Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Latino Voices in U.S. Literature

Lucrecia Guerrero
The United States is a cultural patchwork made up of indigenous peoples and immigrants from all over the world.  Our literature is all the richer for this great diversity of voices that color uniquely American stories with a variety of hues and textures.   One of the cultural patches in our American quilt is being celebrated September 15—October 15: Hispanic-Latino Heritage Month. 
My own writing reflects my mixed Latino/Anglo heritage.  I grew up in a bilingual and bicultural home on the U.S./Mexico border, a place where cultures meet and blend. 
My mother, a wonderful story teller, introduced us kids to her hometown of Ashland, Kentucky by sharing anecdotes about family and others.  Mommy sang us English and Irish ballads, a legacy of stories hundreds of years old.  She prepared soup beans and baked pones of cornbread in an iron skillet; served bowls of warm peach or apple cobbler with cream drizzled over it; and fried up platters of fried green tomatoes.  She showed us her love—and shared her heritage—through her stories, her music, her cooking. 
My father, in turn, connected us to our family ties in Mexico.  He told us stories of maiden aunts who searched for Pancho Villa’s treasures.  Papi introduced us to traditional dishes from different regions of Mexico but mostly from his state of Puebla, food influenced by indigenous people and the Spanish and French: salpicón, a cold salad of seasoned beef on romaine; mole poblano, a savory chocolate sauce; chiles enogadas, poblano chiles stuffed and covered with a sweet sauce and pomegranate seeds.   He took us on driving excursions through Mexico, pointing out different customs and historical backgrounds as we went along. 
As I am fond of saying: I grew up eating biscuits and gravy with a jalapeño on the side.  This statement is true, both literally and figuratively.  And, for me, it adds another layer to my life’s experiences—and to my writing.
Among the U.S. Latino writers, you’ll find a great diversity of styles and stories.  So many that I can not do them justice in such a short article.  On this IWC blog, Kathryn Page Camp mentioned books for young people and children.  Julie Demoff-Larson, in her blog contribution, focused on the Nuyoricans, writers of Puerto Rican heritage writing out of the New York area.    
Maybe your tastes run more toward the fantastical:  try Manuel Lopéz’s The Miniature Wife and Other Stories and experience his intelligence, wit, and insight as he regales you with these strange stories.  And, yes, zombies are included.  Or if you like the experimental, Daniel Chacón’s Hotel Juárez short stories and flash fiction bring to mind the writing style of Jorge Luis Borges. 
If family drama or the fantastical is not for you, you might want to try a mystery: Desperado, a Mile High Noir by Manuel Ramos is one I really enjoyed.  Perhaps you prefer something with more indigenous influence.  In flesh to bone, Ire’ne Lara Silva weaves stories steeped in the myths of the indigenous people of Mexico and the Southwestern U.S. 
I’ve barely dusted the surface of the wonderful literature available in the U.S. Latino category.  I hope you’ll be moved to sample some of these uniquely American voices that will introduce you to the “exotic” while anchoring you in stories that deal with universal themes, those human concerns that pull you into a well-written story.
Lucrecia Guerrero’s short works have appeared in journals such as Glimmer Train and The Antioch Review.  Chasing Shadows, a collection of linked short stories, was published by Chronicle Books.  Tree of Sighs, her award-winning novel, was published by Bilingual Press at Arizona State University.  She is currently at work on a second novel, tentatively titled Midnight in Mad River.  She lives in Indiana and is available for presentations and to facilitate creative writing workshops.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Let's Get Real: The Controversy behind Magical Realism

Kayla Greenwell
Monday marked the first official day of National Hispanic Heritage Month, and it just wouldn’t feel right if we didn’t talk about one of the major literary movements that originated in Latin America: Magical Realism. Magical realism mixes elements of the magical into an otherwise mundane setting in film, art, and writing. Perhaps the most well known for mastering this craft is the late Gabriel García Márquez, who passed away on April 17th of this year. 
The world has fallen in love with magical realism. It has been universally influential, and authors from Franz Kafka to Toni Morrison have attempted the genre. Many of these authors have adopted magical realism into their work to give agency to the social, moral, and political issues in their work.  The particularly unique sense of surrealism and mystery that a reader experiences when reading a work of magical realism is indefectible.   
So you may be thinking at this point that I am being a little dramatic.  How can a genre that is so widely accepted be controversial, Kayla? Well, hold on. I’m getting there.  The controversy is not in the genre itself, but in its origin. 
Magical realism started as a movement in Latin America in the 40’s, but the term was actually keyed by a German art critic named Franz Roh in 1925. He used this in a discussion about several paintings that came out at the time. It was only fifteen years later that the magical realism writing movement begin in Latin America.  This has caused some controversy over the years as to whether the tradition of magical realism really belongs to Latin America.  While I can’t solve the controversy, I can honestly say that even if the idea of magical realism did not begin in Latin America, they are certainly the ones who perfected it. Magical realism is near and dear to my heart, and I can’t speak for Mr. Roh, but I think he would hope that no matter where or in what form, that people would enjoy the genre. 
Recommendations for authors of magical realism:
·         Jose Martí
·         Ruben Darío
·         Juan Rulfo
·         Jorge Luis Borges
·         Haruki Murakami
·         Salman Rushdie
·         Franz Kafka
·         Nikolai Gogol

