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

Octavio Romano

Friday, July 23, 2010

Questions for the Dean of Chicano(a) Literary Criticism: Felipe Ortego; El Paso Writer Updates and New Books in July 2010

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Felipe Ortego y Gasca

The following in our series in questions we pose to the Dean of Chicano(a) Literary Criticism, Felipe Ortego.

Ray Rojas: Dr. Ortego, the Pluma Fronteriza blog is posting a a retrospective on publications that came out in 1970. Do any of these titles stand out to you?:
b) Los cuartro, Abelardo Delgado, Ricardo Sánchez, Raymundo “Tigre” Pérez, and Juan Valdez (Magdleno Avila)
c) Free, Free at Last, Raymundo (Tigre) Pérez
d) Crazy Gypsy, Luis Omar Salinas

If so, can you say something about them?

Ortego: In my study of Backgrounds of Mexican American Literature (University of New Mexico 1971), I commented on Richard Vasquez' novel Chicano, that "it falled short of what we may have been expecting from a Chicano novel because its values have been misplaced in a rendition of the traditional fictions about Chicanos. At heart, Chicano is a novel about a family; but what is most troubling about the Sandoval family is that, while we may grant Vasquez a great range of literary license to make a point about Chicano life, the Sandoval family reminds us much too much of the Children of Sanchez, and their attendant characteristics of fatalism, machismo, etc. Unfortunately, it is a Chicano writer who had paraded for us these anthropological contentions about Chicanos which Chicano writers like Octavio Romano and Nick Vaca have taken great pains to dispel" (224-225),

For its time and still significant today, Los Cuatro was/is an admirable collection of four important Chicano poets when poetry laundered our spirits and our intentions.

In 1999, I had an opportunity to visit with Raymundo “Tigre” Perez during his visit to Texas A and M Kingsville. Free, Free at Last is an inspirational work.

I was fortunate to have included a couple of Luis Omar Salinas' poems in We Are Chicanos, the anthology I edited for Washington Square Press in 1973, the first critical anthology published by a major American publisher. While "Crazy Gypsy" has had a wider circulation, my favorite poem of his is “Aztec Angel,” especially the closing stanza: "I am an Aztec Angel /offspring / of a woman / who was beautiful." That's a powerful message honoring our indigenous mothers; it's also a tremendous boost for self-image*

RR: Dr. Ortego, you've seen over 50 years of Chicano(a) and Mexican American poetry. Through correspondence, we have discussed Miguel R. López' writing on early Chicano Renaissance Poetry. You have said before that we should judge a poet in her/his own time. Is it natural for contemporary poets to think that contemporary poetry (the poetry they are publishing now) is the pinnacle of poetry writing?

Ortego: I'm not convinced that the poetry of Chicano poetry today is the pinnacle of Chicano poetry (see my entry on "Chicano Poetry," Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Poetry and Poets, 2006). For me, poetry is an expression of its time, regardless of (or in spite) of its thematics. That's why I think that poets should by judged in their own time. Perforce, poems reflect the zeitgeist of their times. This is not to say that some poetry transcends its time, enduring, ever-lasting like Shakespeare, Antonio Machado, etc.

RR: What to you think of the concepts of “maturity” of the poetry genre as a whole in Lopez' statement regarding Cordelia Candelaria's analysis of Chicano Poetry?: “Candelaria found that after the Chicano Renaissance, the trajectory of development of Chicano poetry was an inevitable one of progress and advancement toward a superior Chicano poetics characterized by maturity and sophistication.”

Ortego: Cordelia Candelaria's insight about the trajectory of Chicano(a) poetry is prescient. However, I don't think that trajectory is developmentally one of inevitable "progress and advancement toward a superior Chicano poetics characterized by maturity and sophistication."

