Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Review: Arias' Wetback. Gluten-free chile. On-line Floricanto.

Vintage Arias Redux

Review: Ron Arias. The Wetback and Other Stories. Houston: Arte Publico Press, 2016.
ISBN: 978-1-55885-834-3

Michael Sedano

"Vintage Arias," the Facebook commenter wrote. In a lot of ways, The Wetback and Other Stories is vintage work, but in as many ways it's a breath of fresh Arias.

After a career as a journalist reporting from far-flung war zones and traipsing across Central and South America, the author of the seminal Chicano novel, The Road to Tamazunchale, is back in the fiction fold with this collection of stories written years ago and updated for this 2016 publication.

The rejuvenation of Arias' early work reflects the motto printed on the verso of the title page, "Recovering the past, creating the future."

I imagine Arias somewhat like the character Martin Medina, in the story "Reawakening." It's one of the two new works in this collection, whose earliest piece, "El Mago," dates to 1970.

Martin Medina has reached a career stopping point. Perhaps it's ennui, clinical depression, or handwriting on the wall that people aren't buying his antiquarian books any more. Medina is stuck in a rut, no longer able to scratch a mental itch had motivated his earlier self.

A trip to London suggested by his wife leads the bookseller on a head-scratching cab ride to an estate sale where he stumbles upon an ancient manuscript that changes Martin's life.

Magical people and events carry Martin's fate in their hands. The plots of most of Ron Arias' stories in The Wetback and Other Stories redound with magic, illusion, dream. I can picture Arias digging through his papers, leafing through his own manuscripts, devouring them, and like Martin Medina, developing an intensely pruritic condition that can be relieved only by writing fiction. Again.

Martin Medina loses his precious ancient manuscript but the loss is immaterial, as is his inability to rediscover the magic place where the sale had been.  The itch is back and with it an uncontrollable urge to scratch. The last view we have of Martin he has begun writing his own stories.

In many ways, these stories reflect their times--the 70s and 80s. Events are mostly what they appear, given liberal doses of magic; more innocent than today. Children wander off into the company of strangers. No crime or horrid results happen. The stories bring out the Arias magic that turns humdrum or gentle-scary into heart-warming feelings tinged with a soupçon of sadness for the loss of innocence, or the hard slap of reality. But Arias leaves the reader laughing, or at the very least, smiling.

Ron Arias reads "Canine Cool" at the release party for
The Wetback and Other Stories.
Take "Eddie," for example, the other new story of the fourteen. Eddie's a decent tipo but has a hard go of it. He drops out of high school, gets lost for a while, then signs up for the military. The reader hopes Arias--who's seen a lot of war--isn't going to kill this kid.

Make him a warrior, that's for sure. Eddie shows up on teevee in a Panama-type scenario. But he's in deep shit with the military and the rebels. When the palace is bombed to charred rubble the gente back in Frog Town figure Eddie bought the farm.

But Eddie's grandmother gets a letter one day with a foto of Eddie, the reader gets that big smile of satisfaction. Eddie, the Frog Town loco? He's probably lying in a hamaca on a Mérida beach, sipping a tall cool one, and digging life. Thanks, Ron, for letting Eddie have the best of all possible worlds.

Millions of drivers course along the 5 Freeway on Los Angeles' northeast boundary traveling up to Glendale or into downtown. On one side, Dodger Stadium evokes thoughts of losing teams or the lost neighborhoods of Chavez Ravine. On the other side, nestled along the river, is an anonymous collection of wooden houses dotted with a few industrial buildings. That's Elysian Valley on the map. Frog Town, the gente call it.

Frog Town is the setting of many of these stories, including the title story, "The Wetback." Arias' imagination and compelling writing will call you, lure you onto the narrow streets--if only in your imagination. From now on, every time you take that drive on the 5, Frog Town isn't going to be the same.

Read Manuel Ramos' review of The Road to Tamazunchale here. Download Ron Arias reading "The Interview" at the 1973 Festival de Flor y Canto; "The Interview" is the antepenultimate story in The Wetback and Other Stories. Click here for Michael Sedano's foto essay of Arias' reading at the publication party for this outstanding not-to-be missed collection.

Order The Wetback and Other Stories from your local bookseller, or publisher-direct here.

