Bless Me, Ultima, the opera

One of my favorite novels is being put to an opera and coming to Albuquerque in February 2018.

Original post found here:

Recently La Bloga friend Teresa Márquez shared the good news Armienta, Opera Southwest, and the NHCC have set a date for a workshop performance in February 2018. The company has hosted tryouts and workshops in San Jose, CA and is taking the show on the road for the first time.

This premiere creates the ideal opportunity to visit New Mexico in Winter, both to enjoy the state’s spectacular landscapes and to see the work in progress for Héctor Armienta’s opera, Bless Me, Ultima.

Ticket-buyers don’t have to wear tuxedoes or evening dress to opera productions, but it’s likely some tipas and tipos like to show for the opera all dressed up in their Thursday best, especially February 18 for the first night. Others will be equally well turned-out through the Sunday matinee on the 25th. I wear my Pendleton or a sweatshirt when I go to an LA Opera spectacular. Placido and crew don’t care, as long as I enjoy the show.

Opera is a genuine visual and aural treat, with a few conventions about when to applaud and stuff, that someone inevitably miscues and gets dirty looks from the cognoscenti. Raza can be cognoscenti, too. Just be there and dig it. And dig it you will.

A night at the opera is fun so long as one remembers it’s the “u” in fun that counts. Wrap yourself in the music—the power of the human body to produce sound will be a punch in the gut to some. Ultima’s cast features a 14-year old boy singer. This could be the launch of a major career.

In opera, the story, humor, melodies, and visual riches like sets, costumes, lighting and staging can be enchanting. I don’t know if the Producers plan on supertitles so listeners can read the words in Armienta’s English-language libretto. Subscriptions are open now. Individual seats go on sale in July.

Rev. of Juan Flores’s Salsa: A Never Ending Conversation

Original post by Juan Otero Garbís found here:’s-salsa-never-ending-conversation

Imagine you are at the Tritons, “a very modest, small-scale social club” of the Bronx, October 1958, and “some piercing flute sounds [you] to a room” where Charlie Palmieri met Johnny Pacheco a few years before la pachanga became the new trend, the new New York sound, that in less than a decade will conquer markets around the world branded as salsa. To those specific locations of New York Latin music history, Juan Flores guides the readers in his posthumous Salsa Rising: New York Music of the Sixties Generation (Oxford 2016). In the first New York Rican history of salsa, Flores charmingly narrates the backbone stories of the encounters and the places, settings, communities, and most of all, the musicians as workers who generated one of the most notably cultural remittances that Latin@s have spread through Latin America.

Following the working class point of view characteristic of his writings since his days at the beginning of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Flores visualizes salsa’s genealogy through the contrasting differences between Cuban and Puerto Rican communities’ experiences in New York between 1930 and 1975. So he proposes the forking paths of success obtained by Moisés Simons’ “El Manisero” —recorded by Don Azpiazú’s Havana Casino Orchestra and Antonio Machín— and Rafael Hernández “Lamento Borincano” as points of departure that exemplifies the contrasting differences between the Cuban and Puerto Rican cultural production during the first decades of the 20th century. Flores points out that although both songs tell stories “about economic transactions,” Simons’ is “an invitation to sensual delights” which eventually corresponded to the “crossover” stories of Cuban Music in Latin Jazz and Mambo. In contrast, “Hernández’s signature song evokes real-life suffering and struggle, disillusion, pride, and nostalgia for a distant homeland” (4), which through “a hundred of versions” spread this romantic sentiment through Latin America, and its guitar trio’s ensemble emerged as the most precious Puerto Rican music on both sides of the ocean during the Mambo craze.

Salsa Rising brings to the scene the contrast of the uptown “more grassroots music of the city’s expanding Latino communities” (12), whose tastes oscillated from mambos and sones to boleros, guarachas, décimas, plenas and aguinaldos, played by tríos in small clubs and family parties in the Bronx, many of which were recorded in New York and filled the juke boxes all around Puerto Rico, as Pedro Malavet Vega has observed. Then, evading to fall into binary essentialist oppositions, Flores explores the rise of salsa as the new cultural production of the Sixties generation of New York Latin community, mostly composed by the Puerto Rican working class migration of the 1940s and 1950s, and “once the ‘umbilical cord’ to Cuba was severed” (38).

It is in this way that the Tritons Club counter acts and crosses with the Palladium, where the Big Bands of Machito, Puente, and Rodríguez competed at the peak of the Mambo madness. This Jew-owned “social club on Sothern Boulevard in the Hunts Point neighborhood of the Bronx” (38) was the place not only of Charlie Palmieri and Pacheco’s first encounter that led to the pachanga craze, but this was the club that Eddie Palmieri rented for the rehearsals of what became La Perfecta, the original sound of “el Rumbero del Piano”, as Palmieri later was branded. There, at the Tritons—Flores highlights—was the “authoritative presence” of Barry Rogers, roaring with his trombone and dancing at the front of Palmieri’s group. Flores underlines that it was Rogers who brought to La Perfecta his “background experiences…in a range of bands and genres”, mostly jazz, and rhythm and blues. Finally, but no less important, it was at the Tritons that Al Santiago’s Alegre All Stars rehearsed and recorded what is the seed or the model of the Fania All Stars concert at Cheetah in 1971, for many considered it as the birthplace of salsa’s boom. Instead of following the narratives that situates salsa as only a continuum of Mambo and the big clubs of downtown Manhattan—that is to say, of Cuban music—Flores traces the rise of salsa from the Tritons in the early 1960s when Palmieri and Pacheco started the two different típico styles that characterize salsa, which continue—with its discontinuities—the “‘uptown-downtown’ dichotomy”.

