Monthly Archives: August 2012

Labor Day literature: The farmworkers movement in print

Americans will celebrate workers this Labor Day weekend. Two of the Latino community’s most prominent figures – César Chávez and Dolores Huerta – led the farmworkers movement in the 1960s, demanding better conditions for the workers who picked grapes in California. The movement not only had an impact on workers’ rights, but on Latino literature as well.

Here’s a look at some books about Chávez and Huerta, a couple of novels that portray the life of farmworkers, and the story of how the movement gave birth to one of the Hispanic community’s most prominent theaters:

For children: Children can learn about the movement in Side by Side: The Story of Dolores Huerta and César Chávez by Monica Brown, Harvesting Hope: The Story of César Chávez by Kathleen Krull and Dolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers, by Sarah Warren.

For adults: The Words of César Chávez is a book of Chávez’s speeches and writings. It was included in the Library of Congress exhibit, The Books That Shaped America. Delano: The Story of the California Grape Strike, by John Gregory Dunne and Ilan Stavans, is a comprehensive look at the strike, while Cesar Chavez: Autobiography of La Causa by Jacques Levy focuses on Chávez. (A film of Chávez’s life is being made into a movie starring Diego Luna, according to The Los Angeles Times.) The Fight in the Fields by Susan Ferriss and Ricardo Sandoval is the companion to the 1997 PBS documentary of the same title.

Fiction: Two of Latino literature’s most acclaimed novels focus on the plight of farmworkers. The 2000 young adult novel Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan depicts a teenager working the fields in the 1920s. The 1996 novel Under the Feet of Jesus by Helena Maria Viramontes tells the story of California farmworkers through the eyes of a 13-year-old worker.

Theater: During the Delano Grape Strike, Luis Valdez began presenting plays on flatbed trucks and union halls. He eventually founded El Teatro Campensino, and went on to write the play and the movie Zoot Suit and the movie La Bamba. He recently talked about his theater’s roots to AARP VIVA radio. (The program is in Spanish.)

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Filed under Children's Books, Culture, Features, Fiction, Non-Fiction, Theater, Young Adult Books

Book review: Reyna Grande’s “The Distance Between Us”

Reyna Grande’s memoir The Distance Between Us (Atria) should come with a box of tissues.

Grande grew up in the 1970s in Iguala, Mexico, a small town whose mountain has a mysterious force on its other side that residents call El Otro Lado – the United States.

Grande’s parents left Reyna and her two older siblings behind with their grandparents so they could work at better paying jobs and build a new home in Iguala. But as Grande describes it, the separation took a toll on the family as the children live in squalor.

“… the banks lined with trash and debris floating in the water, the crumbling adobe houses, the shacks made of sticks, the children with worm-pregnant bellies running around with bare feet, the piles of drying horse dung littering the dirt road, the flea-bitten stray dogs lying under the shade of trees, flies hovering above them. But what I saw back then I saw through the eyes of a child – a child who had never been anywhere, a child who was still innocent enough to see past the things later in life she could not. What I saw the were the velvety mountains around us, the clear blue sky, the beautiful jacaranda trees covered in purple flowers, bougainvilleas crawling up fences, their dried magenta petals whirling in the wind. … I continued to think that there was beauty everywhere around us. … But when … I saw mothers and fathers strolling about holding hands with their children, I realized that it didn’t matter what I thought of Iguala. Without my parents here, it was a place of broken beauty.”

At age 10, Grande and her siblings crossed the border illegally and moved to Los Angeles to be with her parents. But life is just as tough there as her mother ignores her and father becomes abusive toward her and her siblings.

But her father also was her best motivator, emphasizing the importance of a good education. Grande earned good grades and became a top musician in her school’s marching band. Federal legislation in 1986 enabled her to become a legal citizen.

A teacher in junior college encouraged her to write – leading Grande to write this incredible book. Told in simple, easy to read – yet descriptive – prose, my heart broke as I read about all that Grande suffered through. The Distance Between Us is an inspirational book for young Latinos or anyone who has faced adversity. Just keep those tissues handy.

More about Reyna Grande:

Reyna Grande is the author of the novels Across a Hundred Mountains and Dancing with Butterflies.

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher.

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Happy birthday, Oscar Hijuelos!

