Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Review: Borderless. Stanford Alumni Read Dear Chavela. On-line Floricanto

Review: Santero Sheds Vestments for Vatos and the Vulgate

Michael Sedano

In hieratical circles, “vulgate” refers to Jerome’s translating the koiné Bible to proto-Italian in the 4th century, and more generally the term alludes to the common person’s everyday language. Jerome's is the first work of Latino literature, ¿sabes?

New Mexico sculptor Luis Tapia has done in wood what Jerome did on parchment, here expanding santero tradition of carving santos and devotional sculpture to include scenes of everyday life and gente.

Art historians call this genre the art of polychrome wood sculpture. I call it heart-breaking.

Every Tapia “polychrome wood sculpture” locates itself in a corner of one’s cultural heart and coaxes incredibly warm sentiment into the open. For la gente the important “message” shouts out loud, that everyday life, as distilled through Tapia’s community iconography, has immense value.

The heart-breaking element might be just personal for me: I’d like to own every piece shown in the University of Oklahoma Press published BORDERLESS: The Art of Luis Tapia. Heck, I’d love to own just a single piece!

With a Foreword by Dana Gioia, Introduction by Edward Hayes, Jr. and important essays by Denise Chávez, Lucy Lippard, and Tey Marianna Nunn, BORDERLESS is something everyone can own. $50.00 is a pittance for such exquisite printing, and owning a copy assuages some of the heartache. Idea: put away $15 a month and in December buy BORDERLESS: The Art of Luis Tapia for a loved one who will share it.

What a gorgeous book. BORDERLESS: The Art of Luis Tapia is the catalog raisonné for an exhibition that closes September 3 at Long Beach California’s MOLAA, Museum of Latin American Arte. When it's gone, it's gone. The book gives permanence to the memory, even for those who missed the museum show. Hurry up, please, it's time to get to Longo for the final days.

MOLAA, who in recent years had a repressive policy that forbade Chicana Chicano artists from its exhibitions (link), recently reversed that. MOLAA debuted rationality with exhibitions that included Judithe Hernandez, Frank Romero, and Carlos Almaraz, three of the original five members of Magu’s seminal group, Los Four (link). Is that any way to run a Latin American art museum? It is now.

Tapia's tribute to Magu, qepd, one of the founders of Chicana Chicano art.

Tapia’s work has exhibited at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C., in China and Japan. MOLAA’s webpage notes, “Works by Tapia are in private and public collections nationwide, including the Smithsonian Institution’s American Art Museum and American History Museum; El Museo del Barrio; Museum of American Folk Art and Rockwell Museum of Western Art in New York; Denver Art Museum; Autry National Center of the American West in Los Angeles; Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe and the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque”.

L.A.’s Autry Museum gift shop has at least one for sale, but I don’t want to think about that—more heartbreak, no lana. Happily, there’s this book. Get your copy publisher-direct here (link).

According to book designer and packager Hurley Media, BORDERLESS: The Art of Luis Tapia will be readily available through local brick & mortar booksellers. Distribution details, particularly for purchases that arrive in a smirking carton, are at Hurley Media’s website, (link).

St. Francis receiving stigmata

My photographs from the book (the cover foto is from the publisher) do not do justice to the rich colors and sharpness of the plates. The raisonné part, those eloquent and informative essays, make BORDERLESS: The Art of Luis Tapia far more than a gorgeous coffee table book, still, those 101 color plates and two gate-folds enhance one's visual literacy so the book is suitable for all ages.

BORDERLESS: The Art of Luis Tapia. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2017.
ISBN: 9780980108088

Stanford Raza Alumni Welcome Sancho

He doesn’t shirk from his history, the one-time single most popular deejay in El Lay radio, Sancho from the Sancho Show on the once-respected KPCC. When the station sold out to “our kind of music,” Sancho was gone with the pedo, draped with the mantle of outsider.

Daniel Castro, Ph.D., opened his conversation with members of The Book Club of the Chicano Latino Stanford University Alumni Association of Southern California underlining how long ago The Sancho Show had been Southern California’s top broadcast venue for raza ears.

