Authors, Folsom Lockdown, Melinda Palacio, oetry, poetry, Strong Women

Folsom Lockdown-Poems by Melinda Palacio

               Poetry: The spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings~Wordsworth

A few days ago I had the pleasure of hearing Melinda Palacios, poet and author, read several of her poems. She was a guest poet at the Carnegie Museum’s 2011 Arcade Poetry Series. I’m a recent ‘follower’ of her blogs on “La Bloga,” and admire her style of writing. So it was without hesitation that I jumped on the chance to listen to her give a reading in my hometown.

Melinda’s book of poetry, Folsom Lockdown, is the winner of the 2009 Sense of Place Chapbook Award. I love the title of the award “Sense of Place.” Now how did poems which deal with a father being in the second oldest prison in the state achieve a “Sense of Place” award? By being damn good poems is the quick answer. A more thoughtful one is given by Luis J. Rodriguez, “Somehow, we’re all behind bars. And Melinda Palacio’s poems are a welcome reprieve that dares to illustrate how poetry and art are the only real keys to our liberations.”

Once Melinda began reading I was mesmerized by the powerful sound of this petite woman. Her rich voice was full of passion, her hands moved to the imagery created by her words, and she spoke in the vivid voices of the characters in her poems. This was particularly entertaining with the poem “United Steaks.”

Some of the other poems like “Dancing with Zorro’s Ghost, Snake Charmer, Remember Persephone, and Names and Numbers” are wistful, questioning, and often harshly realistic, much like the prison system. All of the poems illustrate the reality of growing up with an often absent father, violence, loneliness, and questions. But the strength of family, acceptance, and maturity are also there, side by side. There is no bitterness in these poems. And that is what allows the depth of her voice to be heard, which is part of their uniqueness and their power.

Melinda’s new work is a novel, Ocotillo Dreams, published by Arizona Press. It will debut in July 2011 and is available for pre-sale on

Folsom Lockdown is published by Kalupi Press, ISBN: 978-0-9817653-1-0. You can find it on or at her website,

Authors, Chingonas, Denise Chavez, Kathy Cano-Murillo, Pedro Infante, Strong Women

Loving Pedro Infante…

Do you remember Pedro Infante, the Mexican movie star from the Gran Epoca of Mexican movies? Maybe you don’t, but I mention this because he came into my little ‘blog’ life last week. But I’ll start at the beginning. 

I follow a blog penned by Kathy Cano-Murillo author of two books. She is at and (She has terrific sites). Kathy asked her readers if we read any of the books she listed on her “to read book list” and if we had she invited us to write a review. One of the books was from one of my favorite authors, Denise Chavez. I’ve read all of her books, including “Loving Pedro Infante.” So I took the plunge and wrote the following review, which you can find, among the others on Kathy’s website. The cover of the book es muy sauve, but I don’t know if it’s copyrighted so here’s another photo of Pedro Infante.
Denise Chavez creates real, flesh and blood characters whose lives touch ours even though they live in fictional border towns, between two cultures. Chavez describes Cabritoville as “…a one-horse-two-dog-mangy-one-cat town…” Her main character, Tere, is a teacher’s aid who  lives “…in the little house, next to my mother’s bigger house.” She is a very engaging, funny, late thirty-something divorcee who spends most of her free time watching old romance movies while waiting for a married lover to give her some attention. Most of us have been there, done that (substitute unavailable for the married). 
Tere says she “…has a degree in living…” and that may be true, but she gets a D in men and romance. She is the secretary of the Pedro Infante Fan Club and spends many an evening romanticizing the Mexican movie star in the humid El Colon movie theater with her best friend Irma. If they’re not in El Colon, they are in a bar, or a friends kitchen discussing relationships.  And herein lies the dilemma for Tere. She knows she’s not happy with a married lover and she yearns for a good man, a romantic man’s man, like Pedro Infante, but does she have the ‘huevos’ or ovaries to break up with the guy.  While she’s waiting for this cabron, she’s getting older, she’s not growing in her life, her quasi-socio-cultural savvy friend Irma mentions– more than once. And Tere knows this is true. 
There is a sub-plot, about a male friend of Tere’s, which isn’t effectively resolved, however it adds some interesting texture to the story. And there is a little confusion in the time sequence of the narrative. But these don’t detract from the ‘pleasure’ value of the story. 
The real romance here is the bond of friendship and family. It’s about the kinds of friends that stay with you long after the bad relationships end and are willing to pick you back up.  The story is enriched with Splanglish and cultural identifications which may put off some readers, but the themes in this book transcend cultures and language. 
If you haven’t read the book, try to find it in the library or order it from It’s a story most women can identify with, whether you live in Goatville or not.   
Family, Latino Family Traditions, Strong Women

Remembering Mama

      A couple of years ago my mom began telling us more stories about her mother or maybe I started listening more carefully. Her mother died when she was twelve, six years after her father died. Her stories are all I know of my grandmother except for one picture. Its a photo of a tall thin man in a dark suit and hat standing next to a short pleasantly plump woman who looks very young. She is holding an infant and a toddler is standing at her side. This is one of the stories she tells.

