Category Archives: Culture

Let’s play Lotería!: Books about the classic Mexican game

The game of Lotería is hot this year. The game is similar to American bingo, but uses images — such as el gallo and la dama –  instead of numbers and letters. This year, Mario Alberto Zambrano won acclaim with his book Lotería, earning the cover of Booklist’s Top 10 First Novels of 2013. Then the Texas-based fast food chain Taco Cabana co-opted it for a promotion, and Texas artist Karina Garza used the cards as inspiration for a political poster for gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis. But the game always has been a classic in Mexican households — and a popular subject for Latino writers. Here are some books featuring the game:

PlayingLoteria• In the 2005 children’s book Playing Lotería/El Juego De La Lotería by René Colato Laínez, a young boy learns to speak Spanish and grows closer to his abuela when he visits her and starts learning the riddles in the lotería cards.

LoteriaCardsandFortunePoems• Poet Juan Felipe Herrera created poems for each card and artist Artemio Rodriguez created contemporary lithographs as illustrations for the 2001 book Loteria Cards and Fortune Poems: A Book of Lives.

Loteria by Stavans, Villegas• The 2004 gift book ¡Loteria! features an essay about the culture of the game by noted Mexican-American scholar Ilan Stavans and illustrations by Teresa Villegas. Villegas’s website has a great section about the game, including its history.

LoteriaRubenMendozaCarambaNineMarieMartinezLotería and Other Stories by Rubén Mendoza is a 1998 collection of short stories structured around the game. In the 2005 novel ¡Caramba¡ by Nina Marie Martinez, the card game is used to illustrate two women’s adventures in getting a deceased father’s body back from Mexico.

Loteria• Released this year, Lotería by Mario Alberto Zambrano, shows how a teenager communicates about the abuse in her family through the game. Each chapter begins with a gorgeous, full color illustration, done by Jarrod Taylor, that differ from the traditional lotería game, but carry the same spirit.

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¿Tienes hambre? You will be after you read these books about food

This spring, Gustavo Arellano’s Taco USA comes out in paperback and Pat Mora’s Delicious Hullabaloo/Pachanga deliciosa celebrates its 15th year in publication. So it seems like a good time to look at books in which food is the main ingredient.

Children’s books:

delicious-hullabaloo• Pat Mora’s Delicious Hullabaloo/Pachanga deliciosa is a bilingual poem in which a passel of creatures cook up a meal. Another one of her books, Yum! MmMm! Que Rico!: America’s Sproutings, features foods that originated in the Americas.

ArrozConLeche• In a series of books, Salvadoran Jorge Argueta covers a range of foods in poetry form – Arroz con leche/Rice Pudding: Un poema para cocinar/A Cooking Poem, Guacamole: A Cooking Poem/Un poema para cocinar, Tamilitos: Un poema para cocinar/A Cooking Poem, Sopa de frijoles/Bean Soup and La Fiesta De Las Tortillas/The Fiesta Of The Tortillas.

TooManyTamales• Tamales are featured in Too Many Tamales, by Gary Soto, in which a young girl faces trouble while cooking the food; Growing Up with Tamales, by Gwendolyn Zepeda, in which two sisters learn how to make the Christmas classic; and Tia’s Tamales by Ana Baca, in which a girl makes the food with her grandmother. Baca also wrote Chiles for Benito/Chiles para Benito and Benito’s Sopaipillas/Las sopaipillas de Benito.

magdastortillas1• In Becky Chavarria-Chairez’s Magda’s Tortillas/Las Tortillas de Magda, a 7-year-old attempts to make the food for her family. The round bread also plays a magical role in Joe Hayes’ The Day It Snowed Tortillas/El Dia Que Nevaron Tortillas, which is part of a collection of bilingual folktales.

Like_Water_for_Chocolate_(Book_Cover)Books for adults:

• In the Laura Esquivel novel Like Water for Chocolate, the characters feel what the main character Tita is feeling when she makes her elaborate concoctions – and those emotions are all over the place as her heart is breaking. The 1992 movie was hugely popular.

tacousa• In exuberant prose, Gustavo Arellano reveals the origins of Taco Bell, tortillas, margaritas and other culinary delights in Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America. Just one question – where’s the section on menudo?

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Cascarones and carpets: A look at Easter books for children

It’s Easter season. The holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ is an important event in the Latino community. Here are some books about the holiday and Latino rituals:

celebrate-mardi-gras-with-joaquin-harlequin-alma-flor-ada-paperback-cover-artAlma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy cover the beginning of the Lenten season with the bilingual children’s book Celebrate Mardi Gras with Joaquín, Harlequin/ Celebra el Mardi Gras con Joaquín, Harlequín. In A Surprise for Mother Rabbit/La sorpresa de Mamá Coneja, Ada tells a story of diversity by using rabbits.

