These moms couldn’t find bilingual books. So they started a publishing company

Original post by the incomparable Melissa Gomez for LA Times:

Patty Rodriguez and Ariana Stein started Lil’ Libros in 2014 because they had trouble finding children’s books in both English and Spanish. The Huntington Park company now has 14 titles, all written by the co-founders, and brought in $1 million in sales last year, a feat the pair never thought possible, Rodriguez said.

Spanish as a first language

Both Rodriguez and Stein, whose last name was Sauceda before she married, learned Spanish first because it dominated their home lives. That meant studying English as a second language, or ESL, at school.

“Other kids will shame you for it,” Rodriguez recalled.

They soon grew out of the ESL classes but embraced their culture at home, Rodriguez said. Her family had frequent parties, watched soccer games on TV and spent Saturdays watching old Mexican movies, she said.

Longtime friends

Rodriguez and Stein met in seventh grade in Lynwood, where they grew up. Stein, who was new to the area, introduced herself to Rodriguez and asked if she wanted to be friends. They became inseparable, hanging out at each other’s homes. They shared a similar upbringing — children of Mexican immigrants who came to the U.S. to give them a better future.

“It was just a good sisterhood,” Stein said.

Diverging paths

After they graduated from high school, their paths diverged, but the friends remained close.

Stein had aspired to attend art school, but her parents told her it wasn’t practical. She landed as a business major at Cal State Dominguez Hills, and she worked full time to pay for her education.

Rodriguez didn’t plan to go to college, but her mother told her a common refrain: I didn’t work this hard for you not to continue your education. So Rodriguez enrolled in community college and worked full time while continuing an internship at KIIS-FM (102.7), which she had started in high school. She was soon offered a part-time position at the radio station and dropped out of school to pursue it, with her mother’s support and approval.


Feeling like an imposter

Stein became a facilities manager for a commercial real estate company. Rodriguez eventually became a full-time producer at the radio station alongside Ryan Seacrest, and she still works there today.

Despite their success, both Rodriguez and Stein constantly felt that others would realize they weren’t good at their jobs — the all-too-common “imposter syndrome.”

“You doubt yourself, and I think it’s part of growing up as a first-generation Latina,” Stein said.

“Yeah, you can’t go home and talk to anybody about this,” Rodriguez said. “You’re working in these spaces that are so hard to reach.”

Brainstorming, failing, restarting

Rodriguez and Stein pursued some business ideas together.

They founded a bilingual celebrity news website, but it quickly flamed out. They tried to create a public relations firm, but after one potential client turned them down, they moved on.

The pair tried to break into the retail industry by making shirts with David Beckham when the soccer star came to L.A.’s Galaxy, but the only one who wore one was Stein’s husband. They almost got into street vending, going as far as scouting out a spot in downtown Los Angeles, but it never panned out.

Still, Stein says, “It was natural…”

“To always go to each other whenever these ideas would come to us,” Rodriguez continued.

“And we still do it,” Stein added.

“Yeah,” Rodriguez finished with a laugh, “’Cause we still have so many ideas.”

Finding the courage

Rodriguez was pregnant with her first child when she first started looking for quality bilingual books for children. When she found none, she considered creating a manuscript herself and began pitching a bilingual book to publishing companies.

In 2013, Rodriguez received a response from one company representative, who said, “Reaching out to Hispanic mothers is a very appealing idea, but I am afraid I just find the range of subjects a bit disparate and challenging.”

Discouraged, Rodriguez gave up on the plan until a fire destroyed her Lynwood home, and she and her family lost everything. She began to wonder what legacy she would leave for her son and came back to the manuscript idea. “I’m going to find the courage inside me to do this,” she told herself.

Finding success

This time as she pitched the idea, Rodriguez was told that Latinos don’t read to their children.

“You realize that as a person of color, you’ve heard this in many, many shapes, ways and forms,” she said. This time, she doubled down.

Stein, who was pregnant, also wanted to make sure her child was bilingual. In 2014, the pair established Lil’ Libros. They started with three titles, including a picture book about Frida Kahlo and one on Loteria, a bingo game popular in Mexican culture. They used their savings to start it, finding a printing company and hiring an illustrator. They commissioned 6,000 copies of the three books, thinking the supply would last years.

The interest was immediate. At a book festival in East Los Angeles, they walked away with 1,000 pre-orders, Stein said. They soon landed a deal with Target, where they have six shelf spots in the books section. Their books have also been featured at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Something to call their own

Stein left her job to work for Lil’ Libros full time, a risk that has paid off. The company is looking for investors to help increase its yearly output, she said, from four titles to 12, including working with other authors. The company’s books are aimed at children 5 or younger, but the two want to cater to older kids as well.

