Sunday, February 27, 2005
The Pueblo Chieftain ran an obituary that you can access at this link and where you can get a small idea about the shock of his death and the effect the man had on his community.
I met Chico at Colorado State University back when some of us (the Chicano students) had been trying to organize our own brand of the revolution. He had transferred to the Fort Collins university from Southern Colorado State College in Pueblo and he had an immediate impact on all of us. The guy was filled with energy, music, commitment - life. He took the student movement from the sterile halls of the academy into the vibrant northern Colorado Chicano community where he established himself, published a newsletter, took on the local causes, started the first of his three families. He became Chico "El Perico" Martinez. I always thought that Chico was what the Movement was supposed to be. He was a hard act to follow, a tough image to live up to.
He never showed, to me at least, the burn-out or weariness that so many of us know. They say he had a massive heart attack. He had filled that heart with love and struggle - there's only so much any heart can take.
Que descanse en paz.
Saturday, February 26, 2005
There's a lot of Chicano authors in the detective and mystery genres (and others). Maybe Ramos or somebody already adequately explained why, or will, one day.
I want to focus on spec lit (speculative--which includes, fantasy, horror, sci-fi, etc.) that's got Chicano characters in it, was written by a Chicano or somehow mixes us with these genres. I like such literature; I try to write it; I grew up reading it.
One of my grandfathers was a newspaper guy who published his own until he was run out of Mexico by a politically sensitive sheriff brandishing una pistola. That's the huevón side of my family. My other mexicano grandfather was said to have been a linguist-intellectual who spoke eight languages. Who knows? After the families crossed the border, the literacy level went down for a time, much was lost; my dad only spoke two languages, read sci-fi, back in the fifties.
He was from the cabrón side of my family. Typical aloof macho, child and wife beater, a frustrated electrician who let alcohol bring him down from the heights of aerospace electronics, back when the only time you saw any other mescan in the jet plane hangar was if he had a mop in his hand. Maybe my dad couldn't handle his success; that's why he drank. I've been there.
Anyway, he always read at night, mags and paperbacks, always sci-fi. One night before his fall from the Garden of Success, we all climbed into bed with him and he read us a short story. I think it was called "The Rag Thing," about una gara that'd fallen behind a stove, collected grease and dust and somehow came alive, grew monstrous and went into town to eat the whole thing and everybody in it.
Problem is, my dad didn't finish the story, never read to us again, that I remember. Me and my sibs had gotten into the story, so I wound up finishing it for them.
He's dead now, the cabrón, but my love of spec lit lives.
Not in memory of him--'cause I hate his memory--but just because I don't see anybody else doing it, I'm going to sorta review what I call Spick Spec Lit. I say sorta, 'cause I ain't no reviewer, I don't do it well, and I'm not interested in reviewing. But I do want to concentrate on how Chicanos are portrayed in these genres. When I write about a piece done by a Chicano, yes, there will be more of what might be considered a review.
Unlike mystery and detective novels, there don't seem to be many Chicanos writing fantasy, sci-fi or horror. I don't know why.
I won't attempt some cheesy explanation that we don't write fantasy 'cause our culture is regularly so filled with fantasy--la Llorona, cuanderas and the kind of giant cockroaches that only grow in the barrio--altho it is. I won't say we avoid sci-fi 'cause we have so few who make it to college to even become scientists to be equipped to write it, altho that too is true. Nor will I venture that poverty, repression and discrimination give us enuf everyday horror that writing such fiction would be like adding tabasco to our habañero sauce.
Anyway, I think Spick Spec Lit is an under-reported area, and I'm going to hit it, in my own irreverent, sometimes too-frank of a way. I'll ask my contributor colleagues to help keep me in line.
My previous article "A Light Case of Cultural Appropriation", about a sci-fi novel, was my first contribution.
If anyone out there, all six or seven of you, has any suggestions about writers, books I should cover, let me know. Also, if anyone hears of short stories, etc. that I might not know of, do let me know, even about out-of-print ones.
NB: Science fiction writers hate the label sci-fi, but if I use SF, many readers won't recognize it, and science fiction is 9 unnecessary letters too long. So, tough it up, por favor.
