Thursday, November 6, 2008

Go Geeks!

The geeks of America made this the ‘funnest’ election ever. It was a break through and I’m not just talking for obvious reasons, the people electing the first black president of the United States, but also because of all those cooo-el graphics. County-by-county voting results were just a mouse click away. The techies did an awesome job. I couldn’t decide whose maps I liked better the New York Times, CNN, Univision, MSNBC, or USA Today.

CNN has this search engine that allows you to type in your zip code and check out your local races. How cool and up to the minute is that? All these colorful maps allowed us to look up results up by state, race (presidential, senatorial, congressional, gubernatorial), and on the CNN map by proposition. USA Today even mapped the flow of campaign finance contributions on a state-by-state map. We’re talking nirvana for the political junkie.

It was a great day for newspapers as well, which bodes well for literacy. Go Obama! Dailies had to print extra copies of their Nov. 5, 2008 editions because people were buying extra copies to frame, keep, put in their scrapbooks, or throw darts at, depending on their party affiliation. It’s a wonderful thing.


I’m going to miss Michael Crichton. His books Juarrasic Park, The Lost World, Airframe, Prey and Sphere were my guilty pleasure and now that he is gone so is my nasty little secret. I loved reading his action driven plots and losing myself in the details of his science. The last book of his I read was Prey, and I can’t help but think of him every time I see a flock of birds in the sky. I know now how and why they huddle together in those formations (who knew birds were so dumb) and I get a little creeped out thinking that somewhere out there, perhaps in my backseat, there is a bad guy too small to be seen with the naked eye.

Crichton was only 66. Studs Terkel, 96, who also passed away this week lived a long and blessed life and I’ll miss him too. He left a lasting contribution to the non-fiction genre and his conversations with America were invaluable. Still I’m going to miss Crichton more. His books I bought for the fun of it, and although formulaic and fluffy fed me small doses of DNA replication, airplane engineering, nanotechnology, and submarine technology so that I didn’t gag. For that little bit of nourishment I am thankful.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

I like them books

Banned Books Week
Sept. 27-Oct. 4, 2008

Bill of Rights
Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Banned Books Week is the only national celebration of the freedom to read. And the American Library Association’s celebration couldn’t have come at a more opportune time than this the week of the vice presidential debate in St. Louis.

Gwen Ifill, the PBS correspondent and debate moderator, will certainly have a timely story and question to ask of Gov. Sarah Palin if she questions the VP candidate about her seemingly innocuous request to a Wasilla librarian about “How to go about banning books?” Perhaps a follow up question asking Palin, who was mayor of Wasilla in 1996-2002, if she indeed did threaten the Wasilla librarian Mary Ellen Emmons (now Baker) with termination if she did not give her “full support” to the mayor. Ask Palin why Ms. Baker left her job of seven years before the start of her second term as mayor?

I find it interesting and a good reminder of why banned books week is necessary. It was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than a thousand books have been challenged since 1982. The challenges have occurred in every state and in hundreds of communities.

People challenge books that they say are too sexual or too violent. They object to profanity and slang, and protest against offensive portrayals of racial or religious groups--or positive portrayals of homosexuals. Their targets range from books that explore the latest problems to classic and beloved works of American literature.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Don Haskins

Okay, one last post on Don Haskins. This is how many in El Paso, including my father, remember Haskins, which was seated on a barstool drinking a cold one. A bar owner Mr. Ontiveros had this to share about El Paso's most famous import:

"In a bar that I owned in Downtown El Paso, Don Haskins once walked in to enjoy a cold beer. Sitting at the end of the bar were two Anglo men having a cold one as well. Minutes after sitting at the bar, one of the Anglo men asked Don Haskins what prompted him to have started five N****** (N word) during the national championship game.

To read the rest of the post click here.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


Juanes really hit the nail on the head with his new single "Odio por amor" and if the Obama people are on top of it they'll incorporate it into their message. Take a listen here.

Speaking of change

Just read Dagoberto Gilb's piece in Slate about Iowa cornfields. It reads like poetry and addresses the issue of change in the Americas.

Don Haskins memories

I, like everyone in El Paso, have Don Haskins stories and memories. I was sports editor at the UTEP newspaper during Timo's (pronounced TEE-MOE, Tim Hardaway) playing days. I got to see more of the basketball players then I really needed to in the locker room before their showers after the games. They'd yell, "woman, woman, woman" when we chicks walked in either as a warning or a signal. We got to see some interesting bare-assed dances, and thankfully Coach Haskins (always ahead of his time) realized that we reporter chicks were low on cash and couldn't properly tip our impromptu Chip-n-Dale dancers so he had the players meet all media outside of the locker room, before their showers.

I loved the movie "Glory Road" not for its historical accuracy (which plays loose with the facts as many Hollywood productions do) but for this solitary scene starring Coach Haskins. The young Haskins is talking from a telephone booth in the heart of New Jersey, you know, Jersey, the town where Joe Piscopo is from. And here is this supposedly Northern gas station attendant with a drawl so thick you crave a fresh from the comal tortilla for it...

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Breaking news....uh, to me, anyways

Taco shop that hit the spot for El Pasoans has closed

By Suzannah Gonzales | Wednesday, September 3, 2008, 02:28 PM

The taco shop formerly known as Chuco’s Tacos and more recently as 10th Street Tacos located in a yellow house on West 10th Street near North Lamar Boulevard has shut its doors for good, business co-owner David Sahagun confirmed today.

Sahagun declined to say why, citing an ongoing federal lawsuit filed in El Paso. Chico’s Tacos, an institution there, is alleging trademark infringement, saying that Chuco’s played off Chico’s with, among other things, its signature dish — rolled tacos in a special sauce, topped with shredded cheese, bright green salsa and served in a paper boat tray.

“I really can’t say anything right now,” Sahagun said.

The owners of Chuco’s hoped changing the name of the restaurant would help settle the matter.

For many El Pasoans living in Austin, the restaurant provided hometown-style comfort food without having to make the eight-plus hour drive.

Austin American-Statesman


I'm glad Suzannah is on top of this. I say this tongue-and-cheek but not really, if you know what I mean. I drove by Chuco's, ah, I mean 10th Street Tacos with a friend two weeks ago. We wanted to eat some Chico's and they were closed, they said it was for renovations. I was really jonseing too but, alas, we ate a healthy plate of plain ole veggie tacos at another place.

This kinda sucks. I dunno, I'm thinking it'll only help build Chico's reputation in El Paso. I guess the Mora's don't want to share the wealth that they worked so hard to build upon without getting a little piece. Franchise anyone?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Are Mexican Americans a race or an ethnicity?

Sheryl Luna reviews "In Manifest Destinies: The Making of the Mexican American Race," (NYU Press 2007) by law professor Dr. Laura E. Gómez on Latina Lista.

Sounds interesting: "The book is a close historical account of institutions, colonization and violence that was, in her view, propagated based on views of Mexican-Americans as an inferior race. She supports this argument with clear researched documents that indicate American acquisition of the area was anything but peaceful."

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Highlights of the Hecho en Dallas Show

This is what the book Hecho en Tejas has created. The writers and artists in the anthology have been working on this show for the past two years. Here you can see just a few of the highlights of the two-hour literary fest. The crowds Hecho brings in have been no less than 200 people. Imagine 200 Mexican Americans in a room digging the arts. It’s a beautiful thing. What is also beautiful is the array of talent Hecho offers, mixing the old with the new and allowing the new to shine, our future to spring forth.

Hecho en Tejas-Dallas event from Rick on Vimeo.

Bernie Mac Funeral

The public memorial for comedian Bernie Mac was held on August 16, 2008 at Salem Baptist Church's The House of Hope in Chicago. Fellow King of Comedy, Cedric the Entertainer, reflects on Mac

Monday, August 11, 2008

Another terrible loss for us

Some of my favorite Bernie Mac pieces

Head of State

My sister's kids

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Opium dens, alien smuggling and slave labor wages

The 1800s in El Paso were filled with drugs, outlaws, and illegal smuggling. Some would have us thinking that the Sun City hasn't really changed much. I do like this EPCC website about the Chinese influence in downtown El Paso.

"More than 1,200 Chinese laborers helped build the Southern Pacific Railroad from Los Angeles to El Paso, completed in May 1881. When the job was done, about 300 Chinese decided to stay in El Paso. Most were married with families to support back home. With the completion of the early railroad, the Chinese started settling in El Paso in larger numbers. Chinese women were scarce in Chinatown, however. Only two Chinese women were living in El Paso in 1883.

