Saturday, April 19, 2014

Gabriel García Márquez sigue

"The day shit is worth money, poor people will be born without an asshole."

Those aren't my words; they're from Gabriel García Márquez, who's given us some of the greatest in any language.

QEPD = Que en Paz Descanse is the Spanish equivalent to "rest in peace." After I posted notes about Marquez passing, an Anglo friend sent me condolences: "Lo siento," he said, "sorry."

I'll say the sentiment was good, but the intended audience was too narrow. Latinos don't need condolences from Anglos, about Márquez's death. He belongs to the world's peoples and in that sense, is relevant and part of us all.

Márquez, a political creature
There's the tendency to mention magical realism whenever Márquez's name comes up. That bothers me as an indirect slotting of his work, like it was "only" an example of latinoamericano speculative literature. Anymore than Crime and Punishment should be called genre horror or thriller. Some works and writers defy delimiting, like Márquez and his works. However much he defined magical realism, he also shred that envelope, passing into the realm of Classic.

Here's more of his words, not usually quoted:
The world must be all fucked up when men travel first class and literature goes as freight.
I don’t think you can write a book that’s worth anything without extraordinary discipline.
With The Thousand and One Nights, I learned and never forgot that we should read only those books that force us to reread them.
Literature was the best plaything that had ever been invented to make fun of people.
If men gave birth, they'd be less inconsiderate.
The secret of a good old age is simply an honorable pact with solitude.

Whatever type of reader you are, you haven't lived unless you've experienced at least one of Márquez's epics. Below are the openings to two novels. Go outside somewhere by yourself, read them once for meaning, sentido, then read them aloud for the music. This might make you wonder if you should read the entire book. You should.

from Love in the Time of Cholera:

(translation): It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love. Dr. Juvenal Urbino noticed it as soon as he entered the still darkened house where he had hurried on an urgent call to attend a case that for him had lost all urgency many years before. The Antillean refugee Jeremiah de Saint-Amour, disabled war veteran, photographer of children, and his most sympathetic opponent in chess, had escaped the torments of memory with the aromatic fumes of gold cyanide.

from One Hundred Years of Solitude:
Muchos años después, frente al pelotón de fusilamiento, el coronel Aureliano Buendía había de recordar aquella tarde remota en que su padre lo llevó a conocer el hielo. Macondo era entonces una aldea de veinte casas de barro y cañabrava construidas a la orilla de un río de aguas diáfanas que se precipitaban por un lecho de piedras pulidas, blancas y enormes como huevos prehistóricos. El mundo era tan reciente, que muchas cosas carecían de nombre, y para mencionarlas había que señalarlas con el dedo.

a children's book on Márquez
(translation): Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, General Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.

Esquire re-posted a Márquez short story, The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Erendira and Her Heartless Grandmother that you can read in full.

I'm not sad Márquez died. He was mortal and reached a logical end. I don't know how his last weeks, months, years were, given a cancer he suffered; perhaps he was grateful to end his time, even. But before that, he left his people, his species, with enough to prove that he'd been here and done good. Great. Phenomenal. So, while his energy has left his body, some remains locked in his prose, to be shared by those to come.

Salud al maestro Marquez!

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Tony Garcia Interview

Anthony J. "Tony" Garcia
Today we hear from Anthony "Tony" Garcia, long-time Artistic Director at the world-famous El Centro Su Teatro. Tony is the driving force behind many of Denver's cultural highlights, recognized and honored by the local, national, and international cultural elite, as well as respected and loved by the community he so ably represents with his hard-work and intense commitment. Tony recently managed to squeeze in a few minutes for La Bloga -  and we are grateful;  he's a busy guy. Tony offers his opinion about a wide range of subjects including the current state of Chicano theater, Su Teatro's plans for the immediate future, what Su Teatro offers in the way of opportunities for writers, and key lessons taught to all of us by César Chávez.

[from Su Teatro's website]
Tony Garcia, Executive Artistic Director: Tony has been the Executive Artistic Director of El Centro Su Teatro since 1989 and has been a member of Su Teatro since 1972. He received his BA in Theater from the University of Colorado at Denver. Tony has received numerous awards and accolades for his artistic vision, including the 1989 University of California, Irvine Chicano Literary Award, a 2006 United States Artists Fellowship, an artist residency at the Island Institute in Sitka, Alaska, and was named the Denver Post 2010 Theater Person of the Year. Most recently, he received the prestigious Livingston Fellowship from the Bonfils Stanton Foundation. Tony is a past faculty member for the National Association of Latino Art and Culture (NALAC) Leadership Institute as well as a past board member, he is a peer trainer for the Colorado Creative Industries’ Peer Assistance Network, and a member of the Western State Arts Federation’s (WESTAF) Board of Trustees. Tony also is an adjunct professor at Metro State University in Denver.

La Carpa de los Rasquachis, written by Luis Valdez, directed by Anthony J. Garcia

And a little bit about Su Teatro, also from Su Teatro's website:
Su Teatro began in 1971 as a student-organized theater group at the University of Colorado at Denver. In 1989, Su Teatro purchased the old Elyria School in Northeast Denver and became El Centro Su Teatro, a multidisciplinary cultural arts center. 

Twenty-one years later in September, 2010 Su Teatro purchased The Denver Civic Theater at 721 Santa Fe Dr.

Over 40 years, Su Teatro has established a national reputation for homegrown productions that speak to the history and experience of Chicanos. Su Teatro has created more than 15 original full length productions that have toured widely to venues such as New York’s Public Theater, The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, San Antonio, TX and Plaza de la Raza, Los Angeles, CA. 

The artistic excellence of our programs and our relevance to the field has been recognized nationally through funding from The Shubert Foundation, Theatre Communications Group, the National Performance Network, The National Endowment for the Arts, the Kresge Foundation, and the American Composers Forum.