The Gluten-free Chicano
Salsa de Molcahete - Real Chile

Michael Sedano

It was genuine treasure, the molcahetes I found when I cleaned out my mother’s kitchen cabinets. I discovered not only mom’s but also her mother’s molcahetes. My mom hadn't cooked for years as diabetes, arthritis, and age stole her vigor.

As I scrubbed and washed the accumulated webs and dust off them I thought back to my earliest days, the sound of a sizzling tomato popping on the hot comal, gramma turning the chiles with her fingers, the ingredients growing black spots all around, cough-inducing aromatic smoke filling the kitchen.

The little boy cupped his chin in his hands and watched his grandmother’s and mother’s efficiency. Their hands holding la piedra just so, pushing it into the bowl giving off the klok-klok sound of grinding chiles, onions, garlic, and tomatoes. Klok-klok. The vegetables quickly converted into a thick salsa to be poured generously across blanquillos, served with a guisado, licked off a finger.

Our word for it was just "chile," or "chili," though restaurants and dozens of bottled sauces call it "salsa." Fancy restaurants serve run-of-the-mill concoctions but for a price they'll serve you salsa de molcahete, and sometimes it really is.

If you’ve never made salsa de molcahete be prepared for a surprise. Grinding those vegetables takes a lot of power to pulverize and liquefy the cooked ingredients, and dexterous skill to keep it all within the confines of the lava receptacle. Make it daily, like gramma, or regularly, like mom; you'll get good at it.

Modern cooks eschew the indian approach of my gente, dumping stuff into a blender for instant gratification. Much of that restaurant stuff is from a blender. If the texture is uniform with no big chunks nor stringy fibers, someone has used a blender or cuisinart. Which is OK, just don't call it salsa de molcahete, or real chile.

Once you’ve mastered the strength and skill of chile de molcahete, and defined your own ideal proportions, no chile salsa from a jar or a blender can match the taste and chiloso of hand-made salsa de molcahete.

And, as most comida Mexicana is, salsa de molcahete is naturally gluten-free.

Ingredients - Be experimental with proportions. Be mindful of the volume of your molcahete.
•Fresh whole tomato
•Chiles to taste - Whatever the garden or grocer provides. My garden has black chile de arbol that have turned red.
•Tomatillo - my garden has the large sized ones. I prefer the tiny-size globes for their intense flavor, but those plants died a couple years ago and now I can't get seed.
•Cilantro (optional)
•Comino seed (optional)
•Non-stick spray
•Molcahete and piedra / mano / tejolote

Spray a comal or sartén with a light film of non-stick coating, or coat with olive oil.
Turn the heat up medium.

Use four to six chile pods, or more, depending on their hotness. Experiment.

If using brown or white onion, cut them into quarters. You can use the white part of scallions/ green onions.

Peel a couple of dientes of ajo, or more.

Add vegetables to the comal or pan, and let them brown or blacken. Turn so all sides get color.

Start with the chiles. Pull off the stems and, using a rolling motion, smash them into the stone. Inhale the rich aroma of those chiles.

Add the garlic, smash. The onions require the most force. The chile-garlic paste lubricates the onion and makes the work go smoothly.

Add comino seed if you wish, and work it into the paste.

The skin slips right off  the tomato, remove it, then mash the tomato into the bowl. Now the salsa begins to achieve the consistency you look for. Add the tomatillos and work everything into a relatively homogeneous mix.

A sprinkle of salt, a few leaves of cilantro, stir with the piedra.

October Finale: On-line Floricanto
Martina R. Gallegos, Amara T. Smith, Joe Navarro, MarySue Foster, Pina Piccolo

ODA AL INMIGRANTE Por Martina R. Gallegos
Untitled By Amara T. Smith
In the Name of Patriotism By Joe Navarro
Untethered:  A Collage, By MarySue Foster
October 12 1992 at Yaxchilanm By Pina Piccolo

Por Martina R. Gallegos

Oda al inmigrante porque emprende
sueños dejando todo sin mirar hacia atrás.

Oda al inmigrante porque su valor trasciende
el coraje de los guerreros en campo de batalla.

Oda al inmigrante porque carga su fe
como alimento diario.

Oda al inmigrante porque solo él sabe
lo que su alma oculta.

Oda al inmigrante porque sigue caminos
sin pensar en el obvio peligro.

Oda al inmigrante porque
por su familia amada arriesga todo.

Oda al inmigrante porque sus propios sueños
ahora los hereda a sus hijos.

Oda al inmigrante porque se desvela a diario
para mejor futuro de los suyos.