The laborers who remained in El Paso formed the basis of the El Paso Chinese colony. All over the U.S., Chinatowns developed where a large number of Chinese congregated. El Paso's Chinatown was located downtown from St. Louis Street (later Mills Street) south of Fourth Street, Stanton to El Paso and south of Overland Street. In her 1972 study of El Paso's Chinese population, Nancy Farrar says Chinatown served as a place of spiritual refuge for it was there that the Chinese could hear their native language and practice their native customs."

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Chico's tribute

Here's my tribute to Chico's Tacos, actually it's a bunch of stolen tributes. Plus, I'm learning how to embed videos onto this blog. These are some of my favorite videos on YouTube.

Montana Location

Chico's Tee

Not quite sober, need more tacos
Impromptu dance at the Chico's Eastside location, girls not done clubbing

Friday, August 8, 2008

Fence on the Border

It is in the bending and the pain,
the way old paint scrapes off old wood,
the way elders light our way through time
on their way to a smaller frailty.

A halo about the painted head of Jesus
on the yellow wall of Our Lady of the Valley
Church fades where teachers make a pittance,
richly among brown-faced children.

A burlap robe on a dark pilgrim walking
up Mout Cristo Rey with sandals as sunset
blurs a perfect pink, like the palm of God pressing
down on the bent heads of the broken,

who learn prayers amidst a harshness
I have yet to know. The barrio full of narrow
streets, adobe homes, and sweet yucca flowers
bud in the air like a rainy night.

There’s a way the sand clings to the wind
and the sands brown the sky in a sadness
that sings some kind of endless echo of the border,
where the chain-link fence stretches for miles

and miles and the torn shirts of men flap
from the steel like trapped birds.
The river is narrow and appears slow.
The cardboard shanties of Colonias unveiled

among the vast open desert like ants.
The faces of the poor smiling and singing
as if sunset were a gift; the desert blooms
red and white flowers on the thinnest sparest cacti,

groundhogs breathe coolly in the earth.
And here, on Cinco de Mayo the cornea of god
glints faintly in a thin rainbow;
the hands of god rest over the blue hills,
the song of god in the throats of sparrows,

Bless You.
Bless You.

This is the way the border transfigures greed,
shapes it into something holy;

and paisanos stand alert; even pigeons soar
with something akin to the music of the spheres,
and Spanish flutters through the smoke
that burns through our small lives.

--Sheryl Luna

Thursday, August 7, 2008

El Paso air, sixth worse in the country

Air Pollution in El Paso, Texas

The Paso del Norte airshed is composed of a basin formed by mountains
that surround El Paso, Texas, and Sunland Park, New Mexico, in the
United States and Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, in Mexico. With a
population exceeding two million, it is one of the largest
metropolitan areas along the border. Visibility in the Paso del Norte
airshed is frequently poor, especially in winter, and respiratory
problems are common.

El Paso has been designated as a federal
nonattainment area, associated with exceedances of ozone and
particulate matter < 10 [micro]m in aerodynamic diameter (P[M.sub.
10]). Recently, an index was developed to reflect long-term exposure
to air pollutants. U.S. cities were ranked according to a weighted
estimate of exposure to criteria air pollutants; El Paso was ranked
sixth worst in the nation,
following Los Angeles, California; Phoenix,
Arizona; Riverside, California; Orange County, California; and New
York City, New York.

Sources of P[M.sub.10] in the Paso del Norte airshed share some
similarities with other urbanized areas, but some aspects of emissions
and climatology are unique to this region. High ambient P[M.sub.10]
levels result from a wide range of emission sources, and their
presence in air is affected by meteorologic conditions; in particular,
strong inversions trap P[M.sub.10] in the winter. Emissions are
particularly high in the Paso del Norte airshed because of the high
percentage of older vehicles, many without catalytic converters; a
significant amount of diesel exhaust associated with North American
Free Trade Agreement--related truck traffic at U.S.--Mexico border
crossings; and the use of wood, tires, and other scrap fuels for both
residential heating and the firing of bricks. These sources of P[M.sub.
10] are known to produce particulate organic material (POM) mixtures
of thousands of organic compounds, including polycyclic aromatic
hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and
polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins, many of which are highly toxic and

Numerous epidemiologic studies have shown an association
between ambient air particulates and increased morbidity and
mortality. Recent studies have shown that ultra-fine particles may
play an important role in cardiopulmonary diseases. The mechanism by
which PM causes these adverse effects is the topic of significant
study. PAHs, including nitro-derivatives, account for approximately
80% of mutagenic activity in urban PM extracts. In addition to their
mutagenicity, PAHs can interfere with certain developmental processes
and nourishment of the fetus. Environmental exposure to PAHs in
heavily polluted areas such as Krakow, Poland, has caused increased
levels of white blood cell PAH-DNA adducts in both mothers and
infants. In this study, our goals were to identify the presence of
these potentially harmful PAHs in POM by using two in vitro assays, to
quantify levels of selected PAHs, and, to the degree possible, relate
these findings to the risk of adverse health effects.

From: jay
Date: Tue, 5 Aug 2008 22:18:17 -0700 (PDT)

Juarez in the spotlight and it ain't good

Tucson native Charles Bowden took a little trip to the border and wrote about it for GQ and in it he mentions what people in El Paso have long suspected about the killings across the bridge that El Chapo is the one who brought in the Mexican Army and they work for HIM.

“I think the government is causing more insecurity—because the army does nothing,” he says. “There is a shoot-out, and the army does not come because they say they don’t have orders to get close. I don’t know if the army is doing the killing or the hit men—but whoever it is, we think the government is behind it."

The piece is good journalism but of course there is something in it that gnaws at me, besides the horror of the facts. Bowden focuses on Miss Sinaloa, a beauty queen with her light skin and middle class upbringing, when hundreds, hundreds of poor BEAUTIFUL morenas have been killed in Juarez and beyond. Was this his way of getting Americans to sympathize with the horror along the border? I'm not sure what to make of it.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Something we already knew. Now, hopefully, the rest of the world does too

El Paso
Living together
Jun 26th 2008 | EL PASO
From The Economist print edition

The climate is fantastic, and cross-border business is thriving. But the cartels are a big problem

IT WAS a quiet Friday night in El Paso for Sandra, a young student. Her friends had gone across the border to Ciudad Juárez for a film festival. She had been looking forward to it, but at the last minute felt “una semilla”, a seed of doubt. Women have been getting murdered in Juárez for a long time—hundreds in the past 15 years, with many more missing, and the cases unsolved—but she always felt that you have to keep living your life. Of late, though, the violence has gone to another level. The weekend before, there were two dozen people killed in Juárez, casualties of the fierce war between Mexico’s drug cartels.

Violence and chaos never come at a good time, but the current upsurge is frustrating for Texas’s sixth city. El Paso is separated from the rest of the state by hundreds of miles of mostly empty desert; in fact, it is closer to San Diego, on the Pacific, than to Houston. Locals complain that nobody cares about them. In the past, some would have added that the city did not care about itself. Over the past year the FBI has been investigating dozens of prominent citizens as part of a public corruption probe. But lately El Paso has become more ambitious.

The county, some 740,000 strong, is expecting a wave of spending from the expansion of its local army base. In 2005 Fort Bliss had 25,000 people, counting troops and their families. By 2013 it will have 90,000. The construction alone will pump several billion dollars into the local economy. Another coup is a new medical school, which was accredited in February. It will be the first located on the border.

The economy is fairly strong. One recent report predicted that El Paso will have the third-fastest rise in its “gross metropolitan product” in 2008—4.4%, compared to a national average of 1.4% for America’s metropolitan areas. The latest from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas is that El Paso has added 3,100 jobs in the year to date, which is enough to keep unemployment stable at 5.5% in May, the national average. Many American cities are doing much worse than that.

Downtown revitalisation is also part of the good news. Elizabeth Taylor spent her first honeymoon with Nicky Hilton in his downtown hotel in 1950. The district was then pretty much ignored for the next 50 years. There are only 300 housing units downtown, and not many restaurants. It empties out at the end of the day as everyone scatters into the sprawl. Now El Paso wants to recapture some of the old glamour. One advantage of the neglect is that many attractive art deco-style buildings are still around. The city is sponsoring art projects and laying on free wireless internet for everyone.

Such excitements aside, the big thing about El Paso is its sister city in Mexico. Juárez is much larger than El Paso (more than 1.5m people), but poorer and far more troubled. Businesspeople on both sides say the two cities form a single economic unit. According to Bob Cook, the president of the Regional Economic Development Corporation, more than 50,000 El Pasoans are employed because of the Mexican maquiladora industry—commuting to management or support jobs in the maquilas every day, where goods are processed for export to America. Mexican shoppers account for a fifth of El Paso’s retail business. Americans benefit from shopping in Mexico, too, crossing over to fill up with cheap petrol.