So Flores criticizes the stories of salsa that limit its styles to Fania and Pacheco’s matancerization. The Triton, Palmieri’s típico, and the absolute emphasis on improvisation of Alegre All Stars present not only an uptown story, but underlines salsa’s communication with African American music styles and communities. So for him, the Latin boogaloo era represents an axis of these multiple-direction interactions. As in a previous essay, he presents the story of Latin Boogaloo as a new musical genre—“the equivalent, at a vernacular level, to Cubop in its time” (107)—adding up emphasis on its beginnings precisely at small clubs near to the Palladium, in the Bronx and in Brooklyn.

Reminding that Latin boogaloo was a crossroads of African American and African Caribbean musical traditions with the interventions of the musical industry, Flores traces the path of communication between African American and Latin communities which Ray Barretto and Joe Bataan followed, which eventually was excluded by the definition of Latin music, made precisely by Fania. And paying attention to salsa’s political sides, Flores also reminds the sex and drugs, peace and love, civil rights, Black Panthers and Young Lords “excitement[s] of the time”, all visible in pachanga, boogaloo, and salsa lyrics. As examples, Flores presents the Felipe Luciano reciting “Jíbaro / My Pretty Nigger” in Palmieri’s concert at Sing Sing, and the romantic and nationalistic “Canto a Borinquén” that many New York bands recorded. This reminder of how close salsa rising was to New York cultural and political localities, as the Harlem Renaissance is to Newyorican poetry, is definitely the most thrilling assertion of his extraordinary book.

In this direction, Flores considers Willie Colón as one of the main figures who stresses out salsa’s links with Puerto Rican communities in New York, including its nationalistic nostalgia. And if this was not enough, Flores highlights Colón’s Asalto Navideño as one of the most beloved products of salsa as one of the most visible and important cultural remittance of the New York Puerto Rican community, as he had already asserted in his previous The Diaspora Strikes Back (2009). But is because his career started at the borderline of the end of the boogaloo and the boom of the Palmieri and Pacheco’s típicos style, that Flores names Colón “the first lifelong salsa musician”.

So following this circulation of salsa as a cultural product I would love to have heard more about the importance of Puerto Rico as both musical market and imaginary homeland. Since the pachanga craze and through boogaloo and latin soul, in New York recorded albums, Puerto Rico was constructed as a tropical paradise and beloved homeland, as well as Panamá, Colombia and Venezuela as a sort of extended family. And at the time, the round trip travel between Puerto Rican communities —“a ambos lados del charco”—was more intensive than the previous decades and musical groups from both sides of the Atlantic competed for markets in New York and in many Caribbean cities. How important was this circulation in la guagua aérea —the “jala jala” from between Puerto Rico and New York—for the establishment of the Matancera style as the standard? Transiting this two-way path were Cheo Feliciano, Roberto Rohena, Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz, whose experiences in Puerto Rico was recognized in Our Latin Thing and the two albums Fania all Stars Live at Cheetah. And, though well recognized, I also would have loved to read more about Tite Curet Alonso, from Santurce, who extended and expanded those Colón’s barrio images, and underlined the similitudes and traced connections with Puerto Rican history, literature and racial discourse in the Sixties Generation. But maybe what I miss in the book responses only to my side of the Boricua zone experience and point of view.

Salsa Rising comes on as a closing of a long scholarly career dedicated to Puerto Rican studies, a period in which salsa has risen as main topic of the inclusion of popular culture in national discourse and scholarly research. It reminds me of the kind of interaction and dialogue with Juan that I will miss forever; and I also believe that I’m not the only one. I am sure this was the kind of conversation that he had with those “utterly indispensable sources” who helped him to articulate his views. I am sure that all of them has something to add to this discussion. To contribute with this never ending conversation, Juan left us with what along with Las memorias de Bernardo Vega, Jesús Colón: A Puerto Rican in New York, Down These Mean Streets, Snaps, Puerto Rican Obituary, Nilda, La Carreta Made an ‘U’ Turn, and a few others, is a Nuyorican Masterpiece.

Salsa Rising: New York Latin Music of the Sixties Generation
Oxford University Press, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-1997-6490-7

A Review of Brooklyn Dreams: My Life in Public Education

Brooklyn Dreams: My Life in Public Education is the memoir of a diasporican scholar who is one of our most respected and beloved teacher/educators in public education. Sonia Nieto’s memoir is also unusual because much of it draws on a personal diary she kept over the course of her life. Thus, the memoir is remarkably detailed in terms of names of people she was with and activities she engaged in, unlike those of us who piece together personal recollections with visual and written fragments to craft a story. The book is organized into three major parts that correspond to her development: Growing Up, Becoming an Educator, and Research and Writing; each section comprised of several chapters rich in details and historical context, with the theme of social (in)justice running across all chapters. The experiences she describes are unique because of who the author is, a Brooklyn-born Puerto Rican, the circumstances of her parents’ journey, arriving separately by boat and meeting subsequently in Brooklyn, in the early Depression years. However, some of the challenges the family experienced are common to other diasporican migrants, such as dealing with poor housing conditions and a special needs child.

Sonia assumed responsibilities as a young child that are common to im/migrant children. She served as the official family translator, and assisted her mother with the care of her physically and intellectually challenged younger brother. It was during those early years that Sonia’s journey into teaching began informally, but also formally as an undergraduate at St. John’s University, where she majored in elementary education. However, near the end of the semester she applied for and was awarded a scholarship to study in Madrid, where a casual encounter on a train would change the course of her personal life. Returning from her year abroad, Sonia was sent by the Board of Education to teach in a middle school in Ocean Hills-Brownsville, in the midst of its struggle for decentralization. Assigned to a 7th grade class due to a high attrition rate, Sonia confronts the unimaginable, that she is an ill-prepared novice teacher of 7th graders who have learned not to respect teachers because teachers have not respected them. It took about a year for Sonia to let the students teach her how to teach them, and while she eventually was successful, the experience taught her life lessons she would bring to her work as a teacher/educator. It so demoralized and exhausted her that she was determined to leave teaching, when she was offered a teaching position as a bilingual teacher in an experimental, bilingual elementary school in the South Bronx, where the majority of the students were Puerto Ricans. Assigned to a 4th grade class she was prepared to teach, and surrounded by supportive colleagues who shared in the excitement of being pioneers in a program where Spanish was as important as English, was a dream come true. After four years, now the mother of a toddler, she sought a position closer to home, and so she applied for a position as “curriculum specialist” and instructor in the Puerto Rican Studies Department at Brooklyn College. However, as she admits, her stay at Brooklyn was more about “political struggle and activism,” and less about teaching. Even so, she realized that she wanted to stay in higher education, but it required a doctorate. She applied for and accepted scholarships to study at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, an institution that offered a nontraditional, innovative interdisciplinary program she could not pass up. She completed her doctorate and worked briefly with state agencies until she was offered a full-time faculty position in the school of education. Once again, she was surrounded by a supportive community that included several New York Puerto Ricans, and so began that next phase of a scholarly life.

