Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Farm to Fork. Holiday Sales.

Review: Kathleen Alcalá, The Deepest Roots: Finding Food and Community on a Pacific Northwest Island. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2016.
ISBN: 9780295999388

Michael Sedano

During the U.S. civil war, southern women massed and conducted armed raids on military warehouses and supply depots because there was no food in the civilian economy. The women weren’t the farmers their men had been, and production failed to meet the need. In her book, Confederate Reckoning, Stephanie McCurry recounts the consequences:

In the spring of 1863, in a wave of food riots, soldiers' wives impressed the possibilities of their politics on a shocked nation . . . The riots were spectacular, and numerous. Mobs of women, numbering from a dozen to three hundred and more, armed with revolvers, pistols, repeaters, bowie knives, and hatchets, carried out at least twelve violent attacks . . . on stores, government warehouses, army convoys, railroad depots, saltworks, and granaries. The attacks occurred in broad daylight . . . in the space of one month, between the middle of March and the middle of April 1863.

Could it happen in your community? What if everything goes to Hell in the next four years? What if worker strikes shut down the economy? What if petroleum pipelines fail, polluting rivers and making water poisonous? What if transportation systems collapse and water and food can’t reach your grocery stores? Do you know today where you can get locally grown food? Can you survive—eat, drink, stay warm—for two weeks, or from now on?

In The Deepest Roots: Finding Food and Community on a Pacific Northwest Island, Kathleen Alcalá raises the spectre of mass deprivation, not in a horror story but in an engagingly written primer on sustainability, self-reliance, and farm to fork practicality.

Readers won’t be fooled by her focus on her home on Bainbridge Island in Washington State. Every city is an island, and not metaphorically. The geography of Bainbridge Island, however, makes the drama of being cut off highly graphic. As history developed, Alcalá’s island underwent savage alterations.

The ugly history of U.S. racism plays an important role on her island. From the nineteenth century until the mid-twentieth, indigenous rights were abolished and Indians were moved off their land and outsiders bought in. Thereafter, Pinay and Pinoy workers, and Japanese farmers, developed the nutrient-poor island soil to raise cash crops as well as local provender. When WWII came, the U.S. government sent Japanese farmers to concentration camps. The island’s farming resource—the knowledge and labor--became severely strained.

Alcalá recounts inspiring stories of friends and decent people working the land, protecting family farms, but also the heartache of families losing their holdings for taxes and other unpaid bills that built up during the owners’ incarceration.

She tells also the story of the imprisoned farmers using their knowledge to raise food for the camps, developing to a point that surpluses could be sold into the local economy to provide the prisoners with goods they couldn’t grow or make for themselves.

When the Japanese returned from the camps, the kids had lost their taste for the land and many switched to mercantile careers. Housing was booming and families sold off the farms to housing developers.

The island’s history offers a cautionary tale. With the technology boom that swept Seattle, rich people moved to the island, not only building deluxe homes but buying up the land. Some, with a liberal sensibility, began recovering some of the agricultural richness that once characterized the place. But in the process of booming the region’s economy, parts of the sound became so polluted that the EPA declared them superfund sites, with the likelihood the fish and water will never again be safe to eat.

The author weaves the stories of these tragedies with affirmations for a culture that has taken root in the space. Indigenous gente, long-term settlers, recent arrivals come together with mutual understanding of direction and technology to restore, recover, renew a semblance of a sustainable, self-aware culture. The point is not lost on places outside of Bainbridge.

Readers across the country--in Los Angeles, or Plano, or Yuppers--will have to rely upon local resources should all Hell break loose. The Deepest Roots: Finding Food and Community on a Pacific Northwest Island can be a model for disparate communities not because we all live on islands but because we all need to eat, because we’re all reliant upon systems largely out of our control, but in the control of the gangs of four:

Four companies control most of the beef industry. Four companies control most of the chicken industry. Four other companies control most of the pork industry. Four companies control over half of the world’s seed distribution worldwide. Monsanto controls almost all the GMO crops, and that means 85% of United States corn acreage and 91% of the nation’s soybeans. Big agriculture’s dominant lobby mechanisms in Washington DC pose poor prospect for change. The small farmer doesn’t have lobbyists. Farm workers don’t have lobbyists.

