33 - Latinx Literature in the US
Immigrants bring their languages, beliefs, customs, and hopes with them, but reality forces them to renegotiate their dreams, thus creating an amalgamation of new conceptions. The literary narratives of Gina Valdes, Mario Bencastro, and Jorge Ulica presented in this episode show different aspects of such negotiation of cultures. In the comments, we present two interviews with author Paz Ellis and researcher Dr. Clara Rodríguez, who talk about the challenges children of immigrants face and who gets to enjoy the American Dream.
#Migrant, #immigrant, #illegal, #undocumented, #legal, #refugee, #exiled, #RubénMedina, #MarioBencastro, #JorgeUlica, #PazEllis, #DrClaraRodríguez, #Americandream, #ESL, #foreigner, #cultures, #Hispanic, #Latino, #Latinx, #LatinAmerican
English con Salsa
By Gina Valdés
Welcome to ESL 100, English Surely Latinized,
inglés con chile y cilantro, English as American
as Benito Juaréz. Welcome, muchachos from Xochicalco
learn the language of dólares and dolores, of kings
and queens, of Donald Duck and Batman. Holy Toluca!
In four months you’ll be speaking like George Washington
in four weeks you can ask, More coffee?
In two months, you can say, May I take your order?
In one year you can ask for a raise, cool as the Tuxpan River.
Welcome, muchachas from Teoaltiche, in this class
we speak English refrito, English con sal y limón,
English thick as mango juice, English poured from
a clay jug, English tuned like a requinto from Uruapán,
English lighted by Oaxacan dawns, English spiked
with mezcal from Juchitán, English with a red cactus
flower blooming in its heart.
Welcome, welcome, amigos del sur, bring your Zapotec
tongues, your Nahuatl tones, your patience of pyramids,
your red suns and golden moons, your guardian angels,
your duendes, your patron saints, Santa Tristeza,
Santa Alegría, Santo Todolopuede. We will sprinkle
holy water on pronouns, make the sign of the cross
on past participles, jump like fish from Lake Pátzcuaro
on gerunds [YER-rohnds], pour tequila from Jalisco on future perfects,
say shoes and shit, grab a cool verb and a pollo loco
and dance on the walls like chapulines.
When a teacher from La Jolla or a cowboy from Santee
asks you, Do you speak English? You’ll answer, Sí,
yes, simón, of course. I love English!
And you’ll hum
a Mixtec chant that touches la tierra and the heavens.
Hola, hola! dear listeners of Tres Cuentos, the bilingual podcast dedicated to the literary, historical, and traditional narratives of Latin America. I am Carolina Quiroga-Stultz, and today we finalize exploring the courageous and, at times, painful journey of Latinxs in the United States!
The poem I read was written by the Chicana poet Gina Valdes. You can find it in the book Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing up Latino in the United States. However, the poem was originally published by Arte Público Press in the journal Americas Review, Vol 21, No.1.
Oscar Hijuelos, the first Hispanic-American to win a Pulitzer Prize, once said “I even now think of that strange term ‘Hispanic’ as meaning His-Panic.”
I wonder how many Hispanic immigrants live in a sort of panic mode, how they handle it and cope with it, what are the psychological effects of being in constant alert --whether you have papers or not.
I can only speak for myself. I confess that every time I go out, I grab my camandula, a rosary of 33 grains I have hanging from the view mirror of my car. I pray: Dear Saint Michael the Archangel, please protect me from racist people, reckless drivers, and animals crossing the road. I have never seen so many dead animals on the streets than here in the US. Are they in a panic too?
Today’s episode will have a couple of guests, author Paz Ellis and scholar and author Clara Rodriguez. So, stay tuned because they have remarkably interesting things to say. Plus, as it is customary, we will close the program with another story.
This season's last narrative on Latinx Literatures is taken from a chapter of the book Odyssey to the North, written by the Salvadorian American Mario Bencastro. The book was published by Arte Público Press and translated by Susan Giersbach Rascón.
The narration comes in the voice of Luis Martin from the program Studio Confessions: The Art Program, but I will tell you more about him when we get to the comments.
Today’s story explores the invisibility of many Hispanic or Latino migrant workers, who, in truth, are sly like a shadow and even have the skills of spiderman. They would climb dangerous heights, with no insurance or equipment at all , just to gather a modest sum of dollars to make their own humble American dreams come true.
