Biography Writing Teaching Appearances  

October 2009 Archives

Last Day of LGBT History Month!

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University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) English Department
table at the LGBT Banquet.  Left to right: Wendy Oleson,
Emily Danforth, Sonam Singh, Dave Madden, Claire Harlan-Orsi, 
Ariana Vigil, and Joy Ritchie, Chair of the English Dept.

On the last day of LGBT month I am posting a celebratory nod for what was accomplished this month--namely the passing of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act. I am also posting what still needs to be done. Since 1991, over 100,000 LGB hate crimes in the U.S. have been reported and documented and thousands more have gone unreported.  After 11 years trying to get this hate crime legislation passed, the Democrats attached it to a $680 billion defense bill they knew would pass and it did, 

What does this mean?  It means that the 1969 U.S. federal hate-crime law has been expanded to include sexual orientation, gender, disability.  The Justice Department can become involved if local/state legislators are unable/unwilling to investigate a hate crime based on sexual orientation.  It also requires the FBI to track statistics on transgender hate crimes (LGB victims are already tracked).  

I think of transgender individuals who were brutally murdered like Gwen Araujo & Larry Fobes King (both from California); Angie Zapata (Colorado);  Imani Williams & Emonie Kiera Spaulding (both from Wash. D.C.); Sanesha Stewart (New York). The list is long.  

There is much more work to be done especially in education.  LGBTQ individuals do not have the same rights as others.  Far from it.  They cannot share health benefits, they cannot be sure that if her/his partner falls ill and must be taken to the hospital that she/he will have access to her/his partner's medical care, even to her/his hospital room. If a partner dies, the other must pay an exhorbitant tax fee to buy back half or all of the house (because she/he is not recognized as a spouse and therefore not a lawful homeowner). Then there is the complexity of children and parental rights.  In Nebraska, LGBTQ individuals are not recognized in a court of law--as if we do not exist.  

When people say, "That's fine that you're gay. It's no business of mine. It's a private matter."  It is not a private matter.  Our lives are public because our lives are constantly scrutinized,  monitered, policed. 

The above picture shows a room full of people.  And it was full! The LGBTQ Banquet at UNL has grown from a small room in the union years ago to a huge banquet hall at The Cornhusker Hotel this year. May it continue!

An Angle of Vision is OUT!!

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Angle of Vision:  Women Writers on Their Poor and Working-Class Roots
Edited by Lorraine M. Lopez
University of Michigan Press, 2009

My mother appeared on the 1950s "Queen for a Day" show.  My piece in this anthology is about trying to find the TV footage of the show.  Last year one of my colleagues, Barbara DiBernard, had her students read the final draft and then invited me to come to class to speak about it.  I'd been to her class before.  In fact, I'm usually visiting her class once a semester because Barbara will teach my academic work or my creative writing.  (Thank you Barbara!)  I very much enjoy finding out what college students think about my stories or my academic work but I never have my own students read my work.  I would find that too awkward.  But I don't mind visiting other classes who are reading my work.  However, walking into Barbara's class regarding this particular writing, I felt different.  It was the first time that students had read something I wrote which was not fiction, not academic but biographical.  I was nervous and uncomfortable at first.  Fiction is just fine because even when students ask, "how true is this?," I can remain the detached one--explaining that scenes or characters are bits and pieces of real life stitched back together in a different order.  But nonfiction/memoir is completely different.  One is still writing to get at a "bigger truth" but using ones life as the medium.  

On that day, I felt naked walking into the class.  I also had an urge to ask them about their lives right away so we could relate on an even exchange.  And there were moments when I felt worried that they would take these scenes, this portrait of my mother and misinterpret or denigrate her.  I suddenly was feeling very protective about my family. I began to think that they wouldn't understand because (a) they did not grow up in working class Los Angeles (the majority were from Nebraska), (b) how could students born after 1980 really get this world I draw, or (c) they may not relate at all to anyone I write about.  In the end, my worries were unfounded--really unfounded.  They spent time sharing their experiences, asking such thought provoking questions about my relationship with my mother, my sister, the way I crafted the piece.  They wanted to know because they could see connections between my family and theirs, because they wanted to write about their own family struggles.  

