Thursday, October 30, 2014

Chicanonautica: The Evolution of La Catrina

It’s the end of October, and it’s happening on a weekend: Halloween and Los Días De Los Muertos, that I modestly proposed be made into a three-day fiesta in my novel Smoking Mirror Blues

And we see her, popping up on the interwebs, and coming to your barrio soon -- La Catrina, the skull-faced lady with the fancy hat.

She first showed up in a zinc etching by José Guadalupe Posada somewhere around 1910, 1913-ish -- ¡LA REVOLUÇIÓN! Posada intended her as a caricature of the rich, catrina, in spanish meaning well-dressed, rich, fop, dandy.

The etching, and image, without the benefit of an internet or social media, struck a cord with Mexican culture, and became a popular icon.

Diego Rivera modernized her between 1947 and 1948, providing her with dress and feathered serpent boa in his mural Sueno de un Tarde Dominical en La Alameda Central -- originally in the Hotel del Prado on Alameda Park, but moved after the building was damaged in the earthquake of 1985 and torn down. It’s now in the Museo Mural Diego Rivera, Mexico City, Tenochtitlán, La Capital Azteca. Rivera also made her an avatar of Aztec Mother Godess Coatlicue, adding another layer to her idenity.

Since then, she’s evolved. Today’s Catrina wears the sugar skull face make up, and is glamorous -- taking us back to the 18th century Scots meaning, enchantment, magic, and the fact that the word is an alteration of grammar, which in the Middle Ages refered to occult parctices associated with learning -- and sexy in ways not yet franchised by Hollywood and the fashion industry. It’s a different, subversive concept of beauty, similar to that of the Goths, whose style is being toned down and absorbed by nerd culture, that is in danger of becoming another corporate marketing strategy.

I keep hoping the nerds will see beyond the suburban bubble that they are kept in, get inspired, go wild, and scare the crap out of those who are trying to control them. Encounters with La Catrina can help with this, because no one can control La Catrina. She’s a goddess -- like her sister Santa Muerte -- the return of an ancient, elemental thing that cannot be tamed.

Have a weird and wonderful Dead Daze!

Ernest Hogan’s Dead Daze novel, Smoking Mirror Blues is still available in the original trade paperback edition, and as ebooks through Kindle and Smashwords. A new Kindle version of his first novel Cortez on Jupiter has just become available. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Los Gatos Black on Halloween

Review by Ariadna Sánchez

Let’s celebrate together with Los Gatos Black on Halloween written by Marisa Montes and gorgeously illustrated by Yuyi Morales.  Montes’s vivid narrative has the power to delineate the beauty of Latin American culture page by page. The fusion of Spanish words in the story creates a smooth seasonal spirit. It’s like an invitation to a wonderful journey of pleasant emotions.
Everything is ready to rock under the full bright moon! Surrounded  by spooky sounds, the pumpkins, mummies, wolfman, zombies, los gatos black, las brujas on their broomsticks, los muertos crawling out of their coffins, and los esqueletos with their white shiny bones arrive one by one to the colorful haunted mansion. The party is perfect until a loud rasp at the door. This unexpected twist gives the monsters a terrible problem. Monsters are scared of niños especially on Halloween night. What will happen next? A complementary glossary is available at the end of the book. Delightful pictures by Morales are the perfect complement for this breathtaking and mysterious story. BOO!
Visit your local library for more eerie and creepy tales. Reading gives you wings!      

Enjoy the read-along Los Gatos Black on Halloween video:

* * *

Los Monstruos: Halloween Song in Spanish  

by Music With Sara

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Calaveras for Coachella • Veterans Job Fair • El Sereno Street Festival • Sci-Fi Anthology

Michael Sedano

It’s that time of year when cultura shows. Gente paint their faces to resemble skulls, erect spectacular memorial altars, hold processions, art shows, and craft sales to honor our dead. It's Dia de los Muertos and calacas rule the day.

Calaca cultura captures artist imaginations to create particularly gratifying art and collectibles. It's a time turn-of-the-20th-century artist Jose Guadalupe Posada's popularity increases with countless tributes to Posada's style. In classrooms, activities remind kids the calaca motif in Mexican art antedates European incursion.

