"Chicano writers from El Paso are the most progressive, open-minded, far-reaching, and inclusive writers of them all."

Octavio Romano

Sunday, June 25, 2006

La Virgen & Beyond: Religion in Chicano(a) and Latino(a) Letters

Faith has taken hold of some publisher. Who knows if this is a response to “moral values” and the “Last Temptation,” “Chronicles of Narnia,” and good Christians like Pat Robertson and James Dobson.

On the Catholics side, La Virgen is ever popular for publishers and authors. But new focus has been given to topics such as the fiesta system of indigenous groups, church and barrio organizing, sanctuary movements during the Central American genocide, Protestant “Hispanics,” and Cyptic-Jews and Muslims.

But one thing that is different about some of the books recently released having to do with Chicano(a)s and Latino(a)s and religion is that most deal with Christianity and company and most deal a subject many “American” Christians find foreign: “helping the least of those” and the “angels in disguise.” Then there are many of the book being released concerning Crypto-Jews in the Americas.

Among the book we will look at are PADRES: The National Chicano Priest Movement; Virgin of El Barrio: Marian Apparitions; Catholic Evangelizing, and Mexican American Activism; Belief in Dialogue: U.S. Latina Writers Confront Their Religious Heritage; Latino Religions and Civic Activism In The United States; and United States Hispanic Catholics: Trends and Works, 1990-2000.

If you look back at some of our older issues, we predicted this trend, and we mention some books dealing with the same topics, even looking at Protestants. I know Carmen Tafolla has some interesting stories on Protestantism. I joked one time with Texas playwright Adrian Villegas of Waco that we were the only Chicano Baptist in Texas.

Local Religion in Colonial Mexico (Diálogos series) (Paperback)(Univ of New Mexico Press March 16, 2006 ISBN 0826334024) edited by Martin Austin Nesvig and Lyman L. Johnson has ten essays that provide information about the religious culture in colonial Mexico. Carlos Eire's essay begins the study with the meaning of "popular religion" in colonial Mexico. Antonio Rubial García looks at the use of icons. www.unmpress.com.

Emerging Voices Urgent Choices: Latino-a Leadership Development from the Pew to the Plaza (Paperback)(Brill Academic Pub, Religion in the Americas Series, V. 4, Jan 2006 ISBN 9004148167) by Edwin I. Hernandez, Milagros Pena, and Kenneth G. Davis focuses on the strength of U.S. "Hispanic" churches. “In this pioneering volume, experts from various disciplines examine the remarkable contribution of Hispanic churches to U.S. society and the challenges their leaders face in serving the country’s growing Latino population.

Chapters analyze success stories in Latino(a) ministry, specific issues for Catholic leadership and Protestant denominations, and the political and community-serving activities of diverse congregations. Together, the essays demonstrate how Hispanic churches of every denomination are generating social capital in neglected communities.

The book updates previous research on religion that largely ignores U.S. Latino(a)s, and adds a new dimension to Latino Studies scholarship by recognizing the important role that religion plays in Hispanic life.” The incongruent use of Latino and Hispanic is the publishers own.

Race and Churches

United by Faith: The Multiracial Congregation as an Answer to the Problem of Race was published by Oxford University Press in 2003. In this book Curtis Paul Deyoung, Michael O. Emerson, George Yancey, and Karen Chai Kim looks at the “last 40 years” and how “desegregation has revolutionized almost every aspect of life in the US: schools, businesses, government offices, even entertainment.” However they are quick to point out, the church has been untouched. The authors argue that “multiracial Christian congregations offer an opening the still-locked door between the races in the US.

They note, however, that a belief persists — even in African-American and Latino churches — that racial segregation is an acceptable, even useful practice. The authors examine this question from biblical, historical, and theological perspectives to make their case. They explore the long history of inter-racialism in the church, with specific examples of multiracial congregations in the United States. This is a critical account of the theological arguments in favor of racial separation, as voiced in the African-American, Latino, Asian-American, Native-American, and White contexts.

The authors respond in detail, closing with a foundation for a theology suited to sustaining multiracial congregations over time. Readers will see a path toward making the church the basis for racial reconciliation in our still-splintered nation.” - Publishers Description.

The Perpetual Virgen

There is always something being published about La Virgen.

Northwestern University Press, last year, published Bernando and the Virgin (Northwestern Univ. Press Latino Voices Series Nov 2004 ISBN 0810122405), Silvio Sirias. It focuses around a lesser-known apparition of La Virgen. “In 1980, with the Sandinistas newly in power, tailor and pig farmer Bernardo Martínez witnesses an extraordinary thing: an otherworldly glow about the statue of the Virgin Mary in the church where he works as sacristán. Soon the Holy Virgin appears. She tells Bernardo to forget his money problems and fear of ridicule, and spread her message of peace and faith to his neighbors.

Though a work of fiction, this book is based on actual events in Bernardo Martínez' life. The
visitation of the Virgin Mary at Cuapa, Nicaragua, remains one of the few such events accepted by the Roman Catholic Church in the last 60 years.

Sirias' novel tells many stories: that of a humble man touched by the transcendent; that same man as a devout boy denied the priesthood because of poverty; and those in his orbit, past and present. It is also the stormy epic of Nicaragua through the long Somoza years to the Sandinista revolution.” www.nupress.northwestern.edu.

The University of New Mexico Press published Guadalulpe (Univ of New Mexico Nov 2004 ISBN 0826337627) by Carla Zarebska and Alejandro Gómez de Tuddo (Photographer). “Guadalupe is a lavishly illustrated history of Mexico’s religious traditions. Touching briefly on the pre-Columbian decades of many deities, Zarebska devotes most of the book to the post-colonial centuries of Catholicism, the Madre of modern Mexico, and the traditions and legends surrounding her.”

