Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Letter to You, Dear Caregiver . . .

Dear Gente,
This posting is for all the caregivers out there, past and present.  You have or are presently accompanying a family member or friend as they transition.  This journey may be swift, or it may take weeks, months, years.  But you were there, or you are there now.  And it’s the holidays.  TV commercials, store music, radio channels are all blasting jovial lyrics about “sleigh rides,” “jingle bells,” and informing you that “from now on our troubles will be miles away.”  You want to stop this music, postpone the holidays just this once, because it’s another burden, another reminder that your world is not at all looking a lot like Christmas, or Hanukkah, or any other festivity taking place around you.  You feel alone. 

My mother tells me the story of our familia en Mexico -- how parents, aunts, cousins, comadres, compadres, all living in close quarters would help each other through elder transitioning.  There were no “assisted living” housing arrangements, no social workers or nurses coming to the house.  It was simply “the family” who became the network.  It makes me think about the Mayan communities who have settled here in Nebraska, some of whom I’ve met.  They’ve taught me how their community handles births, deaths, illness.  Because many are undocumented, they don’t go to the doctor or hospital.  They take care of their own.  Some of the immigrants have come already with medical knowledge:  either degrees from medical schools in their home country, or they are curanderas and/or doulas.  They have created a strong support system.  This is not to say it’s easy for them.  It’s just a reminder that in this country, there are various support structures.  Many cannot afford “assisted living” (or choose that option because they fear their loved one will be abused), or there are challenges with receiving outside assistance in the home, which then demands much from the one or two people helping. 

With each generation, close familial networks become fragmented and disappear.  And so I think of you, dear one, who is without a large, supportive network, who is overwhelmed with the work of taking care of your father, mother, or other family members or friends.  I think of you who may have forgotten how tired you are, but your body reminds you:  the ache in your back, your feet, your arms, the headache you get in the afternoons or late evenings.  

I am thinking of you who cannot sleep well, always on the alert in case the family member with “sundowners” tries to walk out the door at 2a.m.  I am thinking of you who works hard to keep the dignity intact for the loved one whose mind is shutting down (because that’s what happens first when the rest of the body is dying).  I am thinking of you whose father, mother, or other loved one can no longer recognize who you are.  I am thinking of you whose loved one, after many years of illness, has transitioned, and another kind of grieving begins. 

A few days ago, I wrote to close friends, telling them how much I cherish their friendship, and wishing them much love.  They wrote back and said:  “It is a pleasure to see you, hear you, and share ideas, joy, laughter, and some pain to make it real.”  That’s it in a nutshell, I thought.  It is so important to share our lives, and that includes “some pain to make it real.”  It’s not a friendship/relationship without what is “real.”  There is much sadness, anger, fury, frustration, laughter, joy (a kind of bittersweet joy), respect, and exhaustion, in accompanying a loved one toward final transition with dignity.  I’m keeping it “real” for you, dear one, who finds these words familiar.  I’m keeping it real and thinking of you, sending you strong energies of calm, comfort, deep breaths, many moments of humor, and the knowledge that you are not alone.  You are not alone, dear one.  I am thinking of you and others are too.  You, dear one, are a member of this larger familia of caregivers. Con paz y fortaleza. 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Different Chicano stocking stuffers

If you forgot stuff to stuff stockings with, try cutting up and using these memorias:
Not mine, but maybe...
"Traíste mis Kreesmas?" My abuela would say those words, pronouncing the last one like I spelled it, with a very long E sound. It was the closest that an old india-mexicana could do to melt into the pot of conquered south Texas. She was asking if I'd brought her a Christmas present, maybe wondering whether I'd forgotten her.