When I visited California State University San Francisco, my good friend and colega Catriona Esquibel, asked me to read this piece.  I read it to an audience of primarily Latina and Latino students--not from Los Angeles but primarily from the Bay Area.  We found connections here too, surprising ones like meeting Araceli Leyva who came up to me after the reading and told me she has familia in Lexington, Nebraska. One student remarked on the piece being universal--how most people could relate.  

I don't intend to control what I put out there in the publishing world.  Usually when I publish something, I think of the piece like a balloon floating up into the sky--don't know where it's going to end up, who will enjoy its colors, its shape, the way it moves.  While I have been writing this, my mother called me.  I said to her in Spanish, "I just published the piece about you when you were on Queen for a Day."  She laughed.  "Send it to me.  I want to see what it looks like in the book."  She's only seen these words typed on a page.  I imagine her holding the book, feeling the pages, seeing her name.  

I also want to send a shout-out to the talented editor, writer, profesora Lorraine Lopez!  What an amazing line-up of writers she collected for this anthology one of which is Joy Castro!  The title of the book is the title of Joy's piece, and what a wonderfully poignant writing it is.  Thank you Joy--for your generous and important work.  


Proud of Our Students!

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In my last entries, I showcased the many energized and active students I met during my California Book Tour who are writing, publishing, gathering in communities of action to help each other, to help their communities and the world.  
I also stand in admiration for our students here in Nebraska--like María Molina today who helped organize over 100 bicycle riders through downtown Lincoln for the mass bike ride.  These students are members of University of Nebraska-Lincoln's "Progressive Student Coalition" or PSC.  They are also co-sponsored by ASUN (The Association of Students of the University of Nebraska).  Thank you PSC for caring about the environment and the well-being of others.  

My own students gave me permission to showcase them.  Here they are:

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These students are in my English 212, Lesbian and Gay Literature course.  What a brilliant group!  They are a wonderfully diverse group which always makes discussions lively.  I look forward to being with them every week to find out what they thought of the film, the play we saw, the novel we read.  Their insights energize me.  It is in the working together, or working through the piece that we come to a better understanding of ourselves in the world. Thanks for your energy and your honesty!  See you soon!

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Thanks to everyone who joined us today at CSULA!  It was standing and sitting room only at our "The Historical Novel" panel.  Profesoras y escritoras Graciela Limón, Alicia Gaspar de Alba,  Emma Pérez, y yo were greeted by such generous and important questions after we read from our books and discussed why the historical novel genre is especially prescient for our twenty-first century.  What we are all doing is returning la mujer to history--giving her voice.  So important.  

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Las escritoras:  Amelia Montes, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Graciela Limón, Emma Pérez

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Fielding questions from the audience

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The audience!

After our panel, I also met many young Chicanas y Chicanos who are also dedicated to the "word" and I am posting their pictures here and will explain their projects (below). These young students, especially, were such a pleasure to meet because I see in them passion and commitment to the "word."  They see that in the reading and writing of literature, they are participating in deepening their understanding of their humanity, of our culture. By writing, they are creating art and contributing to the transformation of their world.  YOU are the future! 

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Authors/students Rae Obnimaga, Edward Solis, Ana Bertha Hernandez, and Edward's twin are showing us their anthology, _Behind Every Beautiful Eye:  A Bilingual Anthology of Poetry and Prose_.  To get your copy, just click on the title here and it will take you to the website.  

Who are these vibrant, young writers pictured above?  In their book _Behind Every Beautiful Eye_, the section entitled "About the Authors," reads: "We wrote this book when we were freshman at the Los Angeles School of Global Studies (LASGS).  We are a diverse group of students coming from the United States, Mexico, the Philippines, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Jamaica.  We all have one thing in common--we know what it's like to grow up as teenagers in the neighborhoods of downtown Los Angeles" (357).  This is a project that can happen in any city because Latinas y Latinos are in every state of the U.S.  