ImageIn Dance of the Eggshells: Baile De Los Cascarones, by Carla Aragón, two children learn the history of the confetti-filled eggshells that are crushed on people’s heads. This MexConnect.com story also gives some background into the eggshells.

LegendoftheCascaronThe Legend of the Cascarón, by Roxanna Montes-Bazaldua also tells the history of the eggshells. Want to learn how to make cascarones? Check out this webpage from PBS Kids and this YouTube video.

Sawdust CarpetsSemana Santa is the Holy Week that leads to Easter. In Amelia Lau Carling’s Sawdust Carpets, two Asian children visit Antigua, Guatemala, during that time and learn about its traditions – including the elaborate carpets made for the processions.

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She has the cure for what ails you: The curandera in Latino lit

Bless Me Ultima, which The Hispanic Reader reviewed earlier this week, features an enduring figure in the Latino culture – the curandera, or healer. That figure has played a role in some of the great books in Latino literature. In this great post from La Bloga, Ultima author Rudolfo Anaya and children’s author Monica Brown talk about the role of curandera. Here’s a look at some great curanderas:

BlessMeUltimaCoverBless Me Ultima – Young Antonio Marez is growing up in rural New Mexico when his family takes in Ultima, an elderly curandera. She helps heal his dying uncle, but townspeople believe she places curses on people. This book by Rudolfo Anaya has become one of Latino lit’s best known and beloved books, and has stirred controversy for its profanity.

The+Hummingbird's+DaughterThe Hummingbird’s Daughter – In revolutionary Mexico, Teresita Urrea learns healing powers from a villager named Huila. Soon, she attracts the attention of hundreds of villagers, hoping she will cure them. The brilliantly funny book, written by Luis Alberto Urrea, rivals Ultima in the amount of profanity. The sequel, Queen of America, in which Teresita’s celebrity takes her to the United States, is now in paperback.

SoFarFromGodSo Far From God Ana Castillo’s book about a mother and her four daughters in New Mexico features a whole chapter devoted to villager Dona Felicia’s remedies. Dona Felicia goes on to teach the remedies to one of those daughters, Caridad, after she is traumatized after an attack. Caridad ends up becoming a saint to villagers because they believe she has special powers.

Clara_and_the_CuranderaClara and the Curandera – In this bilingual children’s book written by Monica Brown and illustrated by Thelma Muraida, the curandera has a cure for a young girl who is afflicted with a nasty case of the grumps.

Sources: Wikipedia, Challenging Realities: Magic Realism in Contemporary American Women’s Fiction by M. Ruth Noriega Sánchez

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La Llorona, chupacabras, oh my! Spooky books for children and teens

Boo! October brings the greatest holiday ever – Halloween. It’s not just about the candy, but listening to stories that put goosebumps on your arms and a shiver in your bones. As part of book blogger Jenn Lawrence’s meme, Murder, Monsters, Mayhem, here’s a look at spooky tales, Latino-style, for children and young adults. Look for a list of suspense books for adults later this week.

In Mexican folklore, no figure is more haunting than La Llorona, the woman who drowned her children and spends her time calling for them. Her tale has been told in numerous books, including La Llorona/The Weeping Woman by Joe Hayes, who talked about the story’s enduring legacy to The Hispanic Reader last year.

Texas-based writer Rene Saldaña Jr. also explores the myth – and others – in his book, Dancing with the Devil and Other Tales from Beyond / Bailando con el diablo y otros cuentos del más allá. La Llorona is becoming part of mainstream pop culture: She will be the subject of NBC’s Grimm in the Oct. 26 episode. Wilmer Valderrama talked about the project to NBC Latino. And here’s Lila Downs singing about La Llorona.

La Llorona and those other spooky beasts – the chupacabras – are part of Texas-based children’s writer Xavier Garza books, including Creepy Creatures and Other Cucuys, Kid Cyclone Fights the Devil and Other Stories and Juan and the Chupacabras/ Juan y el Chupacabras. The Rio Grande Valley native talked about the inspiration for the books to the San Antonio Express-News last year.

For more universal creatures, Alma Flor Ada writes about ghosts in What Are Ghosts Afraid Of? El susto de los fantsmas. In A Mummy in Her Backpack/Una Momia en su mochila by James Luna, a girl ends up with an unusual souvenir from vacation. Los Gatos Black on Halloween by Marisa Montes and Yuyi Morales is a poem about the creatures that haunt the night.

Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy combines Halloween and the other upcoming holiday, Dias de los Muertos, in Celebrate Halloween and the Day of the Dead with Cristina and her Blue Bunny Celebra el Halloween y el Día de Muertos con Cristina y su conejito azul. Pat Mora’s Abuelos describes a Halloween-like holiday in northern New Mexico that has Mexican and Pueblo roots.

