There is a particular smell to corn that has been soaked in wood ash lye, then washed and hulled and ground into a fine meal.
It is the aroma of freshly made tortillas, of tamales as they steam, of my mother’s huipiles.
Really. No matter how freshly laundered, no matter how many cedar balls or lavender sachets have been thrown in the drawer to keep the moths away, the distinctive hand-woven Guatemalan blouses my mother wore retain the smell of a grain turned more aromatic, more flavorful, more nutritious by the nixtamalation process.
Yared Portillo, a Philadelphia community activist, has four of them: One she built from scratch; two others were secured from renowned artisans; the final one — received broken and in pieces from a friend — she carefully repaired and made whole again.
The repaired instrument isn’t a bad metaphor for the role the jarana has played in the US immigration protest movement for the past two decades. It’s a small, eight-string instrument from Veracruz, Mexico, patterned after a 16th century baroque Spanish guitar that is often confused with a ukulele.
In the hands of Chicanos or recent Mexican immigrants, the jarana — as well as the son jarocho musical form with which it is inextricably associated — energizes rallies and undergirds the chants of those who want to repair not only a broken immigration system, but the increasingly broken relationship between two nations sharing both borders and histories.
So apparently Facebook has something against one of the most established and important Chicano, Xicana & Latinx blogs on the internet and will not let it be shared via FB. Beyond the ridiculousness (is that a word?) of the ban, it is a huge loss for Latinx lit — many of us have discovered great poetry and fiction through Em Sedano’s reviews and Rudy Ch. Garcia’s lists; we’ve delighted in Melinda Palacio’s poetry and life posts, and let SFF writer Ernest Hogan take us on the wild ride of his Chicanonautica. Not being able to share La Bloga, in part or in whole with friends and colleagues, on Facebook is a very real loss.
So, until Facebook changes its wrongheaded ban, I’ll be linking many of La Bloga’s posts here, and posting this to my Facebook page — a kind of underground La Bloga until the venerable site can emerge from the shadows …
Latino/a writers discuss issues in writing and publishing genre fiction (mystery, science fiction, and horror) and celebrate a new collection of science fiction and fantasy stories.
The New York Society Library
53 East 79th Street
New York, NY 10075
Sun, September 17, 2017
3:00 PM – 5:00 PM EDT
Latin@ Rising: An Anthology of Latin@ Science Fiction and Fantasy is the first anthology of fantastic fiction written by Latino/as living in the United States. Fifty years ago the Latin American boom in literature popularized magical realism; Latin@ Rising is the literature that has risen from the explosion that gave us García Márquez, Jorge Amado, Carlos Fuentes, and others. The 23 authors and artists included in this anthology come from all over the U.S. and from eight different national traditions. They include well-known creators like Kathleen Alcalá, Ana Castillo, Junot Díaz, Giannina Braschi, and others; they also include new voices, well worth hearing.
Panelists Matthew David Goodwin (editor and moderator) is an assistant professor of English at the University of Puerto Rico in Cayey, focusing on the topic of migration in Latino/a literature, particularly science fiction, fantasy, and digital culture.
Carlos Hernandez is the author of The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria (Rosarium 2016) and over 30 works of science fiction and fantasy, including poetry and drama. By day, he is an CUNY associate professor of English and has worked in game writing and game design.
Richie Narvaez is the award-winning author of Roachkiller and Other Stories. His fiction has appeared in Grand Central Noir, Plots with Guns, Sunshine Noir, and Spinetingler.
Sabrina Vourvoulias is the author of Ink (Crossed Genres, 2012), a novel that draws on her memories of Guatemala’s armed internal conflict and of the Latinx experience in the United States. It was named one of Latinidad’s Best Books of 2012.
This event is free and open to the public. Please register by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 212.288.6900, ext. 230.
The World Series winner this year — improbably, against the odds and in defiance of a 108-year curse — is the Chicago Cubs.
My father, a lifelong Cubs fan, would have been stunned by the win. And elated. And stunned. All his wildest, most stubborn hopes were vindicated … this year.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my dad lately, and not only because of the Cubs. In his latter years my dad had become a political wonk, and he would have been riveted by this electoral season.