In the act of reading this memoir, it was inevitable to reflect on the trajectory of my own life, to gain a better understanding of it, and to learn from our similarities and understand our differences. That is the power of the memoir genre, and why Sonia’s memoir now serves as an inspiration to others who need to tell their own stories as community-conscious educators and scholars. Reading the chapter on studying in Spain, I paused to take in compelling insights, for example, that living in Madrid, Sonia became comfortable with and even “proud of” her Puerto Rican identity; and moved by reading about how she met, fell in love with, married and became equal partners in the struggle for social justice with her Angel. I could not help thinking about Che Guevara and what he says about the revolutionary being guided by great feelings of love. Sonia is a revolutionary compelled to do social justice work through her writing, inspired by her love for her community, with the inspiration and support of her life partner. As she says: “Teaching … is about commitments, service, courage and love” (pp. 130–1).

When I began to read Brooklyn Dreams, I thought I knew Sonia Nieto. She has been a mentor, a colleague and a friend since we met in the early 1990s. At the time, I was a new assistant professor, and she an established scholar. However, after reading Brooklyn Dreams, I realize how much I did not know. This 254-page memoir makes for substantive reading, with a distinctive style that is both pleasurable and informative reading. The narrative is interspersed with humorous anecdotes and poetry. The anecdote about Sonia’s mother seeking directions to the Borofel provides comic relief. Poetry is also interspersed throughout, allowing the reader access to the meaning conveyed through the economical use of words that evoke powerful imagery and emotions.  I recommend this book to all who think they know Sonia the human being, as well as those who only know her scholarship. You will walk away with new admiration and appreciation for the wonderful human being within the scholar.

The book:
Brooklyn Dreams: My Life in Public Education
By Sonia Nieto
Cambridge, MA: Hardvard Education Press, 2015.
ISBN: 978-1-61250-856-6

This Is Personal: a testimonio of Juan Felipe Herrera

In 1984 the San Francisco Bay Guardian—a progressive weekly—published a poem titled “Autobiography of a Chicano Teen Poet.” It’d been awarded First Place in its annual poetry contest that year. Here’s how it began:

I am a downtown boy, handcuffed

when I was eleven

for being accomplice to armed robbery.

I speak shoe-shine parlour brown and serve

as the only usher in Club Sufrimiento 2001

You can call me Johnny B. Nice.

The speaker in this irreverent 33-liner goes on to invoke Thelonious Monk and Janis Joplin, making, at one point, reference to “Inferno Street.”

It’s my senior year in high school. This is my first experience with Juan Felipe Herrera.

At UC Berkeley two years later, I’m a staffer for the Berkeley Poetry Review (BPR). One day, in the magazine’s office reading slush, I opening an envelope stuffed with Herrera’s poems—two would soon grace our pages. After the issue is out, we ask him to read in a series we hold on the grounds of the University Art Museum at the Swallow Café on Sunday afternoons.  He graciously agrees.


And yet I can’t pinpoint with precision the particulars of our unequivocal first meeting. Instead, I remember sitting in a metal folding chair in San Francisco, Francisco X. Alarcón in the audience with me. We’re relishing Juan Felipe Herrera’s solo performance at Small Press Traffic (SPT). At the time SPT was located on the corner of 24th and Guerrero—a five-minute walk from my house, the one I grew up in. Or I’m in a café on 24th, below Mission just off Capp, sipping coffee with him and his wife, Margarita Luna Robles. We’d gotten to know each other, it seems, had become amigos. I remember buying, then devouring, Arte Público Press’ edition of Exiles of Desire at Modern Times Bookstore on Valencia right around that time, as well, 1986 or so.

But it was  Facegames, published in 1987 by As Is/So&So Press that would become part of my personal canon.  Here’s something I never tire of reading, from that book:

Inferno St.

I am dressed for the occasion.

My lover’s torso of enigmatic jade haunts you,

doesn’t it?

My grandmother’s last wish stalks

the plateaus where the night watchman lives.

Look at me

and the ravenous soldiers I break bread with.


Little silver boy,

guide me into the multi-night.

I’m trying to recall what I liked about this piece. I remember loving that last line (“guide me into the multi-night.”) but lacking a tidy logic of why. This was the kind of poet he was for me: simply, Juan Felipe was a blast to read. The term “non sequitur” wasn’t part of my vocabulary then, and so I wouldn’t have been able to ponder its brilliant use here, in this collage-of-a-poem. Re-reading it today, I suspect my sensibilities registered Herrera’s subtle use of slant rhyme between these seemingly disparate stanzas—echoing sounds gluing this wordscape into place. “Inferno St.” was one of the 10 poems from Facegames, which had 42 in all, that found its way into Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems (University of Arizona Press, 2008), winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2009.

Let me resuscitate another poem from Facegames—one which did not make the 10-poem cut, but which I view as a companion to “Inferno St.” and which I also remember delighting in:


for Picazzo, Pancho “Big Man”, Rodrigo and “El Piloto”

I have tried to rule the world many times, alone

and in congregations.

I do it best when I get dressed up.

See my camouflage pants rolled up to the calf?