There is no doubt that "maturity and sophistication" are part of the poet's trajectory. Tino Villanueva's current poetry, for example, reflects his growth as a poet and a trajectory of "maturity and sophistication." And there is no doubt that that "maturity and sophistication" enhance the scope and scale of Chicano(a) poetics. To suggest, however, that that "progress and advancement" leads toward "a superior Chicano(a) poetics" sounds ultra-elitist, dismissing the significance of earlier poets in the long march of Chicano(a) letters.

RR: Lopez criticizes Gary Soto's statements in Binder's interview (Partial autobiographies: Interviews with twenty Chicano poets) with Soto.Quoting Lopez, "Still another English professor, Gary Soto, who was ambivalent about accepting the label "Chicano poet," states in an interview: "I'm thinking about Alurista, Abelardo Delgado, Sánchez, Corky González.....(sic). I would never attack their poetry." Nevertheless, Soto does just that, referring to the poets in the past tense: "[s]tylistically," he says "they were archaic. I really didn't think they knew what they were doing .... Now, the poems, what can you say? They were not very well written" (Binder 1985 198). “

Lopez further elaborates: “I would argue that this cool, self-serving dismissal of a group of strong writers led by Sánchez (Ricardo Sanchez), disguises an anxiety of influence that shaped the critical climate of the 1980s and 1990s. The mainstream perspectives of English department critics served to postpone the need by both critics and poets to come to terms with the achievements of Chicano poetry in the 1970s.”

RR: Lopez is pretty harsh on the "English Department." Lopez, a Spanish professor, is critical of the English Department-born criticism. In Lopez' book (Chicano Timespace), he further elaborates on that since the early 1970s Chicano(a) writing became more and more associated with the English Department. With many writers getting their MFAs nowadays or becoming critical scholars through the English Department; and you being from the “English Department,” do you think there is a difference in how writers/critics from the English Department background will see poetry compared to Spanish Department, Anthropology, etc.?

Ortego: I agree with Miguel Lopez' criticism of Gary Soto. I'm familiar with Soto's comments via Binder. I wouldn't say that Soto's criticism is English Department-born criticism, though we do have to acknowledge that in the main, English has become the prevalent linguistic venue of Chicano(a) letters. However, I don't see that gap as a depreciation of Chicano(a) works in Spanish. It's a linguistic gap of generations, not a preference of one language over another. 

Being English-language dominant, I'm more adept in English than Spanish. But I still write poetry in Spanish. My kinds don't because they're not competent in Spanish.

RR: Thank you once again Dr. Ortego.

* Note on "Aztec Angel": Strangely, Frederick Luis Aldama included "Aztec Angel" in Arturo Islas: The Uncollected Works (Arte Public Press 2003)(see page 110). It is exactly as Luis Omar Salinas wrote and published it in his 1970 Crazy Gypsy.

When I first saw it, I thought it was Islas parodying Salinas poem, but upon comparison to Salinas' original -- it is exactly the same poem. Aldama even analyzes the poem in his critical introduction to the book.

Furthermore, Adama credits  Islas as author of "Aztec Angel," and once more analyzes the poem, in Islas' biography Arturo Islas, Dances with Ghosts: A Critical Biography of Arturo Islas (University of California Press 2004)(see p. 66).

I am probably not the first one to notice this, so I've written Arte Publico Press and the University of Califas Press to inquire.

So that this does not ignite an El Paso-Fresno turf war, and to call off the bulldogs, I'd say Salinas' poem was probably in a box of Arturo Islas' papers and mistakenly attributed to him. The poem in Islas' book is dated circa 1974 and Salinas published "Aztec Angel" in 1970. As for me, I still prefer Buddy Guy's "Black Angel." However, beware of the Stanford Mafia!


