Friday, July 21, 2017

Hard-Boned White Boys

The following is a chapter from my novel, King of the Chicanos (Wings Press, 2010).  This was the final piece I read at this month's FBomb Reading Series here in Denver.  I think the reading went well. 

©Manuel Ramos, all rights reserved

1943 - Stockton, CA


“Órale, Chato. ¿Qué hubo? ¿Qué pasa?”

He nodded his head at the other boy, who pointed his chin at him in response.

“Aquí nomás,Tino. ¿Ya sabes,no?”

They eyed one another at the street corner where they had inconveniently met. They had to act out the established routines, the accepted norm for what passed as civility between two young migrant workers on an early Saturday evening in a small, inconspicuous town. Their loitering was tolerated only because they were needed to gather the asparagus from the farms that surrounded the town, and there was no one else for that work.

The tall, dark boy with Hollywood Latin Lover good looks stood with his hands in his pockets, a slouch in his posture. He shuffled rather than took steps, swayed rather than walked. The web of his left hand framed a homemade tattoo of a small cross with radiating lines.

The rugged-looking second boy had a broad, flat nose. No one would think of him as handsome but he carried himself with respect and strength.

They wore crisply ironed, pleated slacks tied to their bony hips by thin white belts. The pointed collars of bright colored shirts caressed their scrawny necks. The slender, vicious weapons of their youth, switchblades, rested in their pockets. Each boy waited for any sign from the other that this would be the day for the reckoning, for balancing the score, for the righting of wrongs that never existed.

Their wariness did not come from fear. How they acted reflected much more than their individual situations, yet they were unaware of their roles in a drama created by forces that moved around them like the dust devils that stirred the rich farmland dirt. If they strutted and talked cheaply, swaggered and dared anyone to knock the chips off their shoulders, they also remembered the nights they whimpered in dirty bunks, exhausted from the sun, hands and feet blistered and bleeding, looking forward only to the next camp, the next crop, the next long highway.

They craved to be part of the group they defined by their insolent greetings, the hybrid slang, the swing music, the dangerous attitudes and the smooth smiles. They were young Mexican Americans, adrift on the streets of a North American farm town. They lived in a time that had no space for them, that neglected their existence and denied their spirit, and instead courted them for failure.

One of them ventured a gesture. He took a chance on the soothing coolness of the night after the swelter of the day, gambled that the beautiful sky with the glow of the dying sun would not allow itself to frame an ugly event, not that night.

“How’s your primo, Freddy?” Tino asked in the soft voice that always surprised his listeners. “Heard anything from him?” 

Several of the cousins were in the military, soldiers and sailors in the various theaters of war that had sprung up around the world in places that they had not known existed, with names they could not pronounce, with other men whose only connection was their mutual terror of indiscriminate death at the hands of the strange, unknown enemy.

“Freddy’s missing, just like Juan.” Chato answered with some hesitation, a bit of resistance to having a conversation with another who could be a threat. “At least he’s not dead yet, not like Tomás, not yet anyway. That we know of, that we’ve been told about.”

Tino nodded. “Must be real tough on your aunt.” His concern sounded genuine. “So many kids and so many in the war.” He paused and the bravado came back. “I can’t wait until I can go. Stick me some Japs. They won’t know what hit them, not when this crazy Chicano hits the beach.”

Chato had never heard the word Chicano before that minute, but he knew exactly what Tino meant as soon as he said it. Like so many other words that floated between Spanish and English, that tried to convey the dimension of living in two different worlds, the slang term for Mexicans in the United States made immediate sense to him. In Colorado, down around Pueblo, the word was skaj. In Southern California, he was just a pocho. Up in Michigan, an old Indian from Albuquerque who worked with them in the fields said that they were Spanish Americans, and that kind of made sense to Chato. In Crystal City, children at the migrant school he had attended for a few weeks had chided him about being a pachuco. Everywhere he went, la raza stood for all of them together, the people, the race, the Mexicans.

Chicano. He wondered where that one had come from.

“Hey, greasers!”


“Dirty Mexicans!”

“Go back to Mexico!”

Hard-boned white boys in overalls, flannel shirts and floppy cowboy hats packed the bed of a pre-war Chevy pickup. From the truck’s cab, Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys loudly sang about a woman named Rose from old San Antone, on the moonlit path beside the Alamo.

Chato and Tino flinched, tensed their muscles, and drew closer together. They kept the circling truck in their eyesight, watched it cruise up the street, stop at the corner, turn around and come back at them. The curses flung from the bed of the truck reached the boys before the dusty pickup stopped.

Tino drew the knife from his pocket and said a few words to Chato. His soft voice had grown even softer, the words almost lost in the gear-grinding jumble of the old truck loaded down with the alcohol-fueled farm boys. “These gabachos want to rumble. You ready, Chato?”

