Sunday, February 27, 2005

Adios, Amigo

Chico Martinez died suddenly on February 18. He was honored with a gathering of hundreds of friends and family on February 25 in his home town of Trinidad, Colorado. Old pals from Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, showed up to pay their respects for this activist, cultural warrior, role model, leader. In the audience were musicians, politicos, bureaucrats, teachers, religious leaders, farmers and ranchers, students, viejitas and babies - gente. I watched the crowd as Chico's photos flashed across the front of the Christian Fellowship Church that served as the setting for his services. Their expressions of love and respect were genuine, so real you could feel the emotion swarm around all of us in that church. This guy literally touched the souls of all those he met.

The Pueblo Chieftain ran an obituary that you can access at this link and where you can get a small idea about the shock of his death and the effect the man had on his community.

I met Chico at Colorado State University back when some of us (the Chicano students) had been trying to organize our own brand of the revolution. He had transferred to the Fort Collins university from Southern Colorado State College in Pueblo and he had an immediate impact on all of us. The guy was filled with energy, music, commitment - life. He took the student movement from the sterile halls of the academy into the vibrant northern Colorado Chicano community where he established himself, published a newsletter, took on the local causes, started the first of his three families. He became Chico "El Perico" Martinez. I always thought that Chico was what the Movement was supposed to be. He was a hard act to follow, a tough image to live up to.

He never showed, to me at least, the burn-out or weariness that so many of us know. They say he had a massive heart attack. He had filled that heart with love and struggle - there's only so much any heart can take.

Que descanse en paz.


Monday, February 14, 2005

From The Sublime To The Ridiculous

The Most Influential Book Written By A Mexican?

Could it be Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo? The book was published in 1955 so the 50th anniversary may be the appropriate time to consider this book’s power over readers and writers. Both the book and the author are legends. There are several excellent Internet sites about Rulfo; a quick google on his name will bring up some great material. For example:

this one (Spanish)

or this one.

A few interesting facts:

Rulfo’s reputation is built on only two books: El llano en llamas (1953, The Burning Plain), a collection of short stories, which included Tell Them Not to Kill Me!, and the novel Pedro Páramo. He also wrote several TV scripts and movie screenplays including the classic El Gallo De Oro that starred Lucha Villa and Ignacio López Tarso.

Lesser known are his photographs. Here’s one review of the book of his photographs that Carlos Fuentes helped put together: “The photographs, mainly taken between 1945 and 1955, do not tell stories: they present. The images of people and their land, women in their traditional dress, musicians with their instruments, capture the calm, quiet, inner rhythms of Mexico's rural population. Rulfo extracts unique moments through his photographs; his images of desolate, abandoned buildings, their walls destroyed by artillery shells, are expressions of his nation's painful history. His quietly dramatic landscapes recall the work of Ansel Adams and Edward Weston while displaying a style that is truly his own.”

Pedro Páramo is considered one of the foundational classics of magic realism, predating One Hundred Years of Solitude by more than a decade. Gabriel García Márquez relates in his memoir, Living to Tell the Tale, how he memorized and could recite the text of Pedro Páramo at will.

My questions for readers of this blog:

Where do you place Rulfo in the pantheon of writers?

The dreamy (or nightmarish) quality of Pedro Páramo certainly struck a chord with Mexicans- how about Chicanos? Is it too much to say that Tomás Rivera is Rulfo’s direct literary descendant on this side of the border?

Is Rulfo’s book an essential expression of Mexican-ness? Octavio Paz said that Rulfo is “the only Mexican novelist to have provided us an image, rather than a mere description, of our physical surroundings.”

Cheech and Chong Reunion And A New Movie

Cheech and Chong appeared together on stage for the first time in 20 years at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen on February 10. They apparently were a big hit and the big news from the reunion was that they are planning a new movie, tentatively titled Cheech and Chong Get Blunt or maybe Grumpy Old Stoners. One possible script for the project was written by Tommy Chong’s daughter, Rae Dawn Chong.

Man, these guys used to make me laugh until I had tears in my eyes. Back when, a great night of entertainment could mean listening to one of their albums, then a little bit of Santana, then a little bit of Cheech and Chong, then a little bit of Santana, then a little bit of ....