(Yale University Publications in Anthropology)
The Yale Peabody Museum (July 27, 2010)
ISBN-10: 0913516244
Sabine Hyland

University Press of Colorado (July 2010)
ISBN-10: 1607320320
Ethelia Ruiz Medrano
Susan Kellogg

This book examines the formation of colonial governance in New Spain through interactions between indigenous people and representatives of the Spanish Crown. The book highlights the complexity of native negotiation and mediation with colonial rule across time, culture, and place and how it shaped colonial political and legal structures from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries. Although indigenous communities reacted to Spanish presence with significant acts of resistance and rebellion, they also turned to negotiation to deal with conflicts and ameliorate the consequences of colonial rule. This affected not only the development of legal systems in New Spain and Mexico but also the survival and continuation of traditional cultures. Bringing together work by Mexican and North American historians, this collection is a crucially important and rare contribution to the field. This is a valuable resource for native people as they seek to redefine and revitalise their identities and assert their rights relating to language and religion, ownership of lands and natural resources, rights of self-determination and self-government, and protection of cultural and intellectual property. It will be of interest primarily to specialists in the field of colonial studies and historians and ethno-historians of New Spain. 

Sussex Academic Press (July 2010)
ISBN-10: 1845192990
Susan Schroeder

The Spaniards typically portrayed the conquest and fall of Mexico Tenochtitlan as Armageddon, while native peoples in colonial Mesoamerica continued to write and paint their histories and lives often without any mention of the foreigners in their midst. Their accounts took the form of annals, chronicles, religious treatises, tribute accounts, theatre pieces, and wills. Thousands of documents were produced, almost all of which served to preserve indigenous ways of doing things. But what provoked record keeping on such a grand scale? At what point did pre-contact sacred writing become utilitarian and quotidian? Were their texts documentaries, a form of boosterism, even ingenious intellectualism, or were they ultimately a literature of ruin? This volume seeks to address key aspects of indigenous perspectives of the conquest and Spanish colonialism by examining what they themselves recorded and why they did so.

(Caribbean Series #28) [Paperback]
University of Hawaii Press (July 2010)
ISBN-10: 9067183431
Wieke Vink (Author)

This study presents a refined analysis of Suriname-Jewish identifications. 

(Yale University Publications in Anthropology) [Paperback]
The Yale Peabody Museum (July 27, 2010)
ISBN-10: 0913516104

Between the Fences: Before Guantanamo, There Was the Port Isabel Service Processing Center (Seven Stories Press) [Paperback]
Seven Stories Press (July 1, 2010)
ISBN-10: 1583229124
Tony Hefner
Something at the Texas detention facility is terribly wrong, and Tony Hefner knows it. But the guards are repeatedly instructed not to speak of anything they witness. In the Rio Grande Valley, one of the most poverty-stricken areas in the United States, good jobs are scarce and the detention facility pays the best wages for a hundred miles. The guards follow orders and keep quiet.
For six years, Tony Hefner was a security guard at the Port Isabel Service Processing Center, one of the largest immigration detention centers in America, and witnessed alarming corruption and violations of basic human rights. Officers preyed upon the very people whom they are sworn to protect. On behalf of the 1,100 men, women, and children residing there on an average day, and the 1,500 new undocumented immigrants who pass through its walls every month, this is the story of the systematic sexual, physical, financial, and drug-related abuses of detainees by guards.
The Port Isabel Service Processing Center continues to hold detainees of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement whose immigration statuses or citizenship have not been officially determined or who are awaiting repatriation. On April 22, 2009, detainees there began a hunger strike, alleging violations of due process, inadequate access to medical care and legal resources, and various other abuses.

(New Americans: Recent Immigration and American Society) [Library Binding]
LFB Scholarly Publishing LLC (July 2, 2010)
ISBN-10: 1593323883
Cheris Brewer Current 

Utilizing an interdisciplinary approach, Current offers a fresh approach to a topic that has received a fair amount of attention. She questions traditional narratives on first and second wave Cuban immigration that construct a monolithic Cuban experience and identity. This traditional singular identity and experience is the basis of the Exile Model, which presents Cubans as overtly political, highly educated, universally white, economically successful, residents of Miami, and martyrs of Castro's revolution. This oversimplification ignores the structural assistance that facilitated the Cuban success story, the racial and economic plurality of Cuban immigration, and the existence of Cuban communities outside of Miami. 

