Books, Latino culture, poetry, poets, Writing

Singing At The Gates: Selected Poems

Singing At The Gates: Selected Poems
Singing At The Gates: Selected Poems

Jimmy Santiago Baca, an award-winning writer and poet (National Endowment of Poetry Award) does it again. Singing At The Gates is a collection of new and previously published poems that reflect back over four decades of Baca’s life.

This selection of poems includes his early work as a budding poet, written while he was 18 years old and serving a five-year prison sentence, poems drawn from his first chapbook and recent pieces on family, nature and the environment.

“What an achingly beautiful collection this is. So split open, so raw, honest, vulnerable, real. Spanning Baca’s life in poetry, you feel the enormity of his heart and intelligence.” —Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones and The True Secret of Writing

When I read poetry, it’s usually two or three poems at a time. I’m partial to shorter narrative poems that are rich with description and weighty with a single word. My favorite poets are mainly women but sometimes I’m drawn to a poem by a male poet such as Jimmy Santiago Baca.

Baca’s voice captured me at his introduction and I didn’t want to stop reading until I was exhausted.

“I love the growl of poetry, the staggering crash of idols and the burning of literary pacifiers…writing was for me, everyday-me snatching memories and writing them down before the fire of forgetfulness and trauma relegated them to the dark chambers of amnesia…I take only what I can carry and what is most meaningful to me-and that is the narrative, the story, the poem.”

The rawness and vulnerability that Baca writes about in the first half of the collection is so heavy, at times, that my emotional exhaustion came after five or six poems. Many of the poems are viscerally descriptive:

“I wear the moon like yanked out roots

glowing orange

in my heart’s fang as I search for secrets

in my life”

Approximately halfway in the collection we come to poems of awakening, growth, family and celebration.

“The reason I wake this morning

is because those people who’ve lived

through tragedies and loneliness and

anxiety found in their shattered-pottery

hearts fragments that fit perfectly

into the puzzle of night stars,

into the joyous cry

of a child at dawn

dashing out on the playground,

into the hands of men like me

who rise and dress and walk

out the door, culling from winter night

residues of summer

to dream a bit more

of the growing season.”

The last third of the collection is from 1998 to present. In Baca’s poem “It Makes Sense To Me Know,” he writes about his time as a volunteer teacher of reading and writing. He asks the children to write a letter poem about their journey to America and describes a shy little girl asking him to sit on the floor next to her as she stood on a small stage in a bookstore.

“When she uttered that first word/a glint of light sparked across her brown eyes into the world, as if it were/golden/speech without sound. I sat amazed/at the light in her eyes, igniting a memory/in/me–when/I too recited my first poem. The intensity/and/radiance of/a child reaffirmed my original reason for/writing, one I had forgotten along the way./Suddenly/I knew, keeping the light intact,/not teaching writing, not to mold or direct,/just to keep it burning, blowing on the /embers so hope doesn’t go out…”

I cannot name one favorite poem but I have a top ten list of Baca’s poems because there are so many touching, gripping, slap you upside the head words of poetry in this 254 page collection (for Kindle).

Singing at the Gates debuts in January 2014 but is available for pre-order through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other bookstores. I read the collection as a participant of NetGalley.

Latino culture, Latino family tradition, Uncategorized

The Icons of Day of the Dead

La Catrina- Jose G. Posada etching, 1910 Mexico
La Catrina- Jose G. Posada etching, 1910 Mexico
November first begins the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) festivities and whose roots can be traced back to indigenous cultures. The Aztecs had a celebration in the ninth month of their calendar with a celebration to their goddess Mictecacihuatl, the Queen or  “Lady of the Dead.”


Souls did not die, they rested in Mictlan. Her role is to keep watch over the bones of the dead and she presided over the ancient festivals for the departed. She and her husband, the King of Mictlan, were depicted as skeletons and lived in an underworld of bats, spiders and owls.

The calavera, or skeleton is an icon of the DDLM. It has now evolved to stylized and colorful versions of the skull or skeleton figures. You’ve probably seen hundreds. You can find the history of the sugar skulls here.  Many times you’ll see skull shaped breads, cookies or candy. I had these delicious cookies last year:

Another icon of  DDLM is La Catarina. She is originally found in a 1910 zinc etching by Jose G. Posada, Mexican printer maker and cartoonist. Later La Catrina was stylized as a female skeleton dressed in a hat befitting the upper class outfit of a European of her time. Her hat originally is related to French and European styles of the early 20th century. She is meant to portray a satirization of those Mexican natives who the artist, Jose Posada, felt were over embracing European traditions of the aristocracy in the pre-revolutionary era.
La Catarina
DIego Rivera’s  “portrait” of Catarina popularized her in this 1946 mural.
The Kid-Diego Rivera. Wiki Creative Commons Lic.
The Kid-Diego Rivera. Wiki Creative Commons Lic.
The spirits of the deceased are thought to pay a visit to their families during DoD and the families prepare an altar, another icon, for them. The altar is used to hold offerings, or ofrendasfor the departed. Their favorite foods, photos, and mementos are often placed on the altar together with items the deceased enjoyed:  toys, candy, liquor, hobbies, etc. A bar of soap, towel, bowl of water and other grooming items are traditionally left at the altar with the belief that the dead have been on a long journey and would like to refresh themselves. 
Day of the Dead Altar-Mexico, Wiki Images
Day of the Dead Altar-Mexico, Wiki Images
An icon that celebrates the indigenous roots are the Four Elements: wind, water, earth and fire are often represented on the altar. Wind is sometimes signified by papel picado that moves in the breeze. Candles depict fire, food represents earth, and liquids represent water. The cempasuchitl (Mexican Marigold) is an Aztec tradition, and another icon, which says that the twenty-petal flower attracts souls to the altars.
In the last ten years, Day of the Dead celebrations include both traditional and political elements, such as altars to honor the victims of the Iraq War. There are updated, inter-cultural versions of the Day of the Dead such as the event at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, (a very cool website). This year the Smithsonian Institute has a celebration-on 3D! 
Smithsonian Institute
Smithsonian Institute Dia De Los Muertos
The DDLM’s has become more widely known and accepted. Although I didn’t grow up with DDLM’s, I did grow up with small altars in our home, where we did have statues and prayed for the departed throughout the year. This was more in the tradition of Catholicism.

This year, like the last three years, I’m attending a DDLM party at the Ventura County Museum, which features crafts, altars, drinks and dancing. Whichever way you honor your loved ones and those who have departed, may you have a memorable Dia de los Muertos.

Books, Latina writer, Latino children summer reading list, Latino culture, Latino Literature, Literacy, Summer Reads 2013

Summer Reading-Latino Lit Lista
The summer solstice is on the horizon and with it the long summer days. Aromas of grilled corn, the juicy taste of fruit popsicles, lounging at the beach or backyard, and a good book have me anticipating the weeks ahead.

The annual “summer reading list,” has been a feature in many magazines, from Latina to Cosmo and Oprah. These books are usually quick read paperbacks that are about ‘lighter’ topics. And they’re all good lists, however I offer you one more:

The 2012-2013 award winning books written by Latina/o authors.

Whether you are Latina/o or not, think about using this lista as an opportunity to explore different themes in the Latina/o experience, discover multi-cultural characters, and peek into other worlds that may be dissimilar to your own, but resonant with universal themes important to all of us.

This list ranges from adventure to suspense:
  1. MISSING IN MACHU PICCHU-Cecilia Velastegui’s. Action/Romance “…four thirty-something professional women embark on (a) hike to help them confront their online dating dependency, only to find themselves victims of a predator’s ruse, and soon in a fight for their very lives.”

  2. THE LOST-Caridad Piñero. Action/Paranormal Romance. “Home from combat in Iraq, Bobbie Carerra wants only peace, (she finds herself) in a terrifying battle against paranormal enemies who hide in plain sight.”
  3. DESPERADO-A MILE HIGH NOIR-Manuel Ramos. Crime novel. “Money, sex and greed…theft of the sacred tilma of our Lady of Guadalupe and drug cartels…”
  4. THE SANDOVAL SISTERS’ SECRET OF OLD BLOODSandra Ramos O’Briant. Historical fiction set in 1800’s.…sisters are caught in the crosshairs…of the Mexican-American War…from two important fronts-New Mexico and Texas. Their money and ancient knowledge offer some protection, but their lives are changed forever.”
  5. THE OLD MAN’S LOVE STORY-Rudolfo Anaya. Fiction. “The nameless narrator…shares his most intimate thoughts about his wife, their life together, and her death. But just as death is inseparable from life, his wife seems still to be with him. Her memory and words permeate his days.”

  6. THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US-Memoir. Reyna Grande. “… a story of a childhood spent torn between two parents and two countries.”
  7. WE THE ANIMALS-Justin Torres. Memoir. “… the chaotic heart of one family, the intense bonds of three brothers, and the mythic effects of this fierce love on the people we must become.”
  8. EVERY LAST SECRET-Mystery. Linda Rodriguez. “…police chief Skeet Bannion(finds herself in a race) against the clock to solve a series of linked murders… before her best friend winds up in jail—or worse.”
  9. HOW FIRE IS A STORY, WAITING-Melinda Palacio. Poetry. “… (she) creates images that are at once heartbreaking and humorous….elemental subjects of family and childhood…and celebrates the women who came before her.
  10. THE SECOND TIME WE MET-Leila Cobo. Fiction. “…a graceful, skillfully woven tale of Rita and the son who comes to find her more than two decades later.”  
  11. MAP OF THE SKY- Felix J. Palma. Sci-Fi. “What if the events of H.G. Wells “War of the Worlds” became true…this is the result.”
  12. MAYA’S NOTEBOOK-Isabelle Allende. Suspense. “… (when her grandfather dies) Maya turns to drugs, alcohol, and petty crime…Lost in a dangerous underworld,…—a gang of assassins, the police, the FBI, and Interpol. (She) escapes to a remote island off the coast of Chile. Here, Maya …embarks on her greatest adventure: the journey into her own soul.”
There’s a book genre for everyone. So far I’ve read five of the 12 books and plan to read five more, maybe squeeze in the whole list. 

