5 Books Worth Reading this Summer

Summer break can mean a couple things and it all depends on who you ask. For some, summer break means going out of town, and if you fall under that category then you are lucky. However, for everyone else there is another way to travel and the best part is you don’t have to unpack when you come back home! Take a creative and mental vacation by reading a good book. If you are an avid reader or a person who reads for pleasure, below is a list of interesting and exciting young adult novels that you can read while on break!

1) Chain Reaction:  A Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles: This is a great novel if you’re looking for a love story with a twist.

Chain reaction tells the story through the perspective of Luis Fuentes and Nikki Cruz. Luis tries to walk the line and do good. He has big dreams of becoming an astronaut. Nikki follows two rules when it comes to dating boys, her number one rule  is to never trust a boy who says “I love you.”  Her second rule is to never date a boy from the South side of Fairfield. Luis takes the challenge of winning over Nikki; however, conflict arises and a dark future calls Luis, will Luis continue on his righteous path or follow his brothers footsteps into a dark world he is foreign to?

 

2) The Downside of Being Charlie by Jenny Torres Sanchez: This novel is ideal for the teen in high school who finds themselves in an awkward stage of life.

Charlie is in his senior year of high school. Even though things should be looking up since he has lost thirty pounds over the summer, they are not. Charlie must still deal with the name calling, which happens to be “Chunks.” The worst part about the year is that his mother has disappeared, and it’s not the first time. To add to the mix, his father doesn’t want to talk about it. To top it all off, Charlie has a crush on the new girl in school, the beautiful Charlotte VanderKleaton; however, he doesn’t know if she likes him back. There is one thing in Charlie’s life that doesn’t totally suck this year: his new found talent of photography. Will Charlie make it through the year with only one good thing going for him?

 

3) Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia. This film has been adapted into a film and is being premiered on Valentines Day! However, this is an unconventional love story.

When Lena Duchannes moves into the small  Southern town’s oldest and infamous plantation in Gatlin, she can’t help but stand out from the rest. Lena struggles with an old family curse that has haunted her family for generations and is having a hard time concealing her powers. At the same time, Ethan Wate, who also lives in the Gatlin, has been having dreams of a beautiful girl that he has never met before. When he meets Lena he feels an unexplainable connection between them, what is behind the connection is a secret they will soon uncover.

 

 

4) Gringolandia by Lyn Miller. This novel hits home for most Latinita readers who have immigrant family members or are immigrants from another country themselves.

Daniel and his family have been living in the U.S since 1980, due to fleeing rom Chile due to Daniel’s papá’s arrest. In the United States Daniel has a completely new life. He’s in a rock band and even has a new girlfriend, Courtney. He also hopes to soon become a citizen of the U.S when he turns eighteen. However, Daniel’s father is released from jail and is exiled to “Gringolandia.” Papá is conflicted by the torture and experiences he went through in prison. Daniel worries that his father’s path of alcohol abuse and self destruction will only worsen and he will never be able to have the ideal father-son relationship with his dad. Will Courtney’s plan to start a bilingual human rights paper only stir things up more with Papá?

 

5) Choke by Diana Lopez. This novel is for teens interested in an unconventional friendships.

Windy wants to change everything about herself, if only her parents would let her. Windy is in the eighth grade and wishes to get highlights in her hair, wear make up and change her wardrobe, but nothing seems to change. Everything is the same until one day when Nina, the popular and confident girl at school, befriends Windy. Windy’s life changes drastically, she gains new friends and is even asked by Nina to be “breath sisters,” although Windy is unsure of what that means she still wants to discover what it is. However, this new crowd of friends and life comes with a dangerous price.

Las Comadres and Count on Me

There are many times in a person’s life when being alone isn’t enough and a comforting ear is needed. Las Comadres is an organization that grew with women in need of a good listener. It is a national network of women who meet within their own community once a month to talk about friendship, tell their stories, and discuss how to help the community. It was started in Austin, Texas with the goal of encouraging Latina women to support each other. Now there are multiple branches around the US and internationally. Recently, Las Comadres created an anthology entitled, “Count On Me: Tales Of Sisterhoods and Fierce Friendships,” where they asked several of their members to write about friendship and how they have overcome obstacles during difficult times.

There are twelve non-fiction stories within the creative collaboration that advocate the importance of comadres for those living on the border, deep in the US, or anywhere in Latin America.  I had the pleasure of listening in on the conference call where Nora de Hoyos Comstock, founder of Las Comadres, interviewed a few of the authors from the anthology.  Adriana Lopez, editor of Criticas Magazine and many other anthologies, loved the idea of a Las Comadres anthology and pitched the idea to be published; all she had to do was find a collaboration with different types of Latino authors.  To bring a cohesive voice to the anthology, Lopez focused on each story’s dramatic event where the reader could relate. “I made sure there was an arc in each of the stories,” says Lopez.