And the ties between the cities are not only professional. Some 80% of El Pasoans are Hispanic, and many have family or friends in Juárez. El Pasoans, like most people in South Texas, are uniformly opposed to the border fence that the federal government is building. “Everybody around here thinks that it’s a pretty foolish endeavour,” says Toby Spoon, who commutes to Juárez every day for his job as vice-president of The TECMA Group, a company that helps American manufacturers operate in Mexico. “We interact like one big community.”

This relationship means that Juárez’s worsening violence is El Paso’s problem, too. Some 2,500 Mexican soldiers and federal police were deployed to Juárez in March, but the violence has not abated. El Paso is a safe city, but residents are becoming anxious. The local hospital has been locked down twice while doctors treated Mexican police officers who had been wounded. They were worried that gangsters would burst in to finish the job, as has happened in Juarez. Even if the violence stays on the southern side of the river, it casts a shadow.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Sheryl Luna reviews Geraldo Rivera's book

Sheryl Luna finds Geraldo Rivera's "Hispanic: Why Americans Fear Hispanics in the U.S." a "quick read, yet intelligent and interesting. It is a needed counter-view to much of what is presented to the public at this time." Read it now on Latina Lista.

Monday, August 4, 2008

A Borderland Primer

A longer version of this review appeared in the American Book Review. For the full review please purchase a copy of the journal.

Mexican Writers on Writing

Edited by Margaret Sayers Peden

Trinity University Press

210 pages; paper, $24.95

A Borderland Primer

By Christine Granados

Reading Margaret Sayers Peden’s book “Mexican Writers on Writing” was an uncomfortable reminder of how Anglocentric the public school education I received was, and I grew up along the Texas/Mexico border in El Paso. Not one of the twenty-four writers in her book, which constitutes the heavyweights of Mexican letters, was a part of my primary or secondary education in El Paso. Exactly two writers, Carlos Fuentes and Octavio Paz, were mentioned in my post-secondary schooling down along the border of Mexico.

Peden explains in her preface how language creates a barrier and may be one of the reasons “Mexico’s long history of letters … remains largely unknown to us” here in the States. I believe she is being kind to her countrymen. While, yes, language can be a barrier (a barrier Peden has done her fair share in helping to scale through her accurate translations), the Frenchman Voltaire, Englishman Shakespeare, and Russian Tolstoy managed to travel over oceans and languages into our literary lexicon. My unscientific guess would be that Mexican authors are a mystery to us here in the United States because we don’t value our neighbors to the south or the Mexican intellect.

That idea hit me while reading Peden’s cross section of Mexican authors’ thoughts. It struck me as odd that in college I read all about Sir Phillip Sidney’s “In Defense of Poesie,” but nothing about Bernardo de Balbuena’s “In Defense of Poetry.” Odder still, now that I know that Balbuena was Sidney’s contemporary, and maddening after I calculated that Kent, England is 5,000 miles away from El Paso, while el D.F., where Balbuena was raised, is less than 1,000 miles away from my college class. To know that a Mexican educated man—who, like Sidney, argued that poetry was a divine inspiration and further stated that without poetry there would be no music—would have given me such a different world view, tinged the opaque colored lenses from which I grew up viewing the world. Plus, his is a defense I buy, wholeheartedly.

I mention this only because Peden’s book fell into my lap one week after I spoke to a high school English class filled with only Mexican-American students in Austin. These students all wondered why they were studying English poets like Sidney and Chaucer. I looked at their brown faces and wondered the exact the same thing. I’m still wondering. Why do English tales take precedence over Mexican ones in the one state that shares the longest border with Mexico?

I believe that these Mexican-American students would have been better served by reading a book like Peden’s. This well-thought-out, chronological sampling of Mexican thought doesn’t have a single tiresome, scholarly footnote, which makes it such an eminently readable book and would thus be easy to teach, even at the high school level.

I can see all those brown faces coloring with pride after reading about the first novel published in Latin America. How José Joaquín Fernández de Lizardi’s “The Itching Parrot” written in 1816, and translated by Katherine Anne Porter, shows the meticulous Mexican work ethic that has been instilled into these students from birth. To read in print where their already strong work ethic comes from would be a strong affirmation of their culture.

Even their teacher agreed that her students would be better served learning about Juan Rulfo, Paz, Fuentes and Elena Poniatowska. They would be able to see the different colorful personalities and get a taste of each Mexican writer and be able decide for themselves if they wanted to read more about them.

Peden’s book is a good primer for the uninitiated (like me), an uplifting pep talk to up-and-coming writers (i.e. high school and college students), and a reminder to literary scholars of the great Mexican intellect.

I, like Peden, can envision a time when there will be a free literary exchange between the United States and Mexico, “and it may be that one day a natural balance will be achieved.” Unfortunately, it just won’t happen in my lifetime.

Christine Granados is a working mother who has written numerous reviews, essays, feature articles and a short story collection “Brides and Sinners in El Chuco.” She is a reviewer for the American Book Review, based at the University of Houston-Victoria.

Smuggling Parrots

This essay appeared in the 2008 issue of Pembroke Magazine. No. 40 edited by Dr. Liliana Wendorff, chair of the Foreign Languages Department at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.


As a child, I helped my mother smuggle parrots into El Paso, Texas, from Juárez, Mexico. My mother’s smuggling wasn’t premeditated, and she didn’t do it for profit. She bypassed Customs or "didn't declare all she had in her car" because she wanted to right a wrong. This was before the Bird Conservation Act of 1992, before the Mexican government banned the exporting of exotic birds, and before the avian bird flu. There were plenty of times we’d drive into Juárez for fruit, medicine, or to visit the dentist, and she didn’t look twice at the vendors selling birds by the side of road. But some of the trips were different.

Bird smuggling for her was an emotional response to inhumane treatment that disgusted her. She smuggled when she saw a particularly sickly bird, or if she didn’t like the way one of the vendors was handling the birds. She’d roll down the car window, and ssht ssht the vendor over to us. Before I knew it, she’d be handing me a brown paper sack and barking instructions: "Under the seat. Don’t crush the bird. Be gentle. Hurry up. God Damn it gently, I said." We’d drive through customs and lie about what we had in the car, then ride home. The risks she took were for naught because the birds usually died within days, all except for Perico.

My first encounters with Dagoberto Gilb reminded me of those trips to Juárez. When I met him he was doing his own type of smuggling to counter an injustice he saw, and still sees, in the American education system. He invited me, an aspiring writer, to his home for a workshop. I believe he was pissed off just as my mother felt when she saw the poor birds from Veracruz jammed into dented, rusted birdcages smeared with feces. She saw past their eyes dulled by heat, tequila, and traffic, underneath the coating of dust on their feathers and knew what magnificent birds they were.

After hearing my tales of rejection—four writing programs had told me to polish my writing skills and reapply—and even after reading my fiction, Dagoberto Gilb was still optimistic about my future. He said my material was great, but my punctuation and writing skills were getting in the way of my telling a good story. He knew that, like the birds on the border, my writing was fogged. He knew that in the right environment I could flourish and I'm sure he did some fast-talking and bargaining to get me into Texas State University like Mom when she bargained for Perico.

Perico was the smallest bird inside the cage. He still had fur on his tail feathers. The vendor tried to talk her out of buying him. He said the parrot would die before we got him home. Hearing that, Mom changed her tactic, and she began to badger the vendor into giving her the bird for free. He never knew what hit him. We left him standing on the street with the dirty string tied to his belt loop and the other end tied to another parrot’s foot, and one less bird in the cage.

Gilb offered me a safe place to perch until I understood fiction and honed my writing skills. He referred to the workshop he invited me to be a part of as the "Undocumented Illegal" writing workshop. There were four of us at his house in South Austin—four Mexican Americans who couldn’t get into MFA programs. And there was Dagoberto, a professor, friend, someone exactly like us, someone whose parents weren’t Ph.D.s but store clerks and laundry workers. Here was someone from a working-class background who was actually teaching at one the universities we were trying to get into. I never felt more comfortable with a professor than I did with Dagoberto. He talked too loud, cussed too much and nagged incessantly, exactly like my mother. And like her, there is no pretense to the man. Honesty, however brutal, is Dagoberto’s best quality. If you saw him walking on a dark night, you might cross to the other side of the street because he's big. Some might call him intimidating as one would have to be when you live in rough neighborhoods. His black hair hangs down past his chin and he glares at you with such intensity you have to look away. He is the anti-professor. That is, until he starts talking about books and writing. He's been published in The New Yorker and Harper’s, and done stints for NPR’s Fresh Air.