Daniel Castro, Concepción Valadez.
The book club enjoys good food and conversation.
Castro’s book, Dear Chavela, was the book club’s quarterly selection. College grads aren’t the direct audience for the collection’s often lump-in-the-throat epistles. Kids in trouble are the ideal reader. Troubled because they’re in crummy schools with crummy programs that deny them lesson plans that address topics like “who am I?” Or the kid whose mother is “Sally” in California, but when mom and kid travel to Morenci for her father’s funeral, bicultural conflict leads to emotional turmoil. The first person mom and mijo talk to asks, “Ascencíon, is that you?” Powerful stuff, there.

The author, like the deejay, wants to find the words that tell kids like Brandon Swartz that it’s OK to be Mexican. Kids like Jose Limón that it’s more than okay to be a college student instead of putting in 9 to 5 on a paying jale. The audience is lots of other kids who can advance beyond limitations imposed on them, change those ugly facts that of 100 kids who started Kindergarten this week, 1 will graduate from high school.

Read La Bloga’s review of Dear Chavela at this link. 

The Book Club of the Chicano/Latino Stanford University Alumni Association of Southern California. (AKA, the Stanford Book Club), meets November 9 to discuss Jesus Treviño’s American Book Award collection Return to Arroyo Grande. Click here for information.

Daniel Castro, front second from right, with the Stanford Book Club: Juanita Naranjo, Concepcíon Valadez, Angelique Flores. Back: Deidre Reyes, Manuel Urrutia, Michael Sedano, Margie Hernandez, Mario Vasquez

On-line Floricanto For August’s Penultimate Tuesday
PW Covington, Jolaoso Prettythunder, Leticia Diaz Perez, Ana Chig, Joe Navarro

Concessions by PW Covington
An Account by Jolaoso Prettythunder
Charlottesville, My Place of Birth by Leticia Diaz Perez
Puente Negro por Ana Chig
Her Last Breath for Justice by Joe Navarro

by PW Covington

The sisters from the Pueblo come down to the river at dusk
Crosses hang from around their necks
Concessions to prevailing forces
that come like the weather
Yet flow, like the waters
That rush off down to the
Rio Grande gorge

The flow rolls
Past indigenous red clay and brown skin,

And that stream shapes the landscape...for a season
Nourishing sage and ocotillo
From Taos mountain to el Golfo
The unquenchable things remain

Like the four directions, the four winds

Those missionary crosses shelter secrets
in smoky, Tiwa, tones

An Account
by Jolaoso Prettythunder

my dna
my luminous body
and essence remembers

being rubbed out as a lesser being Confined to iron bars, reservations, plantations The hangman's noose, beaten with a whip, under the gun, chained, burned in a pit, 25 cents a scalp, hunted in the woods, deserts, bayous and prairies, wrapped in my smallpox blanket, spoon fed crack and anthrax, forced to forget my tongue Dogs and horses commanded to chase me into a New World Order

this isn't the first time
it's happened before

i have been ground down to silica, chalk To oxygen, carbon, hydrogen then shape shifted into magma to stars
to magic and sorcery

in invocation

i am still here
i remember in my bones
i remember in the three worlds
i remember in the 7 Skies
i remember
yes i remember

this isn't a poem
this is an account
flags of hate planted
flags of hate fed with the blood of the People

flags planted to break the Hoop to honor and elevate malady greed, hate, imbalance, fortification, division, war, genocide, annihilation

Charlottesville, My Place of Birth
by Leticia Diaz Perez

my place of birth
what have you done?
burning crosses 1963
drinking fountain
mamá stands in line
--change lines!
change lines ma'am
you're in the wrong line, ma'am!-
everyone is staring at mamá
everyone is staring at her
new language
new country
she just looks down
trying hard not to make eye contact
several people chiming in
louder and louder
--change lines
change lines ma'am
you're in the wrong line, ma'am!-
everyone is staring at mamá
everyone is staring at her
my place of birth
what have you done?

Puente Negro
por Ana Chig

¿Cuál fue el comienzo de la historia de los puentes?
No pensé que esta ciudad tuviese uno marginal,
un puente para trasladar cuerpos de agua
sobre el cauce verde −irascible− del odio.

