he just talked on like a mexicano drinking unas, outside a Texas beer joint. I got over noticing it and just went with our exchange. Of course, I wonder what he heard in my Spanish that might've made him cringe.

If Nichols and I live long enough, perhaps there will be an interview, not necessarily his, or my, last. I don't know that that's that important. [yeah, 3 "that’s" and maybe English isn't my 1st language]

How does my short time with Nichols relate to our upcoming workshop? Mario and I could hope that out of it came some new awareness that in the future could produce the kind of gringos' share of the work that went into the Milagro movie. [No, I don't know what pinche petho developed during its production.] Or encourage a little of the multi-national, multi-talented camaraderie that this country direly needs, not only literarily. If Mario and I reach some in the audience who are/can be such gente, then we'll have done, no milagro, but at least a little progress in lifelike lit.

It took me two hours to shed the nervousness of being one-on-one with a great gringo writer. Should the two of us endure until another meet, I'll have reached the stage of bouncing some of my crazy ideas off him, especially, about death. And what it's probably not. Or story ideas. Or poor jokes. Or introduce my dog to him. Yeah, maybe a little interviewing, por pendejo.

More vampiros

From Mario Acevedo's website, about the upcoming book release of Rescue from Planet Pleasure:
"If you're a fan of Felix Gomez, you know he's got a lot hanging out there. For one, the most bodacious vampiress of all time, his buddy Carmen Arellano, was kidnapped by aliens and she's being held prisoner in deep space. And Phaedra, the ruthless bloodsucking ingenue--now with extra-superpowers--is making good on her threat to destroy the Araneum and take over the undead underworld.

"Felix is not alone in his quest to save Carmen and stop Phaedra. That red-headed whirlwind with a gun, Jolie, has got his back. Also appearing is everyone's favorite down-and-out trickster sage, Coyote, and he's brought along his mom...la Malinche...aka La Llorona! Here it comes, a big, hairy story bristling with action, intergalactic adventure, skin-walkers, Hopi magic...all told in tumescent PervoVision. Exactly what you'd expect from Felix Gomez. [La Bloga note: and what you'd expect from Mario]

Es todo, hoy,
RudyG, aka Chicano spec lit author, Rudy Ch. Garcia, Taos tourist and Nichols fan

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18. Celebrating Poetry in Louisiana

Melinda Palacio
I can walk on my cast now. Thank you for all of your healing thoughts
My journey towards walking again began last week. I am able to put weight on my cast. Although I'm pretty good with hoisting my body on crutches, I am relieved to be walking. Soon I won't need a cane or the cast I've been wearing for the past two months. Thank you to everyone for your healing thoughts and positive energy. La Bloga took a little hit this Summer with my broken leg and Michael Sedano's scare in the emergency room, but we are back stronger. While I didn't have Sedano's mandate from ancestors to go back in line, I did experience an epiphany of sorts while under heavy hospital drugs, where I was dropped into the sea of love and realized that everything is love.

My first official outing, both fun and literary was to New Iberia and Lafayette's Word Lab. My friends Jonathan Klein and Gina Ferrara were presenting at 2pm and wanted to make a pilgrimage to Avery Island's Buddha statue. Jonathan read from his new book, the Wisdom of Ashes. Earlier in the year, he read with Daniel Chacon at Octavia Books in New Orleans. Of Gina's last book, Amber Porchlight, Frank Mundo of the Examiner says: "Charged with light, beauty and a touch of danger and heat, Amber Porch Light by Gina Ferrara is a powerful, memorable collection." 
Avery Island, New Iberia, Louisiana
The last time I was at Avery Island, several alligators emerged from the swamp. Luckily, I jumped in the car before they got too close. Avery island is ideal for someone with mobility issues. You can tour the entire island from your car, get out and sit at the different stops. The island is best known for its production of Tabasco sauce.  At the factory, you can try Tabasco ice cream and different flavors of Tabasco sauce.

Maple Leaf Rag V, Portal Press 2014

SRO crowd at the back patio of the Maple Leaf Bar

Reading a poem at the Maple Leaf Bar's back patio

The next day, last Sunday, I participated in the celebration for the Maple Leaf Rag V Anthology. The Maple Leaf Bar is the oldest running poetry reading series in the South. Started by Everett Maddox Maddox, the series has continued for thirty-five years. Currently, poet Nancy Harris took over the series after Everett's death in 1989. Publisher John Travis, owner of Portals Press has published the last four Maple Leaf Rag Anthologies. I have had the honor of being published in the last two volumes, along with my favorite South Louisiana writer, Steve Beisner
 From the Maple Leaf Rag V Anthology, Portals Press 2014.

hold her close
Steve Beisner

new orleans has wet and mud where people walk and stand
and know the earth they’re livin' on and how it feels to hold her close

through her nearby marshes oil canals cut obscenely straight and narrow
run miles through watery green, a highway of danger for muskrats and nutria

leafy sinews strangle the house who lost her family two summers ago
soon, with no friend, losing her battle with flora, ruin

potholes kill and eat incautious cars where there're guns enough
that someone always wants to see what steel and absent hope can do

you choose your costume for the day to say yesterday's gone,
tomorrow's not come and you got one shot at now

overhead the white-cloud virginal bandana floats, a hand's wavin’
sayin' my life's an all night dance and I mean somethin' by it

the lady says, how you doin' and really wants you to know that
different got it all over respectable and a little crazy ain't bad either

you’re no stranger after a beer and swapped stories in the cool dark bar
you want today's road to be one you'll still remember tomorrow

the meaning of barstool stories is not in the words,
but how they dart and pause, unwrap and disrobe the tellers

new orleans has wet and mud where people walk and stand
and know the earth they’re livin' on and how it feels to hold her close

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19. Fear & Laughing in Las Vegas

Manuel Ramos

The International Latino Book Awards were announced in Las Vegas, NV, on June 28. At first glance the choice of Sin City for a literary event seems, uh, awkward?  But the ILBA folks piggy-backed their awards night onto the American Library Association’s annual conference so maybe it made sense. Imagine, thousands of book people gathered in the neon desert to celebrate the great institution of book-lending, not to mention the other great institutions found in Vegas like slot machines, strip shows, gaudy excess, and covered walkways between massive casinos so no one ever has to breathe natural air or bask in natural light.