Being asked by Dagoberto Gilb to come over to read one of your stories is like Pete Sampras asking you to hit some balls, or Wynton Marsalis asking you to come over and jam, or Sandy D’Amato asking for one of your recipes. You get the picture. For some reason, he saw something in us. Three of us eventually made it into writing programs. Two went to Texas State University, one to the University of Iowa and the other is a director of Latino affairs for a Midwestern state—all because he saw something.

Once inside the walls of Texas State, I felt like one of those parrots stuffed into a brown paper sack and hidden under the car seat. I was slowly suffocating because I wasn’t well read enough, couldn’t string an eloquent sentence together, and sometimes didn’t understand what the hell the professors or students were talking about during class.

During that time, Dagoberto became my surrogate mother. It may seem strange to compare this big, Mexican-German writer to my mother, five foot two in heels. But if you ever meet her, you'll never forget her. It’s the same with Dagoberto. Like her, he can talk a blue streak, and he’d talk me down from my neuroses and self-esteem issues, there in his little closet of an office that they give professors at universities. He’s also got my mother’s stubborn tenacity. He, like her, goes against the grain, sees the unfair advantages the strong have over the weak, rich over the poor, finds the underdog and fights for it, for us. He wrote about the disadvantaged, people just like me, in an essay, "Poverty Is Always Starting Over." He said: "Poverty is about starting over again and then yet again. It’s about talent fully shaped, but which, unencouraged, discouraged, lasts the briefest moment."

He hunts down talent with an eye focused on the disadvantaged, just the way Mom picked which parrot she was going to save from the Chihuahuan Desert’s 100-degree heat. Those beautiful birds from the Gulf only lasted a day or two at our house. And my writing could have gone the way of the birds if not for Dagoberto’s encouragement. The simplicity and brilliance of getting a group of Mexican American students together to work on their writing is reminiscent of my mother’s solo animal-rights quest. Hers was a small step that made a big difference in the life one bird, Perico. The only bird we smuggled across that survived. He lived with us for two years. Because Mom didn’t have the heart to confine him yet again, he walked around freely, perching on chairs and couches. He walked around that house until he got strong enough to fly. One day, he was brave enough to fly out the door, and he lived in our backyard for a month. Each day, he’d take longer and longer trips away from the yard, until one day he flew off and never returned.

I gained strength under Dagoberto’s distracted and reluctant guidance. Found my voice in that office that he so completely filled. He listened to my rants. Let me speak freely about being the only Mexican American in some of the classes I was taking, maybe even the only person whose parents didn’t have college degrees, whose parents lived paycheck to paycheck, whose parents never once mentioned college as a possible future. He let me talk, and more importantly, he listened and validated my existence, through both his presence on campus and his writing.

My first collection of short stories Brides and Sinners in El Chuco was published in 2006 by University of Arizona Press and Gilb, like my mother, said he had nothing to do with it but I know the truth.

CHRISTINE GRANADOS was born and raised in El Paso, Texas. She is a stay-at-home mother of two sons and a freelance journalist. Her collection of short stories, Brides and Sinners in El Chuco, was published by University of Arizona Press in 2006. She was winner of the 2006 Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Foundation Award, a grant given by author Sandra Cisneros to further the aspirations of new writers. Her stories have been featured in Hecho en Tejas: An Anthology of Texas-Mexican Literature, Not Quite What I was Planning: And Other Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure (HarperCollins 2008); Texas Observer, El Andar Magazine, Big Tex[t] and the Newspaper Tree. She is a graduate of UT El Paso's School of Communications and the MFA creative writing program at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas.

Been a long time...

I've been in El Paso for an entire month, visiting mom and dad with the chavalos. Haven't posted in while so I'll post all the things I've published since May. Here they are from latest to earliest. Liked the book despite the hideous cover.

A Celebration


Special Contributor

Dallas Morning News

The re-release of Tomas Rivera's work could not come at a better time. With the growth of the Mexican-American and Mexican population in the United States, reintroducing Rivera's work in an affordable version makes not only good educational sense but good sociological sense.

The sum total of Rivera's published works is in this Bible-sized paperback. Editor Julián Olivares wisely includes both the English and Spanish translations, allowing the reader to decide which language he/she prefers. Although Mr. Olivares translated a majority of the works, he chose Evangelina Vigil-Piñón's masterful translation of the novel …And the Earth Did Not Devour Him for this edition. Rivera's much-anthologized book of short stories The Harvest; his collection of poetry The Searchers: Collected Poetry and nine critical essays round out the corpus.

The Complete Works, first published in 1992, 8 years after his death, is already a standard in university ethnic studies courses throughout the country. In order to get a glimpse of who Mexican-Americans are as a people one need to look no further than the untitled piece after “First Communion” in …And the Earth Did Not Devour Him.. In it we are privy to the experiences of the Mexican-American community through the eyes of a young boy's Anglo teacher. The chapter, a mere paragraph long, answers many soul searching questions about the Mexican American and also may help explain why the ridiculous chili pepper, fiery stereotype has been attached to the culture.

“ The teacher was surprised when, hearing that they needed a button on the poster to represent the button industry, the child tore one off of his shirt and offered it to her. She was surprised because she knew that this was probably the only shirt the child had. She didn't know whether he did this to be helpful, to feel like he belonged or out of love for her. She did feel the intensity of the child's desire and this was what surprised her most of all.”

It's about perception and perspective, someone else's.

The point of view Rivera offers readers is one of the migrant laborer. He was born into a family of farm workers in Crystal City in 1935 and despite the nomadic life he managed to get an education and become a university administrator and scholar. His life, and work, “embodies the collective consciousness and experiences” Olivares said in the introduction--of the '60s, an era when the Chicano movement was at its apex.

This is a book that students need to read right alongside O. Henry and Steinbeck in English and history classes, especially in districts such as Dallas, where 60 percent of the students are Hispanic. But the re-release of this book allows readers of any age to see for themselves why Rivera has been the most influential voice in Chicano letters.

Christine Granados is a working mother and author of the short story collection “Brides and Sinners in El Chuco.”

First appeared in the DMN May 3, 2008.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Rest in peace

I, we, loved George Carlin at our house in El Paso in the 70s and not just because he smoked pot and did LSD but because we grew up with him on cable television. The seven words you can't say on television was our mantra: shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits. Always, always made us laugh even sitting outside in the fucking heat of an afternoon day.

I thoroughly enjoyed this, his last interview by Jay Dixit.

Also baked some slamming lemon squares. Yum. Recipe from smittenkitchen below:

Lemon Bars
Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

These are bold and tart lemon bars, ones I feel are best in smaller doses than Ina Garten suggests. I’ve made a few changes to the recipe–increased the salt in the crust, reduced the sugar in the lemon filling and an encouragement to grease your pan, as mine were all but cemented into their non-stick pan. For those of you who like the 1:1 crust to lemon layer ratio, use the second option.

Prep Time: 40 minutes (30 inactive)
Cook Time: 55 minutes

For the crust:
1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups flour
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

For lemon layer:

4 extra-large eggs at room temperature
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (3 to 4 lemons)
2/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2/3 cup flour

Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and grease a 9 by 13 by 2-inch baking sheet.

For the crust, cream the butter and sugar until light in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Combine the flour and salt and, with the mixer on low, add to the butter until just mixed. Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and gather into a ball. Flatten the dough with floured hands and press it into the greased baking sheet, building up a 1/2-inch edge on all sides. Chill.

Bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes, until very lightly browned. Let cool on a wire rack. Leave the oven on.

For the lemon layer, whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and flour. Pour over the crust and bake for 30 to 35 minutes (less if you are using the thinner topping), or about five minutes beyond the point where the filling is set. Let cool to room temperature.

Cut into triangles and dust with confectioners’ sugar.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

El Paso in the news

Finally a voice of reason in this El Paso downtown development debate and I can’t believe who it’s coming from—Joe Olvera. For possibly the first time I agree wholeheartedly with what he had to say in Newspaper Tree. An excerpt:

“Well and good. Let’s preserve what should be preserved. For example, let’s preserve the housing units for which Carmen Felix and other activists fought such horrendous battles against powerhouses like Jonathan Rogers when he wanted to destroy El Segundo. Let’s preserve the Farmworker Center, let’s preserve El Sagrado Corazon Catholic Church, and let’s preserve some of the structures that have been a part of El Segundo for decades, and, yes, let’s preserve such historical buildings as where the book, Los de Abajo was first written and honored as the first book about the Mexican Revolution.

“But, do we need to preserve everything? We all know that the vast majority of housing units are rat infested, with roaches constituting a large portion of the vermin population. Do we need to preserve the Drug Lords/Smugglers who are using children as ‘mules?’ Can we preserve The Armijo Recreation Center and open it up to every youngster in El Segundo? That might be hard to do if the gang that controls that area doesn’t allow it. Oh, yes, gangs still control and create mayhem against children, youth, adults, abuelitos y abuelitas. That part of El Segundo hasn’t changed, although some people would like for us to believe that it has changed. But, no!”