What if everything goes to Hell? Will you take up arms like those southern women? Will Second Amendment knuckleheads be there to stop you?

Kathleen Alcalá’s story emphasizes the importance of maintaining your own backyard gardens, of supporting seed banks that provide good local seed that isn’t patented by some profit-gouging entity. Right now is the time for identifying urban farms to get your fresh eggs, meat, and fruit. The farmer’s market won’t answer everyone’s needs, but in times of crisis, your first concern will be meeting your own needs.

Alcalá wraps up her narrative with a dystopic vision. What if you live on an island and the bridge to the mainland collapses and the only ferry boat sinks? Power goes out, the people best suitable to farming are stuck in Seattle, do you have the farming and foraging knowledge to sustain community? She writes:

You will scour the beaches for clams, and start eyeing that squirrel in the yard in a new light. The neighbor’s dogs will cease to be a problem because the neighbors will have eaten them.
You will try to defend your hundred-foot Douglas firs, but eventually the neighbors will prevail, and the trees will be cut down for heating and cooking. . . . you and your neighbors will form a co-op … in order to distribute food and other necessities.

Readers will find The Deepest Roots: Finding Food and Community on a Pacific Northwest Island not a call to arms but a subtle alarm for communities to find ways to eat local, to begin educating schoolchildren to understand plants and learn to raise food, to preserve local habitats that sustain everyone and all carbon-based life. An extra bonus comes at the end of the book, in the extensive notes for each chapter, with links and references alluded or noted in the narrative.

Without pounding you on the head to make its point, The Deepest Roots should inspire readers to expend elbow grease in working la tierra and seeking community with like-minded gente for healthier living. And if the zombie apocalypse arrives, you'll be prepared.

Ask your local independent bookseller to order copies of The Deepest Roots: Finding Food and Community on a Pacific Northwest Island for you and loved ones, or order directly from the publisher here.

Holiday Joys & Sharing

Sergio Flores at Ma Art Studio

Renowned painter Yolanda Gonzalez hosts holiday sales in her studio on an industrial side street in Alhambra, California, half a mile south of COSTCO. In a two-stop move, buy Flores' silver and mineral sculpture, a Yolanda Gonzalez painting or ceramic, or something from one of the handful of artists displaying their locally crafted wares, then buy your groceries and sundries at Costco.

Sunday December 11th
12 Noon To 5pm
Ma Art Studio
800 S Palm Ave #1 #2
Alhambra, Ca 91803

Tía Chucha Winterlandia

Click here for link

If you cannot get to Sylmar for Tía Chucha's invigorating and inspiring event, click here to donate to Tía Chucha's end-of-year campaign.

Books and Arte in Frogtown

Holiday Neighborhood Market on Saturday, Dec. 17th in Los Angeles' Elysian Valley, or Frogtown as  local gente have always called it. This includes Ron Arias, whose collection The Wetback and Other Stories features this riverside enclave. Arias will be at the sale with The Wetback.

35% Discount from Arte Público Press

Click here to visit Arte Público Press

Give to Gemini Ink to Support Literacy and Writing in San Antonio

Click here to link to Gemini Ink

Monday, December 05, 2016

Celebrate the holidays at Tía Chucha’s Winterlandia!

Don’t miss this wonderful holiday event! For more information and to RSVP (if you wish...not required), visit Tía Chucha’s Facebook announcement. Please share this news with your friends and family.

The mission of Tía Chucha’s Centro Cultural is to transform community in the Northeast San Fernando Valley and beyond through ancestral knowledge, the arts, literacy and creative engagement.

Tía Chucha’s began as a café, bookstore and cultural space owned and run by Los Angeles Poet Laureate Luis J. Rodriguez, his wife Trini, and their brother-in-law Enrique Sanchez. In 2003 Luis, along with singer/musicologist Angelica Loa Perez and Xicano rap artist Victor Mendoza established a next-door sister nonprofit to incorporate a full range of arts workshops. When in 2007 the cultural café and bookstore disbanded as an LLC, it donated its assets, including inventory, shelves, equipment, and more to the nonprofit to carry its mission forward. Tía Chucha’s cultural center now provides year-round on-site and off-site free or low-cost arts and literacy bilingual intergenerational programming in mural painting, music, dance, writing, visual arts, healing arts sessions (such as reiki healing) and healing/talking circles. Workshops and activities also include Mexica ("Aztec") dance, indigenous cosmology/philosophy, and open mic nights. Tía Chucha’s hosts author readings, film screenings, and art exhibits as well. It's a wonderful, important, vibrant space that offers so much to the community. Check it out!