Calavera frieze recreates Templo Mayor wall, Museo Nacional de la Antropologia

Calaca glitz sparkles across the US Southwest, Dia de Los Muertos splashes cultura across local news with an array of entrepreneurs hosting events from humble sidewalk congregations to this-year-better-than-last-year extravaganzas at cemeteries and concert grounds.

One elegantly cool small show was the Crewest/Gregg Stone annual calaca show. Stone donated ceramic skulls for emerging and established artists. They painted and elaborated the small skulls then exhibited in Crewest’s annual Top of the Dome shows. Be sure to click the link.  I collected several over the years. Sadly, Crewest gallery closed its doors and the annual shows with them.

The idea of decorated skulls rekindled this year in the form of giant papier mache skulls destined for Dia de los Muertos USA, a Coachella Valley DDLM extravaganza making its premiere event. I’ve found the skull I’d love to add to my collection, it’s shown in process in the video below, Margaret Garcia's tiled skull.

Margaret Garcia invited La Bloga to have a look as she, volunteer Bonnie Lambert, and two apprentices, put the finishing touches on the massive beauty headed to the Imperial Valley city of Coachella. The truck is due in a few days so she's on deadline.

Garcia's assembled a professional crew. Artist Bonnie Lambert volunteers her work and has been a key part of the team from its earliest hour. Be sure to visit Bonnie's gallery at this link.

 A pair of apprentices join the team with masonry and tile experience. Monumental scale art projects like Margaret Garcia's tiled calavera skull are job creators.

 In a project imagined by producer Rodri Rodriguez and Art Director Juan Rodriguez, artists were offered a papier mache skull to paint and decorate. Garcia told them she was happy to have the massive object but would not paint it. She saw the skull covered in tile. She also smothered it with love, as in labor of. And seeing this wonder, who wouldn't want to own it?

Over the past weeks, Garcia has been documenting her process on Facebook. Videos illustrate how she covers the papier mache with successive layers of fiberglass fabric. The crew trowels Portland cement across each curve and contours it by hand. Final layers brush on cement slurry for a smooth finish of its concrete skin that's the substrate for the tile.

Garcia buys tile shards, decorative beads, ceramic figures, adding her own found pieces. She lays cement mixture across the skull, section by section, sinking shards into place.

Walking around the creation finds a corazón surrounding a woman and man at dawn, setting out on a journey. Her blue shawl evokes Lupe, the curlicue at their feet at once suggest the black moon of tradition and a Mexica glyph, perhaps flor y canto symbols since flowers abound behind the couple.

Treating the eye at a wider scope, Garcia outlines the valentine heart in green shards with a tessellated lotus blossom pattern. The tight regularity of that pattern is hypnotic against the randomness inside the corazón. Other places geometry is irrelevant to pleasing gatherings of intensely bright colors and ceramic motifs.

A sirena floats quietly above an eyebrow. A gecko rises from a lobe. Eye concavities sparkle with blue beads in raggedly concentric circles.

With tile layed in place, the crew mixes grout into a stiff but pliant mixture. Owing to the irregular joints and surfaces, grouting is done by hand. Press the ball of putty onto the surface then work it tightly against both sides of the gap until the surface is tile, then a black line, then tile; no gaps, few exposed edges.

I arrive as the work takes on an extra laboriousness. The team is scraping away with razor blades,  the task complicated by irregularities and the importance of avoiding scratches and gouges.

Margaret uses a Dremel tool’s abrasive bit to raise clouds of black dust. She works with artist’s precision, getting mostly grout and not clamshelling her ceramics nor dulling their shine. Garcia is due for a break so we go for ceviche.

Someone changed the grouting plan, Garcia reveals, getting it done instead of getting it done right. Grout that smears across its boundary needs to disappear, that's expected. Working to plan would have made the touch-up far less laborious. No one complains, they find the blade's preferred angle and scrape scrape scrape away the sandy black grit. The whole crew knows someone messed up. So it goes.

The crew is happy for the botana we bring for their lunch.

Excess grout gone, the tile gleams with appreciation.

The skull is a labor of love and explosion of creativity. Garcia's muse, Rhett Beavers, arrives from a landscaping task to scrape for a while.

Margaret Garcia's tiled calavera skull is a marvel of sculpture and cultura that belongs in the Norton Simon or my yard. I’m sure I cannot afford it, but I do have the perfect spot for it.

