April 13, 2015

CULTURAL IDENTITY: How I Celebrate My Latinidad by Graciela Limón

The Latina Book Club is proud to welcome author Graciela Limón
who will tell us how she celebrates her Latinidad. Plus, we’ll learn about her new suspense novel, 

When I was a little girl growing up in East Los Angeles, I loved school.  You see, I went to Hammel Street School, a public grammar school that had been there since forever, and even better, it was a school where all the kids were Mexican.  Most of us were born in the barrio, but others had recently come up with their familias from Mexico.  But it was all the same; we all spoke Spanish – on the sly, of course, because the teachers scolded or punished us when they caught us talking, as they said, “funny.”  Another thing I loved was that kids took a lunch in a little brown bag, many times exchanging that delicious gordita for a burrito.  I loved school because it was hardly a change from home where I lived with my mom, dad and two brothers in a house on a street where everybody else was Mexican.

What stands out regarding my memories of those early years of school is what went on in the classroom where we were taught arithmetic, geography, history, reading and writing.  All those lessons were good, and I salute those teachers who did a day’s worth of teaching all on their own.  Most of what I learned has stayed with me, but above all, one lesson has remained singed into my memory: The one called the Melting Pot.  This lesson bothered me very much because I just couldn’t understand how it worked.

“Children, you must forget everything else except what you learn here.  Remember, this is a new beginning for you.  The old ways are behind you.  You’re now part of the Melting Pot, which means that you must all be the same.  You must speak the same language, act the same, and try to look the same.”


Wait a minute!

How does that happen?

I’d look around and say to myself, ‘Maybe some of us will never melt.’ 

And I was right because many of us never melted!  Many of us still speak the language spoken by generations before us, the language of our abuelas, abuelos, tías, and tíos.  Many of us still believe in the same animas and cuentos; we still share the same way of laughing, crying, and the same cariño; and we still remember the images of those long-ago carne asadas by el Río de Don Daniel. 

We haven’t melted even when we’ve become lawyers, professors, business people, writers, doctors, mothers, fathers, and every combination imaginable of all these wonderful lifestyles.  And what does this tell me?  It tells me that the expected meltdown just didn’t work.  It means that our cultural identity is intact.

That’s the truth!  Speaking for myself, I’ll affirm that I never melted, that I’ve kept my identity, that I’ve kept a sense of self because I belong to a group, and that being a Latina defines me.  I’ve gone on to live my Mexican Cultura, to stand as a witness to its beauty and its richness. 

I’m sure that different people celebrate their Latinidad in their own way.  For my part, I honor it deep in my heart, and then externally in my writing.  You see, I’m a writer of novels, and it’s by creating those stories that I keep alive the memories, images and tales that I’ve inherited from my Mexican ancestors.  It’s through my writing that I celebrate that tradition, telling the world how grateful and happy I am that I didn’t melt.♥

Revenge and murder define Ximena Godoy’s story. Her lifetime spans the first half of the 20th century, a transformative time of revolution, economic depression, uprooting and migration. During that time, she witnesses and participates in an era of revolution, bootlegging, dance halls, as well as evolving rules that determine women’s lives in both Mexico and America. Never a traditional or conventional woman, Ximena Godoy shatters rules that govern her Mexican heritage, and even those of a wider world. Her story portrays an ever-changing woman who morphs from sheltered child into a complex, deeply flawed human being, passionate and independent, quick to love unconditionally, but just as ready to cling obsessively to revenge, a flaw that leads her into the murky world of murder and criminal justice.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Graciela Limón is a Latina Writer, Educator and Activist.  She is the daughter of Mexican Immigrants and a native of Los Angeles. Prior to retirement, Limón was a professor of U.S. Hispanic Literature, as well as Chair of the Department of Chicana/o Studies at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, California.  Limón has written critical work on Mexican, Latin American and Caribbean Literature.  However, she now concentrates her writing efforts on creative fiction that is germane to her areas of interest:  feminism, social justice and cultural identity.  Her novels include LEFT ALIVE (2005); THE RIVER FLOWS NORTH (2009), THE MADNESS OF MAMÁ CARLOTA (2012) and THE INTRIGUING LIFE OF XIMENA GODOY (2015). Limón was honored with the prestigious Luis Leal Literary Award (University of California at Santa Barbara), 2009. Her Publishers are Arte Público Press (University of Houston) and Café Con Leche (Koehler Book Publishers).  Visit her at www.gracielalimon.com.