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And joining the Global Studies students are these vibrant young writers who call themselves,
"Barrio Writers." They are the first "Barrio Writers" chapter in Santa Ana, Califas--a non-profit reading and writing program that aims to empower teens through creative writing, higher education and cultural arts.  This winter, their first anthology publication (entitled _Barrio Writers_) will be out. Order a copy now at Barrio Writers BLOG!!  I send a special gracias to Claudia Breña (standing next to me in the picture) who took time to talk to me about being a "Barrio Writer."  Much success to Claudia and all the Barrio Writers!

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A special shout out to Chicana Detective novelist, Lucha Corpi!  She read from her story, "Hollow Point at the Synapses" just recently published in the anthology, Hit List:  The Best of Latino Mystery (edited by Sarah Cortez and Liz Martínez).  Lucha also discussed the importance of writing the mystery and detective novel. Gracias Lucha!

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Felicidades to René Colato Lainez (above) fellow Macondista and children's author at the Latino Book Festival author booth today.  He has two new books coming out:  René Has Two Last Names (out October 31!) and The Tooth Fairy Meets El Ratón Pérez.  I have seen René read from the El Ratón story--priceless!  Bilingual books ROCK.  Gracias René!

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And finally--a big GRACIAS to mi carnala, Pat Alderete, Chicana author, who joined us for the day, took pictures, engaged me (as she always does) in important discussions about literature, writing, Chicanisma, barrio life, and the art scene in Chicana Los Angeles!  Orale Pata.  Gracias por tu presencia en mi vida!  Abrazos!

Returning to L.A. from Northern Califas

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Left San Francisco yesterday morning for Los Angeles and took the Highway 5 route with a detour through Carrizo Plain National Monument. The San Andreas Fault cuts a long swath across the valley and the reason it is a valley is due to the plate tectonic activity, the Caliente Range mountain on one side and the many hills on the "temblor range" at the opposite side of the valley. Soda Lake sits in the middle of the valley, a long glistening white bed of salt where Sandhill Cranes and other birds migrate. --also a gathering place for the Chumash and other native tribes. It took a little longer to arrive into L.A.--but it was worth it.  

Today--off to The Latino Book Festival at California State University Los Angeles.  If you're in the area, you are welcome to come to our panel at 12:30p.m., entitled "The Historical Novel" (panelists: writers Graciela Limon, Emma Perez, Alicia Gaspar de Alba and myself).  Nos vemos!

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Sonoma Students Read Ruiz de Burton!

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On the way to California State University at Sonoma!

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Sign for Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo's adobe home--of which
Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton visited often.

Thank you to my dear friend and colleague, Professor Anne Goldman, who arranged 
this visit with the students of Sonoma--and what a wonderful discussion!  They were 
ready for discussions on race, class, gender issues that Ruiz de Burton's novel presents for us to consider in the twenty-first century!  Their questions helped me think more about Ruiz de Burton's publishing and the question of reception.  How many people read Ruiz de Burton in the 1870s?  Did Lippincott sell many of her books?  The answer lies at the New York Library archives (Lippincott records)!  I also enjoyed discussing issues of class and race with the students.  They see how Ruiz de Burton's novel connects with our present day preoccupations on these subjects.  

Here are pictures of the students who were quite thoughtful, smart, inquisitive! --such a pleasure to be with you.  Thank you!

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The Sonoma University students with their professor,
Anne Goldman (left--in red).

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I met students who had grown up in the northern California area as well as students who were born in Mexico and then grew up in Sonoma and San Francisco.  They all commented afterwards on how Ruiz de Burton's novel helps them think about the sometimes painful but instructive ways we are all implicated in issues of race, class, gender, sexuality. The nineteenth century doesn't seem so distant after such discussions!

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Professor Anne Goldman (in red) and Amelia.  

Thanks again, Anne!  And thanks for many good years of friendship and academic collaboration--may there be many more.  Just in case you don't know, Professor Anne Goldman and I published the anthology, Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton:  Critical and Pedagogical Perspectives.  It was a great collaboration that included Ruiz de Burton scholars from across the nation.  Since then, Professor Goldman has been writing non-fiction.  Look up this summer's 2009 edition of The Gettysburg Review to see  Anne's non-fiction piece entitled "Double Vision."  