Friday, February 25, 2005
My wife is a fan of war novelist Tim O'Brien. But I couldn't get past the opening pages of A Lake in the Woods, it was so plodding. I caught a break, though, when around page 18, the author says something like "dear reader, if you think this is slow and plodding, give up because the remainder of my writing is more of the same." So I quit reading.
When does one give up on something that isn't so obvious as O'Brien's engraved invitation to dump the effort? Like I have picked up Denise Chavez' Face of An Angel five times, and each time been so unmoved I haven't gotten more than a few pages beyond where I left off the previous effort. Yet I enthusiastically recommend Loving Pedro Infante, although that one required a month and two tries to get through.
I'm reading Nina Marie Martinez' Caramba! A tale told in turns of the cards. In fact, I've been reading it for 6 weeks now. And I'm about 2/3 through. As its subtitle suggests, Martinez has a clever but by now familiar idea. Each chapter takes off from a loteria card. Martinez tells a bizarre tale set in rural California with a foray into Mexico to free a restless spirit from purgatory. It's a buddy book, its two main characters seemingly heavily influenced by Loving Pedro Infante, although writer Sandra Cisneros' blurb on the back cover calls the novel a chicana "Thelma and Louise". Martinez has some clever character ideas, a born-again mariachi who falls madly in love with a gun-toting pinta, who finds it thrilling that the unknowing paramour might be her brother. Sexual passion links several characters, including a transgender hairdresser frustrated that she can't find a loving man, an older woman tired of on-again off-again romances who urges a suitor to consult a brujo to cast a love spell, and a cast of minor players.
Caramba! is supposed to be fun, but most of the time, it's not. But I keep reading because here and there the writer drops an insight onto the page that takes my breath away. Martinez' keen wit, highly developed sense of irony keep me reading for those occasional gems. So, I'm gonna finish it, and I'll share some of those insightful gems, maybe that will move you to pick up the novel. You'll read it, find it wondrous and grand, then write back to tell me where I went wrong, what I missed.
Or, maybe you'll write to tell me I shoulda followed my instincts and found something else to read.
Tuesday, February 22, 2005
You may have read news stories about a group of paramilitary kooks billing selves as “Minutemen”, arming themselves to patrol la frontera with aerial surveillance, pick-em-ups and assault rifles. As the bumper sticker philosopher notes, “bad boys have bad toys”, que no?
The resurgent English-only crowd has come up with a new ballot issue to declare English Arizon’s Official Lanuage. You can read an interesting column by academic and journalist Salomón R. Baldenegro at the Tucson Citizen site,
But that’s not what moves my fingers today. Check this out, excerpted from Baldenegro’s essay (click link in title for full article):
"He couldn't speak English, so me and the other workers made fun of him."
- State Rep. Russell Pearce, referring to a teenage co-worker. Arizona Republic, Feb. 11
. . . .
(I can't help noting the irony. In poor English - using the objective-case "me" rather than the correct nominative-case "I" in the above quote - Pearce offers himself as champion of the English language.)
. . . .
Attacks on languages are really attacks on the language speakers. An e-mail I received a while back regarding one of my columns illustrates this well: "My problem with you Hispanicks (sic) is ... with you peopel (sic) foreverry (sic) trying to force the loser Spanish language on us, demanding we give full spanish (sic) names to our cities and streets."
I count at least two ironies. The schadenfreunde that the language-intolerant crackers cannot use “SAE” (Standard American English) while insisting it be their homestate’s language. Then there’s the pro-diversity critic exercising his own brand of language intolerance, prescriptivist grammar, to fault the opponent’s dialect.
I’m sure the jibe will burn Pearce’s butt, but it leaves me a bit uncomfortable that “my side” fights intolerance with intolerance. Me, I have a soft spot in my ears for vernacular speech of all sorts. To paraphrase Baldenegro, when you attack the language you attack the culture, and that doesn’t sit well with me. Maybe it’s only me. I wish Baldenegro and his fellows good fortune in the battle for the tongues of Arizona.
Monday, February 14, 2005
The most influential book written by a Mexican?