Hard Working Catholics: Central America

What’s been most interesting to me is books by really sincere Christians, those that actually obey the second greatest commandment and “love their neighbor.” In The Blindfold’s Eyes (Orbis Books 2002 ISBN 1570754357), Sister Diana Ortiz tell of her experience in Guatemala. From P u b l i s h e r s Weekly — “In 1989, Sister Dianna Ortiz, an American-born nun, was abducted from the compound where she worked in Guatemala. Twenty-four hours later, she escaped, but within that brief period, her body had been burned with cigarettes, she'd been raped, beaten and forced to torture a woman who was already near death.

As a consequence of her devastation, Ortiz lost every memory she had of her life before the kidnapping, and spent years battling both real and remembered demons in a struggle to heal herself and to spread the word about U.S. complicity in Guatemala's repressive political system and in the torture and murder of 1,000s of innocent Guatemalans.

This is an important book for two reasons: its illustration of the fallout of torture and the special needs of survivors, and Ortiz's well-documented narrative of the U.S. government's refusal to take seriously what happened to her, particularly as she identified one of her torturers as an American. Ortiz's determination to tell the truth, in spite of ongoing threats and her own fear, makes this book impossible to dismiss.” - publishers description

Also on Ortiz, Psst . . . I Have Something To Tell You, Mi Amor (Wings Press Oct 2005 ISBN 0916727203) by Ana Castillo wrote some plays focusing on Sister Dianna Ortiz who traveled as a missionary in the early 1980s to the highlands of Guatemala, where she taught Mayan children to read and write.

On Nov 2, 1989, Sister Dianna was sitting in the garden of her convent when she heard a man behind her say, in Spanish, "Hello, my love. We have some things to discuss." She was abducted by this man, who together with others, transported her to a jail where she was brutally tortured. One of her torturers — their boss, in fact — was a North American, probably associated with the US government in some capacity. Miraculously, Sister Dianna escaped by leaping from a car in which she was being transported.

“Castillo’s displays of emotion and experience are legitimately heavy with truthfulness. It jolts readers with a blast of reality.” — Raymundo Elí Rojas, The Newspaper Tree. www.wingspress.com. You can read the rest of my review of this book on The Newspaper Tree.

Another recent book is Father Roy Bourgeois biography — Disturbing the Peace: The Story of Father Roy Bourgeois and the Movement to Close the School of the Americas (Orbis Books Fall 2004), James Hodge and Linda Cooper, with forward by Martin Sheen. After years as a Naval officer in Viet Nam and a missionary in Bolivia, Maryknoll priest Roy Bourgeois was imprisoned for challenging the US government’s action in Latin America.

This book chronicles the many activists that built the School of the Americas Watch movement and presents new research on the action of SOA graduates. With personal stories of how Bourgeois learned the reality of oppression in Latin America, this book is an excellent book for lending to family and friends. www.soaw.org

Also focusing on Central America is Romero: A Life (Orbis Books ISBN 157075599X) by James R. Brockman. It’s just been published in its 25th Anniversary Edition! “It is 25 years since Oscar Romero, the prophetic archbishop of San Salvador, was assassinated while celebrating Mass. In death, he joined tens of thousands of his fellow Salvadorans, killed in the conflict that engulfed his small Central American nation. In the years since then, his reputation and significance have only grown. Today the very name Romero invokes the church’s costly option for the poor, the gospel challenge to confront injustice, the Christian call to discipleship in a world of conflict, and a new face of holiness for our time. First published in 1989, James Brockman’s biography remains the definitive portrait of the modern hero and martyr who became “a voice of the voiceless.” James R. Brockman, who died in 1996, was a Jesuit priest and a former editor of America Magazine. www.maryknollmall.org/description.cfm?ISBN=1-57075-599-X.

Sanctuaries of the Heart / Santuarios del Corazón: A novella in English and Spanish (Univ of Arizona Press Sept ISBN 0816524653) by Margarita Cota-Cárdenas and translated from the original Spanish by Barbara Riess and Trino Sandoval, in collaboration with the author, also has an introduction by one of my favorite scholars, Tey Diana Rebolledo.

In this book, “Petra Leyva has begun to write a novel about the Sanctuary Movement when she hears that her widowed, womanizing father has set fire to his house in a drunken rage. Overwhelmed by family memories, Petra begins a journey of introspection that leads her to explore what “sanctuary” really means to present day Chicanas. Petra learns there are various types of sanctuaries — not only those aiding Central American refugees but also less obvious safe havens for the weak, the ill, the elderly, the poor. Universities are sanctuaries to which the young can flee in search of a better life.” www.uapress.arizona.edu/books/bid1618.htm.

Hard Working Catholics: Mexico

Of course, who can forget the scholar monja Sor Juana. Pawns of a House/Los empeños de una casa a play by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (Bilingual Press Mar 2006 ISBN 193101017X) is now published in a bilingual edition. “In this 17th-century cloak-and-sword play, eight characters are enmeshed in a tangled web of mutual obligations. When they find themselves thrown together in the house of Don Pedro de Arellano in Toledo, they struggle to fulfill, or escape, those obligations. The action involves female rivalry, love triangles, kidnapping, and confusion of identities. The hilarity peaks when the rivals, young Don Pedro and Don Carlos, who are moved about the house like pawns on a game board, clash swords in the darkness, only to discover by candlelight that the person they are fighting over is not the beloved Doña Leonor, but the gracioso Castaño dressed in her clothing. In the end, however, the immobilized characters regain the initiative and make way for the comic solution of multiple marriages.” - publishers description. www.asu.edu/brp/newandforthcoming/Cruz_Pawns.html.

The most interesting book I’ve seen and that I want to run out and buy is The Prison Angel: Mother Antonia's Journey from Beverly Hills to a Life of Service in a Mexican Jail (Paperback)(Penguin Non-Classics May 30, 2006 ISBN 014303717X) by Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan. The winners of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting tell the astonishing story of Mary Clarke. “At the age of 50, Clarke left her comfortable life in suburban Los Angeles to follow a spiritual calling to care for the prisoners in one of Mexico's most notorious jails. She actually moved into a cell to live among drug king pins and petty thieves.

