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Category Archives: Features
May is Short Story Month. When it comes to this particular form of storytelling, Latino authors have produced some memorable and diverse collections.
Jorge Luis Borges: Considered a master of the short story, Borges’ works in the 1949 collection The Aleph will take you from the ancient times to the 20th century, from Argentina to the Middle East, from wars to personal revenge. One thing is certain – the ending will surprise you.
Sandra Cisneros: In her spectacular 1992 collection Women Hollering Creek: And Other Stories, Cisneros writes about everyday people’s struggles – a 11-year-old having a bad day at school; a woman in love with Emiliano Zapata; a group of people who pray to the Virgin de Guadalupe (a story that inspired a play) and, in the title story, a woman who compares her troubled life to La Llorona, the weeping woman.
Junot Díaz: Yunior de las Casas, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, is the main character in Díaz’s two collections, 1997′s Drown and 2012′s This Is How You Lose Her (and Díaz’s novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao). You may not always like Yunior’s bad language and misogynistic attitude, but you can’t stop reading about his ordeals with love and life.
Dagoberto Gilb and Manuel Gonzales: These two Tejanos have produced two wildly different collections of short stories in the last two years. Gilb’s 2011 Before the End, After the Beginning shows the gritty lives of men facing tough decisions. Gonzales’ 2013 The Miniature Wife and Other Stories features men dealing with unicorns, werewolves and zombies.
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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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?
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:
Alma 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.
In 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.
Semana 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.
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:
Bless 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 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.
So 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 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
Hey, happy new year! After a two-month hiatus, I’m ready to get back into blogging.
I have a couple of goals for the upcoming year. First, I plan to spotlight each country with strong Latin American populations on its independence day – similar to the author profiles I do for writers’ birthdays. I expect July and September to be busy months.
I also plan to do a similar reading challenge as I did last year, which covered classic books from Latinas – except that I haven’t published all of the reviews from that challenge yet. I will wrap up that project in January and February.
This year, I will read classic Latino novels. Here they are:
- Rudolfo Anaya – Bless Me Ultima
- Jorge Luis Borges – The Aleph
- Sandra Cisneros – The House on Mango Street
- Paulo Coelho – The Alchemist
- Junot Díaz – The Brief Wondrous Life Oscar Wao
- Carlos Fuentes – The Death of Artemio Cruz
- Gabriel Gárcia Márquez – One Hundred Years of Solitude
- Oscar Hijuelos – The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love
- Manuel Puig – Kiss of the Spider Woman
- José Saramago – Blindness
- Mario Vargas Llosa – Death in the Andes
- Victor Villasenor – Rain of Gold
Some of these books (Ultima, Mango Street, Oscar Wao) will be rereads for me. A few of them will be challenging reads. (I’m a little intimidated by the Fuentes and Vargas Llosa books.) And some books (The Alchemist, Mambo Kings), I have been meaning to read and never gotten around to it.
I chose the books based on popularity and timelessness. These books are in the high school canon (Ultima, Mango Street), Pulitzer Prize winners (Oscar Wao, Mambo Kings), Nobel Prize winners (One Hundred Years of Solitude, Death in the Andes, Blindness), beloved best-sellers (The Alchemist) and pop culture favorites (Spider Woman).
Of course, there are some missing books. Where’s the most famous Latino novel of them all, Don Quixote? At 900 pages, I decided it would too challenging to read such a thick tome while trying to keep up with current books. Where’s Roberto Bolaño, Julio Cortázar, Juan Rulfo and Miguel Angel Asturias? Hey, I can’t read everything. The list is subjective.
Of course, the heart of the blog is spotlighting new books by Latino authors. I’m looking forward to The Miniature Wife and Other Stories by Manuel Gonzales, The Five Acts of Diego León by Alex Espinoza, Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina by Raquel Cepeda and King of Cuba by Cristina Gárcia. Unfortunately, many of the books won’t come out until March. So expect to see many of the classic books reviewed in January and February.
It’s easy to get burned out from blogging, especially with a full-time job and the other chores of life (which is why I took a long break). So my other resolution is chill out a little more. If I can only produce one post a week or I need to take some time off, I’m going to do it.
To those who read my blog and comment or retweet my tweets, thanks for your time and comments. I look forward to the new year.
“I had to stay up to read it,” she says. “I immediately connected with it.”