Late on a Thursday night and with some trepidation, Flo and I flew to the land of blast-furnace heat. We carried the hope that because my novel, Desperado, was a finalist in the Mystery category we might bring back a trophy (actually a plaque.)

Typical Las Vegas Hotel
The event itself could have been an episode in The Twilight Zone. First, it took place in a town that has immense references, without irony, to ancient Egypt, New York City, Paris, and Venice waterways. But we were at the Clark County Library, miles from Paris or Egypt and the ALA conference, which was going gangbusters over at the Vegas Convention Center. (The ALA had hundreds of vendors, panels, demonstrations, free food and booze. Several of the ILBA writers prowled the ILBA booth during the day to sign books and talk to our readers, of which a few actually showed up.)

I’m sure there were “unattached” spectators in the audience, but easily ninety percent were relatives, friends, or business associates of the nominated writers.

One of the first things we were told was that all the authors should use the “honorific title of AWA” after our names.  I’ll quote from the event publicity:  “You have earned the title by being a Finalist in the Int’l Latino Book Awards. Since many people do not yet know what AWA stands for it is a great conversation starter – and will lead you to talk about your Award Winning Book and about the awards in general.  Here’s how it would look:  José Avalos, AWA.” It may be just me, but I don’t anticipate that idea catching on.  We’ll see. 

The night’s festivities started with a “pinning” -- each of the nominees was called up on the stage to receive an Award Winning Author (AWA) pin.  The line snaked off the stage and into the audience as we dutifully thrust out our chests so we could get pinned (does this mean I am now going steady with the ILBA?)  Then we hung around the stage for a group photo.  Several such photos were taken but I don’t appear in any of them.  There was no coordination, no group photo leader. I ended up at the back of the crowd and being that I am of typical Chicano height (5’7” or less), as far as I know there is no photographic evidence that I received my pin and spent several minutes on the library’s stage with the other nominees.

The categories were then called and the winners in each category were given thirty seconds to thank anyone and everyone. Not too many writers kept to the thirty second limit. Mystery was the second to last category and with more than 80 categories total I had no illusions about the event ending early for me. What struck me was that it appeared some of the writers knew they had won beforehand. Some of the missing winners, the “celebrity” types, had even prepared videos that expressed their gratitude. Obviously those winners had been contacted before the event. I thought this was a good idea to guarantee a respectable number of winners at the event. But since I had not been told that I should definitely be at the event, I quickly lost any anticipation of winning.

La Bloga friend and fellow Denver writer Mario Acevedo and his writing partner, Richard Kilborn, were finalists in the Best Novel – Adventure or Drama – English category for their book Good Money Gone.  The experience was brand new for Richard – this was his first foray into literature and he was genuinely pumped about the nomination. Mario’s been around the block a few times so he was a little more low-key, but when it was announced that their book had won the category, he was as jubilant as Richard. It was a good night for them. Tim Hernandez, also a friend of La Bloga, walked away with a first place in the Historical Fiction category for his acclaimed novel, Mañana Means Heaven. I was especially pleased to see that Rudolfo Anaya, my friend and writing role model, won the Romance category with his Old Man’s Love Story, a book I reviewed here on La Bloga.

Finally, it was time for the Mystery category. My hands were sweaty. I tapped my foot. I told myself I did not win, that in the big scheme of things it did not mean all that much, and yet I bent forward to hear the name.

The presenter announced the winner in the Best Novel -- Fantasy/Sci-Fi category, the crowd applauded, and then the host started to close out the evening. I groaned, a few others murmured something about mystery, and the announcer caught himself.  He hastily went back to his notes and found and then named the winner in the Mystery category.

Alas, first place for Desperado was not meant to be. The novel received an honorable mention, which means that it made it to the finalist stage but no brass ring (actually, a plague.) I got a paper certificate acknowledging the mention, which is now stashed away with other honorable mentions (for King of the Chicanos, back in 2011.)  The first place winner was a writer with whom I am not familiar, which says more about me than her (Blanca Irene Arbeláez – the word “Colombia” appears after her name in the official list of winners – “USA & México” appear after my name. I think that means I’m a Chicano writer.) My friend Linda Rodriguez was awarded second place. I thought Linda would win this category and I would have bet on her if there had been a betting line on the awards at any of the casinos. Didn’t see anything like that and so I didn’t lose twenty bucks.

There’s a bit of a quandary, for me, when it comes to literary awards. I like winning awards, who doesn’t, eh?  But then I have to rationalize when I don’t win. After all, I consider myself a pretty damn good writer, so what’s up with an honorable mention instead of first place? But if I deserve the awards I do win, then do I also deserve not to win those I don't? At those times I have to remind myself of another piece of lite literary wisdom:  If you believe the good reviews then you also have to believe the bad reviews.

The evening ended on a high note. Richard Kilborn had arranged for a limo to pick up himself and his family after the event, and Flo and I were invited to cruise the Strip, along with Mario and Marina Tristan from Arte Público Press. And with nothing more than sliding across the leather seats of the stretch, we morphed from writer geeks to gangstas, from nerdy pencil pushers living our fantasies on the computer screen to flashy high rollers taking in all that debauched Las Vegas had to offer.

Well, not really. We headed for a liquor store, of course, where we sweltered in the Vegas summer night’s heat in the mall parking lot while Richard gathered assorted beverages and snacks.  While we waited, the driver, Walter, had to turn off the limo because it had overheated, so we had no air conditioning and no drinks. The AC wouldn’t work although Walter assured us that the problem was temporary. He also acknowledged that the limo was a mess with dirty glasses, half-used booze bottles, and assorted detritus.  He had been called for the job at the last minute, after he had already done a couple of shifts.  He admitted he was “a little tired” and hadn’t had time to clean the transportation.

Flash forward to the next day when Flo and I are on the way to the airport. Our cab driver is a woman straight out of a Damon Runyon story – full of character, street wisdom and kitschy humor.  She regales us with stories about limo accidents, “a slew of them in Vegas, don’t you know?” The problem, she tells us, is that cabbies are limited to twelve hour shifts, by law, but limo drivers don’t have such limits, so “they push it, every night. They’re dangerous.”  She tells us about limo drivers who go for 24 and 36 hours before they take a break. Flo and I look at each other and think of Walter.