April 1, 2015

BOOK OF THE MONTH: BECOMING JULIA DE BURGOS: The Making of a Puerto Rican Icon by Vanessa Pérez-Rosario

¡Río Grande de Loíza!… Mi manantial, mi río,
desde que alzome al mundo el pétalo materno;

Río Grande de Loíza!… My wellspring, my river
since the maternal petal lifted me to the world.
                        ---Julia de Burgos, Río Grande de Loíza

Illinois University Press
How many of us have heard of Julia de Burgos but never read any of her poetry?  How many of us have heard of how she died and was buried in a potter’s field, but never realized the extent of her influence?

Professor Vanessa Pérez-Rosario has written a new book on Julia de Burgos’ life and her place in Puerto Rican culture.  

Julia de Burgos was a poet and activist.  Her influence spread in the 1930s when the nationalist movement on the island was run by men to the Nuyorican writers of the 1970s to today’s modern writers who have adopted Julia as their lost mentor, their lost sister.  

SUMMARY:  Becoming Julia de Burgos departs from the prevailing emphasis on the poet and intellectual as a nationalist writer to focus on her contributions to New York Latino/a literary and visual culture. It moves beyond the standard tragedy-centered narratives of de Burgos's life to place her within a nuanced historical understanding of Puerto Rico's peoples and culture to consider more carefully the complex history of the island and the diaspora. Pérez-Rosario unravels the cultural and political dynamics at work when contemporary Latina/o writers and artists in New York revise, reinvent, and riff off of Julia de Burgos as they imagine new possibilities for themselves and their communities.

Check out this video where author Vanessa Pérez-Rosario talks about her book to Pura Politica, NY 1 Noticias. Click here.  (interview in Spanish).

Many cities in Puerto Rico and the United States have schools and cultural centers named in her honor.  Here in New York we have The Julia De Burgos Cultural Arts Center in Harlem.  Visit them to learn more about this amazing poet at: www.juliadeburgos.org.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Vanessa Pérez-Rosario is Associate Professor of Puerto Rican and Latino Studies at Brooklyn College—City University of New York. Her research and teaching interests include Transnational Feminism and Latino Cultural Studies. She is the author of BECOMING JULIA DE BURGOS: The Making of a Puerto Rican Icon (University of Illinois Press, 2014) and the editor of HISPANIC CARIBBEAN LITERATURE OF MIGRATION: Narratives of Displacement (Palgrave 2010). She has received numerous fellowships including the Woodrow Wilson Career Enhancement Fellowship, a Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, an American Association of University Women fellowship and a library fellowship at the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University. Her work has appeared in Centro Journal, Meridiansand Translation Review. She currently serves on the board of Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage project at the University of Houston. She is Interim co-Principal Investigator of the CUNY—New York State Initiative on Emergent Bilinguals.  To learn more about this author and Julia de Burgos, visit www.vanessayperez.com.