Odyssey to the North
By Mario Bencastro
Voice Luis Martin
“It’s going to be a beautiful day here in Washington! “Exclaimed the voice on the radio. “Clear blue skies, 70 degrees, sunny with no threat of rain. A perfect spring day!”
Two policemen we’re making their rounds in the Adams Morgan District, the windows of their patrol car open to receive the cool breeze which caressed the groves of trees in rock Creek Park, caring the perfume of the multicolored flowers outlined against the delicate blue sky.
The metallic voice coming over the transmitter from headquarters shook them out of their deep thoughts, ordering them to proceed immediately to a building on Harvard Street, across from the zoo, just a few minutes away.
When they arrived on the scene, they had to fight their way through the crowd of residents who had come running in response to the desperate shouts of a woman.
They ordered the people to move aside and then they saw the cost of the commotion: A smashed body stuck to the hot cement. The cranium was demolished. The facial features with were disfigured by a grimace of pain. The eyes were still open, with an enigmatic gaze. The arms and legs were arranged incoherently, not at all in the normal symmetry of the human body. One leg was bent with the foot up by the neck. One shoulder was completely separate from the body; as if it had been chopped off.
“Spiderman!” someone exclaimed.
One of the policeman approached the man who had shouted and said to him, “Hey, show some respect; this is no joke!”
The man turned around and walked away, hanging his head. But as soon as he was out of the officer’s reach, he turned around and screamed, “Spiderman! Spiderman!” and took off running toward the zoo, where he hit among some bushes.
We policeman started to chase him, but settled for insulting the man silently, biting his lip to keep the word from escaping.
“Is there anyone here who knows the victim!?” asked the other officer, scrutinizing the group of curious onlookers with an indecisive expression.
No one there to say a word.
“You?” He asked a brown skinned man. “Do you know him?”
“I don’t speak English,” the man answered fearfully.
“Tu, conocer, muerto?” insisted the officer, stammering in thickly accented Spanish.
“I don’t speak Spanish either,” said the man in broken English. “I am from Afghanistan.”
The policeman appeared utterly disconcerted at the people’s silence. The loud sound of a lion’s roar came from the zoo. Finally, a woman approached the man in uniform and, in an anxious voice, stated, “I was coming home from the store and when I was climbing the stairs to go into the building I heard a scream… Then I saw the shape of a man in the sky… With his arms stretched out like he was flying… But he came crashing down headfirst on the cement… He was just a ball of flesh and blood… He didn’t move anymore…”
The people listened open mouth it as the terrified woman described what had happened. One of the officers took down all the details in a small notebook. A reporter took countless photographs per second, as if unable to satisfy his camera.
The shouts off “Spiderman! Spiderman!” were heard again, but this time they were completely ignored.
Calixto was among the spectators, stunned, terrified, and livid, unable to say a word about the tragedy, incapable of testifying that as they were washing the windows outside the eighth floor, the rope tied around his companion’s waist broke. Calixto feared they would blame him for the death and he would end up in jail, if not deported for being undocumented. “And then,” he thought, “who would support my family?”
The superintendent of the building was observing the scene from the lobby. He was not willing to talk either. He feared he would lose his job for permitting windows at that height to be washed without proper equipment for such a dangerous task. It would come out that he employed undocumented workers and paid them only a third of what cleaning companies usually charged.
The ambulance siren sounded in the neighborhood with such shrillness that if frightened the animals in the zoo. The lion roared as if protesting all the commotion.
The paramedics made their way through the crowd and laid a stretcher on the ground near the body. After a brief examination, one of them said dryly. “He’s dead,” confirming what everyone already knew.
“Who is he?” one of the paramedics asked the police. “What’s his name?”
“No one knows,” responded the officer. “Nobody seems to recognize him.”
“He looks Hispanic,” stated the other paramedic, observing the body closely.
“Maybe he’s from Central America,” said a woman, clutching her purse to her chest.
“A lot of them live in this neighborhood… You know, they come here fleeing the wars in their countries…”
“If he’s not from El Salvador, he must be from Guatemala,” agreed one of the paramedics. “Although now they are coming from all over: Bolivia, Peru, Colombia. We used to be the ones who invaded their countries, now they invade ours. Soon Washington will look like Latin America.”
