Tag Archives: Helena Maria Viramontes

Happy Independence Day, United States of America!

On July 4, 1776, the United States of America declared themselves free from Great Britain. Thanks to its diverse population, the United States is one of the world’s great superpowers. And, by 2050, some scholars project it will boast the largest Spanish-speaking population in the world. Here’s a look, by region, at some of America’s great Latino writers.

LuisValdezCalifornia: Luiz Valdez, right, the father of Latino theater and playwright of “Zoot Suit,” began presenting plays during the Delano farmworkers strike. The plight of farmworkers in California have been the subject of books by Helena María Viramontes and Pam Muñoz Ryan. Other Californians include Gustavo Arellano, Margarita Engle, Alex Espinoza, Reyna Grande, Gilbert Hernandez, Lorraine López, Luis J. Rodriguez, Michele Serros, Gary Soto, Héctor Tobar and Victor Villaseñor.

Rudulfo AnayaNew Mexico: Native son Rudolfo Anaya, left, considered the father of Chicano literature, has set his novels, including his beloved Bless Me Ultima and Sonny Baca mysteries, in this state. The state also served as the setting for novels by Ana Castillo, Denise Chávez and Alisa Valdes.

esmeralda_santiago_163x179_1Puerto Rico: The Caribbean island joined the United States in 1898. Esmeralda Santiago, right, wrote about her personal history in When I Was Puerto Rican and the island’s history in the novel Conquistadora. Other authors of Puerto Rican heritage include Lyn DiIorio, Sarah McCoy, Piri Thomas, Justin Torres and Willliam Carlos Williams.

Rolando HinojosaTexas: Life on the border has served as fodder for books by Rolando Hinojosa,  left, of the Rio Grande Valley, and Sergio Troncoso of El Paso. Sandra Cisneros, originally from Chicago, set her books Woman Hollering Creek and Have You Seen Marie? in this state. Other Tejanos include Dagoberto Gilb, Manuel Gonzales, Diana López and Gwendolyn Zepeda.

JunotDiazThe country’s most prestigious literary award, the Pulitzer Prize, has been given to Cuban-American Oscar Hijuelos and Dominican-American Junot Díaz, right, in the fiction category; Cuban-American Nilo Cruz and Quiara Alegría Hudes, who is of Puerto Rican descent, in drama; and numerous journalists. Eduardo Lalo won the 2013 International Rómulo Gallegos Prize for Fiction, becoming the first American to win one of Latin America’s most prestigious literary awards. The Pura Belpré Award, given by the American Library Association, honors books written for young readers.

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Classic book review: Helena María Viramontes’ “Under the Feet of Jesus”

under_the_feet_of_jesusUnder the Feet of Jesus by Helena María Viramontes has been hailed as one of the great books of Latino literature with its lyrical prose and depiction of the struggles of farmworkers. But to me, it was challenging to read.

The 1995 novel follows a family of migrants as they move from one farm to another, looking for work. Petra is the mother, who is accompanied by her much older companion, Perfecto, and her children, including a pair of twins and her daughter, Estrella.

Estrella soon becomes smitten with a young man named Alejo. It’s a hopeful sign in a life filled with struggle. Biplanes fly over the fields, spewing pesticide over the farmworkers. Alejo soon becomes sick.

At times, Viramontes’ descriptions are absolutely breathtaking. Take this scene with Estrella in the fields.

“Carrying the full basket to the paper was not like the picture on the red raisin boxes Estrella saw in the markets, not like the woman wearing a fluffy bonnet, holding out the grapes with her smiling, ruby lips, the sun a flat orange behind her. The sun was white and it made Estrella’s eyes sting like an onion, and the baskets of grapes resisted her muscles, pulling their magnetic weight back to the earth. The woman with the red bonnet did not know this.”

But the book moves so slowly. Instead of a well-paced plot, Viramontes spends most of the times describing little things and creating metaphors. Take this scene at a clinic:

“There was a row of glass jars filled with flat tongue depressors that reminded them of fat ice cream sticks, gauze pads and cottons swabs on skinny wooden sticks that looked like the legs of ballet dances in tan nylons and white shoes; thermometers in a glass tube and a big jar of cotton balls.”

That’s some nice imagery, but it doesn’t tell me anything. Fortunately, that passage in the clinic turns into the most riveting scene in the book. The family only has $9.07 to its name and a car with no gas, and they must seek medical help for Alejo – forcing Estrella makes a drastic move to get help. I finally was swept up in the novel.

For readers who love descriptions and metaphors, this is a great book for them. But readers like me who prefer a strong plot will find this book frustrating.