Could it be Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo? The book was published in 1955 so the 50th anniversary may be the appropriate time to consider this book’s power over readers and writers. Both the book and the author are legends. There are several excellent Internet sites about Rulfo; a quick google on his name will bring up some great material. For example:
this one (Spanish)
or this one.
A few interesting facts:
Rulfo’s reputation is built on only two books: El llano en llamas (1953, The Burning Plain), a collection of short stories, which included Tell Them Not to Kill Me!, and the novel Pedro Páramo. He also wrote several TV scripts and movie screenplays including the classic El Gallo De Oro that starred Lucha Villa and Ignacio López Tarso.
Lesser known are his photographs. Here’s one review of the book of his photographs that Carlos Fuentes helped put together: “The photographs, mainly taken between 1945 and 1955, do not tell stories: they present. The images of people and their land, women in their traditional dress, musicians with their instruments, capture the calm, quiet, inner rhythms of Mexico's rural population. Rulfo extracts unique moments through his photographs; his images of desolate, abandoned buildings, their walls destroyed by artillery shells, are expressions of his nation's painful history. His quietly dramatic landscapes recall the work of Ansel Adams and Edward Weston while displaying a style that is truly his own.”
Pedro Páramo is considered one of the foundational classics of magic realism, predating One Hundred Years of Solitude by more than a decade. Gabriel García Márquez relates in his memoir, Living to Tell the Tale, how he memorized and could recite the text of Pedro Páramo at will.
My questions for readers of this blog:
Where do you place Rulfo in the pantheon of writers?
The dreamy (or nightmarish) quality of Pedro Páramo certainly struck a chord with Mexicans- how about Chicanos? Is it too much to say that Tomás Rivera is Rulfo’s direct literary descendant on this side of the border?
Is Rulfo’s book an essential expression of Mexican-ness? Octavio Paz said that Rulfo is “the only Mexican novelist to have provided us an image, rather than a mere description, of our physical surroundings.”
Cheech and Chong reunion and a new movie
Cheech and Chong appeared together on stage for the first time in 20 years at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen on February 10. They apparently were a big hit and the big news from the reunion was that they are planning a new movie, tentatively titled Cheech and Chong Get Blunt or maybe Grumpy Old Stoners. One possible script for the project was written by Tommy Chong’s daughter, Rae Dawn Chong.
Man, these guys used to make me laugh until I had tears in my eyes. Back when, a great night of entertainment could mean listening to one of their albums, then a little bit of Santana, then a little bit of Cheech and Chong, then a little bit of Santana, then a little bit of ....
Meanwhile, this piece of news about Cheech from Westword:
Leaving Aztlán. The Center for Visual Art in LoDo (Denver) is presenting the provocative show Leaving Aztlán: Rethinking Contemporary Latino and Chicano Art. The show examines new trends being embraced by Latino and Chicano artists -- and by Latinas and Chicanas -- and in the process explores the convoluted relationships between art and ethnicity. Ten years ago this would have been an overtly political show, but now, although politics are still in the mix, there are also many pieces that express cutting-edge aesthetic theories. Artists from across the country -- including Jesse Amado, Connie Arismendi, Javier Carmona, Alex Donis, Diana Guerrero-Mácia, John Hernandez, Benito Huerta, Chuck Ramirez, Juan Ramos and Rubén Ortiz Torres -- were selected, but Johnson also chose two local talents, Carlos Frésquez and Maria Michelle Gonzalez. A reception for the artists, curator Johnson and collector Cheech Marin is scheduled for February 24 from 6 to 9 pm. Through April 23 at the Center for Visual Art, 1734 Wazee Street, 303-294-5207.
Comic, actor, art collector, Chicano icon. ¿A real vato loco, no?
Friday, February 11, 2005
I am looking forward to this weekend, except for the rain. OK, because of the rain, I cannot get into the garden and turn the earth. I'll start seed in the greenhouse, instead. That'll eat up an hour. And I'll stare longingly at the muddy earth and its as yet unborn lettuce.
I'll head into the house, to the computer. My aunt and dad celebrated their birthdays last week, 70 and 83 years old. I am burning DVDs and printing jewel cases for the whole family. And, because it's a cold wet grey day, I'll get the fireplace going and play the piano.