When Ramón Hidalgo remembered that fight, when he looked back at the outburst of violence that forever marked the type of man he had to be, he did not necessarily recall the angry epithets, nor did he always imagine the dull thump of the blows from the blistered, rock-hard fists or the clod-hopper-covered feet. He pointedly ignored the red, gushing line that creased Tino’s jaw where a fishing knife slashed open the skin. He never spoke about the boot heel that smashed his already flat nose and left him a thin ridge of scabbed, lighter skin that horizontally split his nose in two. More often than not, his mind first saw the background of cloud layers tinged orange and pink by the setting sun. There was silence just before the first punch landed, and as he would later tell the story, the country boys moved as though they trudged in a quagmire of fields flooded by the overflowing ditches of a wet spring. Against the postcard image of the sunset, young men’s hatred filled the silence, washed out the watercolor hues of the fading sky, and blotted away the calm evening that briefly had existed for Chato Hidalgo and Tino García.



Manuel Ramos is the author of several novels, short stories, poems, and non-fiction books and articles. His collection of short stories, The Skull of Pancho Villa and Other Stories, was a finalist for the 2016 Colorado Book Award. My Bad: A Mile High Noir was published by Arte Público Press in 2016 and is a finalist for the Shamus Award in the Original Paperback category sponsored by the Private Eye Writers of America.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Chicanonautica: Diego and Pablo in 20th Century

The Frida and Diego exhibit at the Heard Museum left my mind reeling. I also came away with some books. That got the ideas percolating . . . Ah, the creative process!

With Frida dominating the show, I feel the need to talk about Diego, one of the giants of 20th century art. It can be argued that he is responsible for the Latinoid/Chicanoid identity as we know it, and any genre of futurism it is spawning. I also couldn’t resist his My Art, My Life, especially with La Catrina from his mural Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park on the cover.

In her, Diego created her most magnificent manifestation--beautiful as she is monstrous, and wearing Quetzalcoatl as an accessory, pointing the way for her evolution from caricature of middle class pretension to the goddess of La Cultura to whom artists and writers must make sacrifices.

The autobiography is based on interviews with Gladys March, and gives an idea of his voice, and a taste of his mythomania--a strange word that often comes up concerning Diego. As it was with Frida, his public image and myth are just as important as his art. If you don’t create your own myths, someone else will do it for you. An important survival lesson for the age of social media.

Personally, I prefer the term mythotech.

The book reads like a fantastic novel--dare I say magic realism? Someday the story of Frida and Diego, and the way it twines through history, will probably be made into the greatest telenovela of them all.

At one point Diego calls Frida “a Mexican artist of European extraction looking to the native traditions for her inspiration.” Please allow me to throw that monkey wrench into the controversies over cultural appropriation.

Diego is a chingón of 20th century art. He has gained stature as time has gone by. When I was an art student during the Ford administration, my teachers would not have considered him any where near as important as Picasso--yet also in the museum bookstore was a catalog from another recent exhibition, Picasso & Rivera: Conversations Across Time, edited by Diana Magaloni and Michael Govan.

Sometimes I write like comic books. Sometimes I try to write like Rivera murals, or Picasso paintings. The book is also brimming over with great art. I had to have it.

A lot of the la gente these days don't like to recognize our Spanish heritage--as in Spain, the conquistadors, and the whole hijo de la chingada. They tend to know more Español than any native language. I identify with El Quijote and artists like Picasso more than I do with all the BBC stuff that Americanoids think is so damn civilized, and Spain is a bridge through Europe to Africa and the Middle East in my global barrio.

Like Rivera, Picasso had classical training. Picasso remained rooted in Europe's Greco-Roman past, providing a foundation of postwar Anglo/America-centric modernism. Rivera built off of pre-Columbian civilization. And mythology. Don't forget the mythoteching. And the mythomania.

As modernism and the 20th century cool down in living memory, who knows which artist will be seen as the biggest influence on the World Wide Latinoid Continuum of the new millennium.

Ernest Hogan is the author of High Aztech. His latest works are in Altermundos, Latin@ Rising, and Five to the Future.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Lowriders to the Center of the Earth

Written by Cathy Camper
Illustrated by Raul the Third

  • Age Range: 9 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7
  • Series: Lowriders in Space
  • Publisher: Chronicle Books
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1452138362

2017 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award Winner

The lovable trio from the acclaimed Lowriders in Space are back! Lupe Impala, Elirio Malaria, and El Chavo Octopus are living their dream at last. They're the proud owners of their very own garage. But when their beloved cat Genie goes missing, they need to do everything they can to find him. Little do they know the trail will lead them to the realm of Mictlantecuhtli, the Aztec god of the Underworld, who is keeping Genie prisoner! With cool Spanish phrases on every page, a glossary of terms, and an action-packed plot that sneaks in science as well as Aztec lore, Lowriders to the Center of the Earth is a linguistic and visual delight. ¡Que suave!