Yo también sé mentir,
arrastrar agua de otra profundidad
verterla en tu conciencia,
que creas siempre lo que has creído.

Soy oscura y extrema en las palabras,
un pez agazapado en la derrota.
He llenado de piedras mi cordura
estoy sumergida en tu río, en este malestar segregado,
en la búsqueda febril que abruma desde afuera.

Her Last Breath for Justice
by Joe Navarro

Heather Heyer
Had awakened believing
She would stand for justice
In Charlotteville, Virginia
Knowing in her heart
That white nationalist bigots
Were fundamentally detrimental
To this nation

John Brown must
Have whispered
Freedom thoughts
Into her dreams
Before this day
While justice overcame
Her fears of personal harm

Heather Heyer
Intended to hurt no one
Let alone being hurt
She must have wondered
If she had the courage
To stand up to
Racist violent fanatics

I wonder if
She was able to kiss
And embrace her mother's
Love during her last breath
For justice
As the Charger plowed
Into her

Did America see
A foolish idealistic
Young white woman, or
A freedom fighter
Who intended to live
To tell about her
Heroic stand in defense
Of peace, justice, democracy
And ending national oppression?

Love for humanity
Compassion and passion
Quest for justice
Anti-racism, anti-fascism
In an unintended heroic act
As the world watched
Leaving America to mourn
While celebrating the
Life and ideals of a human being
For social justice

Concessions by PW Covington
An Account by Jolaoso Prettythunder
Charlottesville, My Place of Birth by Leticia Diaz Perez
Puente Negro por Ana Chig
Her Last Breath for Justice by Joe Navarro

PW Covington is an activist writer that draws inspiration from the Beat tradition of the US highway.
His short fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart prize and he has been invited to read his poetry from Standing Rock, ND to the Texas/Mexico border, and from the Beat Museum in San Francisco to Philadelphia. Covington's last full length poetry collection is titled "Sacred Wounds" and is published by Slough Press. He lives in northern New Mexico, two blocks off Route 66.

Jolaoso Pretty Thunder is a common earth-woman. She lives in the woods of Northern California with her family and two dogs Rosie Farstar and Ilumina Holy Dog. She’s a practitioner and student of herbal medicine (Western, Vedic, TCM, and Lukumi). She is also an ordained minister of the First Nations Church, and founder of The Cloud Women’s Dream Society. She is a well-traveled though reluctant poet, who loves southern rock, porch swings, pickup trucks, cooking, campfires, lightning, steak, gathering and making medicine, and singing with friends and family.

Leticia Diaz-Perez was born in Charlottesville, Virginia,and grew up in Michigan.She taught Spanish at the University of Michigan,but her best memories of teaching were the 4th grade bilngual classes she taught to a beautiful group of Dominican children in New York City.She is currently living in Argentina and working on a new poetry chapbook.

Ana Chig es una poeta, editora, creativa gráfica y promotora cultural. En 2012, fundó la revista mensual de poesía Frontera Esquina, en la que participan escritores, poetas, ensayistas y artistas plásticos de la región fronteriza de Baja California y Califonia, Estados Unidos. Se ha desempeñado como coordinadora de Poetry Borders en La Casa del Túnel Art Center, en Tijuana. Es directora del proyecto editorial independiente Nódulo Ediciones, que publica poesía, cuento, ensayo, novela, periodismo cultural y literatura infantil. En 2015 formó parte del jurado para el Premio Nacional de Poesía Tijuana, convocado por el Instituto Municipal de Arte y Cultura.

Joe Navarro is a Literary Vato Loco, creative writer, poet and teacher in Hayward, CA. His writing style and cultural persuasions are rooted in a tradition of social justice poetry, inflenced by Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Lalo Delgado, Avotcja, the Last Poets, Beat Poets and others.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Entrevista a Laura Crotte

Entrevista a Laura Crotte por Xánath Caraza

Laura Crotte, actress, vocalist, stage director, educator, and community organizer hails from Mexico where she studied Dramatic Literature and Theatre at UNAM. She was trained at the Anthropology of Theatre Lab in Chapultepec, and was part of Tablas y Diablas Comedy dell Arte Mask Lab conducted by Jean Marie Binoche in Xalapa, Veracruz. She was trained by Abraham Oceransky, Alicia Martinez, Juan José Gurrola, Miguel Córcega, and Héctor Mendoza. Her credits in Mexico include puppets, musicals, dramatized readings, and original works on national and international tours.  She was trained in Royal Academy of Dancing-Ballet, Western African, Flamenco, Afro-Caribbean, Mexican Folkloric, and Oddissi dance styles.