She has led many of them through profound spiritual transformations in which they turned away from their lives of crime, and has deeply touched the lives of all who have witnessed the depth of her compassion. Donning a nun's habit, she became Mother Antonia, renowned as ‘the prison angel,’ and has now organized a new community of sisters-the Servants of the Eleventh Hour--widows and divorced women seeking new meaning in their lives. ‘We had never heard a story like hers,’ Jordan and Sullivan write, ‘a story of such powerful goodness.’

Born in Beverly Hills, Clarke was raised around the glamour of Hollywood and looked like a star herself, a beautiful blonde reminiscent of Grace Kelly. The choreographer Busby Berkeley spotted her at a restaurant and offered her a job, but Mary's dream was to be a happy wife and mother. She raised seven children, but her two unfulfilling marriages ended in divorce. Then in the late 1960s, in midlife, she began devoting herself to charity work, realizing she had an extraordinary talent for drumming up donations for the sick and poor.

On one charity mission across the Mexican border to the drug-trafficking capitol of Tijuana, she visited La Mesa prison and experienced an intense feeling that she had found her true life's work. As she recalls, ‘I felt like I had come home.’ Receiving the blessings of the Catholic Church for her mission, on March 19, 1977, at the age of 50, she moved into a cell in La Mesa, sleeping on a bunk with female prisoners above and below her. Nearly twenty-eight years later she is still living in that cell, and the remarkable power of her spiritual counseling to the prisoners has become legendary."

Check out the National Public Radio's story on Mother Antonia.

Rebellious Nuns: The Troubled History of a Mexican Convent, 1752-1863 (Oxford Univ Press Nov. 2005 0195182219) by Margaret Chowning is a “treasure-trove of documents that allow an intimate look at two crises that wracked the convent of La Purísima Concepción in San Miguel el Grande, New Spain (Mexico). At the heart of both rebellions were attempts by some nuns to impose a regimen of strict observance of their vows on the others, and the resistance mounted by those who had a different view of the convent and their own role in it.

Would the community adopt as austere a lifestyle as they could endure, doing manual labor, suffering hunger and physical discomfort, deprived of the society of family and friends? Or would these women be allowed to lead comfortable and private lives when not at prayer? Accusations and counteraccusations flew. First one side and then the other seemed to have the upper hand. For a time, a mysterious and dramatic illness broke out among the rebellious nuns, capturing the limelight. Were they faking? Were they unconsciously influenced by their ringleader, the charismatic and manipulative young women who first experienced the ‘mal’?

Rebellious Nuns covers the history of the convent from its founding in 1752 to the forced eviction of the nuns in 1863.” www.oup.com/us.

Protestants Reformings

Protestants are frequently left out of Chicano(a) Literature and Latino(a) Literature. To many, stories of La Virgen and Quiceñeras don’t relate. Except that many Chicano(a) Baptist started having quiceneras in the late 1980s. Humorously, as Garrison Keillor humoursly said in one of his “News from Lake Wobegon,” “I read Fox’s Book of Martyrs, I remember what they did to us.” Putting all that aside, Columbia University Press published in 2003, Latino Pentecostal Identity - Evangelical Faith, Self and Society (ISBN 0231127332) by Arlene M. Sánchez-Walsh. “Of the 37 million Latinos living in the United States, nearly five million declare themselves either Pentecostal or Charismatic, and more convert every day.

Latino Pentecostal Identity examines the historical and contemporary rise of Pentecostalism among Latinos, their conversion from other denominations, and the difficulties involved in reconciling conflicts of ethnic and religious identity. The book also looks at how evangelical groups encourage the severing of ethnic ties in favor of spiritual community and the ambivalence Latinos face when their faith fails to protect them from racial discrimination." www.columbia.edu/cu/cup/catalog/data/023112/0231127324.HTM.

In Hispanic Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists in Texas (Paperback)(Univ of Tex Press May 1, 2006 ISBN 0292713355), Paul Barton presents the first comparative history of Hispanic Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists in Texas. In the Baptist area, “Hispanic,” unfortunately, is the term of use, as it is here in Kansas City. I hear new immigrants calling themselves “Hispanos” and I cringe.

Anyway, this book covers “a broad sweep from the 1830s to the 1990s.” “Barton examines how Mexican-American Protestant identities have formed and evolved as los Protestantes interacted with their two very different communities in the barrio and in the Protestant church. He looks at historical trends and events that affected Mexican-American Protestant identity at different periods and discusses why and how shifts in los Protestantes' sense of identity occurred.

His research highlights the fact that while Protestantism has traditionally served to assimilate Mexican Americans into the dominant U.S. society, it has also been transformed into a vehicle for expressing and transmitting Hispanic culture and heritage by its Mexican-American adherents.”

Padres and Madres in the Barrio

Those from Los Angeles are familiar with Father Boyle. G-Dog and the Homeboys: Father Greg Boyle and the Gangs of East Los Angeles (Univ of New Mexico Press Sept 2004 ISBN 0826335365) by Celeste Fremon and foreword by Tom Brokaw. “Father Greg Boyle admits that East Los Angeles can be a grim place: ‘A great many kids in my neighborhood don't plan their futures; they plan their funerals.’

But the Jesuit priest refuses to accept eulogies as his major job assignment. Working since 1986 in the poorest parish in the Los Angeles diocese, ‘Father Greg’ has run Jobs for a Future, ambitious, albeit cash-strapped program that has helped thousands of gang members discover a life beyond the death mill. G-Dog and The Homeboys presents the story Boyle's unconventional ministry and its extraordinary successes.” www.unmpress.com

Another book focusing on priests and Chicanos Catholics is PADRES: The National Chicano Priest Movement (Univ. of Texas Press June 2005 ISBN 0292706782) by Richard Edward Martínez. “From the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo to the 1960s, Chicano/Mexican American Catholics experienced racism and discrimination within the U.S. Catholic church, as white priests and bishops maintained a racial divide in all areas of the church's ministry.