Markus Wiener Publishing Inc; 1ST edition (July 15, 2010)
ISBN-10: 1558765115
Luis Martinez-Fernandez (Author) 

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Hispanic Caribbean was fundamentally a plantation economy dominated mainly by the world sugar market. The politics were shaped by revolutions, political coups, wars, and elections, resulting in an end of Spanish power, independent states, and the domination of the region by the United States. These developments led to changes in social values. The author follows these developments throughout the main Hispanic islands and provides a fascinating picture of a region in turmoil.


Ricardo Aguilar in Translation
I recently ran across the following link on Luis J. Rodriguez' books: click here. The late Ricardo Aguilar translated several Chicano titles during his lifetime, including Rodriguez' Always Running and Denise Chavez' Loving Pedro Infante. Also, he translated the Chicano classic Road to Tamanzunchale. If you recall anymore, please let us know.

Prime Rib with Joe Olvera

As we mentioned a few weeks ago, veteran reporter, poet, and playwright, Joe Olvera will be roasted this coming Saturday. He was also honored by the City of El Paso this past Tuesday with the Conquistador Award, the city of El Paso's highest honor. Read the El Paso Times clip. Here is another story on the topic: Former Reporter Receives City's Highest Honor. If you are in El Paso on Saturday, make sure to attend his roast at Mercado Mayapan. The event info is on the Literary Events list on the left side of our blog. Joe published his book of poetry with Mictla Publications in the 1970s. Mictla was the press that Ricardo Sanchez was a part. He was El Paso's first Chicano newscaster and wrote for the El Paso Times and El Paso Herald-Post.

Blog Updates

C.M. Mayo is running a concurrent blog to her Madame Mayo blog called Maximillian and Carlota. She posts every Tuesday and says the blog is a "resource for of the tumoltous period of Mexican history known as the Second Empire or French Intervention." See it now. The Diversity 

Media blog posted a video of Luis J. Rodriguez reading poet to the classic song "La Llorona" at the the Border Book Festival (2009). See it now. You can also pick up this video on Youtube

 While we are on C.M. Mayo, check out Book Readers Central blog for a review of her book Last Prince of the Mexican Empire.

Rafael Jesus Gonzalez posted anew on Wednesday, which includes some poems, one published in El Grito in the early 1970s: Hart Crane (July 21, 1899 - April 27, 1932)

Sheryl Luna tells us her poems are included in New Poets of the American West: READ MORE.

Stage Reading of "Pastures of Heaven" in Salinas, CA Aug. 7-8

The Steinbeck Festival will present two staged readings of scenes of the new play, "Pastures of Heaven," followed by a discussion and talkback with the actors and acclaimed creators Octavio Solis and Jonathan Moscone. 

Premiered in June, this brand-new, richly theatrical play was developed in collaboration with Word for Word Performing Arts Company. 

The play celebrates the art of storytelling as it depicts comic and heartbreaking characters in search of happiness in the seemingly idyllic landscape of Steinbeck’s own Salinas Valley, known around the world as the “Pastures of Heaven.” For tickets to the performance in Salinas, visit steinbeckfestival.org. For more information on CalShakes and the Pastures of Heaven production, see www.calshakes.org.

Trivia on John Rechy: Description of Pershing Square and Big Table 3
The LA Times blog posted some interesting trivia on El Paso native John Rechy. In a post by Larry Harnisch: "If you read Norman Mailer’s article for Esquire on the 1960 Democratic National Convention, you might notice a description of Pershing Square by John Rechy and wonder “What’s Big Table 3?” Thanks to EBay, I now have a copy of the magazine and here’s the answer." READ MORE.




The link we share with you today is: Legal Momentum

Your calo juarense for today is: guillermo - Menso - stupid
                                           -- Glosario del Calo de Cd. Juarez, Ricardo Aguilar Melantzon

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