Back to Saturday night. Walter stuck his head in one of the back doors, and in the ghostly light of the parking lot he reminded me of Barnabas Collins from the original Dark Shadows.  He proceeded to tell us that he was sorry but he had to let the limo sit for a while so it could cool off.  Sure, whatever. He opened the doors as wide as they would go. The steamy Vegas night air swirled in and the interior temperature went up. We waited, sweated, and told ourselves that no one forced us to live the glam life of the writer.

Eventually, we cruised the midnight traffic of Las Vegas, which meant we didn’t go anywhere for a long time. Walter stayed awake and did a bang-up job. We spent some time in Richard’s suite at the MGM Grand, where he generously shared food from room service as he told us about life in Panama; we even walked with the Vegas herd as it moved, en masse, from one casino to another.

Pedestrian Bridge Not At Midnight
As we made our way over the pedestrian bridge that connects the MGM with New York-New York, I thought of the Vegas contradictions represented on that bridge. The dressed-up couples celebrating their youth with old and ancient traditions like inebriation and raunchy jokes; the beggars, addicts, and drunks, sleeping or passed out or weaving, the crowd and life not waiting for any of them; pimps and hustlers pimping and hustling the marks; groups of young women in stilettos, barely-there skirts and extreme make-up plotting their next moves in the long-odds game they played with thinly-veiled desperation; losers, crying as they stared from the bridge at the gridlocked cars below; red-eyed parents with sleeping and bawling kids, finally wondering if a Vegas vacation was really the right choice for Junior’s birthday party; a mother in a miniskirt laughing with her teenaged daughter, also in a miniskirt, who carried a sex doll apparently won at one of the games of chance; and an aging, out-of-place writer, honorable mention in hand, coming home a winner.


Richard Kilborn and Gerry "D" from PBC Panama

For a dose of reality after that strange trip above, check out this interview of ILBA winner Richard Kilborn recently broadcast on PBC Panama. Richard’s interview is at the 81-100 marks. Here's the link. 


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20. Writing opps. Lit contest. News. No book reviews.

Given the less-than-raving responses, from some of our audience, to my "review" of a book a couple of weeks ago, today I only provide information that comes from others.

But I'll be back with more, soon.

From Sarah Cortez, professional writer, editor and teacher.
Dear Friends and Colleagues:
Let’s help the Texas Commission on the Arts (TCA) work for you.

For the next two years, I’ll be part of the TCA Touring Roster—an elite selection of Texas artists who are available to work statewide for non-profits, state and local government organizations, schools, colleges, universities, and libraries. Your organization, if qualified, may recoup up to 50% of the total cost to have me appear for a half day or full day to work with audience/students on creative writing skills.

Just about everything you need to know is on my website at www.poetacortez.com/welcome-to-my-tca. Let’s get together on a topic and a date, then put those TCA funds to work for you.

All the best,

BRP accepting submissions

Barking Rain Press is an imprint of the BRP Publishing Group, a US-based, non-profit publisher of books and eBooks that is registered in Washington State. We publish novels and novellas in a variety of genres, including General Literature, Speculative Fiction (Fantasy, Horror, and Science Fiction), Mystery/Crime, Romance, Suspense/Thrillers, Westerns and YA/Young Adult.

We seek emerging and mid-career authors. Many of our authors have published in magazines, ezines, anthologies or other publications (a resume including a list of prior publications can strengthen your submission). Although prior publications are important, they are not a requirement; part of our mission is to present promising new authors alongside previously published writers.

BRP publishes complete novels or novellas of at least 20,000 words to sell through the BRP website and other partner sites in print and eBook formats. We also consider Short story collections with a strong central theme, written by a single author; and reprints of previously published works that are out-of-print, so long as the author owns BOTH worldwide electronic and print rights. While we are open to a variety of literary genres, we are NOT open to submissions containing certain subject matter. See our website for more info.

To have your work considered for publication, please use our Submissions Contact Form to request the appropriate email address to send us your submission. Please DO NOT include your query letter or other information in this request. We are accepting submissions from August 1-31 this year.
You can join our Submissions eMail List to be notified in advance of open submissions periods, and to receive information about submitting your manuscript during an open submission period.

Barking Rain Press produces 12-14 titles each year, and our books reflect the individual tastes of our small staff. BR looks for writing that inspires and/or entertains the reader with a unique voice. Go here for the complete information.

Interview with

Poet Laueate Thelma T. Reyna

The Latina Book Club is proud to welcome back author Thelma T. Reyna, newly named Poet Laureate of the Altadena Library District. We’d also like to congratulate Thelma on her new poetry collection. We want to hear all about its debut in Italy. Read about it all here.

2014 Omnidawn
Fabulist Fiction Chapbook Contest
        August 1–October 22, 2014        Judge: Kate Bernheimer

The winner of the annual Omnidawn Fabulist Fiction Chapbook Competition wins a $1,000 prize, publication of the chapbook with a full color cover by Omnidawn, 100 free copies of the winning book, and extensive display advertising and publicity, including prominent display ads in Poets & Writers Magazine, Rain Taxi Review of Books and other publications.

For this contest, Fabulist Fiction includes magic realism and literary forms of fantasy, science fiction, horror, fable and myth. Stories can be primarily realistic, with elements of non-realism, or primarily, or entirely non-realistic.

Open to all writers. Story submissions must be original, in English, and previously unpublished. 5,000 to 12,000 words, consisting of one or multiple stories. Postal and online submissions accepted. All Omnidawn poetry competitions are blind. Online entries must be received and postal entries must be postmarked between August 1 and October 22, 2014 at midnight PDT. Reading fee is $18. For $2 extra to cover shipping cost, entrants may choose to receive a copy of the winning chapbook or any Omnidawn fiction title, including our highly acclaimed ParaSheres anthology of fabulist and new wave fabulist fiction. Poetry chapbook contests winner will be announced to our email list and on this web page in May, 2015, and we expect to publish the winning chapbook in August, 2015. Go here for all the information.

