Thursday, September 21, 2017

A Past Reflection

        A Past Reflection
        Daniel Cano                                  

                                 From LAX to Jose Marti Airport, Direct

     August 2000. It was difficult boarding one of the first authorized flights direct from Los Angeles to Havana. Hours of waiting in long lines, standing, sitting, leaning on walls, U.S. customs officers’ interrogations, rummaging through my bags and suitcases, questioning my friends about extra towels or too many clothes, then the x-ray machines, and the agents’ suspicious eyes. Even the balding Cuban grandfather on his way to visit his family shook his head and whispered to me over his shoulder, “Absolutamente absurdo.”

    Finally, we made our way up the ramp and onto the plane, twelve in my group on a cultural excursion, including teachers, counselors, and an independent book store owner. A few weeks before, a colleague at work, upon hearing the U.S. government was allowing direct flights to Cuba, asked me if I wanted to join him and his friends. How could I refuse?

    The people from the travel agency told us we couldn’t visit for pleasure or even as tourists, so we had to claim some type of cultural-educational mission to appease the U.S. Treasury Department, so my friend coordinated a full calendar of lectures and tours.

     “Save your documents, in case the U.S. government questions your trip later,” the travel agent had advised after we received approval for our trip. “I know Americans who travelled illegally from Vera Cruz, Mexico, just for the fishing. When they returned, the feds hit each of them with a $20,000 fine.”

    I walked alongside the Cuban grandfather and asked why he was going to Cuba if he was so anti-Castro. He said he was taking clothes and money to his wife and children. He also hoped the family would be reunited within a year, before the newly elected Republican president clamped down even harder on Cuba. He told me the U.S. current law allowed him to visit his wife and child once every three years.

     I said, “I thought Americans couldn’t visit Cuba or take anything to the island.”

    “No, no. People don’t know the laws. They just believe what the television tells them.”

    As we waited to board our flight, he told me how he had left Cuba because of trouble with the government. He didn’t elaborate. They let him take his two oldest children but made his wife and youngest child to stay behind. He spoke bitterly, accusing both Cuba and the U.S., especially the Miami Cuban-American lobby, of cold-hearted political tactics. “Now that things are getting better,” he said, “this new president could ruin everything for us.”

    “So, you want the U.S. to normalize relations with Cuba?”

    “No, no. Castro is a beast. I still want the Americans to punish him, make him pay for his sins. But, they could make it easier for us to visit our relatives.”

    And there was the contradiction. I didn’t know how to answer. “Good luck,” I said, “and have a nice visit with your family.”

    After passing through Customs, we gathered outside Havana’s Jose Marti terminal. Lines of vintage Chevrolets, Fords, Chryslers, and Pontiacs filled the parking spaces along the sidewalk. At first, I thought it was a promotion for tourism, as if Cuba knew tourists expected to see old American cars, so the Cuban Department of Tourism hired drivers to show off the classic autos. But no, the old American cars were everywhere, picking up family and friends. Between them came the sputtering, drab compact cars from Russia and Eastern Europe, like exotic metal insects, cutting through traffic.

     An hour later, a van pulled to the curb. We loaded our suitcases in the back and onto the roof. I perspired heavily, yet, the evening tropical air invigorated me. In Southern California, there was no equivalent except, maybe, the dry, warm Santa Anas, but they aren’t sultry like the Caribbean breezes.

    Our van moved onto a lone highway. I wasn’t sure what I expected to see, perhaps, a land under siege, military barracks, and checkpoints along the way. But no, nothing like that, only our van’s headlights lighting the road, and an occasional building with a marker Escuela or a sign Hasta La Victoria Socialismo.

     Weeds and tall grass grew along the roadside. A few scattered lights dotted the landscape, random settlements, mostly in darkness. I looked for signs of torture or brutality, a dead body hanging from a lamp post, an official whipping some poor soul, or hungry people tearing at a fallen animal? Instead, I heard the laughter of our driver as he made jokes about my companions’ sad attempts at Spanish. He corrected them, patiently, like a teacher. Someone pulled me from my reverie and asked me to translate.