Her chemistry and electricity passed into the ether long before I was old enough to gift her anything of value, and I only wish I'd spent more time chatting at length with her, like I did towards the end, hers, not mine. I still think it's one of the cutest things--an old person asking about "mis Kreesmas," a heavy Spanish-laden accent that goes back even further in history to the time before the Olmecs. Before there was a Xmas.
– – – – – – – –
The most memorable Kreesmases when I was young were those held at my abuela's house. All the tíos would come and the primos and, sometimes, relatives that we didn't even know we had. The abuelo died early, from cirrhosis and spending months or years away from abuela, that she always forgave him for, and took him back. In between his stopovers, abuela filled in her life with El Otro, whatever current man had moved in that she's hooked up with. El Otro's name changed, but there was usually one there. Especially on Kreesmas mornings when cabrón Tío Jesse would wake us all up at 5 or some unnatural hour. To open presents that we'd already opened. His family lived in Colorado, so they rarely came, but it was a treat to see the out-of-state cousins. I don't remember El Otro ever getting one, though abuela probably gave him late night treats.
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Tamales. Every Chicano family always makes tamales for the holiday, right? (Actually, not if they're cheap enough to buy, which they no longer are in Denver.) Over the years, our families had also cooked other things. Argentinian empanadas, fried or baked, buffalo burger or of cualquier cosa. Or albóndigas soup or tons of burritos, on occasion. The type of food didn't matter. It was the communal, tribal means of production that made the cooking enjoyable.
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Not one of mine.
Gingerbread houses. I loved making those, once upon a time. Not gringo gingerbread houses, but adobes or Zuni pueblos or barrio dioramas with Homie figurines. When I was a teacher, I'd make one for my class and let them play with it, destroy it (not always just the boys) and eat their hearts out, diabetically. I'm thinking of trying a new type, less diabetic-inducing and healthier, out of corn meal. Maybe with some Homies and other knickknacks I have around. I'll post a pic, if it happens.
– – – – – – – –
Possibly my best Krismas as a teacher was when a first-grade class got a visit from Greg Allen-Pickett, a teacher-friend who'd guided my wife and I through Yucatan on a previous Krismas. My class of mostly immigrant students knew Santa would visit the room because I'd arranged it with Greg who had his own outfit. When this near-seven-foot man of broad shoulders and build entered the room, in costume, the kids were delighted. When they tugged on his huge white beard, they were surprised to learn it was real! But, when he spoke Spanish to them better even than their regular teacher, they were astounded. Greg left the state, and I left teaching. However, I doubt the memory of the most realistic, bilingual Santa ever left them.
– – – – – – – –
Definitely not gentry
My gentrified barrio has dark corners revealing who's a gentry just living here temporarily, as an investment, who's the Chicanos with families, and who are those in transition. No Xmas decorations? A transient investor or a Chicano widower whose kids rarely visit. A few decorations? A really poor Chicano family or gentry who might be identifying their neighborhood as a home. Chingos of decorations? A hipster-rich gentry or abuelos with lots of kids and grandkids who do visit them. I'm stereotyping, but it gives you an idea of why I'm not overjoyed by the 7 out of 10 bare-front houses on my block.
– – – – – – – –
Most of you might know that author Reyna Grande is spending the holidays in Iguala, Guerrero, where the 43 students were disappeared. It was her hometown that she trekked north from, as described in her books. She recently raised more than $5k for toys and food to present to the people of the village she left decades ago. It's like she's playing Santa, among some of the poorest people in the world, with some of the most minimal facilities, and walking around every corner wondering who might lurk to disappear you. Hopefully, she'll provide La Bloga with an extended report after she returns. I imagine that the only thing better than reading it will have been accompanying her. I'm sure that waiting list is longer than Santa's.
– – – – – – – –
Now that my two siblings are in their 30s, and wife Carmen has mellowed, neither bunch pays much attention to this father's ideas. But once upon a time, I'd come up with different gift-giving ideas. "No gift over $20," when I knew they had no money. "Everybody make gifts to give instead of buying any," when they were all young enough to have fun doing that. "Save newspaper comics to use as wrapping paper instead of buying any" was one of my better ones I still try to practice. There were other ideas, but I've forgotten them. Not sure how many more Krismases there will be, for me, but I won't run out of ideas, even if I run out of believers.
– – – – – – – –
Ya son muchos años that I had this asshole boss. One Xmas night, he took his young kids and his 38 Special outside. Shot into the sky. Told them he'd killed Santa Claus. He said they cried but they stopped believing, which was his intention. Go figure. He wasn't a Chicano guy. Chicanos shoot their 38s on New Year's Eve night.
– – – – – – – –
I'm completing work with dramatist Jose Mercado, on my first stage play, Los Doce Días de Mis Krismas. (I needed help since my two CU-Denver college classes mostly taught me professors were superior to any student's work or thoughts.) Some of you have read the story on La Bloga, as a radio script, but Mercado formatted it for a play and says it's funny now. I thought it was before. After it's officially copyrighted, I'll get it out in the world, however that's done. And maybe you'll get to see it one Krismas. It's even funnier than Jose thinks.
– – – – – – – –
The "American" gift-giving around Krismas makes less sense the longer I live. Stuff to fill an assumed obligation is no gift; it's some type of duty that lacks the spirit of. This ironically reminds me of the year I made umpteen individualized, riding horse sticks for  nephews and nieces. The kind that's like a horse head on a pole, and you ride it around using your leg-power, dragging the bare end of the stick over the polished wood floor or carpet. The kind my generation had when we were kids. They were cool. The ones I made went over like Obama's Cuban announcement at Rubio's Xmas party. A couple of kids tried riding them, looking for the gas pedal or the electronic display, but most of my creations soon found themselves in the attic or garage or Goodwill pile. I should have been crushed; they'd taken weeks of cutting wood, sanding, painting and decorating. Which turned out to be the most fun they provided anyone.
– – – – – – – –
Whenever I go to Mexico or even a poor neighborhood in the U.S., I inevitably see little kids playing with a lot less than electric Hummers they can ride or remote drones they can spy with. Instead, I've seen little girls in raggedy clothes stirring the ground with a twig, making designs, drawing scenes or imagining future paths. Or a couple of boys sorting rocks of different sizes, maybe preparing their teams or armies for a slaughter. Kids don't need stuff; they need opportunity for their imaginations, time to explore and discover the world's wonders.
– – – – – – – –
In that spirit, below are the opening paragraphs to my first children's story in English, that three bilingual publishers have already decided should be put where the wooden horses are gathering dust. I made copies of the tale for people who helped me with it and for relatives who have small kids. It may not have happened on a day that would become our Krismas, but it's my attempt to capture the wonderment that children find in the world, instead of in stuff. I hope it provides you with a touch of the same. Es todo, hasta que recibes tus Kreesmas. - RudyG