Some of the writers who participated in the conference interview were Lorraine Lopez, Dr. Ana Nogales, and Reyna Grande. When asked about their writing process and if they had learned anything about themselves or their friendship, the authors unanimously replied that they all had realized an understanding of the amount of emotion, effort and energy put into themselves and the relationship. Lorraine Lopez stated, “the writing process did help me learn about myself, both of us, how we work, and what made the relationship last… both parties need to be invested in the relationship so that everyone can benefit and learn.” Lorraine Lopez refers to both parties as her mentor/mentee relationship she experienced with her Professor turned comadre.

The main point of Las Comadres was to give women someone they could count on to turn to during a particular time in their life, whether it be happy or tragic. In Nogales’s story, “A Heart to Heart Connection,” she has a relationship described in the title, “I wasn’t alone, I’m not an outsider, I’m one of many who are striving and searching for a comadre… looking for a oneness, a wholeness.” Although each author had a different comadre, they all seemed to be looking for the same thing, companionship.

Commenting on the economic situation, Comstock asked if there were any difficulties finding time for each comadre. Nogales stated how “Comadres is a community effort where the building never stops.” Economic downfall seemed to be just another obstacle for the Comadres to face. For example author Reyna Grande shared how she went through many hardships alone while she was younger but, “all the wonderful moments that came out, being able to relive those (awful) moments…” helped her move forward.

Transcending Literature:
In literature, the supporting character or character of most importance to the protagonist is called the foil, without the foil the story would have no meaning or sequence. Make sure you find the best supporting character you know, and remember to reciprocate the favor. Whatever point in life you see yourself in whether it be great, awful or stagnant, remember that you always have a comadre, or in some instances compadre, who will be right by your side.

Beyond the Canvas: Latino Museums

Museums are keys to analyzing our past and understanding our present. Museums document and provide an enriching and educational look into culture. Few museums in the United States are dedicated to Latino culture and studies, yet those that do exist are rich with Latino cultural artifacts, art and are dedicated to educating their communities about their raízes. Gather your friends and family for Latinitas’ own museum walk.

Courtesy from Mexic-art.org

Mexic-Arte — Austin, Texas
Mexic-Arte
is Texas’ official Mexican and Mexican-American art museum, located on Congress Avenue in the heart of downtown Austin. Founded in 1983 by artists Sylvia Orozco, Pio Pulido and Sam Coronado, it gained non-profit status in 1984 and has been featuring exhibitions ever since. Mexic-Arte holds annual summer and fall exhibitions. Summer exhibitions feature a Latino artist under 35, and the Fall exhibition is
Día de los Muertos-themed. Mexic-Arte is pan-Latino, meaning they feature artists from all Latino identities. They recently held an exhibit called “Masked: Changing Identities”.

“Mexic-Arte caters to a community that is underserved,” said Claudia Zapata, curator of exhibitions and programs. Education programming is a large part of the Mexic-Arte mission. Students learn how to screenprint and use other computer software. Mexic-Arte has helped foster other non-profit projects, such as The Serie Project. Mexic-Arte is an important asset to the Texas Latino population.

Courtesy from Brownpride.com

El Museo del Barrio — New York, New York
Located in New York’s Museum Mile, El Museo del Barrio has a history originating in the Civil Rights Movement of 1969. Founder Raphael Montañez Ortiz, an educator and activist, opened El Museo in response to African-American and Puerto Rican parents and activists concerned that their children weren’t receiving an education that acknowledged their heritage. Originally a museum primarily for Puerto Rican art, it is now open to showcasing and preserving all Latin American and Caribbean cultures. The museum recently exhibited the “Superreal: alternative realities in photography and video.”

El Museo prides itself on its community outreach, educating the community through bilingual programs, festivals, and its vast art collection. According to their website, part of their mission is to “enhance the sense of identity, self-esteem and self-knowledge of the Caribbean and Latin American peoples.

National Museum of Mexican Art — Chicago, Illinois

Courtesy from rediscoverthewindycity.com

Chicago’s largely Mexican-American Pilsen neighborhood is home to the National Museum of Mexican Art. The NMMA was founded in 1987 after Carlos Tortolero organized a group of educators who shared his vision of art, education and social justice. The NMMA boasts a large collection of works by Mexican artists from both sides of the U.S. and Mexico border. The NMMA has traveling exhibitions across the U.S. and Mexico, adhering to their philosophy of Mexican culture being sin fronteras. 

