Monday, December 29, 2014

The 2014 story of the year: Immigration


In 2014, for a Latino news media organization — and particularly one in the Philadelphia area — there could be no more significant news story, or collective of stories, than immigration.

In January of 2014, President Obama’s new secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, took over the department which had long incurred the wrath of immigration reform advocates and activists thanks to an unprecedented deportation rate that split up families and disproportionally impacted longtime residents with no criminal backgrounds. Early in March Johnson was charged with reviewing the administration’s deportation policies.

Also in March, after an uncomfortable White House meeting between immigration advocates and the President, in which Obama famously “chided” advocates for their criticism of his administration’s policies, the venerable National Council of la Raza, the nation’s largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization, followed the lead of more activist organizations and publicly named President Barack Obama the "deporter in chief.” Obama and some organizations with strong ties to the Democratic party tried to push back by redirecting that “title” to Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner, but they were largely unsuccessful in diverting the mounting frustration directed specifically at the administration.

In April, in Philadelphia, Mayor Michael Nutter signed an executive order saying that local police would no longer cooperate with ICE in holding those suspected of being undocumented immigrants without a warrant to do so....

Read the rest of this editorial here, at AL DÍA News, which you should be reading regularly anyway ;)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The #Nebula eligibility cumbia


I've written already about the SFF short stories and novelettes written by others that I think are fantastic and deserve to be nominated for Nebulas, Hugos, any other awards you can think of ... if you missed that post, read it here. When I wrote it, I couldn't remember the title of a wonderful story by Kai Ashante Wilson, "The Devil in America," but it definitely belongs on my list.

As it happens, three of my own short stories were published this year and are eligible for Nebulas/Hugos/what-have-yous. If you've read them, and liked them, please consider including them on your list of nominations:

• "The Dance of the White Demons," in the anthology Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History

• "The Bar at the End of the World," in the anthology The Many Tortures of Anthony Cardno

• "Skin in the Game," which was just published last Wednesday at Tor.com

No matter what ends up on the ballot, having a long list of good stories to read is a victory for all of us, and worth a celebratory dance.






Saturday, December 6, 2014

Zombie City: A story about writing, publishing and real life (#SFWApro)

La Boca del Diablo, a.k.a. the entrance to Zombie City

On Dec. 3, my story Skin in the Game was published at Tor.com. Editor Carl Engle-Laird summarizes it like this:
Three kinds of people live in Zombie City-La Boca Del Diablo: the zombies, los vivos, and the ghosts. Officer Jimena Villagrán, not truly at home with any of these groups, patrols the barrio for stalking monsters. Magic con men and discarded needles make this beat hazardous enough, but the latest rash of murders threatens to up the ante by outing the horrors of Jimena’s personal history.
Under the Richmond bridge
While all of the happenings in my story are fantastical, Zombie City is a real place and one that was named long before I knew about it. 

The real

Almost a full year before my story appeared at Tor, I had assigned one of the AL DÍA News freelancers (Emma Restrepo) to do a story about Zombie City (in Philadelphia) and had walked the railbed strewn with spent needles with photographer David Cruz — who had been there years before, when a tent-city of homeless residents had shared the area with the drug-addicted "zombies." I saw and talked to some of the "zombies" shooting up, and later faced down five irate men (including a state legislator whose district includes Zombie City) who were furious when the investigative piece was published in the paper. 

There are those who dislike Fantasty/Sci Fi/Speculative fiction set in the real world. I am not one of them. Although I have written SFF stories set in different universes and alternate, high fantasy worlds, there is no getting around the fact that what I love best is to read (and write) about the magical, the horrific, the dystopic and fantastical amid the trappings of here and now ... or a few days, a few years from now. 

Walking along the railbed in Zombie City
Blame it on the fact that when a story makes itself known to me, I'm alway both a journalist and a fiction writer. (It's not a rare combination — SFF writer Michael Janairo was long a journo as well, and SFF publisher Brian White is in the news biz.) 

The real is often horrifically fantastical and needs no more than a small nudge over the line into SFF (see my novel of immigration dystopia, Ink).

The real is also, too frequently, hidden from and neglected by journalism. There are a number of reasons for this: the gutting of newsrooms; the resolutely monolingual composition of most media organizations; the fact that some communities are rarely or poorly covered. 

But the stories ... the seed of investigative or speculative ... are there anyway. 

Reimagining

There are two sizable Latino communities in Philadelphia — the (primarily) Mexican immigrant community in South Philly and the (primarily) Puerto Rican (and secondarily, Dominican) community in Northeast Philly. The communities are united by a common dominant language (Spanish) and a newspaper that serves them both (AL DÍA), but the gulf between them is perhaps best illustrated by the fact they are served by completely different subway lines, and they throw separate (and huge) street festivals and Masses on patronal saint feast days with little overlap. 

Decrying deportations in South Philly
Neither community has reason to love the police — the one because the police have collaborated with ICE in warrantless searches that break down doors in middle of the night and too often result in detention and deportation of family or friends; the other because police impunity and targeted harassment have a history almost as long as the history of the Puerto Rican community in the city. 

And yet, as is often case, becoming a police officer is, for Latin@s in Philly, a way to try to make policing more sensitive to the community policed, as well as step up to the middle class.

So the protagonist in Skin in the Game, Jimena Villagrán, is a cop ... daughter of a South Philly immigrant Mexican ... policing a precinct in the near Northeast that she's tied to by language and Latino culture writ big, set apart from it by the differences between Latino cultures writ small, and surrounded by a larger culture that doesn't know what to do with either.

Protesting Judge Dugan's ruling on Lt. Jonathan Josey punching Aida Guzman 
Latin@s are no monolith, though we are often portrayed by the pop media as such. But, it is also true that when we see each other beset and besieged we frequently step up and react as one community. Puerto Ricans are immigration reform advocates though they are citizens and the issue doesn't affect them personally; Mexican-Americans and Mexican immigrants stood with Puerto Ricans decrying a Philly judge's exoneration of a police officer caught on tape punching a woman in the face — because the barrio, the judge opined publicly, was full of drugged-out, out-of-control Puerto Ricans.