So much so that Barrera adapted it into the play, Milagritos / little miracles, which the Cara Mía Theatre Co. stages until Dec. 15 at the Latino Cultural Center in Dallas. Cisneros attended the opening night production.
Cara Mía is presenting the play, which director David Lozano bills it as a “holiday classic,” for the second time. The title comes from the short story, “Little Miracles, Kept Promises,” in which pilgrims come to a shrine to give thanks to Our Lady of Guadalupe—an iconic Mexican symbol who appeared before peasant Juan Diego on Dec. 12, 1531.
“The characters’ range (of prayers) reflects the diversity of life’s experiences, from problems with pimples to more serious health issues, to lost love and loves that need to get lost,” Barrera says.
Barrera was especially drawn to the lead character, Chayo.
“I found not only myself in her but the Chicanos I was running into,” Barrera says, adding that Cisneros based the characters on folks she knew. “That’s why her works are so relevant. We read them and it’s like, ‘Yes, I know this story, I know this woman.’ “
“Everyone knows these characters from our community,” Lozano says. “I think that’s what grabs people. The more you read it, the more you start peeling away some transformational pieces that become pure poetry.”
The story illuminates the people beyond the Latino neighborhood and into the Catholic community, he says.
“You talk to Catholic people and they have their miracle story,” he says. “Their prayers are heard.”
Eliberto Gonzalez, the president and co-founder of Cara Mía, knew Cisneros and got permission for Cara Mía to present the play when it first ran in 1998. Adapting the book is always full of surprises.
“Cisneros’ works aren’t dramatic narratives, and are more sophisticated than readers realize,” Lozano says. “Most folks will get more of the sense of the everyday quality of these characters and what they live through, while astute readers will recognize the symbolism and poetic quality.”
“Her writing is very complex at times and so when you start really repeating and working through these lyrical imagery, the symbolism of such profound events, you begin [to see] a larger universe that is very real to us,” he says.
Barrera, a Southern Methodist University graduate and a San Antonio-based playwright, director, actress, artist and community arts educator, says Cisneros has seen the play before, and she was supportive.
“I think she really felt the stories and listening to them in that way,” Barrera says. “[She enjoyed] her own work in a way she hadn’t before.”
If you live in the Dallas area, you can catch Milagritos at 8 p.m., Thursdays-Saturdays, Dec. 1-15 at the Latino Cultural Center, 2600 Live Oak Street, Dallas. Tickets are $12-$30. Go to caramiatheatre.org for details.
Halloween is a holiday for children, but adults can get in the act, too. (Why turn down the candy?) There’s no better way to get into the mood than with a creepy or suspenseful book. As part of book blogger Jenn Lawrence’s meme, Murder, Monsters & Mayhem, here’s a list of Latino-themed thrillers. And check out our list of Halloween books for children posted earlier this week.
Let’s start with the monsters – specifically, vampires. The Strain is a trilogy of novels by Mexican film director Guillermo del Toro, written with Chuck Hogan, about a virus that vampires inflict on the world. (If you want a creepy movie to watch on Halloween, his 2006 film Pan’s Labyrinth is an excellent choice.)
For a humorous touch, Marta Acosta’s Casa Dracula series, including Happy Hour at Casa Dracula, features a romance between the main character, Milagro de Los Santos, and a vampire. Caridad Piñeiro’s new book, Kissed by a Vampire, also features a paranormal romance – all part of her The Calling/Reborn series featuring the undead beasts.
Now let’s get to murder and mayhem, with several book series featuring Latino crime solvers. The Henry Rios series by Michael Nava, which has a gay lawyer in San Francisco as its lead character, began with The Little Death and ended with Rag and Bone. Rudolfo Anaya’s Sonny Baca series, which includes Zia Summer and Jemez Spring, features a detective solving crimes in New Mexico. The Rio Grande Valley is home to several thrillers, including Partners in Crime, by Rolando Hinojosa.
For books with a strong female protagonist, Lucha Corpi’s mysteries – including Eulogy for a Brown Angel, Cactus Blood and Black Widow’s Wardrobe – features a clairvoyant detective solving crimes in Los Angeles. Or try these recent thrillers: Lyn DiIorio’s Outside the Bones, about a bruja who gets caught up in an old mystery; Joy Castro’s Hell or High Water , which has a newspaper reporter investigating sexual predators in New Orleans; and Linda Rodriguez’s Every Last Secret, about a college police chief who solves a murder on campus.
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.
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.)