With one of the largest art collections in the country, the museum’s education programs reach more than 60,000 K-12 students each year, according to their website. The NMMA also has acclaimed performing arts programs that highlight rich Mexican music, dance and theater. Admission to the museum is always free. They have hosted exhibits like artist Sergio Gomez’s collection “Puertas Abiertas/Open Doors.”

Museum of Latin American Art — Long Beach, California

Courtesy from Molaa.com

Serving the Los Angeles area and located in the East Village Arts District of Long Beach, the Museum of Latin American Art was founded in 1996 by Robert Gumbiner. “Our exhibitions focus on the diversity of modern (early 1900s) and contemporary art (present) in Latin America,” said Rebecca Horta, Associate Curator of Education. MOLAA features only Latin American art by artists with ties to a Latin American country.

MOLAA features a wide array of programs dealing with education, art, cooking, dance and a bilingual summer art camp. The museum hosts a free Annual Women’s Day Festival in March. This year’s festival happened March 10 and featured women artists, dancers and musicians. MOLAA features multiple exhibitions at a time and has its own magazine called the MOLAA Museum Magazine. They recently launched an exhibition entitled Loteria: An Interpretation of MOLAA’s Permanent Collection.

Currently, an effort by the Smithsonian is being made to open a national Latino museum on the National Mall in Washington D.C. Opening the museum is an uphill battle, but the Smithsonian has begun the Smithsonian Latino Center in an effort to develop a plan of action and to help with funding the project.

Review: Washington Heights

At first glance, Washington Heights is just another canned MTV docu-reality show starring whiny young adults complaining about “drama,” and saying ‘like’ too much.  However, after a few episodes it becomes clear that this is no Jersey Shore substitute.

Set in the Heights, a mostly Dominican, low-income neighborhood in Manhattan, the show follows seven 20-something-year-olds in pursuit of their dreams. They are mostly of Dominican descent, and all but one of them are pursuing careers in the arts. Jonathan “Audobon” Perez, the primary narrator of the show, wants to be a rapper; Reyna Saldana, a singer; Frankie Reese is a spoken-word poet; Ludwin Federo recently earned his GED and is applying to art schools; Jimmy Caceres aspires to professional baseball; and Rico and Fred Rasuk are brothers who want to become actors and fashion designers, respectively.

What separates this reality series from others is the sense of community it creates, and how relatable the characters are. While Snookie and the Situation were far from models of ambition, Washington Heights seems full of heart and with a focus on real people pursuing real dreams in a practical way.  The Dominican-American culture presented provides a familiarity for Latino viewers, especially when Spanish is spoken. It should be noted that the question of authenticity is an important one on a network with a bad rap of representing minority cultures.

MTV is no stranger to sensation and the first few episodes feature gossip and girls fighting. The content is obviously edited to create drama where there is little, and some of drama that does exists seems staged. If one can get past these obnoxious reality tropes, Washington Heights is watchable, even inspiring at times.

Washington Heights is an important departure from the privilege of The Housewives, or the exploitive nature of Honey Boo Boo. If anything positive can be said about this show, it’s that the issues the characters deal with are real. These kids work hard, have money issues, confrontations with the law, and struggle with their education; all issues people living in low-income areas deal with. Jimmy has been in jail for dealing drugs to make ends meet after his father was sent to prison. He now plays ball in an effort to escape the streets. Ludwin earns his GED and struggles with his little brother who is in prison at only 18. Meanwhile, every character deals with the regular anxiety of growing up, especially in an economy that leaves many with few options.

The jury is still out on Washington Heights.  It is not the greatest thing on television, and it certainly doesn’t challenge its genre. However, it focuses on family, community, art, and culture, all of which are things that thrive in many communities of color, especially in the Heights. It’s a welcome change from the typical excess and ridiculous antics of most reality TV. It’s worth giving it a chance, but don’t expect to be amazed.

 

Passion for Art

When looking around, people may not notice the wonderful talents and histories of other Latinitas with a simple glance. People may only notice the outside appearance of these girls, but not know their true talents. Latinitas sat down with talented Latinas to share their story with our readers. These talented Latinas represent some of the different passions and diverse creative skills. A passion to dance, a yearning to sing, a want to draw, a mission to explore, a talent with words, and a drive to design will be explored as these girls speak of their passions.

The Dancer

Hannah Velasco has been a ballet dancer since the mere age of six years old. Now seventeen, Hannah continues to dance and is aspiring to become a physical therapist for other ballet dancers whilst continuing her dancing career. Hannah speaks of dancing as a way to escape from the outside world full of worries and stress. She says, “I started to dance to find my place in the world. My dad had just left the family and dancing fulfilled this void in the best way possible.”  More than the absence of her father, Hannah’s whole family supported her in her dancing career as there were other dancers in the family. “My family encouraged me since I turned five, but I wouldn’t let them since I just wanted to have fun. Then, when I was six I went to watch my cousin dance and I immediately knew that I needed to be up onstage.”  Hannah’s passion continued to grow as she grew in age. Her favorite part of this creative process is the detachment she feels from any worries she may have as she begins dancing. “I basically become another person, “she states, “I become the character that I’m meant to be in the ballet.”  Outside of dancing, she has the work load of a high school senior to worry about as well. Her ballet practices sometimes last until late hours like 10 or 11 p.m. The next day, Hannah is up at 6 a.m. to continue her routine even after finishing her homework the night before at 1 a.m. When asked what makes dancing worth this struggle, she always smiles and says, “All the years of preparation I have dedicated to dancing sum up in those 30 seconds of thrill on stage. This feeling is almost addictive.”

The Writer

Tatiana White was never the typical student. She always had a way with words that made her teachers marvel at her incredible writing. Tatiana was first introduced to writing in the 5th grade, when her teacher assigned a fictional story assignment. This Latinita felt encouraged to widen her creativity and to tell a story with her own words.  From that point on, Tatiana continued to tell stories through pen and paper, eventually via her laptop. These tools turned into her best friends. As Tatiana says, “These stories helped me express myself in a way that is sort of hidden.” By hidden, Tatiana means that she does not write simply for her teachers to see, she writes for herself. Writing is such a great life of Tatiana’s life that she feels prepared to take the next step and make it part of her future.This Latinita’s future career plans center around using her skills with words to help the human mind; her books will be about psychology. “Writing has helped me to a great extent whenever I feel stressed or I need a little relief from the world. I want writing to do the same for other people.” Tatiana’s gift of writing has flourished from writing 5th grade fiction to the writing of a talented 18 year old with a dream to help the world.

The Architect

During her first year of high school, Valeria Duron was asked to make a permanent decision: what do you want to do for the rest of your life? Some of her classmates hesitated to choose, but Valeria knew right away: she wanted to be a architect. Some people were flustered by the fact that she could choose so quickly, but Valeria is determined to achieve her dream. “It’s the only thing I can picture myself doing,” she shared. After this decision was made, Valeria began integrating herself into architecture classes. The more she listened and paid attention to the subject, her interest grew and she yearned to learn more. She compares her yearning to be an architect to that of historical figures, “The Egyptians would devote their whole lives to build a mark on the world. I want to do the same thing.” Besides this ambition, Valeria loves a very important aspect of architecture: mathematics. She says, “[Math is] easy and everything always fits in perfectly. Even if I don’t know how it works, I know that it’s important and incorporates with every aspect of my life.” Even though Valeria is only 17, she has dreams as big as an Egyptian pyramid.

 The Designer

When people see Daniela walking around, they may not think anything other than, “That girl is dressed very nicely,” or “Wow, I wonder where got those clothes.” What these people don’t know is that every aspect of Daniela’s clothing was designed by her and made with her own two hands. Daniela Ruan’s interest in fashion sparked when she was a small girl. “My dad bought my sisters and I a white board because he wanted us out of his hair. However, it turned into something else for me.” After this purchase was made, she began to draw and sketch on a daily basis, it soon became her favorite hobby. As she grew, Daniela’s interest blossomed even further. She noticed that her sketches were mainly comprised of purses like none other, innovative shoes, and creative blouses. At that moment, Daniela decided that fashion design was the career that was meant for her. With this decision came about the creation of her own clothes, which she wears on a daily basis. Now at age 18, Daniela has big hopes for her future, “I want to hear people say ‘I’m wearing Daniela Ruan’. My creations will give me a sense of accomplishment like no other.”

The Outdoor Photographer

Courtney Francisco dwells out in nature through hiking. She started through the influence of her step dad and through the presence of the hiking culture in her Virginia hometown. Courtney says, “I lived in the Valley and there’s a lot of hiking there. It’s really green, almost out of this world.” Courtney enjoys this activity so much because it’s a chance to spend time with her family and meet new people. Since hiking is such a common activity there, it’s very common amongst the people within the area. “Everybody on the trails has something in common, so it’s a great conversation starter.”  The best part for Courtney is the reward of reaching the top. After feeling so tired during the climb, nothing feels better for her than seeing the whole of her hometown.  Another part that is especially enjoyable for her is the photography opportunities that there are on the trail. Through this photography, she has learned about the nature out there, recognizing plants and memorizing most of the trails she has traveled through. Courtney’s hiking is something she takes with her everywhere. Where there’s a trail, there’s a way for Courtney.

The Singer

Unlike other girls, Annette’s true passion did not come to her willingly.  When she was a young girl, Annette Watts did not find joy in “The Sound of Music”,  as her school had forced her into choir as an elective. However, for one of the choir’s performances, Annette’s choir did a Disney Extravaganza and things changed for Annette. “Now that was something I loved, Disney movies! So I gave choir a chance.” From that point on, music became one of the most important aspects of this Latinita’s life.  Annette’s dedication to her music career soon became evident as she begged for her parents to give her a higher musical education than what she could have at school. She has joined a private voice studio and the Youth Opera of El Paso. Through all this Annette juggles tough dual credit classes at her high school, while undertaking solos in the high school choir. Even though these may seem like a rigorous schedule to handle, Annette still finds time to perform at local shows with her friends, investigating more contemporary genres. Annette’s motto is, “If you take it a day at a time it gets a little easier.” Annette’s success is evident as she has advanced to state UIL Solo and Ensemble three times in voice and one time in piano. She has also been chosen for her local All-Region Choir during the 2012-2013 period. Lastly, she gained a major role, Madame Thenardier, in a reproduction of “Les Miserables”. Annette Watts wishes to continue her career in music by majoring in music while in college. After college, she will pursue a career in directing, “My heart is in directing. My ultimate goal is to run my own theater company one day and  stand on the stage of the tony awards giving an acceptance speech.” Surely, Annette’s hard work and dedication will pay off as her future dreams come true.

 

Film Spotlight: Precious Knowledge

The Latino population is growing every year in the United States and as a result schools are welcoming a new wave of Latinos students. They come with their own background, culture, language and they bring diversity into the classrooms.  As a Latinita, I feel that the inclusion of my culture in the curriculum could make the class more interesting and might give me more inspiration to go to school. There are many other Latinos who feel the same way and there have been movements to incorporate Latino heritage into the curriculum.  Latinitas, teachers and members of our culture have encountered resistance by groups of people who think Latino topics should not be taught in schools. With the rise in the number of Latino students, there should be classes offered that target the students’ background, heritage and culture.

A problem many students face is dropping out of school.  Annually, over 3 million students drop out and  approximately 17% of these students are Hispanic, according to the Education Week Children Trends Database. Once these students drop out of school the percentage of ending up in prison or committing a crime increases. What then can the education system do to help these students and motivate them to stay in school?

The 2011 film documentary Precious Knowledge directed by Ari Palos shows how Hispanic studies courses in Arizona helped Hispanic students feel more motivated to go to school and how they performed better in other classes. The school district of Arizona created elective courses targeted to Hispanic topics, especially Mexican. The classes discussed the Mexican-American history, culture and promoted critical thinking.  The classes created a community within the schools where it was okay to be a Latino. Many students enrolled in these classes, and as time passed they realized how many of the Hispanic students were graduating and going to the university at a higher rate.  One of the members of the program mentioned, “Everybody knew that the school system was discriminatory, there was an urgency for us to make a statement.”  This statement was greeted by many members of the Latino community, but it received a lot of negative attention by others.

Tom Horne, who during the film was the Arizona State Superintendent of Public Instruction, was one of the biggest protesters of these classes. He believed that the courses are “something that is very wrong, which is dividing students up by ethnicity and treating them separately by ethnicity. [He is] calling on Tucson Unified School District  to shut down the ethnic studies program and start teaching kids to treat each other as individuals and not on the bases of what race they were born into.” He had very strong negative opinions about these courses that were being offered, but he never went into the classroom to see what they were teaching. He made these comments on what he believed happened in the classroom instead of what he saw. Precious Knowledge shows how students battled against  what Tom Horne and his followers believed.  This battle is still being fought.

One of the main problems in classrooms it that they at times don’t make enough connection to real life events.  There have been philosophers such as Lev Vygostky, who believe that little of what is known as “living knowledge” enters the classroom. He believed that if we made a connection between students’ daily life and education, then not only was the student going to be more interested, but the education process would be enhanced. If we followed his line of thought, then the Hispanic Studies Program is a great alternative for students who wish to learn more about themselves and their background culture.

As Latinitas, we have to fight for our rights in education. As Latinitas, we have to strive for more. As Latinitas, we have to think about our future and the future of our children. As Latinitas, we have to be strong, powerful and proud women. We Latinitas are the future, let’s teach it to our children and fight for what is right in our schools.

Concert Review: Delta Spirit

The festival concert circuit can produce some of the most fun, inspiring experiences. Or, others – weather not-permitting – shows in hot, humid and soaking rainfall conditions.  For some bands, Hurricane Sandy could be tearing the world down around you – and you still stay, watch, listen and love them.  So was my experience at Latinitas base-city Austin’s annual Austin City Limits music festival that attracts over 100,000 people, rain or shine.  I waited patiently on the schedule for an amazing band from California: Delta Spirit.

Delta Spirit, a rock band from San Diego California, consists of five talented guys: bass player Jon Jameson, percussionist Brandon Young, multi-instrument player Kelly Winrich, guitar player Will McLaren and guitar player and lead vocals Matthew Vasquez.

Their music is a rare mix of soft-rock, indie, Gospel and folk that I haven’t heard elsewhere. Delta Spirit’s music is peaceful, the beats are catchy and the lyrics will never leave your head.

At the show, it seemed the band attracts fans of all different ages, high school to Grandpas. The power of music bought people together. The band had a set list of 12 songs. The first song People C’mon, really motivated the crowd. The audience responded to lead singer and Latino Matt Vasquez as he climbed to the top of one of the show’s giant speakers. This move drove fans insane!

After that dangerous stunt, people began to sing along with Vasquez. During the song California, everyone was singing along off-tune without a care in the world. Vasquez continued the sing-a-long pointing the microphone to audience a few times during the chorus.

The set was a great mix, each song seemed unlimited. Delta Spirit did not disappoint at all and I kind of forgot about the humidity of the day. They were energetic, fun and great to watch.

The performance made me forget about how disgusting the weather was, how much sweat was sliding down my face and that the ground was covered in half-filled drink cans ruining my favorite pair of Toms shoes.

To be honest, I was one of those crazy-obsessed fans that kept jumping up and down as I sang (or more like yelled) along to every song. I was fangirl defined. I even yelled, “I love you Matthew” during the performance. The performance, to me, felt out-of-this-world. It was crazy, energetic, fun and memorable.

Here’s a video of Delta Spirit performing their song Tear It Up at the Austin City Music Festival: Video

 

Book Review: Gringolandia

Gringolandia by Lyn Miller-Lachmann follows the life of Daniel and his father, Marcelo, and their struggle to find the father-son relationship they left behind in Chile.

Daniel Aguilar was born into a difficult time in Chile. Unfortunately, Chile was under the rule of Antonio Pinochet and the country was in a state of despair. Daniel’s papá, Marcelo Aguilar, was a revolutionary man, fighting to make a change in a country that he loved and wished to see free. Along with his partners, Marcelo would publish a newsletter, Justicia, revealing truths that the government wished to keep hidden away. In a dictatorship, any sign of defiance would be met with punishment and that is what led to the beginning of Gringolandia.

Part One of Gringolandia is labeled “Then” and takes place in 1980. The first chapter of Part One is narrated by Daniel Aguilar who at the time was just 11 years old. He tells the story of how soldiers filled his house, mistreating his mother and causing him great fear. Daniel bears witness to the arrest of his father and feels guilt; sure that it is his fault. Chapter 1 fades away with Daniel’s tears and into the struggle of his Marcelo in prison between the years of 1980 and 1986. This chapter is told in Marcelo’s hazy point of view. He has been beaten and tortured, losing even the ability to write. Chapter two ends with the release of Marcelo. “You have seventy-two hours to leave the country,” the commander tells him.

Part Two, “Now,” begins and lets us meet a seventeen-year-old Daniel. Daniel and his mother are at the airport waiting to finally see his father. It has been six years since Marcelo’s imprisonment and needless to say, both Daniel and his mother are excited to see him again. Upon first sight, Daniel is shocked. His father doesn’t look like what he remembered and what the picture assured he looked like.  “This guy is really messed up,” Daniel thinks. “Maybe he isn’t Papá.” The torture Marcelo endure in prison has taken a toll on his appearance as well as on the independent and strong demeanor he once had.

The majority of the novel is set in Daniel’s point of view. The reader learns that Daniel has taken a liking to the United States and even has hopes of gaining citizenship to become an American. He is in a band, does well in school, and even has an American girlfriend; “a pretty gringa,” Marcelo calls her. Marcelo is not impressed with the ease in which Daniel has gotten accustomed to American life. As a matter of fact, he aggressively likes to remind his family that they will soon move back to Chile so he can continue his fight against Pinochet.

Throughout the novel, the chapter changes point of view and we can see what Courtney, Daniel’s girlfriend, is thinking and experiencing. Although her life seems perfect, excellent student, excellent daughter, excellent teacher, and even excellent girlfriend, Courtney seems to have no faults. When we get the opportunity to read her story, the reader learns that she doesn’t have the perfect life that she is thought to have. In fact, she has gone through difficult times, just like Daniel had.

Because of the torture he faced, Marcelo took to alcohol to forget the pain. Sadly, he quickly became an alcoholic and lost control to that drug. Though he decided he wanted to continue writing a newsletter like Justicia, the alcohol often got in the way of his success. His family disapproved of his drinking habits and did not like his newly aggressive nature. The life Daniel imagined he’d have with his father back quickly proved to be quite the opposite; no one in the household seemed to want Marcelo around.

This young adult novel mixes Chile’s rich history with a father-son relationship fighting to grow stronger and stronger. Throughout Gringolandia, Daniel learns not only of his father’s new attitude, but of the true struggle his home country is going through.  Daniel must choose between the growing relationship with his father and his homeland, Chile, and the life he has known for the past six years.

 

Spotlight: Author Junot Díaz

Latinitas met with New Jersey/Dominican Republic native writer Junot Díaz on his most recent book tour through Austin, TX.  Díaz’s first novella Drown was received with national critical acclaim. He followed it with a Pulitzer-prize winning novel: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, a story that flips back and forth between the awkward life of a comic-book reading Latino geek to the intricate history of the Dominican Republic from the 20s on, a rugged depiction of the despised and tragic Trujillo dictatorship.  Diaz’s newest: This is How You Lose Her, restores Drown’s main character…Yunior as he traverses in and outside the psyche of women, young and old, tethered and lonely, haggard and vibrant.

Latinitas: Who influenced you to write?

Junot: It started at my school library.  My future in writing was made in my love of books. The idea of books and the community of books. More than one person will read a book out of the library.  Fifty people may have touched the book you are reading, or more. Books, in some ways, travel through time. What you are reading, someone may have read 20 years ago.  It was in the school library where my love of books exploded in my brain.

The book that comes to mind that changed my life is Sandra Cisneros’ Woman Hollering Creek.  It told me the quotidian challenges of our community could be art.  It was the first vocabulary I read of a Latino writer.  The immensity of my debt to Sandra Cisneros is too large to be described, what I owe to her.

Latinitas: How much of being a 1st generation American made you write?

Junot: I don’t know if I didn’t wrestle with immigration if I would have written at all.  I am also attempting a bridge back to my former life. At the heart of my writing lays my Dominican-ness, my links to African Diaspora.

Latinitas: Book reviewers seem to want to peg you as your main character Yunior in your other books.  What are your thoughts about that?

Junot: It’s a way to avoid talking about the artistry and avoids and denigrates the interesting things I write, trying to reduce my writing to memoir.

Latinitas: What do you think of the DREAMers, the undocumented students in the U.S. trying to achieve citizenship?

Junot: They are the bravest part of our civic experiment today.  The prejudice against these kids reveals the craven cruelties of our leadership, and their treatment will prove a hideous vindication of society. There courage and leadership of youth is phenomenal. Obama and Romney come awfully short on acknowledging this group.

Latinitas: What do you read?

Junot: Everything.

Latinitas: Everything, huh? You are saying you read science fiction to women’s romance novels?

Junot: Hah! My partner authors women’s romance novels and I’ve learned this is the most voracious reading crowd of all.  I am reading histories lately and an anthropology book called Cruel Optimism, that talks about why poor people side with corporations and corrupt leaders.  I just read Salmon Rushdie’s newest and check with my friends…The New York Review of Books is probably the best source of good stuff coming out.

Latinitas: What is it like to write a book?

Junot: It’s like running a high altitude marathon.  Each book, though takes a different set of muscles. This is How You Lose Her, a reporter pointed out, is a series of apocalypses – relationships, cultures, destruction, rebuilding.

Latinitas: Critics get on you about writing women too, maybe even going as far as calling you a macho. I like how you write women. It might be uncomfortable to see our self-esteem challenges illustrated, but I think you tell our story pretty accurately.

Junot: I am writing of a masculinity I observed.  Women have it just hard.  I don’t have to be hot, if I’m confident as a man. I don’t have to be confident if I’m prosperous. It doesn’t matter what a woman does, achieves - she is being judged for her looks. And,  1 out of 6 women will report sexual abuse or rape in their life. This is problem with masculinity.  And she’s shamed for it or gets no justice.

Latinitas: Speaking of injustice…how does the publishing industry treat Latinos?

Junot: As does the whole country. Not well!  We are weened on a steady diet of anti-Latino venom right now breeding a monster afflicting our Latino identity.  Our country looks at Latino identity and does everything to afflict her, yet we couldn’t live without her. She is “Atlas” holding up this country.