 

(Update: Oscar Hijuelos passed away in October 2013. Here is his obituary from The New York Times.)

Oscar Hijuelos was born August 24, 1951 in New York City. His 1989 book The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love became the first novel by a Latino author to win the prestigious Pulitzer Prize.

Hijuelos was raised by his Cuban parents in New York City – a childhood reflected in his first novel, 1983’s Our House in the Last World.

His next novel was Mambo Kings. The book, which depicts the lives of two Cuban brothers who pursue their musical dreams in New York City, was made into a 1996 movie staring Antonio Banderas.

Mr. Ives’ Christmas, published in 1996, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Here’s a great review of the book from NPR’s Ray Suarez. He also wrote 2000’s Empress of the Splendid Season and 2008’s Dark Dude. His most recent book is his 2011 memoir, Thoughts Without Cigarettes.

It’s a great day for Latino writers: Jorge Luis Borges and Paulo Coelho also celebrate birthdays today.

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Classic book review: Pam Muñoz Ryan’s “Esperanza Rising”

Pam Muñoz Ryan’s 2000 book, Esperanza Rising, is a young adult novel set in the 1920s, but readers of all ages will enjoy reading this story with its themes and issues that resonate today.

Esperanza Ortega is about to celebrate her 13th birthday on her family’s luxurious ranch when her family faces a series of tragic circumstances. As the revolution rages in Mexico, her mother decides they must go to the United States and work the fields. Esperanza quickly learns she must adjust to a new life, which includes living in a cramped two-room home with five other people and working the fields with workers who want to strike for better working conditions.

Muñoz Ryan writes beautifully with great descriptions of the land, but the novel’s greatest strength is its way of introducing relevant social issues – such as racism and immigration – to young people.

For example, Esperanza and her family go out of their way to a Japanese merchant because he treats them well, even stocking up cow’s intestines for menudo.

As her friend Miguel says:

“Americans see us as one big, brown group who are good for only manual labor. At this market, no one stares at us or treats us like outsiders or call us ‘dirty greasers.’ My father says that Mr. Yakota is a very smart businessman. He is getting rich on other people’s bad manners.”

As Esperanza accepts her new life, she also thinks about other people – such as the way workers were treated during a raid by immigration officials.

“Some of these people did not deserve their fate today. How was it that the United States could send people to Mexico who had never even lived there?”

Esperanza Rising won the Pura Belpré Medal – which honors works for youth by Latino authors – and it deserved it. It’s a great book with a strong character that young adults will identify with.

More about Pam Muñoz Ryan:

Pam Muñoz Ryan was inspired to write Esperanza Rising for her grandmother, also name Esperanza Ortega, who came from Mexico to the United States to pick the fields. The California native also has written Riding Freedom, Becoming Naomi León and The Dreamer, as well as numerous picture books.

Source: I checked this book out of the library.

Note: This book is part of the series of classic books by Latina authors. Next up: Esmeralda Santiago’s When I Was Puerto Rican.

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Meet Victoria Griffith, author of “The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont”

National Aviation Day takes place Aug. 19 in honor of Orville Wright who, along with his brother Wilbur, launched the first man-powered flight. But Brazilian Alberto Santos-Dumont also had a role in the beginnings of aviation and he is the subject of Victoria Griffith’s children’s book, The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont.

Griffith is a former journalist who has worked for the Financial Times.

Q: Tell me about your book and the story of Alberto Santos-Dumont. 

Brazilians say Alberto was the TRUE inventor of the airplane, not the Wright Brothers. Leaving that controversy aside for a moment, Alberto certainly deserves recognition for his role in aviation history. He was the only person ever to have run daily errands in a flying machine – a dirigible, or controllable balloon, of his own invention that he would use to hop around Paris. He would tether it to lampposts and ask the waiters in nearby cafes to bring up him some coffee. At the turn of the last century, Alberto was one of the most famous people in the world. Bakers in Paris would make pastries in the shape of his dirigible.

Alberto grew up on a coffee plantation in Brazil. When his father became partially paralyzed after falling off a horse, the family moved to Paris in search of a cure. There, Alberto took his first balloon ride. He was immediately hooked. All his life, he dreamed of making flight available to every one in the world. He complained to his friend, Louis Cartier, that he had a hard time checking the time on his pocket watch when he was up in the air. Cartier invented the wristwatch for Alberto! The Santos-Dumont model, in fact, is still available at Cartier stores.

