Thursday, December 27, 2012

Los Angeles Review of Books takes a look at my novel, INK

Sherryl Vint calls INK provocative (love it!) and writes a thoughtful and considered review of it in the most recent edition of the Los Angeles Review of Books online click here to read. I'm honored, amazed and just a little bit overwhelmed. Please share this link!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Follow the Lede newsletter

A new issue of my newsletter is out. Email me to let me know if you want to be added to the mailing list: svourvoulias (at) yahoo (dot) com.




Friday, December 14, 2012

Latina Bloggers React: We read, we write, we buy books




In response to the New York Times article about the lack of Latino authors and books for children, Latina bloggers have launched the "Latinas for Latino Literature" campaign which works to identify the problems in today's publishing world that contribute to this lack of diversity so that we can provide ideas for changing the situation to the benefit of not only Latino readers and writers, but to the benefit of the industry itself as they tap into this growing demographic. Look for forthcoming Google hangouts, Twitter parties, and follow-up posts as this coordinated effort to bring quality books for an emerging group of readers continues.

Way back during the two years my parents spent in Bangkok, Thailand, my Mexican-Guatemalan mother found herself in a peculiar quandary. She had two very small children underfoot and no books to read to them. It’s not that there weren’t beautiful Thai books — because there were — but my mother couldn’t read those and the books she found in Spanish and English were exorbitantly priced. So she took two of her sketchbooks and turned them into illustrated stories with versions of my brother and me as protagonists. We loved them.

Twenty years or so later, I was living on a shoestring, working for a non-profit in Central New York State. One of my coworkers had invited me to his daughter’s fourth or fifth birthday party and since my wallet was near empty (and would be for the next two weeks) I sat down and drew and wrote. I made Katie the protagonist of a story I no longer remember and which probably wasn’t very good. I was more than a little embarrassed when I handed it over at the party. Months later Katie’s mother told me it was one of her daughter’s favorite books. 

We like to recognize ourselves in books. This is no news. 

Neither is the finding in Motoko Rich’s story in the New York Times that Latino children are underrepresented in the books available to them in classroom and school library. As a Latina writer and mom, I know this is the reality. But let’s not stop in the classroom — Latinos are seriously underrepresented in mainstream fiction, in genre fiction, in literary fiction. Hell, let’s go whole hog, shall we? There are damn few Latinos in mainstream newspapers and broadcasts, movies and television shows, as well.

You see the problem here? 

To whomever is stocking those classroom bookshelves (considering submissions at publishing houses, buying properties to be developed for the screen, etc.) we’re invisible and have no dialogue. We were never the protagonists of the stories they read in school, and they haven’t bothered to find out that since then there have been thousands, tens of thousands, written with Latino protagonists by Latino writers. 

If and when we are noticed by the book industry, it is to repeat tired old claims that Latinos don’t purchase books and don’t read, so why make the effort? I’m not sure where this idea came from, but I can tell you it’s not my experience either personally or professionally. As the managing editor of Philadelphia’s largest Spanish-language newspaper, Al Día, my experience is that Latinos are far more likely to purchase and read in print than non-Latinos. Moreover, they are loyal repeat readers, picking up issue after issue of our newspaper, week-in and week-out. At Al Día we include book notes and stories about Latino writers —Junot Diaz, David Unger, Reyna Grande, Sandra Cisneros and Julia Alvarez, just to name a few — on a weekly basis. 

What I love best about our Latino community is its delight in reading both highbrow and low, and how the comic book “Love and Rockets” (or compilations of Mafalda and Rius) is likely to coexist in the same bookstand as the poetry of Pablo Neruda, non-fiction by Cesar Millan and the fantastical YA of Isabel Allende.

The purchasing power of Latinos based on 2010 Census data is $1 trillion. We are the fast growing consumer market. If the book industry isn’t getting a share of our purchases, it needs to examine why that is.

I find reasons in Rich’s piece from the NYT: “Publishers say ... in some cases they insert Latino characters in new titles,” Rich says, then quotes the vice president of Simon & Schuster’s children’s division, who says that in a series of books they commissioned they consciously made one of the characters Latina. 

Might I suggest this is just wrongheaded. The idea that just turning an existing character into a Latino/a child is the way to serve our growing demographic is lazy and disingenuous. How about publishing some Latino writers whose Latino characters are organic to the storyline rather than a non-Latino child in disguise? And then, how about aggressively marketing those stories with real Latino kids not only to the mass market, but to the buyers for schools and libraries? 