My Calaveras

One of my DDLM treasures is the chuparrosa skull, a gift from Gregg Stone. It's extremely fragile, as witnessed by the lost wing tip on the right of the foto. Lástima. Please do not touch.

Chuparrosa skull by Gregg Stone. 

Mexico City’s Zona Rosa struggles to awaken with the first stirrings of sanitation crews cleaning up after Saturday night’s raucous club-goers scattered McDonald’s bags and other trash on every available horizontal surface. I heard them from my window last night. By habit, I'm up early and heading out to walk las calles.

I aim for the antiques market where there’s usually a Sunday patio sale. I’m in luck.

The sleepy kid is probably a college student. Half-shaven, he's laid out his wares on a shabby blanket. Glass, china saucers, rusty hardware, assorted detritus of estate sales and a packrat eye for junk. I spot an expertly-hewn sandstone gargoyle. He knows its value but offers a discount. I'm not prepared to spend a hundred fifty bucks so I turn to his books. I scan the spines noting lots of Mexican history, some mass market art books, and a thin folded spine. I pull out a grey cardboard pamphlet and it’s a treasure. Posada.

In 1952 the Mexican Typographers Union struck a small collection of Calaveras and calaverones from Posada’s zinc plates. Printed on aging tissue paper they're impossible to display and eventually will be eaten by the paper. But at forty dollars the portfolio of eight letter-size sheets are one of those strokes of good fortune that happen to others.

Calaveron detail

Calaverititas, size of a nickel coin

Last Day for L.A. Veterans to Register for Jobs Fair

Today is the final day for Veterans in the Southern California region to enroll to participate in the inaugural "10,000 Strong" Hiring Event. This will be a reverse hiring fair featuring a coalition of partners led from the Mayor's office.

reverse hiring fair is when pre-screened, veteran applicants attend the 10,000 Strong Hiring Event and are interviewed on site with employers who are currently looking to fill positions for their companies. Pre-screening allows for the best possible match between a veteran and a job opportunity.

Every veteran who enrolls by October 28th will be assigned an employment specialist who will help them prepare for the event and for future job searches if this event fails to match a Veteran's abilities to an available job.

The 9-5 interviewing event gets rolling November 5th 2014 at Goodwill Industries' Community Enrichment Center at 3150 N San Fernando Rd. Los Angeles, CA 90065.

Veteran Job Seekers must enroll by October 28th to receive assistance with resume and interview preparation. No Veteran will be turned away.

El Sereno DDLM in Fifth Year

That Coachella affair that Margaret Garcia's skull is in looks like a magnificent experience. For gente who cannot make the road trip past Palm Springs, Los Angeles' El Sereno takes a namesake approach to the celebration with a street festival now in its quinto iteration.

Artists, poetry, art, crafts, local businesses like Connie Castro from Hecho En Mexico restaurant will be on hand to greet and welcome locals and travelers from ancient lands.

Giving & Taking
Maximize Your Crowdfunding

It’s such a sound strategy, crowdfunding, that it’s a growth sector of the information industry. Google the term. Anyone with a computer can create a crowdfunding pitch, and a montón of them have.

Using homophily as the basis for asking strangers to give you money is a potent tactic. Who hasn’t received those emails? Lately there's been an upswell supporting an important book that Big Publishing won’t touch, the Latino/a Rising anthology. The editor is soliciting submissions and contributions. If the submissions are worthy, and the money sufficient, the book gets published.

Crowdfunding works. Thousands of people have asked for and gotten millions of dollars from generous publics. Crowdfunding works for the credit card companies, too. Amazon Payments, for example, charges 2.9% plus thirty cents, to collect money for a crowd sourcer. In other words, if you give ten dollars to the project, fifty-nine cents goes into Amazon’s pocket and your causa receives $9.41

Call me a cheapskate. OK, that hurt. But I’m not giving money to Amazon or Paypal or some other card processor. That’s why crowdfunders need to include a mailing address in their pitches. A mailed-in check comes with no hidden processing fees, so when you give that ten dollars, ten dollars goes to the project.

There is a difference. A crowdfund is a pledge, not a donation. If the plea reaches deaf ears, no money goes out of your card to the project. With a check, you've given the money, no-strings attached. The project is at liberty to return your check or not. But then, that's what giving looks like, a one-way money flow.

So I’m offering a mailing address so you can support the Latino/a Rising project to publish a speculative fiction anthology that would introduce a broad cross-section of raza writers to the huge worldwide audience for sci-fi and related genre literature.

