For the past couple days, as I read Alfredo Véa’s San Francisco novel Gods Go Begging, I’ve been flashing back to my undergraduate days studying Vietnam in film and literature with Professor John Hellmann at Ohio State. My first impression of Véa’s book is that it’s a great Vietnam novel, a story of physical and emotional warfare played out thirty years distanced from the conflict.
Yet as a Chicana/o text it’s even more interesting, with the hyperreal images of conflict, almost too brutal to be depicted. This sense of the hyperreal gives way to the magical real as the spirituality of violence and love are explored. The protagonist, Jesse Pasadoble is a San Francisco defense lawyer, thirty years back from Vietnam, yet emotionally he’s never been able to leave. As his past catches up to his present, Vietnam becomes part of his legal battle, the violent lives he’s surrounded by.
At first I wasn’t sure I could read this text as gothic (remember the course I’m planning) — it seemed too modern for that. Yet in this text the dead come back to life and speak the unspeakable, partly through grotesque depictions of their own bodies. Yet in these depictions of violence and death, what endures (and what the dead seem to be trying to speak) is about their desires, their loves.
This book isn’t an easy read by any means, but is one I would highly recommend. … Read the rest
[Note, this blog title was shamelessly stolen from a tweet by @laura_luna who has her own blog, creativexicana. I only steal from the best.]
Over on Twitter Chicano MA student @xicano007, who has a library anyone would envy, started posting images of his Chicana/o books along with titles and authors. Ever the busybody I suggested he start a hashtag so we could search them more easily and maybe join in. The result was #aztlanreads and it’s glorious with an explosion of tweets of Chicana/o and Latina/o books (poetry, novels, academic writing and histories). If you read Twitter, participate. If you don’t, follow the link and look anyway. Seriously, I promise it will make your day.
There have been so many books I remembered and even more that I hadn’t heard about. I seriously have to find a job so I can afford the book habit this hashtag is creating. I hope it lasts forever. It’s the best use of Twitter I’ve ever seen.
There’s more about #aztlanreads’ wonderfulness over on the excellent blog Lotería Chicana. She points out the power that the shear volume and quality of the Chicana/o texts listed have in combating the notion that there’s a shortage of books and materials out there.
Rumor has it that there’ll be hashtags for #aztlansongs and #aztlanfilm next. I can’t wait.
UPDATE: Aztlán Reads is now a blog! … Read the rest
Actually I read this book yesterday. Was so into it I didn’t start the review until after it was completed. Like The Hummingbird’s Daughter, I’m reading it with the thought of including it in my Chicana Gothic syllabus.
Calligraphy of the Witch by Chicana scholar Alicia Gaspar de Alba is an amazing American novel. It confronts Chicana/o absence in traditional American history and literature by telling the story of a convent raised Mexican mestiza scribe, Concepción Benavídez, captured by pirates and brought to 17th century New England as a slave. Raped on her journey, the story is framed by Concepción’s daughter, born in the Boston colony and torn between her Mexican mother and her mother’s slave owner who adopts the child as her own.
Parts of the text are told as if written by Concepción in her scribe script (and are in a calligraphic font.) I loved this, but I did find my eyes straining to read at various points (maybe I need new glasses). Still, this touch makes the novel feel like a work of art.
Her Spanish language and foriegn ways put Concepción (renamed Thankful Seagraves) at odds with her New England owners and neighbors, eventually sweeping her up into the hysteria of the Salem witch trials. The story is well written and at times almost too tense. I could hardly put it down. And yes, it will be perfect for a course on the Chicana/o gothic.
ADDED: This wonderful YouTube trailer. You know you want to read it.… Read the rest
Since the MALCS Summer institute I’ve been more active in the Chicana/o community on Twitter. Today I found out about my first Twitter book group. Using the hashtag #DITM we’re going to be talking about poet S. Joaquin Rivera’s book Demon in the Mirror, a collection of edgy, dark poetry. The author is going to be leading the discussion. What a thrill. I just ordered my copy from Amazon and can’t wait. I’ll put a review up here.
Want to join in? Talk to me on Twitter @anneperez and use the hashtag. Even if you’re not on Twitter, read the collection and talk about it here. … Read the rest
Today I’ve started the novel The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea. I’m thinking of using it for a class I’m planning (planning in a sense of writing a syllabus, rather than actually having been engaged to teach) on the Chicana/o Gothic. At 499 pages, it seems a bit long, but is actually a fast read. While it code-switches between English and Spanish, the Spanish is understandable by context.
The book is a novel telling the story of the Mexican saint, Santa Teresita Urrea. So far I’ve read the first five chapters. It captures a diverse sense of Mexico as a space not just of Spanish and Mexican, but of indigenous. The novel is in the magical real tradition, yet magic and spirituality are also questioned throughout. As Teresita becomes more spiritual, more of a saint, it causes friction within her family, especially for her father who is not religious / full of doubt. This doubt / balance is one of the things I like best about the text. That aside, it’s a beautiful book. If you’re looking for some rich summer reading I highly recommend The Hummingbird’s Daughter.… Read the rest
Recently I’ve been researching a contemporary refiguring of Aztlán because of the “Aztlan conspiracy” being put about by paranoid nativists.
The Southern Poverty law center writes that the wide propagation of these false theories are led by two hate groups — the California Coalition for Immigration Reform and American Patrol. Though them, Aztlán is being refigured as a racist conspiracy by Chicana/os against all other minority groups. Yet this theory isn’t one held by a few fringe internet groups. It is becoming more and more widely circulated — has even been reported by “mainstream”news papers and in the media in reports by CNN commentator Lou Dobbs.
