Friday, September 30, 2011

Las Comadres y Mas plus Notes from the Road Ahead

Las Comadres, LAPCA, West Hollywood Book Fair, and More...
by Melinda Palacio

Nora Comstock
photo by Saverio Truglia

Nora Comsock of the lower Rio Grande Valley didn’t imagine she’d lead the way to share Latino Literature and pioneer a movement networking Latino authors with readers across the country. Las Comadres has grown into a vast organization thanks to Dr. Nora de Hoyos Comstock, national and international Founder, President, and CEO of Las Comadres Para las Americas. Comstock has transformed the organization from an in home gathering to an international comadrazo with several services for authors and readers.

The businesswoman, with a technical background, understood the mechanics behind social networking before the term was coined. “I was a businesswoman,” she said, “but I also wanted a connection to my community, to my culture.”

In 1984, Comstock worked in computer marketing and communications: “I read manuals and created programs. I didn’t write software.”

Fastforward to the millennium, Comstock finds herself in East Austin. She wants to create community. She used her networking skills to help with the Las Comadres Book Club by sending out emails to hundreds of people. The email turns into a yahoo group, then an evite. The evite outgrows it maximum capacity, but more and more people want to join the conversation on Latino Books. The current result is an international teleconference with an author, a moderator, and hundreds of readers. Comstock is proud that she was able to grow the network of Latina women interested in books by Latina and Latino authors.

“If I understood software, I would be rich beyond belief, but I am not a programmer. I am a developer. I could make computers do things. I understood the package.

She kept up with the technology, and with the help of many others, including her husband, Jack Bell, Las Comadres is an international Latino book club with monthly networking opportunities for Latinas and much more. The Las Comadres website also includes Comadre University, online courses in topics as diverse as how kids (10-18) can start a business to The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing to How to Hire (or Fire) an Agent. Comstock is proud that she can share her love for books and her culture.

Next week, Comstock will moderate a literature panel at the 26th National Hispanic Women’s Corporation Conference in Phoenix, Arizona, Thursday October 6 at 2:15 pm. The conference takes place over two days October 6-7 and features several professional development and leadership session. The Thursday literature panel features three Latina authors: Sandra Rodriguez Barron, author of Stay With Me, Kathy Cano-Murillo, author of Ms. Scarlet’s School of Patternless Sewing and of Crafty Chica fame, and Melinda Palacio, author of Ocotillo Dreams.

The next national book club reading with Las Comadres and Friends features Marisel Vera, author of If I Bring You Roses. Sign up for the next national teleconference, which will take place Monday, October 24.

This weekend in Los Angeles two literary festivals: Saturday the first Cuentos del Pueblo at LAPCA and Sunday, the 10th Annual West Hollywood Book Fair.

Sábado: La Plaza de Cultura y Artesa

October 1, Saturday in Los Angeles join LAPCA for Cuentos del Pueblo, 12 to 5 pm.

On Saturday, October 1, 2011, the first installment of Cuentos del Pueblo will be held from Noon until 5 PM. This continuing series brings unique stories, perspectives, and opinion to LA Plaza, and invites visitors themselves to become part of the story. This event is free to the public, and discounted admission to the galleries will be available.

For this installment, nine Mexican-American authors will be on hand to discuss, sell, and sign their recent books, and share the personal, unknown, and unexpected stories that connect their work to the historical center of Los Angeles.

Throughout the day, music and stories will also be provided by entertainer, singer, and songwriter Mark Guerrero, son of the late, legendary singer, Lalo Guerrero. Raffles and prizes round out the day.

Attending authors include:

Melinda Palacio, author of Ocotillo Dreams

Roberta Martinez, author of Latinos in Pasadena

Thelma Reyna, PhD, author of The Heavens Weep for Us and Other Stories

Olivia Cueva-Fernandez, author of Mexican Americans in Wilmington

Bert W. Colima, author of Gentleman of the Ring

Alex Moreno Areyan, author of Mexican Americans in Los Angeles

Francisco Balderrama, PhD, and Richard Santillan, PhD, authors, Mexican American Baseball in Los Angeles

Sunday, October 2, 2011 10th Annual West Hollywood Book Fair

300 Featured Authors & Artists, 12 Stages, 125 Exhibitors, 25, 000 Guests, Panels & Performances for all ages, Writing Room, Off Stage Events

La Bloga's Melinda Palacio will participate in the new Fiction Panel: Fresh Fare Fabulous Female Voices

The Fiction Pavilion is located in the Auto Court of the New West Hollywood Library

10:30 am - 11:30 am: Fresh Fare From Fabulous Females: New Voices in Fiction


Jillian Lauren (Pretty: A Novel),

Jacqueline Luckett (Searching for Tina Turner),

Kaira Rouda (Here, Home, Hope),

Moderator: Stacy Beirlein

Signings @ 11:30 am, Mystery Ink Bookstore Booth

Melinda Palacio in the media this week (thank you for the rain):

NewsTaco: Reimagining The West in the Novel Ocotillo Dreams by Yago Cura

National Book Critics Circle's Critical Mass Blog Spotlight on Ocotillo Dreams by Rigoberto González

Guerilla Reads Video from Tia Chucha’s 6th Annual Words and Music Festival May 21, 2011:

Ocotillo Dreams Tour info for the next two weeks:

photo by Valorie Smith

October 1, LAPCA, 3:45 Olvera Street

October 2, West Hollywood Book Fair, Fiction Pavilion, 10:30 am

October 6, National Hispanic Women’s Conference, Phoenix, AZ time

October 7, Mesilla Cultural Center, Mesilla, NM 5pm

October 8, Alamosa Books, Albuquerque, NM, 2-3pm

October 9, The Twig Bookstore, San Antonio, Texas, 4-6 pm

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Chicanonautica: Frontera Violenta -- the Comic Book

by Ernest Hogan

I found the most interesting comic book I’ve come across in years at my neighborhood carnicería. It’s called Frontera Violenta. I’m not sure how to translate that. Frontera means both frontier and border in Spanish. In English -- especially in Norteamerica -- frontier means wide open spaces in need of heroic pioneers to go out and fill them with civilization, while a border is something that only nefarious criminals cross without official permission.

That’s the sort of thing arises when Wild West mythology collides with Mexican popular culture.

Frontera Violenta has Año XX in front of the issue number, so it’s been around for twenty years. It also has PARA SU VENTA A MAYORES DE 18 AÑOS on its covers. It’s not kiddie material.

The first issue I bought was No. 1199, “Perscucion Encarnizada,” (“Bloody Persecution”). Along with a blonde babe in revealing red dress was a naked man with a six-shooter aimed right between his nipples. The story starts with a blonde woman killed, her naked body displayed at the roadside. A bounty hunter arrives in town, and after a shootout in the bar he is hired to search for the Mexican that is accused of the crime. During the chase, the Mexican is betrayed by two blonde women before the real (blond) killer is caught and hung in the end.