     The driver dropped us off in front at our hotel, the ultra-modern Habana Libre. After checking into our rooms, we met outside, and hit the streets. It was Carnival.

     Cubans danced and sang, crowding the streets. Youngsters lined up to get onto the rides. Young men shared plastic half-gallon containers filled with beer. I might have been in Africa or Brazil. I saw some light-skin and white Cubans but most were black. How could this be? In the U.S., the Cuban actors, musicians, and business people who railed against Castro were white. Castro himself, of Spanish lineage, is white. So, had a white man led a revolution of blacks over whites? Was the Cuban revolution about race?

    We walked along the famed Malecon, the ocean waves surging against the ancient concrete wall. Young Cuban men approached us and offered us beer. They placed their arms over our shoulders and asked from where we’d come. Unsure of my U.S. standing in Cuba I said, “The United States” but quickly added, “My grandparents were born in Mexico.” To the Cubans, it didn’t seem to matter.

     They asked about rock music and American movies, baseball players and hip hop. They asked if we wanted to buy Cuban cigars or eat a traditional Cuban meal in one of their homes. They followed us along the Malecon until we excused ourselves and told them we’d just arrived and wanted to move on before it got too late. “It’s already too late,” said one laughing, his white teeth gleaming in the night.

     It was after midnight. I studied them through my writer’s lenses, a hard-to-break habit. Though dressed mostly in simple tank tops, t-shirts, and shorts, they all appeared healthy and vibrant, thin but not skinny.

    We entered a bakery, young Cubans crowded in. The shelves behind the counter were near-empty, but the waiters served plenty of coffee and cool drinks. Salsa blared through the speakers. Many of the Cuban women, caramel skin and light eyes, a mix of European and African features, were stunningly beautiful. I looked at one. She saw me and confidently held my gaze until I uncomfortably turned away.

    Around 4:00 A.M. and tiring, I excused myself and headed back to our hotel, the streets still bulging with life. Men sat on benches under lamplights and played guitars as couples danced around them. I passed a jazz club, La Vela, a line of people, speaking German, Dutch, and Italian, waited outside for the next show. I saw a policeman, a baby-faced young man, leaning against a building, a lowered carbine strapped over his shoulder. He was talking to two young women. They stood in the shadows. I moved close to eavesdrop. Their Spanish way too fast for me to understand. They nodded as I walked up the sidewalk. I made my way to the room. I undressed and showered. I fell into bed. Outside, the carnival showed no signs of letting up soon.

     What I would see and experience in the next week confirmed the adage that, as always, the truth lay somewhere in between.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Family Poems for Every Day of the Week/ Poemas familiares para cada día de la semana

By Francisco Alarcón
Illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez

  • Age Range: 7 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 1 - 2
  • Hardcover: 40 pages
  • Publisher: Children’s Book Press
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0892392754
  • ISBN-13: 978-0892392759

The first day                                        
of the week is                                      
dedicated to the Sun—                      
with family around                             
it’s always sunny                                
on Sunday                                          

El primer día
de la semana fue
dedicado al Sol—
con familia alrededor
siempre hace sol
el domingo

So begins this bilingual collection of poems that takes us through the week day by day. Children spend Sunday visiting their grandparents, play with school friends on Monday, daydream on Tuesday, eat popcorn at the local market on Wednesday, and more, until we arrive at Saturday, when they get to play nonstop all day. Along the way, we also learn how the names of the seven days came to be.

Partly based on the real life experiences of Alarcón’s own family, this festive, celebratory collection of poems highlights the daily life of children while also honoring the experiences of the poet’s Latino family in the United States. With her vibrant illustrations, illustrator Maya Christina Gonzalez has created a loving tribute to childhood, to family, and to Francisco Alarcón, who passed away in January 2016.

