Newish Book: Race and Cultural Practice in Popular Culture

Race and Cultural Practice in Popular Culture is an innovative work that freshly approaches the concept of race as a social factor made concrete in popular forms, such as film, television, and music. The essays collectively push past the reaffirmation of static conceptions of identity, authenticity, or conventional interpretations of stereotypes and bridge the intertextual gap between theories of community enactment and cultural representation. The book also draws together and melds otherwise isolated academic theories and methodologies in order to focus on race as an ideological reality and a process that continues to impact lives despite allegations that we live in a post-racial America. The collection is separated into three parts: Visualizing Race (Representational Media), Sounding Race (Soundscape), and Racialization in Place (Theory), each of which considers visual, audio, and geographic sites of racial representations respectively.

New Book: Quinceañera Style: Social Belonging and Latinx Consumer Identities by Rachel Valentina González

Quinceañera celebrations, which recognize a girl’s transition to young womanhood at age fifteen, are practiced in Latinx communities throughout the Americas. But in the consumer-driven United States, the ritual has evolved from a largely religious ceremony to an elaborate party where social status takes center stage. Examining the many facets of this contemporary debut experience, Quinceañera Style reports on ethnographic fieldwork in California, Texas, the Midwest, and Mexico City to reveal a complex, compelling story. Along the way, we meet a self-identified transwoman who uses the quinceañera as an intellectual space in her activist performance art. We explore the economic empowerment of women who own barrio boutiques specializing in the quinceañera’s many accessories and made-in-China gowns. And, of course, we meet teens themselves, including a vlogger whose quince-planning tips have made her an online sensation.

Disrupting assumptions, such as the belief that Latino communities in the United States can’t desire upward mobility without abandoning ethnoracial cultural legacies, Quinceañera Style also underscores the performative nature of class and the process of constructing a self in the public, digital sphere.

LATINO 10 books from 2019 by and about Latinos you shouldn’t miss

By Rigoberto Gonzalez for NBC News

2019 was yet another extraordinary year for fans of Latino literature.

Among the year’s highlights are Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s “Sabrina & Corina,” a debut collection of stories that was named a finalist for the National Book Award in fiction; Angie Cruz’s “Dominicana,” a novel that launched Good Morning America’s Cover to Cover book club, and Carmen Maria Machado’s “In the Dream House,” whose inventive approach to narrative single-handedly reimagined the memoir.

1. “Where We Come From: A Novel” by Oscar Cásares

Where We Come From” tells the story of Orly and his elderly godmother Nina, both of them having become entangled in a human trafficking ring. What begins as a favor to her Mexican maid escalates into a burden for Nina as her guesthouse transforms into a drop house. She must keep the ordeal a secret from her godson who is visiting with her for an extended stay.

After the traffickers eventually vacate, taking the undocumented immigrants with them, Nina believes the threat is over. That is, until she discovers (as eventually Orly does, as well) that a boy has been left behind. Their efforts to protect the child and come to terms with the cruel realities of the U.S.-Mexico border make this novel a book of and for our times.

Where We Come From

2. “Kafka in a Skirt: Stories from the Wall” by Daniel Chacón

The Wall in Chacón’s imaginative story collection is a futuristic database where all digital information is stored, ranging from photographs of cultural artifacts to any given person’s unsent emails. It’s those untold stories that inspire these glimpses into humanity at its most flawed and vulnerable. In “The Cauldron,” a waiter becomes unsettled when he serves a customer but is unable to see his dining companions. In “Water and Dog,” a father becomes emotional when his son encounters an actual canine, now a relic of the past. Each story offers a biting social critique that amplifies the absurdities of today’s norms and their significance to our collective future.

Kafka in a Skirt

3. “Queen of Bones” by Teresa Dovalpage

This murder mystery set in modern-day Havana tells the story of a Chinese Cuban man who flees the island on a raft and returns two decades later to a country that, despite its changes, is still reconciling with its embattled past. When Juan Chiong is accused of murder during his visit, a skeptical Lieutenant Marlene Martinez takes her sleuthing skills on a surprising journey through the mystical world of Santería in order to uncover a killer who is set to strike once more. The intricate plot and the descriptions of today’s Cuban culture and society make this novel an entertaining and illuminating read.

Queen of Bones

4. “Magical Realism for Non-Believers: A Memoir of Finding Family” by Anika Fajardo

This touching memoir about gathering the shards of a fractured family and piecing them back together is both life-affirming and inspiring. Fajardo grows up in Minnesota knowing she is different: Her skin tone is darker than anyone else’s in her American family and her father is noticeably absent. As she enters adulthood and faces the prospect of starting a family of her own, she’s compelled to reconnect with her Colombian father and the country in which she was born. Instead of mourning what could have been, she embraces the better late than never. This, in turn, allows her to come to terms with her complicated identity and — eventually — feel complete.

Magical Realism for Non-Believers

5. “The Accidental: Poems” by Gina Franco

This long-awaited collection by the author of “The Keepsake Storm”is a meditative and spiritual exploration on the body and the soul:

this simultaneous dying and blooming all too familiar

and, well, sad, too sad to keep looking though mostly

we ignore what grieving comes from putting everything, me,

on exhibit.

The image that launches this inner journey is of a flood victim who’s been recovered from a tree, her suspension in mid-air echoing a lynching and the crucifixion. Franco returns frequently to that tree — a symbol of life and death — and her speaker inhabits the space in between, loyal to neither side but sustained by both: “But upheld, if so, it is all so beautiful.”

The Accidental

6. “Staten Island Stories” by Claire Jimenez

This collection is inspired by Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales,” in which the infamous author shares the tales of people on a pilgrimage, providing insight into the 14th century England Chaucer’s characters inhabit. Jimenez’s contemporary take offers a rare view of New York City’s southernmost borough, Staten Island. Though most people’s perception of Staten Island might be shaped by headlines, Jimenez labors to show the vibrant communities within it while addressing the racial tensions that placed Staten Island on the map. In “The Grant Writer’s Tale,” for example, the story of Eric Garner’s murder looms heavily over a Puerto Rican man who finds himself caught in a protest of police brutality after boarding the ferry home. Though more than 75 percent of Staten Island residents are white — according to the latest U.S. Census data — Jimenez brings to the surface the experiences of its black and Latino inhabitants.

Staten Island Stories

7. “Rattlesnake Allegory” by Joe Jiménez

The poems in Jiménez’s second collection are odes to heartbreak, to the knowledge that the body must survive even when it feels shattered:

I’m undergoing guilt like an atom-smasher

& sandblasters seem less a foe to my bones

than the idea I have lost you because I have harmed you, Love.

So when I hold your sighs in my mouth just call it mesquite.

Imbued with the startling imagery of the desert that gestures toward both desire and danger, these poems chart a gay man’s resurfacing by finding language to define the darkness that befell him:

the hardest part about loneliness… I exist,

in no less a world than a world equal to his.

Rattlesnake Allegory

8. “The King of Adobe: Reies López Tijerina, Lost Prophet of the Chicano Movement” by Lorena Oropeza

Reies López Tijerina was an ardent New Mexico activist in the 1960s considered a key figure in the Chicano Movement because of his advocacy for the land rights of marginalized groups, including Native Americans. Oropeza’s in-depth research delves into the personal life and motivations behind this civil rights legend to present a portrait of a complicated man with a background of religious separatism. He weathered scandals and adversaries to become a proponent of militant action in the fight against systemic racism. However, Oropeza’s biography also offers a valuable lesson on what it took to form a resistance that evolved into a national movement during a critical struggle for racial and social justice.

The King of Adobe

9. “I Offer My Heart as a Target / Ofrezco mi corazón como una diana” by Johanny Vázquez Paz

In this bilingual edition (superbly translated from the Spanish by Lawrence Schimel) Puerto Rican poet Vázquez Paz grapples with the violence against the psyche (“Without strength to fulfill the vengeances/ I wreak every night in my sleep/ when I dream I am another woman/ who doesn’t awaken in me.”), and with the violence of displacement (“The city swallows the remains of my enchanted island/ gargles and then spits out its salty sea.”). Both consume the speaker, so she must find a way to make peace with her troubled past and with her life away from home. These poems are a celebration of female strength and imagination: “I am a woman: I endure much/ but the day is short.”

I Offer My Heart as a Target

10. “Cantoras: A Novel” by Carolina de Robertis

Taking place on the coast of Uruguay during a period of military rule in the 1970s, de Robertis’s novel traces the lives of five cantoras who create a private refuge in order to live their truths as queer women. Each cantora (coded language for lesbian) must contend with her individual demons, but each is empowered by the affection and compassion of their collective. Eventually, each woman must find her own footing outside the haven, a symbolic second coming out that’s as difficult — but no less rewarding — than the first. De Robertis writes with unparalleled elegance, giving each character a rich and textured life. “Cantoras”is not only a story of survival, it’s also an illustration of how women, despite the odds, can thrive.


‘Border Land, Border Water’ Is A 150-Year History Of Construction On The US-Mexico Border

This is a great write up by Morgan Kuehler for Texas Standard, but the real treat is the audio interview with author C.J. Alvarez, so check it out!


Author C.J. Alvarez views the border through the lens of construction projects that bind and divide the two countries.

In 2019, the U.S.-Mexico border topped the news, in part, because of the promise that President Donald Trump made to build a border wall. Though building the wall is a popular topic today, construction on the border is nothing new. C.J. Alvarez explores 150 years of border history in his new book “Border Land, Border Water: A History of Construction on the U.S.-Mexico Divide.” Alvarez is an assistant professor of Mexican American and Latina/o studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

The book looks at the history of the U.S.-Mexico border through the development of ports of entry, boundary markers, transportation networks, fences, barriers, surveillance infrastructure, dams and other river engineering projects. But some of these construction projects are complicated by the fact that in many places, the border is the Rio Grande River.

Alvarez says he grew up near the border, so it has always been a relevant topic for him.

“I’m a historian,” Alvarez says, “So from my point of view, I had to go back to when the U.S.-Mexico border was demarcated. Starting in 1848, and then continually becoming the site of more and more construction over the course of 150 years.”

In the book, Alvarez points out that when people talk about the border today, they’re talking about a place they don’t know, or have never visited.

“When people talk about the border, they’re not really talking about the places along the international divide,” Alvarez says. “They’re talking about immigration policy and immigration enforcement policy.”

Poet Laureate Luis Rodriguez’s New Essay Collection Looks at the Growing Violence Against Latinos

Claire Jimenez wrote this great article for Remezcla. Please check it out here

Luis Rodriguez’s collection of essays From Our Land to Our Land: Essays, Journeys, and Imaginings From a Native Xicanx Writer does not begin with his own words but rather those of a reader he overheard speaking about his 2003 short story collection The Republic of East LA: “You teach Mexicans a little English and now they think they can write books.” His latest book, slated to release on January 28, 2020, is a response to that comment.

The collection itself feels like a type of ars poetica. It is one writer’s reckoning with xenophobia and racism in the United States, but it is also a reflection of his relationship with language and how it has been shaped by activism, faith, pop culture and identity throughout the last four decades. By doing so, he explores the writer’s role in a world increasingly marked by racial violence and natural disaster.

Rodriguez is most known for his 1993 memoir Always Running: La Vida Loca, a reflection on his life growing up in the ‘70s surrounded by gang culture in East Los Angeles. These essays feel like a natural extension of that memoir. He writes about teaching in prisons, his work as a poet laureate and the violent racism he continues to experience despite his accolades.

He also writes about the examples of violent racism he experienced, for example, while in elementary school. In one brilliant passage, he shows how that brutality first taught him the power of language: “On my first day, I went from classroom to classroom because I couldn’t speak English and teachers didn’t want me among their students. A teacher finally let me stay, but she had me in a corner playing with building blocks most of the year. I’d pee in my pants since I didn’t know how to say I had to go to the restroom. Whenever a Spanish word left my mouth, I was punished, including being swatted by the school’s principal. I made the mistake one day of stepping into the kindergarten class my sister was in so I could pick her up. The teacher slapped me across the face in front of everyone.”

What I like about poetry is that the shape of the poem is totally based on its content. I call it the language with the deepest capacity for soul talk, where you really get into something deeper within everyone. You’re not just talking from the head, even though there’s poetry that does that. You know, with poetry you can speak from any place you want, but it gets you to a [further] depth than other forms of language or expression do.

You speak of poetry’s unique way of escaping the trappings of capitalism because it is not easily monetized. There’s an interesting anecdote that you share where you describe you and famed Mexican-American author Sandra Cisneros turning down money from Nike for an ad. What advice do you have for writers trying to balance the demands of living and trying to pay rent while also writing poetry?

Wow, that’s a great question. I think it’s one of the tensions we all have as writers and poets. How far do you go?  I make a living doing this, so I have to constantly look at who’s giving me the money to get there. I mean, there’s one expression that says, “all money is tainted.” The idea then is if all money is bad, then you might as well take it. But I do think there’s some direct funding that I wouldn’t want to get. I wouldn’t want to get money from the oil and fossil fuel industries and I wouldn’t want to get money from big corporations that only want to use my image or my name to sell their products. However, let’s say it’s a product I really love, and I do that. OK then, I have to accept that responsibility. Right now, I can’t imagine doing that for any product. I know that my poetry has to speak for itself, whether there’s money coming out of it or not.

As poets, most of us don’t make any money. I happen to be a little bit more successful, but I also try to do it on my terms. I don’t want to compromise my basic principles just to make a little money. I hope I’m being clear, because obviously we all need money, but people have to have integrity. I think that’s what you teach the next generation that follows: Poetry has to have some type of integrity.

In one essay, you write, “To understand the Xicanx soul, which still claims facets of the Mexican soul, you have to understand rasquache.” You write that the term “originally from the Nahuatl language, literally means ‘by the seat of your pants,’ creativity out of disorder, doing the most with little.” You talk about how that shapes the Xicanx soul. How do you see that affecting your poetry and literature?

Rasquache is a concept that says every mistake is a new style. You risk making mistakes in art, and that’s an important thing that we’ve lost. We go to schools and we are taught by the best artists, and we’re losing that very authentic, real “I’m just putting stuff out there.” Maybe it doesn’t work, but that is part of the development of the art: make mistakes, fall into a pitfall, get up and figure out what you’re doing. I wrote lots of bad poetry. I did go to school and learned some things, but I didn’t really learn in school. I learned by writing. I learned by reading, by hanging out with poets and by picking up poetry books here and there. I began to see what’s out there. There were forms I was interested in, but I had to say, “This is rasquache. I’m just doing this.” I’m not saying that working isn’t a good quality for poetry — you have to be rigorous in what you’re doing — but I don’t think it means I have to write like other people or write in any particular way. I have to be true to my heart, my voice and my soul.

There are always Latino writers that are going under the radar and getting missed. Are there folk that you are reading that you would recommend for readers of Remezcla?

I mentioned Javier Zamora, a Salvadoran writer. There’s Erika Sánchez. Right now, I’m a judge for the Kingsley and Kate Tufts poetry prize, which is a large prize for poets in the country. I have like 40 books, so I’m reading all of this amazing poetry. They’re from all over the country and their voices are so diverse. Some of them are new voices and some of them are people who have been writing for years. It’s amazing to be swimming in this sea of poetry. I just love it. I can’t tell you who they are, because they’re being judged, but I will say they are some powerful, wonderful, fantastic writers coming out, young people and older writers, too. I’m very excited about where poetry is going.

New Book: Postcards from the Chihuahua Border by Daniel D. Arreola

Just a trolley ride from El Paso, Ciudad Juárez was a popular destination in the early 1900s. Enticing and exciting, tourists descended on this and other Mexican border towns to browse curio shops, dine and dance, attend bullfights, and perhaps escape Prohibition America.

In Postcards from the Chihuahua Border Daniel D. Arreola captures the exhilaration of places in time, taking us back to Mexico’s northern border towns of Cuidad Juárez, Ojinaga, and Palomas in the early twentieth century. Drawing on more than three decades of archival work, Arreola uses postcards and maps to unveil the history of these towns along west Texas’s and New Mexico’s southern borders.

Postcards offer a special kind of visual evidence. Arreola’s collection of imagery and commentary about them shows us singular places, enriching our understandings of history and the history of change in Chihuahua. No one postcard tells the entire story. But image after image offers a collected view and insight into changing perceptions. Arreola’s geography of place looks both inward and outward. We see what tourists see, while at the same time gaining insight about what postcard photographers and postcard publishers wanted to be seen and perceived about these border communities.

Postcards from the Chihuahua Border is a colorful and dynamic visual history. It invites the reader to time travel, to revisit another era—the first half of the last century—when these border towns were framed and made popular through picture postcards.

New Book: Native Story Power and the Insurgent Horizons of Latinx Indigeneity by Simón Ventura Trujillo

Land Uprising reframes Indigenous land reclamation as a horizon to decolonize the settler colonial conditions of literary, intellectual, and activist labor. Simón Ventura Trujillo argues that land provides grounding for rethinking the connection between Native storytelling practices and Latinx racialization across overlapping colonial and nation-state forms.

Trujillo situates his inquiry in the cultural production of La Alianza Federal de Mercedes, a formative yet understudied organization of the Chicanx movement of the 1960s and 1970s. La Alianza sought to recover Mexican and Spanish land grants in New Mexico that had been dispossessed after the Mexican-American War. During graduate school, Trujillo realized that his grandparents were activists in La Alianza. Written in response to this discovery, Land Uprising bridges La Alianza’s insurgency and New Mexican land grant struggles to the writings of Leslie Marmon Silko, Ana Castillo, Simon Ortiz, and the Zapatista Uprising in Chiapas, Mexico. In doing so, the book reveals uncanny connections between Chicanx, Latinx, Latin American, and Native American and Indigenous studies to grapple with Native land reclamation as the future horizon for Chicanx and Latinx indigeneities.

New Book: Intersectional Chicana Feminisms by Aída Hurtado

Chicana feminisms are living theory deriving value and purpose by affecting social change. Advocating for and demonstrating the importance of an intersectional, multidisciplinary, activist understanding of Chicanas, Intersectional Chicana Feminisms provides a much-needed overview of the key theories, thinkers, and activists that have contributed to Chicana feminist thought.

Aída Hurtado, a leading Chicana feminist and scholar, traces the origins of Chicanas’ efforts to bring attention to the effects of gender in Chicana and Chicano studies. Highlighting the innovative and pathbreaking methodologies developed within the field of Chicana feminisms—such as testimonio, conocimiento, and autohistoria—this book offers an accessible introduction to Chicana theory, methodology, art, and activism. Hurtado also looks at the newest developments in the field and the future of Chicana feminisms.

The book includes short biographies of key Chicana feminists, additional suggested readings, and exercises with each chapter to extend opportunities for engagement in classroom and workshop settings.

Coming Soon: Fruteros Street Vending, Illegality, and Ethnic Community in Los Angeles by Rocío Rosales

This book examines the social worlds of young Latino street vendors as they navigate the complexities of local and federal laws prohibiting both their presence and their work on street corners. Known as fruteros, they sell fruit salads out of pushcarts throughout Los Angeles and are part of the urban landscape.

Drawing on six years of fieldwork, Rocío Rosales offers a compelling portrait of their day-to-day struggles. In the process, she examines how their paisano (hometown compatriot) social networks both help and exploit them. Much of the work on newly arrived Latino immigrants focuses on the ways in which their social networks allow them to survive. Rosales argues that this understanding of ethnic community simplifies the complex ways in which social networks and social capital work. Fruteros sheds light on those complexities and offers the concept of the “ethnic cage” to explain both the promise and pain of community.

New Book: The Browning of the New South by Jennifer Jones

Studies of immigration to the United States have traditionally focused on a few key states and urban centers, but recent shifts in nonwhite settlement mean that these studies no longer paint the whole picture. Many Latino newcomers are flocking to places like the Southeast, where typically few such immigrants have settled, resulting in rapidly redrawn communities. In this historic moment, Jennifer Jones brings forth an ethnographic look at changing racial identities in one Southern city: Winston-Salem, North Carolina. This city turns out to be a natural experiment in race relations, having quickly shifted in the past few decades from a neatly black and white community to a triracial one. Jones tells the story of contemporary Winston-Salem through the eyes of its new Latino residents, revealing untold narratives of inclusion, exclusion, and interracial alliances. The Browning of the New South reveals how one community’s racial realignments mirror and anticipate the future of national politics.