Because I write both fiction and non-fiction, I believe in the magic of community, writ small and large. Because I write both fiction and non-fiction I notice when the magic fails.

Conjuring the truth

I'll gloss-over the magic that got my story accepted for publication at Tor.com, but without doubt it, too, was contingent on community —the SFF one this time — and my inclusion in the anthology Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History and the readings that took place during the book's launch in Brooklyn.

Months passed between acceptance and publication, and my anticipation escalated as I saw the illustration Wesley Allsbrook created for my story. 

And a week before publication, the Ferguson decision came down.

The wounds that the decision exculpating a police officer in the shooting death of unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown created were tremendous, undeniable, heartrending. 

It was, and is, a raw and ugly wound that will take many years, many amplified and prioritized Black voices, requiring many real — oh, so real — changes to be enacted before healing can even begin.

I was hyperaware that my story dealt with police who were literal monsters, and that the fictional violence and predation written into the story might further wound African-American readers. Carl (the Tor editor who acquired the piece) worried that too:
Just a week after the Ferguson grand jury decision, this is a particularly poignant time for such a story to come out. But while we could never have planned for "Skin in the Game" to coincide with such a nationally-recognized public tragedy, the sick reality is that it might not be possible to publish such a story on a week in which no hideous injustice had been inflicted by the police on an innocent young person of color. 
I imposed on two friends — writer Lisa Bolekaja whose very fine short story "Medu" also appeared in Long Hidden, and Dr. Kim Butler who is the chair of Africana Studies at Rutgers University — to read the story just days before publication. They both responded with grace and a big-heartedness that I will seek to emulate should anyone ask me to do what I asked them.

I just didn't want to, unintentionally, do harm. And stories — even speculative ones — live in the real world.

In my journalism, in my social media prattle, in my fiction, I've long held a stanza from a poet Adrienne Rich as touchstone:
We move but our words stand
become responsible
for more than we intended
and this is verbal privilege
Having my work published at Tor is indeed a privilege. As I track responses to Skin in the Game (because, yes, I'm a newish SFF writer and this is my first story published at Tor and I squee at every retweeted link to my story and openly do everything that would make more widely published writers grimace in embarrassment) I am acutely aware that the respectful reception to my words is a privilege not accorded to every writer. And even less frequently accorded to those people out "in the real" who cannot don my same armor — SFF writer, journo, college-educated light-skinned Latina — when they seek to be heard and understood.

Despite the thrill of seeing my words on a publisher web site I frequent and admire, it is not my own words that are ringing in my ears at this precise moment in American history.

Words stand:

#HandsUpDon'tShoot

#ICan'tBreathe

#EnoughIsEnough

#BlackLivesMatter



Thursday, November 27, 2014

Some words about San Giving

In the face of the first step taken this year to allow some undocumented immigrants to sit around the Thanksgiving table without fear; in the face of the massive work we must do to make sure African-American families don't live in fear for the lives of their children every single day; in the face of an out-of-control economic disparity that is making a lie of our shared belief that hard work is rewarded ... let's agree to be thankful for the grit, the vision, commitment and determination we will need to ensure that our future is more just and grace-filled for everyone in our nation.
Read the full column by clicking here.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Looking for the best Speculative fiction of 2014 in expected, and unexpected, places (#SFWApro)

It's that time of year again — people are beginning to compile lists of favorite stories for  "Best of" compilations for 2014. Selfishly, I hope people keep looking well into December since I have a story set to be published in early December ... but being the very impatient sort myself, here are some of the short stories (in a year with a bumper crop of incredible stories) that I love best.

In no particular order:

Lorca Green by Gina Ruiz (in Lowriting: Shots, Rides & Stories from the Chicano Soul, Jan. 8, 2014)

The Oud by Thoraiya Dyer (in Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, Jan. 30, 2014)

Collected Likenesses by Jamey Hatley (also from Long Hidden)

Lone Women by Victor LaValle (also from Long Hidden ... and let me say there are a lot of other great stories in there that fall just shy of making it onto my list — yes, it is that good a collection).

A Cup of Salt Tears by Isabel Yap (Tor.com, Aug. 27, 2014)

The Litany of Earth by Ruthanna Emrys (Tor.com, May 14, 2014)

Anyway, Angie by Daniel José Older (Tor.com, March 26, 2014)

Santos de Sampaguitas by Alyssa Wong (Strange Horizons, Oct. 6 & Oct. 13, 2014)

The Clockwork Soldier by Ken Liu (Clarkesworld, January 2014)

Shedding Skin by Angela Rega (Crossed Genres, April 2014)


I remembered the following favorites as being 2014 but, alas, they are 2013 and so not eligible for any awards ballots you may be compiling, but they are really worth reading:


La Santisima by Teresa Frohock

Maquech by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (from This Strange Way of Dying, 2013)

Baggage Check by Shay Darrach

Pancho Villa's Flying Circus by Ernesto Hogan (from We See a Different Frontier, 2013)

The History of Soul 2065 by Barbara Krasnoff (from Clockwork Phoenix 4, 2013)


Oh, I know I'm forgetting and leaving out so many worthwhile stories ...

Go to, read! Thank me later.





Tuesday, November 4, 2014

And quite suddenly, I'm in love with Filipin@ speculative fiction (#SFWApro)


Photo: Pixabay

This is not a list.

This is a bit of a love letter.

I do this every so often. Fall profoundly in love with works of fiction that are rooted in the earth of a particular country. When I was in my early formative years as a writer, it was Argentina. Now, staring down the beginning of what in Spanish is called la tercera edad (the third age), it's Philippines. I don't think the age of discovery is a coincidence (more on this later).

In any case, starting at the end of 2013 and at regular intervals during 2014, I started noticing that many of the stories that I kept returning to, and lingering over, in anthologies and magazines were written by Filipin@ speculative fiction writers: Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, Alyssa Wong, Isabel Yap and Michael Janairo.