To make things even more interesting is what I call the Brown Shift in Mexican comics. Either because of the four-color printing they still use, or long-held societal taboos, everyone is lighter than they would be in real life. Mestizos look white, Indians look like Mestizos, and white people -- especially the ever-popular blonds -- look like they should glow in the dark. In the above story the Mexican looked white while the bounty hunter looked Mexican.

I guess you can never tell without checking IDs.

At a more recent visit to the carnicería, I found a plastic bag with three issues of various Mexican comics, including Frontera Violenta for just $2.29 (that’s dollars, not pesos).

No. 1093 “Salieron del Infierno para Morir” (“Escape from Hell to Die”) has a blond thug kill a Mexican in a saloon. The Mexican’s son, goes out for revenge. After more fighting and shooting in saloons, the hunter and hunted wind up in a corrupt prison together. After the Mexican has a night with the commandant’s abused, blonde mistress, they escape. Once they’re out, the Mexican shoots the guy who killed his father.

No. 1114 “Obligados a Matar” (“Forced to Kill”) flirts with politics. Soldiers come to a village and take all the men away to help Presidente Díaz fight las fuerzas rebeldes. This allows a gang of Americano bandits, led by “Rush Clinton” to come in, take over, and make all the women into sex slaves. Humiliated and outraged, the women break out the household firearms, and revolt. The last bandit is shot by a boy hiding in la nopalera with a carabina 30-30.

No. 1121 “Cuando la Ley No Basta” (“When the Law is Not Enough”) begins in Mexico with a machete-wielding, sombero-wearing hombre hacking a woman to death. Two years later in New Mexico, some gringo bank robbers kill a young girl while shooting their way out of town. The girl’s mother is befriended by a Brown-shifted Mexican man who happens to be looking for the machete-maniac from the first bloody scene. The two go to wild and wooly Arizona on a revenge quest. The Mexican hero finds and shoots the leader of the bank robbers, and he and the woman have an outdoor sex scene. The next day, the machete man, shows up and takes the woman hostage, giving the hero his chance to get his revenge. Yes, a Mexican got killed at the end for a change.

Frontera Violenta is everything a comic book should be. No “graphic novel” pretensions to being art or literature. Just professional cartooning that makes the unashamed, thrill-packed pulp writing come alive. It’s the sort of entertainment to have in a pocket as you run around the Nueva Frontera, dodging bullets and talking care of business.

Ernest Hogan’s writing, and news of publications and ebooks can be found at Flurb and Mondo Ernesto.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Marisa Montes- ¡Hasta Siempre!

From Struve and Laporte Obituaries 

Marisa Montes, 59, of Walnut Creek, CA, passed August 18, 2011. She was born in San Juan Puerto Rico on November 5, 1951. She died at UCSF Medical Center during a routine procedure.

Marisa was writer with a passion for Children's Book. Her publications included novels, picture books, and a Scholastic Series. She won many awards for her publications. The details can be found at her web site, At the time of her death, she was working on compiling an anthology of stories by Latina women about pivotal moments in girl's lives.

She was a member of SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) and a member of the California Bar.

She was preceded in death by her brother Ruben E. Montes, Jr., M.D.

She is survived by her parents, Ruben and Maria Montes of Salinas, Ca; her husband, David Plotkin of Walnut Creek, CA; her sister, Marisol Ortiz of Victoria, Texas; as well as many aunts, uncles and cousins.

Her strength and passion for life, despite many physical disabilities, is remembered by all who knew her, including friends from across the globe. That passion translated into a zest for travel, and she and David cruised as often as possible, exploring the far corners of the world. That world will be the poorer without her.

La Bloga prepared this list of her wonderful work.

Juan Bobo Goes To Work. Illustrated by Joe Cepeda.
What can you do with a boy who tries to do things right but only leaves disaster in his wake?
Laugh—that's what!  Readers everywhere will love to laugh at the hilarious antics of the ever-blundering Juan Bobo, Puerto Rico's most celebrated folk character.
In this rollicking Juan Bobo tale, our hero sets out to find work at the farm and the grocery.  Although the tasks are simple and the directions couldn't be clearer, he always finds a way to bungle things up as only a character whose name means "Simple John" could!

Egg-Napped! Illustrated by Marsha Winborn

Gabbler and his wife couldn't be happier. They've just had their first egg! But during the celebrations, the Egg quietly tips, totters, and tumbles away -- and everyone thinks it's been egg-napped.
Come join this hilarious romp through the forest as the Gabblers and their friends search high and low for the beloved Egg. Young readers will be surprised and delighted from beginning to end as this wild goose egg chase unfolds.

Los Gatos Black on Halloween. Illustraded by Yuyi Morales.
Under October's luna, full and bright, the monsters are throwing a ball in the Haunted Hall. Las brujas come on their broomsticks, Los muertos rise from their coffins to join in the fun. Los esqueletos rattle their bones as they dance through the door. And the scariest creatures of all? Wait until you see them!
This lively Halloween poem introduces a spooky array of Spanish words that will open your ojos to the chilling delights of the season.

Something Wicked's In Those Woods
Evil.  Eleven-year-old Javi Leál senses it the moment he and his little brother, Nico, arrive at their Tití Amparo’s in Northern California.  The boy’s new home, surrounded by dark woods, is a world removed from the one they had to leave behind in sunny Puerto Rico when their parents died in a car crash.  But it’s not the culture gap that makes Javi uneasy—it’s something much bigger, something sinister that he can’t name.

Strange things are happening around the house:  Chairs fly mysteriously across a room.  Appliances turn on and off by themselves.  And Nico claims to have an imaginary friend—one who is teaching him English at an alarming rate.   All too quickly the bizarre events intensify, and Javi must navigate dark, forbidding turf as he finds himself caught up in a struggle with supernatural powers.  But time is running out.  Will Javi find a way to protect Nico from the wickedness and rid his new family of the unearthly forces before someone is hurt?

 A Circle of Time
A hit-and-run driver leaves fourteen-year-old Allison Blair to die on a winding mountain road, but a girl in a calico dress flags down a passing motorist and leads her to Allison's crumpled body.

As Allison lies comatose in the hospital, she hears the girl's voice in her head. Becky Lee Thompson pleads for help and pulls Allison back in time to 1906 -- and into Becky's fourteen-year-old body. But why? Is it to prevent Becky's tragic death or the death of Joshua, the boy who loves her?