In Chicago as vocalist, she has been featured with Sones de Mexico at Chicago Symphony Orchestra Hall with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago in Hallowed Haunts, at the House of Blues in “Revolucion” concert and CD release, and at Steppenwolf with “Corazón”. She has been vocalist with Orquesta La Tira, Hoy Son, and bayanist virtuoso Stas Venglevski. 

Her theatre credits include “Into the Beautiful North” and “Yasmina’s Necklace” at 16th Street Theater, “The Sins of Sor Juana” and “Electricidad” at Goodman Theatre´s Albert house and at their Owen house in “Esperanza Rising”, “Pedro Paramo”, “La Casa de Bernarda Alba”, and “Mariela in the Desert”.  The Goodman Latino Theater Festival produced her  Mexican Musical version of Lorca´s Blood Wedding where she adapted, directed, designed, and performed  “Al son que me toques, Lorca”.  She has toured with theater productions to Peru, Cuba, Canada, Argentina, and extensively in Mexico. As a former Teatrovista member she was featured at Chopin Theatre in “Another part of the house”, “Blind mouth singing”, and “The Sins of Sor Juana” at the Mexican Fine Arts. She has worked in full productions or stage readings  with Chicago Children´s, Steppenwolf, Chicago Humanities Festival, Chicago Dramatist, Teatrovista, Silk Road Rising, 16th Street, Teatro Luna, and  Goodman Theatres.

  Laura has toured Chicago public schools, libraries, and Community Centers with her solo mask performances, myths, legends, and cultural storytelling accompanied by cello, bass, jaranas, or harp enhancing Mexican culture. She is a faculty member of Old Town School of Folk Music.  Ms. Crotte was funded by the McArthur Foundation International Connections to plan, produce, and coordinate a cultural exchange program between educators in Chicago and scholars, artists, and community organizers in Veracruz, Puebla, Morelos, Hidalgo, D.F. and the state of Mexico.

¿Quién es Laura?

Multifacética, interdisciplinaria, promotora de cultura, exploradora de lenguajes escénicos y expresivos, profundamente interesada en la diversidad cultural y en la digna representación de
las múltiples etnias que habitan nuestro planeta, especialmente nuestro continente. Soy frontera, soy trenza, soy puente, marco el ritmo e invito a la danza, cuestiono y confronto conocimientos previos con respecto a las culturas. Soy apasionada de mi trabajo como actriz, docente, organizadora comunitaria, entrenadora y promotora cultural.

¿Quién te acerca a las artes escénicas?

Mi familia es una familia de docentes, desde mi bisabuela paterna, mi abuela, mis tíos, mis primas, mi padre y mi madre y algunos hermanos; muchos amantes de las letras, la historia de México, la historia de la cultura y la antropología, pero ante todo fue una familia amante del deporte de la declamación. Era de rigor cada domingo u ocasiones especiales y desde tempranísima edad el memorizar alguna poesía y declamarla frente a toda la familia y amigos según la oportunidad. El gusto, la destreza y el coqueteo entre los nervios y la satisfacción de estar frente a un pequeño o gran público exponiendo una gama variada de emociones es una sensación antigua en mi piel, en mi postura, en mis ademanes y gestualidad. El placer de pronunciar palabras con claridad, desmenuzando los sonidos de cada vocablo encontrando sus melodías ocultas, sus ritmos, navegando la cadencia de los versos y dejando que las emociones trasminen a través de las estrofas me fue seduciendo inevitablemente. Cuando en 3ero de secundaria, ya segura de mi fascinación por el arte teatral, entraba al Instituto de Artes Escénicas que dirigía Miguel Córcega en las calles de Bucareli en la Ciudad de México y estudiando los orígenes del teatro griego supe que sus comienzos fueron realmente la lírica, cantada, recitada hasta que el personaje salta a un estrado y hace esas palabras “suyas”…..reconocí lo que ya había experimentado desde tempranísima edad al interpretar y poder empatizar con la voz del poeta y hacer sus emociones, mías. 