Francisco Alarcón was a renowned poet and educator, and a three-time winner of the Pura Belpré Author Award Honor for his bilingual Magical Cycle of the Seasons series of poetry for children. His many other honors include the American Book Award, the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award, the Chicano Literary Prize, and finalist for state poet laureate of California. Alarcón was also the author of several poetry collections for adults and textbooks for teaching Spanish. In addition, he directed the Spanish for Native Speakers Program at the University of California. Alarcón passed away in early 2016.

Maya Christina Gonzalez is a widely exhibited artist renowned for her vivid imagery of strong women and girls. She has illustrated nearly twenty children’s books, and her artwork has appeared on the cover of Contemporary Chicano/a Art. My Colors, My World was the first book Maya both wrote and illustrated. Books that Maya illustrated include Laughing Tomatoes, From the Bellybutton of the Moon, and Angels Ride Bikes. She lives and plays in San Francisco, California.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Whelmed By PST:LA/LA. Hurry Up, Please, There's Time To See A Lot

Magulandia Stops Time in Pacific Standard Time Exhibition
Michael Sedano

I wish I knew what Southern California did to deserve PST:LA/LA (link), so we could do more of it. Some possible answers: Maybe it’s a reward for being a sensible electorate. Maybe it’s global warming. Maybe it’s beyond fathoming.

Ni modo. The Getty Foundation, among the world’s richest-endowed museums, recognized it didn’t want to continue being an outpost of European civilization planted on the American west coast. Located in the heart of a region whose aesthetic character is sharply defined by its Latino and Latin American culturas, except in the fine arts, the Getty decided to open big doors to raza arte.

Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA represents a multimillion dollar investment into the local art community. With PST:LA/LA Getty offers its Los Angeles regional audience a spiritedly intensive survey of Latin American arte with emphasis on Chicanarte.

Per the Getty’s P.R. for PST:LA/LA:
Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA (PST: LA/LA) is a far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles, which takes place from Sept. 2017 through Jan. 2018 at more than 70 cultural institutions across Southern California. The presenting sponsor is Bank of America. 

You can see a list of all the grants awarded to LA/LA by the Getty Foundation at the organization’s website at this link.

Vitrine at Magulandia
With Fall a season of plenty, PST:LA/LA fits right in. From Ventura to Irvine, from the Westside to the East Side, PST:LA/LA’s cup runs over with some of the best events ever to happen for Chicana and Chicano artists, among numerous artists from both Americas. Dozens of Chicana and Chicano artists will find not only deserving audiences but also access to established art marketplaces, where museums and collectors go when they acquire work. Chacun à son goût and budget time, gente.

So many events, so little time. The first week of PST:LA/LA I was able to join two widely dispersed events. The week started down in Orange County. There was no way I would not attend the opening reception at UC Irvine for Aztlán to Magulandia: the Journey of Chicano Artist Gilbert ‘Magu’ Luján.  Magu is a good friend and I miss him, qepd.

In a different way, there are lots of reasons to attend the opening reception in Camarillo, California up in Ventura County of El Museo de Historia, Arte Y Cultura Latina Revistado (1995-2000), featuring work by Vibiana Aparicio-Chamberlin, Oscar Castillo, and Leo Limón. And that was it for me and my camera the first week of PST:LA/LA.

These, plus all the events I missed last week and am going to miss next week, have continuous runs, so visitors can plan leisurely visits strolling galleries, taking time as each piece deserves. Many are near enough to one another that visiting several can be an all day art holiday for familia or a group of compañeras and compañeros.

Vitrines and walls at UCI Magulandia

A reception is a time to become the audience the artists painted for. Taking in a work that resonates brings a reaffirmation of one’s sense of cultural space. By triangulating the spirit of the event with the arte and one’s own spirit, the experience renews while it excites the soul. The wine and gluten-filled foods offer a measure of value, too. It is “A” list treats for Getty-granted events.

The artist’s spirit attended. Magu totally dug the excitement, the energy, all his friends who showed up, and the attention to detail UCI devotes to his career retrospective.
Cameras are ubiquitous, as are reminiscing people, laughing up a storm while others concentrate on a work.