HelenaMariaViramontesMore about Helena María Viramontes:

A California native, Viramontes also wrote The Moths and Other Stories and Their Dogs Came With Them, and co-edited Chicana (W)rites: On Word and Film and Chicana Creativity and Criticism with Maria Herrera Sobek.

Source: I checked this book out of the library.

And this marks the end of my 2012 reading challenge of classic books by Latinas. My reading challenge for 2013 is classic Latino novels. Check out this list of books about the farmworkers movement.

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

In the news: Librotraficantes in Arizona, Anaya, Valdes, Díaz

Arizona:

The Librotraficante Caravan will kick off March 12 on its journey to distribute Latino-themed books that have been banned in Tucson classrooms. Aztec Muse founder Tony Diaz is spearheading the tour, which starts in Houston and hosts events during its stops in San Antonio, El Paso and Albuquerque and, finally, Tucson. The San Antonio event on March 13 will include Sandra Cisneros (right), Carmen Tafolla and Luis Alberto Urrea. The Tucson event on March 17 will feature Dagoberto Gilb and Helena Maria Viramontes. At each stop, the caravan will create Underground Libraries made up of the banned books.

Awards:

Bless Me Ultima author Rudolfo Anaya, left, will receive a lifetime achievement award from the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. The ceremony takes place April 20 and coincides with the Los Angeles Festival of Books April 21-22.

• Books by Sergio Chejfec, Tomás Eloy Martínez, Juan José Saer, Moacyr Scliar and Enrique Vila-Matas made the 2012 Best Translated Books Award Longlist.

Book Festivals:

• The Tucson Festival of Books, which runs March 10-11, will include Monica Brown, Denise Chavez, Diana Gabaldon, Carmen Giménez Smith, Grace Pena Delgado, Sam Quinones, Alberto Alvaro Ríos, Sergio Troncoso and Luis Alberto Urrea, right, who will give the keynote address during the Author’s Table Dinner March 9.

Children’s Literature Conference:

March 19 is the deadline for early registration for the National Latino Children’s Literature Conference, which takes place March 29-30 in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The event includes seminars on educational strategies, networking opportunities and a keynote address by authors Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy.

Upcoming releases:

Alisa Valdes, best known for her Dirty Girls Social Club series, plans to publish 100-page ebook romance “novelas” for $1.99 one a month starting with Billy, the Man in April. (Click on her “eRomance” page.)

• Pultizer Prize winner Junot Díaz is releasing a new book of short stories called This Is How You Lose Her on Sept. 11, according to The New York Times.

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Filed under 2012 Books, Awards, Events, News

Resolutions for the New Year

Hey, happy new year! Today is the day set aside to recover from last night, watch football and make resolutions. I’ve got a few of my own for my blog. 2011 was a great year for Latino literature but, with just a few exceptions, most of the books I reviewed were by male authors. So I’m declaring 2012 year of the Latina writer. Each month, I’ll review a classic book from a woman author. Here’s my schedule:

• January – Isabel Allende, The House of the Spirits

February – Julia Alvarez, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents

• March – Ana Castillo, So Far From God

• April – Denise Chavez, Loving Pedro Infante

May – Laura Esquivel, Like Water for Chocolate

• June – Cristina García, Dreaming in Cuban

• July – Lorraine López, The Realm of Hungry Spirits

• August – Pam Muñoz Ryan, Esperanza Rising

• September – Esmeralda Santiago, When I Was Puerto Rican

• October – Michele Serros, Chicana Falsa

• November – Alisa Valdes, The Dirty Girls Social Club

• December – Helena Maria Viramontes, Under the Feet of Jesus

As you’ve probably noticed, I didn’t include some prominent writers. I’ve read most of Sandra Cisneros’s books, and I hope she will have a new book out soon that I can review. I also decided not to include academic Gloria Anzaldúa or poet Gabriela Minstral because I wanted to focus on novels or memoirs. I do plan to profile them on their birthdays, as I did for Cisneros.

Besides reading these books, I also hope to attend more plays for my “At the Theater” feature (which I kicked off last month with 26 Miles) and cover lectures by authors (I have tickets to a Luis Alberto Urrea talk in January). Of course, with all resolutions, things don’t always they turn out as planned, so all items are subject to change. I’ve also decided to scale back on my postings from three times a week to twice a week to make things a little easier on myself (and get to work on my own novel). I’m also in the midst of moving the headquarters of The Hispanic Reader, so I’m giving myself a break for a couple of weeks. See you in 2012!

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