There are a lot of reasons for this. The most straightforward is simply the quality of the work. Three of the writers whose work I was belatedly discovering are Clarion graduates; another has not only an MFA in creative writing but years under his belt as a working journalist. I find myself drawn first to the music of the language in a story, and one of the things these quite distinct stories have in common is that they play with cadences masterfully.

Rochita Loenen-Ruiz's Of Alternate Adventures and Memory (Clarksworld, issue 87, December 2013) is a far-future sci fi story structured to replicate the way memory organizes itself even as the storyline explores the idea of recovering memory, of becoming living memory for what no longer wholly exists.
"I am calling in a favor.
I need your help.
Remember the bonds we share.
Remember.
Remember.
Remember.
 
Adventure Boy understands what those words mean now. He understands why he cannot allow the erasure of accumulated memory. No matter how insignificant or how unimportant those memories may seem, no matter that Metal Town is deemed obsolete, he can’t allow those memories or those dreams to vanish without a trace."
Loenen-Ruiz punctuates the narrative with passages cited from ads and promotional copy, and these serve as the backbeat of the story — regular — until Loenen-Ruiz speeds their intrusion, and changes the tone from promo to edict to personal recollection. As she does, what is framed by these breaks changes too. 

In her critical work Loenen-Ruiz frequently examines the costs of colonialism and imperialism. Her fiction does that as well. Toward the end of the story, the punctuating passages are news report — part reclamation, part promise — as flawed and incomplete as history.

I found myself reading portions of Loenen-Ruiz's story out loud for their music. It is not something I usually do — except to test the cadences of my own work in progress — but I found myself doing that with Isabel Yap's piece, A Cup of Salt Tears (Tor.com, Aug. 27, 2014) as well.
"Your hips are pale like the moon, yet move like the curves of ink on parchment. Your eyes are broken and delicate and your hands are empty (...) Your hair is hair I’ve kissed before; I do not forget the hair of women I love."
There is a danger in describing a story as poetic because so often that word is applied to grossly overwritten pieces that somehow manage to be filmy and leaden at once. But Yap's story is poetic: sultry and beautiful, deceptively bare but with lines that make you catch your breath. Yap keeps the pacing unhurried, the cadences like music in a minor key — descending, dissolving.

It is the story of a woman striking a deal with a legendary river being. A simple premise, but there is nothing simple about the story.  Like Loenen-Ruiz's story, this is about recovering what is lost, and it too has everything to do with memory — unreliable, desirable, mutable. Anyone who has ever been the caregiver of a loved one with Alzheimer's (or any progressive terminal illness that makes us wish for the magic to restore) will, despite the story's beauty (or perhaps more so because of it), find this a haunting read.

Alyssa Wong's Santos de Sampaguitas (Strange Horizons, Oct. 6 and 13, 2014) and Michael Janairo's Angela and the Scar (Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, Jan. 30, 2014) feature beings from folktales as well, and while that is nowhere near the whole of the enchantment they exert, it is a part. Kappa, kapfre, manananggal, aswang ... the supernatural beings in the Wong, Janairo and Yap stories are unfamiliar to me and intensely compelling.

As is the language with which they evolve on the page.

In Wong's Santos de Sampaguitas, the lines between supernatural and natural power are blurred so effectively I'm not sure even now I could tell you which of her characters are wholly human — if any. Wong's language reminds me of the nickname given to blues musician Albert King — the velvet bulldozer — because it is both muscular and richly textured.
"I would give you the gift of transformation. Pledge yourself to me and I will teach you to wing about the night, unhampered by human concerns. I will show you the secret banana groves where your mother hid her legs, deep in dreamland and Bicol's jungles. [...] I offer you knowledge of charms and spells, enchantments that will guarantee your household safety, recipes to keep the curses of other aswang away."
The story is long (it was published in two parts in separate issues of Strange Horizons) and creates a richly complicated sense of place, but Wong keeps it moving at a clip and when the end unfolds you feel like your time with Tín has ended too soon.

Janairo's story is historical speculative fiction set in Ilocos Norte Province of Philippines in 1900, his protagonist a child, and his fantastical being the gigantic, cigar-smoking kapfre.
"Treetops shook as they sailed across the forest. The giant leapt from tree to tree, his feet barely touching a branch as he landed and pushed off again. They rose and fell as if riding waves, carried at treeswift speed, the forest canopy a blur below."
Janairo writes about Philippine history with the economy of a good journalist. While the story is about the indigenous resistance to a second set of cultural and economic invaders (from a child's point of view) the story really lives in Janairo's depiction of the kapfre and the forest it inhabits. They are both big, extravagant, a triumph of nature and of imagination.

Not surprisingly, given the fact that we share a Spanish colonial history, I find a lot of commonality between Filipin@ and Latin@ speculative fiction — the bittersweet sense of being separated (exiled?) from yourself (and the land that is part of the self) for one. For another, the way even the youngest writers seem to have a profound understanding of aging — its peculiar concerns, sorrows, recriminations. The complicated, multiple strands of family. The living landscape of folk tales, lore, belief. Its literary accomplishment. Its assurance with both sci fi and the fantastical.

But the music I hear underpinning these stories is nothing at all like the Spanish, Spanglish and Caló I am more attuned to hearing when Latin@s write in English. This music is —paradoxically — beautifully leisured and still staccato; soft and steely; and above all else, sticky. I can't stop hearing it. I don't want to stop hearing it.

I know this is a tiny sampling of stories. I know that not only have I discovered Filipin@ speculative fiction late, but also very incompletely. I'm not sure but I think, for example, that all these writers live in diaspora (or are first- or second-gen Americans), and I wonder as I seek out Filipin@ writers who live on the islands if the differences (and similarities) will be as clearly marked as they are between U.S. Latin@ writers and those living in Latin America.