“Our goal is to grow with a child,” Stein said.

Their books have been featured on social media by celebrities including comedian Ali Wong and actress Jessica Alba, and even made an appearance at rapper Cardi B’s elaborate baby shower. They have a bilingual board game and will soon be putting out a doll of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Through the company, Rodriguez said, they have seen how the Latino community has connected with the bilingual products.

“Finally, it’s something that they can call their own,” Rodriguez said.

Brothers co-author New Mexican folklore novel

by Elena Mendoza for KRQE:

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A fictional children’s book based on real New Mexican folklore started as a dream for two local brothers and now they’re trying to make it a reality—but they’ll need your help getting it onto bookshelves.

Set in the village of Algodones in 1949, “Under the Cottonwood Tree: El Susto de la Curandera” incorporates New Mexico’s rich history while sharing a valuable lesson about forgiveness and friendship.

“It’s highlighting just the same way Mark Twain highlighted that culture of that time, we’re hoping to highlight our culture,” said co-author Carlos Meyer.

It’s a fictional tale of a curandera who lives alone in the bosque. She casts a spell on a village boy that turns him into a calf, and the rest of the book involves a quest to turn him back.

“The children have an adventure that day amongst the cottonwood trees in the Bosque, and they would discover why the curandera has turned into a witch,” said co-author Paul Meyer.

Albuquerque natives, co-authors and brothers Paul and Carlos, grew up playing in the bosque.

The book itself is based off a dream Paul had as a boy about a talking calf.

“I said, ‘Wow, that’s a pretty cool dream,’ so I wrote it down. I wrote it down and I said I’m going to write a little story about it,” said Carlos.

Over the years it’s taken on many forms. A short version was even picked up by famed Chicano publisher Octavio I. Romano.

This latest one has been eight years in the making.

“Being a native New Mexican, I really wanted to shine a light on this culture that isn’t represented a lot in television or literature,” said Paul.

The 166-page graphic novel is now complete.

The brothers have reached out to the public via Kickstarter to help raise money to print the first set of books.

“There’s a lot of expenses for printing a book so that’s what we’re hoping to do. We’re hoping to help with the printing cost,” said Carlos.

“It started as a literal dream, and now is metaphorically a dream that is coming to fruition,” said Paul.

The brothers are currently about a third of the way to their $6,000 goal.

CfP: Chiricu

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: Chiricú Journal invites scholarly articles and creative work for our open-themed Fall 2019 issue. Submissions may be on any topic pertaining to Latinx cultures, lives, and social conditions. Scholarly work may be grounded in any of the humanities, including (and not limited to): literature, art, history, folklore, music, film & media studies, theatre, education, anthropology, Latinx Studies, American Studies, and Latin American & Caribbean Studies. Deadline: May 31, 2019. Annual Subscription: $19.99 (2 full-color issues). 

Chiricú Journal (ISSN 0277-7223, e-ISSN 2472-4521) is a peer-reviewed humanities journal launched by the Indiana University Press. Launched by Indiana University Press in Fall 2016, Chiricú Journal is a biannual peer-reviewed humanities journal in Latina/o Studies. We are a unique scholarly publication that combines multidisciplinary research (70%) with artistic and literary content (30%). Our pages showcase the diverse lives of Latinas and Latinos in the United States. We believe that new scholarship, placed in conversation with creative works of art and literature, offers a deep, rich, and complex view into the human condition.

To view current and past issues, visit the Chiricu on JSTOR and Project MUSE Premium Collection.

To subscribe, please click here. Please consider registering here to join our mailing list.

Exhibit on US Latina ‘cholas’ opens in Albuquerque

Check out this article on a new exhibit in Albuquerque written by Russell Contreras for the Sentinel:

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A national Hispanic center is displaying a unique art exhibit on the chola — the working class, Mexican-American urban female often associated with gangs.

The National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque opened the “Que Chola Exhibition” on Friday with pieces by artists from New Mexico, Arizona, California, Texas, and Colorado.

The displays feature the evolution of the chola from the World War II-era to the contemporary figure trying to survive in poor neighborhoods. Using paintings, photography and sculptures, the exhibit attempts to cover images of the chola as an urban warrior, a mentor, a mother and political figure.

Cholas, or homegirls, often refers to a particular Latina subculture in the U.S. characterized by a tough demeanor and distinctive style. They are identified by their clothing ranging from flannel shirts and khaki pants to their dark eye makeup and indigenous-theme tattoos.