As Becky's spirit keeps Allison alive in the present, Allison struggles to make sense of the layers of mystery, blackmail, and mistaken identity that surround the deaths. The only thing she knows for sure is that she must remain in the past -- through Becky's will and Allison's own growing feelings for Joshua -- so that history will be altered.

But in the present, Allison's body is undergoing brain surgery, and Becky does not know if she has the strength to keep Allison alive. Can Allison save Becky and Joshua and return to her own body before time runs out?

A Crazy Mixed-Up Spanglish Day. Illustrated by Joe Cepeda.
With her friends and familia by her side, Gabi* is ready for anything--sort of.Maritza Gabriela Morales Mercado (Gabi for short) has big problemas. Her worst enemy, Johnny Wiley, is driving her crazy. He makes fun of her name. He picks on her friends. And now Gabi has to spend an entire month working with him on a school project! Gabi is so upset she can't even talk straight. Her English words keep getting jumbled up with her Spanish words. Now she's speaking a crazy mix of both, and no one knows what she's saying! Will Gabi ever make sense again? Or will she be tongue-tied forever?

Who's That Girl? Illustrated by Joe Cepeda.
With her friends and familia by her side, Gabí is ready for anything...sort of. Gabí's getting new neighbors...and they are a big mystery. After a little investigating, Gabí discovers a pink and purple bike just like hers in the moving van--and that can only mean one thing: a new friend! Now Gabí, her BFFs (Best Friends Forever), and Abuelita (her grandma) are doing a little snooping to find out: ¿qué pasa? What's up with the mystery neighbors?

No More Spanish! Illustrated by Joe Cepeda.
Gabí refuses to speak any more Spanish. Ever! No es problema, right? Wrong. Gabí is only allowed to speak spanish at home. It's a family rule and her mami won't back down. Now, Gabí has to hablar Español or she'll get grounded for life! She just doesn't have a choice...or does she?

Please Don't Go! Illustrated by Joe Cepeda.
It's so hard to say, ¡ADIOS! Gabi LOVES that her abuelita is visiting. But she knows that sooner or later Abuelita has to go back home to Puerto Rico...unless Gabi can think up a plan to make her stay. Gabi tries teaching Abuelita to speak English, signing them up for kickboxing classes, & helping out with chores. But the whispered plans between her parents & Abuelita don't stop. Gabi's going to have to come up with something better, something BIGGER, something more...risky. But Gabi can't think of everything. And she's about to get a GRANDE surprise she could never have seen coming.

Marisa, gracias for touching the life of children of all ages. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Introducing The Gluten-Free Chicana Chicano. Review: Human Cargo. Floricanto in Boyle Heights. On-Line Floricanto

* The gluten-free Chicano *

Michael Sedano

The Gluten-Free Chicano appears monthly here at La Bloga to focus on restaurants, gluten-free foodstuffs, and Mexican cooking. Guest reviews, recetas, recollections always welcome.

Gluten is another word for fearful dining. I’ve read some people go to restaurants with cards explaining everything and hand these to waitstaff. My way relies on a canned answer to what’s it gonna be? “I cannot eat anything that has flour or wheat. Can you please alert me if I order anything with flour or wheat?”

People with gluten allergy get sick when they consume wheat, barley, rye, and US-grown oats. Rice, corn, and potatoes are fine food for most people with the gluten bug. Certain gente who eat food contaminated with wheat, their bodies start itching incredibly, maybe they throw up and get horrid stomachs. One time a restaurant served me champurrado—that’s supposed to be safe--and my throat swelled up just enough to distract my attention from the maddening itch.

Gluten intolerance—the worst is celiac disease--appears to be a growing condition in America. The gluten-free foods industry, inclusive of magazines, runs strong from Canada to Argentina. I was delighted when an Italian restaurant in Montréal on a visit in 2010 served gluten-free pasta. The newsstand on Soto sells at least one Argentine celiaco magazine. 

Foodstuffs & Mexican Cooking
Everything a chicano cooks is chicano food. When I make a baloney sandwich, for example, I slather Best Foods mayonnaise on a leaf of lettuce, lay down two slices of Oscar Mayer and a sliced tomato, slather Morehouse mustard on a second leaf of lettuce, and that’s a Gluten-free chicano baloney sandwich.

La Bloga won’t practice culinary nationalism. Note, however, among the many beauties of chicanexican cooking is its naturally gluten-free ingredients. The Gluten-Free Chicano cooks traditional preparations as well as gluten-free adaptations of fare such as chiles rellenos, soufflé, pankekis.

Restaurants & Eateries

Restaurants & Eateries fall into four groups of gluten awareness:
Never Mind, just a salad.
Bad Dog!
Right Attitude…
Please, May I Have Some More?

Never Mind, just a salad.
 These are noodle houses, pizza parlors, bakeries, places featuring deep fried breaded entrées. A green salad or such is likely to be uncontaminated. Eat elsewhere is usually the better choice.

Bad dog!
A significant majority of restaurants and food workers handle food questions with professionalism. Establishments who employ eye-rollers or exasperated tipas tipos are bad dog! places, as are those who ought to do better but fail.

The price of dining at Disney Hall shouldn't include allergic reactions, but this was the possibility at St. Valentine's dinner at Patina. One ingredient looks like black pearl barley to me, so I ask the order taker, who informs me most snottily, "Sir, that is a 'legume.'" That's not information, so I request he ask the chef what kind of 'legume' this might be. The waiter instead repeats his know-nothing response, this time more forcefully. "Sir, as I said, it is a 'legume.'" Please ask, I insist. The fellow disappears for a moment, returns exasperatedly and repeats the legume tale again. I doubt the fellow asks the chef. Diners should not be paying a hundred bolas to be poisoned by ignorant staff. Bad dog!, Patina.

Egregious surprise was in store the final time I visited the trop chèr Ruth’s Cris Steak House in Pasadena. I’d enjoyed Ruth’s Cris meals in Vegas, Houston, and Phoenix and welcomed the chain to the neighborhood. I was especially encouraged that the newspaper advertisement touted Ruth Cris' gluten-aware menu and staff.

I compliment the waitstaff on the restaurant’s gluten-adverse advertising, advise the person of my need for gluten-free ingredients and order. The salad arrives with croutons. When the steak arrives it has a pat of butter on top. I ask if that is just butter and the chastened waitstaff checks. He returns to whisk away the steak—the butter has flour. Bad dog!, Ruth's Cris Steak House.

One theme restaurant menu touts a gluten-free version of its double chocolate brownie hot fudge volcano delight dessert. Dang, that sounds pretty tasty until the waitstaff clarifies the gluten-free version is ice cream and a different chocolate sauce. Bad dog!, Claim Jumper.

Maybe these places have improved. I doubt I'll ever return to find out.