To oppose this religious apartheid and challenge the church to minister fairly to all of its faithful, a group of Chicano priests formed PADRES (Padres Asociados para Derechos Religiosos, Educativos y Sociales, or Priests Associated for Religious, Educational, and Social Rights) in 1969. Over the next 20 years of its existence, PADRES became a powerful force for change within the Catholic church and for social justice within American society.

This book offers the first history of the founding, activism, victories, and defeats of PADRES. At the heart of the book are oral history interviews with the founders of PADRES, who describe how their ministries in poor Chicano parishes, as well as their own experiences of racism and discrimination within and outside the church, galvanized them into starting and sustaining the movement.

Martínez traces the ways in which PADRES was inspired by the Chicano movement and other civil rights struggles of the 1960s and also probes its linkages with liberation theology in Latin America. He uses a combination of social movement theory and organizational theory to explain why the group emerged, flourished, and eventually disbanded in 1989.” www.utexas.edu/utpress

Father Rahm’s Book

Before Lalo Delgado died, he mentioned that his mentor Father Harold Rahm had written a book and sent him the manuscript. It’s time for Father Harold Rahm to put something out. Like Boyle, he’s been doing similar stuff since the 1950s from El Paso’s Segundo Barrio to San Paulo, Brazil. For those of you who are not familiar with Rahm, he was Lalo Delgado’s mentor. He was known as the “Bicycle Priest” and he would give mass in the vecidares. He would also haul fighting barrio youth into the Sacred Heart boxing ring. “If you want to fight each other, do it in here,” Lalo related to me.

In The Church in the Barrio: Mexican American Ethno-Catholicism in Houston (Hardcover)(Univ of North Carolina Press Feb 27, 2006 ISBN 080782996X), Roberto R. Treviño tells “a story that spans from the founding of immigrant parishes in the early 20th century to the rise of the Chicano civil rights movement in the early 1970s, Treviño discusses how an intertwining of ethnic identity and Catholic faith equipped Mexican Americans in Houston to overcome adversity and find a place for themselves in the Bayou City.” http://uncpress.unc.edu/default.htm.

There is also The Virgin of El Barrio: Marian Apparitions, Catholic Evangelizing, and Mexican American Activism (Qualitative Studies in Religion) (New York Univ Press May 2005 ISBN 0814758258) by Kristy Nabhan-Warren. “In 1998, a Mexican American woman named Estela Ruíz began seeing visions of the Virgin Mary in south Phoenix. The apparitions and messages spurred the creation of Mary’s Ministries, a Catholic evangelizing group, and its sister organization, ESPIRITU, which focuses on community-based initiatives and social justice for Latinos(as). Based on ten years of participant observation and in-depth interviews, The Virgin of El Barrio traces the spiritual transformation of Ruiz, the development of the community that has sprung up around her, and the international expansion of their message.”

Our own Mario T. Garcia put out Padre: The Spiritual Journey of Father Virgil Cordano on Capra Press last year (2005) in May (ISBN 1592660525). He gives the story of a priest's tumultuous, challenging journey toward his place in the church: “This is a biography of Father Virgil Cordano, now the spiritual and administrative head of Santa Barbara's Old Mission. His poignant journey and personal and spiritual issues mirror the tumultuous times for his beloved Catholic Church.

Father Virgil, through all his tests, is committed to his religion, his family, and his community. Includes discussion of the emerging freedom of the Catholic lay community, the shifting winds of change within the church, and the agonizing effects of the sexual abuse crisis.” Website unavailable.

Latinos and the New Immigrant Church (John Hopkins Univ Press May 2006 ISBN 0801883873) by David A. Badillo shows how “Latin Americans” “make up the largest new immigrant population in the United States, and how Latino Catholics are the fastest-growing sector of the Catholic Church in America. In this book, historian Badillo offers a history of Latino Catholicism in the United States by looking at its growth in San Antonio, Chicago, New York, and Miami.

Focusing on 20th-century Latino urbanism, Badillo contrasts broad historic commonalities of Catholic religious tradition with variations of Latino ethnicity in various locales. He emphasizes the contours of day-to-day life as well as various aspects of institutional and lived Catholicism.

By contrasting the development of three distinctive Latino communities — the Chicano(as), Puerto Ricans, and Cuban Americans. Badillo challenges the popular concept of an overarching ‘Latino experience’ and offers instead an integrative approach to understanding the scope, depth, and complexity of the Latino contribution to the character of America's urban landscapes.”

Crypto and Sephardic

The University of New Mexico Press and Floricanto Press, among others, have been putting out a lot of books focusing on Crypto-Jews. Ilan Stavans has edited some book as well and has written some introductions to some. Abuelita's Secret Matzahs (Emmis Books March 2005 ISBN 1578601770) by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso and Diana Bryer (Illustrator) “tells children the fascinating but little-known story of Crypto Jews — Jews forced to convert to Christianity during the Spanish Inquisition who secretly maintained their

Jewish identity and customs throughout the ages — often unaware of the reasons for some of these customs. When Jacobo persists in asking his grandmother about these practices, she tells him the secret of their past and offers him the chance to be the keeper of traditions for his generation.

As Jacobo learns about the origins of his family, he begins to think about his own place in the chain of the generations. After reading the story, parents and children will be able to discuss their own family traditions and history.”

This book reminds me a politico family in El Paso who found out they were actually Crypto-Jews. They were Chicano and this cause some of the family to convert back to Judaism, except for one, who put out a statement, politically savvy, that he was still Catholic fearing he would lose his Catholic voters. Amusing.

Another book on this topic is Bring Me More Stories (Floricanto Press ISBN 0915745674), Sally Benforado. In these short tales, author Benforado weaves together the oral history of a family of Sephardic Jews, from their close knit home in Turkey to their new lives in America. They are stories of a heritage that spans the globe, of centuries-old traditions transported to a different world, and of people who held tightly to the ways of their ancestors, who, like them, left their homes to settle in a strange new land. www.floricantopress.com.