Mail your check to support Latino/a Rising to: Matthew David Goodwin, 246 Ardmore Ave., Apt. C, Upper Darby, PA 19082

Yodoquinsi in Late-breaking News from Oxnard

Remember this is a unique opportunity to hear prehispanic instrumental group Yodoquinsi.

October 31 2014
5:00 o'clock pm
Downtown Sol
328 W 3rd St , Oxnard , CA 93030
(805) 240-7765

This is the first time that Yodoquinsi has come directly from Mexico. It's a rare opportunity to see and hear a live full range of pre -Columbian instruments.

Thanks to the support and hard work of the Mexican Consulate in Oxnard, Downtown Sol, in coordination with Ollinkalli Cultural Arts Center is able to share this concert with the Ventura County community.

For more information or to reserve your seat contact Downtown Sol or Yenelli Law


Yenelli Law
Ollinkalli Cultural Arts Center
805 901 6171

Monday, October 27, 2014

Spotlight on Anna Mavromati

Anna Mavromati

Anna Mavromati is already making her mark in Southern California literary circles. Lisa Glatt, author of A Girl Becomes a Comma Like That (Simon & Schuster), calls Mavromati “a uniquely talented writer, a young writer to watch” who writes short stories that are “full of depth and heart and stunning moments of insight.”

Mavromati, as with most writers, makes her living from teaching, in her case English and journalism at Santa Monica College and El Camino College. Her short stories have been published in Day Old Roses Journal, Champagne For Breakfast, Per Contra Journal, Shaking Lit Magazine, RipRap Journal, and elsewhere. Mavromati has also worked and published as a freelance journalist for a number South Bay and Long Beach newspapers. She earned an MFA in fiction writing from California State University, Long Beach, and now lives in Redondo Beach, California.

Sally Shore will feature Mavromati’s work on November 9, at the Federal Bar in North Hollywood, as part of The New Short Fiction Series. For more information on Mavromati’s upcoming Federal Bar program (including ticket prices and directions), visit here.

Anna Mavromati kindly agreed to sit down with La Bloga to discuss writing and literature.

DANIEL OLIVAS: When did you realize that you wanted to be a writer?

ANNA MAVROMATI: I started “playing” with writing at an early age. When I was around five or so, I used to write little “books” (in spiral-bound notebooks) where I would come up with stories and illustrate them with stick-figure drawings. I think that was around the time I learned what the word “author” meant, and the idea instantly appealed to me. I liked hearing stories and I wanted to tell them too. At that age I also wanted to be a Disney Princess and Indiana Jones when I grew up, but looking back, being a writer was always an idea I was drawn to. I guess the seed for that was planted pretty early in me

When I hit my pre-teens and I still loved stories and loved reading, then I started thinking more about writing as a potential future career. I started writing for a community college newspaper at age 16, fell into journalism, and in college I finally found my way to fiction writing.

DO: Who are some of your important literary influences?

AM: I feel like that list is constantly growing!

I remember reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in one of my first years of college and really connecting with it. Not only did I absolutely love the novel, but I loved the idea of Mary Shelley as the mastermind behind it—the 19-year-old mistress whose writing was on par with the infamous male authors of her time. As an 18-year-old girl, going through my first string of “serious” boyfriends and trying to figure out what to do with my life, I found Mary Shelley to be such an inspirational figure.

I also grew up in a generation that adored J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and to this day I largely credit it with continuing my interest in the literary arts growing up. I still look back on that phenomenon with some awe.

In graduate school I was drawn to the works of Sylvia Plath and Adrienne Rich—women who wrote poetry the way I wanted to learn to write my fiction, with this really distinct, honest-sounding voice and style. I love the work of today’s magical realists like Aimee Bender and Karen Russell as well. I love the surrealist, fairytale quality of their work, but also, once again, I love the way they use language to craft these strong personifying voices for their characters. In graduate school I fell in love with a lot of modernists, particularly the work of the “Lost Generation”: Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald were incredible. And of course, Raymond Carver is another big one I got into in college as well.

DO: What do you hope readers get from reading your fiction?