Right attitude.
An attitude is a predisposition to act one way rather than another. But attitude is not action.

A restaurant in trendy Eagle Rock emails invitations to come dine on its imaginative Mexican food. The majority of delectables include a wheat ingredient. I complain. The advertiser replies almost immediately with a “you're not the only one so we’ll look into it” reply. A ver, if CaCao Mexicatessen follows through on its right attitude.

Please, may I have some more?
P.F. Chang’s is a celiac’s dream restaurant. A separate gluten-free page in the menu, trained staff, gluten-free tamari sauce. For all I know P.F. Chang's kitchen has a space reserved for gluten-free food prep. 

Food4More, aka Whole Foods, sells gluten-free pizza in the comida corrida section and Bard's beer in grocery. Von's and Ralph's now have a gluten-free freezer section for fake breads and cookies.

Domenico's in north Pasadena sells a chewy gluten-free take-out. The restaurant charges up-a-size for a medium gluten-free garbage pizza. So it goes.

DISH in La Cañada deserves special mention for a single experience. After years of waitstaff impatient with questions, or blank stares from dumbfounded food workers unaware of gluten allergies, DISH employed a woman who exclaimed, “My Dad Is gluten-free!” Nonetheless I ask her to alert me if I order anything with wheat and she practically hugs me in reassurance. A hug for the Old Guy.

eBook Review: Des Zamorano. Human Cargo.

Tempus fugit, faster than my to-be-read pile shrinks. In July, Dan Olivas shared the first chapter of Des Zamorano’s novel, Human Cargo. Taking place in Pasadena, my town, I was compelled to seek out the author, who provided a copy via Smashwords. I opened the link just recently to make Human Cargo  the first ebook I’ve read cover-to-cover. I enjoyed the read, not the reading.

Zamarano’s bad guys work out of the Pasadena area’s Russian Armenian community. Smuggling teenage girls out of Russian orphanages to work as prostitutes in the United States makes Human Cargo’s bad guys genuine scum. This depravity beats in the heart of Inez Leon’s desperate search for a nine year old girl delivered to a pedophile.

Inez Leon is one tough cookie. She’s into weight lifting and combat skills. She’s quick and fearless. There’s a grand scene when Leon kicks ass on a corrupt cop in an elevator, then sends his helpless ass back upstairs to his fellow detectives. Regrettably, Zamorano doesn't give us that scene.

Human Cargo has a hard edge to it, despite Leon's wisecracking persona and generally sunny outlook. The deus ex machina role in this novel goes to a giant hairdresser--probably a Russian Mafioso--with a hot body that beguiles Inez. Glendale's cops are either corrupt or indifferent. The mobsters, of course, have no souls.

Des Zamorano creates a varied cast of women, struggling to wring a scintilla of empathy for their lot. A statuesque madam who mocks a sex slave’s moment of truth. The baby’s grandmother is a bitter, low-caste sex worker. Inez’ client is an über rich blonde Mexicana do-gooder who’s coldly pragmatic in the face of Inez’ burning passion to save the girl. Then there’s Inez’ big sister, a breath of fresh air sweetened with a scolding and makeup help when Inez gets her face punched in.

The author keeps readers on a wild trajectory. One moment Inez is up to her nose in depravity or brutality, the next she’s trading nopales recipes with her sister, and telling her nieces it was a car accident.

Now and again Zamorano tosses in allusions to lubricious sex with Leon’s lover, a Cal Tech chemist. Allusions only, however, rule the day. No graphic sex despite frequent talk and one scene on his office floor. Inez says the “F” word, but in one of its other meanings.  Delicate adults need not worry, nor is it enough to rule out a normal teenager’s reading the novel, either. This must be what people call a “bodice ripper.”

I suspect the ICE wouldn’t question Inez Leon’s papers and loyalty, although she’s a welter of contradictions. Second- or third-generation Mexican hypen American—her grandmother never made nopales--she doesn’t handle well verbal sleights to the United States, from Russians or the rich Mexicana.

Then again, Inez likes to toss in the random Spanish phrase like “bien guapo” or call a chicano cop “corazón”. The detective sympathizes with immigrants, understands the Immokalee tomato picker issues--Zamorano draws parallels between sex slaves and stoop labor, and expresses comfortable rapport with her brown side. But Inez Leon, make no mistake about, it is a red white and brown Unitedstatesian.

I’ve held a Kindle and scrolled a few pages—readable. I have Lysistrata on my iPod right now—intolerable. I’ve read beautiful PDF manuscripts on my iMac. Smashwords’ format leaves me ergonomically endangered.

The variant screen page sizes require scrolling via repeated pressing of the Space bar. To advance a page, one must mouseclick the arrow. Maybe it’s me, I do not find a Search function so cannot browse through the manuscript for a particular incident or speech, nor do a global search for selected details. Smashwords has miles to go to provide a comfortable reading session on the computer.

All in all, Human Cargo is an enjoyable confection of a detective story if one willingly gives in to the too-facile fantasy of this character’s antisocial attitude, averred suddenly discovered rage, and skin-of-her-neck escapes. Give in, it’s a fun piece. Pasadena gente will enjoy seeing the Athenaeum, the arroyo, bungalow heaven, and the rarely raging LA River.

Unless you’re a stickler for editing. Ay de mi, so many typo issues I worry that the book was rushed to the internet before its time. A reader expects and tolerates one or two misspellings or syntax issues, even those rare careless errors when a character gets lost or misnamed. But dang, Desirée Zamorano, within two paragraphs near the end (235) there’s a vato named “McDaniel”, “McDaniels”, then “McDaniel’s”. This reminds me of something bestselling author Alisa Valdes recently Facebooked: she’s pulling her latest sucias novel off the market to correct the errors, then getting it back out there with better respect for her readers.

Corazón del Pueblo Hosts A Dreamer Floricanto: Poetry in Honor of the New Student Struggle

  graphic: magú. collection msedano.

Wednesday, September 28 at 8:00pm - September 30 at 10:00pm
Corazon del Pueblo - 2003 E. 1st Street, Boyle Heights, CA 90033

Join us at the first-ever Corazon del Pueblo Flowers of Fire in solidarity with the Dreamers & the first-ever Calacas Florianto: Poets Responding to Social Causes in honor of our Dreamers. 

($5 donation suggested but no one turned away for lack of funds). 

Friday September 30, 7:00 – 9:00PM – FREE!
Calacas - 324 W. 4th Street, Santa Ana, CA 92701

Event is in honor & support of the Orange County Dream Team! They will graciously be taking donations & their famous t-shirts will also be available! Come to share & wear their pride!

Visit the floricanto's website for current updates plus details on Open Mic sessions.