March 16, 2015

REVIEW // RESEŇA: ¡A ESTUDIAR, CARAJO! by Ana María González


"La vida le pone situaciones por delante a las personas y no queda más que afrontarlas con entereza por debíl que uno crea que es."  //  "Life places people in difficult situations and the only recourse is to face them head-on no matter how weak one feels." --Ramona
¡El que persevera triumfa! // He who perseveres triumphs!
¡A ESTUDIAR, CARAJO! may be a short book -- 56 pages! -- put it packs a wallop.
Ana Maria Gonzalez' novel is about female empowerment; about perseverance; about overcoming all obstacles with determination and hard work.  It's about the immigrant experience; about racism; about tolerance; about survival. It's about being a woman, a mother, a student, a worker.
This novel is in Spanish.  It's written in the third person and is mostly narrative, but it contains a lot of action, a lot of living.  ¡A ESTUDIAR, CARAJO! is inspiring, empowering, and makes you want to cheer the protagonist and every hard-working, family-loving immigrant-woman on!
SUMMARY:  Ramona Padillo is the youngest of 10 children born to Dominican parents. Because she was born in Puerto Rico, the family is automatically granted permanent residence in the United States.  Shortly after her birth, her parents get divorce and her father moves to New York while her mother returns to Santo Domingo.  Her brothers grow and join their father in the U.S., but Ramona stays and does what girls are trained to do -- become a housewife.  She has two degrees -- secretarial and teaching -- yet her husband forbids her to work and insists she stay home and raise their kids. For 10 years, Ramona keeps her diplomas locked in a dresser draw and concentrates on her family.  Then her husband divorces hers.  Seeing her chance, Ramona follows her brothers to New York to make a new life for herself and her two kids.  But she wants more than to be a cashier at the local supermarket so she goes back to school.  She enrolls in a City study program for new immigrants.  Soon she is learning English and taking university classes.  She reads the classics, the New York Times; goes to museums and theatres; and through volunteering at her children's schools, learns all about the zoos, the aquarium and the botanical gardens.  Before she realizes it, school is over.  Ramona graduates with high marks and gets a job as an executive assistant.  But her trials are not over, for a jealous co-worker makes fun of her accent and tries to make her feel incompetent.  And when Ramona hears of a new course in getting rid of your accent, all she can think is:  ¡a estudiar, carajo!  //  Hell, it's time to study!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Ana María González is a Dominican author.  Her first novel, DEL SUELO AL CIELO, was written under the pseudonym of Virginia Gift.  It was won second place in the category of Best Novel Adventure / Drama in Spanish at the 14th Annual International Latino Book Awards.
Sinopsis:  ¡A ESTUDIAR, CARAJO! es la historia de una mujer decidida a superar los desafíos que conlleva la vida de inmigrante. La protagonista es dominicana como pudo haber sido de cualquier otra nacionalidad. La ciudad que la acoge es Nueva York como pudo haber sido cualquier otra en el mundo. El sufrimiento, la nostalgia, el amor y el desamor, el caerse y el levantarse, el estudiar y volver a estudiar, y volver a comenzar se tejen y entretejen en esta novela de una manera rítmica como si estuviéramos asistiendo a los eventos con Ramona, el personaje principal, quien decide usar la educación como camino a la superación.
DE EL AUTOR:  Ana María González es también la autora de Del suelo al cielo, escrita bajo el seudónimo de Virginia Gift, ganadora del segundo lugar en la categoría de novela drama / aventura en español en el International Latino Book Awards.

March 5, 2015


The Latina Book Club welcomes authors Luigi A. Juarez and Jonathan Marcantoni.   We want to congratulate Luigi on the debut of his first book, COVERED PACES, from Editorial Trance, last month; and, many thanks to Jonathan for sharing this interview.

Luigi A. Juarez

Jonathan Marcantoni: How would you describe your style? What is the story behind this book?
Luigi A. Juarez: My writing style leans literary (that is, away from the style of most genre fiction). I teach and study canonical works of literature as a career so I think that makes me subconsciously prefer the freshness of language (phrases and descriptions) over making sure I hit all the watchwords that plot the perfect action scene.  It’s funny, I was at a point where I was writing three short stories at once. The first was a Hollywood satire, the second was a fantastical tale, and the third, a domestic dispute, visceral and ultra-realistic. There was a woman in each of those, and I quickly realized that they could all just be the same person. And so, Linette Velazco came to life as a failed Hollywood actress who’s had her head in the clouds but needs to come back down. It then took me over four years to create a constellation of characters that make sure that happens, as she moves back East to pick up the pieces of her life.

JM: You mention how your style leans literary but that you are also a student and teacher of literary canons. Reading the synopsis I was struck how it reads very much like a traditional romance novel as far as the plot points go, but that the text itself is much more emotionally involved and complex than the usual romantic drama. Is it fair to say that genre tropes are a difficult thing to avoid even as you mold them to your own uses?
     LJ: I would say that it was never about me wanting to “subvert” genre. It’s not like I had the romance genre in mind and tried to subvert it. Rather, my subject matter here happens to be the girl meets/loses/what-have-you story which also happens to be a perfect template for category romance, but I approached this with a preference for introspection, as more of a character study, as it were.  The literary writing style also, I believe, lends itself well to creating a timeless piece. I have these modern settings and youthful characters, but the language of introspection has a fundamental classic quality to it. One last thing: writing good genre fiction may be a different beast but in many ways it’s even tougher. There’s definitely an art to crafting the perfect romance or the perfect thriller.