Oda al inmigrante porque el trabajo no es sacrificio
si no la mayor prueba de amor a sus hijos.

By Amara T. Smith

I have to run. I have to dance. Even when my body aches. Because I am trying to get to the joy of blackness, the freedom of blackness, the love and breath of blackness. I cannot let the grief that is inflicted on me/us daily in America/everywhere that is ruled by white supremacy drop me to my knees
leave me wordless
leave me hopeless
leave me numb
like the last few days
have left me
I/we have to re/member my/our ashe
the power to make things happen
I/we have to keep moving
moving it through
moving it out
I/we don't have to know how
but I/we have to keep going
the spirits lost are depending on me/us
the spirits to come are depending on me/us
patriarchy is in the death throes
and I will use what I/we have
to help lay it to rest
then we will plant a mother tree upon it
whose roots run deep
her strong trunk will sing"never again"and our black
will breathe
as they were meant to
so hold each other, family
this centuries old cycle
must come to an end

In the Name of Patriotism
By Joe Navarro

For Colin Kaepernick

Stand up!
They say
Or we will
Shame you
Intimidate you
Threaten you
Harrass you
Call you names
Burn your uniform
Incite others
Against you
Unleash bigotry
Demand that
You give up
On equality
Constitutional rights
And justice
They say
In the name
Of patriotism

Untethered:  A Collage
By MarySue Foster

The boundaries are dissolving

Be porous.
Words lead deeper across time.
Exploring thin places.
Re-membering – calling back pieces of ourselves
to our deconstructed self.

Now to get home.
My body dissolves into re-membering
I follow the red thread.

We are here for you when you’re ready
Not knowing knows

What offering can we leave to the world
that won’t make the hole we leave any larger?


I surrender and, shifting shape,
I fly free.

October 12 1992 at Yaxchilan
By Pina Piccolo

Yaxchilan was an ancient Mayan city, now an archaeological site, in the Lacandon forest, in the state of Chiapas (Mexico), near the border with Guatemala. The site is known for its well preserved stelae and lintels, some of which depict rituals connected with the seers’ initiation ceremonies.

five hundred years after Columbus’  landing on the “New” continent

Swallowed by vine, the labyrinth,
Deep in the forest
Swallowed by vine,
Surrounded by a river
Surrounded by indios
- On market days, the women
Cross the Usumacinta on frail boats
Trading vibrant plumage colors
For tin coins,
Camouflage cloth,
Deep in the forest,
Swallowed by vine
Chameleons against foliage and rock.

Tonight on the temple steps
The moon will draw
A serpent
Offering the red fruit
Of knowledge
To those who live
With the taste of fear.

Tonight the monkeys will scream
From top branches and scorpions
Will hide under rocks.

Tonight Mauro, the Christian
Lacandon, guardian of the Mayan temple
Will erect a small shrine
To a nameless god
And cry for drunken forgiveness
To a wife he’s betrayed.

Then, machete in hand
Brandishing revenge
He will howl with the forest
A curse,
Lingering echo
Of a festering wound.

A grain of time
In the hourglass of history
Runs the gauntlet
Of memory

October 13 1992 at Yaxchilan
the day after the five hundred years of Columbus landing
The Morning After glow
Of the forest
Who survives
The foolishness
Of civilizations,
Regenerates herself
From disturbances
At ground level

Witnesses species
Aglitter and extinguish
Proud organisms shrivel up
In a combustion of arrogance.

Yes, she was affected,
Her tears of mourning
Mistaken for dew,
Her sighs of disapproval
Thought to be wind.
Yet her deep roots
Still gripped the earth,
Temple stones
Corroded by moss
Became sand
Transported by ants.
Even the poisons
Floating on the water
Were purified
Mile after mile
On rocks
Nature trying to
Wash off a stain.

Forest, now, we pull
Off your spreading body,
A demented weather
Dries your wells,
Nasty kids
Playing god,
Tug at your
Apron strings.

No longer waiting
For discoverers or messiahs
You stand attached to the soil
And bend,
Bowing to the wind,
Breathe life
Into an uncertain planet.

These two poems were first published in 1993  in Poetry USA, a poetry tabloid edited in the San Francisco Bay Area by Jack Foley.