Manuel Ramos:     At one time there were Chicano teatros all over the place. What's the state of this type of theater today?  How big is this club?

Tony Garcia:  In the mid-70s there were as many as ten teatros in Colorado alone. In 1976 we brought them together in a festival. There were probably 50-70 and many would participate in national and international festivals, often hosted by a group called TENAZ ( Teatros Nacionales de Aztlan. ) Just recently there was a call for entries for a national gathering of Latino theater ensembles and more than 70 groups responded. This does not include the individual artists and spoken word performers. The Latino Commons was a gathering of individual Latino theater artists in Boston and an invited list of 67 showed up. The variety is great, we created a circle of our experience as teatristas, and we ran from Luis Valdez of El Teatro Campesino, whose company was formed in 1965, to college performers with less than two years in the field. I would say we are as healthy as we can be for artists. The work is less politically and socially driven then it was when we began. It is, though, no less important. We are still working our way through identity issues as our identities evolve. We are no longer just telling stories about Chicanos, because we are no longer just Mexican-Americans. We are Mexican-African-Americans, Mexican-Japanese-Pilipino-Americans. We are Puerto Rican-Cuban-Irish-Americans, so all of those elements are getting mixed into the stew. What we have in common is a real claim to the Americas. We see ourselves as in our native country, although we preserve the memory of another country. Of course the twist is that we are connected to a subculture of hybridity, which is second nature to us. Because that is what being a Chicano was all about.

MR:  Why has Su Teatro survived?  How would you describe the evolution of Su Teatro?

TG:  Su Teatro has survived because we know what we are, and there is a need for what we are. If our community did not need us then we would be gone very shortly. Very few artists and artistic organizations have been embraced as firmly as has Su Teatro and yours truly. Our community has watched us grow and our growth and successes are successes of our community. We are the conveyors of our community’s history, but not just in a sense that we regurgitate what the community wants to hear, we are fortunate to be in a position to challenge and inspire. So people don’t always hear what they want, but we work hard to engage them, to provoke them and to reflect well on them. We have been at this for a long time, and we have gotten better at telling stories. We have more tools than we had in the past. Our new space rivals many facilities in larger cities. People can come here and see a show that has solid acting, good production values and yet has an environment that feels like you are visiting family. The facility is very welcoming, we serve among other things tamales that people can take into the theater with them. It adds to the comfort level. We really want to challenge the idea that art is something that is out of the reach of most people. We call ourselves community theater, and some people in the arts community look down upon this, as somehow that means a diminished quality. But what we mean is that it is a community space, it is a space that is about giving access to our community. It is not easy to get on our main stage, only one or two new actors make it in those shows each year. That speaks to the quality of the actors in our shows. We do, though, offer a number of other opportunities in smaller and touring shows to help get you to the level of our main stage.

 As for our own evolution, we have really grown with our community. We have also been fortunate enough to have interacted on an international and national level with other groups; we have been exposed to models that work and models that may not work as well. This has helped a lot. We have also been exposed to the work on these levels and been able to gauge ourselves, get inspired by the others and be challenged as well. This has helped us to grow as artists, which is really important in being able to carry out your work. I get inspired from above, artists I feel are doing great work, and I also get inspired from below, people who are just starting out and growing. Bobby LeFebre and Jose Guerrero inspire me, two young spoken word artists in the company. Rudy Anaya inspires me as does Luis Valdez.  And Debra Gallegos and Yolanda Ortega ( two veteranas from our company) caused me to rewrite their characters based on the great elements they brought to the parts. 

MR:  How many plays have you written or co-written?  Where can our audience find these plays to read them? Anyone more special than the others?

Daniel Valdez
TG:  I have probably written around 20-25, I have tried to count them a number of times but I always end up getting distracted and don’t finish. The problem is that I am in a highly productive period, a lot because of my collaboration with Daniel Valdez (composer/musician director/actor) and it seems like every conversation becomes a new play that we begin building.  Danny has pushed me to write more music as well. I always wrote songs but I never really felt I had the skills or talent to polish them. So I left them to others to do that. But I know now that if it is good Danny will use it in the play. If it isn’t, meaning if I haven’t polished it, he won’t. If he uses the music, it usually sounds very good. That is motivation. So that output has grown. I am used to walking around with characters and dialogue occupying my brain; now I have melodies, harmonies, bridges and segues that run together and sound like every song I have ever heard. It is really torturous to have that much activity going on in your brain. I have to be careful when I drive.

I have published a first Anthology, it has four plays and a short film script. One of the projects I was supposed to do when I received the United States Artist Felllowship was to publish the completed collections. But I ended up writing much since that time.  We have talked about making them available on line. But in the meantime I have a full length script due by May 1st, a four part telenovela by the end of June, and the second story in a children’s trilogy called El Espiritu Natural. The first story, El Rio: Las Lagrimas de la Llorona, we ran in February and will tour in the fall. The second story is La Tierra. Artists, like parents, love all their children equally. There is something that we find endearing in all of them. I like Ludlow: El Grito de las Minas, because I like the story and the lead character reminds me of my mother. I like When Pigs Fly and Men Have Babies because it is so obnoxious. I like El Sol Que Tu Eres because it really was a beautiful production.  And of course we are always in love with the next one. And if people have an interest I will be glad to send someone a script

MR:  I heard you speak at the recent César Chávez celebration here in Denver. You made some excellent points about what Chávez should mean to us. And I know that working with youth is one focus of the work that Su Teatro undertakes. Is Chávez someone that today's Chicano or Mexicano youth cares about, or even knows? I worry about our lost history and am curious about what you see happening today with Latino youth in terms of cultural and political history, as well as changing the future.