◙ I am honored to offer formal praise and support (i.e., back-cover blurb) for Roberto Cantú's new book, The Forked Juniper: Critical Perspectives on Rudolfo Anaya (University of Oklahoma Press): “All post-Ultima Chicano literature is rooted in Rudolfo Anaya’s aesthetic. It is shocking—almost criminal—therefore, that there are not a plethora of scholarly Anaya books already in print. Roberto Cantú’s The Forked Juniper is an exhilarating and eclectic collection of essays that offers a much-needed contemporary overview and multifaceted analysis of Anaya’s writings. This enthralling work will, no doubt, become a natural companion to the study of one of our greatest living authors.”

◙ I am so excited that my next book, The King of Lighting Fixtures: Stories, will be published in fall 2017 by the very wonderful University of Arizona Press. It includes almost three dozen stories including this one just published by the literary journal Fourth & Sycamore.

◙ Follow me on Twitter at @olivasdan. I will happily Tweet your literary news.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Party Like It's 2010

Melinda Palacio

Happy 12th Birthday La Bloga

After a brief bout of depression over our presidential election, I went into complete denial and celebrated my birthday and feasted like it was 2010 and Obama had just been elected POTUS. Maybe POTUS didn't mean much to the Twitter sphere. Was I even twittering or twerking in presidential glee? I'm not sure. It was six years ago, after all, when I began another landmark milestone in my literary life, that of Bloguera, writing about my writing life or life in general for La Bloga. I am proud to mention this nice segue since while I was partying up a storm last week, I completely ignored fellow Bloguera, Xanath Caraza's call for some celebratory words on being part of La Bloga.
Before La Bloga, I was like this Denver bear looking into the literary world.

La Bloga has always been a special place for me. It's where I first started reading about the Chicano Literary scene, where I first read short stories by Daniel Olivas and then heard about a new anthology he was editing, Latinos in Lotusland. I pestered Daniel by sending five different submissions until he finally accepted a short piece of fiction for the anthology that launched my writing career over a decade ago. I built an entire portfolio on having one short story accepted in 2005. The anthology wouldn't be published until 2008, but I had one forthcoming story (and I made sure everyone knew it). I also won a contest on La Bloga thanks to Ernest Hogan. Since five of the blogueros, Daniel Olivas, Michael Sedano, René Colato Lainez, lived in Los Angeles and wrote about literary events in town that I often was a part of, La Bloga seemed omnipresent. I realize this is an overstatement that many people from Los Angeles would make. Especially since La Bloga happens nationally with our heartland blogueras Amelia de la luz Montes and Xanath Caraza, and our strong Denver contingent including founder Rudy Garcia, Manuel Ramos, and Lydia Gil, our lone huarache Ernest Hogan in Arizona.

In 2010 at the AWP conference in Denver, I had the chance to meet the mighty three blogueros from Denver and it's at that conference where Manuel Ramos invited me to be part of La Bloga. His father was ill and he needed some time off from the weekly gig. I was honored to step in and the rest is history or herstory as we like to say at UC Santa Cruz, where I took a master's course in feminism taught by Angela Davis.
My first AWP in Denver 2010

When Manuel asked to have his Friday slot back, he and I decided to share the month and we are still alternating Fridays. This twelfth year, we celebrate La Bloga with the continued presence of our newest bloguero, Sam Quiñones and a pause as Lydia Gil has decided to take a brake for much needed time off of reporting on all things in Spanish, and we forever remember Tatiana de la Tierra. Happy 12th birthday La Bloga. Since joining La Bloga, I now have a chapbook, Folsom Lockdown, a poetry book, How Fire Is a Story, Waiting and a novel, Ocotillo Dreams. More books are forthcoming, stay tuned and thank you for reading La Bloga. 