Latinitas:  Your readers assume your characters reflect some components of you, the comic book lover, the voracious reader or even a Dungeons & Dragons player. If you were a teen boy today with all the emerging technology/social media, how do you think you would geek out?

Junot: I guess I’d geek in ways that weren’t popular.  I’d probably still be playing Dungeons and Dragons.

 

Latina Authors Every Latina Should Know

In schools across the U.S, books by Latina authors are often overlooked. The reading list of assigned classics rarely include books from Latina authors even though their writing has gained significant momentum. These 10 Latina authors you should look out for.  These are authors whose writing we can identify with. Their books allow us to relate with their plots or heroines, and we can see our experiences and traditions on the pages. It cultivates a sense of pride in ourselves to see Latinas, and in this case Latina authors, succeed and our heritages become acknowledged. Check out this list of talented Latina authors and their most notable books!

1. Christina Garcia is a half -Cuban and half -Guatemalan author. Her most notable work is Dreaming in Cuban, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. Dreaming in Cuban tells the story of three generations of Cuban women and the effects that migration had on them. It shows us another Latina experience that is more common than we think of what it is like when knowing about your roots  and culture is denied to you.

2.Sandra Cisneros is a Mexican-American writer with many notable awards under her belt, such as the American Book Award and Clay McDaniel Fellowship. Although she is mostly known for the House on Mango Street, her semi-autobiographical book Caramelo is just as marvelous as her earlier books. In Caramelo, we receive a portrait of the formation of a bi-cultural identity of the Cecilia. We follow her and family as they travel from Chicago, Illinois, to Mexico for the summer where family secrets and lies are revealed.

3. Denise Chavez won the Hispanic Heritage Awards and the Premio Aztlan Literary award. Her novel Loving Pedro Infante is set in New Mexico. She uses the Mexican Icon Pedro Infante to explore the themes of identity and gender roles in her novel by making her heroine Tere Avila a Pedro Infante fan. It gives us a valuable insight into stereotypes or beliefs perpetrated by mainstream media like movies.

4. Sandra Rodriguez Barron has won the International Latino Book Award for debut fiction for her mysterious novel The Heiress of Water tells the story of Monica Winters a half Salvadoran and half American girl. Monica is forced out of El Salvador, the country she grew up in, to move to the U.S. after loosing her mother. After many years later, she returns. Upon returning she has to confront her past, the death her mother, with the scientific discoveries made by her mother.

5. Laura Esquivel is a Mexican author highly praised for her novel Like Water for Chocolate, which won the Abby Award. Although not written by a U.S. Latina, we can still identify with the young Tita De la Garza who, because of tradition must repress her true desires and feelings. It’s inspirational to watch Tita go from a submissive girl to a girl who refuses to remain silent. It’s a story about expressing yourself and finding your voice.

6.Esmeralda Santiago was Puerto Rican born and moved to the U.S. at the age of 13. She speaks of this experience in her memoir When I Was Puerto Rican. Her book explores the common theme of identity and her struggles with learning a new language—English. In her book, she shares the prejudices she encountered and the new bi-cultural idendity she formed. Esmeralda has been the recipient of numerous awards including the Alex Award and Peabody Award.

7. Ana Castillo, a Mexican-American, is the winner of the Sor Juana Achievement Award. She is recognized for the creation of the Chicana telenovela So Far from God. The novel is set in a border town in New Mexico, giving a depiction of both Mexican and American traditions and cultures. The novel is combined with magic realism to tell the story of Sofia and how she becomes empowered despite the hardships she endured and the daughters she lost.

8. Julia Alvarez was born in New York, but raised in the Dominican Republic. She has won the Hispanic Heritage Award in literature. The book that brought her prominence is How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent, often dubbed the Latina version of Little Women. It tells the story of 4 Dominican girls who, out of political reasons must relocate in the U.S. As the title suggests, these girls try to loose their “accents” in other words they try to fit in with the “American” culture and as a result encounter cultural clashes with their parents.

9. Angie Cruz is a Dominican-American author who spent many years traveling to and from the U.S. and Dominican Republic. Her book Soledad tells the story of Soledad who is desperate to get away from the barrio she grew up in. She does achieve this and becomes an art major college student, but due to her mother’s illness she must return to and face the barrio she wanted to escape.

10.Sandra Benitez is half Puerto Rican. Her book Bitter Grounds garnered her not only praise, but the American Book Award. The novel is set in El Salvador in 1932 and tells the story of Mercedes a Pipil Indian woman who loses most of her family in an uprising. We follow three generations of women whose difficulties did not bog them down, but they remain sustained and strong.

 

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