But Alberto wanted to go farther and faster than his dirigible would take him. In 1906, Alberto was ready to give his airplane a try. No in Paris had heard of the Wright Brothers’ flights, because of their secretive nature. The Wrights were terrified that some one would steal their patents. As a result, there were only a handful of witnesses when they flew in Kitty Hawk a few years earlier. And their plane needed high winds and a catapult system to get off the ground. Alberto’s airplane took off of its own volition, which is why some historians still recognize him as the Father of Flight.

Q: How did you find out about his story? Why hasn’t his story received as much attention as the Wright Brothers?

One day, my daughter Sophia came home from school and said she had learned that the Wright Brothers had invented the airplane. My Brazilian husband was horrified. “Everyone knows that the inventor of the airplane was Alberto Santos-Dumont!” he said. I was intrigued. I had lived in Brazil and heard of Alberto, but I knew little of the details of his work. I was fascinated to discover that there was still so much controversy surrounding the invention of the airplane.

Nationalistic sentiments influence our view of history. So it makes sense that the Wrights would be recognized as the inventors here in the United States and other parts of the world, while Alberto would be seen as the Father of Flight in Brazil. But I do think Americans should make a space for Alberto in the history books.

Q: You lived in Brazil, and your husband is Brazilian. Were there any Brazilian writers that you admired?  What is the literary scene like in Brazil?

Magical realism authors like Jorge Amado enjoyed international fame some decades ago, but in general I think Brazilian writers’ use of the Portuguese language is too sophisticated and specific to translate well to other languages. Take “The Girl from Ipanema” poem by Vinicius de Moraes, used in the lyrics of a very popular Bossa Nova song by the same name. In the English version, the words are pretty banal, a song about a pretty girl walking by. In the Portuguese version, the poet wonders about a beauty that belongs not just to one person but to the world around. It’s so much more profound.

Similarly, one of my favorite children’s books in Brazil is by the songwriter Chico Buarque. It’s called Chapeuzinho Amarelo, and it’s about a girl who’s afraid of everything, but especially the wolf, or lobo. One day, she hears the wolf calling his name over and over. When he stops, the lobo has become a bolo, or cake. Of course, no one can be afraid of a cake, and Chapeuzinho is transformed into a girl who is not afraid of anything. This kind of sophisticated wordplay is difficult to access unless you speak the language.

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Filed under 2011 Books, Author Q&A, Children's Books

The Hispanic Reader is one year old today!

It’s The Hispanic Reader’s one-year anniversary! Since my first post, I’ve talked to eight authors, marked 18 writers’ birthdays, reviewed 37 books and written 117 posts. To celebrate, I’m giving you a couple of presents.

First, I created a Features Index that includes links to those author interviews and profiles; lists of books for special occasions (from Christmas to quinceañeras); and features about Latino literature, such as a look at writers who have won the Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes. (I already have an index of book reviews.)

Second, I’ve created a trivia quiz about Latino literature from my posts and book reviews in the past year. (You can find more information about the answers below the quiz.) Good luck and have fun!

1. The answer is D. In the 2001 movie, the flighty Sara (Kate Beckinsale) writes her name and phone number in a copy of Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera and tells Jonathan (John Cusack), who she just met, that if their love is meant to be, he will find that copy in a bookstore. Appropriate book since Cholera is about a man who waits 50 years for the woman he loves.

2. The answer is A. Although he is considered one of the top storytellers in Latino literature, Borges never won the Nobel. Only 12 Latinos have, including Paz, Saramago and Vargas Llosa. But Borges did get a Google doodle on his birthday.

3. The answer is B. Luis Valdez began directing plays on a flatbed truck and union halls during the Delano Grape Strike of the 1960s. His theater company is aptly named El Teatro Campesino. Considered the father of Latino theater, he wrote the play Zoot Suit and the directed the movie version and La Bamba.

4. The answer is C. In Il Postino, Pablo Neruda helps an Italian postal carrier woo his love. The 1994 film, based on an Antonio Skarmeta book, earned a Best Picture nomination. The other answers were books – by Laura Esquivel, Isabel Allende and Carlos Fuentes – that also were made into movies.