Ocotillo Dreams

How Fire Is a Story, Waiting

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

¡Olinguito, de la A a la Z! Descubriendo el bosque nublado /Olinguito, from A to Z! Unveiling the Cloud Forest

By Lulu Delacre

Age Range: 5 - 11 years
Grade Level: Kindergarten - 6
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: Children's Book Press (CA); Bilingual edition
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0892393270
ISBN-13: 978-0892393275

Alto, allá arriba en los Andes brilla un bosque bordado de bromeas…

High up in the Andes blooms a brilliant forest embroidered with bromeliads . . .

With lyrical text in both Spanish and English, we travel to the magical world of a cloud forest in the Andes of Ecuador. We discover the bounty of plants, animals, and other organisms that live there as we help a zoologist look for the elusive olinguito, the first new mammal species identified in the Americas since 1978. Not your usual ABC book, the alphabet is an organizing feature to introduce children to rich vocabulary as they learn about a unique environment.

Thoroughly researched and exquisitely illustrated with colorful, realistic images, the book is a visual delight while it provides a wealth of information. Backmatter includes articles about cloud forests and the discovery of the olinguito in 2013, and an extensive glossary with the scientific names of the species pictured. This is a unique book to treasure on many levels.


Lulu Delacre is the author and illustrator of many award-winning children's books, as well as a nonfiction novel for teens. Winner of several Pura Belpré Award Honors, Delacre has been named a Maryland Woman in the Arts and served as a juror for the 2003 National Book Awards. A native of Puerto Rico, Delacre lives with her husband in Silver Spring, Maryland. For more information about Lulu Delacre visit luludelacre.com.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Twelve. Bermejo Launches Posada

La Bloga Turns Twelve
Michael Sedano

Twelve years is a long time. Or it’s a trick of time that so many days have passed between yesterday to a Sunday in 2004 when La Bloga’s first column hit the internets of Aztlán with RudyG’s declaration that it had begun. It seems almost yesterday but it’s been twelve years, writing, inviting guests, increasing our number to eleven writers. We write about books, health, food, cultura, y más. Pero sabes que?  La Bloga has always been about the books, the literature.

It would be cool to review the emails Rudy, Manuel Ramos, and I exchanged in the days leading Rudy to get it started with that first post. Of the exchanges, all I remember is not knowing what a blog is, and finding seamless ways to fit a weekly deadline into what I was doing for a living. Then there was the “who are these guys?” factor.

I live in LA, Rudy and Manuel live in Denver. In person we’d not yet met. I knew Manuel and Rudy via CHICLE, the pioneering listserv Teresa Marquez managed from her office at University of New Mexico Zimmerman Library. When Marquez had to close down CHICLE, we were out in the cold.

CHICLE, which stood for Chicana/Chicano Literature Exchange, was the first chicano literature-centric email-based communication channel on the internet. Miguel Juárez has an interesting history about CHICLE here. CHICLE’s passing hurts. For one thing, it means Rudy, Manuel, and I would no longer have a place to kick around ideas, to find out literary and publishing news, to catch up with chisme.

In these years, Blogs were emerging onto the social media landscape. Rudy discovered Google’s blogspot service, signed us up, and La Bloga was ready to see light.

While La Bloga has always been about the books, literature, reading, writing, right now it’s about time. Twelve years going on thirteen, La Bloga’s built a library of material that has use. Our author website sidebar, interviews, reviews, photographs, news and notes bits and pieces about literature, cultura, y más are on file, no advertising or hassles. There’s some good stuff in here. We should archive it, some tell us.

I was talking to Latinopia’s Jesus Treviño recently about archiving our respective material. Treviño’s challenged to find a visionary library or university agency to take on bringing Latinopia as a public resource and ongoing active channel. It’s a massive undertaking with Treviño’s encyclopedic visual record of chicanismo and the technical requirements of digitizing video art. Archiving La Bloga would not be nearly as tricky. We are open to suggestions.

Holiday Hero: This Sale

My wife's jewelry invariably catches people's eye. Whether at the University Women's luncheon with her contemporaries, or at some reception or other gathering, people ask where she got that bracelet or those earrings. "Michael bought it for me" invariably wins her admiration for having a husband with impeccable taste.