     My mother was fourteen when my father kidnapped her from her father’s hacienda in Siloa, Guanajuato. It was planned, they had to run away because my grandfather didn’t want his daughter marrying a ranch hand. They came to Pomona during the Mexican revolution of 1912. Six children later (you know one of your uncles died) and at the age of thirty my mother became a widow. 

     The kids in our neighborhood came to our house regularly. That was because my mother was different from all the other mothers in my neighborhood. Sometimes Adela and I were in the front yard drawing a hopscotch on the sidewalk or jumping rope and mama would come outside and join us in our games. She was like a big kid jumping up and down on the sidewalk. After she played with us, everyone would gather on the porch, surrounding her while she told us fairy tales or animal stories. None of the other mothers played with us or told us tales. She was a fun mom.
     Mama never wore her apron except when she was cooking.  When we went to the market she wore her nice dress. She carefully combed her wavy black hair. Her dark brown eyes had long, long black lashes and her defined eyebrows stood out against her light peach colored skin.  She liked to comb her hair in different styles.  One time when she was trying to put the front of her hair in curls, like the comic strip girl, “Tillie the Toiler,” she burned her forehead with the hot iron.  But she didn’t give up.  She tried again and curled her hair into little ringlets on her forehead, pulling one down to cover the burn.  
     She took us to a lot of places.  On the 16th of September, we walked downtown to hear the political speeches and the Grito de Dolores.  Every week we went to the Pomona City Library. We never turned our books in late or damaged them; she taught us to be careful with books.  Once a month we all went to the movie theater in downtown Los Angeles, where they showed Mexican movies in Spanish. She liked the movies.  

     Mama was also curious about a lot of things. She liked to know what was going on in the world so every day she heard “Despertador” (Wake Up) on the radio.  Once a week we got the Herald Examiner in English.  I read the newspaper to her while she worked in the kitchen. 

     Sometimes Mama would take us to the Protestant church services besides the Catholic Mass. In the summertime she sent us to Bible Vacation School with Reverend Crawford.  Every day the Reverend and his wife picked us all up and took us to their church school.  I still remember some of the songs we sang.

      On laundry days Mama made pancakes.  She was the only mother in the neighborhood that made pancakes. On other days we had thick oatmeal and warm homemade bread or steaming hot beans and freshly made tortillas.  One of the neighborhood boys, Loreto, came over every laundry day.  He loved her pancakes. Laundry day took hours. Mama loaded the big pot onto the bricks in our backyard and lit the fire. Then Concha and I helped her scrub clothes in our washtubs.  Our tubs were filled with cool water and soap; we would scrub them on our metal washboards. When the water, in the big pot, boiled Mama added our clothes, one by one, stirring them in with a big stick.  While the clothes boiled we  emptied our washtubs and filled them up with more water.  Mama would use her big stick to pick clothes out of the boiling water and drop them into our washtubs. When they cooled down, Concha and I  picked them up and wrung them out, squeezing and twisting the water out. Then we would pile the clothes into the laundry basket. The next day was ironing day.  She took the clothes down, ironed and folded them.  She even ironed the pillowcases.  Mama was very neat and clean.

     After Papa died, Mama began working in a sewing factory.  Catarino and Eluterio were twelve and thirteen years old but they worked to help the family. Concha was ten and took care of me and Adela.  We took care of the house, the chickens and the rabbits.  

     Mama still played hopscotch and jump rope with us when she wasn’t busy.  She still welcomed the neighborhood kids and told us stories on the porch of our house and she continued to make pancakes on laundry day until she died a few days after her thirty eighth birthday in 1940.  

     I hope you share stories about your mother with your children today, and that they listen, and I wish you a lovely Mother’s Day.  Be well. 

Americas Award Books, Authors, Chingonas, fiction, Sandra Cisneros, Strong Women, Wisdom

Listening to Sandra Cisneros

“We all need to have art in our lives and writing is art.” I’m paraphrasing what I heard Sandra Cisneros say while I listened to her speak, in her melodious voice, to a standing room only crowd of over 200 people. She spoke at Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural and Bookstore in Sylmar, California, located at the edge of a strip mall across from the new Fresh and Easy. Every seat was taken, every wall held up by shoulders, every piece of floor space and some laps taken up by listeners.

I’ve been to Tia Chucha’s twice, when visiting my friend Pati, who lives up the hill from there, but we either get there too early or too late and peer in the windows between the posters and flyers. Yesterday was the first time I’ve been inside. I’m early (no more Chicano time for me) and there are still seats. I give a quick glance at the book table and remember I don’t have “House on Mango Street” anymore because I lent it out to someone. The 25th Anniversary Edition of HOMS is there and I snag a copy.