My lime green Greek shirt

puffed out like a chile relleno,

an earcuff

to check the stray mind

and my orange-black shoe laces tied

around my ankles for the would-be connoisseur of male

and female gesture.

All you have to do is discover a pageant;

raise up your left hand,

then run fast,

bring it in like hara-kari & tumble on the soft belly

of the earth;



more L’s

and a so-what all over your Brown self!

If “Inferno St.” hints at something ominous–where wishes can stalk, where soldiers are ravenous, where one may need a switchblade, Herrera is light-hearted here, in “Quazar,” while still whimsically foregrounding fashion and fashion’s casual accoutrements (“an ear cuff//to check the stray mind”). And yet it was that last line that struck a particular chord in me during this time when I was seeking out other Latino/a poets to read:

and a so-what all over your Brown self!

I should mention, by the way, that “Autobiography of a Chicano Teen Poet,” the piece I opened this reflection with, was part of Facegames, as well.

In 1989 a Santa Cruz-based publisher, Alcatraz Editions, put out AKRILICA, Juan Felipe Herrera’s dazzling dual-language collection: the poems, written in Spanish, were translated into English by a team of four translators, along with the author.

20 years later, Carmen Giménez Smith and I would form a partnership between Noemi Press and Letras Latinas. We’d seek to publish Latino/a writers whose aesthetic proclivities were more, shall we say, outside the box—in other words: defying expectation. When it came to brainstorming what to call this new series, we thought about the work, and we thought about the trajectory…of Juan Felipe Herrera. And then we remembered that singular collaborative small press volume: AKRILICA, and we had the name, as homage, of our new series.

I continued, of course, to follow Juan Felipe’s work post AKRILICA, admiring its ambition, variousness, and scope. But these early volumes have always held a special place for me. I suspect this has mostly to do with when I encountered them, those formative years.

And yet a scene, a physical space I associate with with the first phase of my formative years (1984-1989) managed to find its way into a poem of Juan Felipe’s from in a much later book, Notebooks of a Chile Verde Smuggler from 2002, when I was an MFA candidate at Notre Dame. There’s this endearing series titled “Undelivered Letters to Victor”–a reference, I assume, to Victor Martinez that really caught my eye for its personal undertones. # 9, in particular, let off the page:

Undelivered Letters to Victor


I want to rock in Tede Matthews’s America and his Hula Palace–remember Tede Matthew’s? Ted out-gay talking about Nicaragua, doing the reading series at Modern Times? Ted working hard through AIDS, through pain and the end, with gaunt face, febrile fingers, and starry eyes? Ted’s drawn face calls and his clear eyes peer through me. Battles, missions, random intersections, chaos, time and culture boosters, explosions; I want writing to contain all this because we contain all this–is this closer to what you mean by saying we are Americanos? Is this your mission? You know, Victor, I am going to say it–no more movements, nothing about lines or metaphors or even about quality and craft, you know what I mean?

When it came time, in 2006, to ask someone to write the foreword to, The Wind Shifts: New Latino Poetry (University of Arizona Press, 2007), who else could I ask?

“The Sweet Vortex of the Singers” by Juan Felipe Herrera reads, naturally, like a text that only he could have written. Let me pluck a paragraph and you’ll see what I mean:

“In this vortex of creation, congestion, and notation, many artists, writers, subjects, things, and places are in gestation: Darío, Madrid, Montale, Beijing, Apollinaire, and Cendrars make cameo appearances, juxtaposed with metros, Hamas, and Mediterranean tides and further navigations of the poet’s speakers in fluid and borderless urban nations and cafés stumbling into loss and illuminations. Lorca rolls in wet and delirious and Nicaraguan. Terms repeat in tumbao rhythms, and pregnant fruit is sliced and devoured—bodegas, explosions, rooftops, and bullets. Prada, Gucci, and Havana drip into the body-flask, this abyss of letters.”


Since the appearance of Rebozos of Love (Tolteca Publications, 1974), Juan Felipe Herrera, author of some twenty books, has distinguished himself as a poet, performance artist, children’s book author, teacher, university professor, and cultural activist for the last—do the math—forty years.

While his more recent distinctions include the aforementioned National Book Critics Circle Award (2009), a Guggenheim Fellowship (2010), election to the Academy of American Poets’ Board of Chancellors (2011), and designation as the Poet Laureate of California (2012), I would argue that during the first twenty or so years of his literary trajectory, he pretty much flew under the radar, where mainstream recognition outside of California is concerned. It’s only been in the last ten or so years that his work has gained the national critical attention and acclaim that it merits.

And so what does it means for Juan Felipe Herrera to be named the Poet Laureate of the United States?

For starters, he’s part of that vital tradition in American letters—the trenches—made up of writers who publish with small independent presses.

His work, in essence, deploys a poetics of play, unbridled linguistic play. It’s also a poetry of deep empathy toward the people that populate his poems. And to quote Rigoberto González, the added value of Herrera’s oeuvre is that it offers “an important timeline of Chicano political history and social activism” in the United States.

His persona embodies an exuberance that will resonate and connect, I predict, with the men, women and children he will come into contact with during his term (s) as this nation’s Poet Laureate.

I don’t think I speak for myself only when I say that his selection is a long overdue gesture that acknowledges artistic communities that are often overlooked by establishment gatekeepers.

In this sense, Juan Felipe Herrera’s U.S. Poet Laureateship, like no other in my view, will feel, fully, like the People’s Poet Laureateship.

He shared with me, recently, that when he was introduced to the Head of the Hispanic Division of the Library of Congress, who’d been informed of his designation, she said to him:

“I’ve been waiting for you for a very long time.”

Las dos brujas writers’ workshop

In August of 2017, Las Dos Brujas Writers’ Workshops will host a five-day conference of workshops, craft talks, readings, and performances by a small group of influential, dedicated, and diverse voices in American and international literature. Our program seeks to create an intimate community of open-minded, trailblazing writer-teachers and participants whose work challenges the status quo.