Here's my secret, and here's your opportunity to make your partner incredibly happy:

Yolanda Gonzalez' studio, Ma Art Space, is easy to reach from any place in SoCal. Located at 800 S Palm Ave # 1, Alhambra, CA 91803, Phone: (626) 975-4799, the sale features silver and gold wearable sculpture of Zergio Florez. Also wonderful ceramics, paintings, sculpture by worthwhile artists.

Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo Celebrates Publishing Her First Book: Posada 

I suffer from anomia so having guests to the house creates repeated chances to forget someone’s name within three seconds of meeting them. Still, recently I welcomed the prospect as the only less than felicitous aspect of hosting poet Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo’s publication party for Posada. Offerings of Witness and Refuge.

Bermejo is one of those poets who make it worthwhile to attend poetry readings. Her poetic voice is powered by a ferocious spirit that fuels thoughtful oral presentations of the poet’s words.

Listening to Bermejo read her own stuff shows an artist who respects her work. Well thought-out phrasing, clear enunciation, and forceful projection extracts all the meaning these words contain and guides the way readers approach the poet’s work.

Back in 2015 I made a promise to myself, that I would host Bermejo’s book party out of respect for an act of incredible character.

When the Association of Writers & Writing Programs announced its program for the organization’s 2016 Los Angeles AWP conference, a host of members protested the selections as exclusionary, the selection process as opaque. Poisonous words roiled relations between members and the executive director.

One member of the conference planning group, publisher Kate Gale of Los Angeles’ Red Hen Press, wrote and later retracted a diatribe. AWP disowned Gale’s position. Gale was called privileged, elitist, and out-of-touch. For Los Angeles’ writing community, Red Hen Press had sunk from exalted to pariah.

Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo would be a casualty of the pedo. Her first book had been accepted for publication by Red Hen Press. Bermejo quickly made a decision. She wrote:

Publishing with Red Hen isn’t something I can do at this point even if it is a press I’ve admired for years with writers I love and respect like Eloise Klein Healy, Doug Kearny, Veronica Reyes, and Terry Wolverton. Publishing with Red Hen isn’t something I can do at this point, if I am to have any credibility in my own community.

I must have met Bermejo at a reading shortly after she published her decision. Maybe I Facebooked my feelings. When that book finds its publisher, I told Bermejo, I will host a publication party for you. She agreed. Neither of us was being desultory. Not in the promise. Not in the acceptance. We schedule it for the weekend after Thanksgiving Day.

Saturday afternoon arrives and the gente start showing up. Latinopia’s Jesus Treviño is first on scene, to set up the lighting and camera position. Then Xochitl, to see if she could do anything? Nope, my wife loves entertaining and Barbara has everything laid out.

Rain is always welcome but not a good weather for people to drive the freeways to get to Pasadena, so a handful miss this sparkling engagement. I’d planned to do this outdoors, but Barbara knew better and she was, of course, right.

We have set up the food and beverages for buffet self-service and the layout works well. There is enough food prepared but I have supplies at the ready to whip up a few more tacos de chicharron de carne, or tostadas de ceviche. There’s nopalitos—Bermejo will read a nopales poem in their honor—pan dulce (elicits another poem), cookies and macarons, and strong hot coffee.

A montón of people arrive. I shake hands or embrace, say people’s name in welcome, and true to form, forget the names. The people from New York City. Jessica and her friend, poet Rocio whom I haven’t yet read nor heard. We shared a table at Jessica’s wedding. An aspiring novelist finds a good listener in Jesus Treviño, who recently won a National Book Award. Mario Guerrero tells me about the near-completion of his 3-D printing studio.

I smile in conversation with the scientist from Colombia and her daughter the scholar. The woman with the injured leg and the cane drove them. Later Liz Gonzales and Jorge Martin step inside. Jorge’s a sound artist whose work fascinates me and I corner him with lots of questions. Iris de Anda and her little girl arrive for a brief visit. I hope they ate. Some people stand and talk and laugh like old friends. Others pull furniture into corners and discuss Spanish phonology, cultural variance between la chicanada and other hispanoparlantes. It’s a great time whose tenor, warmth and camaraderie come from those rare few minutes of this poet reading her work.