Es todo, hoy, de mí,

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21. The Possibilities of Mud: The Poetry of Joe Jiménez

Olga García Echeverría

The first time I remember reading poetry was in the 7th grade. "The Raven," "Stopping By Woods," and "The Road Not Taken." I cannot say that I completely understood these poems or that I connected with them very much, but I felt something lurking beneath the words. What was that evocative algo that intrigued and tugged? Emoción? Energía? A duende? Or perhaps it was the magic of word play--how words can come together to paint pictures that linger in the imagination long after the poem has been read. It's been 30 years since I read those first poems in junior high and yet, when I think of them, I still see in my mind's eye a dying father, a horse in the snow, a man at a crossroads.
Joe Jiménez' latest collection of poems, The Possibilities of Mud (Korima Press, 2014) took me back to that memory in junior high. On the surface, the Gulf Coast of South Texas is the landscape of these poems.  Jiménez writes:
...my words in my own hidden pouch, dancing
                            among the mudflats, the sea flies, the ghost crab...

And his words do dance among all of these things. There are gulls, deer, coyote, pelicans, redfish, shrimp boats, fire and plenty of mud in these poems. Yet beyond the landscape, there are strong emotional undercurrents that run through the marshlands of Jiménez' collection: Loss, healing, love.

The Gulf is a wildness
I want to know.
And isn't this my fall?
Peligro: que me guarda
The heart as red as a moan...

Having lived, loved men, and survived violence, Jiménez opens himself wide in the Gulf. He does not shy away from revealing:

                             Is it only me? Or ever do you tire

of having to be good? And isn't it sacred?
              How each of us walks the world
                           holding parts of other men

like diamonds we've swallowed, or balloons,
               or bitterness...

I've been carrying around The Possibilities of Mud for about three weeks now, and much like when I read Adonis or Hafiz, I have gone back repeatedly to ponder lines, meaning, images. "Coyote Stretched Over the Fence Post" comes to mind because it is a poem with many layers. On the surface, the poem is about the author coming across a dead coyote. But on a deeper level, it about how the sight of this creature's tortured death, "...stretched/ like a kill/ over the red-brown/ barbs..." forces the poet to pause his car, silence his dogs, momentarily go to that vulnerable place where he sheds "the shell [he] wears/ like a coat in the cruelest/ sweltering days of summer." In just a few stanzas, this murdered coyote becomes a mirror of the world we live in and it questions all of our humanity.  Jiménez writes:

I won't say I saw myself
in the body of this animal.
I won't say I saw
in his hide the lives
of men I've loved.

But there is some terror
in the humanity
that says I don't want you
here or there.
I don't want you alive.

Yes, it was a coyote.
Yes, this is Texas.
Yes, these things happen
to humans. All over the world,
it happens. Every hour
of every year of every day.

I could go on about  Jiménez' poetry. About how many of his images linger, glimmer like redfish, long after they've been read. Like the picture in my mind that I am still holding of his abuela taking chicken bones and tying them to long tails of yarn and then throwing them out into the water to catch crabs. How beautiful. Check it out for yourself:

For more information on the poet visit joejimenez.net
To purchase The Possibilities of Mud or learn more about Korima Press: http://korimapress.com/bookstore/4584449749/the-possibilities-of-mud/7883027
Pero no se vayan just yet. We are honored to have Joe Jiménez with us at La Bloga today. This past week, I asked him a few questions and here are his responses.

Do you remember writing your first poem?
I don’t remember ever writing a first poem. I do remember writing the first poem that really mattered to me, “El Abuelo,” a poem about learning to iron by watching other men do it—my grandfather, an old lover. It was the first time I can say I felt it, the subconscious beat that told me from some other place what should make this poem, the images and sounds and rhythms.
Can you share how The Possibilities of Mud took form? Did you set out to write about one region in particular or were the poems born more organically?
The poems in The Possibilities of Mud were born on the Gulf Coast of South Texas. A few of them, really, at first, before I thought this could become a collection, just scraps of information written on papelitos as I walked the beaches near my mother’s house. Sometimes, after running, I would sit at the shore and just watch. I learned by watching the birds, learning their names and witnessing some of their behaviors. One bird, in particular, caught my eye: the little blue heron, how patient he was, how he was designed to sit and wait and know, somewhere in his bones, that the sun would rise, the waters would recede, a fish would come. This was important to me at this time in life, because I had recently lost so much. I was living with my mother after having left San Antonio after my former lover tried to kill me. He held a knife to my throat, strangled one of my dogs, and said if I didn’t leave, he couldn’t promise me I would be alive the next day. I left. I already had essentials and a small bag of clothes stashed in my trunk, as I had been advised to do by a counselor at the National Domestic Violence Hotline, so at that moment, I decided I would not die, and I took my two small dogs, and I left. Later, I discovered that this guy had forged my name on a document to take over my house, and a court actually believed this forgery, along with the testimony of his daughter and best friend, that I’d given him this house. Consequently, I was an angry man, and I needed to find peace, so I spent time at the Gulf and wrote these poems. I survived because I found my place in the great order of things—Nature, history—I wasn’t the first Chicano to have land stolen from him based on false witness and fraud and intimidation. But like others who survived injustice, I, too, came out of it.
How do you know when a poem is finished?

Keats once described the sound as a “clicking,” like the lid on a box fitting just right. I think a poem I have made is ready when I hear it do that, click. For me, there is usually an image or a couple of images that center the poem, and then, an observation or a question, a comment, about living, and for me, that is the soul of a poem, what it says about humanness. And that humanness can take so many marvelous forms, what the poem tells us or stirs us to wonder about masculinity, about motherhood, about struggle, about Love, about loss, about hunger, injustice, lust, joy, youth, betrayal. Many forms!
Is there a poem in the collection that came out effortlessly? You know, those rare magical pieces that birth themselves?

When I wrote “A Full and Tiny Fire,” I had just read Robert Bly’s A Little Book of the Human Shadow. I was engaged in my last semester of grad school, and a mentor, Jenny Factor, had guided me to recognize the subconscious power of poems, how the images that come out of us are not random, not accidental. I wanted to write a poem, then, about how some images or sound sequences are born—full of desire and fear and hunger, a hankering rife with want and darkness and musicalities that may or may not make sense. As I wrote this poem, I remember thinking of Lorca’s speech on El Duende, and I made myself barefoot, then, accordingly, to walk along the Gulf’s shore and to hear my own want in the hot salt.
In contrast, is there a poem that you couldn't stop editing?