“Poor devils,” set the other paramedic. “They die far from home, like strangers.”
Meanwhile, in the zoo, the lion’s loud roar was answered by that of the lioness. The pair of felines, oblivious to the conflicts going on around them, were consummating the reproduction of their species, part of the ancient rights of spring.
The paramedics put the body into the ambulance. The policeman left. The crowd dispersed. The strange red stain remained on the cement.
Calixto entered the zoo and began to walk absent-mindedly among the cages, thinking about his co-worker who just half an hour ago had been telling him that he had already bought his ticket to return to his country, what he planned to open a grocery store with the money had to save from five years of hard work in the United States.
Suddenly Calixto realized that in a matter of minutes he had become unemployed. Despair seized him as he remembered that it had taken him a month and a half of constant searching to get the window washing job.
He spent the entire day at the zoo and, as he agonized over whether to return to his country or stay in Washington, he walked from one end of the zoo to the other several times. When they closed the park, he began to walk down long streets with strange names, until finally night fell and he had no choice but to return to the place where he lived, a tiny one-bedroom apartment occupied by twenty people.
“At least I am alive,” he said to himself. “That’s good enough for me.”
Very well dear listeners, before we dive more deeply into the complexities of being a Latino immigrant in the US, and even explore the so called American Dream through the stories of our guests, I want to introduce and thank today’s new voice.
Luis Martin, also known as The Art Engineer, is a Collage artist, podcaster, and culture maker. Originally from Los Angeles, California, and now based in New York city, Martin’s work stems from a deep creative and spiritual inquiry, while creating with the passion of the New York hustle. The artist created the term “The Art Engineer” for his thesis project in art school, which granted him creative license to unapologetically explore various roles such as curator, community organizer and writer from a place of leadership and curiosity that extends the artist’s studio.
Martin’s program Studio Confessions: The Art Podcast, is his way to share firsthand experiences of being an emerging artist and sharing a person of color’s point of view. With over twenty years of experience as an artist, curator and museum educator, Luis Martin leverages his curiosity, ambition, and pop psych wit to deliver biweekly conversations and monologues you will want to listen in on.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the program, we will have other voices, but I will introduce them right before they share their stories and knowledge with us.
In the meantime, I wanted to announce that this year I will be doing a special program on Día de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, that will come up around the time when this wonderful celebration honors the dead. So, please subscribe and follow us so you do not miss the episode, because it is packed with good stuff and of course cuentos, stories.
I want to thank all our new subscribers; many names and emails have come pouring through my email inbox. If you haven’t yet, please subscribe or follow us on Facebook or Instagram as Tres Cuentos Podcast. That way you will know about the new opportunities that you as a listener will have in our program in the future.
Also, if you found us on iTunes, and you like the program, consider dropping a positive review. For suggestions and positive reinforcement, contact me through our website www.trescuentos.com
But before we start how about we listen to Luis Martin’s program Studio Confessions: The Art Podcast
We are ready now to start our analysis of the immigrant stories of Latinos. Do you remember the poem I read at the beginning of the program by Gina Valdes “English con Salsa”?
It reminded me that while I was doing my masters in Storytelling at the East Tennessee State University, and working at the Language and Culture Resource Center or LCRC, part of my duties as office manager was to join some of the programs we offered to the local Hispanic community. One I signed up for immediately to join was teaching the Basics of English to migrant women.
Why, women? Because normally their spouses already spoke some survival English that they had learned at the fields where most of them worked picking fruit. Some were seasonal workers, but most of them had chosen to bring their families to stay, instead of having to leave them for half the year somewhere in Mexico or Central America.
These women were called new arrivals. They could not work yet because they did not speak English and had young children under their care, children that they would bring to the classes.
The classes were held in the afternoon at a local school, and the LCRC staff members would take turns to teaching certain afternoons of the week. I confess that the best parts of the process were just talking to these women, hearing their stories, laughing, and empathizing and knowing that in the end, we were all in a quite similar situation, adapting to the new environment but in our terms. These women were at times afraid and hopeful, lost, and grateful.