¿Cómo comienza el quehacer artístico?

Ya por casualidad y por el destino de ser chaperona de mis hermanas mayores quienes solo por noviar hacían teatro aficionado, había experimentado a los 12 años mi primera actuación en “La Barca Sin Pescador” de Alejandro Casona. Siguieron “Mira, la reina indú” de Gucharán Dás, La Señorita de Trevelez…y otras.  Sin embargo, el primer affaire realmente se da conociendo en 2do de secundaria al francés Eugene Ionesco del teatro del absurdo y actuando su “Cantante Calva” bajo la dirección de la entonces monja y mi mentora en muchos sentidos Irma Robledo. Ya tenía yo una pequeña compañía teatral solo de mujeres que pronto se unió a otra de solo varones creando con los hermanos Rafael y Paty Perrín un ensamble con quienes montamos varias obras, rentando teatro, produciendo nuestros programas y vendiendo boletos. Siguió el Instituto de Arte Escènico y más tarde la escuela de Literatura Dramática y Teatro en Filosofía y Letras en la UNAM donde conocí a Héctor Mendoza, Gabriel Weisz, Enrique Ruelas. Sin embargo el trabajo en el Laboratorio de Antropología Teatral en la Casa del Lago de la UNAM me transformó profundamente y puso en comunicación intensivamente las disciplinas que ya practicaba entonces, validando la importancia que ya para mí tenía el trabajo corporal.  La frontera entre movimiento, teatralidad, expresividad, sonoridad o en un sentido muy lineal teatro/danza/música es mi hábitat. Siempre a partir del cuerpo constituyó mi escuela, mis exploraciones, mi técnica.

¿Tienes recuerdos de escenas favoritas de otros actores? ¿Pudieras compartir alguna y compartir un poco de tu reflexión/atracción hacia ésta?

Tuve la oportunidad, al residir en la gran Tenochtitlan, de ver tremendos actores de la antigua escuela como Carlos Ancira en el “Diario de un Loco”, a López Tarso, a Ofelia Guilmain, a Rosenda Montero, y muchas veces el Tenorio de Gonzalo Vega. También a la nueva generación universitaria salida del CUT haciendo teatro contemporáneo como Julieta Egurrola y otros jóvenes y fabulosos como Mario Iván Martínez. “El luto embellece a Electra” de O´Neill con Maricruz Olivier y María Teresa Rivas me reafirmaban esa veneración antigua y heredada por la tradición de mi familia a la interpretación de “las letras”, de la literatura clásica, o de textos ya de por sí admirables…. Sin embargo, ya en la carrera varios de mis compañeros quedaron para la obra “De la Calle” de González Dávila, dirigida por Julio Castillo y cuando vi la interpretación de Roberto Sosa donde cuerpo, texto, voz y crudísima realidad cercana al mundo de la ciudad que yo habitaba, rompían la cuarta pared de comodidad, de textos venerables, de pieza de museo y la historia se transmitía a través del temblor de su piel, de sus respiraciones, de una profunda transmutación que leías en su mirada…entendí que el lenguaje teatral conjuntaba tantísimos lenguajes en sí mismo……tantas capas de modos de entendimiento que transgredían la comprensión lineal, racional, anecdótica, y finalmente trascendería desde entonces hasta la fecha, e irreparablemente para mí lo verbal.

¿Cómo es un día de creación / práctica para ti? ¿Dónde ensayas?