 TG:  I wrote Papi, Me and Cesar Chavez because I was concerned that young people knew the latest reality show stars more than they knew César. I wanted people to understand the story. Being asked to speak put me in a position to think about the values and lessons that I learned from César Chávez. For the first time in my life I placed them in categories. Sacrifice:  César taught that we should be willing to sacrifice everything to achieve our goals. It is pretty hard to hear this when you have nothing. But the idea of sacrifice forces you to think about what has value. And we learn it is not the monetary things that make or change us. Discipline:  The discipline that was necessary to resist violence. As strange as it sounds, it is much more difficult to refrain from harming someone who harmed you. We learned that discipline is the value that will make the change needed in our lives. Discipline is what makes us better artists. If it was so easy everyone would do it. Memory:  César taught us to preserve memory. History is memory preserved. Memory is what connects us to our ancestors and our descendants. That connection is what allows us to outlive our lifetimes. Teach: César taught us to teach. The moment we learn something, we are responsible to teach it. This is how we move the next generation forward. I had an actor tell me,  "I don’t want to be a mentor." My response was that perhaps this was not the place for him. Someone who can not teach is probably someone who will never know. The last is to Honor: Although I really have built my career on sarcasm, we need to always remember to honor the gifts that we have been given. Whether it is an art, a skill, or an emotion, some people have a tremendous capacity to care, to be empathetic. Some people can love deeply or are eternally hopeful. Those are gifts that we may have received genetically, but they were given to us. We also must honor the sacrifices, the lessons, the discipline, and the history that brought us to this place. In our work with young people in addition to telling them about César Chávez, we teach them that the sacrifice was for them to have opportunity, and that their payback was to take advantage of those opportunities. Telling our stories is one of the greatest ways of preserving memory. I was fortunate that my mother was such a great story teller. But now more than ever we have so many great storytellers out there. We also need to teach our children to tell their stories, because in the end their stories will connect with ours.

MR:  What does Su Teatro have planned for this year?

TG:  Actually our season is winding down, but we will finish strong and then start off with a lot of momentum. In June we will stage Cuarenta y Ocho, a fictional telling of the 48 hours between the two explosions in Boulder in 1974 that left six people dead. It begins with an explosion and ends with an explosion that we all know is coming. We will remount Enrique’s Journey, my adaptation of the Sonia Nazario Pulitzer Prize winning story of a young boy who rides the top of the trains from Honduras to the United States to reunite with his mother. We are anticipating that the show will run in Denver for three weeks and then move on to Los Angeles for another three weeks, with a possibility of continuing into Seattle and then returning through Albuquerque. We will remount The Westside Oratorio, the musical retelling of the seven generations that inhabited Denver’s Westside neighborhood, before they were forced to move in order to build the Auraria Campus. We have a great opportunity to stage Real Women Have Curves by Josefina López, and then we will finish off the season with a gift to our audiences and we will once again present Chicanos Sing the Blues. It is a season of revivals, but every one of the shows will have a very different look than previously presented.

MR:  Many writers, hundreds actually, established and upcoming, read La Bloga. Are there opportunities for writers with your company? Any advice for aspiring playwrights?

TG:   We accept submissions all the time, but frankly many are not ready for production. And we don’t always have the resources to invest in the development. We receive a lot of plays that have significantly large casts ( six to eight is a good size. ) We are interested in plays about Latinos; we often get plays by non-Latinos that are really about how non-Latinos see us. I am not big on Latino adaptations of a Shakespeare, Chekov or that sort. We have done adaptations of the Greeks which we like, going back to the root. We have done bilingual versions of Spanish and Latin American writers.  Mostly though we are a company that develops its own work, that is primarily what we do. But we are into relationships as it is through relationships that we find out if there is a fit. These interactions take time. So I would say send me a script, keep in contact, keep me up to date on your activities. Come to a show if you are in town. See what it is we do. And most of all don’t take it personally. I also would suggest that you get your script read aloud, do this before you send it in. Get some friends - they don’t have to be actors. Plays are meant to be heard (not just in your head),  it will really affect the dynamic of what you write.

Tony Garcia Brings Theater to the People

MR:  Thank you, Tony. It's been a pleasure and all of us here at La Bloga appreciate your willingness to speak to our readers. People in Denver know that a night at Su Teatro is guaranteed to be an evening well-spent. Your work is always enlightening, entertaining, and passionate. And often belly-shaking funny. I encourage anyone who has a chance to watch a Su Teatro production to seize the opportunity. You won't regret it.



Thursday, April 17, 2014

Chicanonautica: Brainpan Fallout Adventures of a Young Chicanonaut

La Bloga readers may find my Mondo Ernesto serialization of Brainpan Fallout -- a Nineties experiment that went from the Phoenix area coffee house giveaway Red Dog Journal to the infant internet and gained me fans in strange places -- of interest.  The main character/narrator/hero is a young Chicano.

And I think I’ve finally gotten rid of all those pesky typos and mistakes that often ruined the jokes. Not that anybody’s complained, or even noticed them all these years.

I didn’t really think much about sneaking in a Chicano -- I had done it in Cortez on Jupiter. I had also researched The Red Dog Journal’s audience, going to the coffee shops, poetry slams, marijuana-choked parties, listening to their conversations. I was trying to create pulp fiction for them. They were predominately white, but considered themselves to be anti-racist, so why not?

I believe that audiences need to be challenged. Since then, as a bookstore clerk I’ve seen how genre readers get bored with the same old routine. They have their habits, but need things stirred up now and then. Maybe the adventures of Flash Gomez in the 20th century would do the trick.

With 20/20 hindsight, Flash was the prototype for the Chicanonaut: A Chicano going out of bounds, crossing the borders of his barrio into strange new worlds.

He wasn’t based on anybody in particular, but after it was going for a while, I saw a Univision news story about young Nueva York bike messengers. One of them said, “Llámame Flash.”