* * *
The legend of Sleeping Love begins in the most ancient times on the Central Continent. For the hundred members of a tribe of First People, a day of marching and foraging seemed like it would end as countless others had.
Instead, dozens of the boys and girls suddenly sprinted far ahead. On the mountaintop, they stopped. Only a little of the cold penetrated their animal-skin clothes, and their run had warmed them. They shaded their eyes against the low sun, and what they saw, steamed them up. Hopping around like crickets, they screamed, "Grand Ta, Grand Ta, come look at it all!"
As Grand Ta shuffled faster, his chest filled and he sensed it glowing. He thought, Almost makes me cry whenever they want to share their discoveries with an old man. Smiling, he patted his wrinkled cheek. Ah, nothing smooths out this turtle skin, anymore. Sweeping back his rabbit hair cloak, he accidently passed it directly through his nagual. The mountain lion-spirit growled a friendly warning at him. Too bad no one else can see or hear you, huh, my faithful companion. Its growl turned to a purr.
When he reached the youngsters, he let himself hope. Maybe we finally found it. They let him through and dozens of fingers pointed. At gigantic ahuehuetl cypress trees holding up the sky. Over an endless, deep-green valley full of wonders. He was so amazed, he couldn't hear every child.
"See, Ta, see?" He saw armadillos escaping into the underbrush. Children saw the hunter, a spotted ozelotl jaguar. They heard it cough-grunt, and they got the giggles from trying to imitate it.
"Look at them!" The youngsters saw dancing pieces of rainbow, which they playfully mimed. Grand Ta saw red-green-blue-feathered parrots and quetzals crossing the rainforest
"Just listen to those!" Scores of ozomatli monkeys swung from branch to branch. They chattered in funny tongues, making the children giggle louder. Grand Ta also caught the giggles.
He thought, This land is so bewitching, they could forget our Ancestors and their teachings. I will be remembered as a worthy Elder only if I use this moment to strengthen their minds and hearts. When they were out of wind, he signaled for the children to gather where he had started a sacred circle. Adults moved aside and stayed back.
The young people sat and squeezed one another's hands. They hoped there would be time to play before night fell, but they could wait a little longer. The tribe had been traveling for thousands of years and even more miles. Searching for a prophet's vision….

[I'll give you a hint: it wasn't a shining star.]

Friday, December 19, 2014

Checking It Twice

Melinda Palacio
Saturday, December 20, Winterlandia's Anti-Mall Marketplace

My final gift suggestion for the year: books. Tía Chucha Press and Centro Cultural has a great online  book shop. But if you are also looking for a bit of entertainment and fun while rounding out your holiday shopping. Tía Chucha's is hosting their 4th annual Winterlandia Anti-Mall. 