Meanwhile, this piece of news about Cheech from Westword:

Leaving Aztlán. The Center for Visual Art in LoDo (Denver) is presenting the provocative show Leaving Aztlán: Rethinking Contemporary Latino and Chicano Art. The show examines new trends being embraced by Latino and Chicano artists -- and by Latinas and Chicanas -- and in the process explores the convoluted relationships between art and ethnicity. Ten years ago this would have been an overtly political show, but now, although politics are still in the mix, there are also many pieces that express cutting-edge aesthetic theories. Artists from across the country -- including Jesse Amado, Connie Arismendi, Javier Carmona, Alex Donis, Diana Guerrero-Mácia, John Hernandez, Benito Huerta, Chuck Ramirez, Juan Ramos and Rubén Ortiz Torres -- were selected, but Johnson also chose two local talents, Carlos Frésquez and Maria Michelle Gonzalez. A reception for the artists, curator Johnson and collector Cheech Marin is scheduled for February 24 from 6 to 9 pm. Through April 23 at the Center for Visual Art, 1734 Wazee Street, 303-294-5207.

Comic, actor, art collector, Chicano icon. ¿A real vato loco, no?

Manuel Ramos

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Pedacitos y Pedazos

Chicano Lit in Texas

I’ve used up a lot of cyberspace on La Bloga for Califas events, authors, etc. This time it’s Tejas. Next time, Nuevo Mejico? ¿Quién sabe? This could turn into a literary journey through Aztlan, or is it Atzlan?

The Tenth Annual Latina Letters Conference on Latina Literature and Identity will take place July 14 - 16, 2005. This major conference is sponsored by St. Mary’s University and the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in San Antonio. This year’s theme is: Ten Years of Latina Letters, Three Decades of Latina Literature. Announced guests include Sandra Cisneros, Pat Mora, Ana Menéndez, Lourdes Pérez, and Alicia Gaspar de Alba. The Conference has issued a Call For Papers. The topic for papers is open and proposals for panels and other conference activities are welcome. Deadline for abstracts of papers is April 29, 2005. Online registration (beginning March 1, 2005) will be available at More information:

You should notice that the information center for the Latina Letters Conference is Wings Press. The next time you are shopping for a book, do yourself a favor and check out this publisher. Don’t let the fact that it is a “small press from Texas” deter you. The website is Here you can find books by raúlrsalinas, Joy Harjo, Cecile Pineda, and several other emerging or established Chicano/a, native and women authors. You can even get John Howard Griffin’s famous classic Black Like Me as well as Street of the Seven Angels, a previously unpublished novel by Griffin. As the Bloomsbury Review noted: “Wings Press [is] the best little publishing house in Texas. Led by the indefatigable publisher Bryce Milligan, a true San Antonio hero and literary wizard, Wings Press has ventured beyond its south-by-southwestern borders to launch a series of original publications and reprints that deserve as much national recognition and distribution as possible.” For years Bryce Milligan was the driving force behind the San Antonio Literary Festival and Book Fair, an event sorely missed by anyone who ever participated or sat in the audience.

Left Coast Crime 15 is the 2005 version of this popular crime fiction conference. Each year in a different location dozens of writers and hundreds of readers and fans get together to talk about crime fiction and have a good time. This year’s conference takes place in El Paso, TX, from February 24 - 27. The International Guest of Honor is Paco Ignacio Taibo II, the celebrated mystery writer who calls Mexico his home. Taibo has authored several novels, many of which have been translated into English. He has a series that features the one-eyed private detective, Hector Belascoaran Shayne, who was killed off in one novel but brought back by popular demand in the next, with only a minimal explanation from Taibo. Taibo’s books are filled with action, leftist politics, nostalgia, atmosphere, numerous social and cultural references and, quite often, a subtle surreal quality. I enjoy them immensely and recommend him highly.

Taibo’s current writing project is a serialized mystery for the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, in collaboration with Subcomandante Marcos of Los Zapatistas. Taibo and Marcos are writing alternate chapters of the book, entitled Muertos Incomodos, which already is set to be published across the Spanish-speaking world and Italy. An English version of the book may follow. The series of chapters has reportedly boosted La Jornada's Sunday sales by 20%.

I will have the pleasure of appearing on the same Left Coast panel with Paco - a panel entitled : "Authors With Social Consciences: Society's Problems in Detective Fiction.” Other panelists include Denise Hamilton and Betty Webb. Man, with that title we could take the discussion almost anywhere.