In any case, I have the strong feeling that Filipin@ spec fic is going to  transform mainstream SFF. In fact, I think it already is.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Five days left to fund this kickstarter for an anthology of Latin@ speculative fiction





Hey folks, there are five days left on the Latino/a Rising kickstarter and they're just over half way there. Please, if you haven't yet, support this anthology which is the first of its kind and which is really needed to change the perception that Latinos don't write (or read) science fiction and fantasy.


Junot Diaz and Ana Castillo will be included in the anthology, as will be Nesto Hogan and Daína Chaviano, among many others (including me!) and they are still open to submissions.


At a $50 donation level, you'll get a cool Latino/a Rising postcard and equally cool print by Javier Hernandez, a Latino/a Rising Tee-shirt, and the book in two ways: ebook and the print copy signed by the editor and one of the authors.


If it would be an incentive for you to go support it at the $50 level, I'll offer any of you who do (and come back here and tell me in the comments that you have pledged $50 between now and Oct. 31) any one of the following:


1) I'll tuckerize you (name a character after you) in an upcoming story.


2) I'll send you a link to a soon-to-be-written storymap or gigapixel piece of fiction with visuals, links and maybe even audio or video.


3) I'll write a piece of flash fiction (1,000 words max) to your prompt.


Yeah, it means that much to me.


I love that the anthology We See a Different Frontier had three fabulous stories by Latin@ writers in it (Fábio Fernandes, Ernest Hogan and Silvia Moreno-Garcia), but it was the exception — most anthologies have one, if any. The Latino/a anthology will be an eye-opener about the scope and range of Latin@ speculative fiction. Please help make it happen.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The cost of the story

Pixabay
I have never thought journalism was a safe profession.

I remember as a child, my parents having dinnertime conversations about journalists they knew who were attacked and left paraplegic (or who had to flee the country quite literally in middle of the night) because what they had reported enraged the powers that be.

Read the rest of this in an interactive storymapped long-form piece at AL DÍA News.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Meet the Character - Anthony Cardno

Photo from Pixabay

Writer Teresa Frohock, who writes elegantly chilling speculative fiction (read about her new novella, The Broken Road, here) invited me to participate in this deceptively simple blog tour. So, here it is, meet one of my characters.

• • •

1. What is the name of your character?

Anthony Cardno

2. Is he fictional or a historic person?

Well, he’s a fictional character, but he is also a tuckerization of writer and friend, Anthony Cardno.

3. When and where is the story set?

It is set in Guatemala, mainly during the armed internal conflict which spanned 36 years from 1960 to 1996.

4. What should we know about him?

Anthony is a human rights special rapporteur who will do whatever he needs to do to secure the physical evidence necessary to produce irrefutable reports on the abuses that are taking place in the countries he monitors. He has a soft spot for Guatemala, where he has struck a deep friendship with a young journalist, John Herit, and has an enduring but conflicted friendship with Corazón, the owner of a bar he frequents. Oh, and Corazón also happens to be a monster...

5. What is the main conflict? What messes up his life?

All of the conflicts in the story are born from attempts to hide — or ferret out — the truth behind an “official story.” Countries redact their history and, sometimes, so do individuals.

6. What is the personal goal of the character?

He wants to excise what is monstrous in our world.

7. Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

Well, it’s not a novel, but a short story titled “The Bar at the End of the World.” Read more about it here.

8. When can we expect the book to be published or when was it published?

The story is part of the anthology “The Many Tortures of Anthony Cardno,” which was published in July of this year as a charity endeavor to raise money for cancer research. There are a lot of well known writers who contributed their stories to the anthology including Mary Robinette Kowal, Christine Yant, Damien Angelica Walters. It also contains one of Jay Lake’s final stories before he succumbed to cancer. The anthology is available in print and as an ebook, and I encourage you to buy it both for the pleasure of reading it, and as a way to strike back at a disease that has claimed the lives of so many.

• • •

To continue the blog tour, I’m tagging three Latina writers: the incredible, seriously talented Gina Ruiz; an exceptionally promising up-and-coming writer, Ezzy Guerrero-Languzzi; and Jessica Olivarez-Mazone, who’s just getting started on her writer's journey but has many uniquely Tejana stories to tell.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Dear Latinas: Are we content being mannequins?

"Flying Mannequin (3302472992)" by Christine Zenino from Chicago, US - Flying Mannequin. Uploaded by russavia. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

In the past several weeks I've written two pieces for AL DÍA News media about how the entertainment media objectifies Latinas. Hollywood to Latinas: Shut up and get naked deals with a study that says Latina portrayals in mainstream films (regardless of "attractiveness" of the character) are more sexualized than for any other racial or ethnic group. The second, Hollywood to Latinas, part II: Shut up while we ogle you, touches upon the choice of Emmy award-show organizers to put Sofia Vergara on a revolving pedestal (and her choice to comply) while the CEO of the academy of television arts spoke about the industry's advances in diversity.

Vergara, who has been dubbed "Sofia Vengüenza" (Sofia Shame) by Vanessa Smith, the VP of Marketing and Advertising of ImpactoNY, has responded to criticisms of allowing herself to be used, essentially, as a mannequin by saying her critics have no sense of humor. Other responses, often from Latino men (straight and gay), have posited that those critical of the Emmy bit and of Vergara don't understand Latin American cultural mores and more significantly, are simply jealous because they are ... unattractive. Well, no. Smith, for example, is a Costa Rican and extremely attractive. She's also smart as a whip and undoubtedly understands that Vergara's portrayal (on screen and off) as a dimwit distinguished only by her exaggerated accent and by her killer body has a real impact.

The fetishization of the "Latina" body has given Venezuela a curious coming-of-age tradition: cosmetic surgery. Rita di Martino (who founded a support group for the victims of faulty breast implants), told Stuff.co.bz that many Venezuelan girls receive the gift of plastic surgery when they turn 15. The article goes on to state that "in 2011, Venezuelan women had nearly as much cosmetic surgery performed as their British sisters, an industry study says. Britain is over twice as large as Venezuela — and over three times richer." In fact, according to an article that appeared in the Guardian in 2011, Venezuelans often take on debt to finance their perfected bodies. "The demand for surgery is such that banks offer attractive loans for procedures, with slogans such as: 'Have your plastic on our plastic.'"