The image of the chola gained popularity in the late 1980s and early 1990s with movies like “Colors” and “Mi Vida Loca” (My Crazy Life).

In recent years, scholars have countered that the chola represents more than just gang activity. Latina scholars have argued that the chola’s image is a commentary of poverty in urban U.S. cities and symbolized a working-class Latina seeking to battle sexism.

Some Latina academics have playfully said on social media that “you can’t spell scholar without the word ‘CHOLA’.”

Curator Jadira Gurule said she agreed that the chola is more than a so-called dangerous female gang member linked to criminal activity. For many Latinas, Gurule said the chola also represents strength and perseverance.

“Many within our communities either were, or admired and wanted to emulate, the chola growing up,” Gurule said. “She also represents real people with real experiences. The chola is a persona developed in response to racism and sexism. To reduce her to a gang member is shallow.”

Pola Lopez, a Las Vegas, New Mexico, born artist who now lives in Los Angeles, said she was excited when she was asked to participate in the exhibit. “The chola…you can’t mess with her,” said Lopez. “She’s beautiful and represents us in many ways.”

Her painting, “Coatlicue and Chola,” features a homegirl leaning against a statue of an Aztec goddess.

Nanibah Chacon, a Navajo and Hispanic artist from Arizona, said she wanted to create an image of a chola if she had been represented in midcentury advertisements. Her painting, “Xicana Classic,” depicts a chola from the 1970s sitting on a red circle and smiling with confidence.

The exhibit, which runs until Aug. 4, is the latest attempt to create a new image around the chola and expand her meaning.

The Los Angeles-based gang intervention group Homeboy Industries, for example, sells clothing designed by former cholas and runs Homegirl Cafe — a restaurant with food prepared by former gang members gaining new skills. The hip cafe is an offshoot of social enterprises founded by Jesuit priest Greg Boyle.

And Art Laboe, a 93-year-old DJ based in Palm Springs, California, allows cholas every Sunday on his syndicated oldies show “The Art Laboe Connection Show” to call in and give dedications to their loved ones serving time in prison. Scholars and activists say the radio show helps humanize cholas since it allows listeners to hear cholas express emotions of love and pain.


Associated Press Writer Russell Contreras is a member of The Associated Press’ race and ethnicity team. Follow Contreras on Twitter at


This story corrects a previous version with the quote “you can’t spell scholar without the word ‘CHOLA’.”

Book Rev. of My Shoes and I by René Colato Laínez

coming soon to a bookstore near you!


A pair of shoes serves as the constant in a grueling trek across three borders.

Young René and Papá together begin a northbound journey, by foot and bus, away from their native El Salvador. As they cross into Guatemala, then Mexico, and finally the United States, the story repeats a chorus of “Uno, dos, tres,” representing the number of borders they must cross. It is uncertain whether the father-son team is crossing these borders with required documentation until they are waist-deep in a rushing river before joining Mamá on the other side. If there’s a moment when readers realize the perils of their journey, it’s here. Nevertheless, Colato Laínez handles the narration gently. Framing the narrative deliberately and at the center of Vanden Broeck’s illustrations are René’s shoes, often depicted from low angles or bird’s-eye views. Brush-stroked spreads depicting various landscapes—lush, green scenes, muddy trails, mountains, cities, the river—are reminiscent of Central American artwork often depicted on murals, souvenir trinkets, or postcards. Not until the last spread does Vanden Broeck finally unveil René’s smiling face in its entirety. The bilingual narrative is told in short sentences and enlivened with repetition, running metaphors, and sound effects, easily engaging readers.

Inspired by the author’s own story, this tale of a young boy’s arduous escape serves as a crucial, insightful, and timely light shone on a sensitive, highly relevant subject. (author’s note) (Bilingual picture book. 6-10)

Poet Mónica Teresa Ortiz’s New Book Imagines a Future Where Queer Bodies Are Free

Check out this wonderful review and interview conducted by Maribel Falcón for Remezcla. By clicking on the link, you can see more photos as well.


Texas is a contested space. While it’s politically and socially connected to Mexico, it’s sometimes at odds with conservative Texan culture. Nearly 40 percent of the state’s population identifies as Latino, and the soon-to-be-majority of the state still contends with what it means to be from the land itself. If we wonder what the future holds for Texas, we can simply look to those who influence culture. But how does our current political situation – where anti-immigrant rhetoric runs high – affect the ideas and work of artists who live and work within this infamous southern state?