To read the entire article click here. Mr. Olvera published a book “Chicano Sin Fin!” with Zapata 1910 Press for more information about it visit his blog.

A big congratulations to fellow El Pasoan Vanessa Ramos for winning the Dobie Paisano Jesse Jones Fellowship Award.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Chuco's, Chico's what's the diff?

Rudy Gutierrez
Whether you get your taco fix at Chico's or Chuco's depends on whether you are in Austin or 570 miles to the west. Chico's is a chain in El Paso. It is suing Chuco's, on 10th Street in Austin, for trademark infringement. Chuco's is hoping a name change will calm the waters over its 'drowning tacos.'

I gotta try this place out now.

For El Paso expats, Chuco's hits spot
A name change is on the horizon after Chico's Tacos files lawsuit for trademark infringement.

By Suzannah Gonzales

Thursday, May 08, 2008
When at home, El Pasoans stop at Chico's Tacos. When in Austin, they stop at Chuco's Tacos.
But El Pasoans-turned-Austinites might soon stop at the Drowning Taco: Chuco's plans to change its name.
The move follows a federal lawsuit filed in El Paso. Chico's, an institution there, is alleging trademark infringement, saying that Chuco's is playing off Chico's with, among other things, its signature dish: rolled tacos in a special sauce, topped with shredded cheese, bright green salsa and served in a paper boat tray for under $5.
Rather than fight the lawsuit, the owners of Chuco's hope the name change will settle the matter. The menu will stay the same. Three beef rolled tacos at Chuco's cost $2.60, and six cost $4.93.
For those in Austin, Chuco's is the closest they can get to Chico's without making the eight-plus-hour drive.
"It's not Chico's, but it's good," Austin police officer Lorenzo Castro said.
At Chuco's, located in a yellow house on West 10th Street near North Lamar Boulevard, Castro said that when he goes back to El Paso once a year, the first place he stops and eats is Chico's.
"Now I don't have to worry about that. I can come here."
Mark Centeno, a die-hard Chico's fan with a three-times-a-week Chuco's habit, said that when you meet someone from El Paso, you ask where they went to high school, and then you talk about Chico's.
"It's a bond," he said.
Chuco's co-owner David Sahagun, who was born in Mexico and grew up in El Paso, says he tells customers five to 10 times a day: "We do not want to be Chico's; nor do we ever want to be Chico's."
The idea for the restaurant, which opened last fall, was to offer fast Mexican food in a casual-dining setting in that area of Austin, Sahagun said.
Other than that one item on the menu, Chuco's is completely different from Chico's, he said. While Chico's offers only the red, tomato-based sauce with their rolled tacos, Chuco's offers red and green tomato-based sauces and a vegetarian option.
Sahagun said the eatery represents both El Paso and Austin. In a hallway in Chuco's, opposite a University of Texas flag, a UT-El Paso flag hangs. The names of area high schools are painted around the flags. It makes El Pasoans nostalgic.
Sahagun has had to repaint the El Paso-area school names four times because of people writing their names next to their school. If it happens again, he says, he's not going to repaint.
Lawyers for Chico's and Chuco's currently are discussing the matter out of court, according to Chuco's lawyer Mark Osborn. They deny the allegations of trademark infringement.
"We don't want to fight with them," Sahagun said. "People came here for the food, not the name. We don't really care about the name. We'll change it."
The handful of Chico's locations in the El Paso area are owned and operated by the Mora family, who declined to comment for this story.
The dish of three or six rolled tacos — also known as flautas or taquitos — is nothing new and is common in parts of Mexico, Sahagun says.
They're also called tacos ahogados. Translation: drowned tacos.
El Chuco is a nickname for El Paso, El Pasoans say. It's short for "Pachuco," a zoot suit-clad hombre from back in the day. Naming the restaurant Chuco's, where pretty much all of the managing staff hails from El Paso, was a tribute to their hometown, Sahagun said.
"I'm from El Paso, and I love Chico's, mystery meat and all," said Mando Rayo, who wrote about the "Chuco's VS Chico's Smackdown" in the Taco Journalism blog and gave Chuco's four stars. (Chico's got five.)
"As my husband says, this is equivalent to the notion of every hamburger hut suing the other for sticking a slice of bacon in a burger and claiming trademark infringement," Trudy Alfaro Esquivel, a former El Pasoan living in Austin, wrote in an e-mail.
"El Pasoans have Chico's in their heart," Sahagun said. "I want Austin to have Chuco's in their heart."; 445-3616
Additional material from staff writer Rick Cantu.

***And to make you hungry watch this.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008


There is no theme, nothing really that holds these pieces together or no way I can group them, except to say that all these links deal with writing and I've enjoyed them all, along with Sheryl Luna's blog videos, he, he, he.

Another good review from Roberto Ontiveros.

Check out the Hecho en Tejas video about Dallas.

Good interview with Dorothy Allison.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Los Mexicanos piensan en todo...

Here's why El Paso is so cool. It's not "Los Americanos que piensan en todo but los mexicanos." This photo and story ran in the El Paso Times today.

Cart below bridge moved migrants
By Louie Gilot / El Paso Times
Article Launched: 04/22/2008 12:00:00 AM MDT

A 5-by-5-foot trolley resembling those used by mechanics to slide under cars was put to a very different use over the weekend.

Border Patrol agents spotted it resting between two support beams in the underbelly of the Bridge of the Americas during a routine check Sunday afternoon.

It was being used like a rail cart to carry undocumented immigrants from the Mexican side of the bridge to the U.S. side, about 30 feet up in the air.

"It is very ingenious of them," supervisory Border Patrol Agent Victor Lujan said of the smugglers. "Since we're stopping them in other areas, they are trying something new. But we foiled their attempt. With extra manpower, we can send agents over there (the bridge) and look around."

The agents Sunday also found a man, lying on top of one of the beams over the eastbound lanes of the Border Highway, near the cart. They brought him down with the help of the El Paso Fire Department.

"They used the aerial ladder to bring him down," Lt. Mario Hernandez of the Fire Department said.

Rafael Ernesto Corvalan Herrera, a citizen of Chile, told the agents he had been on top of the beam 18 hours, since the cart's wheels broke, stranding him.

Fingerprint checks found he was a sex offender registered in Dade County, Fla., and that he had been deported from the United States. He is in the El Paso County Jail and will be prosecuted, officials said.

It wasn't the first time that the Border Patrol encountered such a makeshift trolley, but such finds are rare, agency officials said.

The one found Sunday was made of a metallic frame topped by wire mesh; underneath were rubber wheels, such as those on a toy wagon, mounted on axles. The contraption fit perfectly between two I-beams running 4 feet apart the length of the bridge, as if on a rail.

Agent Lujan said a migrant would lay on the trolley on his back, using his legs to push on the top ledge of the beam, causing the cart to roll along.
That's when problems started for Corvalan, who later told officials an old leg injury had rendered him incapacitated.

Corvalan, who said he paid smugglers just less than $400 for the cart ride, allegedly was part of a group of five migrants who started making it across the underside of the bridge Saturday evening when one of the cart's wheels broke.

Lujan said that, according to Corvalan, the smugglers brought four of the migrants back to the Mexican side on another cart and told Corvalan, unable to move, that they would come back and fix the cart's wheels for him.

He was still waiting when the agents found him.

Louie Gilot may be reached at; 546-6131

Being a bit of a philatelist myself and a journalism junky, Edward R. Murrow and Ruben Salazar are some of my heroes. I've got Murrow's stamp from 1994, and I'm thrilled about Salazar getting his own. I like the sepia color of Salazar's design, which is much better than the caca brown ink crap the US Post Office did with the 29 cent Murrow one. Check it.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Future of Chicano Literature?

Getting ready for Hecho en Tejas in Dallas, 7:30 p.m., May 3 at the Cultural Arts Center with a fantastic lineup. Come out if you’re in the Dallas area. Thinking about my friends who I'll be seeing again in North Texas reminded me of Hecho, en El Paso and how when I was there I had the opportunity to meet the editor of the New York Times book review and was, well, disappointed to say the least. Here’s what I wrote in the El Paso Times about the meeting.

Who knows the future of literature? Not this star
There's this platica that the New York Times Book Review editor had at my alma mater. It was a big deal, part of the recent 22nd Annual Literature Lecture series at the University of Texas at El Paso. I was looking forward to hearing what this man had to say about literature, about us here along the border. I'm a bit of a bookworm, and -- OK, I'll say it -- a nerd, and this Anglo man from up North is a rock star in my bookish head.