Brainpan Fallout is also an example of my groping for Afrofuturism, or at least an alternative to the all-white future that was still the default setting for most sci-fi. There are black characters involved in cyberpunkish activities, but with their own agendas. This was long before the current postcolonial trends.

I’m glad I had the chance to go mad scientist after things crashed for me, and like Henry Miller in Tropic of Cancer, that “Everything that was literature has fallen from me.” I recreated myself in my own image, and took the chance to offer some advice to the younger generation as a vato who’d been around on the countercultural merry-go-round a few times on what to watch out for when they finally get flung into the gaping jaws of their future.

It’s also good for some laughs.

Ernest Hogan is busy drawing and writing about luchadores, and preparing to talk about Chicano sci-fi at the University of California Riverside for their Science Fiction and Technoculture Studies program.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Me And My Cat?

Review by Ariadna Sánchez

While waiting for the train at 7th Street/Metro Center station in Downtown Los Angeles, a young lady approached me for help. She was confused and worried at the same time; she needed to catch the train toward Long Beach. She was visiting Los Angeles for the first time to meet her nephew. Her words were filled with great expectation and excitement, but her spirit seemed intimidated by the speedy trains that passed by. Finally, we looked at the screen showing the Metro Blue Line schedule. The next departing train to Long Beach opened its doors welcoming all passengers aboard. When she got inside the train, it took only a few minutes before the train began moving. The young lady waved at me as the train vanished into the dark tunnel. I sat down for a moment in the waiting area for my train to arrive thinking about this experience. I put myself in this lady’s shoes and realized that life is a unique adventure full of amazing trips.

Me And My Cat? written and illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura is a story that narrates the abruptly transformation of Nicholas and his cat Leonardo. Late one night, an old lady in a pointed hat climbs through the window into Nicholas’s bedroom. She brandishes her broom, fires out some weird words, and leaves. The following morning Nicholas is living “inside” his cat Leonardo and Leonardo is living “inside” Nicholas. Nicholas is shocked to look at himself in the mirror with long whiskers, sharp claws, and purring like a sweet little kitten, MEOW! Outside the house, Nicholas, who is inside Leonardo’s body, realizes that life is tough and complicated for a cat when he is chased by three mean cats and Mr. Stone’s furious dog. Hours later, Nicholas sees himself coming back from school and acting like Leonardo, the cat.  This behavior makes his mother very upset, so she decides to call the doctor. The doctor recommends sending Nicholas to bed early. That night, the old lady in the pointed hat pays Nicholas a second visit. She apologizes for throwing a spell at the wrong person. The old lady brandishes her broom and blurts out some mysterious words disappearing as quickly as a thunder. The next day everything is back to normal, Nicholas is ready for school and Leonardo is actively climbing over the shelf. At school Mr. Gough, Nicholas’ teacher sits on the table, scratches his back, licks his cheeks, and falls asleep.

Can you guess who the old lady in the pointed hat visited last night? Be careful, you might be next!

The story Me and my Cat? stimulates deep perceptions to the young readers. Thinking about others’ needs creates mature and responsible children. Teaching values like respect, tolerance, and acceptance are some ways to show sympathy to new generations for a better community and for a better world. Visit the local library today. Reading gives you wings! Purr

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Should Antonio Banderas Play Cesar Chávez?

Review: Cesar Chávez, the Movie.

Michael Sedano

Imagine the hushed auditorium, ticket buyers lean forward as one, dreading the unseen menace of the growers. Antonio Banderas shouts fluently to the grape pickers, “¡en las uvas si se puede!” and switches to English, “join us, they don’t pay you enough!” 

Lots of sky shots, close ups of a burning sun, sweaty faces, a wrinkled grandmother, a teenage schoolgirl, bunches of green grapes. Mandy Pantinkin as the evil major domo advances on Banderas Chavez, seen in profile flirting with the smudged-face beauty. Chavez tenderly touches her cheek, cut to Dolores Huerta bristling, America Ferrera wiping her brow. The abuela gives her chifle and the girl steps back, lips mouthing “tonight.” CU of a hopeful Banderas Cesar Chávez. John Malkovich, face all restrained vehemence, nods imperceptibly into the camera. Pantinkin leaps with murderous eyes.

CU of the schoolgirl calling warning, “on your six, jefe!” Chavez wheels on Pantinkin, catches a fist on the shoulder. Cesar Chávez grins, says “You get one free, vato, and that was it.” Banderas leg-sweeps Pantinkin who thuds onto his back. Banderas Chavez pivots on the back leg to straddle the stunned major domo. The hero raises a boot above Pantinkin’s terrified face. CU of Banderas Chavez’ agonized face, the temptation to violence heightened by tense music. Banderas does a heel stomp but arrests a millimeter from Pantinkin’s face. The villain imagines the boot pulping his face, in slo-mo, before he focuses on the Cat’s Paw heel. 

Malkovich turns and runs to the canal where he is carried away screaming by the powerful current. In an homage to 50’s horror films, a giant centipede gnaws at Malkovich’s legs and pulls him under. The scene ends with workers dumping their bushels of grapes on the unconscious Pantinkin. They walk out of the vineyard, arms linked singing, “yo ‘stoy con Chavez, y si señor, yo ‘stoy con Chavez, y la union….” In a slow dissolve to “tonight” we catch Banderas and the ingénue in steaming embrace, the movie’s scene of forbidden love and obligatory female nudity….

Cesar Chávez, the movie, didn’t have Banderas, Pantinkin, kung-fu scenes, torrid one-night stands, gore, and monsters. That had been my fear when I read some time back that some knuckleheaded Hollywood producer wanted to do the Cesar Chávez movie but with Antonio Banderas as Cesar Chávez. Who knows where a big box office actor would have taken a script. Ni modo because Michael Peña capably captures Chavez’ intensity and earnestness with quiet dignity. Which is expected. Sadly, I couldn’t understand the final conversation between Malkovich and Peña when Cesar pridefully says something about kicking the grower’s ass.