Rich also includes this unattributed statement in the NYT: “Publishers say they want to find more works by Hispanic authors.”  Well, this is great if it is true, but it’s also little and late. I ask myself — as a Latina newspaper editor who has focused attention on a good number of fantastic books by Latino authors — what prevented them from doing that before? Why do they never send me press releases or review copies of the books by Latinos already on their lists? The “U.S. Latino writer” is no recent phenomenon. I — and every person in the “Latinas love Latino Literature” response — can name many immensely talented Latino writers (whose work includes fascinating and diverse Latino characters) working in every single marketing niche and genre those top publishers can throw at us. 

I’ll tell you who sends the newspaper copies of books to review written by Latinos and with Latino protagonists — small presses and publishers. A number of them were open to publishing the works of people of color, and books that speak to our lives, back when big publishers were still looking no further than down their noses. School teachers interested in seeing their classroom diversity replicated in the selection of books on their bookstand would do themselves a huge favor by looking through the small press lists.

There are a lot of great Latino writers to be introduced to, and a lot of great Latino characters to meet through their work. Here are some titles (across genres and market types) you might not have heard about (and of course you'll know why the first two are first ;)):

Ink by Sabrina Vourvoulias (science fiction-fantasy)
Salsa Nocturna by Daniel José Older (ghost noir short stories)







Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Ink makes Latinidad's "Best Books of 2012" list

Woo, hoo! Incredibly honored and delighted to say my novel, INK, has made it on Latinidad's "Best Books of 2012" list.

"If Margaret Atwood were Latina..." the recommendation starts and it's enough to make me dance a little cumbia as I type it. Click here to read the full list.

Order INK on Amazon here, or Barnes and Noble here.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

SF Squeecast, the Skiffy and Fanty Show and the Outer Alliance podcasts

Who knew that podcasts would be one of the best ways to hear about books you might want to read?

I've recently discovered three podcasts that do that (and more), each in quite distinct ways. Truthfully, I discovered them because they've each provided a mention of my novel, INK, in one of their podcasts, but I've stayed because they've already augmented my "to be read" list.

SF Squeecast - brings together four or five SFF writers to talk about books, films and TV shows that have caught their attention. In episode 18 "You can't put your finger there"  you can hear author Elizabeth Bear talk about INK; along with Paul Cornell on the British TV show Quatermass; Seanan McGuire on the U.S. TV show Mockingbird Lane, Lynne M. Thomas' take on Love and Romanpunk by Tansy Rayner Roberts; and Catherynne M. Valente's delight in the novel Seaward by Susan Cooper. As you can see, it's a nice combination of very recent and classic SFF, and the discussion is in-depth enough to really make you want to read (or watch) the works discussed.

The Skiffy and Fanty Show
- Shaun Duke and company deconstruct films, subgenres, the writer's process, anything and everything. In the interview with me, Episode 117, Shaun and Paul Weimer asked questions that were, for the most part, so out of the norm no one had yet asked them of me. So we delve into translation, for example, and the ways poetry, journalism and fiction intersect. There is a charming informality about the Skiffy and Fanty show podcasts, underpinned by intellectual and academic engagement, and a truly encyclopedic knowledge of the SFF genre. Plus, when they interview writers they give them nicknames. For future reference I am Sabrina Vourvoulias, a.k.a. the Octopus (hence the image on this post) because the book I issued is titled INK. They've recently interviewed writers Jay Kristoff and Cat Rambo, and it is worthwhile to trawl the archives. I really enjoyed an interview they did with Tobias Buckell (a.k.a. Captain Planet) in February.

Outer Alliance podcast - The Outer Alliance is a group of SFF writers who have come together as allies for the advocacy of LGBT issues in literature. The podcast is only one of many ways they focus attention on LGBT issues in SFF. Julia Rios conducts the podcast interviews, and she has something of the quality of NPR's Terry Gross — if Gross focused on SFF, diversity and representation in literature, that is. My first listen to the podcast was OA Podcast #23, which was an interview with Bart Leib and Kay Holt, the publishers of Crossed Genres (who published INK), which delved into their philosophy of publishing, among many other topics. In addition to interviews with writers like Elizabeth Hand and Tansy Rayner Roberts, Outer Alliance has conducted some fascinating topic-centered podcasts of panels at SFF conventions, like the "Heteronormativity in YA Dystopians" panel from WisCon and a "Changing the Conversation" program recorded at WorldCon.

If you listen through the end of the Skiffy and Fanty show podcast, you'll hear Shaun and Paul and I discuss one of the great advantages of indie bookstores — the way an informed bookseller can guide you to books you haven't heard about but that dovetail with your preferences, or even blow your preferences wide open. No algorithm on Amazon or Goodreads that picks "you might also like" suggestions can do what that informed bookseller in love with genre literature can. But I'm convinced that the sorts of genre-centered, literary podcasts I've highlighted here are as close to the virtual equivalent of that informed bookseller as you can get, and as such they perform a very, very valuable service to the genre and to us individually as readers and writers.

SF Squeecast, the Skiffy and Fanty Show and Outer Alliance are the three I've found, but I'm sure there are other podcasts out there worth discovering. Leave me links to the ones you like (and why) in the comment section.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Disney, Princess Sofia and the real deal

It was a tempest in a cartoon teapot.

Mid October Disney started promoting its newest “princess” — Princess Sofia — who the company said was their first “Latina” princess. 

There was an instant hubbub, after all, Sofia was fair-skinned, auburn-haired, blue-eyed. Although some of the buzz centered around the fact that this Disney princess looked very European (which, it has to be said, a number of Latinas do) most of the daggers that were being thrown had to do — rightfully — with a Disney spokeperson’s assertion that they made Sofia look like she did so that kids would be able to easily identify with her. 

As if the darker-skinned among us were immediately off-putting to children .... 

“Lightwashing” isn’t exclusive to Disney, of course. Some telenovelas produced in Mexico and Venezuela do it — casting lighter-skinned Latinas as main characters, while their darker peers are relegated to secondary, and often subservient, roles. “Lightening” creams are big business in Latin America, and India, and plenty of other countries as well.


As the din around the announcement about Sofia got more insistent, Disney backtracked. 

Sofia’s mother was from some Spanish-speaking fairytale kingdom, they said, but Sofia ... well, she was multiethnic.

Someone misspoke, they added. She wasn’t intended to be the first Latina Disney princess at all.

O-o-kay then.

HuffPoLive programmed a segment soon after the buzz started, and I was fortunate enough to be asked to participate. There were a mix of opinions. Some people thought it was a silly argument. Another felt it should prod Disney to truly create a Latina princess, while a third defended Disney by pointing out Latino characters in the Disney Channel’s non-animated shows. One quietly regretted the fact her daughters would go more years without seeing a character that looked like them in a Disney movie.

In the days and weeks after that HuffPoLive program lots of people posted comments and blogs on the topic.

Ana Flores — author of “Bilingual is Better” and co-founder of SpanglishBaby.com — asked Latinas to send her photos of their daughters — most of them about the right age to be Disney consumers — to show what “Latina princesses” really look like. The Pinterest board Flores created (http://pinterest.com/spanglishbaby/latinaprincess/) is charming and reminds that, thankfully, in real life girls aren’t all of one type. 

My own “Latina princess” is a good ten or twelve years past Disney’s target audience. She could not care less whether Disney creates a Latina princess, or what that princess might look like. But I remember her as child asking whether the characters in stories had her same physical attributes (light skin, dark hair, eyes that are neither light nor dark) and on the rare occasion they did, they became her favorites. 

If there is a reason to pay attention to this Disney kerfuffle, it is because image, identity and expectation are so intrinsically tied together in the psyches of young girls. We like to think it is not so, that — because more girls are participating in sports and academic subjects that were once thought only the province of boys — we’ve put our daughters beyond the reach of feelings of erasure, underrepresentation or toxic self-doubt. 

We like to think that we’ve raised our girls to see beyond the big blue eyes, the tiny waistline and impossibly silken hair of all the “Princess Sofias” in American pop culture. 

We like to think we’ve taught them it’s great to look like, and think like, and strive like, a Soledad O’Brien or a Hilda Solis or a Julia Alvarez instead.

But the statistics tell us we’re not doing too well with this. 

According to the CDC, a full 21 percent of Latina girls between the ages of 12 and 17 have seriously considered suicide. And depending on whose statistics you use, 13.5 to 17 percent of them have attempted it. Forty-one percent of our daughters will fail to graduate from high school on time and with a standard diploma. Fifty-three percent will give birth to at least one child before the age of 20.

One in five of our daughters is in crisis. And while what underpins those troubling stats is tremendously complicated, we cannot ignore that around our daughters is a culture that doesn’t see them. A culture in which they have a hard time finding their own true reflections. A culture in which the visible role models for them are still few and far between.

Whether Disney’s Princess Sofia is Latina, or not, is pretty insignificant in the scheme of things. But what a lost opportunity! Because childhood is precisely the time when our daughters are forming images of themselves and how they fit into the world. Think not? Take a look at this then:



Now, there’s real Latina royalty for you.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Visual storytelling

This exhibition announcement with its photograph by Cory Sprenkle has been tacked up on the bulletin board in my writing space for a while now. I love the colors; its mysterious, poetic sensibility; its nod to narrative, and the melancholy story it tempts.

I love the photograph so much, in fact, that I've been holding onto the postcard since 2000, when the exhibit "Doomsday: Revelations" took place at the Salon des Amis Gallery in Malvern, Pa. and this was one of the artworks included. I didn't go to the exhibit, by the way. It arrived at my parents' house shortly before my mother died very suddenly from a brain aneurysm, and was addressed to her. I don't know if I found it in the couple of weeks I spent with my dad after her death, or whether I found it eight months later, when I moved down to Pennsylvania permanently — after it became clear to me that my father was isolating himself, figuratively burying himself in a house full of the memories they shared.

Since I found it, I've tried googling Sprenkle, without much success. The images that pop up don't remotely key to what I imagine would be other works by this artist, and most of the web links have led me to dead-ends.

And, perhaps that's only fair. Some mysteries aren't meant to be unravelled.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Another review of INK and interview

Somehow, I slipped up and forgot to link to this terrific review by The Future Fire: http://reviews.futurefire.net/2012/10/vourvoulias-ink.html

and the interview at the Hispanic Reader:
http://hispanicreader.com/2012/10/16/meet-novelist-sabrina-vourvoulias-author-of-ink/

The book is up at Amazon, and on Wed., Oct. 24 we'll be celebrating its launch at Cuba Libre restaurant and rum bar in Philly. Email me if you want more information about this!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Crossed Genres Publications releases INK, a Latino novel with immigration theme

Al Día News editor Sabrina Vourvoulias’ novel, “Ink,” highlights news media and anti-immigrant sentiment in novel combining dystopia and magical realism

On Monday, Oct. 15, on the last day of the observance of Hispanic Heritage Month, Crossed Genres Publications of Somerville, Mass., releases Sabrina Vourvoulias’ novel, “Ink,” a fictional look at what happens when rhetoric about immigrants escalates to an institutionalized population control system. (To read a portion of the first chapter and order on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Ink-Sabrina-Vourvoulias/dp/0615657818/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1350269229&sr=1-1&keywords=ink+by+sabrina+vourvoulias)

The near-future, dark speculative novel opens as a biometric tattoo is approved for use to mark temporary workers, permanent residents and citizens with recent immigration history - collectively known as inks. This “chilling tale of American apartheid, and the power of love, myth and community” (Reforma: The National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking) has its main characters grapple with ever-changing definitions of power, home and community, and perceptions of “otherness” based on ethnicity, language, class and inclusion.

Set in a fictional city and small, rural town in the U.S. during a 10-year span, the novel is told in four voices: a journalist; an “ink” who works in a local population control office; an artist strongly tied to a specific piece of land; and a teenager whose mother runs an inkatorium (a sanitarium-internment center opened in response to public health concerns about inks). Vourvoulias, of Guatemalan-American descent and the managing editor of Philadelphia’s largest Spanish-language newspaper, Al Día, has described the characters as “complicated people in complicated times trying to live their lives as best they can. You know, us.”

“Readers will be moved by this call for justice in the future and the present.” (Publishers Weekly)

The conflict driving the novel will fill readers with dismay, seeing parallels between what has already taken place—Japanese locked in concentration camps, narcos controlling swaths of territory in Mexico, rednecks with power—and the novel’s permutations of today’s ugly commonplaces.” (Michael Sedano, La Bloga)

 “In Ink, Vourvoulias masterfully weaves an increasingly complex parallel universe at once fantastical and eerily familiar: a not-so-farfetched future world where myth and legend cohabit with population control schemes, media cover-ups, and subcutaneous GPS trackers.” (Elianne Ramos, the vice chair of Latinos in Social Media – LATISM)

Ink’s publication is part of Crossed Genres’ commitment to bringing new and underrepresented voices into fiction. CG’s list of publications include Daniel José Older’s “Salsa Nocturna;” Kelly Jennings’ “Broken Slate;” RJ Astruc’s “A Festival of Skeletons;” as well as the anthologies “Subversion,” “Fat Girl in a Strange Land” and the upcoming “Menial: Skilled Labor in SF.”

For more information about “Ink,” or any of Crossed Genres’ titles, contact Bart Leib at 617- 335- 2101 or by sending an email to publicity@crossedgenres.com.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Pre-publication reviews of INK by Sabrina Vourvoulias


Release date: Monday, October 15, 2012

Reviews:
Publishers Weekly: "Readers will be moved by this call for justice in the future and the present."  Click to read in full: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-615-65781-3
Reforma: The National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking: "A chilling tale of American Apartheid, and the power of love, myth and community." Click to read in full: http://www.reforma.org/article_content.asp?edition=2&section=2&article=231

Utica Observer-Dispatch Blog Carpe Librum:  "I enjoyed Ink and found the writing intelligent." Click to read in full: http://www.uticaod.com/blogs/books/x710706736/Ink-Reviewed-by-Lewellyne-Blanchard-Member-Book-Lover-s-Reading-Group

Escape Pod: "Vourvoulias' writing is fluid and easy to read." Click to read in full: http://escapepod.org/2012/08/27/book-review-ink-by-sabrina-vourvoulias/
Elianne Ramos, vice-chair of Latinos in Social Media (LATISM): "In Ink, Vourvoulias masterfully weaves an increasingly complex parallel universe at once fantastical and eerily familiar." Click to read in full: http://inknovel.com/reviews/
There are also early reader reviews posted to Ink's listing on Goodreads and Librarything.
Other news: 
Join me at the Comadres and Compadres Writers Conference, Saturday, Oct. 6 at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, NY. I will be part of a panel on genre fiction. For more information: http://www.lascomadres.org/lco/lco-eng/events/2012/NYCWC.html
I've got a Latino literature-Hispanic Heritage Month guest blog post over at the Tejana Made blog: http://tejanamade.wordpress.com/2012/09/26/guest-post-by-sabrina-vourvoulias-author-of-ink-hispanic-heritage-month/

Specs for Ink:

ISBN: 0615657818 / ISBN-13: 978-0615657813
$13.95 (print) / $5.99 (ebook)

For review copies please contact publicity(at)crossedgenres(dot)com
Ink will be available on Amazon and from Barnes and Noble online.



Tuesday, September 11, 2012

9/11: The commonality of loss and grief

Photo: Samantha Madera/Al Día News

The Spanish-language version of this column appeared originally in Al Día Café.

I remember exactly how I spent Sept. 11, 2001: glued to the television and to the telephone, hoping to get through to my brothers in New York City — who, I hoped, hadn’t been on the subway from Brooklyn to New York City, or on some errand that took them downtown that morning when the twin towers came down. 

It’d be 36 hours before I learned that my brothers were safe and well, despite the fact that one had, indeed, been in the subway and evacuated onto the street close to the towers. My great fortune on that day 11 years ago is that I didn’t lose my loved ones and therefore my heart. Too many cannot say the same.

As it should be, we mark the anniversary of 9/11 with the stories of heroism, sacrifice, kindness and forbearance of the people caught in, or rushing to respond to, the tragedy. We swear to never forget them — or the shared sense of loss in seeing lives senselessly cut short.

But, I feel we’re missing something important.

As much as I remember the shock of everything that happened that day, I remember even better the images of the impromptu memorials set up in other nations. Not governmental entities, just ordinary people sharing our loss and our heartbreaking vigil for the dead and missing. 

I had never before seen such an visible expression of solidarity with the grieving. 

I remember, very clearly, being incredibly moved by these expressions and at the same time, feeling ashamed. People throughout the world grieve the loss of their loved ones from violence, terrorism and wars — declared and undeclared — daily, and unmarked by me. Genocides of hundreds of thousands have taken place in my lifetime without my lighting a single candle in vigil. 

Were the people lighting candles on the streets of  Azerbaijan, Japan, Greenland, Bulgaria and Tajiskitan; leaving flowers and condolence notes in front of the U.S. Embassy in Beijing; and waiting for three hours in line in Dublin to sign a book of condolences, simply better people than me? Quite possibly. But it also pointed to the not-so-admirable trait of Americans to not pay much attention to the rest of the world, and when we do, to feel like we stand apart from (and, often, above) everyone else.

Despite best intentions, the way we mark our 9/11 anniversaries tends to exacerbate the isolation that our “American exceptionalism” engenders. We make ourselves hermetic, gather tight round this tragedy that we believe none but an American can understand, even make our national memory of it an occasion for political posturing and veiled jingoism. 

I don’t suggest that we not memorialize the losses of 9/11, but that we recognize them as part of an unbearably large number of similar tragedies that all human beings suffer. 

I suggest that we try the equivalent of what people of other nations did after 9/11 — light candles not only for ourselves, but for others. Because, to quote journalist and activist Dorothy Day, “We have all known the long loneliness, and we have found that the answer is community.”

Friday, August 3, 2012

From Genreville: More than Tramp Stamps

Click the link to read what's on Rose Fox's desk at Publishers Weekly currently. My novel, Ink, is one of the books, of course. But ... so is Jocelynn Drake's Angel's Ink (which launches Oct. 16, one day after mine) and Damien Grintalis's Ink (which launches in December). They all sound completely and utterly distinct and different from one another, but it's funny that we all had the same title impulse. I'm blaming it entirely on our (obviously shared) muse who really, REALLY wanted a book with ink on more than just the pages.


Read Fox's posting here: http://blogs.publishersweekly.com/blogs/genreville/?p=2030

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Reading INK in public for the first time at Readercon ...

 ... was absolutely terrifying. My hands shook so much at one point I had a problem scrolling to the next page of INK on the laptop.

Sheesh.

People get good at this, I know, because Barbara Krasnoff and Sandra McDonald who read before me were pretty terrific. And then some people, like Daniel José Older who read after me, are just naturals.

Ah well. I'm told I did fine and for once I'm choosing to believe it. ;)

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Advanced Reading Copies of INK are in the house


Well, not my house — but at Crossed Genres Publications. I'll get to see my first perfect bound copy at Readercon 23 (where I'll be part of the Crossed Genres reading on Saturday at noon).

Excited doesn't even begin to cover how I feel...

For review copies of INK please contact publicity @ crossedgenres . com  

Format: Paperback (240 pp.) & Ebook
Release date: Monday, October 15, 2012
ISBN: 0615657818 / ISBN-13: 978-0615657813
Cost: $13.95 (print) / $5.99 (ebook)



Thursday, June 21, 2012

Tremendous shake-up at Archdiocese of Philadelphia

After 117 years, the Catholic Standard & Times will cease publication in an archdiocesan reorganization that will cut 40 jobs at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center in Philadelphia. The monthly magazine, Phaith, will also cease publication. The newspaper & magazine's portal site www.catholicphilly.com, will continue to operate.

I spent nine years at the CS&T as managing editor and deeply respect the vision and commitment of Matthew Gambino, the CS&T and Phaith's director and general manager, and all the dedicated and talented staff.

I'll miss you guys. =(

Monday, June 18, 2012

@BarackObama, I'm not cheering yet

This column appears in Spanish in Al Día News, June 22 edition.

If you pay attention to immigration matters, it was hard to ignore the jubilation June 15 as President Obama announced that, via a prosecutorial memo, his administration would change its exercise in priority of deportations for young people who were brought to the nation as children. The young people, between the ages of 15 and 30 and fitting specific criteria, will become eligible for deferred action and a two-year work authorization.

So a lot of my twitter friends — which include a number of DREAM-Act eligible young people and many immigration reform advocates — started celebrating Friday afternoon. “This is HUGE HUGE HUGE,” tweeted Jose Antonio Vargas, whose cover story about undocumented young people had appeared in Time Magazine the day before. A friend who’s been active in many aspects of advocacy for Latinos sent me a message that read, “what incredible news.”

Yeah, okay. Except I wasn’t one of the ones throwing confetti around or sending “thank you” tweets to the president. Call me cynical or cautious, but I’m withholding my celebration until this proves more than just lip-service or — to use Washington Post columnist Ruben Navarrette’s word — hispandering.

The president’s announcement, made as his reelection campaign gears up for November, reeks of desire to sew-up the Latino vote. And plenty on the internet commented on the convenient timing:

- “You waited for four years and you remembered four months before the elections?” tweeted journalist Diego Graglia in Spanish.

- “If this turns out to be another ... PR stunt from @barackobama rather than policy change some peeps better buy teflon shirts,” tweeted DREAM Act activist Anja Asenjo.

The thing is, many of us have made note of the president’s propensity to sell the Latino community a bill of goods that is never delivered:

- “The last time Obama promised a case by case review for prosecutorial discretion less than 2% of cases were completed,” tweeted Alfredo Gutierrez from La Frontera Times.

- “Today’s memo clarified the 2011 Morton Memo which clarified the 2010 Morton Memo. All Memo No Action.” echoed Rigo in his tweet of June 15. (Rigo is part of the IYJL and NIYA, both groups that had urged the president to issue an executive order to grant Dream-Act eligible students lawful residence and a path to citizenship.)

“I think it’s brave of the president,” said one of the reporters in the Al Día newsroom, after we had watched Obama deal with a heckler at his Rose Garden announcement of the memo, but before national anti-immigrant groups had disseminated their statements of outrage.

“What’s brave about it?” I scoffed. “It’s not an executive order. It’s not the Dream Act, not even close. It’s a two-year reprieve. If they’re lucky. That’s it.”

“Two years can mean a lot,” he said.

And it’s the way he said it that made me stop my rant.
I was suddenly very aware that this reporter jumps through hoops every year to get his work authorization renewed so he can stay in this country legally and do a job he has a gift for. There is, I suppose, no way to go through the process without concern that someday something could go very wrong and he might not make it back to the life he’s made for himself in Philadelphia.

Someday, he’s told me, he’d like to have a green card. But only a small number of employment-based green cards are issued for professionals and skilled workers coming from Mexico (just under 6,000 were issued in 2010, for example) and since Mexico is his country of origin, he is also excluded from entering the diversity visa lottery that randomly selects 100,000 winners from a pool of millions of green card seekers.

There is such desire to stay here from so many who recognize this as the country of their hearts, it almost hurts to hear it. “This is real,” tweeted Bessuvia, a DREAM activist, who followed her tweet with the hashmark “#Tears.”

“First thing I am doing is getting a drivers license,” tweeted Gaby Pacheco — another DREAM activist — clearly excited at the prospect of something those of us with documents, or citizens, don’t think too much about.

And there it is: People are celebrating such a little step by the Obama administration as if it were huge because even the little steps have been so few and so hard won.

And so precious.

That’s the part I don’t want to forget. And I don’t want the president to forget it either.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

So your book has a cover ... now what?

I am both the most and least patient of people.

The patient part was the part that wrote my novel. Every night after dinner was done and my family had gone to sleep, I’d sit down at the old laptop and figure out where the characters were taking me, then I’d get lost in words for the next three or four hours. Sometimes I’d write clear through the night until it was time to get my daughter’s lunch packed for school and myself ready for another day of work. Weekends were occasionally writing marathons, with breaks built in for the stuff of living. I didn’t rush — the characters’ lives unfolded at their own pace — and it took me a long time to get to the point where I understood it was time to let them find closure.

I’ve since learned that many writers produce not one but several novels in the time it had taken me to get to this winding down stage.

I think because I’ve worked at newspapers most of my life, this leisured pace — so far removed from hard deadlines and words turned in a few hours to article or editorial — made patience easy.

But it’s also what’s made what has come after the novel was finished so blasted trying.

With newspapers, your articles and editorials are poured onto the page instants after the edit is done, you see how the finished product will look minutes before you load it onto the printer’s ftp site, and the next morning, there it is, hot off the presses. No delayed gratification — just words in column widths on newsprint and someone telling you how much they loved or hated your editorial, thank you very much.

From waiting for my beta-readers to finish reading the manuscript to edits to galleys, this first-novel-in-the-making has been a test of patience. And now, I have a cover. And an ISBN number.

It feels like the novel is almost ready to see the light of day, but of course it isn’t. It doesn’t launch until Oct. 15 and between now and then there are who knows how many steps until I actually arrive at that  “hot off the presses” experience.

I think the level and consistency of my impatience amuses my editor/publisher — at least I hope it amuses more than irritates him. As self-protection against the bite of my impatience, I design book cards, make lists of the people I’ll send reading copies to, plan publicity pieces newspaper editors like me glance at to decide whether we’ll pass the book on to a reviewer or simply add it to the stack of books we’ll never find the time to get to.

And so I wonder how writers with multiple books to their name do it. I’m asking you, like a younger sibling hoping the older will have wisdom to share: How do you live in this in-between time?

In the interim, of course, I’m writing. Weekly columns and editorials, poems and short stories and novellas, but it’s not quite the same thing as a novel. No patience required, you see.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Meet the editor of INK

Want to get the much more readable PDF version of this newsletter? Email me at svourvoulias(at)yahoo(dot)com

Want to get the much more readable PDF version of this newsletter? Email me at svourvoulias(at)yahoo(dot)com
Want to get the much more readable PDF version of this newsletter? Email me at svourvoulias(at)yahoo(dot)com


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The incredible story continues ...

And the incredibly moving story continues — father and son meet after 30 years, during which the father believed all of his children dead in the Dos Erres massacre in Guatemala.



Kudos to ProPublica for the original story and all the follow-ups.

Monday, May 28, 2012

ProPublica's incredible piece 'Finding Oscar: Massacre, Memory and Justice in Guatemala'

UPDATE: link fixed

This is 1) an incredibly moving story; 2) the best example of long-form journalism I've seen in ages; 3) the Guatemala that shaped who I am, how I see the world and my need to tell stories about it; and 4) one of the reasons why memory/remembering/witnessing/breaking silence are recurring motifs in my work.


Kudos to ProPublica and the writers. And I've got new heroes: Special Human Rights prosecutor Sara Romero, activist Aura Elena Farfán and Fredy Peccerelli of the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Are we betting on hate?

(This column first appeared in Spanish on pontealdia.com)

In a lot of ways I’m a glass-half-empty person. If there is a worse case scenario to be imagined that’s the one I’m sure to worry first.

Except when it comes to people.

See, I think people are fundamentally good and that no matter our differences and radically different beliefs we’re all searching for the same things: love, a sense of community, peace, happiness. Every so often life conspires to knock this glass-half-full faith in my fellow humans right out of me.

I’ve been an advocate for immigrants for a long time. Nearly all my blog posts and stories and many of my articles or columns in the past years have focused on what others have named (rightfully, I think) the civil rights struggle of our time. And, yes, I’ve seen a lot of ugliness in what I’ve had to write about during these years of escalating anti-Latino sentiment and anti-immigrant rhetoric. I need look no further than the fatal beating of Luis Ramirez and subsequent police cover-up in Shenandoah, Pa., to admit that sometimes human intention is outright sinister and maleficent.

But there’s no use denying it — I’m always floored by the proof that my fundamental view of people might be completely, and utterly, wrong.