Bermejo gave up a lot by going to Sundress Publications, out of principle and strength of character. She has to promote extra hard to get the word out. This houseparty is the poet’s ninth such reading in the past few weeks. Latinopia will have video of the reading; visit regularly to catch up.

Not that the other publisher wouldn’t have expected the same labor. Abjuring Red Hen foregoes the push that house exerts in the regional market. Red Hen’s maillist would open doors with contact names and phone numbers that are the currency of marketing. Maybe instead of nine, Bermejo would have completed twenty readings by now, and introduced hundreds more readers to her powerful, deeply moving work.

No shoulda woulda coulda. Get a copy, tell your friends. Word of mouth is the best kind of marketing.

Order directly from the publisher or via your local independent bookseller. Buy a personal copy and copies for familia and friends. Orders at the publisher through Wednesday do double duty. The money buys your copies of Posada. Offerings of Witness and Refuge, but also Sundress Publications is donating the funds to the water protectors at Standing Rock. Click here for Sundress' offer.

Monday, November 28, 2016

El Aniversario: Twelve Years and Counting

El Aniversario: Twelve Years and Counting

Xánath Caraza

It was twelve years ago the first post on La Bloga came to light.  Today we celebrate La Bloga’s anniversary.  A strong team of writers, La Bloga continues to bring a myriad of news stories to the world.  Pero, aside from writing for La Bloga, de qué escriben los blogueros? Here are some palabras of this team of diverse Chicanos and Chicanas.  May these words fill you with strength, dear La Bloga readers.

Amelia Maria de la Luz Montes:

Felicidades a la Bloga!  Here is a paragraph from my latest publication, “Rituals of Healing,” in _The Routledge Companion to Latina/o Popular Culture_.  

"Illness and wellbeing is a topic that is of much interest today.  The media continually feature advertisements touting drugs, surgeries, the latest program that will relieve us of pain, of illness, of chronic diseases.  A number of Chicanas and Latinas are looking to incorporate indigenous ancestral healing methods, often much different from Western medicine, which tends to rely, at times heavily, on pharmaceutical drugs to mask pain.  Alternatives to western medicine focus on herbs, foods, physical movement, and touch that nurture the body to heal itself.  Food is an important healing component and has figured prominently in Chicana/Latina culture and literature."

Rudy Ch. Garcia, Denver, Aztlán:
excerpt from first chapter of The Closet of Discarded Dreams (2013), honorable mention in SciFi/Fantasy, from the International Latino Book Awards, 2013:

"More odd than all these oddities, was that the participants seemed totally involved in their own special thing, paying no attention to groups near them. As if they didn’t know they had neighbors. It was like I’d Google-mapped in real-time and max-zoomed on a world of suburban barbecues. A place where each backyard gathering pretended it existed in its own private mini world, despite the nearby competing commotion. Except, these people needed no eight-foot fences to aid the illusion, and suburbia had never looked this loco..." 

Manuel Ramos:

 "I need your legal advice, Luis.  So, what do we do counselor?"

Móntez stood up and stretched his arms over his head like he was greeting the sun.  He reminded me of the prison's yoga class.  He walked behind his desk with his arms reaching for the ceiling, his fingers vibrating.  Gray hair streaked his temples and mustache.  His dark jaw tightened and his shining eyes shrunk to black dots. He stared at a poster that hung on his wall:  a bunch of deep purple grapes dripped with blood.  The words "Boycott Grapes!" stretched over the fruit like an ironic halo.

"Time to call the cops."

“They were in the storm now. The two Koreans were sharp silhouettes against the blinding whiteness. Ski gunned the motor at the third switchback. Something felt wrong. The truck slid weirdly sideways. To the furious spinning of wheels and grinding gears the truck slid backward. The two Koreans coiled their bodies in readiness to leap out. Costillas’ eyes bulged in sheer bloodcurdling terror. “Oh fuck, I’m not gonna make it. Damn it, menso. Damn it damnit.”

He should have been with his wife back in warm California, going about his quotidian duties of taking roll, ogling hippie chicks…not plunging off a mountain in a picturesque arc in the middle-of-nowhere.”