Then I'll start screaming with rage. Damn, why can't my fingers read the little black marks on the music as well as my lips can read the little black marks on a novel. Reading music, playing it on the piano, is a literacy I have only minimal competence, run hot and cold, but generally, I stumble on something hard. Like html coding. Damn, what a pain in the next, web literacy can become.
Unlike words on paper. I can read anything and make sense of stuff in several languages, even stuff chipped on stone so long as it's greek to me. Imagine, some vato back in Egypt, chipping away at the rosetta stone. He or she was talking to me. I've read his stuff, the middle part at any rate.
Burning DVDs, editing digital video, now there's a literacy few can lay claim to. Anyone can pick up a camera and pull the trigger. And then? If you're not DV-literate, your stuff just twists slowly, slowly in the wind.
More and more, people need to be able to think through their fingers. The knowledge economy demands it. Gad, I love my word processor. It's thinking through your fingers. I spent half a year in the Army working an old manual Royal typewriter. Gad, I loved that machine, the solid crunch of the keys, the snap snap snap as the letters hit the ribbon hit the paper. Or cutting a stencil in preparation for running off several hundred copies of my Battalion newspaper. But I don't miss it because I have my Word Perfect.
So here's a Friday salute to the old literacies. And a tip of the ol' cachuca to the challenge of new literacies and another week sweating them off the theory and into the fingers. An old fart like me, maybe I don't really need all that technology. But how about the kids?
Wednesday, February 09, 2005
Chicano Lit in Texas
I’ve used up a lot of cyberspace on La Bloga for Califas events, authors, etc. This time it’s Tejas. Next time, Nuevo Mejico? ¿Quién sabe? This could turn into a literary journey through Aztlan, or is it Atzlan?
The Tenth Annual Latina Letters Conference on Latina Literature and Identity will take place July 14 - 16, 2005. This major conference is sponsored by St. Mary’s University and the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in San Antonio. This year’s theme is: Ten Years of Latina Letters, Three Decades of Latina Literature. Announced guests include Sandra Cisneros, Pat Mora, Ana Menéndez, Lourdes Pérez, and Alicia Gaspar de Alba. The Conference has issued a Call For Papers. The topic for papers is open and proposals for panels and other conference activities are welcome. Deadline for abstracts of papers is April 29, 2005. Online registration (beginning March 1, 2005) will be available at www.guadalupeculturalarts.org. More information: LatinaLetters@wingspress.com.
You should notice that the information center for the Latina Letters Conference is Wings Press. The next time you are shopping for a book, do yourself a favor and check out this publisher. Don’t let the fact that it is a “small press from Texas” deter you. The website is www.wingspress.com. Here you can find books by raúlrsalinas, Joy Harjo, Cecile Pineda, and several other emerging or established Chicano/a, native and women authors. You can even get John Howard Griffin’s famous classic Black Like Me as well as Street of the Seven Angels, a previously unpublished novel by Griffin. As the Bloomsbury Review noted: “Wings Press [is] the best little publishing house in Texas. Led by the indefatigable publisher Bryce Milligan, a true San Antonio hero and literary wizard, Wings Press has ventured beyond its south-by-southwestern borders to launch a series of original publications and reprints that deserve as much national recognition and distribution as possible.” For years Bryce Milligan was the driving force behind the San Antonio Literary Festival and Book Fair, an event sorely missed by anyone who ever participated or sat in the audience.
Left Coast Crime 15 is the 2005 version of this popular crime fiction conference. Each year in a different location dozens of writers and hundreds of readers and fans get together to talk about crime fiction and have a good time. This year’s conference takes place in El Paso, TX, from February 24 - 27. The International Guest of Honor is Paco Ignacio Taibo II, the celebrated mystery writer who calls Mexico his home. Taibo has authored several novels, many of which have been translated into English. He has a series that features the one-eyed private detective, Hector Belascoaran Shayne, who was killed off in one novel but brought back by popular demand in the next, with only a minimal explanation from Taibo. Taibo’s books are filled with action, leftist politics, nostalgia, atmosphere, numerous social and cultural references and, quite often, a subtle surreal quality. I enjoy them immensely and recommend him highly.