©michael v. sedano
The script is the problem with Cesar Chávez,  the movie Diego Luna directs and produced with a thundering herd. The movie begins with eight title animations. When the movie actually begins I’m not prepared and the first scenes whirl past in disorientation.

Fabulous casting makes this the best movie I’ve seen this year. Malkovich does his best to steal the movie from Michael Peña as Mr. Chávez, America Ferrera and Rosario Dawson as Mrs. Chávez and Ms. Huerta.

Rounding out the cast are a bunch of pretty decent actors whose characters are so eclipsed by Cesar’s leadership that I miss their names. There’s a tall, thin guy with a good smile. There’s a doubting Thomas vato who always fails to see the good instead badmouths Chavez’ speeches, but finally comes over to the union. The loyal brother nurses his fasting leader, otherwise comes into focus quietly on hand to offer sensible consejos.

The script follows along chronologically. Chavez moves to California discovers injustice. He works in an office, decides to take CSO philosophies into the fields. The movement struggles to be born. Pinoy workers organize. El Malcriado scares the heck out of prescient white growers. Pinoys with Larry Itliong strike, Chavez wins the Mexicans to solidarity with them. Bobby Kennedy comes to town to embarrass the local establishment, giving the farmworker movement a moral victory that impels the cause. Chavez goes on a hunger strike.

The big facts of el movimiento form the outline of modern history textbooks. And that outline is the problem with the script by Keir Pearson. The story strings together incredibly important and moving episodes in the historical Cesar Chávez career centering around the table grape and Gallo Wine boycotts. But, like bullet points unelaborated, the episodes come and go, one momentous event to the next.

Absent are the thought process, the philosophies, behind the decisions. Momentous events simply happen because information arrives in shorthand. Cesar’s decision to Fast evolves in four scenes. An asshole driver runs down a picketer. Aroused farmworkers drag the driver out and pummel him with fists and feet. Chavez loses his cool and leaves. Devastated, he confesses he’s failed as a leader for nonviolence, and by the way, that he’s not eaten now for two days.

This Fast goes on for 25 days, draws national sympathy for the UFW but more importantly solidifies campesino support. The gruff doubting Tomás shows up to sign the nonviolence pledge in an underexploited scene that cries out for melodramatic pathos. Instead, the actor gives us a head nod and a bit of eye contact.

The connective tissue doesn’t make it into the film. It’s an equivalent of telling instead of showing. With the big facts of the grape campaign and Chavez’ career already so well known, I wanted writer Pearson to challenge his writer’s chops, show what only film audiences can see and learn about the character of the men and women embroiled in tumultuous times. Not that something happened, why, how did these people move?

 The scenes between Chavez and his increasingly alienated first born, a son, yield some of that ethos-building here’s how insight; an apple here, an apple there, a below-par eighteen holes. This script sets up the distance between them but without close examination. The viewer gets outlines of a relationship nicely strung together like pearls on a string, an element of the whole yet each knotted separately from the others.

What was between Cesar and Dolores? goes a certain chisme thread entre la gente. Pearson’s script doesn’t get into that, but Director Luna does. Employing shot triangulation Luna implants a mild inference of an unscripted relationship. Cesar does something, the crowd reacts; quick medium shot of attractive Dolores with a smolder in her eye; cut to motherly America; back to Cesar and the event. Luna’s not subtle about it.

The campaign against Gallo is widely known. The producers make sure to stray from historical accuracy on that, creating a phony winemaker with an Italian name. It’s the only element in the story that weakens its credibility. There’s a second big gripe, the closing music. It’s a beauteous song, yearning and thoughtful, sadly not the uplifting energy born from “No nos moveran” used earlier in the film.

Grower villains are numerous. Grape, lettuce, strawberries, roses, carrots, who can remember all the names? Thus, the film creates a mash-up character that Malkovich devours, a Croatian immigrant whose defense of “foreigners” illustrates the subtext of grower resistance, less economic more misanthropy against Mexicans. The silent brown maidservant takes in all the crud, not that the assembled growers have compunctions about insulting the invisible Mexicana.

Audiences don’t know anything of this when they buy the ticket and won't miss it. Those who buy a ticket. By sales standards, Cesar Chávez is flopping. Even in limited distribution, the film isn’t filling bank accounts nor minds. Nonetheless it’s a satisfying film to go see. Cesar Chavez has all the right stuff, action, daunting fears, crises, victory, nobility.

Cesar Chávez’ story comes with urgency for its civil rights content. The film doesn’t overplay racism while laying it in full view, nor does it milk victimhood even a little. Like Bobby Kennedy tells the sheriff and district attorney, during lunch you pendejos read the Constitution. That’s what Cesar Chávez is about, puro United States values. Kids should see Cesar Chávez, all of them.

Cesar Chávez is a major success at summarizing the story of the twentieth century’s most dynamic Mexican Chicano personality, the kind of biography that people leave the auditorium elated, wiping joyous tears. It’ll take a few more months before word of mouth spreads and just as you wouldn’t be caught eating grapes during the boycott, you won’t want to admit you haven’t seen Cesar Chávez.

Click here to view Latinopia's historic footage of la peregrinación.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Coming soon: "Things We Do Not Talk About: Exploring Latino/a Literature through Essays and Interviews"

Publication date: June 1 from San Diego State University Press
by Daniel A. Olivas

[If you'd like a PDF advance review copy, please write to me at and put "ARC" in the subject line.]

In this candid and wide-ranging collection of personal essays and interviews, award-winning author Daniel A. Olivas explores Latino/a literature at the dawn of the 21st century.

