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

Octavio Romano

Friday, December 08, 2006

Sandra Cisneros is a Sellout!: Our Love Hate Relationship with Successful Chicano Writers, Part III

Note: Please read parts I and II of this post below

Waiting for the Fall

But what is it with us that we begin to hate our successful writers after supporting them through their careers as young writers up until they made the big time. It’s true, and I admit, there are many big egos made and even big egos made by those who haven’t made the big time -- but think they have.

However, don’t we want our authors to make it into the “mainstream,” the “big time”?

I think our dissing them once they make it is the American in us.

Chicano writers and activism

But Ray, you way, Sandra, or this writer, and that one, never comes to our rallies, we never see him yelling “si se puede.” First, that would be incorrect. Many of our writers do come to our community activist events. But others would say that when our famous writers go to rallies and the like, they are mobbed by the fans, somewhat taking away from the goal of the rally. When you’ve achieved such status as some writers have, this happens frequently.

So there are no real answers here and I do not have many solutions.

But looking back at many of the Chicana writers back in the day, for those of us who were in elementary school in the 1980s, Cisneros was probably the first Chicano(a) writer we read. In fact, aside, from an excerpt of Ernesto Galarza’s Barrio Boy in our literature anthology, the excerpt of House was the only Chicano(a) lit I was exposed to in elementary school.

Back to today

But again, in my opinion, the best Chicana writing today is being put out by smaller presses. This is especially true of the poets. And we thought poetry was dead. Then again, the big presses hardly touch poetry.

So am I dissing the “successful” writers? I don’t know. I just always root for the small guy or gal.

As a critic, looking at many of the books written today, I am still apt to choose not releasing a bad book review to a publication and only letting the good reviews out. I guess that is my weakness as a critic. I frequently leave books half finished because I cannot bare to read them.

I will have more to write about this later. I know what you’re saying. You are probably comparing me to the caveman in Mel Brook’s History of the World, Part I pissing on the wall drawing at the Vallon-Pont-d'Arc caves in what is now France. I tell you, my bladder is frequently full.

The other topic I have to write about is this: “Are many of our new writers who are getting big book deals, slipping into oblivion after their fist book is published?” I guess Cisneros would be a testament contrary to that statement. She’s not a new writers, but nevertheless, her popularity had endured. Again, are/am we/I dissing our successful writers?

We love them while they are new and struggling, up-and-coming, but our love sours and grows cold when they become successful.

In a way looking at some Chicana and Latina writers being published big time, I’m sometimes saying to myself, “Bring back Sandra! Hurry up Denise, put out another book! (oh yea, she just did), Ana Castillo we need more?” Now there are some exceptions so don’t jump on me. There are even some deserving Chicano writers who are publishing big. The other strange thing is that Chavez and Castillo chose not to publish in New York for their last books. So what is happening?

Sell outs. Vendidos. Successes and unsuccesses. Mainstream or downstream, in conclusion, I guess the only thing that is 100% SELLING OUT are Cisneros books?

Texas Store Owner takes Samaniego to Court

Texas Store owner harassed by Sheriff for warning of Minutemen

KTSM - El Paso
December 5, 2007

The Paso del Norte Civil Rights Group decided to help Jose Rodriguez, because they say his case is a prime example of someone's constitutional rights being violated. Back in November, Sheriff's deputies cited Rodriguez for posting signs on a pole outside his store in San Elizario. One warned
people of upcoming roadblocks and the other spoke out against 'Minutemen'. Sheriff's deputies gave Rodriguez a ticket for the unauthorized use of City property to post them. However, Paso del Norte says this case violates his right to free speech, and is actually part of a bigger problem of deputies harassing people who can't defend themselves. In a written statement we received from the Sheriff's Office, they declined to comment on this case due to pending litigation. Rodriguez's court date is coming up later this month,,,


New Books from the University of Texas Press

Alla en el Rancho Grande. Here's a new one from U of Texas Press: Remembering the Hacienda: Religion, Authority, and Social Change inHighland Ecuador, Lyon. A pathfinding study of how indigenous peasants experienced, responded to, and remember the often-harsh conditions of servitude in Ecuador's

Schlatter, Aryan Cowboys: White Supremacists and the Search for a New Frontier, 1970?2000

A startling analysis of how modern white supremacists have co-opted the mythology and environment of the American West to position their cause among historically American ideals.