We turned to Austin-based writer Mónica Teresa Ortiz to learn more. Born and bred in the Texas panhandle, Ortiz offers a unique perspective as a queer poet and longtime cultural worker. Since 2012, Mónica has served as the poetry editor of Raspa Magazine, a biannual queer Latino literary magazine. Her first book, muted blood, debuted last year. Her writings have been featured in Huizache and the Texas Observer. In her work, Mónica incorporates the subject of death and rebirth while alluding to a queer futurity.

Her second book, autobiography of a semiromantic anarchist (Host Publications), dropped this week. We spoke to Mónica about her work, queerness, and our current political environment.

The following interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

How do you see Texas?

Texas is my home. I was born here, and it has the reputation that it is conservative, racist, homophobic, xenophobic, and tied to the old south. Is it deserved? Absolutely. If one looks at the formation of the state since it was colonized, and looks at our modern political theatre, absolutely we are all those things, historically and systematically. As much as we mythologize this place, it is important to be accurate and realistic about the development of that mythology and the way the state reproduces violence. I stay in Texas because I want to redefine its legacy and because I love this place. It is part of a reimagining of a New South that to me is queer, trans, black, brown, muslim. It’s marginalized people building futures over the ashes of the old South.

How does your upbringing influence your perspective?

I consider geography and space greatly influential in the way I think and relate to the world. I grew up post-Cold War through the development of neoliberalism and globalization, under Reagan, Bush, and Clinton. It was when American exceptionalism really gained traction, and one of the reasons I am adamant about being anti-imperialist is because as a child, I watched these things the US was doing to other places, on the other side of the world, and how we controlled so many narratives.

When 2016 came about and the election happened, I remember telling my partner at the time: “This pendejo is gonna win.” Racism isn’t limited by geography. Racism and the perpetuation of white supremacy is everywhere, rural or otherwise. It might manifest in other ways in cities or small towns and the way its produced and replicated might look different. I know people in Austin who have Obama or Beto O’Rourke bumper stickers, and they can be just as racist as people I grew up with. Racism is about power and white supremacy, so you notice these kinds of things more, the more you pay more attention to them because everyday you are confronted by them in policies, in architecture, zoning, educational and financial segregation.

Given your experience, how do you negotiate your own identity?

I don’t identify with Chicanismo or Latinidad. People can identify however they want, but for me, those terms don’t negotiate racial or ethnic identities or gender. I’m queer, and I’m Mexican, and I am from Texas, and I am from the panhandle. My dad is from the border. I lived on the border. But I approach the border as an outsider. We have different histories and identities. It’s very nuanced. I think Latinidad doesn’t quite explore those nuances.

And then of course, there is the issue of anti-blackness. We’ve seen a recent commercial surge from Black artists and film, and then there comes the Latinidad, asking, “But what about us?” Aside from its assumption of competition amongst our communities, there is also a sense that there aren’t Afro-Latino/as. Latinidad tends to codify it as a brown experience, and it’s really not. Black thought has had a tremendous impact on not just my work but is directly linked to the history of the Americas.

Then, there is the discrimination against Indigeneity. You can look at Yalitza Aparicio and the way white Mexicans have treated her. Someone like Yalitza threatens whiteness, and its power and privilege, and many benefit from that proximity to whiteness.

How is autobiography of a semiromantic anarchist different from your first book?

In my first book, I talk about my great-grandfather who was killed and no one knows where his body is. I asked my grandmother, and although she has an acute memory, they have no idea what happened to his body. It makes us ask to whom do our bodies belong to? Even though our bodies are there in the ground, instead of honoring those spaces, bodies get taken out, built over. Even when we are dead, our bodies are still possessions of the state. In my imagining of a queer futurity, that no longer is the case. We are liberated and we are free, but to get there we have to build it together.

What is your new book about?

My new book is a collection of cronicas. I was really influenced by Eduardo Galeano’s work and then began reading Cameroon scholar Achille Mbembe’s On the Postcolony. The cronicas reflect my exploration of necropolitics, of the state and sovereignty, of trying to exist and survive in a space where queerness is a disruption against heteronormativity, against heterosexuality, against whiteness, against the state which controls our lives, even what happens to our bodies after we die. I think it hinges on the concept of an afterlife.

When I came out to my parents, the person that they knew me to be, no longer existed. I was treated as if I had died. I began thinking, is my queerness my afterlife? Is it a rebirth? This is how I perceive queer futurity. As Jose Esteban Muñoz says, it is imagining a future that doesn’t exist yet. We live in a colonized space under capitalism. Our lives and deaths happen within these parameters. The settler-colonial state attempts to control how we experience love and loss and grief but it doesn’t have to define it.