This year’s conference is of special significance as it is organized in direct response to the racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and homophobia of the new administration. Now, more than ever, we are committed to the critical importance of writing and art making as a form of resistance, of giving voice to silences too long suffered, of raising our voices in a chorus of mutual affirmation. For it is up to us to find meaning and story where we’ve been told they have no worth. To remember and record loss, fight against forgetting, to make art that is not only adequate to this task, but to suffuse it with the exigencies of beauty. To write until it hurts, until the hurting sings.

This year’s location in the historic San Francisco Mission District is much more than circumstantial. It is an intentional engagement on the part of Las Dos Brujas with the Mission as a site with a rich history of art making, Latinx cultural expression, and resistance. Las Dos Brujas participants will not only learn in the Mission, but also engage with the community in myriad, meaningful ways.

We believe that the best art keeps expanding our interrogations of history, both personal and political. That is our intention with this year’s Las Dos Brujas conference—and, of course, to have a wonderful, inspiring time doing so together.

We welcome you to join us!

Cristina García
Artistic Director

The mural used in the header is painted by Martin Travers in 2002 showing the protest of the Nepali Women, titled Naya Bihana (a new dawn in Nepal).

Meet Danielle Calle, the Colombian-American Filmmaker Probing Latino Experiences in the Deep South

Original post by Paula Mejia found here:

One of the most unnerving questions that exists in the world is “where are you from?” There’s a universe of responses to such a loaded question, all of them having to do with place, identity, and experience. It’s a very particular tension that Danielle Calle, a first-generation Colombian-American artist and filmmaker, knows all too well. (Disclaimer: Calle and I know each other personally, via mutual friends in New Orleans). “When people ask me ‘where are you from?’ I say both New York and South Carolina because they’re both a really big part of who I am, although technically New York is the place I’ve lived in the longest of all the cities I’ve lived in,” she says. “I only lived in South Carolina for six years before I went off to college…but they were the most formative years, middle school and high school. I was always negotiating things about myself while I was there.”

In her work, Calle often explores the tension of being simultaneously first-generation and origin-less. She originally came to film through a nascent love of music. Growing up, there were always instruments around, as her father was in a touring band back in Colombia. She taught herself how to play the guitar and piano. Soon, she was directing and editing music videos starring her siblings (set to the likes of Franz Ferdinand’s “Jacqueline,” a song her youngest sister shares a name with). Later on, Calle went to a specialized arts high school, the Fine Arts Center in Greenville, where she was exposed to paradigm-shifting films like The Seventh Seal and The Graduate, and in her spare time, pored over DVDs she rented from the library.

My parents live in the Bible Belt south and there are no white people in this documentary.

But when Calle went off to The University of Chicago, where she studied Cinema and Media Studies, Calle says she both felt “totally removed from my Colombian-ness” and stifled by the lack of options concerning Latin-American films in the program. “We took international cinema classes and they never discussed cinema from places outside of Europe, or besides the one or two Asian films that we would watch,” she says. “It was way bullshit. And there were specialized classes—a friend took an Indian cinema class—but when I was there, there was no Latin American cinema class. So I took it upon myself to be like, ‘Alright, I need to learn. This is an extension of my cultural heritage in that we’ve inherited these images, and I want to study them.’” That interest led her to focus on how sound is used in US cinema vs. Mexican cinema, among other things.

Following her second year of college, as part of the Jeff Metcalf Internship program, she worked as an intern for the New Orleans Film Society. She began working there full-time after graduation, first as a Communications Manager and then as a Programming Coordinator, and was in New Orleans for a total of about four years. “It’s great to program films—it really is its own kind of film school,” Calle says. “And I think at first that was definitely the vibe I was on. It was very exciting; there was incredible talent out there. But for a second there I felt so frustrated not being able to make films, because I had a traditional day job and felt kind of stuck. I was watching all of this incredible content and I was like, ‘Oh man, what am I doing to add to those?’”

“I don’t want to be niche-fied; I’m worldwide.”

Several months ago, Calle moved back to South Carolina and started bringing several projects to fruition. One of those is A Day’s Work, a short film that premiered at the New Orleans Film Festival in the fall of 2016 and that will also be screening at Indie Grits. It’s a film that Calle made after receiving a Magnifying Glass grant; with it, she had originally set out to capture her parents’ gnarled political views. But during the filmmaking process, Calle ended up drastically changing the project’s scope. “It turned into a very minimalistic observational footage of my parents and their day: It’s my dad building a staircase and my mom teaching a group of kids Spanish,” Calle describes. “They live in the Bible Belt south and there are no white people in this documentary. White people do not enter their space at any point in their day unless they go to a store or whatever. But it’s an observation of what they do as working people.”

The second of Calle’s Indie Grits projects is a print piece entitled “You Are Here.” The risograph-printed poster doubles as a foldable, handheld map of memories that detail “our first impressions as kids living in the South, and negotiating what it means to be Colombian-American or Latinx,” as Calle describes it. To create the piece, Calle dug through photos and plucked out several images, mainly of her sisters and her female cousins, who had all arrived in South Carolina either from Colombia or New York. She then spliced them with quotes from each person that described the challenges of their first few years hunkering down in the brave new world of the Deep South. The minimalist piece, which cleverly uses shades of red, white and blue to render the constant making of a new America by immigrants, also draws from a prominent South Carolina license plate slogan: “Smiling faces, beautiful place.”

“The picture is a cheeky take on that, and representative of the resistance we had as kids without even realizing,” Calle says of the piece. ““We all stuck together; I kind of had like a girl gang with me, which was really cool…something about these images and us as preteens and teens in the early 2000s, something about it felt very royal to me. I’m really thankful for that era because it was a really hard time, and it was important that we were all together.”