While his essays address a broad spectrum of topics from the Mexican-American experience to the Holocaust, Olivas always returns to and wrestles with queries that have no easy answers: How does his identity as a Chicano reflect itself through his writing?  What issues and subjects are worth exploring?  How do readers react to the final results?  Can literature affect political discourse and our daily lives?

Olivas has explored similar questions through almost a decade’s worth of interviews with Latino/a authors that have appeared in various online literary publications.  While professors and students alike have already relied upon many of the interviews as source material for scholarly examination, twenty-eight of these incisive and frank dialogues are now collected in one volume for the first time.  Olivas dives deep to discover how these authors create prose and poetry while juggling families, facing bigotry, struggling with writer’s block, and deciphering a fickle publishing industry.  This roster of interview subjects is a who’s who of contemporary Latino/a literature:

Aaron A. Abeyta • Daniel Alarcón • Francisco Aragón • Gustavo Arellano
Gregg Barrios • Richard Blanco • Margo Candela • Susana Chávez-Silverman
Sandra Cisneros • Carlos E. Cortés • Carmen Giménez Smith • Ray González
Rigoberto González • Octavio González • Reyna Grande • Myriam Gurba
Rubén Martínez • Michael Luis Medrano • Aaron Michael Morales • Manuel Muñoz
Salvador Plascencia • Sam Quinones • Ilan Stavans • Héctor Tobar
Justin Torres • Sergio Troncoso • Luis Alberto Urrea • Helena María Viramontes

Things We Do Not Talk About will undoubtedly become a natural companion to the study and enjoyment of contemporary Latino/a literature.  Cover artwork is by Perry Vasquez.

DANIEL A. OLIVAS is the author of six books including the award-winning novel, The Book of Want (University of Arizona Press).  He is the editor of the landmark anthology, Latinos in Lotusland (Bilingual Press), which brings together sixty years of Los Angeles fiction by Latino/a writers.  Widely anthologized, Olivas fiction, poetry and essays have appeared, or are forthcoming, in many literary journals including Exquisite Corpse, PANK, The MacGuffin, PALABRA, New Madrid, Fairy Tale Review, Bilingual Review, and Pilgrimage.  He has also written for The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Jewish Journal, La Bloga, El Paso Times, and the Los Angeles Review of Books.  Olivas earned his degree in English literature from Stanford University, and law degree from UCLA.  By day, he is an attorney in the Public Rights Division of the California Department of  Justice in Los Angeles.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Poet, Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano's _Amorcito Maricón_: The Interview

In 2006, La Bloga's Daniel Olivas posted "Spotlight on Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano" featuring Herrera y Lozano's first book, Santo de la Pata Alzada, (click here for the 2006 posting).  Today, we are celebrating Herrera y Lozano's second full-length book of poetry, Amorcito Maricón.  

Montes:  Primero, felicidades on this new poetry collection!  It’s been almost ten years since your last collection was published, entitled, Santo de la Pata Alzada: Poems from the Queer/Xicano/Positive Pen.  In what ways does Amorcito Maricón mark a new writing journey in your growth as a poet? 

Herrera y Lozano: ¡Gracias, Amelia! It’s hard to believe it took nearly a decade to get to see another book come to fruition.

To answer your question, I think Santo de la Pata Alzada was in many ways a coming of age collection. In it (and through it), I was trying and often struggling to make sense of, and mourn, the loss of identities and beliefs, while affirming and celebrating newer and hopefully healthier versions of myself. I had gone from being a fundamentalist Pentecostal, closeted, and someone who self-identified as Hispanic, to an out queer atheist who claimed Xicanismo as a path through which to move in the world. I was angry and I was terrified. Most of what I knew to be true (the existence of a one and only white god, patriotism, and the promise of a colorblind world) had fallen apart. I was left with creating and understanding anew what it meant to be in this same body, but now with a consciousness that defied what was supposed to be infallible. I was also working through an HIV diagnosis that was supposed to make my world crumble, but was instead a source of strength, clarity, and pride. There are ways in which Santo de la Pata Alzada moved fast, as fast as I was moving at the time. Turmoil, physical relocations, diagnosis, and coming into adulthood were all happening at such an accelerated pace that it makes sense, in retrospect, that the book would reflect that. I was writing a new self into being.

While Amorcito Maricón is a continuation of my journey, I do think it marks a particular moment, a pause. This book moves at a slower pace, these poems are less declared manifestos and more snapshots, like Polaroid pictures of little and larger moments. I began writing this book just as I was learning to slow down, to challenge myself to be present and take in what and who was in front of me rather than fantasize about what the future held. If this book marks a growth in my journey as a poet, it is that I learned to stop moving long enough to notice, capture, and articulate (to the best of my abilities) what and who was in front of me.

Montes:  Amorcito Maricón is divided into three sections:  
(I) “Sarape-Covered Couches,”
(II) “Caballero Saludos,” 
(III) “Below Selena or Zapata.”  I see these divisions this way: 
First—a joto coming-of-age journey;
Second—a touching, humorous, as well as searing section of desire and loss;
Third— a nod to Emma Perez’s “Sexing the Colonial Imaginary” by writing “Jotos into history” (she writes Chicanas into history). 
How do you see these divisions? 

Herrera y Lozano:  You captured the intent of these sections beautifully. The first section was my stepping into this book in the aftermath of Santo de la Pata Alzada. It was my way of answering the “What happens next?” question of my first book, which was definitely a coming of age collection. With “Sarape-Covered Couches,” I wanted to continue to pay homage to my queer brown forefathers, those abandoned by families and countries alike. For even when buried by their families, when their truths were hidden for the sake of family honor or shame, these men were abandoned still. I am a part of their lineage. I wanted to declare myself their descendant, a descendant of Reinaldo Arenas, Roy Lozano, and countless others.