"The wild antics, exuberant illustrations, and frequent Spanish will launch the Lowriders straight into many hearts."-Booklist

"The storytelling is inventive, juggling cultural references, surreal circumstances, and educational impulses."-School Library Journal

"Solidly uplifting graphic novel that offer plenty of comedy, adventure, information, and magnificent art."-Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

Lowriders in Space (Book 1)

Lupe Impala, El Chavo Flapjack, and Elirio Malaria love working with cars. You name it, they can fix it. But the team's favorite cars of all are lowriders—cars that hip and hop, dip and drop, go low and slow, bajito y suavecito. The stars align when a contest for the best car around offers a prize of a trunkful of cash—just what the team needs to open their own shop! ¡Ay chihuahua! What will it take to transform a junker into the best car in the universe? Striking, unparalleled art from debut illustrator Raul the Third recalls ballpoint-pen-and-Sharpie desk-drawn doodles, while the story is sketched with Spanish, inked with science facts, and colored with true friendship. With a glossary at the back to provide definitions for Spanish and science terms, this delightful book will educate and entertain in equal measure.


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

New book on Magu's art

Review: Hal Glicksman and Cortez Constance, eds., Aztlán to Magulandia: The Journey of Chicano Artist Gilbert 'Magu' Luján. Irvine CA: University Art Galleries/ DelMonico Books. 2017. ISBN: 9783791356884

Michael Sedano

The University of California Irvine just solved your holiday gift-giving challenge five months early. No matter who--old, young, literate, book-phobic—everyone will appreciate having a copy of this lavishly produced volume suitable for the coffee table. The book, edited by Hal Glicksman and Cortez Constance, Aztlán to Magulandia: The Journey of Chicano Artist Gilbert 'Magu' Luján, includes important essays by Karen Davalos and Maxine Borowsky Junge. Virginia Arce, Mardi Luján, and Naiche Luján provided chronology support.

The essays are the icing on the cake, which is 165 plates in rich color and detail. The art in the book will hang in the exhibition. What a show, all these Magu gathered in one place at the same time, perhaps for the only time in our lifetimes. Whether or not you attend the show, once the exhibition closes in early December, only the catalog remains to document the experience. Beside, you will want to read the catalog for the essays, not just the pictures.

The art component of the book sets forth a synoptic collection from Magu’s career. There’s an historic pleasure seeing the placa for the UCI “Los Four” show. A pair of “Los Four” exhibitions introduced Chicano art to the world in 1973 and1974. In many ways, Magu by organizing the Los Four collective, started Chicano art. It’s a similar phenomenon to the birth of Chicano Literature in the 1969 edition of El Espejo: The Mirror. He’d underplay it a little, but Magu would agree. This book documents one of the nation’s most important artists and art movements and is essential to any library or under that holiday tree. By the way, the cover’s a rich gold, like Hanukkah gelt.

Magu is a friend of mine who crossed to the Other Side a few years ago. Many are the conversations we shared about his career, the Los 4 collective, the nature of Chicanidad in art and literature. Never arrived at a solid conclusion but that wasn’t / isn’t the point of a friendly chat or a Mental Menudo. For sure, my friend is happy seeing this volume and the exhibition, overjoyed to see his UCI homecoming. Aztlán to Magulandia: The Journey of Chicano Artist Gilbert 'Magu' Luján offers a fit tribute to a humble giant of United States art. Did I mention you really need to own a copy?

When he got word of the Irvine exhibition, Magu’s excitement sent him into a frenzy of design and construction. He got busy on a monumental carrito to hang on the wall. In rest periods from the sculpture he assembled and sorted canvases and sculptures from the archive that filled every room of his rented house. But Magu was already sick, and energy so depleted a resource that even his powerful creative spirit force couldn’t produce the power to sustain his ideas. The UCI retrospective would ever be a distant dream.

Now, Hal Glicksman and Rhea Anastas have done the curatorial work and assembled a magnificent exhibition that showcases Gilbert Luján’s brilliance. I find Glicksman’s introduction especially important for comprehending Magu’s emergence as a distinctive voice in U.S. modern art, wearing the label “Chicano artist”. Glicksman organized an early graffiti show in Claremont, where he met Magu. They collaborated a few years later when Magu was doing the MFA program at UCI where Glicksman was director of the galleries. The first “Los Four” show hung with Glicksman’s permission. He remembers the time with pride, despite the scholar’s distance.

Magu liked to rant on about European art, and posing a conundrum, if Chicanos can do European art—“we’ve been doing European art all our lives!” he used to exclaim—Anglos could do Chicano art; except no, they couldn’t. The artist’s fervor at his analysis has its origins all the way to grad school in the 1970s. Glicksman remembers the art firebrand Magu discarding fealty to New York minimalism and European influences, seeking materials in Mexican indigenous design and mixing irony and Chicanidad to give Chicano art a place next to other traditions.

Point of view, that’s what gives Magu’s work a special place in raza aesthetics. Magu hung a large canvas over the fireplace, a map of the Americas. Except the perspective was looking north from South America, playing with expectation, seeing the world upside down before realizing that’s the point, a description and a mindset. I wonder what happened to that painting? It’s not in the catalog but to me it was an elegant overstatement of another of Magu’s favored subjects, “all art is political.”

The dog, among Magu’s most recognizable motifs, and other anthropomorphized characters, populate a concept called Magulandia, the critic Glicksman explains. They’re zany and humorous, non-threatening, inclusive. Adding pyramids, indigenous costume, and indio faces to the canvas acknowledges the authentic history infusing Magulandia while disposing of fantasy histories and hyphenated identity complexes.

