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

Octavio Romano

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Rigo Reviews: Felicia Luna Lemus's "Like Son"

Unusual characters meet universal themes in family saga
Rigoberto Gonzalez

A writer with an unparalleled literary style and attitude, Felicia Luna Lemus comes charging full force with her second novel, "Like Son" (Akashic Books, $14.95 paperback), a page-turning account of "a most unusual trinity" of characters navigating through the most universal of themes: love and heartache.


Friday, May 25, 2007

Juarez Women Murders

Diana Washtington Valdez will be at Barnes & Noble in the West Side (El Paso) at 2 p.m., May 26 (Saturday) to sign copies of The Killing Fields: Harvest of Women, the investigative book (in English) about the Juarez women's murders, drug cartel, corruption, et al. Two years ago, the bookstore hosted a signing for Spanish-language edition, Cosecha de Mujeres. We've received very positive reviews of the book in both languages. The English edition contains updated material.

University of California Press releases The Farmworkers' Journey

Farmworkers' Journey by Ann Aurelia López

"This book tells a powerful and moving story of lives affected by agricultural and trade policies, migration, and the dehumanization of farm workers. The text is an eye-opening blend of academic research and testimonials of the people directly touched by the powerful market forces that have been unleashed by trade liberalization. "—Alejandro Nadal, Science, Technology and Development Program, El Colegio de México

Illuminating the dark side of economic globalization, this book gives a rare insider's view of the migrant farmworkers' binational circuit that stretches from the west central Mexico countryside to central . . .

For more information, click on The Farmworkers' Journey

Subjects: Anthropology; American Studies; California & the West; Economics & Business; Ethnic Studies; Latin American Studies ; Politics ; Sociology
978-0-520-25072-7, cloth $55.00
978-0-520-25073-4, paper $21.95


Join in solidarity with other mujeres from el valle y todo Tejas in organizing Mujerfest 2007, a day of workshps, music, film, poetry, and art. Mujerfest 2007: This Bridge We Call Home will take place on July 28th at Mercedes Civic Center in the lower Rio Grande Valley. A special zine honoring Gloria Anzaldua will be available. Submit your proposals for discussions, exhibits or platicas for Mujerfest now! Get info at www.caferevolucion.org/mujerfestinfo.html or contact: noemi.mtz@gmail.com.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Is it time for Chicana(o) book reviewers to get tougher?

If I remember correctly, it was about 1997 when I published my first book review on a Chicano title. It was a very basic book review on Charlie Trujillo’s Soldados: Chicanos in Vietnam. Actually, Dr. Dennis Bixler-Marquez asked if I could write it for the El Paso Times. He had been asked to do it originally, but I guess thinking I would also be a good candidate to write it so he asked me to do it. Both Bixler and I had previously presented at a conference on the Vietnam War.

So began my busting out of reviews of Chicano(a) titles. I was not the first to contribute to the paper, but it was about that time that Ramon Reteria took over the book review page at the El Paso Times and he was looking for books that an El Paso audience would like. Since then, reviews have come from Carlos Ortega, Bixler-Márquez, Rigoberto González, Sergio Troncoso, Daniel Olivas among others. I think I remember some from Dagoberto Gilb, Ray González, and Christine Granados, but correct me if I’m wrong. For sure, I know González and Granados have contributed essays.

I grew tired of Chicano(a) Literature

I tend to like reviewing books by El Paso authors, but as the list of El Paso’s Chicano writers grew, it became harder and harder for me to keep up. Law school loomed and though I was able to keep reviewing books, by 2004, I grew somewhat tired of Chicano Literature because that’s all I was reading.

I missed books in other genres of literature. I had strayed from many non-fiction titles I once devoured. In 2006, I intended to read only academic non-fiction works on Chicano(a)s. Though here and there, I threw in some creative literature, I mostly stayed the course. The books would come in the mail and still do, and I am hung, drawn, and quartered by the need to give these new writers exposure and my need to read works outside of our genre.

In 2007, we are seeing more and more reviews by Chicano(a) on Chicano(a) literature. Back in the late 1990s, there were some here and there, but nothing on the level that the El Paso Times provides. I began looking for other venues. I found some, but most have been low-key. Other writers have found better venues. The Los Angeles Times is one to mention.