Brotherhood of the Light: A novel of the Penitentes and Crypto-Jews of New Mexico (Floricanto Press ISBN 0915745666) by Ray Michael Baca is a novel about the un-easy and often misunderstood relationships of Crypto-Jews and Hispanos in New Mexico and their deep common roots in Spanish history — conquest and colonization — and religious faith and shared values. www.floricantopress.com. Another book on this press is Remnants of Crypto-Jews Among Hispanic Americans by Gloria Golden, Edited by Andrea Alessandra Cabello, University of California, Berkeley, and Sohaib Raihan (ISBN: 0-915745-56-9).

Memory, Oblivion, and Jewish Culture in Latin America on Univ of Texas Press (ISBN 029270643X), edited by Marjorie Agosín, shows how “Latin America has been a refuge for Jews fleeing persecution from 1492, when Sepharad Jews were expelled from Spain, until well into the twentieth century, when European Jews sought sanctuary there from the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust:

"Vibrant Jewish communities have deep roots in countries such as Argentina, Mexico, Guatemala, and Chile, though members of these communities have at times experienced the pain of being ‘the other,’ ostracized by Christian society and even tortured by military governments. While commonalities of religion and culture link these communities across time and national boundaries, the Jewish experience in Latin America is irreducible to a single perspective. Only a multitude of voices can express it."

A recent Southwest Book Award Winner, Pomegranate Seeds: Latin American Jewish Tales (Univ of New Mexico Press 2005 08263239IX), by Nadia Grosser Nagarajan writes the first collection of the oral tradition of Latin American Jews to be presented in English. These 34 tales span the 500 years of Jewish presence in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Muslim Side

On the other side of the coin, and less focused upon by publisher, are the Crypto-Muslims. Covert Gestures: Crypto-Islamic Literature as Cultural Practice in Early Modern Spain (Univ of Minnesota Press May 2005 ISBN 0816644756) by Vincent Barletta is purported to be “the first cultural analysis of the secret literature of Spain’s last Muslim communities.

Forcibly expelled from Spain in the early 17th-century, the substantial Muslim community known as the moriscos left behind a hidden yet extremely rich corpus of manuscripts . Copied out in Arabic script and concealed in walls, false floors, and remote caves, these little-known texts now offer modern readers an absorbing look into the cultural life of the moriscos during he hundred years between heir forced conversion to Christianity and their eventual expulsion.

In its interdisciplinary approach, Barletta’s work is nothing less than a rewriting of the cultural history of Muslim Spain, as well as a re-plotting of the future course of medieval and early modern literary studies.”

I really think this is an untapped part of Chicano(a) letters. With all the Arab, Persian, Muslim, Lebanese influence we’ve seen in Chicano and Latino scenes (e.g., Shakira), it’s time authors start focusing on this. Just look at it. Agustin Lara’s famous song Granada was about a Moorish city. In fact, The Plaza area, here in Kansas City, is based on Moorish architecture. The common last name Medina. Salamanca. Cordova. The Guitar. Coffee. Cotton. I can go on about Muslim and Arab contribution. Do you have an Muslim link in your family? Why not write about it.

Looking at Latin America

Activist Faith: Grassroots Women in Democratic Brazil and Chile (Pennsylvania State Univ Press June 2005 ISBN 0271025492) by Carol Ann Drogus and Hannah Stewart- Gambino, two of today’s leading authorities on religion and politics in Latin America, have teamed up to produce the “first comprehensive study of women’s grassroots religious movements since the transition to democracy in Brazil and Chile.

On a theoretical level, the book compels us to rethink the conventional wisdom about the ‘death’ of social movements in Latin America. On a more human level, the interviews with women activists give voice to ‘ordinary heroes’ so often absent from the literature.” —Philip J. Williams, University of Florida. Quoted from PSU Press website.

Other Faiths

History of the Mormons in Argentina (Greg Kofford Books Aug 2005 ISBN 1589580524), Nestor Curbelo. Originally published in Spanish, this book is a groundbreaking book detailing the growth of the Church of Latter Day Saints in this Latin American country. Through numerous interviews and access to other primary resources, Curbelo has constructed a timeline and then details the story of the growth of the Church. This is an interesting book since El Paso has a large Mormon population, many Mexican Mormon who are descendants of those who fled Pancho Villa’s targeting of their religion. Plus, there are many Mormon colonies in Chihuahua.


New Mexico Press is always on a roll. Their The Alabados of New Mexico (July 1, 2005 ISBN 0826329675) by Thomas J. Steele focuses on the sacred Spanish-language hymns known as alabados originated in colonial New Spain in the 18th century. “This book includes a selection of the most beloved and most often sung hymns, in English and Spanish, as well as a basic explanation of the alabado.

Introductory material discusses the sources of alabados and the form's origin in late medieval spirituality. Thomas Steele defines terms and discusses the alabado as poetry, music, and oral tradition.”

In Cantemos Al Alba: Origins of Songs, Sounds, and Liturgical Drama of Hispanic New Mexico (Hardcover) also on Univ of New Mexico Press (June 16, 2006 ISBN 0826338747), Tomás Lozano gives us “the first book to trace the origins of Hispanic New Mexico's liturgical drama, early songs, and sounds to ancient European traditions.

"Tomás Lozano weaves a historical unifying thread of events originating in medieval Spain, passing through Mexico and into New Mexico. In the process, Lozano uncovers folklore never treated before. Lozano reveals a portion of United States history that to this day goes largely unrecognized. He demonstrates how the first music schools of what today is the U.S. actually began along the Río Grande Valley of New Mexico." - from book description

In his 17 chapters, Lozano presents over one hundred songs with original music notations, compares full dramatic exemplars, and brings forward recordings of perhaps forgotten sounds. Cantemos al Alba is an innovative study and bank of information that provides testimony for Lozano's anthological work.”

In Holy Intoxication to Drunken Dissipation: Alcohol Among Quichua Speakers in Otavalo, Ecuador (Paperback)(Univ of New Mexico Press Mar 16, 2006 ISBN 0826338143), Barbara Y. Butler shows how “on the eve of the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire, peoples throughout the Andes brewed beer from corn and other grains, believing that this alcoholic beverage, called asua, was a gift from the gods, a drink possessing the power to mediate between the human and divine.