“Caballero Saludos” is about defiance and hope as much as it is about loss. I wanted to confess, admit, and proclaim the deviances I have committed and invite the reader to savor these with me. I wanted to take pride in those acts we deem abhorrent, like desiring men, or worst yet, loving them. All while claiming that sacred Mexican masculinity I was raised to embody, the one that would never admit to caring for another man, much less desire or love him. I sought to claim this masculinity both through imagery and the presence of Spanish (this is where all the Spanish poems in the book live). I want the reader to imagine Pedro Infante coming home after a long day of work, whistling his way into the heart of a man who waits. I wanted to evoke Antonio Aguilar galloping across Mexico’s arid northern terrain as I attempted to describe the body of a lover. I wanted to take that which is most sacred to Mexicans – more sacred than Jesus –: el hombre mexicano, and make him vulnerable in his lovemaking, sus declaraciones de amor, and his fear of losing the ones he desires and loves.

“Below Selena or Zapata” is very much about writing us into history. I sought to follow the footsteps of the brilliant writer and poetic historian, Marvin K. White, who penned the stunning poem “Making Black History.” As with White, I wanted to insert our queer histories within broader cultural contexts, contexts that patriarchy and heterosexism have fought hard to keep us out of. I wanted to imagine Rodolfo Gonzales’ Joaquín as queer, just as Alma López fiercely claimed La Virgen de Guadalupe as one of ours. At the same time, I wanted this process of writing ourselves into history to be defiant of all things sacred by canonizing the late Gwen Araujo and Panamanian poet Ana Sisnett and rejecting the mythology of patriotism, hispanization, and a gay and lesbian mythos that insists on normalizing us in the name of equality, rendering us virtually asexual at best, and in its heteroinsistence, monolithically sexual at worst.

Montes:  There are such rich transnational and transcultural intersections in this collection, alluding to writers (Reinaldo Arenas, Sandra Cisneros, Pablo Neruda, and you just mentioned Ana Sisnett, Marvin K. White), singers, and composers (Manuel Esperón, Jose Alfredo Jiménez, Selena, even Madonna).  Was this your intention at the outset or did these connections organically come together?

Herrera y Lozano:  I think these transnational and transcultural intersections reflect my life’s journey. I love Gloria Anzaldúa’s notion of nepantla and imagine it is a place that is neither static nor enclosed. Rather, this third space that is at once in constant motion in itself while also being a place where other ways of knowing and being transect, coalesce, and are in conflict. This is how I make sense of the places I have lived, the people who have impacted my life, the writers who have held my hands and heart, and the music that has carried me through it all. These writers, singers, and composers are often witnesses, muses, and refuge for this errant writer and his nomadic pen. The writers, singers, and composers present in this book help tell the story that is Amorcito Maricón. 

Montes:  And in regard to “singers,” one cannot miss the music in your poetry, the rhythms you create.  For example, “Danzantes” catches the rhythm of the beat in lines such as, “the temple stairs I toss my beating heart down.”  Do you read your work out loud?  How do you work through the rhythms? 

Herrera y Lozano:  Often a poem comes to me through a line or beat in a song. A spark that triggers a memory that triggers a vision that triggers a line in a poem. This one line then becomes a title, the opening of a poem, or ultimately ceases to exist in the editing process. But as the poem is being crafted, I am constantly returning to that first line, beating the drum of a memory to conjure scents, tastes, images. I wish I could say the rhythms are an intentional part of my craft, but they are more subconscious and perhaps more effective because of this. It isn’t until I am done with the poem that I return to read it repeatedly until I find its beat. This is when I recognize it and through it, begin to edit again.

Montes:  Who are the writers and books that you come back to read repeatedly? 

Herrera y Lozano:  When I find myself stuck and need help falling in love with writing again, I return to the poetry of Sandra Cisneros (Loose Woman), Marvin K. White (Last Rights), Pablo Neruda (Cien Sonetos de Amor), T. Jackie Cuevas (Otherhood, USA), and the work of Rajasvini Bhansali. These writers I can (and do) read over and over and over again. They are a literary obsession.

Montes:  When you are writing, what does your routine look like? 

Herrera y Lozano:  I have spent years trying to develop a writing routine. I have none. I try to be proactive and sit at a table and tell myself I will write a poem. Y nada. The muses refuse to cooperate. Poems, in my experience, are caprichudos, selfish, and moody. They appear in the most inconvenient time. Typically, I will be driving or in the shower when a poem comes to me. I rush to jot down what I can without falling out of the shower or getting in a car accident, and hope the muse will return when I am finally at a place where I can write. Sometimes they return.

I am envious of writers who have succeeded at creating a routine. Imagine all I could get done if I had one?

Montes:  Do you first write in Spanish or in English or does it depend on the feel of the poem? 

Herrera y Lozano:  I think the language of the poem depends on the person and/or moment the poem is about, and how the poem begins to surface. Because poems are often to someone, they are in the language I would normally speak to that person, even if they never read the poem or know it is about them (usually the latter). In some ways, poems are imagined conversations and silent retelling of moments. It can take years to read a poem aloud and often those who informed or inspired it are no longer in my life. The poem becomes artifact.

For years I refused to consider the possibility of translating my poems. I believed that if a poem came to me in Spanish it should always remain that way. I am less militant about it now. There are a few poems I have translated into either Spanish or English (though none in Amorcito Maricón), though mostly as a writing exercise. I believe poems have agency, they decide what language they want to be in the world as and this is how they are birthed.

Montes:  Taking, then, the metaphor of birthing a poem, which poems seemed to manifest and present themselves easier than others? 

Herrera y Lozano:  I find it much, much easier to write about heartbreak. I blame and thank my grandmothers for exposing me to the horrible beauty of telenovelas, and my father for exposing me to boleros and gut-wrenching rancheras. By the time I was 8 years old, I knew what heartbreak was and how to describe it. It would be years before my first heartbreak, but when it happened, my pen was ready.