On the other hand, the times I got to work with the farm working men, who normally would work about more than 16 hours a day straight for days in the fields, were quite rare. But I remember some would come with their teenage boys, who were hoping to get a job at the farm too, to help.
My impression of these young men and their fathers was of contentment for being together at last. They were happy their family was finally reunited, but they wanted to be invisible to the rest of the world. They were reluctant to be found, to participate, to give their information, even when they had papers. They were always looking over their shoulder. Normally, they would relax when I would start speaking Spanish, but they would only talk so much.
This sort of distrusting or skeptical attitude was their way to be on guard, to stay out of trouble. They knew how to move around the farm, to go about their business, what places to avoid, who to talk and who to hide from, like the main character’s in Mario Bencastro’s story, Odyssey to the North.
Sadly, nowadays, the number of immigrants has increased around the world. The International Organization for Immigration says in its 2020 report “The number of international migrants is estimated to be almost 272 million globally, with nearly two-thirds being labor migrants. This figure remains a very small percentage of the world’s population (at 3.5%), meaning that the vast majority of people globally (96.5%) are estimated to be residing in the country in which they were born. However, the estimated number and proportion of international migrants already surpasses some projections made for the year 2050, which were in the order of 2.6 per cent or 230 million. That said, it is widely recognized that the scale and pace of international migration is notoriously difficult to predict with precision because it is closely connected to acute events (such as severe instability, economic crisis or conflict) as well as long-term trends (such as demographic change, economic development, communications technology advances and transportation access).”
The 2020 report continues saying “We also know from long-term data that international migration is not uniform across the world but is shaped by economic, geographic, demographic and other factors resulting in distinct migration patterns, such as migration “corridors” developed over many years . The largest corridors tend to be from developing countries to larger economies such as those of the United States, France, the Russian Federation, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. This pattern is likely to remain the same for many years into the future, especially as populations in some developing subregions and countries are projected to increase in coming decades, placing migration pressure on future generations.”
You can find the link to the full report in our bibliography: https://www.un.org/sites/un2.un.org/files/wmr_2020.pdf
In my opinion, when people choose to leave behind their lands and culture for the unknown the reasons are often disturbing.
Migration should not be seen as a modern phenomenon. It is in the human DNA to wander, move, colonize, set roots, and then move again. Just because you have lived in the same place for decades that does not mean one day the forces of nature, or political upheaval will not cause you to relocate. Just look at the wildfires in California, or how many times Louisiana has been hit by hurricanes. Some choose to endure the troubles and remain. Others, when rebuilding of their homes becomes a burden they do not want to have to go through again, move on.
Nonetheless, I do not want you to think that there are better or more acceptable reasons to embrace migrants. By this I mean, that some people may feel more sympathetic hearing the sad migrant story of someone that lost their home due to natural disasters. But may not feel very empathetic or compassionate when hearing the story of someone that migrated because of political violence in their home country. This reaction comes from feeling that it is not our problem. But it is.
Every so-called developed country reached its current state of freedom, order, and progress at the expense of many of the countries that are suffering now. France was a cruel colonizer in Africa and the Middle East, and now they have an influx of people from many of those places. England has a large Indian population because they had a large colony in India until the first half of the twentieth century. Today, there are about 1.4 million Indians in the U.K., that is, the single largest visible ethnic minority population in the country.
And the same can be said about the US but in a somewhat different way. The US did not set up colonies in Latin American countries, it just applied a cruel, violent, and manipulative foreign policy in several countries, with the intentions and result of increasing the US economic power.
Thus, many of the migrants that are pouring into the country come from some of the destinations where the US meddled, pulled strings and supported corruption, coups, and dictators. Today, we are seeing the backlash of those old foreign policies.
The proof is detailed in our past episodes and in the literature of many Latin American authors who wrote in hopes to get their own people to remember their past and prepare for the future. So, you can do the homework and enlighten yourself. You will also want to keep listening to our program, because as my chiropractor would say “everything is connected.” That counts for our politics, economies, and destiny; and I am here to keep telling those stories that connect us.
About the journey of assimilation that many newcomers have to go through and the challenges that the children of immigrants have to face even when they are technically born in the US, I would like to let our first guest talk more about it. But let me introduce her.