Consuming asua to intoxication was a sacred tradition that humans and spirits shared, creating reciprocal joy and ties of mutual obligation. When Butler began research in Huaycopungo, Ecuador, in 1977, ceremonial drinking was causing hardship for these Quichua-speaking people. Then, in 1987, a devastating earthquake was interpreted as a message from God to end the ritual obligation to get drunk.”

More on Race and the Church

Also of interest is sociologist/evangelist Tony Campolo The Church Enslaved: A spirituality for Racial Reconciliation: "Two of the most vocal activists on racial issues in the church seek nothing less than a conversion of American Christianity. They directly challenge the churches to resume leadership in overcoming and redressing America's legacy of racial segregation. Campolo (
Revolution and Renewal: How Churches Are Saving Our Cities) and Battle (Practicing Reconciliation in a Violent World) expose the realities of racial division in the churches and then lift up a vision of a Church without racism. To achieve reconciliation within and among the denominations, they argue, both the black and the white church need to acknowledge and overcome substantial problems in their traditions. The authors provide an blueprint for how racially-reconciled churches can encourage activism in the cities, church involvement in politics, and responsible use of the Bible, ultimately helping to transform American society itself." Read a agnostic/atheist review of this book by clicking HERE.

Well, until next time.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Taking Our Land; Segundo Barrio may be gone in segundos

Barrio Blues

Dennis Bixler Marquez, director of Chicano Studies at UTEP has credited Abelardo Delgado with writing one of the first instructional modules for teachers designed to teach concepts of neighborhoods and barrio. "All this is a new field, segments of communities, tenterface, identity. Lalo was dealing with those same concepts ahead of his time," say Bixler.

Lalo's historic study A Demographic Description of the Barrio was printed in 1973. His novel Letters to Louise tells us the early life of Lalo in the Segundo Barrio of El Paso.

My favorite book is Los Atrevidos which was actually published with the last of the Juvenile Delinquency Project money. It is nice picture/photo book of Segundo with related poems by lalo describing each place in South El Paso. In my last interview with Lalo, he said that book has many location which are now gone.

I have tried to document various barrio of El Paso over the years. So far I got San Juan, La Roca, Lincoln, and just recently El Barrio Del Diablo. The sadness is that many of these barrios are no gone.

But now, the barrio is for sale. At least that what those fro the El Paso Del Norte grove want to do. They tell us to look at cities like Denver and Kansas City. I remember reading one of Manuel ram's books, I think it was Rocky Ruiz where he talks about the stadium area of Denver use to be Chicano neighborhoods.

Here in Kansas City, I've been seeing first hand how historic Chicano(a) neighborhoods try to fight back against Del Norte Group types. Like many cites, the social structure tried to keep Blacks and Chicanos closed in while using racial covenants to keep Chicanos and Blacks out of the White suburbs. In the KC area, Reece Nicoles was one of the biggest proponents of racial covenants. That was until the courts rule they could not used them.

Now, city want to "redevelop" their inner cities building lofts in old building and rezoning. Residents of Kansas City's Westside fought efforts to rezone their community last year, so I was surprise to read the the DNG was using KC as a model. Putting it straight, people are fighting back.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it was legal for a city to take property by eminent domain (not to be confused with UTEP) and then sell it to developers. Several states since then have passed law curbing eminent domain abuse.

Well, we'll keep you up to date, but keep you browsers on:

The Newspaper Tree
Paso del Sur Group

Cinco Puntos Publishers Get Booked

Bobby Byrd has putt out a book of poetry on Cinco Puntos Press: White Panties, Dead Friends and Other Bits and Pieces of Love. Also, Lee Myrill Byrd has published Riley's Fire (Algonquin Books). "Riley Martin, an adventurous, inquisitive seven-year old boy, is the hero of this immensely satisfying novel set in the isolated universe of Galveston’s original Shriners Burns Institute. It’s here that Riley is being treated for third-degree burns over 63 percent of his face and body. It’s here that he and his parents meet the future—his and theirs." Read more.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Some recent news: Dago to put out Texas anthology; Pasenos win awards

Hi folks, I was glad to get the University of New Mexico Press catalog last week and even happier to see that our own Dagoberto Gilb is returning to UNM Press (they published the much touted Magic of Blood) to publish Hecho en Tejas: An anthology of Texas-Mexican literature due out in November. The book description says its a "historic anthology that established the canon of Mexican American literature in Texas." It will include such writers as Texas' first Spanish-speaking writer, Alver Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, prose by Americo Paredes and Jovita Gonzalez, Rolando Hinjosa and Tomas Rivera, Estela Portillo Trambley, and even our adoptive Tejana Sandra Cisneros. Also inelastic are Ricardo Sanchez, Carmen Tafolla, Angela de hoyos, and Lalo Delgado. Why to go Dago! Read more at www.unmpress.com.

Chucos and Chucas win awards again

We missed some news in our last issue of Pluma Fronteriza and we are ashamed.

Rich Yanez shot me an email to tell me that Gabriel Gomez won the Andres Montoya Poetry Prize. That's two Pasenos (the other was Sheryl Luna) who have won this prize. Also, Alicia Gaspar de Alba shot one over to us: Two Awards. Her book Desert Blood won the Lambda Literary Foundation Award for Lesbian Mystery and the Latina Book Award for English-Language Mystery.

This led me to see other Chicano(a) and Latino(a) Lambda Literary Foundation Award winners include: Bullets and Butterflies: Queer Spoken Word Poetry, ed. Emanuel Xavier (Suspect Thoughts) and Antonio's Card/La Tarjeta de Antonio by Rigoberto Gonzalez (ChildrenÂ’s Book Press).