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

National Hispanic-Latino Heritage Month: The Nuyorican Movement

Julie Demoff-Larson
With the upcoming celebration of National Hispanic-Latino Heritage Month (September 15-October 15), I thought it would be nice to take a look through my collection of books and see what authors, novels, and collections written by Latino authors still stand out for me. I have always been drawn to literature that is steeped in folklore and tradition while mixing contemporary settings and ideals, so it wasn’t surprising to me to find a number of Nuyorican works scatting in the mix.
The Nuyorican Movement began in the late 1960s and early 1970s in several New York City neighborhoods such as East Harlem and South Bronx. The movement was a way to validate the Puerto Rican population that had long been ridiculed, marginalized, and discriminated against. The term Nuyorican was first penned as an insult, but artists and writers living in the area transformed the word’s meaning into a symbol of Puerto Rican pride.  The movement gave way to numerous Puerto Rican visual artists, writers, and musicians who were creating work based on their cultural experiences while living in New York.
One of my favorite Nuyorican writers is Nicholasa Mohr. Her work depicts the everyday lives of Puerto Rican families living in El Barrio, Spanish Harlem where she grew up. The realities of the world the characters live in do not overshadow the compassion, humor, or loyalty the community thrives on in her stories. Mohr’s short story collections and novels in such as El Bronx and In Nueva York are not just for adults, but are appropriate for YA readers as well. These books open young readers up to new cultures and are helpful to understand the historical context of immigration. Mohr’s children and young adult books have won numerous awards including the New York Times Book of the Year.
Other Nuyorican authors you may enjoy:                                                                            

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Writing to Preserve Heritage

Kathryn Page Camp

I’m one-half German, one-quarter English, one-eighth French Canadian, and one-eighth who knows what. But few people would guess any of that unless I mentioned it. You can’t identify me by my heritage.
And that’s a shame.
Everyone is the same under the skin. Still, where we come from is an important part of our identity. People have different experiences and history and customs, and that’s what creates a heritage. Because my German ancestors came to the United States in the 1800s and were quickly assimilated, I’ve lost most of it. My Grandma Page was born in England but grew up here, and those less obvious heritage differences blurred, too.
Then there’s language. I took German in college, but picking it up was hard for me by then. I’ll always regret that I didn’t learn it when I was young.
That’s why I admire the Latino writers who are trying to pass their heritage and their language down to the younger generation. Some tell their stories bilingually, with the English and the Spanish side-by-side. Others tell stories in English but sprinkle them with Spanish words and phrases.
If you want to see what I mean, check out these bilingual picture books written primarily for children in the early elementary grades.
  • The Piñata Maker/El piñatero, with text and photos by George Ancona, takes the reader to a Mexican village, introduces a real piñata maker, and shows how he makes a swan and a star.
  • In My Family/En mi familia is written by artist Carmen Lomas Garza. She combines words and illustrations to tell about growing up in Texas in a Latino family.
  • My Very Own Room/Mi propio cuarito is written by Amada Irma Pérez and illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez. The book tells the story of a girl who figures out how to turn a storage space into a bedroom so she doesn’t have to share with her brothers.
I Love Saturdays y domingos, by Alma Flor Ada, demonstrates the second approach. The story is told by a girl who spends Saturdays with Grandpa and Grandma and Sundays (domingos) with Abuelito y Abuelita. Although both parts of the story are told in English, the description of what happens on los domingos includes some Spanish words that parallel the ones on the Saturday side. Here is an example:
     Grandpa knows I love surprises.
     One Saturday, when I arrive, he has blown up a bunch of balloons for me. The balloons look like a big bouquet of flowers: yellow, red, orange, blue, and green.
     “What fun, Grandpa!” I say, and run with my balloons up and down the yard.
     Un domingo, Abuelito also has a special surprise for me. He has made me a kite. The kite is made of colored paper and looks like a giant butterfly: amarillo, rojo, anaranjado, azul, y verde.
     —¡Qué diveritido, Abuelito!— I say. And I hold on to the string of my kite as it soars high in the air.
In Sip, Slurp, Soup, Soup/Caldo, caldo, caldo, Diane Gonzales Bertrand combines the two approaches. She tells the story in both English and Spanish but sprinkles some Spanish words among the English. When Mamá needs tortillas to go with the soup, the English tells it this way:
     Mamá bangs her wooden spoon on the table. “Papá!”
     Papá comes in and kisses Mamá before he grabs his hat.
     ¡Vámonos, niños! Let’s go buy the tortillas.”
     Tortillas, tortillas, tortillas.
Bertrand’s book even has a caldo recipe in the back. Like the rest of the book, the recipe is written in both English and Spanish.
I wish I’d had bilingual books in English and German when I was growing up. We should all pass on our heritage while our children are young.
And I celebrate the Latino authors who do just that.
Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer. Her most recent book, Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal (KP/PK Publishing 2013), is a Kirkus’ Indie Books of the Month Selection. Kathryn is also the author of In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court’s First Amendment Decisions Affect Organized Religion (FaithWalk Publishing 2006) and numerous articles. You can learn more about Kathryn at