In the United States, the proliferation of beauty pageants intended for young (and very young) Latinas points to the pervasive idea that notice comes to Latinas most readily via beauty. While there is money to be made from winning pageants, participating in them is costly. And what the pageants reinforce in terms of body image and perceptions of beauty can be reprehensible (make-up on five year olds, anyone?) and downright destructive (in 2013 the Little Miss Hispanic Delaware title was taken away from 7-year-old Black Dominican contestant Jakiyah McCoy and given to blond, light-skinned runner up Tiffany Ayala). 

A study from the American Association of University Women found that Latinas between the ages of nine and 15 already have a negative body image that further drops by 38 percent as they get older. Celebrities from Demi Lovato to Shakira have admitted to body image issues severe enough that they led to eating disorders and cutting (Lovato) and prompted therapy to help deal with them (Shakira).

While body image ranks much lower as a concern for women in general in mid-life, middle-aged Latinas who undergo breast cancer surgery have greater "body image disturbance" than their peers of other races and ethnicities (Women over 50: Psychological Perspectives By Varda Muhlbauer and Joan C. Chrisler). Is it because we're more tied to the "ideal body" (generous breasts to balance a generous booty and a slender waist between) than any other race/ethncity? Maybe. 

"Latinas ... are generally thought to be more traditional in their gender role attitudes," write Muhlbauer and Chrisler, "and that might account for part reason why they have been shown to be more distressed than Black and White women after breast cancer treatment."

I'd say traditional is the wrong word, I prefer conventional. Looking at Vergara's stint on the display stand points to a conventional gender role attitude that also finds expression in some of the defenses of it. 

If you noticed, Vergara said very little while up on the pedestal. The sense that we should beautiful and seen but not heard still infects many aspects of Latina life — from Latinas who suffer domestic abuse in silence to those professionals who are told they are impolite or "too American" when they voice an opinion. Likewise, Vergara's little jokey moments were (very carefully) not rebuttals of the objectification taking place in front of her. In fact, she dealt with them in exactly the way Latin American women have long been taught to deal with piropos de albañil (the sometimes hilarious but always grotesquely sexual "compliments" catcalled from the street), that is, to neither confront and correct but to deflect through good nature and an understanding that "boys will be boys." 

Latina "femininity," of this type is never proactive, but reactive; never challenging, ever accommodating. I'd like to think we have no desire to raise daughters like this: mannequins of a type, docile and interchangeable. I'd like to think we ourselves have no desire to be like this. But perhaps we do. I recently heard a 30-ish Latina professional brush off criticism of Vergara's choices — not because she likes the stereotype the actor has chosen to embody — but because she's made so much money doing it. It's the same justification Eva Longoria uses whenever she hears criticism of the show she produces, Devious Maids.
That's another Latina stereotype, of course. That we'll do anything and everything for the bling.

Bleh.

Inset photo: "ReuseumManniquins" by Kencf0618 - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The treatment of unaccompanied minors on the border reminiscent of dystopia


This week someone pointed out on Twitter that what is happening at our border — the characterization of children fleeing violence or hoping to be reunited with their families as security and public health threats rather than refugees; their dehumanizing detention conditions; the proposed expedited repatriation — is reminiscent of what happens in my novel, Ink.

Ink is an immigration-based dystopia. I wrote it imagining xenophobia the scale of which I thought was exaggerated, unimaginable in today's United States.

And I have watched in horror as piece by piece, bit by bit, we inch toward that unimaginable.

In my novel one of my characters paraphrases St. Augustine:
"Father Tom says Augustine had it right," says one of my characters, Mari, "that the soul takes more pleasure in what it has lost and recovered than what it has had all along. He says, given enough time, even a nation remembers it has a soul."

I am a person of faith. I believe in the soul, and the mercy and compassion it enkindles in us as individuals, as communities, as a community of communities. Perhaps we've simply forgotten, as we speak with cruelty or indifference about the fate of the children on our border, that we collectively have a soul. Perhaps we have lost what is best in each us as we dismiss or disregard the conditions of their detention, conditions we would fight tooth-and-nail to change if those detained were our own children. Perhaps what calls to be recovered is the mercy that prevents adults from preparing to send children, alone, back to horrific danger.

"Don't let the future be written for you," says another character in my novel, toward the end, after they've all suffered and sustained immeasurable losses in the struggle to keep their humanity alive and recover the soul of their dystopic America.

I cannot help but think we are poised at a crucial juncture here, now. What future are we letting cynical legislators, Minutemen and haters write for those powerless and vulnerable children? What future are we letting those same legislators, Minutemen and haters write for us, and in our name?

I love the Aloe Blacc, Alex Rivera and NDLON collaboration represented by the video that follows this post. It uses distinct signifiers — in music, in image, in activism — to write a story of human connection, of solidarity, of compassion and a future of hope ...  Life's a game made for everyone, and love is the prize.




#Not1MoreDeportation

Saturday, June 28, 2014

My schedule at Readercon 25

Thursday, July 10

8 PM 

East, West and Everything Between: A Roundtable on Latin@ Speculative Fiction

Panel: Matthew Goodwin, Carlos Hernández, Daniel José Older, Julia Rios and Sabrina Vourvoulias 

This freeform conversation will look at where we've been, where we're going, the challenges of representing our own particular cultures within the umbrella term "Latin@," and the challenges of being Latin@ within a overwhelmingly Anglo genre. Are there insurmountable differences in regional Latinidad? Do we have to choose between being “vendidos” (sell-outs) or “pelados” (surviving—barely—by our wits)? Can we build platform in two languages (and if so, how)? How are we combatting the “Latinos don't read/Latinos don't write” fallacy?