La Bloga On-Line Floricanto · September's Final  Tuesday

Francisco Alarcón along with co-moderators of the Facebook group, Poets Responding to SB 1070, this week recommend La Cosecha Series, harvesting the work from seven tillers of poetry's richly-loamed tierra. Today's lineup includes Hedy Garcia Treviño, Flora Gamez Grateron, Elena Díaz Bjorkquist, Andrea Hernandez Holm, Mari Herreras, José Hernández Díaz, Francisco X. Alarcón.

Hedy Garcia Treviño introduces La Cosecha Series:

Stop, and you will hear Summer as she disrobes and gives way to Fall
A time for gathering,
A time to take inventory
A time to let go.
A time for sadness and departure.
A time to reap
A time to store the harvest.
La Cosecha (the harvest has begun)

“Seven Ears of Maize I Do Bring" by Hedy Garcia Treviño
"Nopalitos" by Flora Gamez Grateron
"Bellota Harvest" by Elena Díaz Bjorkquist
"Harvesting the Future" by Andrea Hernandez Holm
"A Prayer to Santa Cebolla" by Mari Herreras
"The Silent Corn Seed" by José Hernández Díaz
"Cosecha haikús / Harvest Haikus" by Francisco X. Alarcón

Seven Ears of Maize I Do Bring

by Hedy Garcia Trevino

There between the sounds of sorrow
 On red hilltops far from the Sea

Bring forth the bells and the rattles
 evoke the rain from the clouds

Harvest the songs of Chicomecoatl
 walk in the river of time

Seven ears of maize
 I do bring

Harvesting memories
 whispering melodies

There between the rows of Maize
 I hear the song of the Corn Goddess

Seven ears of maize I do bring

There with bare feet planted
 in soft warm earth

There in 'la milpa' with arms stretched toward the sun
 under ocher clouds

Seven ears of maize I do bring

Adorned in your glory Chicomecoatl
 Sustain me oh Corn Goddess

I am maize
 I am the dew on a cool morning

Growing roots
 and waiting for the harvest.

Seven ears of maize I do bring.

*image: Chicomecoatl - "Seven Snake" - The Goddess of Corn.  Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City.


by Flora Gamez Grateron

It’s time to pick some she announced,
excited at the prospect of entering wilderness
a piece of land by the bay, close to the gulf of Mexico
la laguna she calls it, with thorny brush
untamed grass, uncultivated earth,

She in apron and gloves, ready at the door
hair up with bobby pins, drops of sweat
already sprouting on her nose,
five gallon bucket in hand,
gathering the family for the feast

of picking together, a fiesta on the field
of wild cactus pads and prickly pears,
succulent green and juicy redness
awaiting our return in the crowded
Chevy station wagon, heads bobbing

like wild rabbits

Small hands gathered wildflowers
tucked behind ears on the ride home
arms and legs a-jumble in back seat,
no seat belts to constrain

 the heap of bodies of

our childhood
our past
our future.

© 2011 Flora Gamez Grateron

Bellota Harvest

Elena Díaz Bjorkquist

“¡Vamos a las bellotas!”
Abuelita invites us, her familia.
All the family, tías, tíos, primos,
Abuelita, abuelito,
Run to pack cars and trucks
With the necessary goods
For a road trip followed
By a picnic.

“¡Vamos a las bellotas!”
Pots of frijoles y nopales
and chile colorado con carne,
Ice chests packed with soda and beer
Thermoses full of rich, thick coffee
Old cochas folded into squares
Ready to spread on the ground
To capture the harvest
Of shiny brown nuts stuffed
With sweet golden kernals
And an occasional gusano,
Canvas botas heavy with water
Hang from radiator caps.

“¡Vamos a las bellotas!”
We pile into vehicles
For a caravan to Nuevo Mexico
Where the oak forest
Near Silver City
Bears the sweetest bellotas.

“¡Vamos a las bellotas!”
Primos, primas cheer as we
Chase each other among the oaks
Tías, tíos, shake the oak trees,
Shower their bounty
On the colorful cochas beneath.
A season’s harvest of bellotas
Poured into flower printed flour sacks
Tied with a knot on top.

“¡Vengan a comer!”
My oldest tía calls out.
Tías load paper plates
With fat burritos
Filled with frijoles y nopales
Or chili colorado con carne
Warmed over an open fire.
Family seeks shade under oaks,
Sit on cochas now empty of bellotas.
Abuelita sits on the running board
Of my papa’s old Chevy truck
With her youngest granddaughter
Relishing huge slices
Of watermelon
Grown in family gardens.

Sunburned, tired, full
Of good food and memorias
La familia heads back
To Morenci chasing
A glorious sunset,
Snacking on bellotas.

Darkness falls before
La familia gets home
Cars, trucks part to go
To their homes
In different parts of town.
Tías, Tíos, unload leftover comida,
Sleeping niños, and precious bellotas.

“¡Vamos a las bellotas!”
Una memoria of an autumn picnic
With la familia, to be enjoyed
on cold winter days as we
snack on the harvest of bellotas.

Harvesting the Future

by Andrea Hernandez Holm 2011

I could have been born
from my Abuelita's garden,
the one at el Rancho
where the whole family
till the soil
plant the seeds
pull worms off leaves
and lecture the ants away;
They would have nurtured me
like they watered,
like they talked quietly to the sprouts
like they encouraged even the tiniest
spark of green to flourish.
I could have been
the fresh young life
they praised God for delivering
to sustain them.

© 2011 Andrea Hernandez Holm

A prayer to Santa Cebolla
by Mari Herreras

Remember when your roots

tended our soil, and your

tendrils caressed our hearts?

Santa Cebolla,

remember when we sat patiently,

waiting at the corner of your fields,

offering you our tears at harvest

pétalo a pétalo?

Today the soil has dried back into the caliche,

These tears are real as we sit together

and recall how we carried you with us

In hands

In baskets

Through mountains, deserts, mesas

River banks, villages, cities

Pétalo a pétalo

we tell your stories to our children

of how you showed us true love,

protected us from sickness,

sent evil back to the fires

Pétalo a pétalo

Now we pray to you

around kitchen tables where you sit

heaped on platters, a grilled offering

to remind us laughter and love are

reflected in each other’s faces

despite how you left us behind to sing

Our country, not our country

Our history, not our history

Our love, not our love

-- Mari Herreras

The Silent Corn Seed

José Hernández Díaz

…para los braceros

At tender dawn,
When the proud gallos
Begin to sing,
We rise like spring flowers,
And walk
To the hungry corn stalks
To cultivate the ancient land.

We follow the river's bend,
To the land,
And cross ourselves,
Before entering
The rustling stalks.

The immortal ritual of
The sun's rays

Never fully conquers our resilient backs.