UCI's marketing materials are deluxe. A postcard, a full-color 8-page gallery guide, a button saying “There will be an orange dog hugging a man,” a top-notch web page, a detailed lList of Works. The curators, Hal Glicksman and Rhea Anastas, published a scholarly book to serve as a catalog to the exhibition, documenting curatorial energies and Magu’s life and career. Magu took his MFA at UCI, and worked with Glicksman.

The Clare Trevor School of the Arts opened two generous spaces for Magulandia. The gallery’s P.R. believes its goal that viewers forge a link between movimiento concepts and history, results from its:

focus on creativity and invention in Luján’s work in a myriad of sketches and drawings, paintings, and sculptures. Luján combined two world-making concepts, Aztlán, the mythic northern ancestral home of the indigenous Mexican Aztecs that became a charged symbol of Chicano activism; and Magulandia, the term Luján coined for the space in which he lived and produced his work, and for his work as a whole.

In this heady academic setting the opening was good times and old home week. Magu’s friends told stories about the artist, recalling him working on one or another sculpture on exhibit, laughing about times they pushed aside a particular monumental sculpture so they could gather in his cramped living room, commenting on their own original Magu at home. One couple at the opening own Magu's final paint-spotted easel, but it isn't in the exhibit.

Engaged people, Sergio Hernandez, Mario Guerrero, Barbara Carrasco

Photographer Gil Ortiz reminisced about staging a portrait of Magu seated with companions at a Mental Menudo in Mario Trillo’s garage. Ortiz is tickled that people call it “the last supper” without irony. It is a fabulous portrait with an inescapable echo of Da Vinci’s pose and the rich tonality of a Gilbert Ortiz photograph. It's not a Magu, so it's not in the UCI gallery.

Sculpture display U-line

The sculpture hall layout reflected ingenuity. To display a dozen individual small scupltures  could eat lots of floor space and create navigation hazards. The curators created a U-shaped table that encourages visitors to stroll along the outside for one perspective, then back through the inside for a second.

There’s a frustrating yet encouraging detail in the explanatory note on the show listing of the 90 works:

All works courtesy the Estate of Gilbert “Magu” Lujan. When no collection appears on the final line of a work entry, the work is loaned by the Lujan Estate. Works in this exhibition are also loaned courtesy Robert Berman Gallery, Rob Biniaz, Therese Hernandez-Cano, Barbara and Zach Horowitz, Mardi Luján, Cheech Marin, Dennis Lisinsky Montoya, Pablo and Mary De La Rosa, Roger and Susan Rousset, and The Los Angeles Metro.

Frustration arises that many of the works on display remained unsold in Magu’s studio, and how he could have used the money. Encouragement arises from Estate ownership of so many beautiful examples of the spirit of Magulandia. This means some of the works at UCI are available to hang on your walls or place on a horizontal surface where you can touch it. Inquire via

Exhibition postcard and souvenir button

Channel Islands Puts On Gala In Opening Reception for El Museo de Historia, Arte Y Cultura Latina Revistado (1995-2000), The Latino Museum of History, Art, and Culture.

Normally I avoid appositional translation as above, but consecutive translation was the order of the day at California State University Channel Islands, where the U’s picturesque setting against ten- million-year old volcanic mounds makes a dramatic setting for a ceremony.

Permanence occupies the plans of a majority of students here. They are farmworker kids, a montón sin papeles. I learned the students don’t want to be called “dreamers” They are sick and tired of dreaming. They want their rights now.

CSUCI has a stunning campus. A retrofitted state hospital for mentally disabled and psychologically impaired people, spacious patios and a gorgeous central promenade cut through white stucco red-tiled buildings that now serve as classrooms, laboratories, studios, and galleries.

The opening of the Latino Museum show filled the entry terrace of Broome Library. The PST:LA/LA event is underwritten by local berry grower, Reiter Affiliated Companies (link), whose president was speaking as I arrived. Not CPT. CSUCI is a long way from Camarillo city where I rented a room, and once at the campus, finding parking can be bedlam. But find it we did, within sight of Broome Library.