Also, David Romo's book Ringside Seat to a Revolution: An Underground Cultural History of El Paso and Juarez: 1893-1923 (Cinco Puntos Press) won Best History Book in the Latino Book Awards. For Best Novel - Adventure or Drama, Carry Me Like Water by Benjamin Alire Saenz (Rayo/ Harper Collins edition) won. And forBest Poetry Book - English, The Religion of Hands: Prose Poems and Flash Fictions (University of Arizona Press).

Take care everyone.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Anaya is just bad literature

Anaya as bad literature

Hello folks. It a cool KC night and here's this week blog.

The Kansas City alternative publication, The Pitch published a story about the battle to ban books in the Blue Valley School District in Southern Kansas City. Rodulfo Anaya is one of their targets. Bless me Ultima was challeged, but was not removed. Now the Nazi parents are trying to get more organized. Check out the story where on this "bad literture": Meet the Parent: Blue Valley's book crusaders have a new mouthpiece who really knows pornography when he sees it.

Abarca puts out book

We put out out last issue of Pluma Fronteriza last week. One of our Chicana professors at UTEP did not let us know was comming out with a book and we caught it in Ramon Renteria's book review page last week: Voices' shows kitchen as a base of strength. I remember Meredith's focus on food, so this aught to be a good book. Denise Chavez also has put out a book on food. Then there's of course Laura Esquivel, Trinidad Sanchez, Jr., and Jesus Tafoya who do the same. I actually think Tafoya focuses his scholarship on it.

Abarca's book is published on Texas A&M Press and if I'm correct, Norma Cantu is still one of the editors.

Albert Armendariz

Veteran El Paso attroney Albert Armendariz who help found MALDEF and the Mexican American Bar Association is featured in a new book that focuses on the U.S. Latino and Latinoa WWII Oral History Project at UT Texas. The book is called: A Legacy Greater Than Words: Stories of U.S. Latinos and Latinas of the WWII Generation (Paperback)(U.S. Latino & Latina WWII Oral History Project, Univ of Tex at Austin May 1, 2006 ISBN 0292714181), Maggie Rivas-Rodríguez. Since 1999, the U.S. Latino & Latina WWII Oral History Project at the University of Texas at Austin has captured the untold stories of this WWII generation. Altogether, the project videotaped more than five hundred interviews throughout the country and in Puerto Rico and Mexico. This volume features summaries of the interviews and photographs of the individuals. Among the people included are Mexican American civil rights leaders such as Pete Tijerina and Albert Armendariz of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and Virgilio Roel of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). Others are community leaders such as Pete and Elena Gallego of Alpine, Texas, and military leaders such as Colonel Hank Cervantes and flying ace Richard Candelaria. Women who served in the military are also included. There are academic trailblazers, too, such as Frank Bonilla, who became a major figure in Puerto Rican studies. And there are a few Latinos who describe serving in segregated "colored" units during the war, as their physical features placed them in African American communities. Overall, the vast majority of the men and women interviewed in A Legacy Greater Than Words led private lives, and their stories chronicle the everyday existence of Latinos in the 1930s and 1940s—stories that generally have been omitted from historical accounts of either the Great Depression or World War II. One of the oral histories the published in their little newspaper they are putting out covered Ernesto Martinez, the El Paso muralist and one of the liberators of a concentration camp during WWII.

U of A Press

It might be me, but I think the University of Arizona Press revampt its website. Looks neat: http://www.uapress.arizona.edu/. Check it out.

New books

Our next Libros, Libros is set to come out in about a week. There are some book that won't be listed until our Late Summer issue, but here's a glare. Texas Tech University Press is putting out a book on "community property." This might be above some of you who are not from Texas or Califas (I think Califas has com property), but the book, Hers, His, and Theirs Community Property Law in Spain and Early Texas by Jean A. Struntz shows how Texas when it wrote it constitution, instaed of swithcing to common law property ownership, decided to stay with the Spanish form called "community property.

Northwestern University Press will be releasing Mexican Village and Other Works. www.nupress.northwestern.edu. Its a collection of writing by Josefina Niggli, one of the first Latinas to have her worked published in the U.S. This book has been republished before, so no new news here. The University of New Mexico Press republished it in 1994. The description states, Nigglli was "Well ahead of what is now called Chicano literature." It I remember correctly, the book was published in 1945, so I'm not sure what the comment is suppose to mean as we had writers such as Mario Suarez, Mario A. Otero, Mariano G. Vallejo, Ireneo Paz, Leonor Villegas de Magnón, Manuel Gamio, Miguel Antonio Otero Jr., Felipe M. Chacón, Fray Angélico Chávez, Arthur Campa, Vicente Barnal, Daniel Venegas, Américo Paredes, Antonio de Fierro Banco, Teodoro Torres, as well as other Transition and Interaction Period writers. Nigglli published her poetry collection in Mexican Silhouettes in 1928 and her Mexican Folk Plays in 1938. But she's beat out by many writers in year before her. I think a good dose of Arte Publico's "Recover Our Hispanic Literary Herigate" (or what ever its called) is needed. Or a good dose of Tey Diana Rebolledo's writings. Anyway, Niggli's work is still historical in a period when not many women were writing. I'm not sure who the next substantial writer in Chicana literature was between Mexican Village and Rain of Scorpions. I'll look into it.

Northwestern will also be distributing Frozen Accident: Poems by Alfred Arteaga on Tia Chucha Press in October.

See you next Monday

Monday, June 12, 2006

20 Recommendations for Authors

As a publisher of two publications and book reviewer, I often run into the great barrier reef: Chicano(a) authors.

Sometimes I think they are their worst enemy.

Let's just say this: a published book is not going to sell itself.

For many authors, the goal of publishing a book is their lifelong dream as it should be.

But then, that's where they stop.

I know Rich Yanez told me when he was at ASU, Alberto Rios would give a little talk about copyright, promoting your book, and so on.

We need more of this. And don't get me started about copyright and wills. We're going to dedicate several issues to teaching Chicano(a) writer about copyright and we're going to give them a good tell off to them.