It was especially hard, given that it was the first time some members of Calle’s family had been in the United States at all. One of her cousins, for instance, described to Calle about how she was ashamed to speak Spanish in public after moving to Greenville from Colombia. “She was like, after a year or two, I kind of just stopped, “Calle recalls. “I think it was when you guys came [to Greenville], that really helped, it made me feel part of a group. And that’s her quote: Realizing that that’s not an extraordinary thing, to speak Spanish in public. It’s okay. We helped her normalize it, accept it and make her feel better as a straight up immigrant.”

The “You Are Here” map will also be accompanied by a video piece that Calle made with the help of the Algae Kids, a glitch and video art group. The complementary video remixes photos, home footage and other splices of Calle and her family’s initial years arriving and settling in the South, to give the feeling that you’re watching old and archival materials. “You learn about Southern history and about all these major figures, and you’re not reminded enough that you’re actively participating in history and writing it,” she says. “There’s a huge community now of Colombians in Greenville, and other kinds of Latin Americans, and we’re part of that history, too.”

Latinos are actively participating in Southern history, and writing it.

Keeping a record is something that becomes of utmost important with age, and rewriting history has especially become a critical part of our current zeitgeist, too, where we’re deconstructing the systems and the origins of everything. It’s certainly not the only thing on Calle’s mind, though. She has so many more complexities, of the South and Latinx life and beyond, that she’s currently imagining and questioning. These themes will undoubtedly materialize into something seismic and surprising down the line, especially as she’s set to start graduate school in the fall at NYU’s Moving Image Archiving and Preservation Program and part-time work at the Museum of the Moving Image.

“Recently, a well meaning person was like, ‘I think you have an interesting voice as a Latina in the South and that could be your niche,’” Calle says. “Uh…thanks but no thanks? This is something I have to do just for my own sake. Ever since going to college, day to day life has not been totally in sync with who I am. That bilingual side, that whole other culture? That’s where I come from. And day-to-day life does not look like that at all. It’s very alienating. It’s something I have to do but I don’t only want to make stuff about this. I don’t want to be niche-fied; I’m worldwide.”

Indie Grits runs April 20-23, 2017 at The Nickelodeon Theater in Columbia, South Carolina.

10 bilingual poetry books for National Poetry Month



If you are looking for something to read during National Poetry Month, you are in the right place. We have compiled a marvelous list of recently published bilingual poetry books that will enrich your poetic and cultural experience. The nationalities of the poets included are: the U.S, El Salvador, Spain, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Argentina.

​Laughing Out Loud, I Fly by Juan Felipe Herrera
From U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, here are stirring poems that read like music. Awarded the Pura Belpré Honor for this book, Herrera writes in both Spanish and English about the joy and laughter and sometimes the confusion of growing up in an upside-down, jumbled-up world—between two cultures, two homes. With a crazy maraca beat, Herrera creates poetry as rich and vibrant as mole de olé and pineapple tamales . . . an aroma of papaya . . . a clear soup with strong garlic, so you will grow & not disappear. Herrera’s words are hot & peppery, good for you. They show us what it means to laugh out loud until it feels like flying.

En carne propia/ Flesh Wounds by Jorge Argueta
The 48 poems in this collection—in Spanish and English—smolder with loss and longing. Argueta’s indigenous roots ultimately contribute to his salvation after he flees his homeland. His braids, he writes, “are rivers / Of my village / Running / Down my back.” In San Francisco, he becomes part of the city’s exile community, yearning for home but knowing his friends and relatives are dead or gone. His pain is like a ring that “lives on my left hand / as if I were / married to it.” In spite of the pain and sorrow expressed in many of these poems, Argueta’s work is a powerful testament to love, hope and the strength of the human spirit. 

Manual Destructivista/ Destructivist Manual by Tina Escaja
This book presents the groundbreaking Destructivist Poetics of multidisciplinary artist and scholar Tina Escaja. “Destructivismo,” a movement founded by Escaja (AKA Alm@ Perez) in 2014 with a poetic action in Vicente Huidobro’s grave, has become very influential in contemporary Spanish and Latin America poetry. It now comes to the English speaking world thanks to the work of renowned translator Kristin Dykstra. Definitely, this book is a must have for anyone interested in 21st Century poetics.

140 Twitter Poems by Christopher Carmona
Using hashtags and numbers as titles, Carmona gives life to a new form of explosive, existential, socially rebellious poetry that pushes the boundaries of modern poetry. 140 Twitter Poems is a vivid collection of personal, social and philosophically driven poems by Christopher Carmona and translated by Gerald Padilla. This bilingual collection was originally published on Twitter over 140 days, from December 1, 2015 to April 12, 2016, expressing Carmona’s personal reflections and the sociopolitical fervor of the day. It is not just a poetry book, it is the current social narrative under a poet’s lens which speaks of 21st century wounds in the United States and the wounds yet to come. 

Elusive Love/ Amores Esquivos by Mirtha Michelle Castro Mármol
Elusive Loves is a bilingual compilation of love poems from contemporary poet Mirtha Michelle Castro Mármol, author of the best-selling Letters, To The Men I Have Loved. She sets a seasonal stage in which she uses the divisions of the year to dive into the emotional cycle of romantic love. With words, she takes the reader on a passionate journey of the birth and death of infatuation, lust, and love. She has been able to capture the first feelings of love and loss in a raw form that has allowed her to earn the hearts of many loyal readers. 

From Behind What Landscape by Luis Muñoz
After more than two decades of a career acclaimed for its originality, clarity, and imaginative richness, Luis Muñoz has emerged as one of the most brilliant poets of his generation. Ascetic and sensual, cheerful and elegant, Muñoz’s work revolves around the transience and the desire, the nature of time and memory in scrupulous detail. From Behind What Landscape is a complete introduction that includes both new poems as well as previous work from one of the most important voices in contemporary Spanish poetry.

Todos somos Whitman/ We Are All Whitman by Luis Alberto Ambroggio
Luis Alberto Ambroggio was inspired to respond to Whitman’s work after translating a series of essays about Song of Myself. This collection of 53 poems in English and Spanish is the result. Sometimes he includes a line from the master in his own piece, other times an epigraph introduces the verse. Focusing on themes of identity, love and life, this collection will inspire readers to understand the universality in us all. Ultimately, we will all go to where we came from, “air, shadow, sun, dust.” 