My wife and I missed the opening speeches by Denise Lugo and campus leaders. I am especially dismayed to miss student performances by a string quartet and folkorico.

Lugo introduced artists Oscar Castillo and Vibiana Aparicio-Chamberlin and Leo Limón, who didn’t attend. The trio were featured in exhibits at the defunct downtown LA Latino museo. Aparicio-Chamberlin read a poem that I can share here, along with a portrait of her father, Elias Aparicio, done in Polaroid transfer, hand stamps and xerography.

Vibiana's multi-talented arte on display included paintings, altar constructions, and her book,

This Latino Museum exhibit draws from Broome Library’s holdings of historic materials. I was especially interested to talk to Associate Curator Julianne Gavino. Professor Gavino is the mind behind the media. She works with students and digital materials; together they make rare documents universally available.

Associate Curator Julianne Gavino
CSUCI holds extensive materials from the historic movimiento magazine, Con Safos, along with numerous special collections (link). Perhaps one day, digital media will make “rare” a little-used word among book users. In the meantime, a visit to Camarillo for hands-on research will reward the scholar with genuinely rare materials, like a nearly-complete collection of C/S magazine.

Professor Gavino has been nurturing the C/S collection in the best academic fashion. She plans for long-term development across several generations of students. Her goals for students include innovation. For example, she works with three students in the process of developing a present-day Con Safos magazine. This generation, or perhaps a future team of students, will bring back C/S.

I referred to the students as "kids" and Professor Gavino noted that CSUCI welcomes the "nontraditional" student. Some of her "kids" are 30+ years old. In my eyes, that's quite young. In the student eyes, they're taking advantage of opportunity and taking as long as it takes. Slow but steady wins that degree.

Elias Aparicio by Vibiana Aparicio-Chamberlin. Polaroid transfer, hand stamps and xerography. 

Con Ciega Pasión
Poetry by Vibiana Aparicio-Chamberlin

Dicen que los muertos se refugian en calma.
Que no hay sufrimiento en la otra mansión.
Que si el cuerpo muera,
Jamás muera la alma.
Y ella es la que te ama,
Con ciega pasión.
Prayer by Abuela Emilia Rodríguez Aparicio

They say that the dead find refuge in calm.
That there is no suffering in the other mansion.
That if the body dies,
never will the soul.
And it is with my soul that I love you
with blind passion.

And so I dream.
I dream that I will be with you while I breathe,
while I am losing my breath,
while I have but a bit of breath
in a breathless place which is the today,
the yesterday, the tomorrow and the
always of our souls’ together place
the yearning touch,
the desperate touch,
the barely touch,
the tender touch.

I dream that I will be with you in the bodiless,
painless, yearnless,
spaceless place.
In the place of dreams, where all dreams
are so full of the eternal love of the souls
who love with blind passion.

Con ciega pasión.
I will be one of the souls who love in
a fleshless place.
Who love eternally in
the breathless place.

This Profesora organizes student danzantes as elements of their study in Chicano Studies. She explains her work and objectives in English and Spanish. The IT staff were so anxious to wrap they pulled the plug and la profa had to shout her barely audible inspirational message to the front row's honored guests of farmworkers.

After the dance teacher's remarks, the danzantes wrap the program in a procession across campus to the Napa Gallery, where Aparacio-Chamberlin, Castillo, and Limón show their work.

Napa Gallery thunders with danzante drumming and Chachayotes rattles as danzantes inaugurate the PST:LA/LA sponsored exhibit of sculpture, painting, drawing, and photography. Oscar Castillo, center, and Vibiana Aparacio-Chamberlin, fourth from right, enjoy the spectacle. 

Leo Limón's walls display the spirit of his work. Good that each invites a conversation with it, the artist is unable to attend.

Oscar Castillo exhibits family photographs and a selection of fine art fotos, including a copy of his Smithsonian-collected '47 Chevy in Wilmington, California

Enjoying art as the artist narrates its creation and spirit is why people attend art openings. Lavish treatment of guests is not the only other reason to attend.