AM: You know, I’m not sure. Not because I don’t feel like I have messages and intentions in my writing, but because I’m pretty open about what readers end up taking away from the story. It could be completely different from whatever I had in mind when I wrote it—and in most cases, that’s a beautiful thing.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

“Latinas and Latinos in the Midwest: Past, Present, and Future” The National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies (NACCS) FOCO in Kansas City, Missouri

Census numbers tell it all. There were 3.5 million Mexicanos living in the Midwest in 2010 with present research projecting that the numbers continue to increase.  We are now, in 2014, nearing the 4 million mark.  Given these numbers, the idea of Latinos living in the Midwest can no longer be viewed as unusual, especially because the numbers are increasing. It is because of this Midwest Latina and Latino presence that three professors at The University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC), were committed to hosting a weekend for academics, poets, fiction writers, community organizations, to come and have a conversation about the various aspects of Latinidad in the Midwest. 
Left to Right: Dr. Miguel Carranza, Director of the Latina/Latino Studies Program;
Co-Chair of conference, Theresa L. Torres; Co- Chair of Conference, Norma Cantú
Thanks to the Co-Chairs of the conference:  Professors Norma Cantú, and Theresa L. Torres, as well as the Director of the Latina/Latino Studies Program, Dr. Miguel Carranza. Their commitment to "doing the work that matters," brought many faculty and students from various areas of the Midwest (Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico) and from Monterrey, Mexico. They came together to share their Midwest research, writing, personal experiences within and outside of the university. 

The success of this past weekend’s NACCS Midwest FOCO conference was also a testament to the many academic Latina and Latino programs/departments, and community organizations that presently exist or have been recently established.  At UMKC, the Latino program is fairly new, yet already organized enough to bring NACCS to its campus.  At Kansas State University, Dr. Yolanda Broyles-González has established the Department of American Ethnic Studies. 
Faculty from the new Department of American Ethnic Studies
(left to right):  Dr. Norma Valenzuela,  Dr. Yolanda Broyles-González, Dr. Isabel Millán
In addition to posting the census numbers of Latina/Latino growth in the Midwest, Dr. Rogelio 
Dr. Rogelio Sáenz, Dean of the College of Public Policy (University of Texas, San Antonio)
Sáenz, in his keynote speech last Friday, described more detailed numbers which reveal a primarily young Midwest population. (Dr. Sáenz is Dean of the College of Public Policy at University of Texas, San Antonio.)  Because the majority of Latinas/Latinos in the Midwest are young, there are opportunities for them to influence local, state, national elections and the societal institutions present in their regions, many years into the future.  But they need education, and support. 
Dr. Nancy "Rusty" Barceló

Dr. Nancy “Rusty” Barceló echoed Dr. Sáenz’s comments by calling Ethnic Studies and Latina/Latino Studies programs to assist in the changing demographics, to forge an agenda “to increase our presence and our visibility. Community engagement is making a comeback,” she said, “and Latino studies is at the center.  We need to revisit our obligations and work toward societal change.” 

In addition to the more academic keynote talks, Alberto López Pulido (Chair of Ethnic Studies at the University of San Diego) and Rigo Reyes, (a founding member of the Amigos Car Club in San Diego) showcased their film:  EverythingComes from the Streets, a documentary on low rider culture which is also present in the Midwest.  An example is the “Slow and Low:  Community LowriderFestival” that occurs in Chicago, Illinois. 

Award-winning poets also gave readings: Xanath Caraza (who teaches at UMKC); Natalia Treviño (recently received her MFA at The University of Nebraska’s MFA Program and she is now a professor at Northwest Vista College in San Antonio, TX); and Minerva Margarita Villarreal (who traveled from Monterrey, Mexico). 
From left to right: Poets Minerva Margarita Villarreal, Natalia Treviño, Xánath Caraza
There were a multitude of panels by students, professors, and community organizers.  One such panel was a roundtable entitled, “Chicana Testimonios:  Growing up Chicana in Kansas:  Three Generations of Experience.”  All three women are from Topeka, Kansas, and described a rich history, culture, and specific issues concerning Latinidad in that area.  They also discussed their efforts in providing new organizations to enrich the diversity of needs among the various generations. For example, Christina founded the Tonantzín Society to educate and support Latino art and culture, with a focus on Mexican/Chicana/Chicano culture.  