If you’re looking for a list of children’s books here’s a link to Latino Childrens Summer Reading List.

If you have any books with multi-cultural characters, settings or storylines, please add them in the comment section. My TBR list is ever growing. 

Happy reading.
Anna Ortiz, Chingonas, Dania Ramirez, Devious Maids, Eva Longoria, Judy Reyes, Latino culture, Latinos in film, Lifetime, Marc Cherry, Rosalyn Sanchez

Five Reasons to Like "Devious Maids"

A television series with Latina’s in the main roles has stoked some strident controversy. The new Eva Longoria production, Devious Maids, written by Marc Cherry have inspired comments on HuffPost and Twitter ranging from “…a wasted opportunity…” to “sell-out,” and “haters.”
Chingaó, (‘damn it’) what a lot of ruido (noise). But, you know, it’s good ruido, healthy. 

I have to admit, that when I first heard of the upcoming program (when ABC was considering it) I immediately thought of the late great Lupe Ontiveros who was often cast as a stereotypical maid, a lá Rosalita in Goonies. Second thought, this better not be another caricature of Latinas. Thirdly, when will film depict Latinas in roles that are multifaceted and realistic for most of us? 

The answer to the third thought: we have to write our own stories and support making these films (like Bless Me Ultima, Cesar Chavez film, and others that were crowd funded). 

But back to Devious Maids (DM). Tonight I found the pilot episode of DM on Lifetime On Demand channel-it debuts on June 23, 2013. I wanted to know what ‘side’ of the triangle I would be on: boycott, embrace, ignore.

Okay, only one way to decide. Watch the show and make up my own mind.

The five maids:

  • Zoila (Judy Reyes-Scrubs) is a caring mother raising a teenaged daughter, (Edy Ganem) Valentina. They both work for Mrs. Delatour  (Susan Lucci), who attempted suicide because her young pool boy amour wouldn’t introduce her to his friends because she’s “…over 40.” Her son, Remi Delatour, moves back in to help his mother. Valentina falls in love with him. “Rich boys don’t marry their maids,” Zoila says.
  • Marisol (Anna Ortiz-Ugly Betty) “…doesn’t have an accent, she sounds like she went to college…has attitude,” whines the new trophy wife Mrs. Stafford. Marisol is assertive, pragmatic, and carries a secret.
  • Carmen (Rosalyn Sanchez-Rush Hour 2) is a “…pretty girl with an agenda,” one titled, “I’m going to be a Superstar.” Confident, self-assured, a little manipulative, she works on staff for Alejandro, a famous Latino singer.
  •  Rosie (Dania Ramirez-Heroes) is a maid and a nanny. She cares for her boss’s baby while missing the young son she left behind in Mexico. She hires an immigration lawyer. Her phone call with her son is especially moving and well-acted.

So far, the women seem like chingona’s, in their workplace and in personality.                                                                               

This is what I liked about Devious Maids (DM’s):   
  1. The premier episode had an intriguing beginning (a murder) sets up the ‘whodunnit’ question. One of the DM’s will investigate the murder.
  2. The DM’s were varied, without falling back on stereotypical Latino cartoony characters. No Gloria Delgado-Pritchett (Sofia Vergara) accents.
  3. Issues of rich vs. poor, prejudice, class distinctions, immigration, sexism, infidelity (I could go on, this is just a taste) are presented.
  4. Their names are other than Maria or Lupe, and there are no exaggerated mannerisms for comic effect.
  5.   There are some very funny scenes along with a couple of poignant moments.

To be fair, I didn’t like a few things either:
  1. The clothes the maids wear to clean house are ones I’d go out for coffee in: nice jeans, wedge sandals, blouse and cardigan.
  2. All of them are skinny, and under 40 (except for Judy Reyes, but she looks -40). Where are the curves?
  3. The maids look homogenous: morena, brunettes, petite. Where are the rubias, the Afro-Cubans, the indias
  4.  The maids employers are caricatures: rich, white, (except Alejandro), entitled.
  5. The glamor shots of the maids at the beginning of the show. It’s so 2005, as in Desperate Housewives, and its spawn, Real Housewives of Orange County, Beverly Hills…Do something fresh, get more creative.

I follow a few television series: The Big Bang Theory (I love nerds), Grey’s Anatomy, Downton Abbey, Call the Midwife, and Mad Men. They all peek into the lives of people very different from me and my upbringing, but I find their stories fascinating.

I can’t say I’ll be a follower of Devious Maids, I don’t know yet. From this first episode I can say that I’m interested in hearing the stories about the lives of these Latina characters. It will be an episode by episode kind of thing before I can say I’m a fan but I’ll be watching-at least the second episode.