The consistency of
The cool breeze,
Like the ox,
Reassures our
Arduous resolve,
And gently guides
Our calm
The field's fluid
Atmospheric charm.

It is Sunday,
And tomorrow
Fall shall rise
In the silver thoughts of
Humble sense of pride:

Mexico's strength,
He used to say,
Lies at the center of
The ancient universe,

In the heart of
The silent corn seed.

Note: Please click on the image below to read "Cosecha haikús Harvest Haikus" in large type.

“Seven Ears of Maize I Do Bring" by Hedy Garcia Trevino
"Nopalitos" by Flora Gamez Grateron
"Bellota Harvest" by Elena Díaz Bjorkquist
"Harvesting the Future" by Andrea Hernandez Holm
"A Prayer to Santa Cebolla" by Mari Herreras
"The Silent Corn Seed" by José Hernández Díaz
"Cosecha haikús / Harvest Haikus" by Francisco X. Alarcón

Hedy M. Garcia Treviño
Hedy M. Garcia Treviño has written poetry since the age of eight. Her first poem came as a result of being punished for speaking Spanish in school. Her poetry has been published in numerous journal's and other publications. She has performed her poetry at numerous cultural events. She continues to write poetry, and inspires others to use the written word as a form of self discovery and personal healing.

Flora Gamez Grateron
Flora Gamez Grateron, a Texas native, has been writing most of her life. Born the seventh child of nine, her stories and poems reflect the complexity and rewards of living amongst a Mexican-American family rich in culture and tradition. Flora’s work has been published in The Blue Guitar, an arts and literary magazine of the Arizona Consortium for the Arts and in La Bloga, a Flor y Canto out of Los Angeles speaking out on Immigration issues. Her Corrido on her 89 year old dad was one of the winners at the Tucson Meet Yourself Festival in 2010. Flora has also been published in the Oasis Journal 2010. She belongs to Sowing the Seeds, a women’s writers group working on an anthology, soon to be published. She teaches English/Language Arts in the Sunnyside School District with a mostly Hispanic population in Tucson, Arizona. She enjoys watching her students discover their identity through poetry, stories, and creating digital stories of their family lives and traditions. She is the proud mother of 4 amazing college students.

Elena Díaz Björkquist
Elena Díaz Björkquist, a writer, historian, and artist from Tucson, writes about Morenci, Arizona where she was born. She is the author of two books, Suffer Smoke and Water from the Moon. She is nearing completion of another collection of Morenci stories entitled Albóndiga Soup. Elena has been on the Arizona Humanities Council (AHC) Speakers Bureau for ten years performing as Teresa Urrea in a Chautauqua living history presentation, and doing presentations about Morenci, Arizona and also the 1880’s Schoolhouse in Tubac. AHC recently selected her to do a presentation on El Día de los Muertos.

Elena is co-editor of Sowing the Seeds, una cosecha de recuerdos, an anthology written by her writers group. The project was funded by AHC. She co-edited a new anthology entitled Our Spirit, Our Reality; our life experiences in stories and poems that will be out in late October of 2011.

A SIROW Scholar at the University of Arizona, Elena conducted an oral history project funded by AHC; “In the Shadow of the Smokestack.” A website she created contains the oral history interviews and photographs of Chicano elders living in Morenci during the Depression and World War II. Another project funded by AHC and the Stocker Foundation is “Tubac 1880’s Schoolhouse Living History Program.” Her website is

Elena is one of the poet moderators for the Facebook page “Poets Responding to SB1070.

Andrea Hernandez Holm
Andrea Hernandez Holm is a moderator of Poets Responding to SB 1070, a student, an instructor, a mother and wife, and most happy  in the cool, quiet evenings in the desert.

Mari Herreras
Mari Herreras, a fifth generation Tucsonan, is an award-winning writer
with the Tucson Weekly, and has been working in journalism for more
than 18 years. When she’s not writing about the ugly and beautiful
that makes Tucson weird and wonderful, she writes with the women's
writing collective, Sowing the Seeds. An anthology of their poetry and
essays will be published next month.

When Mari’s not writing, she and her husband explore the city with
their super-hero and musical-theater obsessed 10-year-old son, remind
each other to feed the dogs and cats, and work around their old house.

This is her second poem published on La Bloga through Poets Responding
to SB 1070. Her first was "I am Waiting," in the Oct. 31, 2010 issue.

José Hernández Díaz
José Hernández Díaz is from Los Angeles, Ca, and his parents are from Guanajuato, Mexico. He is a UC Berkeley graduate with a BA in English Literature. He plans on applying to MFA Programs throughout Los Angeles and California. Jose’s favorite poets are those of the Chicano Renaissance and the poets of the Beat Generation. José has been published in The Best American Nonrequired Reading Anthology 2011, La Gente Newsmagazine of UCLA, Bombay Gin Literary Journal of The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, ABCTales, Indigenous Writers and Artists Collective, Hinchas de Poesia, and he has had eight poems in La Bloga, including: The Border Within, In My Barrio (An Improvised Tune), I Haver Never Left, We Call It Work, An Ode to Los Jornaleros, Panadería Revolución (I Am Floating Gardens), The Jaguar Moon Has Risen and The Silent Corn Seed. Jose has had poetry readings in Los Angeles, San Diego, Berkeley, at The Mission Cultural Center in San Francisco, and at The Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) in Long Beach, Ca.

Francisco X. Alarcón
Francisco X. Alarcón, award winning Chicano poet and educator, is author of twelve volumes of poetry, including, From the Other Side of Night: Selected and New Poems (University of Arizona Press 2002), and Snake Poems: An Aztec Invocation (Chronicle Books 1992)  His latest book is Ce•Uno•One: Poems for the New Sun (Swan Scythe Press 2010). His book of bilingual poetry for children, Animal Poems of the Iguazú (Children’s Book Press 2008), was selected as a Notable Book for a Global Society by the International Reading Association. His previous bilingual book titled Poems to Dream Together (Lee & Low Books 2005) was awarded the 2006 Jane Addams Honor Book Award. He has been a finalist nominated for Poet Laureate of California in two occasions.  He teaches at the University of California, Davis.  He is the creator of the Facebook page POETS RESPONDING TO SB 1070 that you can visit at:

Monday, September 26, 2011

Interview with Héctor Tobar regarding his new novel, “The Barbarian Nurseries”

As a weekly columnist for the Los Angeles Times, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Héctor Tobar has eloquently and convincingly challenged his readers’ assumptions about the diverse people who imbue this vast metropolis with a complex, thriving and, at times, petulant spirit. As a native Angeleno and the son of Guatemalan immigrants, Tobar’s columns often highlight the multifaceted Latino experience by painting exquisite portraits of individuals who want nothing more than to earn a living, get an education or raise a family. And yes, some of his subjects are undocumented immigrants. Such subjects inevitably produce flurries of angry and sometimes ugly e-mails from certain quarters of his readership. Tobar has been doing this long enough not to be surprised by such a response. Undaunted and apparently energized, he continues to bring these Southern California stories to us, something for which we must be grateful in this age of vitriolic blogs, venal politicians and ravenous 24-hour news cycles.