The triptych “Light.” I couldn’t stop editing that one. In its original forms, before it came together, it stood as separate pedacitos, and so, for some time, I thought, Perhaps this is going to be a collage poem. But I couldn’t stitch the pieces together well enough, not like I wanted, not like I felt the sigh of my gut say that they needed to. The pieces weren’t saying anything, really, not as a collage, and a poem that doesn’t say what it needs to say isn’t ready, in my eyes. So, I went back to the revising techniques I learned in school—reordering the pieces, drawing from old notes I’d taken on what to do when poems aren’t working, from reforming the shapes of the lines, the breaks and the beats, to cutting the poem in half and omitting unnecessary images and words. I discovered I liked the sound and feel of the triptych. 
Okay, I have to ask--did you ever eat mud as a child?

I never ate mud. I do recall that while doing yard work, a task I greatly enjoy, I’ve taken mud in the mouth more than a few times. I’ve worked as a landscaper previously, and from tilling soil to digging, soil has made itself into me. Is this the same as eating? Perhaps not. But perhaps. 
Another muddy question: If you could make a mud sculpture of anybody in the literary world (vivo o muerto), who would it be and why?

In terms of a mud sculpture, I’d manifest the Skin Horse from Margery Williams’s The Velveteen Rabbit. It was a story that made me cry both as a boy and as a man. As a boy, I cried because it was sad. As a man, I cried because it was true. The Skin Horse tells the Rabbit, “Real isn’t how you are made. It’s a thing that happens to you…Sometimes, when you are real you don’t mind being hurt…It doesn’t happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” Yes, I would sculpt that, or at least become myself while trying to make him.
In The Possibilities of Mud, place functions as Muse. Where are you now and what is currently fueling your poetic fire?

I’ve just reached a point with my second collection, entitled The Goat-Eaters and Other Poems, where I’m comfortable with sending it out. In this new collection, I played with sound and form, especially enjoying the double-headed spondee as a device for making poems cut and jump and halt and jar. There are poems about Chipita Rodriguez, the first woman sentenced to death in Texas, and poems about falling in love with a Chupacabra. There are also poems about deep South Texas, hog-hunting and cabrito and what it means to be a boy in a world where killing things and inflicting harm is encouraged in you. Finally, I’ve polished up a Chicano crown about La Llorona, which I started to believe in again, after hearing another Chicana crown, a great one entitled “A Crown for Gumecindo” by Laurie Ann Guerrero. While I agree with Audre Lorde’s wisdom that “The master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house,” I do believe we can redesign some of those tools, take them and repurpose them and make statements about humanity and community, Love and cultura with them.

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22. Poet in New Mexico, Levi Romero

Xanath Caraza

“…that year I had risen out of the ranks of the “D-group” students

the ones bound for prison and/or a life lived

and terminated before the age of thirty

the ones who spoke the Spanish of their grandparents

as a first language

with accents thick and soft and musky

as the upturned earth rolling off

their grandfather's horse drawn plows”

excerpt, High School English



Levi Romero Sows Crops


This is Dixon, N.M. – Levi’shome.  It was his home as a small child living with abuelos y tíos. It was his home as a lowriding teenager, even when he lived in Albuquerque attending Menaul School.  It was still his home when he studied at UNM, or now, when he teaches there. You can go home again, he’ll say, but it can be a hard road.

Levi earned architecture degrees at UNM – a bachelor’s in 1994 and master’s in 2000.  Funded by UNM Center for Regional Studies, he is now a visiting research scholar in the UNM School of Architecture and Planning.  Designing buildings isn’t much a part of his life any more. He’s more interested in the structure of stories, the building blocks of memory and preserving the cultural landscape through people in New Mexico.

Levi’s family has been in the Embudo River Valley since the 1600s.  “My grandparents never had to wonder about identity. They never asked, ‘Are we Hispanos? Chicanos? Mexicanos?’  Nobody asked them if they were from here. Everyone was from here until the 1960s,” Levi said.

The longstanding families who raised corn, chile, radishes, onions, carrots and peas, soon found a crop of newcomers – trust fund babies who had their eyes on the land.

The etiquette on the narrow road has always been for one car or the other to pull to the side to let the other pass, depending upon which had a better place to pull off.  “Now the young people are in a hurry.  They aren’t polite.  They don’t acknowledge when someone pulls over to let them pass,” he said.  They don’t want just to get by.  They want to get away.

Young people have moved away and fields abandoned. “I always came back to work the land except when I was in grad school. Then the Chinese elms took over the fields. There were never weeds when my grandfather Don Silviares lived here,” he said. Don Silviares was legendary for his trade route and his produce – everything from apples to chile – that he hauled along his route from Embudo to Ratón and Cimarron to Dawson. Levi wrote a story about his grandfather, El Verdolero, the vegetable vendor.

There’s No Place like Home


Levi talks about the two-room adobe and plaster home his grandfather built. “They brought the vigas in from the sierras.  In the ‘40s he pitched the roof with corrugated metal.  It’s the last, continuously inhabited house in the area without plumbing,” Levi said.

The kitchen features a wood burning stove.  “It’s not the original, but it’s similar to the one my grandmother had,” Levi said.  The room also sports a more modern 1950’s stove and refrigerator. The kitchen cabinets are old trasteros; one features a flour bin from which many a tortilla had its start. On the wall is a mirror with the silvering wearing off. “Imagine the many souls reflected in that mirror,” Levi said, asking me to look into it, afterwards adding that mine is now among them.

The walls were crude, Levi said, and the kitchen was pink, and the other room green. “I wondered about a pink kitchen, but then my aunt told me that at one time she had the stove moved from one room to the other, completely changing the function of each room. That’s interesting to me architecturally – how the spaces were used and how their function could be changed so efficiently,” he said.

Levi points to windows that offer up potted geraniums to the sun. “From the windowsills you can see that the walls are 23 inches thick and that the windows have tapered openings to maximize the sunlight streaming in,” he said.  “My grandmother always had geraniums in coffee cans in the window.  I have memories of them. It’s where the story starts.  I reach back and recall family, community and place,” he said.