San Francisco State Students!! Orale!

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Professor Catriona Esquibel has a vibrant, smart, and energetic group of students at
San Francisco State.  And here they are in two poses.  The first one is their "Hi--this
is us" pose.  The second picture below this one is their "We are one tough bad class!"

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"Hi--here we are!"

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"We are one tough cool class!"

These students had great questions regarding Ruiz de Burton.  They wanted to know what it meant to be Mexican American in the nineteenth century.  We discussed how California lands were re-distributed after the California Land Commission was formed (post 1848).  We also discussed creative writing. 
Some of the students stayed after to talk more.  One of them was Araceli Leyva, a junior political science major.  She told me she has family in Lexington, Nebraska.  Some of her family members live in Nebraska and work in the meat packing industry.  We shared our stories regarding Nebraska.  Small world indeed!  
My conversation with Araceli made me think about all the interesting ways we are connected.  For example, when the students introduced themselves and told me what major they were, I realized that in discussions of literature, each of those areas of study (political science, history, sociology, media studies, etc.) is braided into stories, into literary works.  All these areas of study can be discussed through Ruiz de Burton's novels.  

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Araceli Leyva and Amelia Montes

Finally--a most sincere "thank you" to Professor Catriona Esquibel who is also celebrating her promotion to Associate Professor.  Felicidades Catriona and thank you for inviting me to meet the students at San Francisco State!  How lucky they are to have you!
Abrazos a todos ustedes!

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Professor Catriona Esquibel (newly tenured!) and me.

Tribute to Dr. Luis Diaz-Perdomo

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Amelia and Dr. Luis Diaz-Perdomo at Chenery Park Restaurant 
after the Bird & Beckett reading on October 6 (San Francisco)

Luis Diaz-Perdomo, a former University of Nebraska-Lincoln faculty member, worked at UNL's Counseling and Psychological Services and also served many years as advisor to the Gay
Men's Discussion Group.  I write about Luis because his presence in my life
at the beginning of my years in Lincoln and his presence in many other people's lives has been quite important. He and his partner, Dr. Lou Crompton (who died on July 11) inspired me in my teaching and Luis was responsible for my connections to Cuba.  Both of these individuals made an important impact nationally and internationally with publications in LGBTQ literatures and studies.  Thank you!
What a pleasure, then, to have Luis at my talk at Bird & Beckett Books--and to meet his good friends, such as Carl Stuart (see below).  

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Bird & Beckett Bookstore, San Francisco

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--audience members at Bird & Beckett Bookstore

Thank you to Eric, owner of Bird & Beckett Bookstore!  There
were so many wonderful people interested in learning about
Ruiz de Burton tonight.  Some were there because they had read
about the reading in the SF newspaper, others saw it on the
B&B website.  Most said they were there to find out about
the first Mexican American novelist--amazed that Latina
literary heritage dates back to the mid-nineteenth century.  
And then there was my "tocaya" (translation: "namesake"), 
Amelia Vigil who was there with her mother.  Here is a picture 
of Amelia Vigil and me:

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Amelia Vigil attends Mills College and is soon to graduate.  
She's a creative writer and is interested in how writers consider
blogging and facebook.  Is blogging a creative enterprise,
similar to, say, fiction writing?  I say "no" and so does my
"tocaya."  Blogging can be a flash thought, a posting of
an event (like this one), quick discussions.  
I look forward to more conversations about this with Amelia 
Vigil.  It was quite a pleasure to meet her and her mother.
I too, like Amelia's mother, am a first generation Latina/Chicana
and like my "tocaya," I am the first in my family to receive
a B.A. (which then I went on to the M.A. and Ph.D).  I see
Amelia Vigil doing the same if she so desires it.  

What a thrill to meet everyone at the reading.  Thank you for
your interest in Ruiz de Burton but most of all, thank you for
your love and commitment to literature!  