Earlier this month I chanced upon a terrible example connected with the Trayvon Martin case. There is no doubt that the case of the 17-year-old unarmed African-American youth shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla., has brought out the worst in people — from veteran news commentator Geraldo Rivera to renowned film director Spike Lee — and yet I wasn’t prepared.

An Orlando television station, WKMG, reported that the Hiller Armament Company, a mail-order venue for gun enthusiasts located in Virginia, was selling paper target silhouettes depicting a hoodie with a target over the chest and a bag of Skittles and bottle of Arizona iced-tea held under the arm. The iconic symbols of the tragic Trayvon killing.

My horror at realizing someone thought to produce this grotesquerie was only surpassed by the horror that the company thought it was okay to market it (in packages of 10) and that people had, indeed, purchased it (at about $17 a pop, according to reports).

According to a post on the Daily Kos, the maker of the Trayvon targets alleges he made the targets “to make money off the controversy.” In other words, he was betting on hatred. Another web site, the Grio, reports the maker saying he had sold out of the targets. In other words, he had a winning bet.

I want to think that if whomever purchased the targets saw his/her daughter or son’s face in the opening of the hoodie, he/she would realize exactly what the purchase means. I want to think the same thing about the maker. I want to think that no matter how sinister and maleficent the intent of this, there’s the possibility of an epiphany. The realization that no child should go through life wearing a target.

I want to think that because, as I said, when it comes to people, I want to see the glass half full. But I’m sitting here, in front of the computer, with the image of the “Trayvon Target” filling the screen of my monitor as I type.

Who uses an image of a dead child for target practice?

We do.

Because if any one of us is betting on hate, none of us gets away without taking responsibility.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Who are we helping?


(This post first appeared in Spanish in the May 6 issue of Al Día News.)

The numbers are shocking.

14.5 percent of households went hungry in 2010. That’s the highest number ever recorded in the United States.

Now, some members of House of Representatives are proposing to cut more than $35 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, which is the government’s best means of addressing hunger in our nation.

And, since you can’t sever hunger from poverty, here are some more numbers for you to think on: 46.9 million people were in poverty in 2010. This is the highest number in the 52 years the nation has tracked poverty numbers. Of those, 20.5 million live in extreme poverty. If we break down the poverty rates by demographic, we get this: Latinos 26.6 percent; African Americans 27.4 percent. The percentage of children living in poverty is 27.7 to 36.1 percent of the total population (depending which federal measure you use).

You might be tempted to think that the majority of those receiving food aid from the government are in the families of the unemployed. Think again. More than half of the families that receive help have at least one member of the family who is employed fulltime — many of them at low or minimum wage jobs — and still fall beneath the poverty line. How? According to the World Hunger Education Service’s “Hunger Notes” web site: ‘In 2008, the official U.S. poverty level for a family of 4 was $21,834 [...] with a 40 hour week, a family of 4 with one minimum wage earner would earn $15,080, only 69 percent of the poverty level.”

Some of those same members of the House Budget and House Agriculture Committee proposing the devastating cuts are saying that churches should be the ones taking responsibility for feeding the poor, not the government. Bread for the World, a faith-based organization that works to end hunger, estimates that “on average every church in the country would have to come up with approximately $50,000 dedicated to feeding people — every year for the next 10 years.” The thing is that many churches already do feed the poor on an ongoing basis, but proposing that they could make up what the House members are proposing to cut is disingenuous.

What do we pay individual income taxes to government for if not to help our nation provide for the basic needs of its people?

I’m going to give you some more figures (thanks to ProPublica): Fannie Mae, $116 billion disbursed; Freddie Mac, $71 billion; AIG, $68 billion; General Motors, $51 billion; Bank of America, $45 billion; Citigroup, $45 billion; JPMorgan Chase, $25 billion; Wells Fargo, $25 billion. Well, I could go on, but you catch my drift. The bailouts of the aforementioned corporate entities (and many others) took taxpayer money to restore interests considered vital to our nation. As we know from subsequent reports, a number of CEOs from those same corporations took home six figure bonuses at the same time as ordinary taxpayers were contributing our hard-earned dollars to bailing them out.

During my childhood, when my father would tell me about the United States, he talked about his country with pride and admiration. He was the first in his family to be born an American citizen and there was no place comparable to this one in his heart. I, an American citizen from birth but one who grew up in a nation with the fourth highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world and the highest in Latin America, understood from him that the United States was different. It was a country, he told me, that strove to protect and take care of its people. It had a governmental safety net and offered recourse for those in need. Moreover, he said, it was a country which didn’t choose to aid the powerful and influential at the expense of the ordinary citizen.

My father died in 2004, and I miss him every day. But I’m glad he’s not around to see how his fellow Republicans on that blasted House Budget and House Agriculture Committee are proposing to make a mockery of his words.