Meet Today's On-line Floricanto Poets
ODA AL INMIGRANTE Por Martina R. Gallegos
Untitled By Amara T. Smith
In the Name of Patriotism By Joe Navarro
Untethered:  A Collage By MarySue Foster
October 12 1992 at Yaxchilanm By Pina Piccolo

Ms. Gallegos came from Mexico as a teenager and lived in Altadena and Pasadena through high
school. She then moved to Oxnard and attended community college. She transferred to
California State University, Northridge and got her teaching credential. She taught for almost 18
years in Hueneme Elementary School District until a work injury followed by a stroke kept her
home. She paused her Master’s but resumed after hospitalization. She graduated with her M.A.
June 2015. Works have appeared in Altadena Review, Hometown Pasadena, Silver Birch Press,
and Basta! She published her first book called Grab the Bull by the Horns, Outskirts Press, 2016.
Her latest book, Stepping Stones: Journal to Recovery from Stroke and Brain Injury is now also
available on Amazon.

Amara Tabor-Smith is an Oakland based performer/sometimes poet/dance maker who describes her work as Afro Futurist Conjure Art. Her dance making practice, utilizes Yoruba spiritual ritual to address issues of social and environmental justice, community, identity and belonging. She is the artistic director of Deep Waters Dance Theater whose work has been performed nationally and internationally, and she is a 2016 recipient of the Creative Capital Grant.

Amara teaches dance in the Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies at UC Berkeley. www.deepwatersdance.com

Joe Navarro is a Literary Vato Loco, creative writer and poet.  He integrates his poetic voice with life's experiences, and blends culture with politics.  His poetic influences include the Beat Poets, The Last Poets, Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Alurista, Gloria Anzaldua, Lalo Delgado, Wardell Montgomery, Jr., Margie Domingo, Avotcja, and numerous others.

MarySue Foster is a graduate of Starr King School for the Ministry with a Master of Arts in Religious Leadership for Social Change. She is endlessly curious and committed to justice. She is a collage/mixed media artist and sometime poet and writer and the matriarch of her family.

Pina Piccolo is an Italian-American translator and writer currently living in Italy. Over a 30 year span she has published both online and in print journals and anthologies, both in the US and in Italy. Most of her poems deal with migration, history, social justice and ecology. Forthcoming in 2017 from Sparrow Press, selections from her unpublished poetry in Italian and English collected under the title “Songs from the Interregnum/Canti dall’Interregno”.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Reflections from a Scholar: The Day I Learned I was Mexican and Poor

Photo by Pablo Aguilar 

Guest essay by Alvaro Huerta, Ph.D.

He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee. ―Friedrich Nietzsche

When you grow up in a segregated community and poor, often times, you’re not aware of your ethnicity and class status. Growing up in tight-knit Mexican communities, from Tijuana, Mexico, to East Los Angeles, I didn’t realize that I was Mexican and poor until my first day of junior high school.

As part of federal integration programs, I—along with classmates from Murchison Elementary School in East Los Angeles—was bused to Mt. Gleason Jr. High School in Sunland, Tujunga. Nervous about leaving the notorious Ramona Gardens housing project or Big Hazard projects for a strange place, I braced myself for the unknown. On the first day of school, after an hour bus ride to a majority-white school, our bus came “under fire” from rocks hurled by local white kids. Just when I thought I was escaping my violent neighborhood—an extremely high level of violence monopolized by the police that I became accustomed to—I never expected such a hostile reception from the white natives.

While rocks hurt, so do words. This is especially the case when you’re only 12 years old. Many years later, I can still recall these hateful words, just like it was yesterday: “Wetbacks go back to Mexico!”; “Dirty Mexicans!”; “Damn low-riders!”; and “We don’t want beaners at our school!” To this day, I can’t comprehend how calling someone a “low-rider” or “beaner” represents an insult.

Although I learned from my tough neighborhood and stoic Mexican father to never show fear, I couldn’t comprehend how the white students had so much hatred for us—Mexican kids from the projects. What did we ever do to them, I asked myself? What does it matter if we have Spanish surnames or if our parents only speak Spanish? Why should they care if we have brown or darker skin? I didn’t know that I had an East Los Angeles’ accent? So what if we don’t have money?

It didn’t take me long to figure out that I was different, where the white kids viewed and treated me as inferior due to the color of my skin and my zip code (90033, to be exact). For the first time in my life, I realized that I was “a Mexican”—even though I was born in California, yet spent the first four years of my life in Tijuana.

