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.