Three Generations of Topeka, Kansas Mujeres
From left to right: Valerie Mendoza, Graciela Beruman, Christina Valdivia Alcalá
I was very happy to bring two graduate students to the conference from our University of Nebraska-Lincoln English Department: Bernice Olivas (Composition and Rhetoric) and Visnja Vujin (American Literature/Chicana and Chicano Studies). Bernice and Visnja are presently either primarily studying and teaching Latina/Latino and Chicana/Chicano literatures or incorporating it into their main area of study. They gave excellent papers on pedagogy and Gloria Anzaldúa. 
From the University of Nebraska-Lincoln:  Graduate student, Visjna Vijun,
Professor Amelia Montes, Graduate student, Bernice Olivas
This is only the beginning!  The Midwest NACCS FOCO is now a vibrant entity and plans are already in the works for the next one. Hoping to see you next year and wishing you a great week!

I leave you with poems from our conference poets who read this weekend:  Minerva Margarita Villareal; Natalia Treviño; and Xánath Caraza.  

Poem by Minerva Margarita Villareal (translation by Amelia M.L Montes)


La casa que construiste fue arrasada
Vi cómo sucedió           
cómo se desprendían paredes y ladrillos
El techo voló
Left to right:  Minerva Margarita Villareal, Dr. Norma Cantú
Dr. Cantú reads Minerva's poem in English;  
sobre los huesos
y el paisaje entre la hierba abrió
echó raíces bajo las plantas de mis pies
Estoy anclada
y esta casa mojada por la lluvia
esta casa azotada por el viento
hecha polvo
y materia que crece
Esta casa soy yo


The house you constructed was devastated
I saw how it happened,
how the walls and bricks cracked open.
The roof flew
over bones
and the grassy landscape exposed,
threw roots under the plants of my feet.
I am anchored
and this wet house, wet because of rain,
this house whipped by the wind
made into powder
and matter that grows,
I am this house. 

Poem by Natalia Treviño from Lavando La Dirty Laundry

Mexican Bride

Natalia Treviño
Centered above her king-sized bed
in Nuevo Leon, a large crucifix, a resin-bloodied
crumpling Body of Christ—the only art
hanging from her smooth plaster walls.

A lamination of Mary, Mother of Sorrows tucked
across and below the frame of her vanity.  Wedding
gifts for all new brides, decorations surrounding the spirit
in the bedroom.  As if the dimensions of the body

nailed at the limbs would lead new husbands
to handle the living curves of their brides.
As if a slain nude, thorned at the crown above her
head, could help rigid legs relax, for fire. 

Poem by Xánath Caraza from Sílabas de Viento (translation by Sandra Kingerly)


Llueve en la América profunda
Llueve en el corazón
Se abren los trigales con el viento
Desde las nubes grises
Se desprenden gotas
Que alcanzan las espigas
Las mueve, las alimenta
Llueve en las praderas
Sopla el viento en la Esmeralda tierra
Se provoca la tormenta
En los maizales
Sonidos huecos de lluvia entre las hojas
El viento corre entre los dorados campos
Los doblega y levanta en un eterno vaivén
Siento la humedad en la piel

                        (Iowa City, octubre de 2012)
Xánath Caraza

It is Raining

It is raining in deepest America
It is raining in the heart
Wheat fields open with wind
Drops slip
From gray clouds
Reaching stalks
Moving them, feeding them
It is raining on the meadows
Wind blows on emerald land
Provoking storms
In corn fields
Hollow sounds of rain on husks
Wind runs between golden fields
Bending and lifting them back and forth
I feel damp skin

                                    (Iowa City, October 2012)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Northside of people OR developers' gentry Highlands

In John Carpenter's ancient 1981 film Escape from New York, convicted bank robber Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is sent into futuristic 1997 to rescue the US President from Manhattan, which by 1997 is a gigantic max-security prison. The film was called sci-fi, but today's gentrified Manhattan or San Francisco or Denver makes the film alternate history, a future not based in reality.

Two recent news and developments in Denver's gentrification made we wonder about my Northside neighborhood, which I and Bloguista Manuel Ramos have often written about, realistically, facetiously, or soberly, as Ramos wrote:
"One of the regrettable things that has happened to Denver’s Northside, where I've lived for more than thirty years, is the rise and victory of the 'suburban aesthetic': boxy, boring housing lined up in rows; a uniform 'non-conformist' style from clothes to music; restaurants that are destinations rather than good places to grab a bite to eat; an obsession about 'making it,' a flaccid, common denominator cultural perspective. A great neighborhood has to be more than that."