5. The answer is B. Loving Pedro Infante by Denise Chávez takes place in the tiny fictional town of Cabritoville, near El Paso.

6. The answer is B. Malín Alegría dons the elaborate dress in honor of her book Estrelle’s Quinceañera, one of many books about the popular Hispanic tradition. Veronica Chambers wrote the Magdalena and Marisol books; Diana López penned Choke; and Lorraine López authored The Realm of Hungry Spirits.

7. The answer is D. Kiss of the Spider Woman by Manuel Puig is considered one of the most famous works in Latino literature of the last 50 years.

8. The answer is A. Hanks read Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude in the classic comedy caper.

9. The answer is D. Quiara Alegría Hudes won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 2012 for her play, Water by the Spoonful. Hudes, who also wrote 26 Miles and co-wrote the Tony-winner In the Heights, is one of the few Latinos to win the American award for literary arts and journalism. Although they have not won the Pulitzer, Julia Alvarez, Sandra Cisneros and Cristina García have written novels that have received strong critical acclaim.

10. The answer is C. Pablo Neruda knew Gabriela Mistral when he was growing up in Temuco, Chile. Fuentes and Paz are from Mexico. Allende is from Chile, but a generation younger than Neruda. Her uncle, President Salvador Allende, was friends with Neruda, a relationship depicted in Roberto Ampuero’s The Neruda Case.

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Happy birthday, Jacinto Benavente y Martinez!

Jacinto Benavente y Martinez was born Aug. 12, 1866 in Madrid, Spain, and died July 14, 1954. The playwright won the 1922 Nobel Prize in Literature – one of only 12 Latinos to win the award – for his comedic works that poked fun at society. He had written 170 plays in his life. His most famous play was 1907’s Los intereses creados (The Bonds of Interest), which focuses on a man who manipulates others.

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When you’re fifteen …: A look at quinceañeras in literature

The recently released Quince Clash by Malín Alegría is the latest book in the Border Town series for young adults, and it’s latest book that has featured quinceañeras – the elaborate celebration for Latinas on their 15th birthday – as a major plot point. Here’s a look at some other books that cover the unique Hispanic tradition.

Alegría knows quinceañeras well. In her 2007 novel, Estrella’s Quinceañera, the title character is almost embarrassed to have the celebration, especially since she is  attending an elite private school. According to this NPR story, the book is considered a classic among Latino youth and Alegría shows up at book readings in a ruffled quinceañera dress and tiara.

Quinceañera Means Fifteen, by Veronica Chambers, is part of a series featuring Marisol and Magdalena, two Panamanian best friends who live in Brooklyn. In this 2001 book, Marisol and Magdalena find their friendship strained as they plan their parties. The celebration is also featured in Chambers’ Amigas series – in Fifteen Candles and Lights Cameras Quince.

Belinda Acosta provides an adult perspective in her Quinceanera Club series. The main characters in 2009’s Damas, Dramas, and Ana Ruiz and 2010’s Sisters Strangers and Starting Over are organizing quinceañeras for reluctant teenagers. Acosta cited Fifteen Candles: 15 Tales of Taffeta, Hairspray, Drunk Uncles, and other Quinceanera Stories, a book of essays edited by Adriana V. Lopez, as a great resource.

For a non-fiction take on the big event, try Julia Alvarez’s 2007 Once Upon a Quinceañera: Coming of Age in the USA. She visited several quinceañeras as research for the book, which covers the tradition’s history and its financial costs. Ilan Stavans examines the religious, gender and class aspects in the 2010 anthology of essays he edited, Quinceañera (The Ilan Stavans Library of Latino Civilization).

Other books about quinceañeras include (with a hat tip to Louisville Free Public Library): the Pura Belpré Award-winning The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales; Sister Chicas by Lisa Alvarado, Ann Hagman Cardinal and Jane Alberdeston Coralin; and Cuba 15 by Nancy Osa. And check out Sweet Fifteen by Diane Gonzales Bertrand.

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Book review: Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s “The Prisoner of Heaven”

Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Prisoner of Heaven (Harper Collins) is a good escape about a great escape.

Daniel Sempere is a bookseller in Barcelona when, on Christmas 1957, he is visited by a stranger who has information about his friend, Fermín Romero de Torres. Fermín then is forced to reveal a secret from his past life.