For protection or self-defense at school, I even contemplated joining the neighborhood gang to start a satellite office, but my gang application was “rejected” since I was too thin to defend the barrio. Apparently, I couldn’t catch a break back then!

The racism that I—and my fellow Mexican classmates—experienced didn’t start or end with the white kids. It extended to the school’s majority-white staff, administrators and faculty. While not as overt as the white students, their racism towards us manifested in forms of paternalism, low expectations and institutional racism. For instance, despite excelling in mathematics at Murchison Elementary School, I found myself being channeled into wood and metal shop classes for electives, while the white students mostly took music and art classes. With such a low bar for the Mexican kids to excel, I’m amazed that I didn’t join some of my friends in sniffing glue during wood shop—or smoking marijuana with the surfer white kids who didn’t discriminate against us—to escape my bleak reality.

It wasn’t just about race, however. It was also about class. Seeing how the white students arrived to school with their parents in fancy cars—e.g., BMW, Porsche and Mercedes-Benz—I was embarrassed that my Mexican immigrant parents relied on public transportation since neither of them owned a car. It’s difficult to own a car when you don’t even have a driver’s license.

There’s no other way of putting it: I was ashamed of my Mexican immigrant parents and of being poor. This shame, like a stalker, followed me for many years.

By the time I transferred to Lincoln High School, a Mexican-American or Chicana/o-dominated school in Los Angeles, I thought that I had escaped racism. Little did I know that my over-crowded, public high school also had low expectations for the Mexican students to excel and pursue higher education—something that was foreign to me at the time. The only thing that I knew about college back then consisted of watching college sports on television.

It wasn’t until a childhood friend pressured me to apply (and eventually be accepted) to Upward Bound at Occidental College (or Oxy)—a college prep program for historically disadvantaged groups to pursue higher education—where college became a viable option for the first time in my life.

To make a long story short, if not for key teachers, Upward Bound at Oxy, my ability to solve equations, the unconditional support from my Mexican parents (Salomón Chavez Huerta & Carmen Mejía Huerta) and Chicana wife (Antonia Montes), I wouldn’t have been able to escape the poverty and violence of my youth via higher education to earn a bachelor’s and a master’s from UCLA. This also includes a doctorate from UC Berkeley, allowing me to become a university professor, published author and public intellectual, where I foster tomorrow’s leaders and influence public policy.

At the end of the day, I only hope that my story of resilience—derived from my proud Mexican heritage and the mean streets of East Los Angeles—inspires others with similar backgrounds to do likewise.

Dr. Alvaro Huerta is an assistant professor of urban and regional planning and ethnic and women’s studies at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He is the author of Reframing the Latino Immigration Debate: Towards a Humanistic Paradigm, San Diego State University Press (2013).

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Reading Wendy Ortiz' Bruja: A Bewitching Memoir in Dreams

Olga García Echeverría

Anything can happen in a dream. Anything can happen in Bruja. Cats multiply and scurry; sharks lurk in lakes; an ocean wave floods a living room one minute and then becomes a calm ripple the next.

When reading Bruja, the left brain may initially resist. Mine wanted to grasp onto something concrete, ground itself in characters, in familiar narrative structure. Every time I tried to find my footing in Wendy Ortiz's dreamscapes I heard a bruja laughing at me in the background because, really, how does one ground herself in the elusive and magical nature of dreams?

The woman moved to help me, until we realized the door was just too small for the doorway.
She then offered me a plate. On the plate lay a pair of green and yellow striped gloves, fried.

Instead of looking for anchors, I realized pretty quickly that reading Bruja is like stepping into a Remedios Varo painting. Sensational. Surreal.

Remedios Varo: "Creation of the Birds"

As a reader, one has to shift paradigms in Bruja. This is, after all, a highly unique type of memoir--a dreamoir--where the physical upright world as we know it is ruptured. Scenes hang loosely like unhinged picture frames or windows. Each passage in Ortiz's book is a portal into the dream realm where everything eventually bleeds into the wonderfully strange and otherworldly.

The woman didn't seem fazed by her third leg, which loped along in the middle of her other two
legs. She could even make it dance by itself while the other two legs were unmoving.

In Bruja, borders between mundos are blurred, spaces collapse, time melts like a warped clock in a Salvador Dali painting. 

Salvador Dali: "The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory"

While reading Ortiz, the constant rupturing of time and space reminded me of two of my favorite Latin American writers, Julio Cortázar and Juan Rulfo.