Published by
Editorial Trance
JM: What was your methodology in figuring out what to keep and what to excise while you wrote the book?  
     LJ: Edits are always difficult but always necessary. My process is I edit things as I go (for better or worse time-wise), but whatever you do has to be in service of the story. So in the case of the Hollywood satire inclusion, I toned that part down considerably to where it's more about Linette leaving Hollywood but not so much about any kind of satire. Satirizing Hollywood adds nothing to the overall arc of the love story, really. This is just one example.

JM: What about your background or personality allowed you to enter the mind of Linette? Did you seek guidance for writing a female character or what or whom did you model her after?
     LJ: No guidance, actually (although I did grow up in a very loud house of sisters and aunts). Linette happens to be a woman but the story I wanted to tell was all about how you can shove love off to the side but it has this way of always boomeranging back to you, especially when you least expect it.

JM: What emotional experience do you intend the reader to go through in this story?
     LJ: I hope readers experience a whole range of emotions, actually. Linette's journey is often sad, often funny (I'm thinking very much about Valeria and Paul's interactions in the book), but there's plenty of happy moments, too. Hopefully, I made it so that readers feel they are right beside her as she makes strides to get her life on a path where she assumes complete and total agency.

JM: Have you evolved as a writer during the course of writing and editing this book and if yes, how so?
     LJ: Yes. I've evolved in this sense that I feel comfortable writing book-length stories now. Like many writers I know, I started out just writing short stories. Then, I got to the point where I had written enough that I said, "Let me try my hand at a novel." From here on out, actually, I'd like to write novels.

JM: I think writers who try to do novels first miss out on the fun of short works, which really allow you to find your voice in large part because that lack of intimacy allows you to be more playful. A novel is very much about consistency in tone, character, pacing, etc. which is especially hard to maintain over a long period of time. How did your life, while writing COVERED PACES, reflect on Linette's journey and vice versa?
     LJ: I think the important thing is not just to keep writing until you find your voice but also to have enough life experience. And there are some who might disagree, but this especially involves meeting people from parts of the world outside your hometown/city. In my case, I moved up north for college, and then again for grad school. But the point I'm making is that you don't need to pursue degrees to replicate those things. It's about making the journey itself, which is what Linette does. Whether you decide to live halfway across the country or accept a new job somewhere else or even just take a few road trips, you need to interact with different kinds of people in different kinds of places to be able to hone your voice.

JM: What drives you as a writer and how did that relate to this book?
     LJ: I'm constantly thinking of original ways to express what I observe. That's definitely the driver, because you feel gratified whenever you're able to stand behind what you've expressed precisely because it's your voice that did so. In this book's case, I wanted to create a modern love story, I wanted it to be told in a classic way, I wanted to render big city life (LA, Miami, Boston) in an accurate way, etc., and all those things combined became my voice.

JM: What themes in your work stand out to you as particularly important?
     LJ: As I've stated, love often finds you when you aren't even looking for it. And that makes other aspects of your life a lot more complicated. This is especially true of your 20's, which I've mentioned in the Press Release for the book (that it's this weird time in your life where there's a lot up in the air but you definitely know better about a lot of things). Finally, I do have to mention that it's important that this be considered a Latino book as well. Like myself, Linette is a Panamanian-American, the first generation in her family to be born in the United States. And like I did, Linette definitely faces some of the burdens of the immigrant child: upward mobility at all costs, and financial-striving over emotional satisfaction. We all know there's not a lot of money to be made being a writer, and when I told my parents that that's what I wanted to be, it didn't go over too well (but they eventually came around).

JM: I like that you brought up your heritage and the immigrant experience, particularly coming from a sub-group of Latinos (Panamanians) which not only Americans but many Latinos do not know much about aside from infamous figures like Noriega or the Panama Canal. What about your culture and your people's history do you want others to learn from your stories, not just this book, but future ones as well? 
     LJ: It's interesting, I grew up in the Hialeah area of Miami which as many people know is predominantly Cuban. Being Panamanian-American, I'm technically a considered a minority there! So I've encountered weird but true Spanish-language differences all my life like how, what my family and Panamá calls "patacones" is what Cubans and many others call "tostones." This is just one example of many word differences. So I do feel a responsibility to filter my unique experience moving about not just other groups but other sub-groups as well, while still staying true to my own proper heritage and customs.