My father spent most of his adult life as part of multinational, corporate America. He rose through the ranks of Ray-O-Vac Company (at that time part of the multinational ESB), first in Mexico, then in Madison, and onto Thailand and Guatemala. He came to Philadelphia (where the international division had its offices in one of the Penn Towers) in 1975, to work as a vice president in charge of Latin American operations. Ultimately he led a management buyout of the international division and became CEO and chairman of the board of the resulting corporation.
My dad believed in corporate America, and he was loyal to it. He also believed in the Republican Party. He was a fiscal and social conservative — the quintessential first-generation American who had “bootstrapped” himself into success. And though he lived most of the first 48 years of his life “overseas,” he made sure to vote in every election. Most notably (at least for his liberal kids who never let him forget it), he voted for Nixon rather than JFK.
He loved being an American citizen in the way so many first-generation folks do — exuberantly and unabashedly.
My brothers and I were all born outside of the U.S. (Mexico, Thailand and Guatemala) but my dad made sure we were all American citizensfrom birth (by jus sanguinis which accords nationality on the basis of a parent’s citizenship rather than birth place) because, he believed, why would anyone NOT want to be a citizen of this great nation?
So you are thinking right about now that my father, were he still alive, would be a Donald Trump supporter.
Not so fast.
“My father was a refugee’s son,” wrote my brother Alberto, in a brilliant and beautiful column published in June of this year at Fox News Latino. “Born in the U.S., he was proud to serve his country. […] in a frontline regiment with blacks and whites, Latinos and Asians, children of immigrants and children of the native-born.For him, this mosaic was the strength and promise of America.”
A mosaic which Trump has sought to pull apart at every turn of this campaign. Mexican Americans, Muslim Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, immigrants and refugees — time and again Trump has contrived (in word and proposed policy) to diminish and “otherize” the manifold greatness of America.
My father would have agreed with those who say that Trump knows nothing of real sacrifice: Refugees trying any way they can to keep their children alive; folks who have lost loved ones serving in the armed forces; he doesn’t even understand the sacrifice of veterans who have withstood torture and lived years as P.O.W.s… All of them have been fodder for hateful characterization and derision from Trump.
Trump knows nothing of the kind of hope that draws from the wellspring of love rather than hate.
He certainly knows nothing of the hope and promise of America that prompted a young man to serve his nation in two wars; that gave him the drive to go to college on the G.I. bill; that got him through jobs so ill-paid some weeks he could only afford to eat bread; that taught him to scrimp and save so someday he might be able to afford a radio on which to listen to a ballgame …
My father was targeted as an American while he was working for Ray-O-Vac in Guatemala, and was kidnapped. The details are terrifying, and throughout the time he was held his kidnappers made clear to him that my mother (a fierce and amazing Mexican-Guatemalan who would have been especially infuriated by Trump’s vitriol against immigrants and his entitled attitude toward women) and my brothers and I were next.
My father told me years later that he didn’t have time to despair while he was held, he was too busy trying to figure out what he needed to do to negotiate his release so he could whisk us all to safety. My father’s hope was as stubborn and resilient as he was — no kidnapped American had been released alive during that time in Guatemala — and, remarkably, he eventually succeeded. He managed to convince his kidnappers to release him and for the ransom to be paid over a 12-month period. He also talked them into cutting the ransom by a third. (When I hear Trump describe himself as a wonderful businessman, I can’t help but think his negotiation skills have never truly been tested.)
Despite the ordeal I never heard my father speak of his kidnappers in the foul and hateful terms Trump has used to describe citizen and non-citizen, public figure and private, colleague and ally, during this electoral season.
Later in life, when board upheaval ousted my father as CEO of the company he had bought out and an equivalent position was slow to emerge, my father took on jobs at Wawa and Target to be able to pay bills and to fulfill his financial responsibilities to the country he loved and believed in.