One room blooms with floral wallpaper.  He thought about taking it off and restoring the walls. “If I take it down, my memories go with it. So many memories – names of people and things that happened – are triggered by looking at those walls,” he said.  Writing in Spanish, he said, helps preserve the memories, too.

He debated with his wife about whether or not to install electricity or plumbing.  Ultimately, they decided to install electricity, but they incurred a much greater cost by running the wiring underground so that electrical lines wouldn’t be visible.

Levi the Poet


Levi’s first collection of poetry, “In the Gathering of Silence,” West End Press, published in 1996 features, “Woodstove of My Childhood,” an epic poem based on personal and communal histories.  His latest collection, “A Poetry of Remembrance: New and Rejected Works,” with UNM Press in Dec. 2008, sold out within a month of its official publication, which is unheard of in regional Chicano poetry.

Levi drinks from the memory well the house in Dixon serves.  He recalls his grandmother playing harmonica while hummingbirds poked their beaks into hollyhocks.

Although he was always at home in Dixon, he didn’t always live there.  As was common in Northern New Mexico, many families sent their children to Menaul School in Albuquerque.  “The Presbyterians were a big influence in places like Dixon, Mora, Holman.  It was a tradition for many families to send their children to school there, until the school no longer offered a sliding scale for tuition,” Levi said.

Levi was a successful student at Menaul and he was offered a scholarship to any New Mexico college.  “I hated school and told them to give it to someone who wants to go,” he recalled.

“No one modeled college for me.  My cousins hadn’t gone to college – they’d worked trades or in the mines,” he said.  Also, his father died when he was 14 and his mother bedridden with rheumatoid arthritis.  “I felt like I had to stay close to home. I wanted to come back to Dixon,” he said.

He’d seen the trust funders living as artists, sculptors and musicians while raising some crops.  He thought he’d like to become an artist and then live off the land as his grandfather did.  He learned that designer Bryan Waldrip needed some drafting help. Levi had no experience, but Waldrip took him on.

“It took more time to train me than he had time for so he suggested I enroll in the community college drafting program in Española. At the end of the first term I went back to work for him. He was also a painter, an artist. We drew and drafted all day and all night,” Levi said.

Levi’s job was to go into the studio early and fire up the wood stove. “He invited me with him to Taos each week where he attended figure drawing courses, which mostly means drawing naked women.  My lowrider friends thought that was pretty cool, but it really was all about drawing the forms, the same as if I were drawing this bottle,” he said.

He also realized that he had grown through the world of art and architecture, being surrounded by Waldrip’s labor and library.  He told Waldrip he was leaving for San Diego, but since he’d threatened to move many times, Waldrip didn’t believe him.  He learned that Waldrip told others that Levi would be fine because “he could get a job as a draftsman anywhere.”

Building a Future

In 1983, Levi’s plan was to go to Albuquerque and save enough money to go to San Diego.  He laughs. “It’s 2009 and I’m still not there. Nobody goes to Albuquerque to save money.  You make just enough to get by,” he said.

The architectural firms in Albuquerque didn’t have shelves lined with art books, cats in the window and the work wasn’t in beautiful passive solar design as it had been with Waldrip.  A few years later he decided, if he wanted to get back to that, he had to go to college.

The UNM architecture program was difficult and demanding.  Poetry writing, an outlet in his youth, continued to be a passion.  “I’d been writing poetry, but there was no poetry scene yet.  Until Jimmy Santiago Baca came along, poetry by young Chicanos had no audience,” he said.

Poetry and writing, activities that had always been a sideline to architecture, began to grow in prominence in his life.  Soon, following undergraduate school, and a couple of classes short of a minor in Creative Writing, he wasn’t just writing, but teaching workshops for literary organizations, detention centers and youth mentoring programs.”

He’s also taught in the UNM creative writing program in the English Department.  As part of his class, Writers in the Community/Schools, his students have also taken their teaching on the road facilitating semester long workshops at detention centers, charter schools, homeless shelters, senior nursing homes and in the Albuquerque Public Schools.  “I am able to get past the veils and obstacles put up by students who don’t feel comfortable in an academic setting because I used to feel like them,” he said.  He also developed a spoken word class where the students delved into Native American storytelling, cuentos, dichos and slam poetry.

Following his time in the English Department he came home again – to the School of Architecture and Planning – where he is a visiting research scholar.

He also assists in the Design Planning Assistance Center studio and has worked on various New Mexico community studio design projects, including a design for a field studio and community center based in the old Sala Filantropica dancehall in Dixon/Embudo.  This spring, Levi worked with students on a MainStreet project in Deming, N.M.  His role was to elicit the dreams and ideas from the town’s Hispanic community since they were unlikely to attend the charrettes to share their thoughts and memories.  Those stories were then shared with the students who incorporated those ideas in the designs for everything from streetscapes, youth community centers, to skate parks in the town of the legendary Duck Races.

He is currently exploring the histories and stories of the people in northern New Mexico along the high road to Taos and beyond.  He looks at acequias, salas, molinos and gardens, nuestra gente and all that represents the life and people of the region. “I’m doing some cultural cruisin’.  It’s not about kicking back, but about the important work that needs to be done. If we don’t gather these stories now, they will be gone forever. “Places, stories and history will be recognized as invaluable informants to architecture study in the future.  It will, ultimately, become part of the curriculum,” he said.

He’s laying some new groundwork on well-travelled roads.