Taibo’s current writing project is a serialized mystery for the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, in collaboration with Subcomandante Marcos of Los Zapatistas. Taibo and Marcos are writing alternate chapters of the book, entitled Muertos Incomodos, which already is set to be published across the Spanish-speaking world and Italy. An English version of the book may follow. The series of chapters has reportedly boosted La Jornada's Sunday sales by 20%.
I will have the pleasure of appearing on the same Left Coast panel with Paco - a panel entitled : "Authors With Social Consciences: Society's Problems in Detective Fiction.” Other panelists include Denise Hamilton and Betty Webb. Man, with that title we could take the discussion almost anywhere.
I also will participate in a second panel, "Que Pasa Con Latino/a Detectives", with Steven Torres, Michele Martinez, and Alicia Gaspar de Alba. Torres writes the Precinct Puerto Rican series that features his hero Sheriff Luis Gonzalo. The three books in the series have caught a lot of good attention. If you like police procedurals, especially those set in Puerto Rico, Steven’s your man. Michele Martinez is brand new to the publishing game. For eight years she was an Assistant United States Attorney in the Eastern District of New York, and if you check out her website you can learn about her tough background growing up on the East Coast and her exciting life as a prosecutor. Her first novel, Most Wanted, hits the streets officially on February 15. Alicia Gaspar de Alba is well-known to anyone who has had even the smallest interest in Chicana Literature. She’s at Left Coast Crime to promote her soon-to-be released novel, Desert Blood. This sounds like a real must-read. It deals with the hundreds of apparently unsolved murders of women in Juárez over the past decade or so. Alicia has been involved with this issue for some time so there’s no doubt that the book will ring with authenticity.
I’m always up for good conversation about crime fiction, any kind of crime fiction but especially Chicano crime fiction, so if you make it to the conference, let me know who you are and what you like to read.
Monday, February 07, 2005
I work for an elementary school teacher, with 1st-2nd grade Spanish-speakers. She and I get along. We avoid arguing over using a word like troca (what's said on the streets) instead of camión (what's in the Spanish dictionary). She admonishes the kids' usage of "Spanglish". I try to make sure they know which word is which and how to spell both.
On the streets they gotta know many words, 'cause they gotta be able to communicate. When somebody yells, "Troca!" they gotta know that means they're about to get run over, otherwise they're removed from the gene pool. They need to know "Camión!" at least for the same reason.
That's what languages are for--communicating. Since they live where 3 are spoken (SpaniSh, English and SpangliCh), they better know all 3, for the reason noted. Later when they get older, they better know the word chida means some vato likes them, or else he may never ask them out on a date. Another possible end to their contributing to the gene pool.
I encourage the kids to use camión rather than troca in their formal, literary writing. I'd rather they became a Gabriel García Marquez instead of like me, although I'm not that bad.
Obviously in my opinion, using what's linguistically called "vulgar" ("vernacular") language isn't vulgar ("morally crude"), per se. It's just valuable as a method of communicating the message you want to convey.
Out on the playground, trying to correct kid's speech to conform to the Spanish dictionary can be as successful as trying to get English-speaking kids to use the word "great" instead of "sweet".
Whatever side you stand on regarding this question, I propose one more to argue over: it should be called SpangliCh, with a "ch" sound, rather than SpangliSh, with the "sh". Why?
Let's face it--Spanglish is their word. Not ours, us SpangliCh-speakers. It's the term of the educated, the linguists, those who guard the sanctity of tongues. Statically, I say. If you're among such educated, you'll maybe not want to check a site like:
http://chronicle.com/free/v47/i07/07b00701.htm where the author discusses at length the existence of "Spanglish". (Site not endorsed by this writer, necessarily.)
On the streets, where what they call "SpangliSh" is used, I don't hear that, I hear "SpangliCh". There's some linguistic explanation of how Spanish speakers learning English acquire this habit, but it's been so long for me, I don't remember the reason. I just know it happens, and that's how it's pronounced.
Although the educated might feel we vulgarists should not be allowed to even name our own vulgar tongue, I say fokk 'em. It's our vernacular, it's our way of communicating. Can't they at least call it the same thing we call it?