But let's talk about your book. Why won't it sell. Good reviews, ni madre. Another disappointing book for a publisher you have a somewhat good relationship with. How about publishing my next book? Why not look elsewhere.

An award for the book will help, but it's not enough.

So when looking at my list below, which is not meant to be comprehensive (I can think of more chingaderas if I had more coffee).

But note. People like novels and so do presses. The short story is a little less popular, but you do get their fans (like me). Poetry, God help you. I've heard horror stories from presses with stockpile of poetry books that won't sell. If they can convert them into fuel for our cars the better. I'm not dishing the genre's folks, but unless you Rudy Anaya, Sandra Cisneros, or publishing a book about getting laid at prom or "chasing papi," pay attention.

1. Especially if you are on your first book, invest in a road trip. Now, we're talking about those of us that don't receive 6 figures for their first book I've been putting together a list of venues for Chicano writers. Shit, just driving from EPT to Indio, Califas, I can name a few stops to give a platicas. Work with Chicano Studies departments so they can help promote your book. Talk to friends in those towns to give you lodging. Have them give you recommendations on bookstores, galleries, penas, cultural centers,day worker centers, etc.

2. Don't rely on your press to do your pub. Some presses can barely afford to do the first step: publish your book.

3. Invest in a website. Hey, folks, it's the 1990s for those of you who are behind. Everything is digital now. For the rest of you, it's the 21st Century. Paying someone to set up even a modest website will get you some good pub. Luis J. Rodriguez website tells us what's being published, where he will be speaking among other things. Hey, and if you are receiving the kind of money to afford someone to work your website fulltime, go for it. Examples, www.johnrechy.com and www.patmora.com. I don't know if these people are paid, but these webmaster are really good at keeping us up to date on que esta pasando.

4. Start a blog. People want to hear what you have to say without reading your book. Truth hurts. Hey, it's reality. But that blog may plant the seed to grow a book buyer. Talk about your tour. Alicia Gaspar de Alba's blog tells us where she's at and where she is going. Talk and give dibbs to other writers on your blog. People want to see that you are in the circle.

5. If your press doesn't do it, make yourself a media packet, both in print and digital. That way you can quickly send something out to the media or to people hoping to invite you to speak. Include news clips and a small bio. Digital pictures! That's big. People want to see a face with a word. Have a few available, but make sure they are good. Stick to black and white. Let's face it, some of you are good writers, pero son muy feos. Get a professional. We are not talking about a studio or pinche Glamour Shots, but someone who can take a good outdoor black and white. Need an example: Google Cynthia Farah Haines' photos of various Chicano(a) writers. Make sure to come to an agreement about the use of the photo because like books, photos are copyrighted. You may include in the packet a long description of you book and a short description. In short, we are talking about 50 words. Yes, it hurts, but try describing a book in 400 words.

6. Your NOT, AS MY FRIEND RICH SAYS, "PINCHE CORMAC MCCARTHY." Make yourself available to the press especially when doing a visit to a city. Not responding to calls. That's called "dissing your fans." The press can be your greatest ally, but in my promotion of Chicano(a) writers, I've found some so hard to get a hold of and some impossible to get an interview with. And I'm not alone. If you can't talk, ask if they can interview after work hours. Come one, reporters interview people after 5pm all the time. I've even done post-10 o'clock interviews. IF you can't talk to the press because you are busy, ask them when their deadline is, so you can fit an interview in before its too late.

7. If you rich and powerful and getting the 6-figures, still, don't diss the press and the fans. Ego, vatos and vatonas, watch them. You'll be dead soon anyway.

8. Consider posting some of your poems or short stories on the web. Your publisher might not like this, but hey, print is dying vatos and vatonas, you need to catch the younger generations. Plus, not everybody may be able to afford your book.

9. Keep a list of who is reviewing books (especially the kind of book you write), and if your press doesn't do it, send those book reviewers a review copy. Again, if your press does not do it, HAVE A DIGITAL COVER IMAGE OF YOUR BOOK AVAILABLE to email out. Post one on your website to be downloaded. JPEGS are better. Make sure its big. You get better quality and it is easier to shrink an image down than to enlarge it.

10. Pre-pub copies. This is reality folks. I've found the higher I go into the more "distinguished" newspapers, reviews on books that are already published don't fly. A month ago is an old book to them. Two week ago is old to them. Many of these newspapers want to publish a review on a book the week it comes out or the week before. That's why prepublication copies are important.

11. Don't limit yourself to the US. Our publication is subscribed to by people worldwide. Seek them out.

12. If you are not associated with a university or institution, get some business cards. You can even put the name of you new book on it. You can even create an email with the title of you new book that serves as an alias email and goes directly to your professional email address.

13. Make sure you understand your contract with your press. Make sure you understand the agreement about how many copies you are going to get.

14. Many presses do this, but if you are going at it solo, send a press release with you review copy.

15. In the press release, talk about how your book would serve a good book to use in the classroom.

16. I haven't seen anyone do this yet, but especially if you've hit it big time, you should enter a chat room. Announce it beforehand, so you can have some chatters.

17. If you are self-publishing, make sure to let people know how to order your book. Put an address, email, and website in or on the book. If self-publishing, the web it your greatest book seller.

18. Hit up, (it pains me to say it) "Hispanic" Heritage activities and 5 de Mayo crap. Hit up universities. Hit up high school conferences and college conferences.

19. If you have not, consider hiring a coach to give you a couple of sessions on public reading. We are not taking about slamming. We just pointing out that some of you out there can cure people's insomnia.

20. Visit the hometown. Hey, EPT use to dislike it's hometown Chicano(a) authors. Now when any of them have a new book: Time to visit the parents and fam! But while I'm there, do several readings.

Well vatos, that's my romp. Hope it helps. Remember, like rock n' roll, it usually your second book that's the big test, not your first. And just like rock n' roll, we see 5-year bands. We hear of Chicano(a) and Latino(a) writers getting a 6-figure contract and then disappearing into oblivion. Your window is only open for a short period of time after your first success. Take advantage of it.