Monday, November 24, 2008

Conclusions and Thoughts

Ah! term is almost done!

Although I was a little skeptical at first, I really enjoyed this class (only skeptical because i'm a spanish major and i expected to read/hear more spanish). But! it turns out that chicano literature is very interesting and not necessarily written in spanish. Ultimately I thought it was very appropriate that we speak in spanish when the book was written in spanish and english when in english.
The novels were well-chosen and none were tedious to say, although the Martí readings were a little difficult to get through because of his use of colloquial language. 
In-class discussion was always exciting and was impressed that the majority of the class participated. i think that this was facilitated by three things. One, that we were given sufficient time to read the books. two, that the online blogs forced us to do the readings on-time and develop our own opinions prior to class. and three, that jon presented ideas and questions that always got us talking or thinking.
It was so refreshing to read contemporary novels; so many of the spanish major prerequisites focus on ancient spanish literature. 

This class had a different format than any other class i have taken. The weekly online blogs, commenting and wikipedia contributions made the class modern. It was at times frustrating and confusing and other times new and refreshing. I felt that the blogs facilitated communication with other students outside of class and the development of independent thought. They also, as i said before, forced us to do the readings on-time. I have written journals for other courses that were due at the end of term, this was a huge disaster because people would try to write it all at the end and didn't necessarily promote unique thought from students.

The wikipedia article gave me mixed feelings though. I have found it tedious, frustrating unrewarding.  I think its a really interesting concept and i do use wikipedia frequently. Its a very useful thing as a student to get a broad, unbiased study of a subject or concept. it also leads you to sources (if sourced properly) for research essays etc. I do like the idea that I am giving back to the wiki community but i also feel a certain resentment maybe or anxiety every time i open up my tomas rivera wikipedia page. 

Everything included, I think that the class was structured very well. I might actually enjoy working on another wiki article now that i know (more or less) how it all works. I think Jon has a great ability to get conversation flowing which is such an important skill for a prof to have ( no i am not trying to stroke your ego Jon ). It was the class I felt the most comfortable in, contributed the most in and did the most readings for; all of which are my responsibility but at the same time are things that the prof can definitely encourage in other ways than just instructing. 

I think i only have enough time to say hi at the gallery, term paper to write :( 

Monday, November 17, 2008

and a body to remember with

I learnt about the Chilean coup and following dictatorship in a latin-american studies class last year. The stories Rodriguez tells of her rebel experiences during this time and exile to Canada are much more personal and honest than the textbook i was reading. 
This brings me back to a question that was asked of us this first day of classes; why are  latinos/chicanos in Canada? Not just Chile but Brazil and Argentina had military dictators that acted in similar ways. Torture and death as punishment for conspiring against the dictator were extremely common. It was much more sick than just torture, as Rodriguez writes. Doctors were used to keep victims alive, or just alive enough to keep on torturing them. Women's unborn babies were taken away from them and given to hopeful, rich women that couldn't have babies themselves, oblivious of their origin; groups of people were pushed off flying planes. This type of history begs the question that when the dictatorship is over, how do you punish the guilty, or do you move on and try to leave the tragedy in the past? How would it feel to be rejected or hurt and violated by your home country?
Rodriguez's writing style is blunt and raw. In Canada she can write and express herself in ways that she could not have in Chile. Yet in Canada, she has to learn how to express herself all over again. 
I find the stories to be very emotional and i wonder how much of their content is based on events in her life. So far, to me, the stories are quite similar and thinking back on them, they seem to converge and form one story with different actors and a similar past. As a writer, i wonder if Rodriguez ever feels the need to branch out or try writing about something else, something not so connected to her own life? 

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Julia Alvarez pt. 2

I think I must not be alone in feeling a sense of confusion and curiosity at Alvarez's choice of ending. It seemed there might have been a mistake and that the last chapter of the book was accidentally missed out. Told in a reverse chronology, the book begins with a grownup Yolanda in "Antojos" and ends with Yoyo the child in the "The Drum". 
The last chapter and the last couple of paragraphs especially seem rushed. Alvarez writes: "You understand I am collapsing all time now so that it fits in what's left in the hollow of my story?...I grew up a curious woman, a woman of story ghosts and story devils, a woman prone to bad dreams and insomnia" (285-6). The narrator is the same at the beginning as the end yet the story does not come full circle. Is this abrupt end on purpose, to prove a point maybe? Authors often leave stories open for their readers to make their own conclusions but this ending left me wondering.
The "hollow story" that Yoyo speaks of contrasts with the colourful yet complicated story we have just finished. The detail in the story leads us to believe that it is being told from the child's point of view yet the adult perspective ("I grew up...") says the opposite. This discrepancy asks us to question the narrator. This final quote introduces themes that weren't introduced before. Yolanda has never mentioned insomnia, frequent bad dreams or haunting ghosts (besides her short stint in the mental institute). The end of the book makes me rethink the beginning of the book just as I refer back to the family tree sketch, to try and connect these two seemingly different narrations. 
Other aspects in these ending chapters make me question the congruencies and connectedness of the stories. Our narrators are young and are often unsure how to interpret the actions happening around them. Imagination plays a large part in their young minds and their inventions often incorporate themselves into the storytelling. An example of this is the boy/creature Carla finds in the garage behind Doña Charito's house. Carla was on the hunt, alone, looking for something that would incriminate the Doña. She did find what she was looking for but what was it exactly that she found? A small man locked up with a metal collar in the garage carving statues for the local church? Do the maids keep their masters secret? Do the families that come to stare at the odd architecture hear the screams of the prisoner? Does it really exist?
When one hunts for trouble, it is usually not far off, especially if your imagination is young and frightful. 
I don't think that Alvarez was trying to make us question the validity of her story but instead points us in a certain direction. Children exaggerate stories in their own favour, the imagination of the young is wild and at times they'll have difficulty distinguishing reality from imagined, children lie to win or obtain something they want for themselves; all are normal occurrences for children. If they are unable to distinguish reality from imagined then the imagined is what they remember and that becomes the story of their life. Because our narrators are for the most part children, these are details that should be acknowledged. 
The story in its entirety is a mix of imagined, multi-perspective, and reality but who is to say which is which?

Monday, November 3, 2008

How Yolanda Lost Her Accent

I have just finished the first of three parts to this book. I am not completely sold on it but I think I can account that to the fact that I am only a third of the way through and nothing has really come together yet. 
So far the story has been told from Yolanda's point of view. In the first story "Antojos", she contrasts the lives of her sisters to those of her cousins who stayed behind on the island. While blowing out the candles to her birthday cake she compares her two homes; "But look at her cousins, women with households and authority in their voices. Let this turn out to be my home, Yolanda wishes" (11). Yolanda is stuck between two worlds in which she fits neatly into neither. She has spent the majority of her adult life in the US and can now speak english without the old hesitation or inability to find appropriate words for her feelings and thoughts. Those were the justifications for the end of her past relationships; with Rudy, the reasoning behind her abstinence was clear in her spanish thoughts but confusing in her english vocab. Likewise, John was unable to take her seriously, constantly misunderstanding her mastery of the english language. Now Yolanda seeks solace in her old, foreign home in the Dominican. But is this really what she needs?
Yolanda seeks 'authority' with men and family, a issue that stems from her father's authority and her failure with relationships. I am not convinced she will find it in the Dominican, at least not yet. When she is caught off-guard by the two campesinos in the night, she becomes mute, not at all the authoritative woman she hoped this country would allow her to be. I think Yolanda, as well as her sisters, have spent enough time in the US to feel comfortable but not at home and too much time away from home to feel like a Dominicana. 
Once again, this adds a whole new facet to the chicano/a subject. I am starting to feel like chicano is too broad a term but then again white is as well. 

Monday, October 27, 2008


After class on friday, I kept thinking of how form was important to the telling of these particular stories and what it meant to use differing perspectives, one-sided dialogue, slang, and all the other literary techniques employed by Cisneros. It is the question I kept at the front of my mind while reading the second half of the book but still not an easy one to answer. 
The conclusion I have come to without anyone to banter back and forth with is that Cisneros uses these varying stories and perspectives to break down the stereotype that the world (mainly north americans) has regarding Chicanos. That there are infinite variations on the chicano story; girls born with mexican mothers and mexican-american fathers, chicanos that can't speak spanish, girls born north of the border only to be sent south of the border. Back and forth, mixing this with that, Cisneros shows us how different one chicano's life might be from the next. I think that she reinforces this idea with the reoccurence of popular culture.
Her various mentions of telenovelas, barbie dolls, latin pop music and fast-food mexican restaurants juxtapose the "authentic" life Cisneros wishes (and succeeds) to portray. In the story "woman hollering creek", telenovelas provide a stereotypical view from both sides of the border. While Cleofilas dreams in anticipation of her life in the US, she compares what she thinks it will be like to the cheesy, mexican telenovelas; at least she will have the passion and the pretty dresses they wear. Meanwhile, the woman who saves her from a life of abuse, Felice, breaks the stereotype that Cleofilas has of women. That they must depend on men (not just her husband but her father and brothers as well) to survive and be happy. The use of the soap opera  is then used in reverse when Felice hears Cleofilas' story. "a real soap opera sometimes" she says. Felice has obviously heard this drama story before.
In "Bien Pretty", Lupe falls in love with a stereotype. a short, poor mexican that comes to exterminate the cucarachas from her house. she wants to use him as a model for a painting of a mayan because he has that face that is perfect for it, that stereotypical face. she loves things about him like his uneducated bluntness and the language he uses when they make love but i don't think she really loved him. it was more the idea or the concept of being with a mexican that she had grown to love. even after seeing the tattoos on his body of the names of past lovers, she is still surprised to hear that he has children to feed and ex-wives south of the border? common lupe.
I think that popular culture and the stereotypes that pop culture create are very important themes throughout this collection of stories. i think that in every single story there is some reference, no matter how small, to pop culture. now we can either identify with these cultural references and slangy italicized words or not (depending on what you know). but i think in most cases we understand that there is much more depth to these stories than barbies and one-sided conversations. i don't know, i think i don't quite get it yet.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

woman hollering creek pt. 1

I. My Lucy Friend Who Smells Like Corn

Once again we have multi-narration going on. or at least i think so. the first few sub-chapters or stories are told by a girl with many sisters, rachel i think. and then in "mericans" the protagonist is a boy with many brothers. i thought it was interesting the difference in the style of writing from "my lucy friend who smells like corn" with its run on, super-descriptive, slang sentences to the more mature style of "tepeyac". 
Both i love. after reading the first two pages i felt as if Cisneros was once a little person, sitting on my shoulder, commenting on my childhood. she talks about things that i thought nobody else did, like scratching your friends mosquito bites when they're not looking so they itch. who does that? i thought i was the only one. 

II. One Holy Night

"tepeyac" neatly connects the last story with the next. i noticed how at the beginning of the book, people are named by association to their smell, hair colour, appearance, demeanor etc which is perfect for these stories. when you are young you can't remember all the big peoples names, especially all those aunts and uncles. so you make mental notes of what they look like and then at least you remember, well, what they look like. 
another theme that popped up in both stories is age and time. in "eleven" rachel describes turning eleven but feels three when she cries and four when she can't speak up for herself. there are so many social constructs that go with age. people expecting that you are eleven and not five anymore even though that is sometimes how you feel. and then in "one holy night", chaq/boy baby/chato philosophically says that 'the past and the future are the same thing'. im not sure if i agree with this but as i look on my past, not yesterday past but maybe four years ago past, that all feels the same. 

i haven't decided how to interpret this book from our chicano study perspective, i think its to early on in the book for me. but what i did notice is that i think lucy is chicano and the rachel is not (from rachel wanting to be as tan as lucy in the first chapter).

in my opinion, our readings in this class have gotten better and better. probably going to finish this one tonight.

Friday, October 17, 2008


I realize this is a little late but the internet has either been unavailable to me or i have been studying for other midterms, but now its time to focus on this class!

I have really enjoyed the readings for this class. i think that the themes we have covered such as gender, discrimination, the search for acceptance within a foreign society, identity, etc all concerning a relatively small group of people in the world are essential to understanding chicano culture. a culture that i had very little previous knowledge of. in each book we get a unique perspective of a chicano living in America. each experience is different from the next and it has helped me realize that there is no common chicano story to be read. every chicano writer has a different story to tell with different criticisms on american culture. 

In "who would have thought it" Ruiz de Burton criticizes the unblinded attraction the new englanders have for money, the importance of (false) appearances and deception and the absolute rudeness of americans towards one of another race. 

In Jose Martí's writing, he sees a new population, growing quickly but completely unaware of their surroundings, or the advantages they have. he has come from cuba and seen a small nation strive for independence and was rejected for voicing his opinions. america lets him speak his mind and allows him freedom but the people that were born in to it do not seem to be so grateful. his outsider approach is essential to this perspective.

Salt of the Earth shows a large population of migrant workers striving for equality. the director shows the hardships borne by chicanos as well as the unjust, racist ways of his own kind from the chicano point of view.

its time to run to class. i really look forward to the books we have yet to read.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Salt of the Earth

I though this moving was great. It not only provides us with a criticism on American culture and prejudices against Mexican Americans in the 50s but also a criticism on the role of women in American society, whether they be of mexican decent or not. The migrant workers are treated as such, workers that come and go with the seasons, but mining does not require a season to work unlike fruit-picking. These families were not necessarily immigrants, on the contrary, they were born and raised on the tierra they worked. This is how the protagonist Esperanza Quintero introduces the small, mining town, as a town before and after the arrival of the Anglos. All along the Mexico-USA border, in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas there have been disputes about where the border should lie and who belongs on which side. This film criticizes important racial issues the time; rights for chicano workers (or equal rights to anglo workers), discrimination against American-born people of Mexican decent, and finally gender issues as well. 

This film was released in 1954 by Anglo director, Herbert J. Biberman.  Biberman was one of the original "Hollywood Ten", a group of ten directors who released a short film in which they all condemned McCarthyism and Hollywood Blacklisting. All ten were briefly jailed in 1950. When Salt of the Earth was released in 1954, it was banned from being viewed by the American public. This says even more about the state and depth of racism and the government. Even more so because this film was based on a strike that actually occurred in New Mexico. I think that the film was banned for a number of reasons besides the fact that Biberman was blacklisted by the US government such as the the critique of Anglos' racism towards American-born Mexicans, the Marxist movement of the workers revolting and staying strong by fighting together against their employer, lack of rights for chicanos and non-existent support from the American government, early feminist movements...the list goes on. Regardless, the fact that this film was banned is important and interesting and worth discussion. (thanks wikipedia!)

I thought this movie was extremely relevant to our class and chicano culture. Good pick Jon.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

estamos aquí como enterrados en la tierra

Este libro me recuerda mucho a una novella que leí el año pasado. Se llama Pedro Páramo de Juan Rulfo. Los dos autores han empleado una técnica distinto en estos cuentos. Es decir que la forma es un poco irregular. Nunca sabemos el nombre del personaje principal y durante las primeras páginas es difícil entender lo que pasa. No sigue una cronología regular tampoco. Aunque las descripciones de Martí y su empleo de adjetivos fueran difíciles de seguir, el estilo de escritura de Rivera es igualmente difícil de entender. Pero me gusta así que no sabemos todos los pedazos del rompecabezas hasta la última página.

Lo que me encontré interesante es el sentido de miseria y frustración  del hijo de la familia de trabajadores inmigrantes. A causa que Rivera fue un trabajador inmigrante como niño, puede escribir los sentimientos comunes de los trabajadores "Porqué es que nosotros estamos aquí como enterrados en la tierra?...Y todos los días, trabaje y trabaje. Para qué? Pobre papá...yo creo que nació trabajando" (44). Ser nacer en una familia pobre habría sido una cadena perpetua para un mexicano viviendo en los estados unidos y esto es como el personaje principal siente. Este narrativo explica los problemas y las luchas de un joven que crece en Texas durante los años 70. 