Tobar now brings us a thrilling and vital novel, The Barbarian Nurseries (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27.00 hardcover), where he asks us to consider what would happen if an undocumented housekeeper is wrongly (and very publicly) accused of kidnapping the young sons of an apparently affluent Orange County couple?

The novel has already garnered great advance praise. Dagoberto Gilb says that Tobar's protagonist, Araceli Ramirez, “has flesh, brains, dreams, ambition, history, culture, voice: a rich, generous life. A story that was demanded, we can celebrate that it is now here." And Susan Straight calls the novel “astonishing, like a many-layered mural on a long wall in Los Angeles, a tapestry of people and neighborhoods and stories.”

The Barbarian Nurseries will be available online tomorrow, and in bookstores throughout the country on October 4. Tobar graciously agreed to sit down with La Bloga to discuss his new novel:

DANIEL OLIVAS: In your weekly columns for the Los Angeles Times, you often touch on the issue of immigration. Why did you decide to approach the topic in fiction form?

HÉCTOR TOBAR: I’ve been writing books, or trying to, for almost twenty years. Way back in the 1990s, I quit my newspaper job (temporarily) to get an MFA in Fiction. I wrote The Barbarian Nurseries, a story with an immigrant woman at its center, not because I wanted to write about immigration, but because I wanted to write about the California and the United States of my time. Today, in the country and state I live in, immigration is a defining issue. I’m the son of immigrants, and have lived in California off and on since I was born. I can remember a time of great openness toward newcomers (the 1960s and 70s) and have since seen the evolution of a powerful resentment toward immigrants. That arc of California history is what I’ve lived. It’s shaped who I am and how I see the world. I’m a writer and that life experience is the most important thing I have to write about.

DO: Your protagonist, Araceli Ramirez, a live-in housekeeper for Scott Torres and Maureen Thompson, is judgmental, prickly and does not like children. Why did you take the risk of putting someone like her in the middle of the immigration debate?

HT: Araceli is, in many ways, my alter ego. She’s an intellectual trapped in the body of a servant. I am the son of guatemaltecos: to a lot of people in California and elsewhere in the U.S., Guatemalan is synonymous with domestic, with laborer. I come from a humble family filled with people who love ideas and words, which is actually pretty common for Latino families, I think. So I imagined a character who would subvert all the stereotypes about Latino immigrants—especially the myth about their passivity and “fatalism.” Araceli is like a lot of Latino people I know or have met: curious, ambitious, but kind of stuck. My book is a novel that attempts to reflect this state of being. It’s intended to be a work of art that reflects that tension between what people are, their idiosyncrasies and contradictions, and the labels we place on them.

DO: Orange County and the City of Los Angeles are almost characters in your novel. As someone who grew up in Southern California as the son of immigrants, what was foremost in your mind in depicting the region?

HT: I think that I’m most concerned with showing the textures of the California landscape, and of the complexities of the social relationships here: the kinds of things that I don’t generally see in works of art (books, film) about Southern California. Among other things, I don’t think most people know how old Los Angeles really is, how old it feels in its middle, and how much history is layered there. Similarly, I don’t think most people realize how many layers of Latino identity exist here: how “being Latino” can mean so many different things. It’s sort of annoying the way we’re pigeon-holed as this tragic, colorful people. So I made a very conscious attempt to play against expectations of what a “Latino novel” should look like: among other things, I decided that I had every right to inhabit the eyes and voices of non-Latino characters. You’re supposed to “write what you know.” What I “know” is L.A. and California: a place that’s filled with all kinds of different people. I’m really proud that in my book you’ll find people with roots in all sorts of places, Latino and half-Latino, black and white, East Asian and Midwestern.

DO: Scott’s struggle with his identity as the son of a Mexican father and white mother is an important thread in your narrative. Why did you decide to make one of Araceli’s employers half Mexican?

HT: Honestly, that sort of happened by accident. I had decided that I was going to tell the story from multiple points of view. And when I first sat down to create Scott, I imagined him doing what I did when I was a kid: cutting the grass at his home in South Whittier. Now, the South Whittier I lived in, during the 1970s, was a pretty racially integrated place. So, from there, it was an easy thing to imagine him as “half white” or “half Mexican,” a status he shares with a big share of the Southern California population, I think. After I decided to give him that identity, other interesting things happened. His Mexican-born father entered the book, for instance, and that gave me the opportunity to make a lot of ironic observations about cultural identity in the city.

DO: The immigration debate never seems to wane; indeed, each election cycle it gets inflamed. What do you think your novel will add to the discussion?

HT: More than anything, I think the immigration debate moves forward by denying the essential, complicated humanity of the people who come here. We make immigrants out to be either objects of pity or objects of scorn. In fact, there’s a great, complex, many-shaded story in almost every immigrant family. If you take an intimate, honest look at those stories, you’ll find universal truths about the human condition. With The Barbarian Nurseries I’ve tried to write a book that gives a hint of those larger truths. It’s a book that says this story is part of the thread of the U.S. experience, which is why I’ve cited three great U.S. writers in the book’s epigraphs: Don DeLillo, Richard Wright and Mark Twain. There’s a certain madness to U.S. history when it comes to matters of class and race: a perpetual disorder, a violence, an anger, and yes, also a hopefulness. The modern-day immigrant story is another unpredictable chapter in the American story: to approach that story as a work of art is to embrace the human craziness of it, which is what I’ve tried to do in my novel. That’s why there’s a “lynch mob” in my book, and a Fourth of July extravaganza that fizzles out, and jails, and undocumented scholars, and “orphan boys” and Chicana social workers and police officers, and even a Mexican-American blogger with a definant, ¿Y Qué? attitude.

DO: Mil gracias for sharing your thoughts about your new novel with La Bloga.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

From Colombia to Cambodia: Luis Barragán Writes in Trans

tatiana de la tierra

Sometimes, things happen because they were destined to, even if you don’t realize it at the moment. Like today. I was hanging out on Facebook and clicked on a headline posted by a friend: “Estudiante UN gana concurso de novela de la Cámara de Comercio.” I read a few paragraphs about a fine arts student from the Universidad Nacional in Bogotá who won a creative writing contest with his experimental novel. Bogotá Vagabundo is a romantic science fiction tale about a 19-year old who falls in love with another man out in the planet of Uranus. Intriguing, I think, but what stands out is that this young university student has written13 novels. I, on the other hand, have not written even one.