I’ve probably brutalized Glickman’s more nuanced analysis of Magu’s work. The curator—who calls Magu by his surname in the essay—takes a careful scholar’s approach, laying out a chronology and context of the young Gilbert Luján—“just Magu” he would tell people who called him “Gilbert.” For gente who know Magú but don’t know all these details of his intellectual development, Glickman’s essay is especially interesting. For gente who want to know more about Chicana and Chicano arte, Glickman’s introduction and the essays by Karen Mary Davalos and Maxine Borowsky Junge are invaluable.

The Davalos essay emerges from the art historian’s project a few years ago documenting a variety of leading Chicana and Chicano artists. We had a Mental Menudo at Casa Sedano in 2007, during the time Davalos was working on her Magu interview, adding personal interest for me and the handful of folks who attended. Borowsky Junge co-authored the recent biography of the magazine Con Safos. Magu was art editor for the historic arts and culture movimiento magazine.

You didn’t have to be a friend of Magu’s to appreciate all you’ll receive from Aztlán to Magulandia: The Journey of Chicano Artist Gilbert 'Magu' Luján. Magu, kind-hearted and unassuming as can be, is a towering figure in United States art. Too few know his work, others dismiss it without a thought. For the latter, leafing through the high-quality reproductions in this hefty oversize publication could make a difference: only the hardest hearts are immune to that grinning doggie smiling out at you in full color.

I do not subscribe to the shoulda-coulda-woulda school of criticism, pero sabes que? I sure wish Magu was around to see this exhibition. I know he’s happy as can be over there, munching an organic tortilla and firing up some celestially good stuff.

The exhibition at Irvine runs October 7 – December 16, 2017, with the hardcopy catalog due to be released in early September. See your local bookseller to get your orders in now.

Monday, July 17, 2017


A short story by Daniel A. Olivas

I step into the bathtub, and Mamá stands in the doorway telling me to be careful, don’t slip and crack your head.

As I ease myself into the hot water, she says: Mija, what is that?
I freeze, my butt just touching the water’s surface. What’s what? I ask.

She says: You got hair now? Down there? She covers her mouth when she says this, like she’s about to throw up.

I never told her that I got my first period last month. My older sister Celia told me to keep it secret from Mamá. I asked her why but she just shook her head, face all screwed up like she ate something bad.

Mamá walks to the sink, opens a drawer, and pulls out tweezers. She holds them up, squints like she’s trying to see if they’re okay. Then she looks at me.

Get out, she says. Get out now.

[“Pluck” first appeared in Codex Journal, and is featured in Daniel’s forthcoming collection, The King of Lighting Fixtures (University of Arizona Press, fall 2017).]

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Blessed Be: The Poetry of Yaccaira Salvatierra

Olga García Echeverría

Poeta Yaccaira Salvatierra

*Earlier versions of the following poems previously appeared in Cheers From the Wasteland, Huizache, and MiPOesia


Blessed be the Spanish overlooked on a page—hanging
on to tips of tongues, so they are not swallowed
and lost.

Blessed the bending of backs amid yesterday’s
and tomorrow’s dawn: a thousand diagonal arms
reaching for alfalfa or kale in unison, in silence.

Blessed be the midnight blue paisley handkerchief
protecting a woman’s grandfather from sunrays
piercing like endless needles searching
for skin among Salinas and Watsonville fields.

Blessed be the midnight blue travel on the Greyhound:
San Diego, Santa Cruz, San Jose, Los Angeles.
When the angels arrived at the Greyhound stations
of various destinations, they quickly began to look

for a woman entangled in her grandfather’s language
and her country’s, one sounding like barks
muffling the other trailing farther in the distance.
Having lost their sense of direction, the angels thought,

Blessed be these urban cities and not-quite-yet cities.

Then, the angels returned to their terminals, wings tucked
into their corduroyed jackets as they made their way
down narrow aisles of midnight blue seating.

Once, her grandfather said: Guided by the song
of your voice, angels will protect you. Once, he said:
Reza todos los días y canta alabanzas aunque
no tengas una vela, para que no te olvides. 

And she lights a candle in memory of his song.

And she prays soft and steady every night for those
trailing in the distance.

And she knows she will never be a greyhound
under the midnight blue, yet runs, pacing herself,
so she does not tire from guiding her own children
towards the songs of their grandparents’ understanding.


Lola learned to wear a dust cloth
like a white glove
and an apron like a red dress
she twirls in her mind
when she sings an Héctor Lavoe song:
Pronto llegará
el día de mi suerte.
Sé que antes de mi muerte,
seguro que mi suerte cambiará.

Close by, her employer
discards junk mail
like a pile of dead leaves
while listening to Lola sing
a song he does not understand.
She must be content,
her employer thinks,
but when asked to work on Sundays,

Lola has learned to say I can’t.
Maybe she is not content,
he rethinks.
What he doesn’t know
is that Lola has a daughter in Perú—
that the language of her song
is a silence in her heart,
or that she makes wings                

from every dollar she is paid,
and on Sunday mornings,
she opens her windows
and lets them fly south.