For young adults, You Don’t Have a Clue: Latino Mystery Stories for Teens features a variety of tales from as Saldaña, Diana López and Sergio Troncoso. Guadalupe Garcia McCall’s recently released novel Summer of the Mariposas also features La Llorona – in a gentler light than most books – and chupacabras.

The Beautiful Creatures series, written by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, features teenagers who meet otherworldly beings called Casters. The book soon will be a major motion picture starring Viola Davis and Emma Thompson. Alisa Valdes’ The Temptation features a romance between supernatural teens.

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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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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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‘Tis the season: Christmas books for children

Children are a big reason for celebrating Christmas. If you want to add some books to their stockings, here’s a good list (definitely not definitive) of Latino-themed reads about the holidays:

• The Night of Las Posadas, a 1999 book by Tomie dePaola, tells the story about a local community trying to present the reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s journey through Bethlehem. Pam Munoz Ryan’s 2005 book There Was No Snow on Christmas Eve is another story about the nativity.

• The Gift of the Poinsettia, a 1995 book by Pat Mora and Chris Ramírez Berg, depicts a young boy’s quest to get the perfect gift for the baby Jesus. Mora also wrote A Piñata in a Pine Tree: A Latino Twelve Days of Christmas.

• Puerto Rican author Eric Velasquez won a Pura Belape award for his 2011 book, Grandma’s Gift, about a young boy creating the perfect Christmas present for his grandmother.

• Alma Flor Ada, who is of Cuban descent, has written several Christmas books, including The Christmas Tree/El Arbol de Navidad and Celebrate Christmas and Three Kings Days with Pablo and Carlitos (with F. Isabel Campoy).

Growing Up with Tamales/ Los tamales de Ana by Gwendolyn Zepeda in 2009 depicts a great Hispanic Christmas tradition.

• And, finally, the 2008 Charo Claus and the Tejas Kid by Xavier Garza, gives a South Texas twist to the Christmas tale.

Got another great Christmas book to recommend? Make suggestions in the comments.

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‘Tis the Season: Christmas books for adults

‘Tis the season for family gatherings, holiday parties and competitive shopping. If you prefer to celebrate Christmas with some good page turner, here are some Latino-themed books:

• Alisa Valdes’ 2010 book The Three Kings is a “Christmas dating story” about one woman’s quest to find love during the holiday season.

• In Pulitzer Prize-winner Oscar Hijuelos’s 1995 novel, Mr. Ives’ Christmas, a man struggles with life and his belief in God after his son is murdered on Christmas. PBS’s Ray Suarez gave a review of the book to NPR, which includes an excerpt.

• Twenty-five Latino authors, including Junot Diaz and Esmeralda Santiago, share their favorite holiday stories and recipes in the 1999 book, Las Christmas: Favorite Latino Authors Share Their Holiday Memories.

• In the 2007 book Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan, Manny DeLeón has to close down the Red Lobster he manages in New Britain, Connecticut, as a blizzard comes down four nights before Christmas. O’Nan talked about writing about a Latino character and gives a shout-out to Luis Alberto Urrea here.

And if you’re in more of a movie mood, Nothing Like the Holidays depicts a dysfunctional Puerto Rican family celebrating the holidays. The 2008 movie stars John Leguizamo, Freddy Rodríguez, Elizabeth Peña and Alfred Molina. I’m partial to the 2003 movie Love Actually, which has a mostly British cast but features Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro and Portuguese actress Lúcia Moniz.

Coming up on Thursday: Christmas books for children.

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Celebrating Dias de los Muertos in words

Oct. 31 marks the beginning of the three-day Dias de los Muertos, one of the Latino community’s most important holidays. Celebrants remember their loved ones who have passed away by creating altars and writing calaveras, or poems. The day has roots in the Aztec culture and now coincides with All Saints Day and All Souls Day Nov. 1 and Nov. 2. As this Associated Press article notes, the celebrations are gaining popularity across the country. Here’s some reading about the day:

• Azcentral.com has a great website about the holiday, including a history about the holiday and a list of books.

La Casa Azul Bookstore lists its favorite Dia de los Muertos books for children, including The Day of the Dead/El Dia de las Muertos by Bob Barner.

• Novelist Sandra Cisneros has created an altar for her mother that will be displayed at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque until March 2012, according to this article by the New Mexico Daily Lobo.

• The novel, Under the Volcano, by Malcolm Lowry, takes place on Dias de los Muertos. In the book, a British man self-destructs while in the Mexican city of Quauhnahuac. Time named it one of the 100 all-time greatest novels.

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