Paz Ellis is the voice who read one of the articles written by the argentine poet Alfonsina Storni, in episode 30 (Irreproachable Girls) I am pleased to say that it has gotten a good number of downloads.
As those who have been with us for a while know, I do not perform interviews in the program. The idea had not crossed my mind, until I got an email from Paz. Back in May she emailed me presenting her book Plantains and the Seven Plagues-A memoir: Half-Dominican, Half-Cuban, and Full Life, which now is also available in Spanish.
At the time, she asked if she could participate in the program. I explained to her that the podcast was not interview oriented, but I would love for her to read a narration and that of course I would mention her literary accomplishments. She immediately said yes, and from then on, she has been very receptive to anything I asked her, including being an interviewee in the program.
Now this does not mean that we are transforming the program, just that I am more open to experimentation and to bringing other voices.
I wanted to say all that about Paz Ellis because her kind nature and flexibility made me genuinely want to hear more about her journey and to share it with you.
So, who is Paz Ellis? She is a photographer, entrepreneur, and self-published author. She recently released an updated a second edition of her book: Plantains and the Seven Plagues-A memoir: Half-Dominican, Half-Cuban, and Full Life.
At the time of release of this episode, I am halfway through her book. I like it very much and enjoy finding commonalities between her parents and mine.
In the following segment you will hear more about the story of Paz Ellis as the daughter of two immigrants, how she spoke Dominican-Cuban Spanish at home, how she shifted gears to be American, and how she became her parent’s translator, interpreter, and advocate when their English skills were still a work-in-progress.
So, let us here Paz’s story. She will begin exploring the topic of the complexities of being a daughter of immigrants in the US.
Imagine how many children grow up faster than others because they must assume adult roles. Well, that is the situation nowadays of many children of immigrant parents. Before, we listen to our last guest, let’s hear about Paz Ellis’ book.
Our last guest is Dr. Clara E. Rodríguez a Professor of Sociology at Fordham University's College at Lincoln Center. She is the author of numerous books including America, As Seen on TV: How Television Shapes Immigrant Expectations Around the Globe. She is the recipient of numerous research and teaching awards, including the American Sociological Association’s Award for Distinguished Contributions to Research in the Field of Latina/o Studies. And I could keep going, but you can find more about her at: https://www.fordham.edu/info/20855/faculty/5025/clara_e_rodriguez
Today, Dr. Rodríguez will tell us more about the American Dream and Latinx in the US mass media.
Well, if you had not before asked yourself why you do not see many Latinos in TV series or films, now your eyes are opened. From now on you might start noticing more the lack of representation of such a large community. You might even, start questioning the roles that are assigned depending on gender and race. Granted things have gotten slightly better over the past decade, yet there is still much to improve.
Before closing the program, I want to leave you with a very funny story published about hundred years ago, on November 8, 1924 by the Mexican journalist Jorge Ulica. His birth name was Julio G. Arce and was born in Guadalajara, Mexico. His criticism of the Mexican government caused him to receive death threats that, in 1915, forced him into exile. After considering Buenos Aires, Argentina, as his next destination, but for reasons that are still unknown he ended up in San Francisco, California.
Until his death in 1926, he published a series of biting satirical sketches called Crónicas Diabólicas [Diabolical Chronicles], that had nothing to do with the evil doer. They were critical sketches that evaluated society and its often-weird ways. They were always delivered with gentle but biting humor. Here is one of those sketches, about the elections and how some folks make up their minds.
Enjoy it and consider voting!
I Didn’t Cast My Vote, But I Sure Was Cast Out!
Translated by Terry Martin
Adapted by CQS
The elections have passed. Thank God. I can live in peace and quiet without hearing the doorbell ring every second and without having to respond to the calls of individuals and delegations soliciting votes.
Besides the election of “high functionaries,” there were 43 propositions put to vote in the last elections, in which, as it is easy to suppose, some people were pro and others were con. And the ones who were pro and the ones who were con, went from house to house and place to place preaching in favor of their “ideals.”
“Vote yes on amendment Such and such!”
“Don’t vote against universal suffrage!”
“Support the municipal workers!”
This was constantly repeated during the days before the election, and now that the thing was “over,” as they say here, one can, frankly, breath an atmosphere of undisturbed peace.