Ernest Hogan:

“That was Itzcóatl O’Gorman, who I used to consider to be one of my best acuaches—I was one of the charter members of his Surrealist Terrorist Voodoo Network—but lately he’s been taking everything too seriously, wanting to be a terrorist rather than a cultural rabble-​rouser. “Reality makes terrorists of us all,” he once told me. I’m not ready to believe that.”

Daniel Olivas:

“When I first met Elizondo, he lived in the small house at the back end of my abuela’s property.  Ana Ortiz Camacho, my grandmother and the only grandparent I had the opportunity to know, had died the week before, a life of cigarettes and Mexican food and hard work and not a little beer finally catching up with her.  My mother, abuela’s only child, died seven years ago when I was in my senior year at Reed College, so it fell on me to make the funeral arrangements and then begin the arduous task of emptying out abuela’s house and selling it.”  From the short story “Elizondo Returns Home” (first published by the literary journal, Fourth & Sycamore) which will be featured in Daniel Olivas’s new collection, The King of Lighting Fixtures (fall 2017, The University of Arizona Press). You may read the full story here.

Xánath Caraza:
Mammoth Publications, 2016

Puertos silenciosos

Zarpan las miradas de los puertos silenciosos
ondulados recuerdos se impregnan en las conchas.
Racimos de algas verdes bailan con el vaivén de las olas.
Agua que choca en el corazón, se estrella en la profunda voz.
Grave exhalación es el sonido del mar
con el que me enredo, me jala, no hay salida.
Puertos donde los taciturnos viandantes suben
y arrastran pesado equipaje, doloroso ayer
terror en las maletas, Pandora se inquieta.
Mar, mudo destino de las inmóviles almas
extensas aguas llevan los cuerpos endurecidos
nos dejamos llevar a esos puertos silenciosos.
Algunos muertos en vida saben dónde desembarcar
otros, nos dejamos llevar por la brisa de esta noche violeta
por el último rayo de sol que ingenuamente seguimos.
Lacustres sílabas exhalamos con el suave movimiento de esta barca.
Espesos pensamientos nos embriagan, nos engañan los líquidos
aún no he encontrado mi último Puerto
el silencio no ha llegado para mí.

Silent Ports

Gazes set sail from silent ports
undulating memories soaked in seashells.
Clusters of green seaweed dance with the swaying of the waves.
Water that strikes the heart, crashes into the profound voice.
Deep exhalation is the sound of the sea
where I’m entangled, it pulls me, there’s no exit.
Ports where taciturn travelers arise
and drag heavy bags, painful yesterday
terror in the luggage, Pandora distraught.
Sea, silent destiny of motionless souls
extensive waters carry hardened bodies.
We let ourselves be taken to those silent ports.
Some of the living dead know where to disembark
others let ourselves be led by the breeze on this violet night
by the last ray of sunshine that in our innocence we follow.
We exhale lacustrine syllables with the gentle movement of this boat.
Heavy thoughts intoxicate us, liquids confound us
I still haven’t found my last port
silence hasn’t come for me.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

You Are Not Alone: Students Uplifting Students

Olga García Echeverría

5th Grader Reading a Letter of Support From a College Student

In the week following the election, in an attempt to acknowledge and help dismantle (perhaps transform) some of my students' fears, I facilitated a writing activity between 50 Cal State LA students and 50 fifth graders. It was an unplanned activity thrown together at the last minute, born out of necessity and executed in 3 days. At the onset of the exchange, all l knew was that so many of us were feeling bruised and deflated; we needed some light. We needed some solidarity. We needed to step outside of our own grief/anger/fear and help someone else in need. 

"The 5th graders need uplifting!" I  told my Cal State students. "Can you help me send them messages of support?"   

When I next visit the 5th graders I tell them I've brought them a surprise, personalized letters from Cal State LA. 

“Letters from your college students?” 
“They're writing to us? Why?”
“They were wondering how you were doing after the election and they wanted to say hi.”

I hand out their letters one by one, instructing they don't open them just yet. “Wait until everybody has one.”

“For suspense!” Someone says. 
“Yeah, for suspense.”

One student peers into his name on the envelope and asks in astonishment how the college students know all their names. 

“Because I gave them your names.” 

“But Ms., do they know us? Do they know who we are?”

