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  • South El Monte Arts Posse

    Burn The Wagon: Call For Submissions

               Burn the Wagon Chapbook Series Our city’s official logo proudly proclaims El Monte’s place at the “end of the Santa Fe Trail.” The white covered wagon at the center of the logo places white Americans as El Monte’s “pioneers.” Indigenous people that occupied these lands before and the Mexican, Latino, […]

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Viva Macondo! And Feliz Cumple, Gabriel.

Today Gabriel Garcia Marquez would have been 91.

 

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SEMAP Events

South El Monte Arts Posse is hosting some rad events in El Monte and South El Monte!

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A Week at Latinx in Kid Lit

This is the end of the week honoring Judith Ortiz Cofer over at Latinx in Kid Lit. You can read my reviews of four of Ortiz Cofer’s books and also enter for a chance to win these books! It’s been so much fun to share what I love about this incredible author’s work. Happy reading!

judith ortiz cofer

Celebrating Judith Ortiz Cofer

This week I am honored to be over at Latinx in Kid Lit, a fantastic site which highlights and reviews children’s literature about Latinos. We are celebrating Judith Ortiz Cofer, an amazing writer who wrote about Puerto Ricans on the island and on the U.S. mainland. Please check out my reviews of her books and enter for a chance to win them!

I read Judith Ortiz Cofer’s work years after I published my story collection.  She was one of those Latina authors I suspected I would like. But still I was not prepared to feel such a deep resonance with her work. It was like I was finally reading the one person who should have been my inspiration, the person who certainly would have been if I had just discovered her earlier.

I moved to New York City in 2004, the year Call Me María was published. Like María I was coming from a sunnier, warmer place. She had left behind Puerto Rico, and I had left California. Moving to New York was my first real encounter with Puerto Rican culture. It was so interesting to see how much of a culture shock it was for María, who was Puerto Rican. There was so much in the book that echoed my own life and writing, most importantly the two parents who come from different worlds. I loved reading about María’s friendship with Uma, a girl from India who lives in her building. This reminded me of the great friendship between my mother and paternal grandmother, both immigrants from different countries, a friendship I pay tribute to in my book. Ortiz Cofer understood that she didn’t have to stay in her “lane” just because she was writing about Latinos. All our lives intersect, and we borrow and share and learn from each other.

call me maria

That An Island Like You exists thrills me! In 1995, when this was published, I was in high school. I try to imagine reading this then. I loved books, and books about young people. But I didn’t start reading Latino literature until much later. I can’t help but wonder how much more  self-aware I would have been if I had read this, how much more empowered. An Island Like You would have been a road map to the kind of book I wanted to write. One of the stories in my collection, “The Body,” is about a teenager who struggles with her sexuality and takes refuge from her mother in a church. I had to smile when I read “Arturo’s Flight,” about a troubled boy who struggles with his sexuality and takes refuge in a church. It’s small similarities like this that reinforce what I have found to be true, that there is something common to Latino stories. Whether we be Puerto Rican or Mexican-American, city or country or island, there is some thread connecting us.

island like you

I will never have the honor of knowing Ortiz Cofer in person. But now I do have her work, and I am grateful for that. I carry the voices of María, Arturo, and her other characters with me. I carry her voice.

“Crime in the Barrio: A Poem by Maria” especially grabbed me. I had to reread it and copy the lines into my notebook. “She is so subtle, this thief, that practically your entire childhood is gone before you really notice.” How clever, yes, but how true! I never had an island accent or a mother’s surname stolen from me. But I knew this feeling. I recall back when I was twelve I wrote a letter, in all sincerity, to my future self. I was worried about becoming a teenager, worried that I would wake up one day and be a different person, a worse person, that I would have lost the things about me I treasured. I wanted to preserve who I was, and the only way I could think to do that was to write to myself. I could read that letter and say, “Oh yes, I remember that girl. Whatever happened to her?” Our childhood is not lost so long as we remember. Thank you, Judith Ortiz Cofer, for helping me to remember. We will remember you, always.

judith ortiz cofer

Pigeons for Judith Ortiz Cofer

About this time last year, we lost a magnificent writer, Judith Ortiz Cofer. At 64 years of age, she passed away too soon, from cancer.

I began reading Judith’s work only this past year, her literature for children. One of the books I read was If I Could Fly. It’s about a girl named Doris who cares for homing pigeons on the rooftop of her apartment building. Interspersed in the book is information about pigeons. I still was not called to hold pigeons, as Doris did. But the book made me seem them in a whole new light.

At college, before I’d ever visited New York, I met a boy from the Bronx. We’d been set up for a dorm dance and in our formal wear we sat talking and I laughed and laughed at his descriptions of the city. He described the rats, and also the pigeons.

Some years ago, while hanging out at the New York Public Library, I wrote this poem about pigeons. It was never published. Rightfully so, since it’s not a very good poem. But I wish to dedicate it to Judith Ortiz Cofer. I have a feeling her protagonists would appreciate it.

Ortiz Cofer wrote of the beauty to be found in New York City and New Jersey. She wrote of pigeons.

When Even the Pigeons Are Beautiful

You know you’re having a good day
when even the pigeons are beautiful.
And not just beautiful
but equally so
as the blonde model in furs
straddling one lion at the Library.
Normally, you wouldn’t even have given her that,
except that she has one high heel on
(the one by the camera)
and the other foot dangles in its stocking unseen.

She had to climb up there
in her short skirt
to pose and push out her chest
with all the families watching.
They finish, one man moves to take her hand.
And it vanishes,
the certainty
with which she puckered her lips
and held her hair high
spilling gold over her neck.
She climbs off that lion,
the man’s arm flexing
to counter her wobbling grasp.
She stoops and crouches awkwardly
showing white underwear.

You think this is the picture they should have taken
but they’ve gathered their equipment and hi-tailed it down Fifth.
Now the families rush the spot
to claim their own memories.
They are radiant,
their other-language words flung
in the healthy attitude of Frisbees.
But oh, the pigeons.

They bound with purpose.
They land with grace.
They walk under your table, close to your shoe.
No crumbs for these beauties,
you’d take their orders to the deli.
You hang on their every move.
But they are not new,
the closer you look.
It’s recognition
stirring this delight.
You know them
like you know this street this time of day
like you know anonymous models slipping
back on their shoes
and tulips planted for spring.

It’s New York, but beauty does not leave you.
It just lives terribly close.

if i could fly

 

 

 

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