Pigeons hovered as we lowered your casket next to your gravestone;
they filled their silvery-purple chests, spewed a lullaby into your stone grave.

Grandfather, you once told me that no song of lament to any Saint
could stop pigeons in Mexico City from having the sky be their gravestone.

As a young man working in the city, a pigeon fell next to your feet,
so you left for the Central Valley: clean air and a small bed for your grave.

I had seen pictures of you younger, sunburned, always wearing huaraches—
your toes filled with dirt like that brick-color dirt under your gravestone.

When you were much older, living off of your Bracero’s pension, you
went to church every day, saved money every month for your gravestone.

Sometimes you went to mass without your teeth, said evil spirits hid them,
but it didn’t matter, you still prayed when you thought of your name on stone.

You always cooked a pot of pinto beans and made soft flour tortillas for us—
I think I’ll put a bag of beans and white flour next to your gravestone

instead of lilies.

  I carefully placed your portable stereo in the grave so you
could listen to Vicente Fernández sing a ranchera under your gravestone,

hear him cry the Mexican yodel—I don’t think I ever saw you cry, Salvatierra,
but at your burial, we cried your favorite “Chente” song over the bed of your grave,

Yo sé perder, yo sé perder, quiero volver, volver, volver.


One of my favorite names in the world is currently Yaccaira Salvatierra. It's a name I imagine we could torture some white supremacists with. It's fierce, poetic, and unapologetically muy Latino Américano. Yaccaira Saves the Earth. I met Yaccaira this past April at LitHop in Fresno. We were both part of the reading Damas, Sirenas, and the New Beats of El Corazón, which also featured the talented poets Nancy Aidé González and Marissa Raigoza.

This past month, I had the opportunity to read some of Yaccaira's poems and interview her via email. Of course, the first question I asked her was about her name. Here is our guest featured poet sharing a little about herself and her work.

LitHop Fresno 2017: Yaccaira, Yo, Nancy, y Marissa (our group organizer and Loteria Queen)

Welcome to La Bloga. How did you get such an awesome name? 

First, thank you for the compliment, I truly feel fortunate to have been given this name. My birth name is Yaccaira Hortencia de la Torre Salvatierra and, as you can imagine, it has not only been butchered but I have lived under different variations of my name because of its uniqueness, but I feel that Yaccaira Salvatierra holds all of me, the Peruvian and Mexican history of me.

You write about your maternal grandfather in your poem "California Hymn." Is that where the Salvatierra comes from? 

My father is de la Torre and my mother’s maiden name is Salvatierra, which is gorgeous and painful considering that my grandfather, Teodoro Salvatierra, worked on California lands as a farmworker for years while my grandmother and aunts stayed in México. I suppose a literal translation to his name could be “Teodoro saves the earth,” but metaphorically it truly embodies his life as a Bracero, which is filled with irony because my aunts and grandmother lived in poverty in México, and because of the poverty we endured when we moved back to the US when I was two.

And Yaccaira?

According to my father, Yaccaira (pronounced Ja-hi-da), is Quechua for a cemetery of flowers or a place where spirits congregate. It basically describes a burial cite. It’s poetic and haunting, but when I visited Perú for the first time—my father has never returned, he left in his thirties—my family who also speaks Quechua, did not make this correlation. As a matter of fact, and with reason, when I asked, they were more interested in wanting to know about my father, all the years that had passed, and his guitar-playing days as an apprentice to a well-known guitarist in Perú. They wanted to reminisce about his years in Perú with me, his first and eldest child, the closest they will probably ever be to him again. That first day, my family gathered in a circle and they took out a guitar. One by one, my uncles played a song, sang, and said something in Quechua or Spanish about a memory of my father. It was a beautiful moment, which left me with more questions about him.  For now, my name holds that mystery, it’s the Peruvian part of me I know little of, the spirits I need to unveil to know my father’s story. Salvatierra is honoring my Mexican family, the beginning of where I start in their story.

What was your first connection to the creative word?

I was born into a very unstable home where it was common and natural for me to retreat within myself, disconnect from those around me and find solace in my solitude.  Even before I knew how to write, I was making up songs about how I felt. I remember one of the first poems I expressed was in song and in Spanish. It was about a dandelion, a wild flower, which in Spanish is called diente de león directly translating to lion’s tooth.  To a child, that image can be frightening, but to me it was wonderful; however, I changed things around in my song. The blades of grass were lion’s teeth protecting this wildflower, or flor silvestre—that’s such a beautiful word: silvestre. I once heard my mother say that cada espíritu nace con su canción, each spirit is born with its own song and I think mine is of sounds and words.

Do you remember writing your first poem?