Aguacamino/ Waterpath by Rossy Evelin Lima
Aguacamino is a brutally honest and socially charged, bilingual poetry book by Mexican native Rossy Evelin Lima. In it, she describes her soul piercing experience as an undocumented immigrant in a mighty and unwavering voice that burns like combustion throughout the pages. This book sprouts like a wildflower between the crevice of a rock, willfully and defiantly. It is the immigrant voice within our Latino community that will no longer be silenced; the voice of our men, women and children who fuel this country with their dreams, love and hard work. In the words of the poet, “May the cylinders which rise/ like a blister on the shore/ be a panpipe to praise the condor/ and if the condor has been forgotten/ may my wings be the shade that caresses both nations.”

Santuarios desierto mar/ Sanctuaries Desert Sea by Juan Armando Rojas Joo
Santuarios desierto mar/ Sanctuaries Desert Sea by Juan Armando Rojas Joo is the finest example or trans-border Mexican-American poetry. This bilingual edition represents the wide universe references mark Rojas Joo’s poetry. Jennifer Rathbun’s translation is precise and vibrant. This book is homage to Mexican-American indigenous peoples, their mythologies and their transcultural experiences. Undoubtedly, Santuarios desierto mar / Sanctuaries Desert Sea is bound to become a classic in contemporary trans-border poetry.

The Little Devil and the Rose/ El diablito y la rosa by Viola Canales
Warm-hearted recollections of family members are woven through this collection of 54 poems, in English and Spanish, which uses the images from lotería cards to pay homage to small-town, Mexican-American life along the Texas-Mexico border. Cultural traditions permeate these verses, from the curanderas who cure every affliction to the daily ritual of the afternoon merienda, or snack of sweet breads and hot chocolate. The community’s Catholic tradition is ever-present; holy days, customs and saints are staples of daily life. Inspired by the archetypes found in the Mexican bingo game called lotería, these poems reflect the history—of family, culture and war—rooted in the Southwest for hundreds of years.


1) Why poetry?

I’ve tried everything else and this is the form I keep returning to, the life I keep returning to, the mode of expression that has some fairly porous guidelines, ample play, and enables genre promiscuity. Poetry has proven to be some kind of elixir of self for the self in the face of the collaboration fatigue of everyday life. Is that terrible to say? Sometimes it’s the quiet solitary practice of trying to shape and make sense of the chaos that permeates every cellular crack that keeps the hum of life’s static at bay. And also that thing that passes for control, that passes for a sense of self-determination as it comes in a language of my making, your making and then the collective authorship when the reader comes and takes their place at the table.

2) Do you feel like poetry is more or less important & relevant today?

The proliferation of poetry that seeks to dismantle hegemonic structures signals to me that it’s important and relevant, like oxygen? To the multitudes, yes. Poetry is one of those things that gets beloved or belittled depending on the experience a listener or a reader is having…any small thing can mar that experience and lead to the abandoning of poetry, or it can be transformative in necessary ways. Sometimes it’s a poem that wakes you up out of your weird, toxic desire to be led by terrible people and ideas, whether they’re the parents you got in the shit lottery or presidents that hacked the system.

3) Tell us about one poet who has greatly influenced you as a writer and a thinker.

Roberto Tejada is my gold standard and I say that with some tongue in my cheek for his Mirrors for Gold, a project I appreciate for its ability to complicate the colonial encounter by imbuing it with desire and perpetually spiraling psychosexual concatenations that I think is still present for any Latinx person contending with blood quantum, subjugated embodiment, nation, state, and self-making, unmaking, and selfhood.

4) Tell us about one lesser-known contemporary poet who you’d like more people to know about.

I can actually tell you about TWO poets…one is Claire Meuschke who is graduating from the MFA program this Spring and who I will miss having in workshop because she’s a great reader but more importantly a great poet who is brilliantly excavating her Chinese and Native ancestral meditations via her archives culled from places like Angel Island. And then another graduate from University of Arizona, Taneum Bambrick, whose recent chapbook Reservoir (selected by Ocean Vuong) won one of the Yemassee writing prizes. You can check out her work here.

5) Share with us one of your recent poems and tell us a little bit about its context.

This poem is unpublished and came about during my winter break escape to Joshua Tree to nurse a broken heart in a hot tub under a full moon and the Geminid meteor shower but knowing that whatever communing I get to do with the nature of my choosing, with the pursuit of woo uplift and healing that it’s always through some awkward negotiation with capitalism and a conscious attempt at resisting consuming my identity.

Woke Folks Make It Okay To Get Baked.

Winter desert getaway
airbnb for you and me
hot tub under the stars, the stripes
of the libertarian hinterland

Coerce the eyelid flutter wake up to get back
to the Joshua Tree party house booked when
Sorry Sorrow took my clue to blow her exit cue against

the moonsong dreamstutter washing over Jumbo Rocks until it disappears
as a sun rocket cheers inside another burning pale blue pyre.
Here come the ancient good times where I get pulled outside, and wait for sorrow to strike.

We get it otherwise fatale like an avoidant archetype ain’t
a coinpurse scary heartbroke.
It’s a starterpack starring approval next lunation ticking alluvial.

I survive the precarious life of coyote trickster because
I love the unpaved roads of Joshua Tree
paycheck to payback the aging hipster economy, invite me to parties.
But I will cut this pack
when they try and take my dog.


Original post found here:

Poetry is like a song, like a psalm, like a prayer. Poetry is different things to many people, and April being Poetry Month,

The Latina Book Club is celebrating by featuring Latino poets all week long.

We welcome A.B. Lugo, poet and playwright, who makes a very personal and emotional debut with 

Spanish Coffee: Black, No Sugar from La Casita Grande.