He was imprisoned in the 1940s, where his cellmate, a writer named David Martín, had strange, delusional ramblings that earned him the nickname “The Prisoner of Heaven” and may have ties to Daniel.

Fermín feels trapped. He desperately wants to escape the horrendous conditions of the prison that, under the Franco dictatorship, is run by a governor with strong personal ambitions. His plan has the audacity of Andy Dufresne in Stephen King’s The Shawshank Redemption.

Prisoner is the third in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series, following 2004’s The Shadow of the Wind and 2009’s The Angel’s Game, although you don’t have to read them in order. I haven’t read the two previous books, and I didn’t feel lost.

But I had high expectations for Heaven. Book bloggers on Twitter were buzzing about the book, apparently since Shadow is so good.

And Heaven is an entertaining book. The main characters are easy to like, and the plot kept me reading. But I was expecting more – something with the unputdownable pace and intrigue of Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons. (Don’t roll your eyes. I know it’s lowbrow, but that book is awesome.)

Heaven doesn’t reach that high of a level, but it’s still a good read.

More about Carlos Ruiz Zafón:

Carlos Ruiz Zafón is the author of six weeks, including several young adult novels. He lives in Barcelona and Los Angeles.

Source: I purchased this book through Amazon.com.

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In the News: New releases, writer’s workshop and García Márquez

Hello August! Here are great selections to beat the heat:

• Already released: Gustavo Arellano and Luis Alberto Urrea are among the writers who contributed to Ban This! The BSP Anthology of Xican@ Literature, edited by S.J. Rivera. The book was published in response to the state of Arizona’s ban on ethnic studies earlier this year.

• Now in paperback: Esmeralda Santiago’s Conquistadora, which was selected as Ladies’ Home Journal’s August Book of the Month (here’s a discussion guide and letter from Santiago); Paulo Coelho’s Aleph; Maria Duenas The Time in Between and Javier Sierra’s The Lost Angel.

Alisa Valdes has a new erotic e-novel out called Puta. You can read the first two chapters for free on Amazon.

Aug. 28: Reyna Grande writes about immigrating from Mexico to California in her memoir, The Distance Between Us.

Sept. 4: Count on Me: Tales of Sisterhoods and Fierce Friendships features an all-star list of Latinas –Santiago, Grande, Sofia Quintero, Carolina De Robertis, Lórraine Lopez writing about the importance of female friendships. The book was produced by Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club and edited by Adriana V. López.

Writer’s Workshop

Speaking of Las Comadres, the organization will host a writer’s workshop Oct. 6 in New York City. Speakers include Sesame Street actress and children’s book writer Sonia Manzano, left, as well as Lyn DiIorio, and Caridad Pineiro.

In other news:

• Sad News: It’s been confirmed that Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Márquez,  right, can no longer write due to dementia, according to The New York Times. The Daily Beast/Newsweek ran an interesting blog post about his writing process.

Bless Me Ultima author Rudolfo Anaya was honored by the city of El Paso as the movie version of the book is expected to premiere in September, reports the El Paso Times.

• Poets and Writers magazine profiled the Librotraficante movement. Its founder, Tony Díaz is planning a “50 for Freedom of Speech” teach-in in all 50 states Sept. 21.

Joy Castro talked about her novel, Hell or High Water, to Book Page.

Mexican-American poet Manuel Paul Lopez of El Centro, Calif., was featured in a KCET animated short about his chapbook, “1984,” which is his interpretation of the classic George Orwell novel.

Junot Díaz discussed his short story, “The Cheater’s Guide to Love,” to The New Yorker. The story is included in his book, This is How You Lose Her, out on Sept. 11.

Diana Gabaldon will see her Outlander books made into a TV series, according to the Word & Film website.

• A recent edition of the NPR radio program “Latino USA” took a look at Luis Alfaro’s new play, “Bruja,” and got reading recommendations from Aurora Anaya Cerda, owner of La Casa Azul Bookstore in East Harlem, N.Y.

• A new literary prize for works written in Spanish will be named after the late Carlos Fuentes, reports Publishing Perspectives.

• Celebrating birthdays this month: Jorge Luis Borges on Aug. 24.

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