By second grade, I did eventually write my first poem, but I didn’t know it was a poem then. I grew up Catholic and in the church. Around that time, someone at our church was leaving, someone who was dearly loved by everyone, including me. During one of our Sunday school classes we were asked to make farewell cards filled with pictures or writing. I don’t remember what I wrote about, but I remember it was a child’s sincerity and sadness. When I gave it to Irma, my Sunday school teacher, she showed it to her husband who was there and said, “Tienes que leer este poema que escribió Yaccaira.” “You have to read this poem Yaccaira wrote.” I suppose that would be my first written poem.

Lucille Clifton reminds us that poets have been around long before academia and classrooms. She says that it's important to remember that perhaps “poetry began when somebody walked off of a savanna or out of a cave and looked up at the sky with wonder and said, 'Ahhh.' That was the first poem." Who are the untraditional poets/dreamers/storytellers in your family who have influenced you?

There is so little I know about my family, and so much I want to know, so much I feel needs to be documented for my sons and their understanding of themselves in this world, particularly the United States. For example, my father left Perú in his thirties, but the reason for him leaving is filled with so much mystery, and to this day he will not talk about it. He was also once a guitarist, but he stopped playing when he stopped drinking. I was ten years old then. Because he's always been reserved and secretive about his life, my three older brothers and I made up stories with the bits and pieces we did know of him. Poetry is like this for me. I remember when my father would drink, he would go into a bedroom and play his guitar and I would sit outside of the door.  I would hear him sigh after a song, and it was in those sighs I felt I was entering into his life, one that was meant not to be shared but I wanted to know so much about. On the other hand, my mother has always been an avid reader, a great storyteller, but mostly about her life, that of my aunts, or about spirits. Lots of them.  Ultimately, I am drawn to the stories as a way to better understand them, especially since my childhood was so tumultuous.  

What is your greatest challenge in writing? What is your greatest pleasure? 

My greatest challenge is finding time to write, or trying to keep a schedule. I am a parent, a teacher, and a writer. The balance is so difficult because I many times choose my sons’ needs over mine. I feel it is a spiritual necessity; I am not only having to fulfill my spirit’s longing, but I have to guide that of my sons’.  In addition, I am a single parent, which makes finding time and keeping a schedule even more difficult. I used to have this routine where I would write Saturday and Sunday mornings early while they were asleep; however, I’ve always preferred to write at night. Truthfully, my heart goes out to single-parent artists with little support, or without a co-parent. It’s not easy.  My closest friends are dancers, musicians, or writers, and they live following their spirits need to create.  It’s an imperative to their survival. So, it’s not easy for me, but my two sons have also been one of my greatest pleasures. I have learned so much from them; they have gifted me with more insight into humanity, which is priceless.  Besides, I am enjoying watching them become young men with the need to create.  One of them has the gift of writing and art, and my other son finds happiness in photography and digital music production. And, of course, I find a lot of pleasure in writing a poem.

Pigeons often appear in your poems. Is that one of you animal spirits? 

I have not had a professional vision quest of my spirit animals, but the rock pigeon has to be one of them.  Ever since I was younger every time I heard a pigeon coo I felt it was a message that things were going to be okay, or that my spirits were close by watching out for me.

Thank you, Yaccaira. Here are some pigeons for you. Blessed be tu vuelo! 

Yaccaira Salvatierra is an educator and art instructor living in San José. Her poems have appeared in Huizache, Diálogo, Puerto del Sol, and Rattle, among others. She is a VONA (Voices of Our Nation) alumna, the recipient of the Dorrit Sibley Award for achievement in poetry, the 2015 winner of the Puerto del Sol Poetry Prize, and a nominee for a Pushcart Prize. Although she has lived in over seven cities in California, San José has been home for the past 17 years where she lives with her two sons. (5:00 p.m. at Hart’s Haven Used Bookstore, 6:00 p.m. at Spectrum Art Gallery)

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Marcial Delgado - It Takes a Working Man to Tell a Working Tale

I have the pleasure today to introduce the current ABQ slam champion, Marcial Delgado. Marcial's poetry is firmly rooted in community, Chicanismo, and family. There is a groundedness is his poetry and he exemplifies the direct, clean, unfussy language of a working-class approach. 

He is a strong performer, who can command a stage with not only his physical presence, but his delivery and the heart of his message.

I was fortunate enough to read at an ongoing series he hosts, Voices of the Barrio, at a community venue in Albuquerque, El Chante. As host, Marcial does something very few venues do - he pays the featured poet. There is a collection among the attendees, but regardless of the donations, there is an honorarium that I suspect he also adds to from his own pocket. Why did I mention this? Because a working-class ethic is what this man is about.  All work, including creative work is to be respected and rewarded.

Take a minute and read his poetry and our interview.

Marcial Delgado is a poet from Albuquerque, NM. He is also the host and curator of Voices of the Barrio Open Mic Poetry at El Chante: Casa de Cultura in downtown Albuquerque. Delgado has written a chapbook in collaboration 
with Armando Guzman titled
 “Burque Soul...Desert Blood.” 

In 2017 Marcial Delgado became the ABQ  Poetry Slam Champion.

He is also a member of the ABQ team competing in the 2017 
National Slam Championship, August 8-12, in Denver CO.