JM: Do you have plans to write stories set in Panama? Do you feel responsibility to be a voice for your community, and if so, what message would you like to convey?
     LJ: I'd definitely like to eventually be associated to the literary tradition of Panamá. I kind of "announce" this when I use verses from writer Rogelio Sinán as my novel's epigraph. Like you mention, not a lot of the country has had the opportunity to voice itself out of common identifiers like the Canal, so I'd like to do so. Currently, the only other Panamanian-American writer who does this is Cristina Henríquez (check out THE WORLD IN HALF, by the way, as it's pretty awesome). I currently have plans to set my next book entirely in Panamá. I actually test-drive this perspective at the end of COVERED PACES, with a chapter that sends several of the characters there briefly.###

This interview first appeared on the YouNiversity blog.  Visit the blog by clicking here


Luigi A. Juarez was born in Miami, FL—the first and last of his family to be born in the United States—to a Panamanian mother and Salvadoran father.  He considers Panama his second home and first muse. His love of words led him to make a career out of them. He holds a B.A. in English from Suffolk University in Boston, MA, an M.A. in Comparative literature from SUNY-Stony Brook.  Luigi currently resides in Boston, where he teaches college-level writing and literature. His short fiction has been published in The Copperfield Review, Short Story Library, and La Ostra Magazine, and his first full-length novel, COVERED PACES, was released in February by Editorial Trance.  Visit him at www.luigiajuarez.com.

Jonathan Marcantoni
Jonathan Marcantoni is the author of COMMUNION (with Jean Blasiar), TRAVELER’S REST, and THE FEAST OF SAN SEBASTIAN.  A PEN member and advocate for raising awareness of the persecution of writers and artists worldwide, he is the co-founder of Aignos Publishing and has been featured in El Nuevo Día, El Post Antillano, Warscapes, Fronteras on Texas Public Radio, Jazz y Letras, Across the Margin, and el Movimiento Independentista Nacional Hostosiano. With fellow author Chris Campanioni, he has launched the YouNiversity Project, which gives students from around the country the opportunity to learn about the publishing industry and how to pursue a career as a writer. He is an active duty Army soldier, husband, and father of three girls. He lives in Colorado Springs, CO.  To learn more about the YouNiversity Project, follow their blog at http://youniversityproject.wordpress.com/.

March 3, 2015


What I didn’t understand—what I suddenly realized now—was that if I stopped moving backwards, trying to recapture the past, there might be a future waiting for me, waiting for us, a future that would reveal itself if only I turned around and looked, and that once I did, I could start to move toward it. –ALMA

Alfred A. Knopf, Publisher
THE BOOK OF UNKNOWN AMERICANS by Cristina Henriquez sounded like a scholarly tome full of statistics and pie charts.  It is anything but.  This is a masterfully written story about family, about love at first sight, about helping thy neighbor, about living in a new world, about survival. 

What’s most intriguing is the format used by Henriquez to tell her story.  Every chapter is from a different character’s point of view.  Each chapter is its own story.  One would think that all the different points of view, all the different stories would clash, but instead Henriquez has cleverly and skillfully woven these stories to give us one clear picture, one primary tale.  Readers will find this book tells a brilliant, intriguing, poignant and loving story.

SUMMARY:  Arturo and Alma Rivera leave all they have in Mexico when their 15-year old daughter Maribel is injured.  They immigrate to Delaware hoping that the doctors there will help make her better.  But their new home is anything but welcoming -- culture shock, language barriers, low-paying jobs, racial bigotry.  All take their toll on the family but with the help of good neighbors (immigrants themselves), the Riveras learn to adjust, to survive, to live.  And, when tragedy strikes, the family and neighbors will band together yet again in solidarity and love.#

NOTE:  The Washington Post named THE BOOK OF UNKNOWN AMERICANS one of the Top 50 Fiction Books of 2014.  We whole-heartedly agree!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Cristina Henriquez is the author of the story collection COME TOGETHER, FALL APART, which was a New York Times Editors’ Choice selection, and the novel THE WORLD IN HALF.  Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The American Scholar, Glimmer Train, Virginia Quarterly Review, Ploughshares, TriQuarterly, AGNI, and Oxford American, as well as in various anthologies.  Visit her at www.cristinahenriquez.com.