Whenever I mention Tía Chucha's, it's always with a soft spot because Luis J. Rodriguez has always inspired and informed my work. I'm also very honored to be a Tía Chucha Press Poet. They did a gorgeous job with my poetry book, How Fire Is a Story, Waiting. Whenever I go to Tía Chucha's, I always find myself buying some of their local handmade crafts in addition to books. 

If you missed Rudy's books by La Bloga guide, here it is: Holiday Gifts from La Bloga's Latino Authors
Felíz Navidad!

Over in New Orleans, on Sunday, José Torres-Tama gives his final 2014 performance and signs his new book of poems, Immigrant Dreams & Alien Nightmares (Dialogos Books 2014) at Faubourg Marigny Art & Books, December 21 at 6pm, 600 Frenchman Street, New Orleans.

At the Latino Book and Author Festival in 2010,
Luis Rodriguez, Michele Serros, Melinda Palacio and Daniel Olivas

Earlier this year, I reported on Michele Serros's campaign and fight against cancer in the September post: A Latina en Lucha Needs You Mucha Campaign. Thank you for your contributions to La Bloga friend, Michele Serros. In April 2013, Michele was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, adenoid cystic carcinoma. As the disease has advanced to stage 4, she continues to ask for support and has upped the ante in her GiveForward campaign.

Thank you to everyone who reads La Bloga. I appreciate all of your well wishes for my broken leg which is healing. I'm able to walk without a limp and soon I'll be dancing. Gracias!

One of over 300 children in Iguala who will benefit from Reyna Grande's Posada.

Also, your generosity has helped fund Reyna Grande's toy drive. She will be distributing toys to over 300 children in her hometown of Iguala, Guerrero. Her campaign will also continue into the new year as she plans on including a toy give away to the kids at the ayotzinapa school. Reyna says the school has been turned into a campground with many people and kids. If you missed her guest post on La Bloga, read about how Reyna is bringing some Christmas Cheer to a Town Missing 43

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A most cautious joy...


I imagined it would happen differently. Dancing in the streets of Miami and La Habana; frenzied crowds parading in front of TV cameras; bonfires fed by framed photographs of the old guard; and  fountains overflowing with rum and Coke, a new miracle at Cana: Lie becomes Truth. 

I really thought it would come to us, from the east or from above. But instead it was something much simpler. And capricious. Like flicking the switch that lights up the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.

Yes, I'm supposed to be overjoyed, but instead I'm guarded.

My parents, who left Santiago de Cuba in one of the Freedom Flights and spent their first nights in exile at the Casa de la Libertad in Miami, would they have rejoiced?  How can a relationship that has never in my lifetime been normal all of a sudden be "normalized"? Is normalization a transition, like democracy with braces? What should we do with the cavities?

What will it mean to my generation, to those of us who forged an identity from the scraps of exile? 

We, who learned to walk on stilts between two lands, between two languages... will we become pieces of the Berlin Wall peddled to sunburned tourists?  Or did we miss that boat already? 

I am overjoyed, I tell myself. Like so many children during this time of the year, I too, at middle age, want to believe. But since I'm out of practice, I must start slowly... with a simple toast I learned from my parents. I will repeat this mantra nightly until the year is spent, so as the clock strikes midnight on that last night of 2014,  I will be able to say without trepidation: "Next year in Santiago!"


Aquí podrán leer un artículo/entrevista de EFE sobre Cartas del cielo en Univisión Boston:

Les recuerdo que el sábado, 10 de enero a las 2pm 
presentaré mi nueva novela juvenil en la librería  
Tattered Cover de la avenida Colfax: 

¡Los espero!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Fifth Children's Poetry Festival in El Salvador

From the Macondo Newsletter

Edited by Reyna Grande


Macondista Rene Colato Lainez recently visited his native country, El Salvador, as a featured author. Read about his visit!

The Fifth Children's Poetry Festival in El Salvador

by Rene Colato Lainez

As a child in El Salvador, I loved to visit the old National Library and read books. I would wonder about the authors whose books I would read. Where they nearby or did they live far away? Were they young or old? How could they have written all those wonderful words that I so enjoyed reading? 

Then one day, when I was living in Los Angeles, I saw on TV and read in the newspaper that an earthquake had destroyed the National Library. I was a sad to know that I was enjoying the public library in Los Angeles while the children in El Salvador no longer had a library, the place that I had loved to visit. 

Years later, the library in El Salvador was rebuilt in a place that used to be a bank and was named after the Salvadoran writer Francisco Gavidia.I wondered if one day, I would be able to visit this new library.