I Love You

You don't like me
You were taught not to like me

Because my skin is as brown as the mud left behind by a stray thunder cloud
Filled with the prayers and tears of my ancestors who were left dead or dying on a bed of blood that covers a warpath of greed and spite
You hate me
You were programmed to hate me
Because you cannot pronounce the name that was given to me by my parents
A name that arrived from a country that isn't your own
My name is Marcial
Not Marshall or Marcel
My name should be sounded out with an echo all the way from Chihuahua, Mexìco
You despise me
You've learned to despise me
Because I speak Spanish
Even though you know the original language of my ancestral soul was ripped from my tongue centuries ago
And replaced by words from a distant land across the sea
A land full of rape and disease
Brought to my home of forest and deserts and rivers and love
You dislike me
You've been guided to dislike me
Because I am not patriotic to a country that hates me a lot more than you
A country that locks away my childhood friends in a prison system that treats them like slaves so privatized prisons can profit from the blood and sweat of the barrios
A country that separates my bloodline with a fence
Even though my blood belongs to the Camino Real
Descendant to the King's Highway
Long before the white man stuck his flag upon my elder’s graves
You detest me
You were trained to detest me
Because of the color of my eyes and the color of my skin given to me by the desert sun
So you pick at me with a logic that drives into brick walls at dead ends
Make assumptions behind my back
Say that I'm an alcoholic that gets lost in a maze of whiskey bottles and beer cans on a Saturday night
I love you
Even though I was taught to hate you
And yet I love you
I love you

Ancestor's Blood

Chicano culture is a passion and an honor
History of Aztec obsidian and Spaniard steel
Fist full of still-beating hearts that were sacrificed to the Sun
Explorers utilize enemies of the enemy to become old world conquerors
Architects and engineers build great temples and city-states to please their gods
Two worlds collide and give light in hopes of the return of two saviors, Quetzalcoatl and Christ
Revolutionaries speak for the oppressed with their bravery, blood and bullets
Zapata y Villa wage war on the corrupted in hopes to free the people from governed abuse
Gringos mistreatment of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
Rape our land and make us tenants of our own homes
Leaders like Reies López Tijerina, Rodolfo Gonzalez and Cesar Chavez fought for our dreams
The land of Aztlan became a vision of breathable reality
The future is brown we must not let the old gods down
A new sacrifice of pride must be given to the sun
We must educate our daughters and our sons
Teach them our history and show them how peace can be won
Not through paved boundaries, violence and guns
But through education, faith, hope and love
We are a strong raza and we are capable of reaching the stars mapped out for us by our ancestor's blood
Like the Eagle perched on a cactus with a serpent below it's tongue we will forever remain strong

Everyone has an opinion

About restaurants, books and movies
Opinions are golden when used for ideas like politics and discussion
But opinions are evil when directed and placed upon people
You say you can't stand Mexicans, Gays and Muslims
Then you try to justify your hate filled statements by saying "that's just my opinion"
Use a simple word from the dictionary to cover up your self-entitled bigotry
There are synonyms for your opinions
Like hatred, intolerance and racism
But you think it's alright just because you consider yourself a patriotic American
Use the word opinion to make yourself look like a good Christian in front of all your friends
Yet you fail to understand that Jesus loves everyone including Muslims and Mexicans
And every other single existing human
At least that's what is taught to believe in
The creator even loves those who choose atheism
But yet you continue to spread your falsified history through corrupted Facebook memes
And you fail to see that patriotic Americans also arrive from third world countries
"Oh say can you see" that the Earth wasn't made for you or me
This land we tread is everybody's
The color of your skin doesn't mean you were meant to reign supreme
It's xenophobic rhetoric that kills the American dream
Imagine if love truly was cherished
From sea to shining sea
Picture the possibility for this Land of the free
If we all stopped creating war
To join in peace and harmony
To live without fear and the absence of worry
It's really worth the effort of holding
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free"
Words that were written with the blood of honesty
Are not meant to be another suppressed memory
Words held high to the sky as a promise for the world see
Brown is not around to be ridiculed and kicked to the ground
Told to be brave then turned to servants and slaves
Beneath your chains all you see are savages without any souls to save
That's exactly how your opinions behave
Ignorance is written all over your face
Spreading hate like a disease
Spewing lies all over the place
There's nothing wrong with loving the country in which you belong
But how can you bow before a loving God with all of that hatred buried beneath your heart?
There's no intention to wipe my ass with your opinion
It's just, damn close your mouth and try to do some listening
Now I think I know what's going around your brain as you read this poem
The words I have written must be really stupid and crazy
But hey, what can I say because it's only my opinion
Now crucify me

Tamales Are Smiles

Sitting on my porch Thinking about my past Thinking about my present Thinking about my future Thinking about Tamales Man, I really love Tamales I wish I was eating a Tamale I can smell the thrilling aroma Of maseca and chile colorado The imaginary taste of perfection fills every taste bud with excitement As my teeth grind down on a pocket of air Wishing that a tamale was there Tamales are more than just red chile con carne rolled in masa and corn husk Tamales are sacred memories Of a table sitting in the middle of family Spreading and scooping and wrapping Singing songs of ranchera and mariachi Smiling and laughing It doesn't matter how many visitors are coming The tamalero can hold one thousand tamales Tamales are celebration Tamales are the last taste of the night Cuando uno estas mas pedo que la chingada After a bailè con su amada Tamales are the first flavor of the morning Cuando uno estas mas crudo que la chingada Tamales are more than the only presents I unwrap on Christmas time (At least I know that Santa Clause got all of my letters) Tamales are the smiles of Abuelitas As they watch the eyes of their grandchildren grow wide and satisfied I love tamales But don't get me started on Menudo

Talk about your journey as a worker and a poet. How has being a working man grounded you and your work?

