Showing posts with label United States. Show all posts
Showing posts with label United States. Show all posts

Friday, October 24, 2014

#FridayReads: ¡Tequila!: Distilling the Spirit of Mexico by Marie Gaytán

Italy has grappa, Russia has vodka, Jamaica has rum. Around the world, certain drinks—especially those of the intoxicating kind—are synonymous with their peoples and cultures. For Mexico, this drink is tequila. 

For many, tequila can conjure up scenes of body shots on Cancún bars and coolly garnished margaritas on sandy beaches. Its power is equally strong within Mexico, though there the drink is more often sipped rather than shot, enjoyed casually among friends, and used to commemorate occasions from the everyday to the sacred. Despite these competing images, tequila is universally regarded as an enduring symbol of lo mexicano.

¡Tequila! Distilling the Spirit of Mexico traces how and why tequila became and remains Mexico's national drink and symbol. Starting in Mexico's colonial era and tracing the drink's rise through the present day, Marie Sarita Gaytán reveals the formative roles played by some unlikely characters. 

Although the notorious Pancho Villa was a teetotaler, his image is now plastered across the labels of all manner of tequila producers—he's even the namesake of a popular brand. Mexican films from the 1940s and 50s, especially Western melodramas, buoyed tequila's popularity at home while World War II caused a spike in sales within the whisky-starved United States. 

Today, cultural attractions such as Jose Cuervo's Mundo Cuervo and the Tequila Express let visitors insert themselves into the Jaliscan countryside—now a UNESCO-protected World Heritage Site—and relish in the nostalgia of pre-industrial Mexico.

Our understanding of tequila as Mexico's spirit is not the result of some natural affinity but rather the cumulative effect of U.S.-Mexican relations, technology, regulation, the heritage and tourism industries, shifting gender roles, film, music, and literature. Like all stories about national symbols, the rise of tequila forms a complicated, unexpected, and poignant tale. 

By unraveling its inner workings, Gaytán encourages us to think critically about national symbols more generally, and the ways in which they both reveal and conceal to tell a story about a place, a culture, and a people. In many ways, the story of tequila is the story of Mexico.

Marie Sarita Gaytán is Assistant Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at the University of Utah.

Friday, September 26, 2014

#FridayReads: The Prince of los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood by Richard Blanco

A poignant, hilarious, and inspiring memoir from the first Latino and openly gay inaugural poet, which explores his coming-of-age as the child of Cuban immigrants and his attempts to understand his place in America while grappling with his burgeoning artistic and sexual identities.

Richard Blanco’s childhood and adolescence were experienced between two imaginary worlds: his parents’ nostalgic world of 1950s Cuba and his imagined America, the country he saw on reruns of The Brady Bunch and Leave it to Beaver—an “exotic” life he yearned for as much as he yearned to see “la patria.”

Navigating these worlds eventually led Blanco to question his cultural identity through words; in turn, his vision as a writer—as an artist—prompted the courage to accept himself as a gay man. In this moving, contemplative memoir, the 2013 inaugural poet traces his poignant, often hilarious, and quintessentially American coming-of-age and the people who influenced him.

A prismatic and lyrical narrative rich with the colors, sounds, smells, and textures of Miami, Richard Blanco’s personal narrative is a resonant account of how he discovered his authentic self and ultimately, a deeper understanding of what it means to be American. His is a singular yet universal story that beautifully illuminates the experience of “becoming;” how we are shaped by experiences, memories, and our complex stories: the humor, love, yearning, and tenderness that define a life. 

Richard Blanco was born in Madrid in 1968 and immigrated as an infant with his Cuban-exile family to New York, then Miami, where he was raised and educated, earning a BS in civil engineering and an MFA in creative writing. An accomplished author, engineer, and educator, Blanco is a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow and has received honorary doctorates from Macalester College, Colby College, and the University of Rhode Island. Following in the footsteps of such great writers as Robert Frost and Maya Angelou, in 2013 Blanco was chosen as the fifth inaugural poet of the United States, becoming the youngest, first Latino, first immigrant, and first gay writer to hold the honor. 

His prizewinning books include City of a Hundred Fires, Directions to the Beach of the Dead, Looking for The Gulf Motel, and For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet's Journey. His awards include the Agnes Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh Press, the Beyond Margins Award from the PEN American Center, the Patterson Poetry Prize, and the Thom Gunn Award.

Friday, September 19, 2014

#FridayReads: The Moor's Account by Laila Lalami

In this stunning work of historical fiction, Laila Lalami brings us the imagined memoirs of the first black explorer of America—a Moroccan slave whose testimony was left out of the official record.

In 1527, the conquistador Pánfilo de Narváez sailed from the port of Sanlúcar de Barrameda with a crew of six hundred men and nearly a hundred horses. His goal was to claim what is now the Gulf Coast of the United States for the Spanish crown and, in the process, become as wealthy and famous as Hernán Cortés.