These groups base their attacks on a misunderstanding / misreading of the “El Plan Espiritual de Aztlan,” the 1969 document adopted at the first Chicano Liberation Youth Conference. The document is a revolutionary one reflecting the spirit of the radical 1960s civil rights movements that the Chicano movement itself came out of. The Plan de Aztlán has always been a unifying myth of the Southwest as being a Chicano/a space, for Chicano/as to lead and govern their own communities, not a call for governmental overthrow. Even at their most radical, most Chicano/a activists worked for social and cultural change on issues like racism, education and housing reform and the anti-war movement, not for political revolution. Even radical Reies Tijerina (his group La Alianza — an alliance of Mexican American and Native American tribal peoples who led an armed courthouse raid in 1967) relied largely on the law and legal documents to pursue property rights.… Read the rest
I’m planning a party for myself to celebrate finishing my Ph.D. I decided to do it because my family and friends have been so important to me the past few years and I want to celebrate with them rather than, for example, having a really nice dinner with Paul and my parents.
A friend generously offered her house as a hosting location and I was off on a party-planning To Do list. Invitations, announcements had to be sent, inventory taken, shopping lists made, table and linen rental plans. Because of my years in residential life, I’ve planned a lot of parties (though usually with the university’s money). Everything is getting done. Except , as of a week ago, I stopped being as able to plan and get things done. Why?
As I sat in therapy yesterday, rattling off the things I had yet to do, I realized why. I feel self-conscious and selfish about planning a party for myself. Given that I don’t have a job after August, it feels self-indulgent to spend money on a party rather than saving it for the rainy days that might be around the corner. My friends didn’t have parties when they finished, and they finished long before me. Part of me feels I don’t deserve this.
But having said all that, I’m going back to some comments made by a more senior scholar about marking milestones. He didn’t walk in his graduation, didn’t mark his milestones until his wife planned a party for him to celebrate his tenure decision. … Read the rest
I should be working on my philosophy of teaching (yes, I’m applying for jobs), but I had to take a moment and write about tortillas. Corn tortillas especially, though flour ones have their place.
One reason I feel so strongly about them is that I’m allergic to yeast. Extremely allergic. Even a slice of bread (or a glass of wine — wine is full of yeast) and I’m breaking out in painful eczema rashes on my arms, face and neck. Wheat flour produces a similar though less severe reaction. You’d think this would cause me to avoid bread altogether but what can I say? I crave carbs.
But what makes my allergy bearable are tortillas. I know I need to learn to make fresh corn ones myself. If I can get my hands on fresh tortillas, my desire for any other bread is almost nil. Fresh tortillas are hard to come by in Santa Monica though. I don’t get to East Los Angeles often enough.
But the reason I’m writing this is that I woke up thinking about the best corn tortillas I ever had in my life. About ten years ago I was in Barrio Logan researching Chicano Park. The murals were amazing — if you have a chance to see them you should — but what I remember most about that day was stopping at an old fashioned tortillaria because walking past, my dad and I could smell corn.
We each got one tortilla from the owner, to taste. … Read the rest
Reading today over at the excellent blog, Lotería Chicana, Cindy has written today about Oscar Zeta Acosta who would have turned 75 this year. It’s a great post on a great blog and inspired me to put down my own thoughts about the Chicano wild child lawyer and writer that was Oscar Zeta.
His biography is probably equal parts history and myth. In the passionate and wild time that was the the Chicano movement in 1960s and 1970s Los Angeles, Acosta still stood out as larger than life.
I first encountered Zeta Acosta’s prose in Revolt of the Cockroach People. I read it when I as eighteen, followed quickly by Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo. However much I may take issues with the sexism and narcissism of Acosta’s texts, I love these books and on some level, have compared every bit of Chicana/o writing I’ve read since to them. Though Acosta wasn’t originally from Los Angeles, these are Los Angeles texts about a moment in our history when everything was being questioned, when change was both seen as possible and being demanded.
It’s fitting, perhaps, that the birthdays of César Chávez and Zeta Acosta are so close — the men were born a decade and a week apart. Chávez is seen as the saintly figure who fought self-lessly for decades to life and move his people forward, fighting for the rights of downtrodden farmworkers from the 1960s until his death, peacefully in his sleep, in 1993. Acosta raged through life, a representation of raw Chicano manhood. … Read the rest
Being my parents’ first child has always been a large part of my identity. I am their mixed daughter; the result of a 1960s high school romance between an eastside Chicano boy and westside Anglo-Catholic girl. I attended Catholic school from first grade until college — Catholicism formed the bulk of my my cultural identity through out my childhood.
My parents, whose racial divide had brought them social discomfort in the 1960s and 1970s, including difficulties renting and buying homes in parts of Los Angeles, did their best to shelter my sister, brother and me from the worst of their experiences. I knew I was Chicana and identified as such, but my identification didn’t mean anything more to me than my mother’s distant identity of “Irish.” When my teachers commented on my speaking and writing in perfect English, I didn’t recognize the loaded compliment in their words. Later, when I struggled in high school Spanish (as did both my siblings and most of my cousins), I never considered why the Spanish language was so hard for me, why when my bilingual father helped me, my accent was somehow considered “wrong” and “too Mexican.” It would be years before I realized my struggle with Spanish was, in part, due to an ingrained distrust of the Mexican side of myself.
Then, coming onto UCLA’s campus as an undergraduate in the late 1980s, my Chicana identity became much more of an issue. Attracted to Left student politics, I first joined, or tried to join, the campus MEChA organization.… Read the rest