Rulfo once said of the structure of his classic novel Pedro Páramo, “It is a structure made of silences, of hanging threads, of cut scenes, where everything occurs in a simultaneous time which is no-time.”

Juan Rulfo: "Fan de la cultura"

A similar structure of hanging threads exists in Bruja, yet whereas Rulfo's “no-time” drifts between the worlds of the living and the dead, in Bruja everything operates on dream-time.

Like Bruja, Cortázar's acclaimed short story, “La Noche Boca Arriba” or “The Night Face Up,” also occurs on dream-time. Cortázar's story is about a man on a motorcycle who gets into a bad accident and is transported to a hospital. While laying on an operating table face up, he fades in and out of a dream, where he is a Moteca Indian in another century, fleeing the Aztecs who want to sacrifice him. The borders between the “real world” and the dream realm are progressively blurred in the story until finally the man wakes to realize that what he perceived as dream is real and what he thought was real is merely a dream. Cortázar loves to mess with our brains in these fantastic ways, and so does Ortiz.

Julio Cortazar

Yet what blew my mind about Bruja is that unlike the protagonist in "La Noche Boca Arriba," the dreamer/narrator in Ortiz' book isn't crossing over from one reality to another. Actually, the “real” physical world is entirely absent in this book. I think Cortázar would totally dig this element in Bruja, since the “real world” exists not in the imagination of the protagonist, but rather only in the imagination of the reader. Glimpses of “the real world” may be present in the crooks and crevices of the dreams themselves, for it is difficult to read dreams without trying to interpret them or imagine from where they stem, but the dreamer in Bruja resides exclusively on the Other Side; dreams are her home, and we the readers are visitors to her most intimate life in rem.

I gave birth to a baby girl.
     I was at my mother's house. I was dressed in a white half-slip and long-sleeved white silk shirt.
     A cat asked me if I would nurse her.
     I knew it was weird. I looked around. I could find a private place. I said yes.
     In my childhood bedroom, I situated the cat on one breast and the little girl on the other. I called
the little girl "Lupita."

Much like the concept of negative space in art, where bringing the background (usually the unseen) to the forefront gives new shape and meaning to objects, the dreams in Bruja helped me form an "invisible" narrative as I read. It wasn't explicitly there on the page, this narrative, but it was being shaped by the details of Ortiz' dreams. I'm not sure if the author did this purposefully or if it happened organically because of the nature of dreams, but either way it was a total mind trip and an entirely new literary experience for me. I imagine every reader will construct this invisible narrative differently, depending on her/his own reading experience and interpretations.

The Art of Negative Space: Edgar Rubin's Famous Vase

Despite the absence of “the real world” in Bruja, patterns emerge and we get a sense of “her,” our narrator and dreamer.  We know she's got a thing for cats. She's got a strong backbone and a rebel streak. There may be a Catholic uniform in this dreamer's backpack, but watch out because she's also carrying a bomb. Although she's nebulous and ever-shifting, she's a sexual being with a sense of humor. In one dream she refuses to accept Jesus Christ as her son because she reasons that this would mean she's a virgin and that would mean no sex—hell no, no way, she says, Jesus cannot be her son.

In dreamscape after dreamscape, we see the narrator journeying, taking risks, taking charge (these are qualities I like in a woman character, regardless of what genre or realm she dwells in). The invisible narrative of the physical world begins to flesh out, not in a chronological or even a logical way, but in fragments. When the dreamer stabs her mother repeatedly while her mother smiles, I conjured up possible mama-drama threads. Maybe a dream is just a dream, but I started to  imagine the “real-time” and “real-spaces” that may have birthed/influenced certain scenarios. Take the following dream on borders, for instance. I couldn't read this dream without conjuring up the possible “real-world” threads (and threats) that may have nurtured it.

The United States had closed all of its borders.
     I was in a hotel room when I found out, on the east coast, near the Canadian border.
     There was a government man in a blue suit charged with calming large crowds of people. He told us that we cold not leave the country and, in fact, we could not got anywhere but the immediate area.
     The crowd protested among itself. We could not believe this turn of events. I said aloud, Perhaps we can go underwater and declare water sovereign. I was half-joking. 
     At the Canadian border, a woman read a prepared statement telling us why we could not cross. It was clear from the way she held her mouth tensely as she read that she had not written it herself. 
     A number of us in the crowd protested her outright. In the small swell of panic, I contemplated what I would do—set fires, burn my way out of the country.