I also will participate in a second panel, "Que Pasa Con Latino/a Detectives", with Steven Torres, Michele Martinez, and Alicia Gaspar de Alba. Torres writes the Precinct Puerto Rican series that features his hero Sheriff Luis Gonzalo. The three books in the series have caught a lot of good attention. If you like police procedurals, especially those set in Puerto Rico, Steven’s your man. Michele Martinez is brand new to the publishing game. For eight years she was an Assistant United States Attorney in the Eastern District of New York, and if you check out her website you can learn about her tough background growing up on the East Coast and her exciting life as a prosecutor. Her first novel, Most Wanted, hits the streets officially on February 15. Alicia Gaspar de Alba is well-known to anyone who has had even the smallest interest in Chicana Literature. She’s at Left Coast Crime to promote her soon-to-be released novel, Desert Blood. This sounds like a real must-read. It deals with the hundreds of apparently unsolved murders of women in Juárez over the past decade or so. Alicia has been involved with this issue for some time so there’s no doubt that the book will ring with authenticity.

I’m always up for good conversation about crime fiction, any kind of crime fiction but especially Chicano crime fiction, so if you make it to the conference, let me know who you are and what you like to read.

Manuel Ramos

Thursday, February 03, 2005



If You Can Read This, You’re Too Damn Close

A cop in Denver threatens to arrest a woman who is driving a car that displays a bumper sticker that carries the pithy message "Fuck Bush". This becomes a mid-level issue among the radio talk shows. The consensus seems to be that even if the woman had a right to display such a message "she should have known better" and "what happened to common decency?" The cop is disciplined by the Chief.

I Always Thought The Prime Minister Had A Real Way With Words - Oh, Wrong Churchill

Three years after he wrote it, a lot more people get upset over words that a professor uses in an essay about the 9/11 attack. Many of the upset people have, in the past, decried the abuse of what they term “political correctness” to censor someone’s right to free speech, especially on campus. Am I the only one who sees the irony in this? Post columnist Diane Carman has written an excellent column that reminds the University of Colorado that it can demonstrate its expressed commitment to academic and intellectual freedom. Or not, as she says.

For Some Reason This Pissed Me Off

The superintendent of schools in the town of Norwood, 33 miles west of Telluride, bans, yes, bans, Bless Me, Ultima because of “obscene language and paganistic practices.” According to the Denver Post, the superintendent admits that he hasn’t read the book “in its entirety,” and that “there weren’t so many parents who were concerned, but when it was brought to my attention I was concerned”, and that his main concern was the “filthy” language. The teacher who ordered the book apologized for her “error in judgment”. The editor of the Norwood newspaper comments that she believes that “most people and certainly school employees are too afraid to speak on the record.” This is the same book that Laura Bush (Laura Bush!) listed as ninth on a list of 12 books that she highly recommends. Rudolfo Anaya’s response: “Read the book.”

It’s Only The First Amendment So How Important Can It Be?

They say that two is a coincidence, three is a fad, but four is a trend. Do we have a trend yet?

Here are a few more recent situations in Colorado to think about as you ponder the state of free speech in the grand state of Colorado:

Do Italians have the right to have a Columbus Day parade?

Does a public school teacher have the right to display a Mexican flag in her classroom where many of the students are of Mexican heritage?

Do the police have the right to seize bookstore customer purchase records in the interest of protecting neighborhoods from the dangers of illegal meth labs if they are looking for corroboration that a suspect bought a how-to book on manufacturing illegal drugs?

In a high-profile celebrity criminal case, does a newspaper have the right to obtain transcripts of hearings in the case even though such transcripts contain acutely embarrassing details about the victim?

Enough of that.

American Tableau – 2005

I'm walking along a major Denver street on a cool but pleasant day, surrounded by skyscrapers. The wall of a bank provides some protection from a chilly breeze. It's lunch time. Two well-dressed women are haranguing an official-looking Chicano who just placed a parking ticket on their Jaguar. They are quite angry. I check the scene - they are parked in a NO PARKING space. The signs are obvious. The driver screams something about the guy not knowing who her daddy is. Then she asks if the guy is "from here?" I walk away because it can't get any better.

A couple of days later I’m on the same street, same block, same bank. Two guys are pushing a stalled vehicle out of the way of traffic. At least I think that is what they are doing. It gets a little confusing because the apparent driver can’t make up his mind about which direction the other guy should push. One of the guys is an African-American, the other might be Latino. This car definitely is not a Jaguar.

Manuel Ramos