Cuando ensayo alguna obra, producción de un teatro principal que me contrata, dado que soy miembro del sindicato, hay un proceso de unas 4 semanas, donde se inicia normalmente con un poquito de trabajo de mesa que implica profundizar en los contextos, en las relaciones, en la estética que director y cuerpo creativo van planteando. Hay lecturas anexas, investigaciones, conexiones que nutrirán el trabajo actoral.
Ya antes de llegar al proceso se han estudiado los textos, los cuales seguirán viviendo un proceso de ajustes cuando el autor está presente y especialmente si se trata de un estreno mundial, con la ayuda de un dramaturgo presente en el equipo. Lectura, trabajo escénico, montaje de escenas, ensayo de escenas ya practicadas, correr fragmentos de varias escenas, pueden ser posibles escenarios en un día de trabajo. Si la obra ya está en funciones el trabajo es directamente en las tablas y en los vestidores, donde hay calentamiento vocal, corporal y un poco emocional. Respiración, concentración y contacto con los compañeros de trabajo.

Cuando se trata de mis propias producciones, podría estar construyendo máscaras de papel maché, fabricando un vestuario con elementos naturales como conchas marinas u hojas de maíz. Puede que sea necesario entender los elementos técnicos de cómo manipular un títere del tamaño natural del actor y practicar cómo va a ponerse y quitarse dicho títere para pasar a la siguiente escena que implica un cambio de vestuario y manejo de una mojiganga que requerirá una postura corporal muy especial. La memoria vocal, verbal, corporal, emocional, y espacial trabajan en todo momento aunque en ensayos pueden subdividirse para entender una o varias o todas a la vez.

¿Qué tanto hay de México en lo que haces? 

Dentro de la gran mayoría del trabajo que realizo en docencia, en talleres, en conferencias, en los espectáculos que yo produzco la cultura mexicana, su mitología y leyendas, sus épocas históricas (prehispánica, colonial, contemporánea), su composición multiétnica, su geografía, su biodiversidad son sustancia y esencia en mis historias, mis cuentos, los cantos y los entrenamientos. Trabajo con el idioma español constantemente. En las tablas, he trabajado muchos textos latinos y colaborado con creadores mexicoamericanos.
Como promotora cultural y de intercambios binacionales he conectado educadores y organizadores de educación de U.S.A. con profesores, académicos, artistas, ONG mexicanas. Vestuario, máscaras, música, danzas, leyendas, piezas arqueológicas, textiles, cerámica mexicana forman parte constante del trabajo que realizo.

¿Cuál piensas que es tu papel como promotora cultural? ¿Crees que hay alguna responsabilidad?

Casi por genética, digamos por tradición familiar la docencia se me ha dado desde también temprana juventud. Siempre practiqué la danza clásica, española, flamenca y más tarde de la India, y de algunas regiones africanas, pero siempre aunque tengo una gran pasión y expresividad hubo cierta dificultad para mí. Creo que eso me facilitó ser una buena instructora para pequeños. Mi trabajo artístico sobre los escenarios, se ha ido combinando con una diversidad de actividades meramente educativas. Talleres, entrenamientos, facilitación, conferencias, coaching personal han sido muchos de los puentes que he tendido para llevar
las bellas artes, las expresiones culturales a otros ambientes profesionales, familiares, vecinales haciendo que estas manifestaciones o lenguajes enriquezcan, faciliten, confronten, ayuden a solucionar, manifiesten, demanden asuntos, intereses o necesidades en otros ámbitos que no son los necesariamente culturales. Me gustan las fronteras. He trabajado el teatro personal, el psicodrama, el socio-drama, el teatro político, el teatro documental, el trabajo de voz para profesores, organizadores sociales, psicoterapeutas. La cultura es el tejido más fino que integra sociedades, que cura, que permite reflexionar al mirarse en un espejo. Mi labor de promoción cultural es esencial para mí- los intercambios multidisciplinarios, multiculturales, internacionales han sido de mi más profundo interés.  El saber es una inmensa responsabilidad, de modo que el conocer diversas expresiones, culturas o pensamientos me obliga a compartir dichas relaciones en otros ámbitos donde creo se nutrirán de estos encuentros.  

¿En qué proyecto estás trabajando ahora?