How does your work comment on the current political situation in the US?

Towards the end of muted blood, I introduce the ideas of exodus and sanctuary. To me, it’s a very important question, because who is offered sanctuary in this country? I think the immigrants rights movement has become really big. In my neighborhood, I see a lot of signs in front yards claiming to be a ‘sanctuary for refugees and immigrants.’ But I always wonder, what ways do people actually practice this? I think about Claudia Rankine’s book, Citizen, and the micro-aggressions endured by the author. What is this actual idea of sanctuary and who does it apply to? Is sanctuary being offered to Black people, Black women, and queer and trans people in this country? If you say Black Lives Matter or bring up the topic of reparations, or condemn the actions of police departments, or even talk about displacement, people freak out. We’ve historically been pitted against each other and my work critiques that.

autobiography of a semiromantic anarchist is available now. You can purchase it online here starting Friday, March 22.

Editor’s Note: Itzel Alejandra Martinez, Remezcla’s photo editor, took the photos and video used in the article for Mónica Teresa Ortiz’s press kit. 

Book Rev. of Carrie Gibson’s El Norte

check out this book review by Charles Kaiser for The Guardian:

The subtitle of Carrie Gibson’s book is The Epic and Forgotten Story of Hispanic North America. El Norte lives up to it.

These 437 pages are an important correction to centuries of American history which have mostly neglected the vital role of Spanish pioneers (and Native Americans) in favor of settlers from England, Ireland and Scotland. As the author quotes Walt Whitman, Americans long ago tacitly abandoned themselves “to the notion that our United States have been fashioned from the British Islands … which is a great mistake …

“To that composite American identity of the future, Spanish character will supply some of the most needed parts.”

This book proves Whitman’s prescience in a hundred ways: the history of Hispanics in the US is indeed “not a separate history of outsiders or interlopers, but one that is central to how the United States has developed”.

The first surprise is the role of Spain in the revolutionary war. In Paris in December 1776, Benjamin Franklin met in secret with the Count of Aranda, quickly convincing him Spain needed to side with the Americans. Ships leaving New England already called at Spanish ports such as Bilbao and Cádiz to purchase cod and flour. Soon their holds were also bulging with millions of reales’ worth of bullets, gunpowder, bombs, rifles and tents. Three years later, the Spanish governor in New Orleans, Bernardo de Gálvez, sent 1,300 men to attack British outposts in west Florida.

Of course, Gibson’s narrative begins much earlier, when the Spanish began their forays into the New World. The author reminds us that the indigenous urban culture of what is now Mexico was much more advanced than anything the conquistadors left behind in Europe.

Tenochtitlan (on the site of Mexico City) had a population of 150,000, “far larger than any European city”. Hernán Cortés arrived there in 1519 and reported to the crown he could “not describe one-hundredth of all the things which could be mentioned”, including a market where “more than 60,000 people come each day to buy and sell, and where every kind of merchandise … is found: provisions as well as … ornaments of gold and silver, lead, brass, copper, tin stones, shells bones and feathers”. When he met Emperor Moctezuma, Cortés was taken to a “vast compound of palaces, apartments, libraries, warehouses, and even a zoo”.

With the typical solicitude of the invader, Cortés soon kidnapped Moctezuma. But he was forced to retreat in 1520, after a battle that killed 400 Spaniards and thousands of Tlaxcala soldiers. A year later, Cortés returned. A plague in the Valley of Mexico would eventually kill millions. The capital fell.

Gibson paints an extremely broad canvas over eight centuries, from early Spanish colonies in Florida and the founding of Louisiana to the battle between the US and Mexico over Texas and Hispanic settlements in California. She reminds us of the immense diversity of Native American culture before the arrival of all Europeans. There were probably 300,000 Native Americans in Alta California before the Spanish arrived, and they spoke “roughly 90 languages under the umbrella of seven broader linguistic families”.

A statue of the 18th-century Spanish missionary Father Junipero Serra at Mission San Juan Capistrano, in California.
 A statue of the 18th-century Spanish missionary Father Junípero Serra at Mission San Juan Capistrano, in California. Photograph: Mike Blake/Reuters

The natives offered resistance. In 1772, a priest in San Diego wrote that Spanish troops “deserve to be hanged on account of the continuous outrages which they are committing in seizing and raping the women”. Three years later, 600 natives attacked the mission with “so many arrows that you could not possibly count them”. The mission burned but it was rebuilt five years later, and by 1823 there were 21 such sites up and down the California coast, “almost all of them concerned with the conversion and subsequent labor of the Indians”. Los Angeles and San José de Guadalupe, on the southern edge of San Francisco, were established for civilian settlement.

Gibson also reminds us of the racism which has underpinned the Mexican-American relationship for at least 200 years.

“Whiteness in the United States,” she writes, “became bound up with the idea of manifest destiny and providence, that the Anglo-Protestants were somehow chosen to spread themselves across the continent.” In 1847, during the Mexican-American war, the American Review said: “Mexico was poor, distracted, in anarchy and almost in ruins” and asked: “What could she do … to impede the march of our greatness?

“We are Anglo-Saxon Americans; it was our ‘destiny’ to possess and to rule this continent … We were a chosen people, and this was our allotted inheritance, and we must drive out all other nations.”

This point of view persists. In the 2000s, the historian Samuel Huntington wrote that “America was created by … settlers who were overwhelmingly white, British and Protestant” – and therefore the arrival of Hispanics in large numbers remained a direct threat. Huntington denigrated such immigrants as people with “dual nationalities and dual loyalties”, because of their Spanish language and Catholic religion.

Of course no recent public figure has done more to stoke such prejudices than our current president. Gibson’s sprawling work makes a major contribution by reminding us of the falseness of Donald Trump’s xenophobic narrative. Her rich account leaves no doubt that America is a vastly more interesting place because of the millions of Hispanic immigrants who have been arriving on our shores for more than 600 years.

7 Latino Poets You Need to Read

Original post by the great Alejandra Oliva at remezcla:

We’re lucky enough to be in the middle of a veritable poetry boom right now. Young poets are reaching audiences on social media and finding new ways to collaborate and publish their words. With slam poets blowing up YouTube and screenshots of poems abounding on Twitter – and on some occasions leading to publishers to print their eclectic poems on paper – there’s never been a better time to get into poetry. Poems fit in well with social media and shortened attention spans – it can take you as little as a few minutes to read a poem you can carry with you for the rest of the day, returning to lines and verses when you have a minute.

With April marking National Poetry Month, here’s a list of seven Latino poets you may not have heard of, but you should know.


Marcelo Hernandez Castillo

“After the first boy called me a wetback, / I opened his mouth and fed him a spoonful of honey.”

Born in 1988 in Zacatecas, Mexico, Poet, essayist, and translator Marcelo Hernandez Castillo has lived in the United States since age 5. He’s truly on the edge of making it big. His first book, Cenzontle comes out next week (April 10) and has already won the 2017 A. Poulin, Jr. prize. HaperCollins will publish his memoir, Children of the Land, in 2020.

His name may sound familiar: Along with Christopher Soto and Javier Zamora, Hernandez Castillo founded the Undocupoets Fellowship, to help non-citizens apply to more contests and submissions. Cenzontle plays with borders – those between the real and the imaginary, between the human and the divine, between light and the shadow.


Rosa Alcalá

“Three times on Saturday / I remember you / as dead, / mamá.”

The cover for Rosa Alcalá’s third book, My Other Tongue, makes it immediately clear the structure and content you’ll find inside: the words are fractured and repeated – Mother Tongue, Her Tongue, Other Tongue. Bodies, language, women, families, and the empty space of the page are all woven together and in conversation with each other. Alcalá’s poetry highlights the limits of one language and then two.

The Paterson, New Jersey native currently works as a professor in the Department of Creative Writing and Bilingual MFA Program at the University of Texas-El Paso.


Roy Guzmán

“I pump bidi bidi bom bom hormonal harmonies / for his jawlined mitzvahs bidi bidi bidi bidi bidi

Roy Guzmán is a queer Honduran poet who can drop Selena references in their poetry like nobody’s business, but their poetry covers topics from the celebratory to the solemn. After the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando – where 49 predominantly Black, brown and queer people died – Guzmán, poet Marco Antonio Huerta, and visual artist D Allen collaborated on a bilingual chapbook, Restored Mural for Orlando. All the proceeds of this chapbook go to organizations for the victims, or toward queer spaces in Florida.

Graywolf Press will release their first work in 2020. They are a 2017 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellow.


Melissa Lozada-Oliva

“remember your body/the body – a land of feelings we’ve been told to cut down”

Melissa Lozada-Oliva is a spoken-word poet, meaning that you can encounter her work both in her book, Peluda, or on YouTube, where her poem/performances have thousands (and in some cases, hundreds of thousands) of views. Her writing is sometimes funny, sometimes tender, usually both. And her super-expressive performance style makes her a compelling poet to watch anywhere, any time. Not only that, but Lozada-Oliva recently opened a show for band Palehound, so you can keep an eye out for her at your favorite music venues as well.

Lozada-Oliva’s first book, Peluda, is what it says on the tin: a book about body hair, and families and girlhood, and it will make you laugh and then break your heart.


Gabriel Ramirez

“Born American, raised Dominican, found black, found God, found home”

Gabriel Ramirez is an Afro-Latinx performance poet working in NYC. Ramirez brings humor and rigor alike to his poetry, bringing lightness while shining a light at issues like racism, colonialism, and mental health.

His work is featured in Afro-Latino Poetry Anthology (Arte Público Press).


Cecilia Vicuña

“No one told me they were written in ‘other languages.’ I read and semi-understood them. Not understanding opened the door to other forms of imagining.”

Only recently translated into English (by another member of this list, Rosa Alcalá), Cecilia Vicuna is a performance artist and poet exiled from Chile since the 1960s. In the last few years, transcripts of her works have been gathered into books. Each of her books is then a sort of small collage, circling around the idea of time, performance, and precarios.


Aracelis Girmay

“Oh, body, be held now by whom you love.”

Her work has inspired Mary Lambert and comforted Junot Díaz – Aracelis Girmay is a poet’s poet, already beloved by many of your favorite writers and artists. With these kinds of seals of approval, what are you waiting for? Girmay – whose Eritrean, African-American, and Puerto Rican heritage inspire her work – has several books out, including Kingdom Animalia and Teeth.

Art & Life with Roman Martinez

Check out this interview with Roman Martinez from Voyage Houston:


Today we’d like to introduce you to Roman Martinez.

Roman, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
I was born in Dallas and moved to Houston before 1st grade. I grew up in Alief in the 80’s, When we 1st moved into the area, it wasn’t as diverse as it is today, not even close. My interest in art started pretty early as kid, drawing monsters and Star Wars characters, and I took a lot of lessons early on. All throughout my years in Alief I always had super engaging art teachers that took an interest in me and challenged me with different projects and showed me new techniques. It was in Middle school that the diversity really became relevant to me and how I started to perceive the world. Holub MS and Hastings HS were so diverse and it stretched all my preconceived notions and allowed me to emerge myself in different cultures, it Also encouraged me to really explore who I was as a Chicano/Mexican-American. Those early years would later become influential as my development as an artist later in life. After a few offers to go to some larger art schools in Chicago and New York, I decide to enroll at the Art Institute of Houston and avoid the cold weather. After I graduated, I took a slight 7-year hiatus from painting to work as a youth pastor.

I began doing large-scale murals while living in El Paso and would take any job that would offer me a challenge and the opportunity to try new techniques. I began to specialize in trompe l’oeil and had a lot of early success. After a few large high-profile jobs, I got bogged down in a residential job that really drained my enjoyment of painting. I took a break from painting a second time and went back to work as a youth pastor, that ended in a 2-year stint in Chiapas, Mexico. Being there re-kindled my passion for my culture and has had a profound lasting influence on my art. When I returned to the U.S., I began painting murals again and have been painting again full time since 2010. My current iteration of style of painting has been in development for the last 6 or so years after being on a ladder 20+ feet up in the air and wondering what would happen if I took a misstep, so I decided I needed to pursue art that I was able to create with both feet on the ground.

Can you give our readers some background on your art?
Living in Mexico and currently here on the border in El Paso, has really influenced my aesthetic. I’ve been a Huge Fan of David Alfarro Siquieros, Jose Clemente Orozco, and Diego Rivera, “The Big 3” and try to pull from their spirit and ideas behind their work. One of the biggest catalysts in my current style has been the street artist Banksy when asked about my style, I like to describe it as if Banksy was the Chicano Love child of Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock. I use hand-cut stencils (mostly) and aerosol with house paint. The majority of my work is a Chicano vibe/slant on an existing trope or personality. My work is bright and colorful and has a sense of humor that I hope isn’t lost on people.

What responsibility, if any, do you think artists have to use their art to help alleviate problems faced by others? Has your art been affected by issues you’ve concerned about?
A large portion of my art reflects the current political climate, I don’t think art has changed much, other than the mediums used. some artists might paint happy little trees and sunny landscapes to escape the realities of the world we live in, and others tackle the issues head-on. I prefer the later. “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”- Banksy

“Artists use lies, to tell the truth, while politicians use them to cover the truth up.” -Every Hammond (V for Vendetta)

What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
They can Follow me on FB and IG. I’ve done the Downtown Bayou art festival and Dandy Warhol’s “May the 4th” art shows, as well as pop-up art, shows at local venues when I’m in town.

Contact Info:

  • Phone: 832-882-8801
  • Email:
  • Instagram: @romanmartinezartdesign
  • Facebook: @romanmartinezartdesign

9 queer Latinx books you have to read before you die

Check out the original article by Vania Castilla for Borderzine here:

Last summer I had the opportunity to work alongside filmmakers Angie Tures and Henry Alberto as a production assistant on a project that brought the work of noted poet and author Benjamin Alire Sáenz to life on film.

Sáenz and I spent most of the day together talking about film, poetry, and really just about how funny life can be. He gave me a copy of his book, “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.” I opened the book and didn’t put it back down until the last page. I laughed, cried, found love, lost love. I had never experienced reading a book whose story was so similar to my own.

Knowing that there were books like this, I set out on a quest to find other books written about the queer Latinx experience. Knowing there must be others looking for similar books, I’m going to make life a little easier for you. Here’s my list of essential reading of queer Latinx books you have to read before you die.

1. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Queer 1.jpg

At the top of any queer reading list, you’ll find “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe”. One of the many reasons it’s at the top of mine is the book is written by El Pasoan and award-winning author Benjamin Alire Sáenz. The coming-of-age story is set in El Paso and follows the lives of two Mexican-American boys and their unique friendship. The book is currently being adapted for the screen and being directed by Latinx filmmaker Henry Alberto.

2. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria E. Anzaldúa


Gloria E. Anzaldúa is one of the most prolific and influential theorists in Chicano Studies. Redefining the Chicanx experience by giving a voice to its women, she spent her life documenting the Chicana experience. In her semi-autobiographic book, she writes about her experience growing up brown, queer and a woman in Texas. The book is written in both Spanish and English – many times living in the in-between of both languages.

3. Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera


If finding representation of the queer identity in literature is difficult, finding a character like Juliet is as close to a miracle as it gets. Juliet is getting ready to leave the Bronx and head to Oregon to pursue an internship with her favorite writer. Afraid of how her family might react to her being queer, she decides that because she’s leaving it’s the perfect time to come out to her family. One of the biggest takeaways is how the book tackles white feminism and the need for women of color to have a voice.

4. We the Animals by Justin Torres


There are few books that can capture what it’s like to grow up in an abusive home. Three brothers form a formidable bond as they navigate through their childhood. The narrator must follow a different path as he discovers his queerness. The dark and fragile story was recently released as a film last year and directed by Jeremiah Zagar.

5. America Vol. 1: The Life and Times of America Chavez by Gabby Rivera


Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s an openly queer superhero! This is the “book” for people who don’t like to read. Gabby Rivera does it again but this time partnering with Illustrator Joe Quinones and bringing America Chavez to life. America Chavez is the latest superhero to join the Marvel Universe. She’s not your average superhero and this isn’t your average comic.

6. Chulito by Carlos Rico-Gonzalez


Chulito is a 16-year-old boy growing up in the South Bronx who starts realizing he might have more than just friendly feelings towards his best friend Carlos. When Carlos is ostracized by the neighborhood for being gay, Chulito has to decide between his community and his best friend. “Chulito” is a work that challenges the idea of gender norms and what it means to be a “man.”

7. The Rain God by Arturo Islas


Another author El Paso can be proud to claim as their own is Arturo Islas. He was one of the first Chicanos to be signed by a major publishing house. The Rain God is one of only two books completed by the author before he died in 1999, due to complications brought on by AIDS. The book tells the story of a Mexican family struggling to adapt to the “American” and the immigrant experience.

8. More Happy than Not by Adam Silvera


Aaron Soto, a 16-year-old Puerto Rican kid from the Bronx struggles to find happiness. Aaron hears of the Leteo Institute – a company that promises to erase painful memories so people can move forward – and decides it would be best if he could forget he’s gay. What follows is an honest portrayal of struggling with depression and mental illness.

9. Gulf Dreams by Emma Perez


Published in 1996, “Gulf Dreams” is considered one of the first Chicana lesbian pieces of literature to be print. It tells the story of a young girl growing up in a rural and racist town in Texas. The narrator telling a gripping and heartbreaking story of her childhood and of the first girl she ever loved.