There is an open seat towards the middle of the room filled with wall to wall fold out chairs and I settle in while the place overflows with more than 200 people.  Most of the audience drove from more than thirty minutes away, most are under 35 years old, and half attend college. I am in the ten percent of people over forty five years of age. I know this because she polled the crowd.

I mentioned Sandra’s dulcet voice ( yes I’m calling her by her first name as if we were comadres or amigas), because its softness and her inflections make you feel like she knows you. She can do this even in a huge university room, like Campbell Hall at UCSB where I heard her speak, in her cute pajamas, three months ago.  There is an intimacy in her written voice that touched my heart many years ago when I first read “House on Mango Street.”  Her stories and poems speak about where I have been, and that she’s been there too.

The selected reading was from her upcoming book, and I don’t remember it’s title but it’s coming out in the fall. She read a story about “Marie.” It was about two little girls looking for their lost cat in their neighborhood. Sandra read in several different character voices: male, female, young, old, and cat. I was there with her, looking under hedges, behind fences, peeking into dry yellowed backyards, pausing on stoops, knocking on doors. It takes an outstanding writer to do this to you, while you’re sitting in a hot crowded audience on steel fold out chairs. But she does.

Sandra invites people to ask questions. Yes she has two more books coming in the fall, she’s collaborating on several projects as co-author, her friend Lourdes Portillo is completely a screenplay for “House on Mango Street,” and the crowd is thrilled with that disclosure. She is entering into another part of her life now, seeking change, moving from San Antonio, Texas. Mexico is calling. I think it’s Oaxaca, only because her website has a recent photo of her in Oaxaca and she has a message to her readers about change.

I ask her whether she has thought about publishing e-books. “Yes, the publishing world is also undergoing change, shifting…” She will publish her books as e-books and she owns all of the publishing rights. Very smart woman. “I’m not married to a university or a rich man…so I don’t have a pension…further publishing (with e-books) is my pension.” I’m happy that she will do this and I want to tell her that, but I don’t. I know there are so many other questions to be asked.

The reading and question/answer period seemed short, a fleeting seventy-five minutes. The audience is instructed to line up in a certain area for book signings. The queue quickly forms to over fifty people before the second half of the building empties out. I hope Sandra has a wrist brace so she doesn’t tire out her writing hand. She has so much more art to create and I have so much more to read.

The photo of her is at the end, only because my BB takes crappy photos. 
Boycotts, Cesar Chavez, Chingonas, Faith, Family, Strong Women, Wisdom

Remembering Cesar Chavez and My Mom



I love this photo. The black Aztec eagle symbolizing la causa is so familiar. Every time I see it I not only think of Cesar Chavez, but also of  my mother. I was in grammar school the first time I heard of boycotts, farmworker rights, and la causa. My mom was in night school at Ventura College and went to community meetings at the CSO building. 

One weekend she packed her bags and took off to Delano with several of her younger classmates and community organizers to participate in a march. When she came back she talked with a fervor about Cesar Chavez and farmworker rights. “Did you know he lived in Oxnard? Right here in La Colonia.”  His speeches moved her, she could relate, she embraced his words of “Si se puede.”

Mom was a migrant worker from the time she was a toddler playing  under the sombra of the vineyards until she was fifteen and cutting her hands on the thorny brambles of the cotton bushes, moving from place to place first with her parents, then with her tios when they both died. She hated that her education was interrupted and for that she never wanted to work in the fields again.

Her participation in la causa and community meetings were fodder for several arguments with my uncles. “What the hell are you doing, going to these meetings, isn’t it bad enough you go to night school, you’re never with your kids…”

That rang true, but she wasn’t gone because she was in a bar or with some man, we kids knew that. No one talked stuff about our mom like they did about one of the moms down the street. But sometimes she crumpled under their barrage of words, other times she let loose on them. Whatever happened though, my uncles and their wives were there for us, lending Mom money, bringing us food, and taking care of us.

Years later, when I was in high school we had renewed arguments, this time both my mom and I harangued our relatives. “We’re boycotting Coors, switch beers,” we’d say whenever they visited. “We thought it was just grapes,” they’d yell and add, ‘que la chingada,‘ for emphasis. It took a year of confronting them every time they popped open a Coors, but they stopped buying the brand.

In college I remember boycotting Safeway, standing in picket lines in Santa Barbara, and waving that red flag. By this time my cousin was involved in the Brown Berets and my mom was busy marching for a community pool in La Colonia, addressing workplace issues, and working on her BA at a university. My uncles noted the photos of the Kennedy’s, Cesar Chavez, and the Pope on the walls of our home. ” Is this is why you go to college?”

When Cesar Chavez died Mom went to Delano and paid her respects with 50,000 other people and mourned the loss of the great man who inspired her and gave her the three words she often repeats whenever we get discouraged. 

“Si se puedes,” she says, yes you can. And when I see that iconic flag, I hear those words, remember those sacrifices, and think of Cesar Chavez and my mom.