I never dreamed that one day I would, in fact, visit this library, and not as a patron, but as a featured author! I am so privileged that now as an author, I can go back every year to my native country and read my books at the annual Children's Poetry Festival in San Salvador which is hosted by this library.The festival is organized by Salvadoran children's book author Jorge Argueta and his wife Holly Ayala in San Francisco and author Manlio Argueta and the National Library in San Salvador. 

At the festival, the children were very excited to meet authors and poets. Some were local authors, such as Silvia Elena Regalado, Alberto Pocasangre, Jorgelina Cerritos, Ricardo Lindo and Manlio Argueta.Other authors came from abroad, such as Jorge Argueta, Mara Price, Margarita Robleda and myself.

Since some of my books are about Salvadoran children (Waiting for PapáRené Has Two Last Names, My Shoes and I and I am René, the Boy) I was able to connect with the children at the festival through my books. The children there could see themselves, their culture and their country in my books. I told them that dreams do come true. When I was a kid in El Salvador, I had two dreams: to become a teacher and to be an author. Now my dreams are a reality because I believed in myself, did my best and did  not give up. Children looked at me with sparkles of hope in their eyes. They told me that they will also reach for their dreams, and they were so proud to meet me. 

As the children were listening to my books, I could see my own reflection in their eyes. I could see the young boy who had loved visiting the library, enjoyed reading books and wondered about authors. 

The spirit of Macondo is to give back to our communities. I am so happy that I am giving "mi granito de arena" to the children of El Salvador. Many of these children are from rural areas where their parents work hard to provide for them and often there is not enough money to buy books or school supplies. 

At the end the festival, each child received a festival tote bag with school supplies and gifts, and they also enjoyed a delicious lunch. I am so happy to instill in them the love of books!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

South El Monte Stories.

Michael Sedano

Everyone has a story and everyone’s story deserves telling. Alex Luu conducts workshops with young adults that guide their planning, structuring, and telling their stories to an audience in an evening of theatrical expression.

Stories emerge raw and in the vernacular the students live daily. It's a no-holds-barred world and the writers let loose.

A girl stands in the dark, glamour images projected behind her show a pretty, fit beauty. She screams words she hears when she dresses like the pictures, “Whore!” “Can it be any lower?”

Another girl projects birthday portraits remembering each year’s gifts and parties. Absent always was her one perfect gift, the presence of her father. Other children’s autobiographies express the same single-parented pain.

One boy wants to be a musician but hears his mother’s angry voice that he’s wasting his. Another boy listens to his soccer ball's consejos and taunts in a funny, imaginative piece.

A lot of the students speak of abandonment, loneliness, powerlessness, helplessness, and others of their dreams, plans, visions of a happier future.

Teenagers have the worst and best of two worlds, childhood and adulthood. The impacts of their parenting simmer and accumulate until the children reach their teens and young adulthood. Now the consequences of those experiences, and their influence upon decisions, will reverberate far into their adult future. It’s the divergence of two roads and there’s no going back.

There is in creative non-fiction. Luu coaches his performers to fantasize. Several presentations engage scenes where the kid's persona works up the gumption to tell off an overbearing adult. Spirits soaring, the speaker turns to the audience and admits “I didn’t really say that but I wish I had.” And presto, they have. It’s a South El Monte story and this is why you tell them.

Bringing mostly bad experiences, and how the person feels about them, to life can bring a person to a skidding halt, a good thing if matters are running on inertia, or have taken a bumpy path.

Writing about a situation becomes a way of handling and making sense of one's daily storms. For numerous exigencies, expression offers the sole means of gaining control over a problem.

After the performance--they ran three nights--the standing room only audience keeps their seats for a Q&A. Most questions wonder how the students worked up the confidence to share such intimacy with strangers, publicly. A couple answer they started out withdrawn but opened up and forged community with their workshop peers. Being of the group loosened them up in private and it was easy progression to public expression.

A questioner says she's with drama students from another high school. These students have learned from South El Monte and leave encouraged to tell their own stories. The South El Monte Storytellers brim enchanted that their voice has found listeners outside the confines of their South El Monte universe. This is, after all, why one speaks.

Alex Luu

Audience packs the house

Yesenia Velasquez

Anamaria Flores

Anthony Morales

Audrey Youshimatz

Isaac Caudillo

Steven Reyes

Jenna Flores

Linda Catano

Rosario Morales

Taking a Bow