Of course, I voted neither Yes nor No. I neither play, nor compose, the music of elections in this land.
The first to come to see me were the boxers. They talked to me about Dempsey and Willard, about Firpo and about Romero Rojas, about Gibbons in about Carpentier, and they made me cry when they referred to our compatriot Tony Fuentes. Here is the final part of their speech:
“You know that in these lands, the law only permits a maximum of four rounds of punches on the nose. In four bouts you cannot always technically slap a guy until he is left “snoring without ribs,” either with one jawbone less or his nostrils beaten to a pulp. So, vote “yes” on amendment 7, which will allow twelve full rounds of pounding.”
I was still crying when the delegation left, not because of the excitement that Tony’s triumphs had caused, but because of the pats on the back that two or three of the boxers had given me when they thought they had obtained my vote. Each one of them had hit me as if he wanted to “knock me out” with one stroke.
Then the firemen came. They demonstrated the necessity of voting for amendment 40, in order to raise their salaries, and promised me that if I voted “yes,“ they would see that I was saved in the event of a fire at my house, with as little harm to me as possible.
They went up to my bedroom, looked out the windows, estimated my weight, and in order to show me their efficiency, they threw me out of the window onto a blanket that others were holding on the patio below. I didn’t suffer but a big bump on the back of my head.
The supporters of amendment 43, who wanted to remove all the corpses from the old cemeteries in order to urbanize the sad places, also requested my vote, offering me in exchange a plot of land in any of the modern necropolises.
“Say ‘No’ to the rejection of previous agreements!”
“But I have no intention of dying here,” I declared to the generous donors.
“Why not? We will see that you give us the pleasure of always having you among us,” they replied sweetly. Then they added, “otherwise, vote ‘No’ on amendment 43.”
Hours later, when the evening shadows appeared like morning draperies on the horizon, another delegation arrived. It consisted of two gentlemen and a lady who were strangely dressed in black. The three were thin, pallid, and cadaverous, and their teeth chattered as though they were cold. In a hollow and cavernous voice, the woman declared,
- “Vote no on amendment 43.”
- “Vote no,” repeated one of the two gentlemen.
- “Vote no,” resounded the echo from the lips of the third individual.
They immediately explained that it would be an atrocious offense to remove the dead from the holes and carry them off to God knows where, thereby interrupting their sweet sleep of death. They spoke, gestured, and stared in such a way that they frightened me. I offered to vote for everything they wanted. They finally departed, leaving behind a card on the table, which read
CONFEDERATION OF CORPSES THAT NEITHER WISH TO LEAVE, NOR BE REMOVED. AMENDMENT 43 VOTE NO, NO, AND NO!
Since that day I have suffered from nightmares, and from midnight on I see gloomy phantoms… I hear mournful howls, too.
I am told that it is the stray cats meowing, but who knows if it is not really the dead that wander around moaning…
With this satirical anecdote written by Jorge Ulica, about how terrifying elections can be, we finalize the season on Latinx Literatures in the US. I will be back during the weekend of Oct 31 and Nov 1, with a special program dedicated to Día de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, its history, traditions, influences and stories.
So, until the next Cuento de Muertos, the next story about the dead! Adios, adios!
Cool Salsa. Bilingual Poems on Growing up Latino in the United States. Edited by Lori M. Carlson. Published by Square Fish an Imprint of Macmillan, 1994
(Extract of Odyssey to the North) Herencia: the anthology of Hispanic literature of the United States. Editor Nicólas Kanellos. Co-editors Kenya Dworkin y Méndez, José B. Fernández, Erlinda Gonzales-Berry, Agnes Lugo-Ortiz and Charles Tatum. Published by Oxford University Press, New York, 2002.
Mexican American Literature. Edited by Charles Tatum. Published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers. 1990.
World Migration Report, United Nations. URL: https://www.un.org/sites/un2.un.org/files/wmr_2020.pdf
Willy_s_Neon_Lasso – The Whole Other
Camaguey - Silent Partner
Central Park – Quincas Moreira
Creeping_Spiders - Nat Keefe & BeatMower
Loneliest_Road_in_America_US_50 – Jesse Gallagher
Called_Upon – Silent Partner
Luke_s_Rage – DJ Williams
Spooky_Ride – Twin Musicom