Bruja is a bewitching jigsaw dreamoir that invites us to navigate a terrain full of gaps and sudden shifts. What is usually in the background, in the shadows, in the subconscious, rises to the surface and takes center stage. When I first started reading Bruja, I found myself asking, "What is this?" Yet, despite this "unsettling" element (like wandering in the dark), Wendy Ortiz's sueños reeled me in like a hooked fish. The book is 329 pages long, and although I hadn't intended to, I read it all in one night.The unique structure and premise of Bruja threw me for a literary loop and it did what, in my opinion, good literature does; it took me to new, unexpected and exciting places, both on the page and in my imagination. 

When I finished the book, I lay on my bed face up covered in dream dust, my brain in a pretzel. I felt haunted. Eerie wonderful thoughts floated like colorful fish all around me. Maybe the world as I knew it wasn't really real. Maybe Remedios Varo had invented me with a few brush strokes. Maybe Juan Rulfo was hanging invisible threads over my head, dream catchers. Maybe Cortázar was blowing cigarette smoke my way, laughing at my suspended reality. Maybe Ortiz had flung her web of words out into the world again and cast her spell. Yes, that was it. Wendy Ortiz. Bewitching word bruja indeed. 

Remedios Varo Wearing A Mask. Also, Me After Reading Bruja.

Release Date: October 31, 2016

To pre-order Bruja:  https://www.amazon.com/Bruja-Wendy-C-Ortiz/dp/193786569X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1476644618&sr=8-1&keywords=bruja+wendy+ortiz

Publisher: CCM  and Publisher's Bruja Press Release

Bruja Book Launch With Special Guests

Sunday, November 6, 2016

5:00 - 7:00 PM
Skylight Books
1818 N. Vermont
Los Angeles, CA 90027

Special Guests:

Henry Hoke

Ashley Perez
Iris De Anda
Amanda Yates Garcia
Myriam Gurba

For more info on the Bruja Book Launch:  https://www.facebook.com/events/294068364280268/

To read a previous La Bloga interview with Wendy Ortiz: 


Wendy C. Ortiz is the author of Excavation: A Memoir (Future Tense Books, 2014), and Hollywood Notebook (Writ Large Press, 2015) and the forthcoming Bruja (CCM, 2016). Her work has been profiled or featured in the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Review of Books, The Rumpus, and the National Book Critics Circle Small Press Spotlight blog. Her writing has appeared in such places as The New York Times, Hazlitt, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, The Nervous Breakdown, Fanzine and a year-long series appeared at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. Wendy lives in Los Angeles. Visit wendyortiz.com & her public notebook at wendyortiz.tumblr.com.

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Times They Are A-Changing: Autumn Poems

Melinda Palacio

Last week was great because Bob Dylan was blowing in cyberspace. Congratulations Bob on winning the Nobel literature prize. This week may be all about nasty women and bad hombres. So, I bring you some excellent Autumn poems by Patricia Spears Jones (you may have read Linda Rodriguez's review of ALucent Fire), Gina Ferrara (http://labloga.blogspot.com/2013/10/spotlight-on-gina-ferrara.html) and Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo. These are poems you will want to savor, read aloud, then read them all over again. Enjoy and refill your cup as many times as you'd like.


He was filled with beauty, so filled he could not stop the shadows
from their walk around his horn, blasting cobwebs in the Fillmore's

Somewhere dawn makes up for the night before, but he is floating
Dead in the water. And yet, my lover tells me, he saw him

As did others. It could have been the acid. Or fragmented
His reed ancestral. This perilous knowledge. The band went home,

shivering. A girl threw roses in the water. Carnations, daisies. And
            bright red sashes.
Like ones the Chinese use for funeral banners. A drummer intoned

From the Orient. Police wrote up the news. Years later, my lover told
Friends would hear the whisper, then a tone, full throttle from the

Ghosts on Second Avenue, jazzmen in the falling stars.
If you catch one, your hands will glitter.

A Lucent Fire. Poems by Patricia Spears Jones

All Saints' Day
Patricia Spears Jones

Diamanda Galas screams sings
rage upon love
as winter forms
drop by cooling drop.