I get there 30 minutes early, another nerd habit of mine, and I notice that there are not many people in the auditorium. I think maybe no one will show and I start to feel bad for the guy, but then I remember that I'm back home in El Paso. Then at 7 p.m., when the event is supposed to start, ay vienen todos, about 400 of us, mostly students from the university.

The man from up North comes out, gets on stage and starts talking about the New York Times Book Review and how things are done and some important book list poll that he says isn't really all that important. He was trying to be humble and I start to think well, maybe this one is different.

Then he starts talking about the impact the immigration experience is going to have on American literature. Says that immigration is the story of our time, and I perk up. It seems to me that the rest of the audience perks up tambien, because this is relevant.

He described the strong voices coming out of the Latino and Asian immigrant experience. He mentions Chilean, Ecuadorian, Colombian and even Dominican voices.

These authors he mentions are fabulous y todo, but still I'm waiting for this guero to give a shout out to our brothers and sisters. Wanting him do a little homework, use his literary pedigree y todo así, wanting him to let us know that he knew all about Anaya, La Sandra, Denise, Ana y el Dagoberto. At the very least I thought he'd maybe look up the UTEP Web site a ver que Benjamin Alire Sáenz and Daniel Chacón do there at the university. They were even in the audience, which to me was very polite because they've got families and stuff to do, too.

Then I think I'm being a little too hard on the guy. But when it comes time for the questions, our kids -- intelligent, beautiful -- ask smart, polite questions because they were raised right and were told they needed to be polite to guests in their home. They ask the immigration question not once but twice and the impact it's going to play on American literature. He mentions "author's voice" again, and "anger fueling the voice."

Here's where I start thinking this man is no different from all the rest. See, in my nerdy little book world where we insult each other with words instead of vaisas, "voice" is code for "this guy's work sucks" and "this really isn't smart" and "he needs to study more before publishing."

When the guero is finished with his talk, I buy his book so I can ask him what role he thinks Chicano literature is going to play in American letters. And because I asked straight up like that, he couldn't bring up Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who we both know ain't Mexican-American. The pobre had to answer something, and you know what he told me? He just doesn't see it having a big role in literature, such as other media and the Internet.

Then I countered with como puedes decir eso with so many Mexicans coming into this country, only I say it in English so that he can understand me, and he shrugs his shoulders and says that the Internet and blogs are going to have a huge impact and no one can predict where literature is really going.

And I'm satisfied, because that's right: He has no idea where literature is going. I thank him y me despido de el.

I get out of there and I'm grateful, so thankful, that the celebration of the Texas-Mexican anthology "Hecho en Tejas" was in town the same week and I could go to where Dagoberto Gilb, Benjamin Sáenz, Norma Cantu, Sergio Troncoso, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Cecilia Ballí, Richard Yañez, Tammy Gomez, David Garza and Sheryl Luna were reading and discussing the state of American literature.

Christine Granados is the author of "Brides and Sinners in El Chuco," published by the University of Arizona Press.

Author(s): Christine Granados / Guest columnist Date: April 7, 2007 Section: Lifestyle

Copyright (c) 2007 El Paso Times, a MediaNews Group Newspaper.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


Lorna Dee Cervantes’ DRIVE (Wings Press 2006) is a collection of five poetry collections bound together. The Collections are titled “How Far’s the War?” “Bird Ave,” “Play,” “Letters to David” and “Hard Drive.”

On my initial reading of the book, the section titled “Letters to David” was most appealing in its imaginative scope and its homage to David A. Kennedy. Many of the poems in the book are inherently political, but not preachy. They work to play with language in new and innovative ways, all the while opening themselves up to varied and multilayered interpretations.

There is a firm yet genuine bluntness here in the language, coupled with a keen sensibility for not only language, but living. These two polarities create the dramatic tension that keeps a reader reading. Cervantes writes,

“Today, goddamned David Kennedy drank himself to death…” Such an opening catches our attention, and yet later the harsh tone shifts to an empathetic one and recounts, “When he was only 12 years old, young David stayed up in his hotel room late at night and watched his father on television. A family friend found him seated in front of the set switching the channels to the different news broadcasts to watch the tape play over and over. The friend recalled that there were no tears, only a look of stunned horror.” Here the speaker's tone softens and we too are taken in by the trauma. Such sympathy or compassion rings out through this dense book of many poems, many with varying styles and aesthetic tendencies. The scope is broad and the book challenges us to open up our minds and hearts to what’s going on outside of ourselves, to hold in reverence the dead which haunt us, and the poems remind us to respect the living. This is in itself a statement of art, a statement of belief, a statement of faith in humanity despite the dark underbelly of our flaws which is often revealed.

Cervantes makes wonderful imaginative leaps from line to line and always surprises a reader with the unexpected. In “Just a Postcard from My Dreams” we read:

You arrived, “just a postcard
From your dreams,” you said, like a jackalope,
A hybrid lover, long-necked
Long-legged patched-up trouble.
A new kind of vision…
The poet allows a dreamlike sense to overlap hard straight political statements, and the playful manner in which this is done allows us to see what’s unseen, to feel what tension lies beneath the surface of our dreams, our realities, our passing.
Some poems are playful like “Bananas and Peanut Butter”:

She suspects he’s a banana
& peanut better kind of guy,
corn-raised and hell-bred
retread from the factory
of failed marriages and broken dreams…

Other playful titles “She Hated Men in Discount Underwear,” “Tattoo Nation,” “Whole Lotto Love,” “Sleeping Around (On Dead Pablo’s Birthday),” and “Axe Heads Hanging Off the Tops of Capitalized Letters, Like the Letter “T” for Example” give us a sense that despite trials, difficulties and a sullenness that is in the collection, the poet knows the value of humor, and the value of our instinctive need to survive and hope. This continual movement between lamentation and praise works.

In “Tiny Shadows of Leaves” Cervantes is at her best, in that she leaves us with the faint aftermath of experience passing. We can understand the wound, the making of something good and beautiful from “language too clumsy for/ your tongue” and the hint towards what it means to be an immigrant, a person on the margins.

You were born on a patch of dirt
Named for a grid of unchartered
Desert. Your grandparents fled
The Long March and disappeared
Into blood canyons rather than stand
Disappeared and bloodied. Your mother
Ever washed a dish in her life, but pressed
The spines of cut cactus together
Which dried into bowls. Your sutures
Never healed when you lost them both.
Your father’s heart, too small. Your
Mother’s heart, too large. You scraped
The arroyos of roots and hard seeds,
mouthed a language too clumsy for
your tongue and tried to forge
love from the tiny shadows of leaves
in a foreign country—your own.

The sense of being foreign in one’s own land and the sense that communication is difficult for those persons (in the poem) who fled a long March in order to survive is haunting. The double play on march as the act of forced walking or March the month is subtle and interesting.

In the earlier section titled “Bird Ave” we get a similar play with “Tasco”: A woman carved her grief/into glittering rock, the stone/broke open a cloud mass and /water tore the paths to the church./ A basket of bread wept/on the table. A window/of breath disturbed the air/between the white-washed walls/ as it opened, thrown wide/ with the force of a punch./ A silence greened slow as summer…
Here/few hands grow tender that work/the mountains, extracting fossilized/ tears from the refuse/ of the mine.”

Again the speaker hints at history, and losses infuse the work with a sense of mournfulness, yet there is always something beyond the silences and heart break of the poems. The woman and the fossilized tears at this mine “carved her grief” and we get the sense of something beautiful made from the experience of suffering, and in a country where suffering is something people pretend doesn’t exist, the poems themselves are a testament to the human spirit, the strength of mere language to convey the mystery of human hope.

DRIVE is a hefty book which requires and invites careful reading and rereading. One can continually mine something from these gems.

Despite the sadness in poems with titles like “Murder,” “Blood: Black Burned Oil of the Race” and “For Love, for Sept. 11” there is a something to be found in such death and sadness:

I find them on a summer’s night
in mind like a magician’s sleeve,
their narrow piercing guesses are/ whatever you believe.

“How Far the War” is the first section which closely explores the aftermath of war and often ties such hopelessness with restraint, willfulness and rebirth.

This is a very brief glimpse into a volume by the foremost Chicana poet in the history of our literature. She shows here once again that she has earned her place in the canon of American Literature.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Mind Intercourse

I’m in love again, and this time it’s with a woman. Forgive my crudeness but I wanna mind fuck Zadie Smith. Get inside her head to see how she does those wonderful things with plot, description, dialogue, and even simple tags in her book “On Beauty.”