Even as a child, I always knew what I wanted to be as an adult. Like many boys I wanted to be like my dad. My dad was a construction worker. I believe that my trade of work has a lot to do of who I am as a poet and a person. A poem is built just like a house. With a strong foundation and a strong structure. Strong enough to withstand Mother Nature's storms.
My poetry journey begins as a child. In fact, I remember writing my first poem in the first grade. It was about frogs playing with dogs.
As I grew through public school system, some teachers recognized my natural talent for writing. When I grew into a teenager my brother and I started a metal band. He played guitar and I was the lead singer. I always loved to write lyrics and poetry for our band. Even still to this day we get together and write music.
I am heavily influenced by The Poetry and lyrics and 1970's, 1980's, and 1990's Hard Rock and metal music.
Bands like Iron Maiden, Suicidal Tendencies, Megadeth, and Black Sabbath have inspired me to be the poet I am today.
I began to perform poetry in front of an audience in the year of 2014. I then begin to attend open mics and poetry slams. I really fell in love with the poetry community in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I enjoyed spoken word so much and also I wanted to show my appreciation to the Albuquerque poetry community. I created a monthly open mic poetry. With the help of El Chante: Casa de Cultura we have created a space for the gente of our barrios by our gente of our barrios. This event is held every second Thursday of every month.
I then discovered slam poetry. I worked hard  on my poetry as a spoken art. My performance improved and in 2017 I became the ABQ Slams Grand Champion. Since then, with the ABQ slam team we have traveled and brought back to Albuquerque a Southwest Regional Championship trophy. In early August we will travel to Denver Colorado to compete in the National Poetry Slam.
I am a construction man. I build homes for a living. I work with my hands and I am proud of that because the tradesman is a dying breed. I stay grounded to my work, my family, and the Mexican community. My people are held close to my heart because they are who I am.

What do you feel are some assumptions that people have about you and your work? What would you like to say about that?

I really don't pay too much attention to assumptions but there are assumptions that have been made about me. For instance, during an event I was asked by an audience member how a person like me got into spoken word poetry. A person like me. What did she mean? She meant a cholo, a gangster and a person of the streets. I am just working man who takes care of his family. I am only a man who enjoys writing poetry.

What are the themes that draw you back over time?

Growing up in the barrios of Albuquerque. The passion and the acts of survival that I have seen and participated in throughout my life. The love I share with my wife because without her love I would never find the courage to share my heart with others. And the supernatural of the world because monsters and magic do exist within poetry and culture.

Give us some background about the regular event you host at El Chante. Why is this important you?

In September of 2015 with the help of El Chante: Casa de Cultura, Voices of the Barrio: Open Mic Poetry and Music was created. It is a monthly event held every second Thursday of every month. Voices of the Barrio is a platform for the stories of ourselves and our city to be told in a safe environment.It features local poets and storytellers with the opportunity to be paid for their art. 
This is important to me because it's my way of giving back to my city and it's my way of giving back to the community that has captured my heart.

You are the current ABQ Slam champion. How do you see that influencing what you do presently and moving ahead?

When I became the 2017 ABQ Slam champion it was a great moment in my life and I think this title has influenced me to work harder on all aspects in my life. My family life, my work and my poetry are all influenced by this accomplishment. As I move on in my poetry journey my only goal is to continue to inspire others to write with their hearts and souls. To inspire and touch the lives of others is the true accomplishment of my journey.

What is the role of familia in your personal and creative life?

My family is every aspect in my life. My family is every breath I take. I have a large family and I carry a piece of all their spirits with me wherever I go and all I do. My brothers push me to be the best I can. My wife and my daughter inspire me everyday. Family is all I've ever had. Family is all I've ever cherished. Without family I am a ghost.

In what ways would you like to develop as a poet and writer? What obstacles do you see and what kind of support is out there for you.

Perhaps the next steps in my journey of poetry include creating my own manuscript to create a book of poetry to call my own. I would also like to start submitting poetry to more publications. The only obstacle I face is me. I must educate myself on how to develop as a writer. I must not be a victim of my own procrastination. I have lots of support. The support of my family and the support of my community. I also have the support of the Chicano Poet Society a lovely Facebook group with members from all over the country.

What's something that's not in the official bio?
I love to eat cake and it doesn't matter what kind of cake. Just along as it's cake.