Below, Vibiana Aparicio-Chamberlin, left center, Jose Antonio Aguirre, right. Aguirre is nearing completion of a mosaic mural at the Azusa Gold Line surface rail station.

Outside the Napa studio gallery, the patio was alive with student performers and a happy audience snacking on sugar beverages and snacks.

Technical glitches cut off their music, but unfazed, CSUCI's folklorico dancers knew the steps and whirled and clacked their heels in synchrony with unheard music. The silence enhanced the beauty of their performance.

No visit to Camarillo is complete without at least a cursory visit to the huge outlet mall conveniently just off the 101 Freeway at the edge of town. My wife dashed in and out at my insistence and scored a couple of bargains and a bunch of no thanks. Stuff in the outlet is here because no one bought it in the retail world, either.

Our spirits continued soaring as we wrapped up a week’s worth of art--Tuesday in Irvine, Thursday in Camarillo--- and drove east toward home. Even the horrendous congestion in the Valley couldn’t dampen spirits nourished by friends, art, the youth and future of the gente at CSUCI, and the ongoing wonders of PST:LA/LA.

Monday, September 18, 2017

International Latino Book Awards, 2017: Cuatro Award Winning Books

International Latino Book Awards, 2017: Cuatro Award Winning Books

By Xánath Caraza

Cuatro Award Winning Books of the 2017 International Latino Book Awards are on La Bloga today, dear reader:

·      Poetry of Resistance: Voices for Social Justice,

·      Corazón y una lengua peregrina: poesía y narrativa,

·      Diáspora: narrativa breve en español de Estados Unidos, and

·      Tinta negra / Black Ink. 

Together, let’s celebrate these accomplishments and the many authors in these libros de poesía y narrativa.

Poetry of Resistance: Voices for Social Justice, edited by Francisco X. Alarcón and Odilia Galván Rodríguez, foreword by Juan Felipe Herrera (University of Arizona Press, 2016).

“Our Anthology Poetry of Resistance: Voices for Social Justice has won Best Poetry Book—Multi—Author, at the 2017 International Latino Book Awards.  Thanks to Maestro Francisco X. Alarcón and all the poets who contributed to this timeless work”.  –Odilia Galván Rodríguez

Corazón y una lengua peregrina: poesía y narrativa by the Latino Writers Collective, selección y edición: Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, Ph.D. (39 West Press, 2016).

Esta antología es un nuevo mar de voces hondas, energías de Rosario Castellanos, Neruda y Borges—añoranzas, micro-historias que nos iluminan.  Celebremos estos poetas de infinitos horizontes.” –Juan Felipe Herrera

Diáspora: narrativa breve en español de Estados Unidos, edición de Gerardo Cárdenas (Vaso Roto Ediciones, colección Umbrales, 2017).

“Hablar de la literatura en español que se produce dentro de los Estados Unidos es hablar de una criatura híbrida, en permanente proceso de cambio, de pasado ambiguo y futuro desconocido.  Es intentar asir la constante metamorfosis de una comunidad que, por número, constituye la minoría más numerosa de Estados Unidos y es integrante y descendiente de su mayor ola migratoria y que, desde la lengua, tiene los pies puestos a ambos lados de fronteras geográficas y culturales.  Es un reto constante para la propia crítica literaria estadounidense, tan amiga de ponerlo todo en cajas y de ordenar estas en ficheros y anaqueles inmutables.”

–Gerardo Cárdenas

Tinta negra / Black Ink by Xánath Caraza, translated by Sandra Kingery (Lobo Estepario Press, 2016)

‘¿Qué es una frontera? Límites creados / culturas forzadas a darse la espalda’.  In her own Leaves of Grass Xánath Caraza assigns aromas to all living things.  Her purposefully titleless poems in the Tinta negra / Black Ink collection, hit the target, which is our sensibility to beauty, nature reinterpreted, and emotion.  These poems, translated into English by Sandra Kingery, prove to stimulate both the monolingual and the bilingual reader.  I find Pablo Neruda in Caraza’s poems.”  —Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs