Saturday, December 17, 2005

Juventud by Manuel Ramos

December 16, 2005 - La Bloga

There's been a semi-theme on La Bloga this week about Chicana/o, Mexicana/o youth, hassles inflicted on youth, problems with the schools and education systems, etc. I started to think about several books that also deal with these issues and eventually decided that I would limit this post to a survey of the books of Gloria Velásquez.

One of her publishers,
Arte Público, says about Gloria:

"Gloria Velásquez is an award-winning writer of poetry and fiction who graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a PH.D. in Latin American and Chicano Literatures. She is the author of the Roosevelt High School series of books for young adults, which features a multiracial group of teenaged students who must individually face social and cultural issues (such as violence, sexuality, prejudice and inter-racial dating) inescapable among young adults today. The books in the series are: Juanita Fights the School Board(Piñata Books, 1994); Maya's Divided World, (Piñata Books, 1995); Tommy Stands Alone(Piñata Books, 1995); Rina's Family Secret(Piñata Books, 1998); Ankiza (Piñata Books, 2000); and Teen Angel (Piñata Books, 2003). She is also the author of a collection of poetry, I Used to Be a Superwoman (Arte Público Press, 1997).

Velásquez has received various awards for her poetry and fiction. In 1985, she was the recipient of the 11th Chicano Literary Prize in the Short Story from the University of California at Irvine; and in 1979, Velásquez was awarded the Premier and Deuxieme Prix in poetry from the Department of French & Italian at Stanford University. Velásquez became the first Chicana to be inducted into the University of Northern Colorado's Hall of Fame for her achievements in creative writing in 1989.

Her poetry and short stories have been published in numerous journals and anthologies such as: Chicanos y Chicanas en Diálogo (Quarry West Magazine, 1989); Best New Chicano Literature (Bilingual Review Press, 1989); Neueste Chicano Lyrik (Bamberg, Germany, 1994). Velásquez was featured in Latino Voices in Literature, 1997. ...

Gloria Velásquez is currently a Professor in the Modern Languages and Literatures Department at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California, where she resides with her family."

Gloria recently was named Poet Laureate of San Luis Obispo for 2006. An article at mentions that she had more than 100 poems published by the time she was 35, and that Tommy Stands Alone was banned from a middle school in Longmont, CO for its story of a gay high school student.

Here’s what a few reviewers have said about some of the books in the Roosevelt High School Series -

Maya’s Divided World: This book deals with divorce and the antisocial reaction of the daughter to her parents’ separation. Booklist said, “there are few young adult books available in which Chicano characters and family life are central, and the author does a nice job of giving readers a window into the culture and providing some positive role models.”

Rina’s Family Secret: A violent, abusive and alcoholic father, a passive mother, and a teenager who must take control of the situation are at the heart of this book. “Velasquez offers a believable portrait of a multiethnic high-school community and realistically captures the emotions and actions (from drunken beach parties to tender moments between caring friends) of the teenagers who are part of it. The Spanish phrases scattered throughout the story ... are easily understood in context and lend further verisimilitude. Although this is the fourth book in the Roosevelt High School Series, it is both strong and complete enough to stand on its own.” Booklist.

Ankiza: "In this fifth book in the series, Ankiza, who is black, starts dating Hunter,who is white. Her friends, parents, his parents, and other students ... do not approve. At first the teen is shocked, and then hurt, confused, and angered by their reactions. It is only when Ankiza gets a nasty, anonymous letter that her friends and family rally around her. The characters are a diverse group and are true to the age group they represent. The author tackles a powerful social issue with compassion and honesty. A good discussion starter with a satisfying ending.” School Library Journal.

Another publisher,
Chusma House, says this about her latest collection of poetry, Xicana On The Run:

"In Xicana on the Run, Velásquez reconstructs a Chicana consciousness that addresses issues of politics, love, war, solitude, poverty and feminism. Velásquez's poetry reveals a variety of political perspectives and themes that are both universal and personal. In paying homage to her humble barrio roots, Velasquez includes vintage photographs from her childhood, which illustrate her desire to further immortalize her parents, Juan and Francisca, and her only brother, Fini, who was killed in Vietnam. A foremost Chicana Chingona literary activist, Velásquez succeeds in empowering La Raza, young adults, women, and many other diverse ethnic groups in this powerful and compelling collection of poetry."

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

2006 will usher in New Opportunities for Chicano Artists and Writers

With the growth of the Latino population, mainstream retailers are following a trend of offering more Chicano themed products to the general public. Rolas de Aztlan, a Smithsonian collection of Chicano Movement music was recently featured at Target Stores. Chicano artists have noticed an increased interest in their works and bookstores are offering more options in Chicano literature.

The amount of Chicano themed products in the mainstream market is still sparse in comparison to other ethnic based products. FUBU has an appeal that crosses ethnic boundaries; Asian flame designs are extremely trendy and in high demand.

So where are the Chicano themed products?

Before we can answer that question, we must first define the Chicano theme. Simply defined a Chicano theme is anything created by Chicanos, for Chicanos or about Chicanos. This definition was first introduced to the public in the late 70s by Daniel A. Castro, Ph.D. who is known to many as Sancho of the Sancho Radio Show from Pasadena’s KPPC.

Castor’s definition is similar to FUBU’s meaning of For Us, By Us referring to clothing styles created by and for African-Americans. These definitions were intended to draw a specific customer base, but FUBU is far reaching and is now mainstream Americana.

There is a concept that Chicano themed products are ethnocentric in appeal. This can be attributed to the lack of visibility in the mainstream market and not to any specific ethnic attribute i.e. a tee shirt with the words “Soy Chicano, Y Que” though such a tee shirt can be considered Chicano themed, it does not define the broader sense of Chicanismo. Yet, “Soy Chicano, Y Que” is the attitude of Chicanismo.

To understand Chicanismo, we must acknowledge the origin and development of the word Chicano. Chicano is the shortening of the word Mexicano and was coined in the US circa the early 1900s to identify Mexicanos escaping the Mexican Revolution of 1910. During this exodus, many Mexicanos and Spanish Gypsies entered the US through El Paso, TX and set up dwellings along the Texas border. The cultural collision that followed this serendipitous encounter resulted in the birth of Pachuquismo.

The youth of these two groups melded together and began to incorporate American customs and culture. It is most likely that the first product of this cultural melding was language. The word pachuco is similar in sound and meaning to the Gypsy word payuco pronounced pa-ju-co, which has roots in the Romani word gadjo and Spanish Caló payo, both words describing a non-Gypsy. With utmost certainty, the Gypsies referred to Mexicanos as payucos.

In the town of EL Paso, the young Mexicano immigrants and first American born generation of Mexicanos embraced the word, slightly changing its pronunciation to pachuco. The Pachucos dubbed El Paso “El Chuco” in the 1920s. Pachucos readily developed a unique dialect that incorporated Nahuatl, Romani, Spanish and English and named their new idiom Caló after the language of the Gypsies.

Another encounter at El Paso that brought about Pachuquismo was the music coming from the African-American enclaves that quickly gained popularity among America’s youth – Swing. Swing introduced a free spirited ambiance that the young Mexicano immigrants and first generation Americans looked to as a means of redefining their being. They were hep cats, batos locos – ah retz. Finally, Swing was the common equation that they could share with other Americans. They found a common ground; or so they thought.

Still living in the apartheid conditions of the time and dealing with America’s racial injustices, many of these young Pachucos became anti-social; then came the Zoot Suit. Suits in general are a symbol of power and prestige. These young Pachucos donned the Tacuches (Zoot Suits) and, in the custom of the paseo, strutted through town for all to see while they courted the young women. Pachucos of the Swing Era identified themselves as rebels. They took negative words and wore them like shinny Medals of Honor. One such word with negative connotations was Chicano.

Octavio Paz captured the essence of Chicanismo when he wrote this of the Pachucos, “They are instinctive rebels, and North American racism has vented its wrath on them more than once. But the Pachucos do not attempt to vindicate their race or the nationality of their forebears. Their attitude reveals an obstinate, almost fanatical will-to-be, but this will affirms nothing specific except their determination . . . not to be like those around them.”

In the 50s, many of the Chicanos that had fought in WWII decided that they would not return to the America the left, but asserted that they would dedicate their lives to fighting the injustices they had suffered before going to war. The seed was planted and Pachucos led the way to the formation of the Chicano Movement of the 60s.

Today the term Chicano stirs up controversy in any setting and among any culture. Chicano philosophy requires social, political and economic activity and assertiveness. You cannot call yourself Chicano if you do not take action in one of the latter forms.

Chicanismo, Chicanoism in Spanglish, on the other hand, is the culture that results from social, political and economic conflict, failure and success. In that sense, the definition of Chicanismo is always in the state of development or movement (Ollin in Nahuatl). Chicanismo is not easily identified, but you know it when you see it, hear it, taste it and feel it. It is the elusive definition of Chicanismo that attracts attention like the tacuches of the Pachucos and inspires the attitude behind “Soy Chicano, Y Que”.

The mainstream commercial market is ready for Chicano themed products. Our undaunted spirit has sparked interests in the diverse expressions of our Chicano culture. It is time now to form alliances that will guarantee our financial success, not only in Aztlan, but also in the international market.

2006 will be the year that starts to define our place in the economy of Aztlan. Visit this blog to share ideas, network and collaborate on projects. Please contact me for more information on projects planned for 2006 or visit the Civic Consultants website - click HERE.


Chicano activist discusses educational philosophies

By Mary Ann AlbrightGazette-Times reporter
Tuesday, November 15, 2005

When famed Chicano activist, writer and director Luis Valdez met with students at Oregon State University’s Centro Cultural Cesar Chavez, he had plenty of stories to share about the center’s namesake.

“He was the first guy I ever followed anywhere,” said Valdez of Chavez, whom he first met at age six and knew as “CC.”

Cesar Chavez was an agrarian labor leader who helped improve conditions for migrant workers through unionization and protest.

[Pictured Above]
TIFFANY BROWN/Gazette-Times Playwright and activist, Luis Valdez talks to students about his experiences growing up as a migrant worker in California and his friendship with Cesar Chavez, seated next to his wife, Luis, Tuesday morning at Oregon State University’s Centro Cultural Cesar Chavez.

Valdez visited OSU Tuesday, attending classes and meeting and dining with student groups before giving a presentation that evening at the LaSells Stewart Center on his educational philosophies.

Students, faculty and staff alike had plenty of questions for Valdez when they gathered in OSU’s small white house dedicated to Chicano, Latino and Hispanic American culture and heritage.

Valdez, who sat next to Lupe, his wife of 36 years, fielded queries about his childhood as a migrant worker in California, his membership in Chavez’s United Farm Workers Union and his development of El Teatro Campesino, a theatrical troupe founded on the strike lines during California’s 1965 table grape strike.

Teatro Campesino will celebrate its 40th anniversary this year.

“We believe in survival, a kind of longevity. The work spans several generations. It’s not going to be done in one lifetime,” Valdez said.

Valdez also touched on current immigration policies, the longstanding effects of colonization on minorities in the United States and how to be an effective radical or activist while still working within given social and legal constraints.

Outside of his activist role, Valdez is perhaps best known as the writer and director of the films “Zoot Suit,” which focused on the zoot-suit riots of 1940s Los Angeles and “La Bamba,” which chronicled the life of singer Ritchie Valens.

Yecenia Martinez, an OSU senior majoring in ethnic studies, has seen both movies. She’s also read Valdez’s play “Los Vendidos,” and was excited to speak with someone who brought the stories of her heritage to life.

“My family’s background is farming, so that’s part of why I’m interested in his work. It gave farm workers opportunities to say what’s going on and how they felt about injustices going on in the labor and work forces,” she said.

Valdez acknowledged the challenges of translating the Chicano experience into English, but said he felt a sense of duty to try.

“I thought it was important for someone to start writing our history and stories down,” he said.

Jose Antonio Orosco, OSU assistant professor of philosophy, appreciated the chance to meet the man whose movies inspired him during childhood, and who played such an influential role in the Chicano civil rights movement.

“I remember as a kid going to see ‘Zoot Suit’ in Albuquerque and being totally enthralled — the music, the story, the glamour of the film was incredible. (Valdez) has turned the experience and history of Mexican Americans into narratives that can dazzle and awe, but also teach and make us aware of people and communities that have contributed to society and aren’t usually acknowledged for their effort,” he said.

Mary Ann Albright covers higher education. She can be reached at or 758-9518.