Driven by envy and curiosity, I look for him on Facebook. Seconds later, I have a new friend, Luis Barragán. We chat and I waste no time before asking him to send me a story or something, anything, of his. He obliges with “Mujeres ornitófilas que amé,” a short story about a guy who ends up in bed with a woman who has a flower blooming between her legs. This is not a metaphor-type of flower. It’s an actual flower that attracts insects, bees and birds. The story is kinky, creative and cool. I am smitten and, minutes later, we have ditched Facebook for Skype.

We decide to have a conversation between us as writers. But first I have to ask him about his profile picture in Facebook. It is of a black man with an afro. But he didn’t look brown in the article I read about him. “Is that you?” I ask. “Are you black? “

“No, I’m mestizo. I am black, white and indigenous. But that is a version of me, a browner version of me. I wish my skin were darker, that’s true. It’s like an upside down version of Michael Jackson. The way he changed skin color, I saw that as going from an oppressed race to the oppressing race. I thought it would be interesting to do the opposite. But more than that, it’s a way to shift ways of thinking. Especially those that culturally represent race and gender.” I notice other Photoshopped images, such as one in which he looks Asian, and another that emphasizes light skin.

This writer-creature before me is twirling my curls with his words. What about transgender? I ask. I remember that the friend we have in common in trans. “Well, people may think that a female-to-male trans goes from the oppressed gender to the oppressor gender, but those structures melt in the act of transing. What I’ve learned from my trans friends is that cultural limits disappear in being a man, woman, or intersex. It doesn’t matter, in the end, ‘what’ you are. In my writing, I normalize sexual attractions and sexual orientations.”

Lucho has questions for me. He wants to know how I ended up in the U.S. I share my coming-to-America story with him. “You can’t imagine what it’s like to have your country taken away from you,” I say. “And your people, your food, your family, your everything.” This is one of my wounds.

Do you have a wound to share? I ask. “Well, I had an easy childhood. My family is middle class, from the city. When I was little I saw the world through the display cases at the supermarket. Or from the window of a car.” I take a minute to digest this news of his Easy Life. This disturbs one of my theories--that in order to be a good writer, you have to suffer first. (Here in the U.S., where a zillion people have MFAs, I figure that a Hard Life gives a writer an edge.)

I expose my theory to this writer, Luis Barragán, and hold my breath. “I don’t think it’s necessary to suffer, but it’s imperative to live, and to listen.” OK, I accept. “I’ve experienced pain here and there, but nothing deep. I suggest that in order to be a good writer, you have to write. You have to write a lot. Like a habit.” He writes every day, two or three hours a day. Or all day long, if he’s inspired.

Those 13 novels he’s written, they’re coming into focus. The first one was inspired by Lord of the Rings and by playing Dungeons and Dragons with his friends when he was 14. “It’s a lousy novel,” he admits. But he stuck with the genre “because of the complexity of the story, the length and the details” he can pack in. He’s also written a series of Latin American science fiction short stories that deal with migration between cultures and genders. The female flower story he sent me is one of these.

Lucho is 23 now, and I just turned 50. He was born in 1988, the year after I published my first poem. He writes with transgender and trans-everything awareness; I wrote lots of lesbian smut with great panocha-awareness. He is from one of Bogotá’s middle class neighborhoods; I was from one of Bogotá’s working class neighborhoods. He’s lived in Bogotá his whole life, with the exception of six months when he lived in Lima, Peru; I’ve been hopscotching around the world since I was born. He’s a self-taught writer, while I have an MFA. I’m making comparisons in my mind when he twirls my curls once again.

“Speaking of migrations, I’m leaving,” he says. “I’m going as far away as possible with the prize money I just won from this contest. I’m going to Cambodia, in the south of Asia…. This country is calling me. It seems mysterious, and I feel like I’ve been there in another lifetime. I have to go there to find something.” I’m stunned, and strangely relieved. “It’s on the other side of the world, with a totally different culture and a language I barely understand. Maybe I’ll end up growing rice or becoming a monk.” He is a searcher, like me, and I understand the need to go somewhere far away without knowing what you’ll find. Before heading to Cambodia, he’s biking 400-something miles to Colombia’s Atlantic coast with a few friends.

I realize, in the midst of our conversation, that I’ve been assuming he’s gay the whole time. Finally, I ask. “I’m bisexual,” he says. He lives with his father, who went to Bogotá’s gay pride march wearing a T-shirt that read, “My son is bisexual and I love him.” My father died last year without ever acknowledging my lesbianism. My mom wrote a commentary about having a lesbian daughter called “The Gift” and I promise I’ll send him a copy. “That’s beautiful,” he says. “My friend Cristina says that when someone is lesbian, gay, bi or trans, it’s a gift for the family.”

My mom, who read me a ton of poetry when I was little, was one of my early literary influences. Lucho wants to know what made me become a writer. “Music is at the root of my inspiration,” I say. I pledge allegiance to vallenatos, which make me instantly happy, and to the nostalgia of rock music of the 70s and 80s. I mention those Colombian bambucos he knows as well as I do, the amazing lyrics in Garzón y Collazos tunes. There’s something incredible about saying this to a Colombian who knows exactly what I’m talking about. Like sharing lyrical geneology.

I am filling in blanks as I get to know this new Colombian writer friend. Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet made him decide that writing is his main art. “I need to write. You must feel the same way, right?”

“Yes! I’m always writing, even when I’m not writing. I’m always thinking of what I’m going to write, writing in my head.”

Our conversation turns to sacred plant ceremony with yagé. It’s a deep trip, hallucinatory and transformational. I experienced it once in the mountains. “Me too, I’ve done yagé ceremony,” says Lucho. “It was in this house in La Calera. The guy who lives there is an artist who has a dissected dog---.”

“---in the living room! Yes, I’ve been there!” It’s unforgettable, this house reminiscent of a Danish castle in the mountainous outskirts of Bogotá. It’s full of funky furniture and strange art displays all over, including one with the stuffed dog. The day I went, there was a dead bird atop a birdcage at the entrance. The groundskeeper found the bird and placed it there, said Daniel, the resident artist. He photographed me with the dead bird before burying it in a meadow. It’s incredible that Lucho and I have both been there, in that zany house.

“I have this feeling that we know each other already,” says Lucho. “Like from another lifetime or something.”

“In Cambodia?” I jest.


There’s much more to say, but we leave it at that. I want to tell him about the Cambodian market down the street from my house, a place I frequent for iced coffee and snacks. Better yet, maybe I can pop in on him some time while he’s living in Siem Reap, on the other side of the world. Drink iced coffee, grow rice, become a nun. Yes.