SUMMARY:  In 2015, A.B. Lugo, award winning actor and playwright, suffered through the deaths of his parents only months apart. To cope with his grief, he dedicated himself to writing a poem for each week of 2016. Little did he know he would be chronicling an historic year, one of social strife and tragedy that would culminate in the election of a man whose movement brings new awareness and fear to A.B. as an Afro-Puerto Rican. Spanish Coffee: Black, No Sugar, much like its title, is a bitter experience, as life can be, but also one that gives us the energy and power to make it through each day. More worn, for sure, but also stronger, and hopefully, wiser. A collection of poems influenced by history and inspired by the depths of the soul, Spanish Coffee: Black, No Sugar is as unforgettable as the year it chronicles. This book will be published in May 2017 by La Casita Grande.

Follow A.B.’s Facebook author page here:

“You could be found
in the bitterness of
Spanish coffee
black, no sugar
and in the anger
of sunburned skin
and chapped lips

“I see you in the ferocity
of an ambulance siren
trying to cut through
rush hour traffic
and in the sense of wonder
of a toddler’s eyes
when discovering something
for the first time”

—an excerpt from “As You Like It”
From the poetry collection

“Él y ella
e hicieron el amor
Se gritaron
y burlaron con el otro
Lágrimas con risas
pasando décadas juntos
Según ellos
un matrimonio
no fue un capricho
sino una condena perpetua

“Así sería el amor verdadero
y perpetuo”

—un excerpto de “Amor perpetuo” de la colección de poesía

Symposium: Latin American/Latino Art

To preview “Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA”, Frieze presents a symposium in collaboration with the Getty and the Institute of Fine Arts, NYU

In collaboration with the Getty and the Institute of Fine Arts, NYU, Frieze’s first ever symposium in New York will raise discussion on topics relating to the upcoming “Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA“(Sep 2017- Jan 2018).

Taking place on Friday, May 5, the symposium will present three panel discussions, each taking an exhibition within “Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA” as their starting point. As well as previewing this edition, the day also aims to encourage scholarly and popular engagement with the themes of “LA/LA“, deepening and nuancing our understanding of the distinctions and interrelations between Chicano, Latin American and Latino histories.

Participants will include Cecilia Fajardo-Hill, co-curator of the touring exhibition “Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985” (Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, 2017; Brooklyn Museum, New York, 2018); Dan Fox, co-editor of frieze magazine; Clara M. Kim, curator of the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery’s exhibition “Learning from Latin America: Art, Architecture and Visions of Modernism” (2017-18); Chon Noriega, co-curator of the touring exhibition “Home–So Different, So Appealing: Art from the Americas since 1957” (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2017; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2017-18); Edward Sullivan, the Helen Gould Sheppard Professor in the History of Art, Institute of Fine Arts, NYU; and artists featured in the exhibitions including Guillermo Kuitca, María Evelia Marmolejo and Clarissa Tossin.

A full program for the day is below. For more information, and to book tickets, click here.

Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA” is a far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles. Supported by grants from the Getty Foundation, “Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA” takes place from Sep 2017 – Jan 2018, at more than 70 cultural institutions across Southern California, from Los Angeles to Palm Springs, and from San Diego to Santa Barbara. “Pacific Standard Time” is an initiative of the Getty.

Of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, Deborah Marrow, Director of the Getty Foundation, said: “We are proud that Getty Foundation grants are making it possible for institutions across Southern California to join together to examine the vast and complex subject of Latin American and Latino art on the large scale it deserves. Los Angeles is deeply connected to Latin America, both in our historical origins—we were founded as part of New Spain in 1781—and our current demographics (majority Latino). Although we began planning Pacific Standard Time LA/LA five years ago, there couldn’t be a better moment to show the quality and diversity of Latin American and Latino art through the more 70 exhibitions and dozens of related performances and educational programs all across Southern California.

Frieze New York returns from May 5–7, 2017 with more than 200 of the world’s leading galleries, including more than a dozen with spaces in South and Central America. For a report by Cristina Ruiz on the growing attention turning towards Latin American art, see here.

Full program, Friday, May 5

8am: Doors open

9am: Introductory Remarks

9:15am: Panel 1: Keynote: Discussing Latin American and Latino Art

For this panel, the exhibition “Home-So Different, So Appealing: Art from the Americas since 1957” will serve as a lens to discuss the complex relationships between Latin American and Latino art.

 With Edward Sullivan (moderator), the Helen Gould Sheppard Professor in the History of Art, Institute of Fine Arts, NYU; Deborah Cullen, Director and Chief Curator of the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University; Guillermo Kuitca, featured artist; and Chon Noriega, Co-Curator of the touring exhibition “Home-So Different, So Appealing: Art from the Americas since 1957” (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2017; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2017-18).

10:15am: Break

10:30am: Panel 2: Exhibition Focus: Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985

This exhibition will present the extraordinary contributions of women artists from Latin America and those of Latina and Chicana descent in the U.S., who were working from 1960-1985, when there was a radical experimentation in art and activism in the women’s rights movement. The touring exhibition will be presented at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, in September 2017, and the Brooklyn Museum, New York, in 2018. 

With Rocío Aranda-Alvarado (moderator), Senior Curator, El Museo del Barrio; Cecilia Fajardo-Hill, Co-Curator of the exhibition; María Evelia Marmolejo, featured artist; and Sylvia Palacios Whitman, featured artist.

11:30am: Panel 3: Exhibition Focus: Learning from Latin America: Art, Architecture and Visions of Modernism

This exhibition at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, 2017-18, will feature the work of 30 contemporary artists from Brazil, Cuba, Mexico, and Vensezuela, among other countries, who have engaged with the history of modernist architecture in Latin America. 

With Dan Fox (moderator), Co-Editor of frieze magazine; Jonathas de Andrade, featured artist; Clara M. Kim, Curator of the exhibition; and Clarissa Tossin, featured artist.

Tickets for the symposium are available here and do not include admission to Frieze New York. Tickets for the fair are available here.


Original post found here: