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Words Rise, Over the Skies, Out of Your Breath

¿Que Pasa, Calabasa? -

Thanks for reading up on this blog again. I am a few days over due (like a week) just ignore that. I promise to be on time for the next one - look at it this way - you will get the next blog really close to this one... great stuff, ¿no? 

ON WITH THE TEASE

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So this lovely book - EVERYTHING BEGINS AND ENDS AT THE KENTUCKY CLUB - is Benjamin Alire Sáenz's latest work. I think I mentioned it before in another blog post, but I wanted to get more in depth with it. (MY copy is on its way. One day, I will get it signed by the man, making sure I do not act all geeky or aguitado in front of him and more like a grad student, unless he says "hello, sure I will sign it" or "not a problem, hombre, give me the book", then all bets are off as I will probably pass out. - The guy works at my UTEP - PICKS UP!!!) Saenz's book, won the 2013 PEN/Faulkner Award - it is the first time any Latino writer has even done so. Its pretty bad ass!!  I for one can't wait to get my hands on it - and hopefully one day, I get to take class with the man. 

Here is bit of a blurb from the news from UTEP's website!!
- Renowned novelists Walter Kirn, Nelly Rosario, and A.J. Verdelle served as judges for the prize, considering more than 350 novels and short story collections by American authors published in the United States in 2012. Submissions came from 130 publishing houses, including small and academic presses. First awarded in 1981, the prize is named for Nobel Prize winning novelist William Faulkner, and Sáenz is the first Hispanic writer to receive it.

“He's one of the most prolific writers I have ever met, sometimes producing two books in one year, like he did this year,” said Saenz’s colleague Associate Professor of Creative Writing Daniel Chacon. “Both of those books have gone on to win amazing prizes and to get positive critical attention.”

In speaking about his experience as co-host of KTEP-FM’s (88.5) “Words on a Wire” radio program with Sáenz, Chacon said, “We have the chance to talk to some of the greatest writers in the country, and together we are able to extract a lot of valuable information and advice from these writers, but the ironic thing is that Ben himself is one of the country's most distinguished writers.”

Judge A.J. Verdelle praised Saenz’s mastery of language.

“In Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club, his 20th published book,

Benjamin Alire Sáenz shows how decades working at your craft gives birth to might and mastery ... He presents a rendering of reality that is lush, tender, expansive, inclusive and profound. The author takes stunning care with language — English, Spanish, and the languages of sunlight, daylight, dimlight, night light — twisting and tumbling with the whispered language of the human heart. Sáenz also devotes impressive attention to rendering communities on the borders of the United States and Mexico, on the boundaries of sensual and sexual expression, on the edge of despair, and on the cusp of redemption.”

SO, there you go. Oh yeah, here is one last bit. - 

TEXAS, RISE... TESTIFYING TO SAVE ETHNIC and GENDER STUDIES!!

Ok, so let me catch you up on why I am little late with my bloga duties. I wouldn't have missed it for anything else, really - but sometimes battle plans and actions must happen quick as lightening. Wednesday, the same day as I would plan on working on the blog, also became the day my compadres y comadres in the LIBROTRAFICANTE MOVEMENT traveled to Austin, TX to hear the presenting of HB1938 - the twin to SB1128 - both bills would seek to change up a 1955 law that requires college students to take 6 hours of Texas or U.S. History courses to fulfill the requirement for getting a degree. This new set of bills, if passed would want to see students take courses that meet the requirement so long as the classes were about "a comprehensive course of U.S. or Texas History". The problem:  1) No one, including the creators of the bills have defined what "comprehensive U.S. History" is 2) the creators of the bill - including Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston) and Congressman Giovanni Capriglione (R-Southlake) both Tea Party Republicans have both used a scary report created by a heavy handed Republican group - the National Association of Scholars, named Recasting History: Are Race, Class and Gender Dominating American History?  - with a name like that, and the research results within, it makes comments they make - that they aren't after ethnic studies or cultural relevance in U.S. History, all the more disingenuous. 3) if the bill succeeds, then gateway classes that may lead into women's studies and ethnic studies, may be turned into electives, signifying that their importance would be minimal. Basically, if you want to study history from the perspective that includes African- Americans from Slavery to Civil Rights, then do it, but it wouldn't count for credit to your degree... let that sink in. Riiiiiiight. 

So, the bill was heard on Wednesday- and I have to say Thank you, Mil Gracias, Obrigado to my principal, Diana Del Pilar. I came to her and asked if I could take the afternoon off to go testify against the bill and without batting an eye - "Mendez, you need to go, our kids need you to go". It says a lot about where her priorities are for our school community and her respect for me as an educator. I will forever be in her debt.  - We packed it up from Houston and along with 22 other folks testified on the bill (3 for, 19 against- 2 of which were people Capriglione brought himself and a 20 yr. old kid dressed up as Paul Revere), and it was an amazing moment to be an American. The House Committee on Higher Education eventually figured out that the majority of us came from OUTSIDE of Austin to speak against the bill and they were impressed. - But the work is not done. The bill was left pending - so now, WE must call (yes, this includes you if live in Texas) and let them now that the bill is no good - that they must vote NO on HB1938. Here are the numbers to get a hold of the members - 

Dan Branch - Chair
(512) 463-0367
(512) 322-9935 (fax)

Diane Patrick - Vice Chair
(512) 463-0624
(512) 463-7275 (fax)

Roberto R. Alonzo
(512) 463-0408
(512) 463-1817 (fax)

Travis Clardy
(512) 463-0592
(512) 463-8792 (fax)

Drew Darby
(512) 463-0331
(512) 499-3978 (fax)

Donna Howard
(512) 463-0631
(512) 463-0901 (fax)

Armando "Mando Martinez
(512) 463-0530
(512) 463-0849 (fax)

Jim Murphy
(512) 463-0514
(512) 463-8715 (fax)

John Raney
(512) 463-0698
(512) 463-5109 (fax)

and click here if you want the link to the video of that meeting. - You have to see and hear all the testimony - get popcorn and fast forward to Paul Revere, that guy was a hoot. (Mas Puto) WARNING - the meeting itself lasted from 2pm til 10:00pm - yep, and HB1938 was the last bill to be heard. So we stayed. That's What's Up. 

¡ME VOY A UNA QUIENCEÑERA!

So, 15 years ago, April 22, in 1998, a young Tony Diaz and a few friends started a new venture: let's start highlighting Latino Literature, Latino Poetry and the folks who write it. Let's do it in the party room of Chapultepec Restaurant. Let's talk about "our words" - NUESTRA PALABRA. - and so it went and it is still going. I am proud to say I am a 14 year veteran of the group and I wouldn't trade it for the world. It has given me the opportunity to meet, discuss and argue with some of the best Latino writers in the country and it has helped mold me into the kind of leader, writer and poet I am today. I am forever grateful to Tony and the gang for all the energy, all the diversity of thought and all the bad -assness we bring, from the book tours, to the showcases, from the book festivals to the radio shows, from the literary throw-downs to educational forums, seguimos adelante. Always mas, mucho mas.  - 

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This Sunday, I invite you to join us in Baytown, at the Yepez Vineyard - a Latino owned and operated business as we celebrate our 15 years of Latino Literary work.

HERE ARE THE DETAILS - remember, it is a fundraiser as well (we gotta pay some bills): 

You're invited to the 15th anniversary celebration of Nuestra Palabra "Latinos Having Their Say" on Sunday, April 21 from 3:00-6:00 p.m., at Yepez Vineyard. $50 per person or $80 per couple (any pair a couple) Includes Hors d’oeuvres, dessert & wine. Attire is summer casual. 

RSVP by April 17 to Laura Acosta at lacosta4040@gmail.com or text 832-414-3651.

Pay online-
$50 per person:
https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=BZYBBQ34DR3WS
$80 per couple: 
https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=PUE3SE4WXMJ3L

HOPE YOU CAN JOIN US!!!  
I will be serving as the OFFICIAL NUESTRA PALABRA POETRY BUSKER - that means that you give me a topic, idea or feeling, and I will write you a poem on the spot. 

I'MMA SLAM YOU!!
Ok, so a few weeks back, I took part in amazing poetic process - I served as a judge at a poetry slam- but not any poetry slam - THE POETRY SLAM, the one that decides the next team to serve as the HOUSTON VIP POETRY SLAM TEAM (when I say this, you have to all collective yell "the treatment", right after, trust me it hilarious - get it? VIP, treatment? Shuddup!) Truth be it known, that was an amazing night and I got to see a plethora of amazing performance and slam poetry and create history. SO, I wanted to take the time and include the members here. Right now, I only have a few bios, so what I will do is give you what I have, and then little by little spot light the rest of the team (Rooster, if you read this, give me your bio, duh). 

First up:
DULCIE DAVID - Dulcie “Digh” David is a singer-songwriter, poet and teacher. She is the co-coach for Meta-Four Houston, and teaches Creative Writing to 9th graders at Sam Houston MSTC. A 2008 Teach For America alumni, Digh spends most of her free time trying to convince people that kids need slam poetry in schools. She holds a Bachelors in Arts degree in History and Creative Writing from Texas A&M, Corpus Christi. **** Dulcie is as beautiful as she is smart, witty as she is a bad ass. 

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IN JUST A FEW HOURS -

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If you are in Houston and are looking something booky to do, then head over to the Menil - the HOUSTON INDIE BOOK FEST is pretty neat. Today, I get host a table for NP and show off some of my wifey's poems and art work by Lizbeth Ortiz - here are some details about today:

The Houston Indie Book Festival is hosted by Gulf Coast and the Menil Community Arts Festival through a collaboration with The Menil Collection the Council of Literary Magazines and Presseat Menil Park ( view map).

The 2013 festival will be on Saturday, April 20 from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. The event  is completely free and open to the public and remains the only one of its kind in the Houston and Austin areas, featuring a variety of nationally-distributed literary journals and small-press books alongside local booksellers, book and magazine publishers, small presses, literary organizations, and writers.

Click HERE, to get more info.  Show up!!!  Let's talk!!!

LAST BUT NOT LEAST - A WAR OF WORDS (KINDA...)

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This is now a tradition - see we have friends - fellow bad ass poets from Baton Rouge who make their way to the Houston Indie Book Fest and since we first met them, we worked on sharing some drinks and some words on a stage - thus the INTERSTATE POETRY SHOWDOWN is a hot minute of fun! This year, reppin' Houston is remarkable poets Stephen Gros and Chris Wise and from Baton Rouge Vincent Cellucci and Chris Shipman. Should be awesome. YOU SHOULD COME BY!! everything starts at 6:30, so get it together... 

With that, I get to close out the blog post, but of course, not with out one last thing: 

THE TEASE - 

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The Writers Speak for Those Who Can Not

Hey Gente,

Its been two weeks. I know. I was doing real well with a weekly blog (more or less appearing between Wednesday & Thursday evenings), but alas, sometimes the world - se te ensima, it just jumps up into your lap, into your face so fast that you need to do something in response. These last two weeks have been tremendous, so bear with me as I bare it all. (I say this and I must also admit, that at this point, I don't even know how many people are reading the blog, it could be 5 people or like 250, hopefully somebody is, right?)

OK so to honor the little tradition of the "tease" I end the previous blog post with - I will address that first and the jump into what derailed me for two weeks. SO. LET'S BEGIN!!

WAT?! DID YOU SAY?!?!!?!

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So if you are familiar enough with me and my writing (and don't worry if you aren't, today, you get in on all the info) then you know about what WAT?! is. - It is a labor of love poetry, a poetic celebration, a call to arms and poetry - all of this in the 4th largest city in the nation.  The WORD AROUND TOWN is in its 7th year. It is a tour like none other and it is gaining momentum. 

      In the summer of 2006, just about 10 poets gathered together to celebrate all that works for poetry in Houston: the ability to read at any venue, any given night of the week in front of an unknown audience. It surprised the poets, the venues and the spectators.

         The tour in simplest terms is a 7 day marathon poetry tour, where a selected group of poets go for seven days straight, reading a 7 different venues for the whole week.  - It is what makes Houston unique - this so far, as gente from other major cities have told us - we are the only city that has a poetry spot for every night of the week. 

       Originally, the main message of the tour was to highlight and honor those poets that were dedicated to poetry on the mic; poets who were not afraid to delve past their comfort zone and read in front of unknown crowds, as well as highlight those venues who were dedicated to poetry. - The whole idea has always been to showcase the poets and the venues that make the city special.

    The current incarnation of the tour is bold: there are 16 poets that are selected, along with 1 featured poet per night, per venue. In all, that's just about 23 people for 7 poetry spots. The selected poets are a true representation of the best and brightest Houston has to offer in Spoken Word, Academia, Open Mic and Experimental Poetry. - 9 poets who have been a part of the tour in the last year or two are selected and then the last 7 spots are open to a POET DRAFT (which this year will be held on April 30th @ Taft St. Coffee House). The organizers include myself, and fellow poets Blanca Alanis, Joe B, and Stephen Gros are working like crazy to get this going every year.

        If you have never been to the WAT?! Poetry Tour, you don't know what you are missing. Every night is unique. This year, the tour will happen from August 4th to the 10th, 2013. We are still in the planning phases and just selected the first 9 poets. - The next step is to secure the venues and host the Poetry Draft for the last 7 spots. Do you think you have what it takes? Then come to the draft. If you want more information, then click on the banner above.

SOMETIMES THE WRITERS MUST ACT...

Before we continue, I really need you to understand that if you read my bio, I take on three parts: Poet/Educator/ACTIVIST. - I think I follow what Martin Espada eludes to - that sometimes, writers have to be the voice for the voiceless - write about those things, those topics and subjects that deserve the light, else it will never get it. With that said, I hope you can understand that I am not one to speak and not act. Me pongo las botas y le entro - I was a part of the Librotraficante Caravan that last year took a trip to Tucson, AZ to protest their House Bill 2281 - which pretty much took apart the Mexican-American Studies program on the K-12 level. They took books from children's hands. They boxed up books and told them that they were "un-American" - books like Junot Diaz's DROWN, Sandra Cisnero's HOUSE ON MANGO STREET, Carmen Tafolla's CURANDERA and Lorna Dee Cervantes' EMPLUMADA. These books are amazing reads, AMERICAN reads, written about Latinos about Latinos who had no voice, who need a voice. To have taken these books away was criminal.  

        We organized here in Texas. Me and the merry bunch of Latinos, con quien me junto, Tony Diaz, Liana Lopez, Bryan Parras and Laura Acosta - we planned a 6 city caravan, full of books (over 1000 = $20,000) and roughly 30 some odd gente. We packed up a bus and honored the writers and the books and the teachers and the students.  - Sadly, the law won in AZ. The classes are still gone, and they only way the books now get into kids hands are by the underground libraries we organized (currently we have an underground library in Houston, San Antonio, El Paso, Tucson, Phoenix and New York, with more on the way) or in Tucson, under the direction of Curtis Acosta - he teaches a Sunday class at the Venezuela Youth Center. It will take between 2 to 3 years before the Supreme Court can rule that this law is unconstitutional, and by then, the damage will be so apparent. - A whole generation of cabroncitos won't know these writers. So this bitter pill, that as an educator, is hard to swallow - that you can have some kids that want to read books that interest them and can't, its a damn shame. 

     My commitment now, all of our commitments now as Librotraficantes, is to never let that happen in any shape, form or fashion any where else - especially in TEXAS.

BUT GUESS WHAT? - You have some Texas legislators working, in a round about way to try and control what books are being taught, what angles of history can be studied on the college level. - Neta, Neta, - we have TEA PARTIERS who have their eyes on "tightening up" what can be considered a study of "a comprehensive American History or Texas History Survey Course" in Texas colleges.  So if your brain isn't too fried yet, then click on this link here.

      Simple words huh? - If you didn't click on the link, no worries, I will translate for you: the Senate Bill (and it has a twin in the House- HB1938) SB1128 wants to basically filter what counts as the undergrad components for a basic college degree. "Big deal" you might say. So what?  Its two classes in college, who cares? - But here is the implication: if legislators can begin tinkering with what counts as "good" or "bad" history classes, then what's next? How far will this reach? 

      It wouldn't be a scary deal if it were meant to clean up the college courses. But its not. No, see we do our homework - and if you have some time, you should read what Senator Dan Patrick (R-Houston) and Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R- Southlake) have used to create their respective bills - hint - click here.

        This report by Republican Think Tank group - the National Assoc. of Scholars, (and if you are a Red, don't make a carita, I respect your fire and practicality, just not the craziness the Tea Party brings) only looks for, reports, dissects and nitpicks the books and assigned reading that deal with RACE, CLASS and GENDER - and the report itself recommends that there be less of it. - Esto es lo que da rabia.

       WE as a people, don't get to read alot a history that isn't "broad" or "over arching". I mean in college, I got half of it. - I took the standard two history classes - to 1865/ from 1865 and it was the second half that interested me the most. WHY?

            Well, the prof. was the just retired PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSITY OF ST. THOMAS - DR. JOSEPH McFADDEN. (this was right around 1998 or so) -  It was one of the few classes I didn't have to look at my watch to see how long we had before class ended. He has us in the palm of his hand - and what did he talk about?  The F**kin history of BARBED WIRE!!!  - Yep. MikeyFad taught us U.S. history under the lens of the creation, need and evolution of Barbed Wire Fences. It made sense. It was practical. We read about industry, western expansion, etc, but all from the context of why this invention made sense - but if you left it to mis queridos compadres in TX legislature - I would have never been able to read about this. McFadden wouldn't have been able to let us read about the dust bowl, about MLK's Letters from a Birmingham Jail, or about how the vaqueros pre-dating the cowboy...

         I want this younger generation to read the US history as comprehensively as possible - one in which includes every aspect of our nation - the race, the class and the gender. You can not deny these parts of history - you can not tell history without them. 

     So for now, as a Librotraficante, I will fight on. We already went to Austin in fact. We even tried to meet with Sen. Patrick, but he was too busy to meet with us, so instead, he wrote about us (incorrectly on Facebook, I might add). We were even invited to speak to Rep. Capriglione - but all we got was alot of nothing - he's not ready to talk, to concede that what will happen will be a limitation and a disenfranchisement of the very people they claim they want to help. Here is the link to our conversation with the dear (sinvergüenza) Rep. from North Dallas. 

Let me set that up for you. - He tells us that he can convince us that the bill isn't a problem. He says that once he is done, we will understand why he wrote it. - Our meeting didn't do anything, but help make our point - your not ready to acknowledge "Minority" relevance in education, in history or in politics. Your loss. - I will let you know this: from the minute we got a hold of the bill and the report - it took us less than 48 hours to grab 20 something people from three separate cities: Baytown, Houston and  San Antonio- to converge on the Capitol.

If both of these gentlemen think that was impressive - they have not seen anything yet. We are in the media. We are political. We are moving fast, and hot. ¡Aguas!, ¡Aguas! Ahi les llegamos...

And now, for the Tease:

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