Love. There is no other word for it. It’s what literature does to/for me when I get a book that engages all my senses. It doesn’t matter who wrote it, man or woman if the book makes me cry, cringe, nod my head in agreement, shake my head in envy, or laugh out loud I naturally fall in love with the person who wrote it.

So this week it happens to be Ms. Smith and I’m so in love that I don’t want to share the book with anyone, just keep it to myself, yet at the same time I can’t stop boring friends and family to death about the brilliance of it, or as Smith says doing the dramatic reverse of what I want. I’ve read lines out loud to a less than enthusiastic audience and memorized the bits of philosophy.

First off, she introduced me to a world so opposite of how I was raised/grew up and she did it with humor, love, and lots of detail. I got to know and love this upper middle class family first through an email from their oldest son Jerome (which honestly, I thought a little weak for an opening but I read on and am glad I did) and then finally through the main character Howard Belsey. Howard is a reticent, nerdy and woefully average professor, born and raised in England, who married Kiki, a black woman from Florida, who is described as an African queen at 200 plus pounds she can’t seem to fathom.

I have acted like his three children at different points in my life. Jerome is the sensitive virgin college boy. Zora is the over achieving, emotionally clueless (like her father) prig of a daughter. Levi, who is in a constant struggle with his black identity, is the youngest child. Through this family, and their intimate relationship with Wellington University, Smith explores politics, racism, academia, love, self-hate, arrogance, sex, in other words, the human condition. Smith’s prose is filled with so many truths it feels like being hit with machine gun fire.

How can I sum up an entire novel here to give the proper introduction to this, my favorite scene in the entire book? It’s like trying to explain my whole life in one page. And it seems as though I’ve known the Belsey’s a lifetime. In this scene Howard tries to explain that his marriage is falling apart because of his infidelity. It might be wise to let on that Howard's father, Harold drove Kiki, Jerome, Zora and Levi away with racial slurs about Blacks four years earlier. This is Howard’s first meeting with his father since that fateful day and in a rare fit of emotion Howard opens up.

‘Now that can’t be right,’ said Harold cautiously, ‘You’ve been married—what is it now? Twenty-eight years—summink like that?’

“Thirty, actually.’

‘There you are, then. It just don’t fall apart, just like that, does it?’

“It does when you…’ Howard released an involuntary moan as he took his hands from his eyes. ‘It’s got too hard. You can’t carry on when it gets this hard. When you can’t even talk to someone…You’ve just lost what there was. That’s how I feel now. I can’t believe it’s happening.’

Harold now closed his eyes. His face contorted like a quiz-show contestant’s. Losing women was his specialist subject. He did not speak for a while.

‘Cos she wants to finish it or you do?’ he said finally.

‘Because she wants to,’ confirmed Howard, and found that he was comforted by the simplicity of his father’s questions. ‘And…because I can’t find enough reasons to stop her wanting to go.’

And now Howard succumbed to his heritage—easy, quick-flowing tears.

“There, son. It’s better out than in, isn’t it,’ said Harold quietly. Howard laughed softly at this phrase: so old, so familiar, so utterly useless. Harold reached forward and touched his son’s knee. Then he leaned back in his chair and picked up his remote control.

“She found a black fella, I spose. It was always going to happen, though. It’s in their nature.”

He turned the channel to the news. Howard stood up.

“Fuck,’ he said frankly, wiping his tears with his shirtsleeve and laughing grimly ‘I never fucking learn.’ He picked up his coat and put it on. ‘See you, Harry. Let’s leave it a bit longer next time, eh?’

‘Oh no!’ whimpered Harold, his face stricken by the calamity of it. ‘What are you saying? We’re having a nice time, ain’t we?’

Howard stared at him, disbelievingly.

‘No. Son, please. Oh, come on and stay a bit longer. I’ve said the wrong thing, have I? I’ve said the wrong thing. Then let’s sort it! You’re always in a rush. Rush ‘ere, rush there. People these days think they can outrun death. It’s just time.’

If you waded through the long passage you can see for yourself why I’m in awe of how Smith so completely fleshes out a character. And this woman, this woman, was something like five years old when she published this. I’m exaggerating yes. She’s incredible and I’m in love. Ewe, does this mean I’m a pedophile?

Speaking of which, next up for my BOOKMATES club in April is Lolita, who was referenced in “On Beauty.” I can’t wait to hear what the Baptists have to say about this one and I’ll simultaneously read the non-fiction book by Francisco Goldman. Again, I tried to read the epic Cholera book by the literary giant and I think I’m gonna go watch the movie instead. I couldn’t muster the enthusiasm past page 50. I’ll try again when I’m 60, a ver.

Random lines from the novel

…with a small pool out back, unheated and missing many tiles, like a British smile.

…Levi treasured the urban the same way previous generations worshipped the pastoral…

He leaned forward with the clumsy loom of the natural pet-hater and child-hater…

Howard pulled off his wife's long skirt and her substantial, realistic underwear.

His uneven Afro often had foreign objects in it—pieces of unidentifiable fluff, and once a matchstick.

…lanky girl with ears that thrust through the poker-straight curtains of her long hair.

(Swimming scene with Levi in the pool at an college party filled with professors.)
…everyone had noticed at the same time that there was a lone swimmer, and then almost everyone had asked their neighbor whether they recalled Cheever’s story. Academics lack range.

Saturday, March 8, 2008


Javier Huerta’s SOME CLARIFICATIONS Y OTROS POEMAS (Arte Publico 2007) is a book that is bilingual and brilliant. The poems run the gamut between English poems about the difficulty of dealing with poverty and Spanish poems about undocumented immigrants, amnesty, art, frustration and hope.

“Fences: A Scene: Dramatis Personae” opens with a prologue where the dialogue swings back and forth from English to Spanish. The Guards in the poem do not say much, but the fact that there is tension between the father and the son, makes the simple presence of the guards haunt the reader. It is clear the son is visiting the father who is locked in a detention center before being deported.

FATHER: Mi Madre? Dime la verdad./ What does she say?
SON: Tanta maldad.
FATHER: ¿Tanta maldad? ¿Tanta maldad?/ The only thing I have--- this underwear.
SON: Then I refuse to be your heir.
FATHER: So you, too, abandon me.
SON: I must go. Piensa en mí.
Exit Son.
GUARDS: Your son has fled. Tell us what he said.
Exit FATHER led by Guards. Lights down.

The son reports the condition of the mother as being very bad. The father’s response seems to indicate is that his condition is even worse. The father accuses the son and the mother of abandoning him.

Why do the guards want to know what was said after the son flees? The word “flees” in itself implies the son’s desire to escape the father’s situation. Think of me, he implores as he leaves. The ambiguity works its magic because the emotional sense of separateness is haunting. The language itself is sparse, mysterious and magical. This is the type of dramatic tension that fills this collection of poetry.

In “El Reflejo en la navaja” Huerta presents the reader again with the sense of internalized shame brought about by this same sense of separateness, or internalized racism due to undocumented status. The repetition of lines, slightly tweaked, reminiscent of a sestina in English is beautiful. I would like to write the poem in its entirety, but also which to share some other gems, so here is part of it, singing a mournful and unforgettable artistry. In the second stanza, Huerta writes:

Perdón por el reflejo en la navaja, la navaja
En el reflejo. Perdón por la sangre.
Perdón por los ojos que aun tiemblan en sus cuencas.

Perdón por los gritos que huyeron hacia adentro:
No pasa una noche en que no oiga el eco.
Perdon por las esferas que se estrellan contra el piso.

The sense of sorrow crescendos throughout the poem, as Huerta splashes lovely magical and surreal imagery across the page as a true artist. The blending results in an unbelievable sewing of surprising imagery, which titillates a reader with its unexpected turns.

Perdón por las esferas que se estrellan contra el piso.
The speaker asks us to Pardon the spheres that crash against the floor, and river basins, yet the speaker is not to be swallowed by the face of the monster. And of course my own meek ability to translate cannot hold back the power of this lovely poem.

Perdón or no haber pintado de Amarillo
Todo lo que es rojo. Perdón por la noche.

Each line contains language that pulses with the energy of unspeakable truth. The title I believe is translated “The reflection in the knife” so again we get the unease, the masterful language of a poet that knows language’s great mystery, the bafflement and bewilderment of what it means to be human and what it means to suffer, but this speaker’s strength shines through despite the endless repetitive apology. The reader knows that what underlies the apology is a self-determined voice, one that will not be silenced.

Huerta's use of religious taboo, elegy, absurdity, and the experimental twist of words in both English and Spanish are a delight to read.

The movement of “Blasphemous Elegy for May 14, 2003" is about when an abandoned trailer of immigrants were trapped and suffocated and it is haunting. Again, Huerta successfully utilizes a mystical and chant like quality with the repetition of the phrase “ella me espera en Houston”. The phrase appears in two stanzas (quatrains) followed by two stanzas (tersets) before we again get the modest voice, which in its modesty questions the monstrosity of such an act, and the monstrosity of a society that would allow it.