Story by Carolyn Gonzales

Levi Romero’s work focuses on cultural landscapes studies and sustainable building methodologies of northern New Mexico, including centuries-old traditions of acequia systems, molinos, salas and other agrarian and cultural contexts related to the upper Rio Grande watershed. His documentary work is often presented through an interdisciplinary studies format that includes lecture, video/audio, and literary presentation. Romero’s latest book publication, Sagrado: APhotopoetics Across the Chicano Homeland, (co-authored with Spencer Herrera and Robert Kaiser) has just been published by UNM Press. His two collections of poetry are A Poetry of Remembrance: Newand Rejected Works and  In the Gathering of Silence. He was awarded the post of New Mexico Centennial Poet Laureate in 2012. He teaches in the Chicana/o Studies and Community and Regional Planning programs at the University of New Mexico.



            how can I tell you

            baby, oh honey, you'll

            never know the ride

            the ride of a lowered Chevy

            slithering through the

            blue dotted night along

            Riverside Drive Española


            poetry rides the wings

            of a '59 Impala

            yes, it does

            and it points

            chrome antennae towards


            'Burque stations rocking

            oldies Van Morrison

            brown eyed girls

            Creedence and a

            bad moon rising

            over Chimayo


            and I guess

            it also rides

            on muddy Subaru's

            tuned into new-age radio

            on the frigid road

            to Taos on weekend

            ski trips


            yes, baby

            you and I are two

            kinds of wheels

            on the same road


            listen, listen

            to the lonesome humming

            of the tracks we leave




aquí estoy sentado

en una silleta coja y desplumada

recordando aquellas amanecidas

cuando nos fuimos grandes y altos


en aquel tiempo que nos encontrabanos

sin pena ninguna

cuando la vida pa nosotros

apenas comienzaba y la tarea

era larga y llena de curiosidades


entretenidos siempre con

aquel oficio maldito

un traguito para celebrar la vida

y otro para disponer la muerte


ayer bajo las sombras

de los gavilanes que vuelavan

con sus alas estiradas

como crucitas negras

encontra del sol

pense en ti

tú que también fuites

gavilan pollero


con una locura verdadera

y aquella travesura sin fin

hoy como ayer

tus chistes relumbrosos

illuminando estas madrugadas solitarias

que a veces nos encuentran medios norteados

y con las alas caidas


tal como esos polleros

tirando el ojo por el cerrito de La Cuerda

así también seguiremos rodeando, carnal

carnal de mano

y de palabra

amistad que nació

en aquel amanecer eterno


y si no nos topamos

en esta vuelta

pues entonces, compa

pueda que en la otra



  en memoria de un gavilan: Rudy “Sunny” Sanchez

Of Dust and Bone


do I hear

‘mano Anastactio’s

muddy mystic drawl


coming over brain waves

fuzzy as AM Radio

nights   long time ago


when we slept outdoors

in the humming



sharing 32 oz. bottles

of soda pop

and bags of chili chips


and strumming broom guitars

to Band on the Run

with our transistor radios

tuned in to



seventh grade crushes

and teasing howls

in the mooing cow dusk

and hopping toad yards

lit in golden orange


adobe dust

on my brow

and burning, yearning

learning, love exploding

from my heart


like bottle rockets

on the starry spangled

Fourth of July


where are you lain

little dipper dreamers

who once stirred

under granma’s homemade

blankets in the dewy breath

of early morn


when grandfathers

with shovels slung

across their shoulders

headed for the ditchbanks

to open up their




oh, July apple

suckling summer with

the sweet and bitter taste

of wisdom’s tears trickling

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23. Review: Confessions of a Book Burner Not To Be Missed.

Lucha Corpi. Confessions of a book burner : personal essays + stories. Houston, Texas : Arte Público Press, 2014.
ISBN: 9781558857858 1558857850

Michael Sedano

You’ve been at readings where someone asks innocently, “Where do you get your ideas?” or “How do you write?” “Are you your own character?” “Who influenced your writing?” Confessions of a Book Burner imagines such questions and lays out elegant, delightful, and moving essays by the grandmother of Chicana Chicano crime fiction, Lucha Corpi.

Lucha Corpi’s Confessions of a Book Burner assembles twelve essays, each a gem of insight into her writing life, illustrating connections between one writer’s cultural and family history and the stuff of her novels.

Corpi is a 19 year old immigrant when she leaves Mexico for 1960s Berkeley. She doesn’t speak English and knows only her husband. In a few years, the marriage unravels. She becomes a late-night poet, finding expression a mode of healing. Her Spanish language lyrical work finds an audience. She finds herself a single mother determined to make it on her own. She begins writing stories in English. One day her character, Gloria Damasco, finds Corpi and kick-starts the author’s multi-novel Gloria Damasco series.

Lucha Corpi is a nom de plume, a choice explained in one of the many small details the author fills her accounts with. The essays are monologues, written in a casual conversational style. Most of the dozen conversations begin with a child Corpi in her childhood hometown then advance through time to contemporary days. Corpi's engaging narrative draws connections between historical reminiscence and subsequent events while wondering about predicting the future, causality, miracle. Destiny, God, free will, tear at the confluences of history with here and now arising in Corpi's single parent life. Sometimes an induced psychic panic leads to extended unproductive writing droughts.

Like a Corpi novel, Confessions weaves in numerous intellectual challenges, but not without having some fun along the way. “And you’ll suffer” is her mother’s all-purpose argument against young Corpi’s election of medical school. Laugh, then notice the warm relationship between daughter and father, and the distance between mother and daughter. Details like these bring the narrative to life and keep readers eargerly turning pages for more.

Corpi reasons she is the grandmother of U.S. latino crime fiction. Rolando Hinojosa and Michael Nava are the grandfathers, Rudolfo Anaya and Manuel Ramos the fathers of the chicano detective story. Corpi writes the first chicana private eye, followed by Alicia Gaspar de Alba. Thus, Gaspar de Alba is the mother, Corpi the grandmother of the chicana sleuth genre.

Where are the nietas, the literary offspring of such progenitors? Corpi scratches her head at the failure of the genre to attract larger numbers of Chicana writers and readers. Considering half the crime writers published in the United States are women, why do Chicanas shun the literature?

During the movimiento’s emergence, identification excess led some to challenge other’s raza credentials. Corpi, a freckled guera who wrote lyical poetry in castellano, was at the receiving end of such. Not brown enough, not brash enough, not Mexican enough. Maybe those explain why Edward James Olmos didn't kiss Corpi's cheek that time.

Corpi describes some pedo between Jose Montoya and Ricardo Sanchez at a Flor y Canto called The Last Canto held in an Oakland bar. She was the first reader and her performance style captures the house. The combatants and drinkers calmed, Lucha receives a rousing ovation and recalls the first time her recitation reached an audience’s sinews.

I smiled at Corpi’s citing that floricanto. Richard Montoya showed part of a video of The Last Canto, at the 2010 reunion Flor y Canto at USC. The video begins with Lucha’s applause and her exit. Then Sánchez endures merciless heckling in a hilarious reward for the hubris Corpi backgrounds here.