A Highlands developer's dream
Gentrification is defined as: "revitalizing neighborhoods, the movement of young, often single, professionals into low-income, heavily minority, neighborhoods near urban employment centers. Low-income and minority residents are pushed out by gentrification as the local culture and consumption patterns are taken over by upwardly mobile professionals."

Progress is defined as a gradual betterment; the process of improving or developing something over a period of time; the act or process of growing or causing something to grow or become larger or more advanced."

Bolded words above took on different meanings as I sat on my front patio this week, wondering how gentrification had "revitalized, improved" or made the neighborhood "more advanced." It is "larger" in terms of population density, with condo and apartment complexes going up like Peyton Manning's touchdown-record.

Gazing down the street, from house to house, this is what I know. When people moved into these houses that were built in the 1940s, they were looking for homes to start families, places to raise their kids, within walking distance of neighborhood schools [3 within 5 blocks], and maybe not far from their jobs.

A home the developers didn't raze
In both of those two houses (imagine following my finger) live steelworkers, in that one a factory worker and his grocery clerk wife, in that one a retired railroad worker, in the corner one a postal worker, in that one lived a president of her union, and next door, a federal government worker, Until recently, I was a teacher. All of those people belonged/belong to unions--there's more I don't know about--which were part of the community culture. Finding a gentry-neighbor who's part of a union or who would support a union picket is as hard as finding cheap houses around here.

Next door to me lived a Chicano who I went to college with and was part of the Chicano student movement. Across the street, a woman who was one of its poets. The three of us, at least, had that in common. Student radicalism, Chicano pride, nonviolent protest. None of the gentry on my block come from such backgrounds.

A home, not an investment
Across the street lived two girls who went to the Northside middle and high school with my two kids, one of whom lives five blocks away. Next door and two houses down, and in others sprinkled down the block, live/lived other kids who went to the same schools. They called themselves Northsiders, Vikings and attended North High School. Many stayed together at the same schools until they graduated or went on to college. With charter and split or hybrid schools all around us, the few gentry kids won't have neighborhood schools in common.

I can see the house where the Italian old lady [her son still lives there] use to drink on her porch. She was the same woman who would take care of neighborhood Mexican kids when their mother was late getting home. Or would feed Chicano children who she knew didn't have enough to eat when they got home from school. A steelworker from another house would regularly mow the two lawns of old ladies who couldn't push a mower or afford to pay anyone. A welder who lives over there and the guy who live there will weld something for you for free or run his snow-blower down other people's sidewalks. Another guy helped me with my fire-pit and another has fixed my car for me and neither would accept money. Of course, sometimes neighbors paid for work or bartered. I wonder whether today's gentry neighbors, with some exceptions, would act so neighborly for kids who might have lice in their hair, or let their gentry kids play with them, or even imagine that hungry neighborhood kids might be part of their responsibilities.

Really--you'd want to live in this?
South of me lived a Chicano, then a Mexican family, then another Mexican family that had migrated without papers from the same region of Mexico. Next door to them, another family from that region. North of me lived a paperless Mexican family, and I can count five others on the block that are still homes to Mexicanos. Counting us, there's six Chicano families still around. Decades ago, I had no doubts about why my family moved here. Because there were Chicanos, working class, Mexicanos who spoke Spanish. Good decent-priced restaurants with a chorizo breakfast, or bars with affordable shots or a variety of tequilas, or clubs with live music and no cover and cheap beer, or Catholic church bazaars where you ate good, danced in the street and saw and talked with your raza neighbors. With the gentry here, most of that is disappearing. I know that in a lot of cases, the gentry see that as Progress.

Kurt can't save us from Highlands
Our Chafee Park pocket of ranch house bungalows is zoned for families and no apartments. The developer-gentry may try to change that. (Over mi cuerpo muerto.) The old Northsiders moved here to find homes. Yes, they expected the house's value to rise, at least from inflation. But they moved here to stay, except for Mexicanos and Chicanos who got trapped by balloon payments, ARMs and under-qualifying loans. The four families I know about who lost homes had to move east to Aurora where ethnics can more afford to live or rent.