Hernandez Castillo, and Stephen, Dissident Women: Gender and Cultural Politics in Chiapas

In this timely ethnographic study, nine Mexican and U.S. anthropologistsexamine the achievements of and challenges facing women participating inthe Zapatista movement .


Brown, Maxwell, and Little, La utz awach?: Introduction to Kaqchikel Maya Language

An innovative language-learning guide that will help students,researchers, and professionals in many fields quickly develop basic communication skills in one of the four major Mayan languages.


A Christmas Carol in Spanish

Though the Kansas City Repertory Theatre's A Christmas Carol is a long-established Kansas City tradition, there is a new way to experience the show that will be of interest to Spanish-speaking audiences.

by Steve Walker A Christmas Carol
by Charles Dickens - directed by Linda Ade Brand
Spencer Theatre-4949 Cherry Street
Nov. 18-Dec. 24, 2006
26th Annual Production!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Sandra Cisneros is a Sellout!: Our Love Hate Relationship with Successful Chicano Writers, Part II

Making it Big

So admiring the struggling writers may not be so much a Chicano(a) phenomena, but more of an “American” (yes, I cringe at the word too) one. “American” culture loves the rags to riches story. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Go hungry. Starving artist. Then make it big.

The greatest example of this is Elvis. You thought I was going to name a writer right?

Elvis, a trucker, raised by a single mom. Poor. Southern. He goes to become one of the biggest icons of the 20the Century and even a big icon today.

But it is that story we love and sometimes manufacture in our own minds. The early media hype of Mike Tyson, was closely tailored after Rocky. Thug taken from the street. A Mickey-like trainer, Cus D'Amato, takes him in and trains him. We just love that story and I think it transfers over into Chicano(a) Literature. I guess our literature is more “American” than we think.

After making it big, there is the fall from grace. At least some of us hope for it.

Selling out

As soon as our writers make it big, they are soon hit with the onslaught of “selling out” by Chicano(a) Literature fans. We say they are only famous because of this and that…”They really have not done much to deserve this credit…They have a big ego…Overrated…Blah,” Blah, Blah. This is also part of that “American” ideal. Once they are on top, we love to see them fall.

I think we do this to Cisneros and other writers. In Cisneros case, there is always the criticism that she is only famous for House on Mango Street. Ilan Stavans said that much of her fame was based on a small group of works. Truthfully, I think this did not take the entire writer’s career into account though. We frequently look at writer’s careers as starting with their first book. Sometimes we believe a writer is not really a writer until they have a book.

Many writers know the hard road it took before they had a book published. For Cisneros, it was House on Mango Street. Or was it? But before that, she had been publishing, I think, since the late 1970s in various journals such as Mango and America’s Review. Then she published the chapbook Bad Boys in 1980 off the Mango/Chicano Chapbook Series. I think it was actually #8.

The One Book

Many famous writers we know are famous simply because of one book. Think about that. Salinger and others. Some even if they published other stuff afterwards, they are still remembered for one book. This crosses cultural lines and is somewhat bothersome to some artists.

Los Lobos have other songs others than “La Bamba.” Their battle with the “La Bamba” stigma has been written about.

We remember the Baroque composer Pachabel for his “Canon in D.” We also remember her for…actually that’s about it.

In one NPR story they were interviewing Barber about his Adagio, and he angrily said, “I’ve written other stuff!”

Lalo Delgado, in an interview I will release later, chuckled when he talk about being known for “Stupid America” as a signature poem. I asked him about the high and lows about having a signature poem. “I wrote other stuff, too,” he said making fun of himself.

Even our statements about being published in
New York are not entirely correct. Felipe Ortego’s anthology We Are Chicanos was the first anthology published by a major New York Press. That was in the early 1970s. Around that time, many books were being tapped by New York Presses including Richard Vasquez’ Chicano, the paperback edition of Ricardo Sánchez’ Canto y Grito mi liberacion (a title in Spanish at that), among others.