Friday, July 11

1 PM 

Latin@ Writers Read 

Reading: Carlos Hernández, Daniel José Older, Julia Rios and Sabrina Vourvoulias 

In concert with the 'East, West, and Everything Between' roundtable about Latin@ SFF, panel participants will read from their own work and/or work of other Latin@ writers.

• I'll be reading from my story, Skin in the Game, which is slated to be published by Tor.com in late 2014 or early 2015.

3 PM 

Long Hidden Group Reading 

Rose Fox, Claire Humphrey, Michael Janairo, Ken Liu, Sunny Moraine, Daniel José Older, Sarah Pinsker, Sofia Samatar and Sabrina Vourvoulias
Long Hidden (edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older) is an anthology of speculative stories from the margins of history. Our participants will read from their stories, which dive deep into the hidden truths of marginalized people throughout history and around the world.

• I'll be reading from my story, The Dance of the White Demons, which closes out the book. Look for it for purchase as ebook or in print at the Crossed Genres table in the bookshop.

4 PM 

Rape, Race & Speculative Fiction 

Panelists: Chesya Burke, Mikki Kendall (leader), Rose Mambert and Sabrina Vourvoulias. 

Rape as a plot device can be highly problematic. We've certainly seen it used as the only trauma or the worst trauma that can happen to a woman in fiction. But what happens when writers from marginalized communities include it in their fiction as a way of exploring painful history that has gone unacknowledged? We will discuss Nnedi Okorafor's Who Fears Death, Andrea Hairston's Redwood and Wildfire, and other examples. This panel will cover some very sensitive topics, so please be respectful of yourself and others.

7 PM 

Tabula Rasa Group Reading

Reading: Jennifer Marie Brissett, Justin Key, Barbara Krasnoff and Sabrina Vourvoulias. 

Tabula Rasa is an NYC-based writers group made up of experienced, published science fiction/fantasy/horror writers. Each member will be reading a portion of a story, published or not yet published.

• I'll be reading from my story, The Bar at the End of the World, from the anthology The Many Tortures of Anthony Cardno (fresh off the press at Readercon!) which benefits the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life. Look for it for purchase as ebook or in print at the Lethe Press and/or Crossed Genres tables in the bookshop. 


Saturday, July 12

10 AM 

When the Other Is You 

Panelists: Chesya Burke, Samuel Delany, Peter Dubé, Mikki Kendall, Vandana Singh and Sabrina Vourvoulias. 

Being part of an underrepresented group and trying to write our experience into our work can be tricky. We might have internalized some prejudice about ourselves, we might not have the craft to get our meaning across perfectly, and even if we depict our own experience totally accurately (as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie observed in her TED Talk "The Danger of a Single Story"), we do so while struggling against the expectation that our experience is or isn't "representative" or "authentic." How do we navigate the pitfalls and responsibilities of being perceived as spokespeople? What potentially pernicious dynamics allow us that dubious privilege in the first place? Which works make us cringe with their representations of us, and which make us sigh with relief and recognition?

7 PM 

Solo reading 

• I haven't decided yet whether I'll read from my novel, Ink (Crossed Genres); or another story that will be published in 2015 by Tor.comThe Way of Walls and Words; or one of the stories or novellas for my planned collection of short stories, Sin Embargo; or perhaps even a section of my work in progress, a Sci Fi space opera, tentatively titled Tierras Huerfanas/Orphan Lands

You can, of course,  purchase Ink as ebook or in print at the  Crossed Genres table in the bookshop, but for the other, you'll just have to wait.

Anyway, help me make the decision about which to read. Let me know in comments which sounds most interesting to you. You'll have my eternal gratitude, because I really, really, really can't seem to decide on my own.


And if you've never been to Readercon, what are you waiting for? I'd love to see/meet you there!

 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Competing fandoms: Philadelpha Comic Con vs. the World Cup

RB Silva & company at Philly Comic Con

Sometimes fate conspires to pit two interests against each other. Since June 13 I’ve been watching every soccer match in the undisputed king of world soccer tournaments — the World Cup. But even beyond the matches and surprises (Ghana matching Germany? Costa Rica beating Uruguay and Italy?) is the spectacle of fandom, and the creative ways it shows its love and support for the national teams. There’s been everything from face-paint to full-on costume, and I love it.

On Saturday, June 21 there were three World Cup matches: Argentina vs. Iran (1-0); Nigeria vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina (1-0); and the aforementioned Germany vs. Ghana stunner (2-2), and I didn’t see even one match. That’s because I was at another event that is all about the spectacle of fandom and creative ways to show love and support for  the world of comics, sci fi/fantasy/horror and gaming — Philadelphia Comic Con.

It’s funny, because there is probably not a whole lot of overlap between the two fandoms. In fact, the individuals involved in each often hold deprecating views of each other — the antagonism between geeks and jocks is standard in television shows and coming-of-age literature and films. And yet, the expression of fandom is indisputably the same.



Marvel’s Ironman fan vs.  Spain’s La Furia Roja fans
Ironman at Philadelphia Comic Con
La Furia Roja fans before Spain's second match
Nintendo’s Attack on Titan fans vs. Japan’s Samurai Blue fans

Attack on Titan cosplayers at Philly Comic Con
Japanese national team fans at the first match
Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier fans vs. Chile’s La Roja fans

Two sets of Captain America: The Winter Soldier cosplayers
Chile's La Roja fans before the second match
Dr. Who fan vs. Costa Rica’s Tico fan
Dr. Who cosplayer at Philly's Market East station.
Tico fan at a friendly preceding World Cup play
Marvel’s Captain America fan vs. United States’ Stars & Stripes fan

Captain America cosplayer at the PA Convention Center
U.S. national team fan in face paint
Sometimes, of course, the twain do meet in more ways than costume amd custom.

At the Philly Comic Con booth of artist R.B. Silva, who draws DC’s comic book Superman, we talked about the stunning Brazil and Mexico draw of last week. Silva is from Santos, Brazil, and we did a little trash-talking — me extolling El Tri’s vigor, Silva and his cohort minimizing everything but Mexican keeper Memo Ochoa’s ability to shut down Brazil’s prodigious striker Neymar.