En mis últimos años viviendo en Xalapa, Veracruz y a través de un apoyo estatal realicé una investigación en el mundo de la expresión vocal, fue una experimentación mucho muy interesante que quedó truncada y que ahora quiero retomar. La exploración vocal y la construcción del personaje fue entonces- ahora lo voy a confrontar con diversos medios: la instalación, la proyección, la tecnología de grabación. El tema es la mitología femenina en el mundo prehispánico.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Writing in the Dark: The Eclipse, Trump, and Fiction

Wikipedia says that on Monday, August 21, 2017, “a total solar eclipse will be visible in totality within a band across the entire contiguous United States. … The last time a total solar eclipse was visible across the entire contiguous United States was during the June 8, 1918 eclipse, and not since the February 1979 eclipse has a total eclipse been visible from the mainland United States.” Fourteen states will experience the total eclipse (Colorado’s not one of the 14) and at least 50 states will have some partial eclipse.

Thousands of Colorado residents are buying eclipse glasses and packing for a long weekend to Wyoming, Nebraska or Kansas. Hundreds, if not thousands, of lectures, parties, viewing events, picnics, and other gatherings will celebrate the heavenly event. The nationwide phenomenon has been in the headlines for weeks, the subject of talk shows and news specials. But not even a total eclipse of the sun can overshadow the Donald Trump crime wave.

The symbolism is too easy. Since January 20, 2017, the United States has already undergone a jarring series of eclipses. Diplomacy to rationality to decency to basic honesty, etc., etc., have been overwhelmed by the darkness of the Donald Trump presidency. The actual eclipse might be anti-climactic since we’ve endured one mind-numbing assault after another on much more than a few minutes of sunshine.

If I came across a Donald Trump character in a story, I’d say the author had ripped off the mad dreams of Edgar Allan Poe, Elmore Leonard or Neil Gaiman, or any other writer known for wild, crazy over-the-top characters caught up in frenetic situations who respond with evil mistakes. Characters who are laughable yet frightening, pitiful yet grotesque.

The cartoonish president trumpets imaginary feats – outright lies – in much the same way that the Dragon Queen of Game of Thrones, Daenerys Targaryen, has herself introduced to lesser beings: “Daenerys of the House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, The Unburnt, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Queen of Meereen, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Protector of the Realm, Lady Regnant of the Seven Kingdoms, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons.” From Trump’s own mouth we hear inflated numbers for his Inauguration Day crowd ("the biggest ever,") and a quote that never happened praising him for "the greatest speech ever made" to the Boy Scouts. He lies about silly things such as how many Time covers he's been on ("the all-time record in the history of Time magazine.) Or, more ominously, he warns about the fire and fury “like the world has never seen” that he will rain down on North Korea. The world laughs at him at the same time that we are shocked by his words and anxious about the power he wields and the actions he may take.

But I’m unfair to the Mother of Dragons. In addition to her quest for the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms she is also trying to rid the world of slavery. Trump will never be accused of fighting on the side of slaves.

Trump is all too real, and his reality and the times we live in raise issues for all of us, including fiction writers, a group to which I claim an attachment. Those of us who create stories have to ask, in these days when an eclipse may be an omen of coming disaster, are we necessary or relevant? What is the role for fiction writers when the world has slipped into a nightmare more vivid than any Marvel Universe, bleaker than any noir tragedy?

I’ve been through the spectrum of possible responses. I’m working on a novel that I’ve approached in spurts of ambition and periods of avoidance. I write a few pages but then I am stopped by a smack in the face from the latest Trump apology for Nazis or an off-the-cuff tweet threatening nuclear annihilation.

I always return to writing. I remember that storytellers have existed since we gathered in caves and worshipped the stars; that people with imagination and creativity have sung the praises of heroes and martyrs even when the cause has been lost; that in the whirlpool of despair we turn to storytellers to give us strength, to remind us of our common humanity and our universal needs for community, respect, love, and compassion.

Storytellers preserve history, most especially in fiction. They keep the record intact. Storytellers restore the losers’ versions of what actually happened. And they entertain while doing it.  

Fiction stimulates and agitates. A good plot, intriguing characters, and clean crisp writing can free a mind, set it off on a search for more inspiration, and reveal unknown worlds. A good story grounds us.