The flock to publish Chicanos in the early 1970s can be compared to the flock to publish “Latino(a)s” today. I think critics will agree, that just like today, when many New York publishing houses are flocking to publish “Latino(a),” and much more “Latina,” writers, it may be compared to the same rush in the early 1970s. Unfortunately, I’m hoping this rush will be for the better. The 1970s rush was short lived and few of titles published a by New York presses back then are memorable and somewhat looked upon with embarrassment by critics. Some are now being republished and to some critics, undeservingly.

On the other side of that, I recently saw Carmen Tafolla in Kansas City. She talked about when she was a blossoming writer, she would open books, and every book in its first few pages said “New York.” So, when she was young, she thought all writers came from New York and all stories had to take place there. She said she started a novel with a character in New York, but quickly realized it wasn’t her. Anyway, that’s just a side note.

Back to Cisneros. House was published I think in 1986 on Arte Público. I seem to remember it earlier, but I may be wrong. Many of us do not realize this fact (Downtown Brown has the original on the main page of his website.). We are use to seeing the New York Press paperback edition we all use in classrooms. We forget that House was published by Arte Público, though the largest of the small presses, it is still minuscule in comparison to the New York presses.

Many people also put down Arte Público because it publishes “nobodies.” But many of these writers and their books will go on to the big time. Cisneros is perhaps the greatest example. Victor Villasenor’s Rain of Gold was also first published at Arte Público. Both of these author’s book were later taken by New York publishers.


Introducing New House Intel Committee Chair Silvestre Reyes. Remember the Border?

News: Nancy Pelosi's pick to head the influential House Intelligence Committee used to be the top border agent in El Paso, back when he looked like an up-and-coming Republican. Now he may be the perfect man for one of the Dems' most difficult jobs.

Read more at: http://www.motherjones.com/news/update/2006/12/introducing_reyes.html

Queso Mennonita to be pasturized

Check out the NPR Story on the Mennonites of Chihuahua, all to familiar with Pasenos.

Mexico's Canadian Mennonites

Listen to this story...by Lourdes Garcia-Navarro

Morning Edition, November 28, 2006 · In the 1920s, the Mexican government wanted to settle the barren northern areas of the country with industrious farmers.

At the invitation of the then-president, 20,000 Mennonites left Canada and settled in the state of Chihuahua.

They are still there, a flourishing community so well known that one of Mexico's signature cheeses is named for them: queso menonita.


New Anthology Charts Latin America's Aspirations and Challenges

South End Press has released a new anthology that charts Latin America’s aspiration and challeges.

ON Dispatches from America, Noam Chomsky says, "After suffering half a century of vicious military dictatorship and state terror, and the disaster of rigid adherence to the neoliberal doctrines of the 'Washington consensus,' Latin America has undergone remarkable changes that offer real hope for a better future."

Publishers’s Descriptions

Lost in the coverage of the midterm elections here was the outcome of another historical political event, this one unfolding in Nicaragua's presidential race. "The Sandinista victory in Nicaragua shows that South America's progressive wave is now definitively lapping its way northward," says Teo Ballvé, co-editor of Dispatches from Latin America: On the Frontlines Against Neoliberalism, a new anthology documenting the rise of popular movements in Latin America.

The New York Times concurs: "[an Ortega win] would be a defeat for the Bush administration, which strongly opposed his election...[and appears] to be another gain for leftists in Latin America." Other reports, citing Ortega's campaigning on a platform of "peace and love" and "spiritual revolution," challenge interpreting his election as further evidence for Latin America's "rising Left."

While Ortega's election, the re-election of Lula in Brazil, and the compromise on Panama for the UN Security Council are not total victories for the left, they are not defeats. As Dispatches co-editor Vijay Prashad writes, "If there is no 'rise of the Left,' there is certainly a comprehensive roll-back of US influence in Latin America. That alone should draw readers to study the roots of the dynamics of change in the region. How did we go so quickly from Pinochet to neoliberalism and now to this...a period of hope, where the tide can shift in any direction?"