And, on the way home from Comic Con — on a train with tired fans full of Dr. Who and Captain America: The Winter Soldier cosplayers — the first thing I checked? The scores of the fantastic three games of the day.

We are all part of communities within communities within even larger communities.

For me, much of the joy of attending an event like the Philadelphia Comic Con or following the World Cup, comes from the unpredictable and the wonderfully predictable. No matter who we are rooting for every four years, or dressing in tribute to every year, we come to celebrate our affections — creatively and unabashedly — together.

Cosplayers at Philadelphia Comic Con

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Dream cast and playlist (sort of) for my novel INK

I took a page from mystery writer Carmen Amato, who recently posted the dream cast for her book Hidden Light of Mexico (along with a playlist of songs to read by) and decided to do the same for  INK.  Not that the novel is imminent danger of being filmed — can you see Hollywood optioning a book that has been described as "a call for justice;" an immigration dystopia set in the near future, with significant Latino roles? But it is fun to imagine anyway. So here goes ...


Character: Mari
"I am their storyteller.
Others try: Francine retelling myths, Abbie turning tweet to story. But the children always come back to me. Satchel only hears my stories once a month, when he comes up to the woods to visit his father, but he's got the kind of mind that holds forever. Even as the years pass and Gus gets tall, Lucero fills out, Satchel turns contemplative, they come for the stories.
I tell them the one about the boy shapeshifter, and the star girl, and the child who bridges worlds. I tell them other tales, too, so they will know that everyone is made of stories. 
Each of them at a different time obsesses about my tattoo."

Actor: Dalia Hernández
29. Mexican. Film credits include Apocalypto, Miracle Underground and Soho Square. She has Mari's quiet intensity.



Character: Finn
"I can't remember when we started calling them inks. After all, it isn't until know it's certain they'll be tattooed when they enter the country. Actually, unless I'm misreading the soon-to-be-law even the permanent resident and citizen inks will end up with tattoos, with a color scheme to indicate terminal status.
I lean back a moment and stare across the newsroom while I consider how to best shape the lede. There isn't a single ink in the Gazette's newsroom, never was. Even at the big papers there hadn't been a glut of them. Melinda catches me looking around and glares at me. They must teach that look in journalism school because all my cohorts go silent and lean into their monitors as if to convince her they haven't been goofing off.
Me, well, I keep smiling. I'm her favorite reporter even though I haven't seen a day of j-school. 
I file the story a full five minutes before she expects it. She edits it in two. A minute after the new media dude gives us the thumbs up, we watch as my lede floods the fall."

Actor: Ryan Reynolds
38. Canadian. Film credits include R.I.P.D., Green Lantern, The Proposal, Harold & Kumar go to White Castle, among many others. Reynolds isn't as stocky as I'd imagined Finn, nor at 6' 2" quite as tall — but  almost...

Character: Meche
"Cuban. A former chemist. Well, I guess she's still a chemist, just no longer employed by the pharmaceutical company that holds her patents. On her own she's developed this absolutely dead-on synthetic skin. All you need is a small jar of the compound, one of the powdered catalyst, and water to activate it. Sets up quickly. Can ve dyed to match different skin tones so it's perfect to cover tattoos. And it's undetectable. For a few weeks at least, until it starts degrading. Some of the Cuban inks have been paying through the nose to get it at her peña. As long as you have money and don't have an accent it's the way to go."

Actor: Jessica Alba
33. U.S. Latina. Film credits include Sin City, Machete, Valentine's Day, Fantastic Four, among many others. Meche is almost a goddess — all gold surface and grit beneath — so is Alba.

Character: Del
"I cross behind the cabin, down to where the stream has nearly iced over. Up the steep bank roughly parallel to the cabin's south window I start scanning the ground looking for the tracks I spotted earlier.
Moonlight pools in the glade as I squat down to them. I put one hand on the footprint, digging into it until my fingers hit ground, and close my eyes.
It is a slide I take, down to the chambers of my heart. I can count the seeds slumbering in this piece of land, and the fiddleheads curled under snow waiting for a distant wake-up call. My blood can course along the sappy viaducts of birch and oak, the resinous gullies of hemlocks. And deeper still, I can hear the molten buzz of a mantle perpetually in motion. 
And the footstep? The land lets me know where its owner headed from here, and how long ago."

Actor: Freddie Prinze Jr.
38. U.S. Latino. Film credits include To Gillian on her 37th Birthday, Scooby Do, I Know What You Did Last Summer, along with many TV roles. Since Del isn't Latino, it would be a nice switch on the more commonplace non-Latino playing Latino role (I'm looking at you, Ben Affleck).

Character: Abbie
"I convince my mother to put me on computer work for the duration of my community service so I don't have to grapple with what the inkatorium is, and my part in it. I particularly don't want to run into Pete.
I do some of the work I'm supposed to, but mostly I try my hand at sabotage. First I hack into the state public health consortium's system, into the human resources department server. 
They've got dirt on all the inkatorium's administrators. My father's DUI is in my mom's file, along with her terrible credit rating and the lien on property taxes she hasn't been able to pay in full yet. Also the number of inks who have escaped the inkatorium under her watch."

Actor: Adelaide Kane
24. Australian. Film credits include Donner Pass, The Purge, Louder than Words, along with TV roles. She plays a credible teenager and the camera loves her without making her look too perfect.

Character: Toño
"Each line is really a number," he says, then recites them as he glides his finger across the tattoo.
"It tracks everything the government cares to know about me. From who I was born to and where, to whether I get the full rights of citizenship or not. Their measure of who I am."
"Someday it won't be that way," I say.
"They'll still see me as they want to see me," he says. "That's really the mark inks bear that you'll never understand, America."

Actor: Alex Meraz
29. U.S. Latino. Film credits include The New World and four of the films in the Twilight Saga, along with TV roles. Let's see what he really can do as actor, shall we?