I love somber poetry. What Adelina Anthony calls the “Ay, qué sad” poems. Poems that don’t quite cross over into the realm of self-deprecation, but bask in the vulnerability that comes with renunciation and yearning. These poems come naturally.

Happy poems, not so much.

Montes: Which poems had longer gestation periods? 

Herrera y Lozano:  Erotic poems take time to complete. I spend so much time reliving or imagining moments in my head that with each pass through another image surfaces. Another suspiro, a laugh, a look comes rushing forward and I have to find a way to make room for it. I find that with heartbreak or even love poems, it is not as difficult to bring them to an end. There are only so many ways to say “ay, cómo me duele” or “I love you” in any given poem. But there are infinite ways to describe the act of making love.

Montes:  Nicely said, Lorenzo! These poems also insist on inhabiting Mexican and U.S. spaces, which also reflect your own life growing up in both countries.  How do these poems speak to your transnational identity and is there one poem in particular which you feel best illustrates this border fluidity? 

Herrera y Lozano:  I wouldn’t know how to write from the experiences of living in any one place alone. I was 10 when my family moved to Chihuahua from San José, CA, almost 17 when I returned to California, and 21 when I moved to Austin, TX. All three places have left their mark— and scars. “Making Chicano History,” I believe, is a poem that captures this transnationality: histories, folklore, pop culture, cultura, food, and music. I write from what I know and when all I know is informed by these experiences, they have no place else to go but on the page.

Montes: Yes, and some writers feel they must compartmentalize identity (Chicano in this poem, joto in this other poem).  Your poems seem to resist this and instead reach for a hybridity of identity. 

Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano
Herrera y Lozano:  My greatest struggle as a young person was having to decide between being queer and Xicano. Understanding that I embody multiple identities simultaneously and that they did not have to be separated, was one of the most life-changing lessons I have experienced. This has been my world for over 15 years. I would not know how to write from the sliver of one identity alone. I do not think that would be me anymore. All of who I am is present in me always. Why wouldn’t it be in my poetry?

Montes:  And what permeates throughout your writing are music beats and rhythms. Do you play an instrument?  If not, what has been your experience with music in your life?

Herrera y Lozano:  Sadly, I cannot even whistle. I auditioned to join a church choir when I was 17 and was gently rejected while everyone else was admitted. Apparently my lack of musical talent was so severe it could not even be drowned in a large choir. Yet, despite my musical shortcomings, music has played an important role in my life since I was a child. My father has an obsession with music and lyrics. I grew up with him blaring rancheras, boleros, cumbias, and banda at all hours. There was never room for our neighbors to doubt that Mexicans lived in our house. I still cannot recognize a Morrissey (sorry, Chicanas/os!) or AC/DC song on the radio, but have been able to recognize an Amalia Mendoza or Luis Demetrio song since I was a child. (There is also no Juan Gabriel song recorded by him or others that I do not know.)

Montes:  In addition to your writing, you are also an activist/advocate for fellow writers by your involvement with ALLGO , Macondo, and founding Kórima Press.  What is the importance of these organizations, this press, for Chicana and Chicano writers, specifically for queer writers?  

Herrera y Lozano:  Everything I know about the role of the arts in our communities I learned at ALLGO. It was my training ground, where I learned that a movement without the arts was static and stale. It was where I learned to rethink notions of legitimacy and to think critically the accessibility of the arts in our communities. Organizations like ALLGO and Macondo play crucial roles within a broader movement to surface and push forward the voices of those who established institutions might otherwise look over. Even when some of these artists are welcomed into the halls of these institutions, their work also becomes part of this greater mission of elevating and fomenting.

Kórima Press was born out of these same principles. I believe it is important that we both continue to bang on, and knock down, the doors of the literary establishment while also continuing to be subversive and rooted in the values that created artists out of us to begin with. Legitimacy that comes from our communities, not institutions.

Montes:  What does it mean for you to identify as a queer Chicano writer?

Herrera y Lozano:  To be a queer Chicano writer is to be a part of a lineage, to practice a craft that predates us all. It is to be a part of a large, ongoing conversation among writers of color who insist on making sense of the world and who we are, while also articulating a kinder world where we all exist and thrive in our wholeness. It is to embody the possibilities that our multiple and simultaneous identities, and intersecting experiences bring to literary traditions.

Montes:  Now this is a big question.  What is the state of Chicana and Chicano queer poetry?  Is it continuing to grow?  Who are the Chicana and Chicano Queer poets today?  What does the future look like for Chicana and Chicano queer writing?

Herrera y Lozano:  It is such an exciting time to be queer and Chicana/o. I remember coming out in 1999 and struggling to find writings by people who looked, loved, and desired like me. There were a few, which were hard to come by for those of us who did not have access to university and technological resources (it was surely difficult for those who had access, too). And while there were important publications at the time, today we count with a growing number of works by writers in our communities. Anthologies, single poetry collections, novels, plays, memoirs, the list continues to grow.

Of course, I must bring forth the writers of Kórima Press: Jesús Alonzo, Adelina Anthony, Maya Chinchilla, Joseph Delgado, Anel Flores, Dino Foxx, Joe Jiménez, Pablo Miguel Martínez, and Claudia Rodriguez. And of course, legendary writers like Rigoberto González, Emma Pérez, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Cherríe Moraga, Verónica Reyes, and Yosimar Reyes. While this list is nowhere near beginning to be comprehensive, it is a quick snapshot of who we have the opportunity to read today.

Montes:  Any other thoughts you’d like to send to our La Bloga readers?  

Herrera y Lozano:  Thank you for getting to this part of the interview, for sticking through my ramblings. And thank you for valuing queer Chicana and Chicano literature. There are many more where I came from, and they are coming, and they are fierce.

Montes:  Thank you, Lorenzo! Felicidades!