And earlier in that year, spring in the Blue Ridge—
pastures and hills bejeweled
with violets, dogwoods, the Judas Tree—
softens the bitter taste
of recipes for worming, for worry,
for the death of masters, overseers,
the uniformed patriarchs of a history
astonished by defeat. The burned mansions and
moth-ridden grief comes back to haunt lanes
to the left and right, a clear divide

between the Black side and the white,
On All Saints' Day, a wind resurrected
as dervish, spiraling dry, sharp leaves

righteous fuel for bonfires.
Honorable music to comfort the dead.

In New York, hear Patricia Spears Jones and Christopher Stackhouse, Tuesday November 1, 2016 at 6:30 pm. Free to Dia members, $10 general admission, $6 admission for students and seniors. Grab tickets while you can. 
Readings in Contemporary Poetry
Dia: Chelsea
535 West 22nd Street 5th Floor New York City
212 989 5566 www.diart.org

Gina Ferrara

When the medics strapped
you on the stretcher,
the bones of my knees and shins
pressed against Neruda's earth—
the acacia's offerings,
the cicada's hum,
a pair of fish
ascending from the abyss,
the accolades of tangled morning glories,
the solitary crow followed
by a triptych of magpies.
None of the sonnets
roused or woke you.
Your silent tongue and slack lips
extinguished the light of novas
and unstrung lanterns.

*From Gina Ferrara's Amber Porch Light

Ladder to the Moon
Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo

Ladder to the Moon, Georgia O’Keeffe

                                                              Ghost Ranch, O’Keeffe’s
                                                              sprite spirit rises

                                                         like the waif of moon
                                                         over Perdenal’s inky, cut top.

                                                    It’s an aquamarine night
                                               when I catch her climb wooden rails

                                             to the sky. Her frail arms
                                             evoke twigs, but her eyes

                                         ignite like the stars.
                                        I want her to invite me up,

                                    but she doesn’t.
                                    I want her to teach me how,

                                but she won’t.
                             I kick red rocks across the land

                        and keep a look out
                        for my own blond ladder to blaze.

*This poem was first published in Malpais Review.

Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo's Posada

Don't miss Xochitl-Julisa's Book Release Party, Saturday October 29 at 7pm at Avenue 50 Studio, 131 N Avenue 50, Los Angeles, CA 90042

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Distance Between Us: Young Readers Edition

By Reyna Grande

            Age Range: 10 - 14 years
            Grade Level: 5 - 9
            Hardcover: 336 pages
            Publisher: Aladdin
            Language: English
            ISBN-10: 1481463713
            ISBN-13: 978-1481463713

Award-winning author Reyna Grande shares her compelling experience of crossing borders and cultures in this middle grade adaptation of her “compelling…unvarnished, resonant” (BookPage) memoir, The Distance Between Us.

When her parents make the dangerous and illegal trek across the Mexican border in pursuit of the American dream, Reyna and her siblings are forced to live with their stern grandmother, as they wait for their parents to build the foundation of a new life.

But when things don’t go quite as planned, Reyna finds herself preparing for her own journey to “El Otro Lado” to live with the man who has haunted her imagination for years: her long-absent father. Both funny and heartbreaking, The Distance Between Us beautifully captures the struggle that Reyna and her siblings endured while trying to assimilate to a different culture, language, and family life in El Otro Lado (The Other Side).

Bring Christmas Cheer to a Child in Need!

Message from Reyna Grande:

This December I'm going to Iguala to hold my annual Christmas Toy Giveaway. Christmas is a special time of the year in many countries, and here in Iguala, where 70% of the population lives in poverty, children now more than ever need those special times full of joy and happiness.  For the past two years, with help from family and friends, old and new, I was able to buy over 700 toys! This year I hope to buy just as many, or more if possible. The Christmas Toy Giveaway is something the children have been looking forward to all year and I will not disappoint them! 

The children in my hometown of Iguala, Guerrero in Southern Mexico are living in a place full of poverty, violence, and instability. Ever since September 2014, when 43 college students were forcibly disappeared in my hometown, things have gone from bad to worse. Since then, about 120 mass graves have been found around my hometown. Many more people have been killed or disappeared. Cartel gangs have been fighting for control of the area. Iguala is surrounded by poppy fields to supply the huge demand for heroin in the US. This is the place that the children in my hometown live in. 

Despite this, life in Iguala continues, and children there do the best they can to not just survive, but to thrive. There's so much more I wish I could do for my hometown, but for now, I'm happy to bring some smiles to the children and let them know we care.
Please help me make this Christmas a special joyful time for the children in Iguala, Guerrero! Together we can make a difference. Donate today and tell your friends!