There was only one secondary character I wrote with a film actor in mind — I pictured  Chato as veteran Chicano actor, Danny Trejo.

To my utter delight I was able to meet him and be part of an AL DÍA interview with him in advance of the release of the movie Machete Kills.

And, no, I didn't manage to screw up my courage and tell him he had been the inspiration for one of the characters in my novel. But I did get him to autograph one of my INK book cards, and that makes me unaccountably happy.

Unlike Amato in the post that inspired this one, I'm not going to include a playlist fitted to different scenes in the book (I'm far too lazy). But I did write the book to music (I dance around while I type) and Los Lobos, Chris Isaak and Three Days Grace are all mentioned in the book.

If I were to include a playlist La Santa Cecilia's El Hielo/ICE ; Aloe Blacc's cover of Avicii's Wake Me Up, and Las Cafeteras' wonderful La Bamba Rebelde would be on it. All of which draw attention to our current broken immigration policy which separates families and loved ones from each other, which detains without due process, and which is considering electronic monitoring of immigrants ...

One of the minor characters in my novel says this near the end of the book: "Don't let the future be written for you." The time to prevent the dystopia outlined in my novel is now. Urge your congress person to support just and humane immigration reform that:

• Provides a path to citizenship for undocumented persons in the country
• Restores due process protections to immigration enforcement policies
• Preserves family unity as a cornerstone of the national immigration policy
• Provides legal paths for low-skill immigrant workers to come and work in the United States
• Addresses the root causes (push factor) of migration, such as persecution and economic disparity



Saturday, June 7, 2014

Let's talk about the price tag - the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and Latino Catholics

At Our Lady of Fatima Church in Bensalem, Pa., where the Latino population increased 102% from 2000 to 2010.

Last weekend the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced another round of parish closures and mergers, the latest in their cost-cutting efforts that have reduced the total number of parishes in the five-county region to 219. One of the churches affected is Our Lady of Fatima in Bensalem, a church with a large and thriving Latino community. (You can read more about the impact on Latino Catholics in AL DÍA's editorial.)

It is the latest in a number of closures of ministries and structures — or their disposition as parish concerns rather than archdiocesan ones — that were significant to Latino Catholics in the Philadelphia area: La Milagrosa on Spring Garden Street; the Catholic Institute for Evangelization, and the Cardinal Bevilacqua Center, both in the Kensington section of the city. Staffing reduction decisions have also had tangible and symbolic effect on the Latino Catholic community. There once was a vicar for Hispanic Catholics; an archdiocesan office for youth and young adults with a staff member dedicated to Latino youth specifically; a ministry team led by the Dominican Sisters of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima led by the dynamic Sor Alba Bonilla — none of these are in place anymore.

The Archdiocese denies it is reducing outreach and services to Latinos, saying instead that it is shifting from archdiocesan-centric to parish-centric ministries and services.

But if it is effectively shuttering the strongly Latino parishes like La Milagrosa or Our Lady of Fatima, doesn’t it amount to the same thing?

Moreover, members of the Latino Catholic community have been openly critical of the archdiocesan administration, alleging that it has consistently refused to meet with them and that it hasn’t been transparent or open with the Latino community in the matter of the sale of La Milagrosa.

While the Archdiocese would like to believe it is just a small group of vocal and disgruntled Latino Catholics who are disenfranchised by its actions of the last few years, it simply isn’t the case. In fact, they might be surprised to learn that even those who have not openly expressed their opinions about this, nevertheless, have some very strong ones. Take, for example, this assessment — from an active non-Latino Catholic (who prefers not to be named):

“There is a pattern of combining parishes with Spanish-speaking congregations with primarily English-speaking ones. It is (a little) like the Catholic Indian boarding schools of the early 1900s that stripped the American Indians of their ways and got them to assimilate to the white man’s ways. They were not allowed to speak their native language, wear native clothing and would be be punished if they did. It may be a bold comparison but when you think about it, is it so far off? The Church is prohibiting the Latinos from practicing the faith the way they want and are accustomed to. They are forcing them to assimilate to the Anglo way and hoping they will leave their deep-rooted rituals and practices. Pretty soon there will be no Spanish-language Masses in these churches — but only after they recruit all the young Latinos to fill the religious leadership vacancies, because the Church is hurting and realizes it needs young Latinos to fill those. Mixing cultures is a beautiful thing, as long as it does not involve having to give up one's cultural identity.”

A mariachi plays at a Mass at Our Lady of Fatima.
Mergers of parishes with distinct demographic compositions intrinsically prioritize the parish designated to remain open and receive the parishioners from the other. In the case of Our Lady of Fatima’s Latino parishioners, it means coming into a St. Charles Borromeo parish that is neither attuned to Latino concerns and needs, nor necessarily receptive to them. A longtime immigration reform advocate recounts an experience at St. Charles:

“In 2012 I was organizing a panel discussion in Bensalem with Reform Immigration for America. I went to Monsignor Duncan at St. Charles and asked if I could put out flyers about the event in the church. He agreed. So before Mass I went into the church and was placing flyers around and saw an older parishioner, who was there early, pick up the flyer to see what it was. He mumbled under his breath and proceeded to take the whole pile to the trash can to throw them out.”

As noted in the AL DÍA editorial, the closures and mergers affect many communities. There is generalized sense among those Catholics affected that the Archdiocese favors wealthy showcase parishes over those that, however fervent and devoted the congregation, are economically disadvantaged.

“It seems as if they are choosing mergers of parishes that are economically weak with those that are more affluent,” says the non Latino quoted earlier. “It is all about the money.”

Perhaps sensible for an Archdiocese mired in a financial mess of its own making. But if it wasn’t crystal clear before, Pope Francis has made it so: money isn’t supposed to determine who the Church serves or how well or grudgingly those services are rendered. After all, what the Church — any religion — sells us isn’t supposed to be about the price tag, is it?