Pero de dónde viene los espiritus? Y tambien, qué podemos decir de la forma de este libro?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Coney Island

I chose to focus my blog on Martí's Coney Island. I was supposed to read Nuestra  America el año pasado but never got to it and therefore my knowledge of Jose Martí work isn't what it should be.
As I read Coney Island, I often lost track of the point Martí was trying to make - whether or not there was one - because he went of for paragraphs at a time describing the things he saw and his observations. His run on sentences and endless use of adjectives were poetic and beautiful but easily lost on me as my spanish vocabulary is lacking to say the least.
I did find many recurring descriptions and themes that I though would be an interesting topic of discussion (maybe someone else noticed them too?). I noticed that he seemed to always describe the United States with a sense of curiosity and wonder. Because Martí describes his thoughts in  long passages, I will as well. There always seem to be crowds or throngs of people (muchedumbres) everywhere, they are never sleeping and vary greatly in appearance and the women seem to be free to do what they please (even if they are married). The throngs of people parade around the street at all hours of the day. Wealth is available and everywhere, everything is new and exciting. Martí always plays the part of the observer, curious but never a participant. I can imagine him with his little mustache wandering late at night, unable to sleep, quiet but with eyes wide open, watching and making mental notes of all the wonderful and awful things he sees as he strolls the streets and allies of Coney Island. 
My question then is why is Martí glorifying the strangeness of the New York middle and lower-classes? Does he admire their sense of freedom (and real freedom from British colonists)? Has he never seen anything like this in Cuba and in Europe? He kind of sounds like a naive tourist that has a way with words to me. I enjoyed in none the less

Monday, September 15, 2008

el fin

I wouldn't say that the end was a complete let down, I enjoyed the book from beginning to end. It wasn't the most clever ending either but I felt that it stayed true to Ruiz de Burton's writing style by keeping the trick that was being planned secret until the plot itself played out. Surprises are always good.

What really grabbed my attention was Ruiz de Burton's mad rant in the conclusion "all the well-dressed women who have a perfect right to be stupid, because their husbands have brains; who have a perfect right to be silly and trifling, because their husbands conduct the mighty affairs of the nation; who have a perfect right to be spendthrifts, because their husbands have, by extortion and driving hard bargains, accumulated princely fortunes...who snub and ignore old acquaintances if seen driving in the Park in a hired hack-all of this fortunate class Ruth wished to lead, and she felt equal to the task" (287-8). Although she subtly makes this commentary throughout the novel about wealthy American women in society, I found this to be more of an angry rant less connected with the story and more to her personal life. This is the first time where she so clearly veers from her storytelling and shows her personal opinion. Can we apply this then to the entire story to help us better understand her goal or angle? 

Monday, September 8, 2008

Pobrecita Lolita

How can one not pity poor Lola? From her birth to page 145, she is trapped living a life in which she has no control. She is held captive and prisoner from her birth by a native tribe in Colorado and then "saved" from those savages and brought to the United States to be eaten alive by New England's finest, Mrs. Norval (I think I might prefer the tribe but Ruiz de Burton never went into too much detail about life prior to Dr. Norval). Lola soon becomes the central victim of gossip, deceitful greed and ruthless plans for wealth what with her boxes of gold and dyed black skin. Every measure is taken to ensure her complete and utter unhappiness. 

Yet what can we say about the United States in the late 1800s from the story thus far? What does it mean to be an abolitionist in a Norther State prior to and during the civil war? And why, at this point in the story is it still accepted for Mrs. Norval treat young Lola with such rude, conniving and hateful behavior. She is after all, an incredibly wealthy Mexican girl of pure Spanish blood. What amazes me is that an ugly, bloody civil war is being fought between the Nation and the South when Mrs. Norval's sentiments regarding someone with (false) colour in their skin mirror the beliefs of the Southerners regarding slavery. Mrs. Norval would have been completely at ease with her conscience if she had left Lola to sleep with their servants. 

Although I realize that Mrs. Norval's racist way of thinking is not necessarily that of the senate and governors at this time but she is not alone in her evil way of thinking. All of New England seems to treat Lola with the same contempt and hate.  Abolition of slavery was not the only reason the Nation and South were fighting but it was a very important one. I cannot understand at this point in the story - and with my limited knowledge of history of the United States - how politics can escalade to war when the sentiments of the Nation resemble those of the South.

Thursday, September 4, 2008


Me llamo Tessa Rowan y estoy en español 322 a UBC.