Confessions of a Book Burner will keep readers entertained as the writer takes her non-fiction along creative pathways that enlighten at the same time. It’s not to be missed by the writer seeking role models. It’s not to be missed by the student of U.S. Literature seeking insight into formative years of Chicano Literature. It’s not to be missed by crime fiction fans and Lucha Corpi fans. For gente who enjoy good writing, good story, interesting material, Confessions of a Book Burner is not to be missed.

Mail Bag
Angela de Hoyos Scholarship

La Bloga friend Juan Tejeda sends this for your attention:


Palo Alto College (PAC), one of five colleges in the Alamo Colleges district in San Antonio, Texas, announces the establishment of the Ángela De Hoyos Scholarship Fund for Mexican American Studies (MAS) students. The late, great Ángela De Hoyos, author of Arise Chicano, Chicano Poems, Woman, Woman and Selected Poems, was one of the most beloved of the early Chicana poets from San Antonio, and a mentor/benefactor to many Chicana/o writers and arts organizations. Her husband, Moses Sandoval, who recently contributed $5,000 to establish the scholarship in Ángela’s name, stated that if we matched his $5,000 donation, that he would contribute another $5,000, for a total of $15,000, that would go to deserving MAS majors at Palo Alto College, as well as Conjunto and Mariachi music students.

Thus we are beginning a two-week e-mail and Facebook campaign, before we begin the Fall, 2014 semester, to raise the other $5,000. We already have a head start as the President of PAC, Dr. Michael Flores, said that PAC would contribute $1,000, and I have made a pledge of $500, so we only have $3,500 to raise. I figured that if we could get 35 people to contribute $100 each, we would meet our goal, so I’m asking all of my colleagues and camaradas, and friends of Ángela De Hoyos, to consider contributing, in any amount you can afford, to this scholarship fund which will be administered by the Alamo Colleges Foundation and PAC’s Center for Mexican American Studies. Your contribution is tax-deductible and if you contribute $50 or more, I will send you a copy of the Conjunto Palo Alto CD; if you send in $100 or more, I will send you the Conjunto Palo Alto CD, plus the PAC Music Ensembles CD that includes the PAC Jazz Ensemble, Mariachi Palomino and Conjunto Palo Alto (all PAC student ensembles).

Make your checks payable to Ángela De Hoyos Scholarship (and at the bottom Memo put Palo Alto College), and mail it to Palo Alto College, c/o Juan Tejeda, 302 Stratford Ct., San Antonio, TX 78223. Be sure to include your mailing address so that we can send you a thank you letter and the CD’s.

Gracias for your support on behalf of our Mexican American Studies majors, and our Conjunto and Mariachi students. If you have any questions, I can also be reached at 210.710.8537.

Juan Tejeda
Instructor of Music & Mexican American Studies
Palo Alto College Center for Mexican American Studies

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24. Events for Our Children at the Borders

Talleres de Poesía & Accíon Latina's 
3rd Annual Flor y Canto para Nuestros Niños y Niñas

This year Flor y Canto Poetry Festival is very special and important. It is dedicated to the children coming from Central America and Mexico who are being detained in shelters at the borders - some of them are facing deportation back to their violence and poverty ridden countries. 

The event is a welcome celebration of love and hope, to also demonstrate that these children are not alone, that people care and are working towards making things better for them.

The festival is scheduled to start at 2pm at Accíon Latina 2958- 24th St. (between Harrison & Alabama) San Francisco, California.

We kindly ask you to please come and support the festival by coming to the children's activities. Also a reminder, we will be collecting children's books in Spanish, Arts & Craft Kits, puzzles, coloring books, crayons and stuffed animals for the little ones.

We are thankful to Accíon Latina and El Tecolote Newspaper who for the 3rd year are partnering with us to produce this festival. Please note that Saturday August 23rd is also the 44th Anniversary of El Tecolote Newspaper and we will be celebrating in the evening at Cesars Latin Palace with music by John Santos, Roger Glenn, Tito Gonzalez and Anthony Blea. 

Admission is $20, and all proceeds go to benefit El Tecolote, and community journalism. Mention that you participated in Flor y Canto and get $5 off the cover. Please join us!

 'Unaccompanied Latin American Minor Project'

5 days left to support the 'Unaccompanied Latin American Minor Project' Fund!
 La Casa Azul Bookstore staff will deliver books to local shelters/court offices and provide them directly to children and teenagers who are currently in deportation proceedings. Please share with your networks, gracias!
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25. Puerto Rican Bomba in Colorado

ALEF BARRIO E’ FEST 2014 presents the musical production:

INFLUENCIAS: The Legacy of Bomba

Colorado. – ALEF Barrio E’ Fest is an annual signature event by Barrio E’ at ALEF. Every year, Barrio E’ is committed to present a production that highlights Latin America and Caribbean culture, music and dance with an educational component to bring awareness of cultural diversity in the arts in Colorado.

This year the musical production presents the influences of musical genres on Puerto Rican Bomba music and dance (Flamenco, West African, Taíno) and Bomba’s influence on modern music and dance. (Blues, Salsa and Hip Hop).

ALEF Barrio E’ Fest is produced in collaboration with artists, groups and the general public who wants to be involved in a unique production celebrating collaboration, diversity, and inclusivity with the mission of educating the community about an underrepresented cultural group in Colorado. Interested artists can write to barrioe@barrioe.org. 

Barrio E’, which in Spanish means “Community Is”, is a community organization founded on September 23, 2012.  The organization is fiscally sponsored by Boulder County Arts Alliance (BCAA) and able to receive tax-exempt donations. Conscious of the growing Latino population in Colorado and the challenges diversity brings to our communities, Barrio E’ seeks to create inclusive programs in a safe environment, provide a bridge between Latinos and other ethnic groups in our communities, and encourage the appreciation of the diverse cultural identities throughout the State through the exploration of Caribbean/Latin American music, dance and art.

For more information visit:
www.barrioe.org and www.americaslatinofestival.org
or email us at: barrioe@barrioe.org
Tamil Maldonado, Founder & Director Barrio E’
email: Tamil@barrioe.org
t: (787) 914-9554  or (202) 423-7060

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