And, yes, fiction is escapism – a break from the harsh strobe light of reality. Tales of romance, suspense, action, horror, speculation, human interaction, or detection act as pressure valves offering release. Some may think that in these times such a break is a luxury. I disagree. I have come to believe that a good book not only offers entertainment or relief but also a firmer grasp on the reality of the struggle that life can become and, in that way, arm us with intellectual and emotional weapons that are essential in that struggle.

It's been reported several times over the years that Trump does not read books.  His excuse often is that he doesn't have time. Or there is no need. He once bragged that he makes decisions based on his "knowledge" and common sense, and he denigrated  experts who studied the issues. Yet another reason to keep on writing.

With or without Trump, writers will continue to write. Artists will paint. Musicians will serenade. Some of the art will be political, some will avoid politics, and some simply will be created. Eventually, the present time will be judged, including the art of this time. Hope I’m included.

We will be measured on how we stood together against the encroaching eclipse of Trump and his goons and cronies. We may be acknowledged if we fought against threats to our neighbor’s peace and safety. We will be condemned if we stand back and do nothing.

I hope that in that future someone will say the writers of the United States, particularly writers of color, struck blows against racism and for justice in their own ways with their fantastic, marvelous, inspirational, jubilant tales, books, comics and poems. I also hope, and believe, that the future will say that Trump never could stop the storytellers.



Manuel Ramos is the author of several novels, short stories, poems, and non-fiction books and articles. His collection of short stories, The Skull of Pancho Villa and Other Stories, was a finalist for the 2016 Colorado Book Award. My Bad: A Mile High Noir was published by Arte Público Press in 2016 and is a finalist for the Shamus Award in the Original Paperback category sponsored by the Private Eye Writers of America

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Chicanonautica: Report From Altermundos

I just finished reading Altermundos: Latin@ Speculative Literature, Film, Popular Culture edited by Cathryn Josefina Merla-Watson and B.V. Olguín, and I've got to tell you that it's well worth reading.  It's damnear 500 pages and is not just stuff by and about me, and--oh yeah--my artwork. My sombrero's off to the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Press. This is an important book about La Cultura and where it's going in the 21st century. And it's a good companion read to Latin@Rising.

So, what are altermundos? Is this connected to the Altermundismo movement? Not officially, but there are some common concerns. According to Wikipedia:

El movimiento altermundialista es un movimiento social heterogéneo compuesto por simpatizantes de muy variados perfiles, que proponen que la globalización y el desarrollo humano se basen en prioridad en los valores sociales y ambientales, en oposición a quienes los centran en el neoliberalismo económico.

There's no direct connection to Afrofuturism either, even though Octavia Butler keeps getting mentioned along with Gloria Andzaldúa.

Yup, all kinds of borders are breaking down . . .

The imagination can no longer be seen as the intellectual property of this planet's Anglo minority. And the Latino/a/@/x/oid imagination is no longer stereotyped as magic realist. Like I've said before, in a significantly technologically advanced culture, magic realism becomes indistinguishable from science fiction.

And it's not all just science/speculative fiction, either. There are essays about comics, movies, “fine” art, music, performance, and community organizing. The intergalactic barrio looks back at traditional sci-fi and finds it cramped and restricting. La Cultura needs room to breathe, dance, mutate . . .

The prose ranges from academese to avant-poetic experiments worthy of speculative fiction's new wave and cyberpunk movements, and we get new terminology, like in science fiction. 

Once again, we're in uncharted territory where common spellings haven't been established. New words for new worlds.

There isn't a consensus on what to call it all. Chicanafuturism? Chican@futurism? . . . Chicanonautica? I rather like Merla-Watson's speculative rasquache.

M. Christian once told me, “It's just futurism!” An old word that keeps taking on new meanings. In this case it's everybody discovering and creating their own visions.

Which is exactly what we need in these tumultuous times.

In Altermundos we have the cornerstone for a new kind of Latinidad. I'm not sure what to call it: Movement? Phenomenon? Cultura? Civilization? ¿Civilizaçiones?

Read it, and find out what's been going on, where it's going, and get inspired as to what you should do next.

Ernest Hogan wrote High Aztech, Cortez on Jupiter, and Smoking Mirror Blues before any of this stuff was cool.