“They don't know you know you, but they know you through me because I talk about you all the time.” 

Questions start flying. How old are they, my college students? Did they vote? Are they mad about Trump? Are the college students gonna come visit them at their school? Was this letter thing the college students' idea or mine? Isn't this like having a pen pal? Can we all take a trip to Cal State LA? Wouldn't that be so much fun? The school bus only costs $700.00. Isn't there a Pollo Loco at Cal State LA? “I think I've been there, Ms., to Cal State, I ate at that Pollo Loco,” says one of the girls. 

“I have an important question,” interjects one of the boys. “Did the boys write to the boys and the girls to the girls?” 

When I answer no, he protests, "Ah, man." He says he's too shy to write to a girl and plus, he only knows how to draw cars. 

“If you get a girl, you can still draw her a car.” He shakes his head and makes a face, letting me know I totally don't get what he's talking about. 

When everyone has a letter, I give them the green light, “Okay, go!” Hands eagerly dig in and unfold. Rustling paper fills the room. It's like Christmas, only the gifts they are unwrapping are words of encouragement being transported from one classroom to another. 

Some of the 5th graders are holding their opened letters in front of their faces, reading them in the air. Scanning eyes, wrinkled brows, sudden smiles. 

Someone is hunched over and peering into his letter on his desk. His buddy comes from behind and leans over him, “What did they write you? Did you get a boy or a girl?” 

Some of the students are running their index fingers along the page as they read. 

There's a kid coming towards me with a creased forehead and a creased letter in his hand, “Ms. Olga” he whines, “I can't read this writing. I already tried two times.” He hands over the paper annoyed. “Can you read it for me?” I do an on-the-spot translation of the cryptic handwriting. He seems appeased, takes the letter, and goes back to his seat.  

Jacquelin stares at her letter with a mixture of seriousness and some kind of awe. “Look!” She's talking to no one in particular. She points to the penciled sketch of an old man using a walker and the crayola-colored Mexican flag at the bottom of the letter. Andrew, who wrote her the letter, wrote near the sketch, “I am 18, but sometimes I feel like I'm 80. LOL.” Jacquelin laughs and then proudly says, “I like the way he draws! He's so funny!” 

Within minutes, they're all sharing, talking, and laughing. Some re-read their letters aloud. Some switch and read silently. Some students start wandering to other tables and desks. More questions: 

“Can we draw them Pokémon characters?” 
“Can we start writing back?”
 “When will you give them our letters?” 
 “Are they gonna write back again?” 

They get to writing. There's still all kinds of excitement and noise, but some of them impress me with their fierce focus and their determination to lay down some words. 

Do not bug these kids. 

A couple of students come up to me pointing to the last names of the two students who wrote them. They've made a discovery that intrigues them. “These two guys have the same last name! Are they brothers?” 

“As far as I know, they're not brothers.” 

The “As far as I know” seems to encourage them. “We're just gonna ask them ourselves in our letters to make sure.” And they do. 

In her letter to a college student, Nathalie writes... “Dear Edwin, I just want to say thank you and you don't have to worry because you are you and you are special...It's okay to be different because different is cool...Trump thinks he can just tell us to leave...but to do that he still needs to go through Congress." 

The 5th graders' previous lesson with me (prior to the letter exchange) was on affirmations, so they use these abundantly with the college students. 

“Believe in you!” 
“Don't let the election get you down!” 
"You can do it!"

When these letters make it back to Cal State LA, my college students turn into 5th graders. They're excited and completely surprised. “They wrote back to us?” They dig into their envelopes and start pulling out tiny drawings, cutout figures, letters with specialized folds. 5th grade origami. Their eyes scan the small pages. Sonrisas beam.

“Somebody gave me .50 cents! How cute!” 
“They sent us little drawings.”
“I got a Pokémon.” 
“Ha ha, this student wrote Dump Trump on my envelope.” 
“I love this," says one student, holding her letter. "I feel like I wrote to myself and myself wrote back."

*A special thank you to Angels Gate Cultural Center for their arts/creative writing programming in elementary schools, and to las maestras Ms. Cabrera and Ms. Altamira at New Academy of Science of Art for their dedication in the classroom and their assistance in facilitating this letter exchange.