This change has emerged throughout the region, building from the ground up. From the rise of the Zapatistas in Chiapas to the presidential elections of indigenous leaders and radicals like Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales, long-standing and nascent movements of resistance are transforming Latin America from the laboratory of neoliberalism--popularly know as "globalization"--into a launching pad for resistance. Drawing from the pages of the well-respected NACLA Report and reporting on countries from Mexico to Argentina, Dispatches from Latin America offers a riveting series of accounts that bring new insight into the region's struggles and victories.

Progressive victories in Latin America were once seen as anomalies, but as Dispatches makes clear "business as usual" in Latin America has been forever changed.

$19.00 paper | 0-89608-768-9 | 376 pages
For more information on Dispatches from
Latin America please contact Alexander Dwinell at 617-547-4002
or alexander@southendpress.org

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Sandra Cisneros is a Sellout!: Our Love Hate Relationship with Successful Chicano Writers, Part I

“Sandra Cisneros is a sellout!” were the words I heard at a conference in the Texas valley as one young Tejana writer said while participating on a panel.

It’s been almost 10 years since I heard those words and it has taken me ten years to ponder them.

It is true, that Sandra Cisneros is one of our divas of Chicano(a) literature. Though they quarreled (or was it their agents), even Ilan Stavans said she’s achieved “divas status.”

But there are many reasons we are to appreciate her more than in anytime in the Chicano(a) Renaissance. I’ll go into that later.

I read several blogs over the last few months that took me back to this topic. The topic is an old one, rusting at the sides of every Chicano(a) writers and literature scholar since the dawn of our renaissance.

The old saying is “not many writers are being published by the major book publishers.” It’s a soulful mourn by a literature genre yearning for an audience. Most people, when they say that, are referring to the New York publishers.

About ten years ago, on the old Chiclit listserv, I said, that not many Chicano(a) writers have made it into the mainstream. That baited a rhetorical question from the late Octavio Romano: “While what is mainstream?”

Looking at the whiteman’s dictionary, Webster is defines “mainstream” as: “a prevailing current or direction of activity or influence.” Oxford defines is as “normal or conventional ideas, attitudes, or activities.” That’s not what I was going for, but oh well.

But in all writers and critics, there is some sense, many times self defined, on what is the “mainstream.”

So that begs the question, do we begin to hate writers once they’ve “made it.”

The Struggling Writer and American Phenomenon

I am a big fan of the struggling writer. I can speak for other critics. I very often look for self-published books or books from small presses to review and spotlight.

This comes from my fondness for the older renaissance writers like Lalo Delgado, whom I was very close to. The self-publishing master grew into a legend with only one time getting a book published in a place outside of a day’s drive of his house. Yet, he became a legend.

Some of it comes from my distaste for the saturation of the big media which is now in the hands of five big corporations. We’ll write more about that later.

I see many of these writers today following in the footsteps of now prominent Chicano(a) writers. When Sandra came to El Paso, I think it was in the late 1980s or early 1990s, she was there for almost a week doing workshops and such. I see many writers in the same mold today. I see this being done by young writers today.

To be continued

Revoluncionarias: One of my favorite picture books

I first bought this book in Mexico, a wonderful book of photos of women in the Mexican Revolution. Kudos to Cinto Puntos for putting it out in English.

Las Soldaderas: Life Blood of the Revolution

Cinco Puntos Press is proud to present the English edition of a remarkable collaboration between Mexico’s best independent press, Ediciones ERA, and Mexico’s Institute of Anthropology and History. The photographs of Las Soldaderas: Women of the Mexican Revolution and Elena Poniatowska’s commentary rescue the women of the Mexican Revolution from the dust and oblivion of history. These are the Adelitas and Valentinas celebrated in famous corridos mexicanos, but whose destiny was much more profound and tragic than the idealistic words of ballads. The photographs remind Poniatowska of the trail of women warriors that begins with the Spanish Conquest and continues to Mexico’s violent revolution.