In return, I'll call you Hispanic, individually, to your face (including via Internet) and not Chicano, if that's what you want. So, for instance I'd say, "You Hispanos sure got mucho money to buy such a chida troca." If this sounds fair, then gracias for your understanding.
(The effect of my suggestion on the gene pool is debatable as well.)
Sunday, February 06, 2005
I'M NOT MAKING UP ANY OF THIS
If You Can Read This, You’re Too Damn Close
A cop in Denver threatens to arrest a woman who is driving a car that displays a bumper sticker that carries the pithy message "Fuck Bush". This becomes a mid-level issue among the radio talk shows. The consensus seems to be that even if the woman had a right to display such a message "she should have known better" and "what happened to common decency?" The cop is disciplined by the Chief.
I Always Thought The Prime Minister Had A Real Way With Words - Oh, Wrong Churchill
Three years after he wrote it, a lot more people get upset over words that a professor uses in an essay about the 9/11 attack. Many of the upset people have, in the past, decried the abuse of what they term “political correctness” to censor someone’s right to free speech, especially on campus. Am I the only one who sees the irony in this? Post columnist Diane Carman has written an excellent column that reminds the University of Colorado that it can demonstrate its expressed commitment to academic and intellectual freedom. Or not, as she says.
For Some Reason This Pissed Me Off
The superintendent of schools in the town of Norwood, 33 miles west of Telluride, bans, yes, bans, Bless Me, Ultima because of “obscene language and paganistic practices.” According to the Denver Post, the superintendent admits that he hasn’t read the book “in its entirety,” and that “there weren’t so many parents who were concerned, but when it was brought to my attention I was concerned”, and that his main concern was the “filthy” language. The teacher who ordered the book apologized for her “error in judgment”. The editor of the Norwood newspaper comments that she believes that “most people and certainly school employees are too afraid to speak on the record.” This is the same book that Laura Bush (Laura Bush!) listed as ninth on a list of 12 books that she highly recommends. Rudolfo Anaya’s response: “Read the book.”
It’s Only The First Amendment So How Important Can It Be?
They say that two is a coincidence, three is a fad, but four is a trend. Do we have a trend yet?
Here are a few more recent situations in Colorado to think about as you ponder the state of free speech in the grand state of Colorado:
Do Italians have the right to have a Columbus Day parade?
Does a public school teacher have the right to display a Mexican flag in her classroom where many of the students are of Mexican heritage?
Do the police have the right to seize bookstore customer purchase records in the interest of protecting neighborhoods from the dangers of illegal meth labs if they are looking for corroboration that a suspect bought a how-to book on manufacturing illegal drugs?
In a high-profile celebrity criminal case, does a newspaper have the right to obtain transcripts of hearings in the case even though such transcripts contain acutely embarrassing details about the victim?
Enough of that.
American Tableau – 2005
I'm walking along a major Denver street on a cool but pleasant day, surrounded by skyscrapers. The wall of a bank provides some protection from a chilly breeze. It's lunch time. Two well-dressed women are haranguing an official-looking Chicano who just placed a parking ticket on their Jaguar. They are quite angry. I check the scene - they are parked in a NO PARKING space. The signs are obvious. The driver screams something about the guy not knowing who her daddy is. Then she asks if the guy is "from here?" I walk away because it can't get any better.
A couple of days later I’m on the same street, same block, same bank. Two guys are pushing a stalled vehicle out of the way of traffic. At least I think that is what they are doing. It gets a little confusing because the apparent driver can’t make up his mind about which direction the other guy should push. One of the guys is an African-American, the other might be Latino. This car definitely is not a Jaguar.
Wednesday, February 02, 2005
Bloganote: here are two current pieces to ponder and post your comments.
La Bloga invites your comments--by name or anonymously.
One short piece of news and one very short story -
I picked up this tidbit from The Poverty Law News, a weekly newsletter published by the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law.
Educational Achievement Reflects Family Background More Than Ethnicity or Immigration
This study by the Rand Corporation finds that the most important factors associated with the educational achievement of children are not race, ethnicity, or immigrant status. Instead, the most critical factors appear to be socioeconomic ones. These factors include parental education levels, neighborhood poverty, parental occupational status, and family income.
Luis was seven when his father bought a kite and tried to teach him how to fly it.