Nevertheless, I cannot stop from feeling our books are still not making it into major newspapers. One here and there will pop up, especially if the review is on a book by a big-name Chicano(a) writers, however, with Latinos now being the largest “minority” group in the U.S., book reviews are not matching our output.

Do our books see the trash or moved to the back of the book reviewer’s closet. Are our books seen as too ethnic, something regular White readers will not like? Then again, there are those who say White readers are Chicano(a) Literature’s biggest reader base. I don’t think editors of book review pages have caught on to that though.

Still, university presses publish much of our literature. Second would be by middle presses. Third, the major presses. Fourth, the small presses. Then there are those that bypass all of them and go directly to the Internet or self publish. The major papers will look less at the small press and not at all at anything self published.

Many book review editors rely on the wire services that put out books reviews like Publisher Weekly. I still have an email from John Mark Eberhart of the Kansas City Star boasting that he would only publish reviews that made it into those publications. That reminds me, I need to dig that email up and comment and the various interesting comments Eberhart had on literature.

Writers reviewing writers/Non-writers reviewing Writers

On another note, most of the Chicano(a) reviewers are also fellow writers. Of course that brings up the old conspiracy theory that the reviews come as favors to other writers/friends. Just the same as some writers’ anthologies contain the same “friends” as the last anthology they edited. This brings up some of the allegations that foetry.com has brought up. Don’t get me started. That’s not the point I’m trying to make.

Writers’ reviewing other writers is a double-edged sword. It is basically a review from the inside. Someone who is not a writer also has a double-edged sword. She gives us a view from the outside. Unlke the writers, she is not meant to create, but to destroy, a real critic. Well, maybe not a real critic, but one you'd enjoy drinking Tecates with. However, unlike the writer, her literary knowledge may not be as keen as a writer. Transversely, some writers write more outside the mode. I can definitely see a difference in the MFA/English Major reviewers and those who are not MFA/English department trained.

On the other hand, that leaves a hole. I for example am not a good reviewer. I’ve found my literary knowledge quite low in how to really read novel, a short story, and fuck poetry. Especially in the poetry realm, I find my carnales(as) who have studied literature, are keener than I am in reviewing poetry.

My explanation follows. I entered reviewing to give light to struggling writers. That’s basically been my main mission with Pluma Fronteriza, Libros, Libros, and the Pluma Fronteriza blog. But since then, I think others have taken the rein, others who are much better reviewers than I. I mostly gave a short summary of the book, made few comments, made some comparisons, and that’s about it. Not great reviews, maybe a few unpolished gems here and there.

I never thought I really review(ed) books critically. I think other writers did it better. Furthermore, it was hard for me to write a bad reviews -- still is. I have a host of bad reviews of book in the crevices of my computer files, which I never sent out. I felt guilty for the writers. I feel sorry for the writers. Months later I’m screaming, “That book got an award.” Then I’m thinking, am I insane? Was it only me? Was the selection committee insane?

I think other writers have this feeling as I have observed in the comments that other reviewers put in their emails when they send me a review.

So who knows? I’m just asking questions. Is the review better from the outside or inside?

Our need for courageous critics

What it gets down to is that Chicano(a) Literature needs critics. You see really good critics in the literary criticism area of our literature. However, their reviews have slowed down increasingly since the 1970s. These guys and gals, didn’t hold anything back. They were not there to create, but to destroy the lifelong dreams and works of writers.

Will our literature improve if we were more critical? Maybe. I have to admit, I saw some zanty titles in the last two years, some of which I started to read but never finished knowing I would write a bad review. I get that guilty feeling again like squirming because you have to take a piss but you are listening to someone speak to you and can’t leave the room.

Reviews on the internet

Most of my thoughts above regard reviews in newspapers. Though our reviews have increased, we are still getting a blind eye.

However, I think the real future of reviews of Chicano(a) Literature is on the Internet. No editors. No word limits (I frequently get the scream of an editor who can’t get his university-trained writer to write a review in 400 words). You can say anything you want on the Internet, especially on blogs.

No editor and no publisher to mettle in your thoughts. The rise of blogs like La Bloga and ours have expanded the criticism of literature and I think that is where the future of book reviews lie as newspapers slowly start their death rattle.