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L.A. & Santa Barbara hears Ruiz de Burton

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Amelia Montes, the spirit of Ruiz de Burton, Chela Sandoval 

Could this be "la fantasma" of Ruiz de Burton standing between me and Chela Sandoval?  Could this wired angel be tapping into our differential consciousness?  Or maybe it is simply wires shaped into angel wings, a barbed angel body and that is all.  Ruiz de Burton is certainly in the minds of a number of people and I am meeting them this week!  Yesterday I spoke to professors and graduate students at UCSB.  They had great questions about how to teach Who Would Have Thought It? 

To begin, it is best to introduce students first to the captivity narrative and also to historical  materials regarding California and California's constitutional debate on race and rights in 1849.  The state constitutional convention in California occurred between September 1 and October 13, 1849 in Monterey.  These debates and conversations still affect us today.  It is at this convention that the question of suffrage was the focus.  Who would have the vote in this new state?  The Indians?  The Blacks?  The Mexican?  They knew the Anglo American would have the vote.  That was a given.  The Californio (spelled correctly with an "o"--the Mexican American Californians) delegates wanted the vote too and offered up this definition of "white."  Delegate Noriega de la Guerra:  " . . . what is the true significance of the word 'white.' Many citizens of California have received from nature a very dark skin; nevertheless, there are among them men who have heretofore been allowed to vote, and not only that, but to fill the highest public offices.  It would be very unjust to deprive them of the privilege of citizens merely because nature had not made them white.  But if, by the word 'white' it was intended to exclude the African race, then it was correct and satisfactory. . . "  Another delegate, Mr. Botts states:  "I have no objection to color, except so far as it indicated the inferior races of mankind."  (from The Other Californians, page 98)
Ruiz de Burton was sixteen when these conversations took place.  She and those of her generation entered into this new state and national narrative on race--that "white" apparently had nothing to do with color except when the dominant group needed to set boundaries, distinctions.  She grew up with the narrative that "white" was power and to be Spanish was definitely "distinct" from being Mexican or Indian.  
At the Berkeley archives, one can see the census reports right after the convention to note how citizens were writing down that they were Spanish white or African European--whatever the correct "distinction" was in order to get the vote, in order to be accepted into this state and national narrative.  
Times have not changed and Ruiz de Burton's "angel" still comes with these historical narratives.  We still make "distinctions," we still follow the narratives.  

This is another reason to re-evealuate/reconsider the barbed nature of Ruiz de Burton's spirit and historical past.  How to avoid following these narratives?  

Ruiz de Burton Penguin Book Tour

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What a warm and loving homecoming at Loyola Marymount University this past week (Thursday, October 1).  Thanks to Professor Karen Mary Davalos who organized this talk with LMU's William H. Hannon Library which is their brand new library on the bluff overlooking the ocean.  LMU librarians ROCK!
Years ago (circa 1970s) I stood there on the bluff (no buildings then!) after classes, looking out at the city, the ocean---  
I loved meeting and talking to so many Chicanas and Chicanos who reminded me of myself.  They asked me really important questions about how they should structure their time at Loyola, what would I think about this or that path in life--how to live?  I wanted to sit with them for much longer, to get to know them, to learn from them too.  How is it now as a student at Loyola?  The opportunities for them are endless.  
At my lecture I also had "six degrees of separation" moments meaning that the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) is everywhere!  Mary Ellen Cassman and her husband showed up at my talk and were quite enthusiastic about Ruiz de Burton.  It turns out that they are the parents of Professor Kenneth Cassman, past Chair and Professor of Agronomy and Agriculture at UNL. Then, Professor Robin Miskolcze, from Loyola's English Dept., talked to me at length about teaching nineteenth-century women writers. And who knew?  Robin received her PhD at University of Nebraska-Lincoln!  Lovely connections.  
What I love most (as I've said before) about these talks is meeting the people and hearing their stories--especially the students.  I find them passionate, committed to the word, in search of literary truths, humorous, generous, kind.
So thank you to all at LMU.  I am proud to say I am an LMU alumna!  
And thanks for the gifts too!  The lovely LMU wool scarf and cap will certainly keep me warm as we near the winter in The Great Plains!  

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In this picture:  Dean of LMU University Library, Kristine Brancolini,
myself, Professor Mary Karen Davalos, Chair of LMU Chicano/a Studies