Architecture: Highlands-ugly
The developers have created another circle of Dante's Hell. Apartment buildings are going up, yes, like a Broncos' score. Monthly rents average $1,145. "Over 9,000 new apartments were built in 2013, 8,700 more are expected this year, and another 8,700 in 2015. 55,000 people will migrate here next year. "People are definitely looking at Colorado as the place to be. We have become an area where young professionals are moving. Entrepreneurs can start their businesses anywhere in the country, and so they are choosing areas where the lifestyle matches their preferences."

You buy this, you breathe the chems
I think of the new Northside--the developers renamed us Highlands, without our input--as Legoland. Like Ramos described above, apartment and condo boxes are slapped together with OSB instead of plywood like the old homes. It's 2/3 cheaper and the gentry will only see the outside. It doesn't matter that California wants to require special warnings for these "chemicals known to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm, wood dust known to cause cancer." The median price for these boxes is $263,000. It's about money, investment, flipping houses and moving on. Not about neighbors and community.

This month in the Denver Post, Fine Arts Critic Ray Mark Rinaldi published "Did diversity miss the train in Union Station's architecture?" (The place is only ten minutes from my house.) The whole article is worth reading, but here's a sample:

Not Union Station; just big Lego

"The urban playground at Union Station isn't drawing people of color and it may be the building's fault. Walking through the station, it doesn't look at all like Denver in 2014. More like Denver in 1950, Boise, Idaho, or Billings, Mont. If, that is, you are white and not paying attention. Or if you think diversity doesn't matter. If you do, you can't help but feel like something is off amidst all the clinking of martini glasses. If you are a tourist, you might get the idea that Denver doesn't have people of color. Or worse, you might think it's one of the most segregated cities in the U.S. That's not the case.

"The architecture's roots are in the glory days of France, England, Greece and Rome, empires that were nearly absent of ethnic minorities and who felt fully at ease invading, exploiting and actually enslaving the people of Africa, Asia and South America.
"Yes, that's all in the past; things have changed. But the $54 million renovation of Union Station doesn't take that into account. It restores the symbols of an old world with no updates. The gilded chandeliers have been rewired, the marble polished, but there's no nod to the present. Is Union Station Ready for the Next 100 years, as its marketing proclaims?"

Rinaldi received over 316 comments. I won't't be surprised if the paper's conservative owners demoted or restricted him to articles about Bronco Stadium architecture. Here's a sample of the comments:
"So writing a racist article is OK if it is against white people?"
"White guilt is a large part of any college education now."
"We should just blow up all beautiful old buildings so that nobody is ever made uncomfortable by being reminded of what their ancestors didn't accomplish."
I don't know how many comments came from developers or gentry. But none of this sounds like the old Northside's neighborly ways of Italians, Chicanos, Mexicanos and others living next to each other. It certainly doesn't sound like tolerance.

Highlands next improvement?
If you missed it, check Bobby Lefebre's La Bloga post from last week, Vanishing Chicano Culture and the Gentrification of Denver’s Northside. "He is the driving force behind the We Are North Denver movement that has shined a bright spotlight on the massive changes happening to the Northside - good and bad. When racist flyers recently appeared in the neighborhood, Bobby responded with action that focused on unity in the community. He wrote the following article originally for his website, which you can find at this link." Like Ramos said there, "As a resident of the Northside for more than thirty years, I agree with much of what Bobby says in this piece. Both Bobby and I would be interested in your reactions."

The Northside that's become the developers' and gentry's Highlands is a great candidate for a new Darwin Award for City Suicide. Already the signs of super-congestion, unflavored architecture and an unaffordable lifestyle and life have settled over my neighborhood like a new Brown Cloud. It didn't and doesn't have to be that way. Richer, whiter neighborhoods were inoculated from turning into Legoland. For instance, there's the Bonnie Brae Neighborhood Association whose zoning committee reviews all zoning requests. It's one of the most charming, coveted, million-dollar-homes areas in the West. Take note developers--of million-dollar-homes. Not made of cheap, toxic OSB or intended to look like Legos. And how about some solar?

Old Northside home, family-friendly
Except for the Lefebre and Rinaldi articles, I don't know why I wrote this. I'm not lamenting so much as remembering. Why we came here. What here is. And was. What it shouldn't become. What it shouldn't lose. Its ethnicity. Its multi-national neighborhood quality. Its sense of community. It's the Northside.

Es todo, hoy,
RudyG, a.k.a. a Northside who's not quitting. Or moving.