Others were embarrassed for him, but he was not. He believed there was dignity in all work, and he witnessed that his coworkers labored as hard and as loyally at their low-income jobs as his executive colleagues did in their more exalted positions. By the time he returned to his next CEO position, he had reluctantly become a Democrat — because his beloved Republicans seemed out of touch with the economic challenges and realities of so many Americans.
My father would have been horrified that Trump has not only deliberately avoided paying income taxes that sustain everything from our nation’s armed forces to education to a fraying safety net, but that the billionaire business magnate has repeatedly welched on paying hard-working, ordinary people for the work they’ve performed for him.
I think most people are more like my father than like Trump.
I believe most of us will choose to act honorably rather than dishonorably when it comes to our obligations to our fellow citizens, and to the America we love.
And during those moments when I panic that the upcoming election may be as much of a nailbiter as the final game of the World Series was, I imagine my father as a young man in Chicago, listening to the Cubs game on his precious radio.
He never gave up on his wild, stubborn hope for the best.
So this year’s theme at the Latinos in Tech Innovation and Social Media (LATISM) conference in October is “Latinxs as change agents.” LATISM, for those who aren’t familiar with it, is a non-partisan organization dedicated to the empowerment of the Latino community in the areas of education, health, technology and business through the use of tech innovation and social media. Throughout the years I’ve met many Latinx media folks, bloggers, creatives and entrepreneurs, and am blessed to have forged enduring friendships with people I’ve met at its conferences and Thursday night twitterchats.
This year’s conference theme is a resonant one, perhaps especially so this electoral season when Latinx civic engagement may be a deciding factor in the presidential race, as well as countless congressional races at the state level.
The Latina speakers at the event (Dolores Huerta, Elianne Ramos and Sara Manzano Díaz, among others) spoke principally about the underrepresentation of Latinas in political office, but also, significantly and movingly, about Latina leadership and mentorship. (You’ll see some memorable quotes from event speakers scattered throughout this post.) Audience member after audience member stood up at the end of event to thank the speakers, and to let them know how invigorated and inspired they were by the conversation. Many of them revealed a desire to run for public office, to really and truly effect change ….
How are Latinx agents of change created? Are they individuals born with the personal attributes that make them leaders?
“I’m a chingona, I’m a fighter.”
— Delia García (Kansas House of Representatives, 103rd district)
Are they community influencers?
“Our elected leaders are people just like you and me.”
— Nellie Gorbea, Secretary of State of Rhode Island
Are they people who understand in their bones the commonality in our diversity?
“You have to have consciousness. It’s not about ‘you,’ it’s about ‘us.'”
— Sara Manzano Díaz, Mid-Atlantic Region Administrator for the U.S. General Services Administration
Or are they people convinced by role models and mentors (and that still voice within) that they have something to contribute?
“Sometimes you need someone to believe in you before you can believe in yourself.” — Nora E. Vargas, board chair of Hispanas Organized for Political Equality
The answer, of course, is that Latinx agents of change are created in all these ways — and more.
And their influence isn’t simply limited to the sphere of politics and public office. The programming tracks for LATISM 16 recognize that there are many paths to becoming an agent of change for the Latinx community.
Our Civic Engagement panels focus on how technology and social media can create, impact and change individual and collective actions [and are] designed to identify and address issues of public concern in our communities.
In addition to the Civic Engagement track, there are tracks about Business and Tech Entrepreneurship, Diversity and Inclusion, Education, Health and Policy. Read more about the conference here. (If you are interested in attending the conference, use the INFLUENCERS16 as a promotional code to receive a 30 percent discount.)
Meet more Latinx agents of change from various walks of lives in upcoming posts…
After several months of noodling around with design, and teaching myself just enough WordPress (and Adobe Slate) to get myself into trouble, here it is … my new website. You can find links to my fiction and journalism and even my blog (now a bit quiet, but still the repository of unique content).
And, I’ll be posting here, on the landing page, occasionally to let you know about upcoming publications, readings and special events on both the speculative fiction and journalism sides — so come back and check-in every so often.
And, please, comment and let me know how you like the website, or send me comments about how you think it can be improved.