That book that took you 20 years to write, a reviewer can destroy or save in 400 words.

I take the middle ground. Sometimes we need favors. We still need to help our struggling writers.

Nevertheless, I am still waiting for the reviewers who will be a critic and nothing else. Won’t pull punches. Won’t do favors. Like the caveman in Mel Brooks History of the World, Part I, who critically looks at the cave art in Lascaux caves in southwestern France and pisses on it. So easy, a caveman can do it.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Journalists Should Look to History before Calling an event the Worse Massacre in US History

It has been a few weeks since the Virginia Tech Massacre and I guess one of our off-the topic post is due.

I saw many of the articles that floated around on the web dealing with race and the massacre.

My focus is on how the media covered the event. Many times, especially on NPR and CNN you heard the following statements:

“The worst mass shooting in the nation’s history."

“The worst mass killing in US history.”

Journalist should be careful when making such statements. Most likely, many of these general statements were made without any historical research into their validity or else were made off hand. However, it also shows us how White culture looks at the mass killing of people of color. Although people of color were victims of the VT massacre, our history shows many other events in US history that would qualify as “worst” in the US history books. Many surpass the VT Massacre by a long shot.

Let us just look at mass killing since 1776, the birth of our nation. In 1778, the Cherry Valley Massacre took place in which Loyalists and their Iroquois allies, led by Walter Butler and Joseph Brant, led a raid on Cherry Valley, and this ended in a massacre of 33 people. This might be able to be let go since this took place during war, so let us look on. However, any killing of unarmed, POW, disarmed, wounded, is still a massacre in my eyes.

On May 29, 1780, the Waxhaw Massacre took place in Buford, South Carolina as British killed some ‘Americans’ as they attempted to surrender. Again, many of the deaths were in battle so it hard to say this was the worst, but the British killed an estimated 113 and mortally wounded more than a hundred.

Though not part of the US yet, in California in 1837, several genocidal raids against Native Americans took place in California. Led by José María Amador, a group of Californians killed about 200 Native Americans. Here, one can say, California was not yet part of the union.

However, in 1852 California was part of the union when the Bridge Gulch Massacre occurred. In this instance, 120 Native American men, women, and children were killed. Wow. This may qualify as the worse, but let look on.

On Sept. 7 (11?), 1857, Mountain Meadows Massacre took place. Here Mormons killed between 100 and 140 men, women, and children from Arkansas after convincing them to turn over their weapons.

On April 12, 1864, at Fort Pillow, Tennessee, after Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest (founder of the Ku Klux Klan) demanded surrender of Union Fort Pillow and it was refused. Forrest's forces assaulted the fort defenses in a particularly violent battle until the Union defenders flew a white flag. However, Confederate forces continued firing upon the surrendering soldiers killing or wounding over 354 of the 580 men. In An Unerring Fire, author Richard Fuchs examines the event as a product of the social milieu and the individual personality of Nathan Bedford Forrest, who Fuchs believes was an accessorial inspiration before and a passive participant during the massacre. Again, during wartime.

On Nov. 19, 1864, there was the infamous Sand Creek Massacre. Colorado Volunteers under the command of Col. John M. Chivington attacked a village of Cheyenne and Arapaho. The Native Americans were there at the instructions of the Commander of Fort Lyon, who had promised them protection until the Native Americans could negotiate a formal peace settlement with the military commander of the Department of Kansas. The Whites killed approximately 150 Native Americans. This would whole-heartedly qualify as one of the worst mass killing in US history. The Native Americans were unarmed and not at war.

There was also the Memphis Riot, May 1-4, 1866. You learn that urban acts of genocide against in African Americans are many times called “riots” in US history. The same can be said for urban acts of violence again people of Mexican decent (ex. Zoot Suit Riots). The word “riot” may be used as to place blame on the victims. Here, police and firefighters led the way in terrorizing African Americans. White rioters killed forty-six African Americans, shot or beat two hundred more, and raped five women. The mob burned eight to nine homes, four churches, and twelve schoolhouses; only the arrival of Union troops restored order. Source: Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Women In America.