I modestly propose that every year on the 14th day of May as a way to memorialize the 19 journeyers we hold our breath--- better yet, that we abstain from breathing--- for a period of 24 hours. The names and ages of the victims are listed, followed by the speaker’s unyielding imaginative dissonance with language.

That the beast
Off terrified I
Do not
Believe nor
Do I believe that
It gnawed off
Its limp
And lifeless heads

Huerta’s poem then goes on to describe such a beast, which reminds me of Yeat’s poem “The Second Coming.” The monstrosity that is human suffering is unveiled.
Another favorite of mine is called “Velas.”

Tu cuerpo es mi religión.
No inventes.

En serio, no vuelvo a mencionar tu cuerpo en vano.
No seas ridículo
No habrá otro cuerpo antes del tuyo.
No digas esas cosas.

Y de tu cuerpo no hare ídolos ni imágenes.
Como molestas.
Te voy a abrir las piernas como Moisès abrió en dos el mar rojo.
Es que Moisès nunca entró a la tierra prometida.

Huerta is unabashed despite appearing bashful in the work.

“The Good Apotehcary” also reveals this sense of strange word play, an honesty about the in between places we reside.

“…That annoying speck in his right eye, something/truly forbidden in a child. He looked down from his balloon, but the people simply stopped singing. He would always be a student in strange barbershops.”

Huerta’s work is packed with meaningfulness and imaginative language play in both Spanish and English. The work here is the type of work one can return to and harvest something year after year.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Opera, Pop Tarts and Chicharrones

Here in Central Texas I’ve been busy helping with a book festival. The big draw this year was a former Texas Ranger who wrote a memoir. He was a caricature of the infamous Texas lawman (A 6-foot-5, thin, cowboy hat wearing, boot clad man who spit out ain’ts like chewing tobacco) and the crowd ate it up. However, the most interesting writers in attendance, in my humble opinion, were Tony Diaz and Diana Lopez both of whom were overshadowed by the soon-to-be adapted onto film Ranger’s story. These two writers had original ideas, thoughts and things to say.

Diaz spoke about his fears for book publishing and reading in general. He said he was afraid that reading will become like opera—an art form only recognized by the elite and monied and one that falls further into obscurity. He said that as we close ourselves off from reading and writing, we close off our access to the halls of power. Hopefully, a festival like the one in our town will keep reading alive and well.

Lopez read the first chapter from her soon-to-be published young adult novel “Confetti Girl.” I enjoyed the way she blended the American with Mexican in her prose, so subtle, yet, for many a young Mexican American girl so empowering. The way the young girl in her novel nonchalantly listed the things she saw on the kitchen selves of her home, ie. Pop Tarts next to a bag of chicharrones is the subtle way Lopez lets us know this girl is American of Mexican descent. And I liked how in this Mexican American household there were books, hundreds of them lining the shelves of her home, contrary to what some people will have us believe. I can’t wait to read the entire novel in 2009.

All in all, it was a successful festival and I can’t wait for next year.

El Paso reviews

Although I haven’t been writing much prose I have been able to read some reviews and this Sunday the New York Times Book Review skewered John Rechy, the man and his new book “About My Life and the Kept Woman.” I’m trying to decide if this David Leavitt is on target, in love with Rechy, or hates him. See for yourself his review is called “Hustler.”

Roberto Ontiveros has a good review in the DMN about another El Chucoan, Benjamin Alire Saenz. Sounds like another book I need to buy and read. So little time so many books.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Cool El Chuco related stuff I've been reading online

Erasmo Guerra's interview of El Paso’s most famous literati, John Rechy. He also reviews Rechy’s new novel About My Life and the Kept Woman. I loved his book Sexual Outlaw and still have to read City of Night. What kind of El Pasoan hasn’t read that one? Shame on me, shame, shame.

In other El Paso news, Daniel Olivas reviewed The Flowers by another El Pasoan Dagoberto Gilb in the El Paso Times this week. Called Gilb “one of our finest contemporary writers.”

Then there’s former El Pasoan Sheryl Luna’s great blog this week about “being invisible.” It’s got something everyone can relate to. I’m enjoying the discussion her post has started about community.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Existentialism, Magic 8 Balls and Dagoberto Gilb

There’s this journalism ethics code that I’m bound by and it states that it’s a conflict of interest to review a book by someone you know. Everyone knows that it’s near impossible not to know of someone in the writing community and in the Mexican American writing community it’s peor. I mean, everybody knows everybody, we’re one big ol’ dysfunctional family.

I told one publication that wanted me to review a book by someone I know that I would do it if I were allowed full disclosure. That would have meant that I state that I know Dagoberto Gilb and studied with him at Texas State. Would have to tell everyone that he was the reason I went to the university, etc. And because they have journalistic integrity they passed.

I’m not sure if blogs qualify as journalism but for my purposes I’m going to say they don’t, and I’m outta journalism anyways. Sorta. I really never believed in the ethics codes they drilled into us at J-school, took every freebie that was offered so as not to offend the generous giver. So here I sit with a blank page to fill up with my thoughts after reading Gilb’s The Flowers.

Ay, this book, this one really does it for me, as I read it I wanted to cheer because finally, finally someone gives a real picture of what urban youth are like. Gilb’s main character Sonny Bravo, although a teen, is older than his years, smarter than anyone gives him credit for, and self-sufficient, thanks in large part to his absent mother. Gilb really shows how some poor urban youth grow up quickly because they are left to fend for themselves.

Some early reviews have stated that Sonny Bravo is similar to JD Salinger’s Holden Caulfield. In my view, there really is no comparison, one is a weak spoiled child driven by insecurities and imagined fears and the other is a strong survivor driven by insecurities and an innate morality. Holden, who was born into wealth and privilege, viewed life from atop the middle (maybe upper-middle) class power structure, whereas, Sonny sees it all from the bottom up, giving readers a much needed (and never really seen) perspective. I also liked that Gilb dispels the stereotype of poor urban youth as ignorant fools.

And I think it’s misguided to call Gilb’s work “a coming of age story” because Sonny, although just a teen, is mature beyond his years, does teenage things, yes, but is more grounded, rational and thoughtful than those adults who are suppose to be his guardians. These two books offer two very different places, teenagers and mindsets.

If a comparison were necessary, then Gilb’s Sonny would be closer to the narrator in Richard Wright’s Black Boy because this narrator, like Sonny, grew up against the dominant white power structure in an urban environment. However, even this comparison is not accurate because religion played a large role in shaping Wright’s agnostic leanings and Sonny’s walk offers a glimpse to existentialism.

Ah, man, did I just write that? I hate big words and existentialism is one of them words that automatically makes my eyes bob like the die in a magic eight ball when you shake it—reply hazy, try again. So here it is better, Sonny’s mundane life in The Flowers apartment complex reflects the reality of living, living for yourself, without a God and creating your own destiny. Which is another reason I loved this book. No stereotypes of Mexican Americans attending mass on Sundays and nary a Virgin de Guadalupe in the novel. Wow, another side to Mexican Americans. Who knew? We’re not just the clichés we’ve been reading about for ages. He treats Sonny as a complex individual, which makes this story so much better than Salinger’s kid book. The, true to life, racial tensions alone make this a noteworthy effort.

Sonny’s long, boring days spent doing chores at the apartment complex where things and events are forever happening to him, and he reacting, and thus making more things happen—having his first sexual encounter, falling in love, getting involved in people’s lives, making discoveries. This book’s pace reminds me of Gilb’s first novel “The Last Known Residence of Mickey Acuña.” However, this is a more bearable story for me because it is at least hopeful.

Although, I am a Gilb fan, I don’t necessarily like everything he writes and I didn’t particularly like Mickey Acuña. It wasn’t the writing I disliked but the place the book took me emotionally--Mickey’s constant state of going nowhere. It was a bit too real, rung too true. It took me back to my childhood, the stagnant, go nowhere type of life that I was forever repeating and often still do. After I finished the book, I shivered and said to myself, I never want to feel that again. Can you “not like” a novel for all the right reasons?

The Flowers I enjoyed for its romanticism, sweetness and optimism. Sonny’s finding in Nica all that is right and good with the world, and his eventually helping her out, creates meaning out of a seemingly meaningless existence. The bittersweet ending reminded me more of Jane Austen than Camus or the other humorless French dude who writes for all the big word readers.

Perhaps it’s best that I’m confined to review Gilb’s effort on a blog because I’ve yet to read the book again and perhaps on my second go around, I’ll make some more discoveries.