Another one that would surpass VT is the January 23, 1870 Massacre on the Marias in which U.S. soldiers slaughtered 173 Blackfeet men, women, and children on the Marias River in Montana in response for the killing of Malcolm Clarke and the wounding of his son by a small party of young Blackfeet men.

Another one that would surpass VT is the April 30, 1871 Camp Grant Massacre. Here, in what was Arizona Territory at the time, in the pre-dawn hours, a group of 148 Arizonans -- comprised of 6 Anglos, 94 San Xavier Papagos, and 48 Mexicans -- massacred 8 men and 110 women and children in the brief span of 30 minutes. In addition, the perpetrators kidnapped 28 Arivaipa Apache infants to sell in the child slave trade.

The next would definitely be the worst “mass killing” or “mass shooting,” however you want to look at it: On Dec. 29, 1890 at Wounded Knee, the U.S. Army massacred 300 disarmed and unarmed Native American men, women, and children. The dead include Native American leader Sitting Bull.

I think I made my point, but remember these:

April 1866. Circleville Massacre. Mormons massacred 16 Native Americans.

July 36, 1866. New Orleans Massacre. An estimated 50 African Americans and their supporters are killed and 200 injured by White rioters.

Nov. 27, 1868. Washita Massacre. George Armstrong Custer and the 7th Calvary attack a Chaynne village on the Washita Reservation in Oklahoma. Though the Native Americans offered no resistance and surrendered, the U.S. Army massacred them and killed their leader Black Kettle who was waving a white flag.

1887. Louisiana. Ten thousand workers at sugar plantations in Louisiana, organized by the Knights of Labor, went on strike for an increase in their pay to $1.25 a day. Most of the workers were African American, but some were White, infuriating Governor Samuel Douglas McEnery, who declared, "God Almighty has himself drawn the color line." The militia was called in, but then withdrawn to give free rein to a lynch mob in Thibodaux, which killed somewhere between 20 and 300 people. An African American newspaper described the scene:

"Six killed and five wounded" is that the daily papers said, but from an eyewitness to the whole transaction we learn that Whites killed no less than 35 African Americans. Lame men and blind women shot; children and hoary-headed grandsires ruthlessly swept down! The Negroes offered no resistance; they could not, as the killing was unexpected. Those of them not killed took to the woods, a majority of them finding refuge in this city.

Zinn, 2004; http://www.dougriddle.com/essays/sk20021220.html, retrieved July 21, 2005.

1921 Tulsa Race Riot. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, Whites massacre hundreds of African American residents of the prosperous Greenwood community. The earnest Sheriff McCullough worried about vigilantes running amok; the racist publisher Richard Lloyd Jones sought to sell newspapers by appealing to White bias; the defiant ex-slave Townsend Jackson refused to comply with Jim Crow laws; and the hapless Dick Rowland's arrest for accidentally bumping into a white girl triggers the slaughter. During the 16 hours of rioting, over 800 people were admitted to local hospitals with injuries, an estimated 10,000 were left homeless, 35 city blocks composed of 1,256 residences were destroyed by fire, and $1.8 million (nearly $17 million after adjustment for inflation) in property damage. Officially, Whites killed thirty-nine people, although most experts agree that the actual number of African American citizens killed during the riot to be around 300. http://www.tulsareparations.org/TulsaRiot2Of3.htm, retrieved July 23, 2005.

Aug. 5, 1920 - Jan. 27, 1923. Rosewood Massacres. Florida, USA. After an alleged rape of a White woman by an African American man, white residents of Sumner, Florida, (northern Florida) massacred African Americans in the town of Rosewood over a period of a week (starting on Jan. 5, 1923). Here, Whites killed between 70-250 African American men and women and many more wounded. Whites killed many by lynching and killed one by burning him at the stake. The whites burned the towns of Ocoee and Rosewood, whose populations are mostly African American.

1942. Detroit Race Riot. In a 'race riot' in Detroit on June 21, 34 were killed and 700 injured.

Therefore, the main message here is journalist should be careful in use of their words. Journalists can call the VT Massacre the “worst school mass shooting” or “university killing” or “university gun killing,” or even “worse mass shooting by a lone gunman,” but they should not commemorate one massacre by stepping on the victims of another, especially when they are mostly Native Americans and African Americans.