But from the moment the Narváez expedition landed in Florida, it faced peril—navigational errors, disease, starvation, as well as resistance from indigenous tribes. Within a year there were only four survivors: the expedition’s treasurer, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca; a Spanish nobleman named Alonso del Castillo Maldonado; a young explorer named Andrés Dorantes de Carranza; and Dorantes’s Moroccan slave, Mustafa al-Zamori, whom the three Spaniards called Estebanico. These four survivors would go on to make a journey across America that would transform them from proud conquis-tadores to humble servants, from fearful outcasts to faith healers.

The Moor’s Account brilliantly captures Estebanico’s voice and vision, giving us an alternate narrative for this famed expedition. As the dramatic chronicle unfolds, we come to understand that, contrary to popular belief, black men played a significant part in New World exploration and Native American men and women were not merely silent witnesses to it. In Laila Lalami’s deft hands, Estebanico’s memoir illuminates the ways in which stories can transmigrate into history, even as storytelling can offer a chance for redemption and survival.

Laila Lalami was born and raised in Morocco. She is the author of the short story collection Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, which was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award, and the novel Secret Son, which was on the Orange Prize long list. Her essays and opinion pieces have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Nation, The Guardian, and The New York Times, and in many anthologies. She is the recipient of a British Council Fellowship and is an associate professor of creative writing at the University of California at Riverside. She lives in Los Angeles.

Friday, July 04, 2014

#FridayReads: The Feast of San Sebastian By Jonathan Marcantoni

Have you read The Feast of San Sebastian By Jonathan Marcantoni? It's a "raw, gritty and frightening socio-political thriller set in the island paradise of Puerto Rico," according to reviews that debuted last year:

Two Haitians are smuggled into Puerto Rico with promises of work and a better future, but are instead forced into slave labor at an American factory. Ilan is a middleman on the black market whose guilty conscience has led to alcoholism and gambling debts to the biggest crime boss in Puerto Rico. These three men's lives will collide when Ilan is forced to pay his debt by arranging for the assassination of the corrupt Superintendent of Police. 

What follows is an examination of the decadence and injustice of a colonial society on the brink of self-destruction.

Jonathan Marcantoni is the author of Traveler’s Rest and Communion (with Jean Blasiar), both published by Savant Books and Publications. He has been a freelance writer and editor since 2004. His family is from Utuado and Fajardo, Puerto Rico. He currently lives in San Antonio, TX with his wife and three daughters.

Author Jonathan Marcantoni
His intention with this book is to educate, and hopefully, to create action in its readers. The problems facing Puerto Rico can be remedied, but only if we work together as a people to make a better future for our families and for our country.

This book was inspired by the study “Trafficking of Persons in Puerto Rico: An Invisible Challenge” by César A. Rey Hernández, Ph.D. and Luisa Hernández Angueira, Ph.D. The crimes and criminal syndicates depicted in the book are based on cases described in that study and in articles published in the newspaper El Nuevo Día and reported by Wapa TV. 

The raids on slum communities, including La Perla, occurred between 2009 and 2011, with the raid on La Perla leading to the resignation of then-Superintendent of Police José Figueroa Sancha, who is the basis for the Superintendent in the book.
The yola operation that brings the Haitians over still exists and has grown rather than decreased over the last several years. It should be understood that the immigrants who come to Puerto Rico do so largely to go to the United States, making Puerto Rico a transit state for illegal immigrants, and in turn, for smugglers. 

Puerto Rico’s human trafficking problem is in direct relation with its relationship to the United States, and not because life there is any better than the immigrant’s homeland. While Dominicans make up the majority of immigrants who use the Canal de Mona to travel to Puerto Rico, there are also large numbers of Haitians, Chinese and Cuban immigrants who use the route as well.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

1899 - Belle of Calle Cristo & Calle San Sebastián in San Juan

This fascinating and stylish photo is from the Teodoro Vidal Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, the original image appeared in the 1899, 2-volume history, Our Islands and Their People as Seen with Camera and Pencil.

The caption beneath the photograph reads, "A Colored Belle of Puerto Rico: The mixture of African with Spanish blood is not found in all of the people of this island. The higher classes of white people hold themselves as strictly in their own society as in any other country. This attractive colored girl is of the higher type of that race." via The NMAH Blog

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Monday, June 16, 2014

#FridayReads: Bulletproof Vest: The Ballad of an Outlaw and His Daughter by Maria Venegas

Bulletproof Vest: The Ballad of an Outlaw and His Daughter by Maria Venegas:

The haunting story of a daughter’s struggle to confront her father's turbulent—and often violent—legacy

After a fourteen-year estrangement, Maria Venegas returns to Mexico from the United States to visit her father, who is living in the old hacienda where both he and she were born. While spending the following summers and holidays together, herding cattle and fixing barbed-wire fences, he begins sharing stories with her, tales of a dramatic life filled with both intense love and brutal violence—from the final conversations he had with his own father, to his extradition from the United States for murder, to his mother’s pride after he shot a man for the first time at the age of twelve.

     Written in spare, gripping prose, Bulletproof Vest is Venegas’s reckoning with her father’s difficult legacy. Moving between Mexico and New York, between past and present, Venegas traces her own life and her father’s as, over time, a new closeness and understanding develops between them. Bulletproof Vest opens with a harrowing ambush on Venegas’s father while he’s driving near his home in Mexico. He survives the assault—but years later the federales will find him dead near the very same curve, and his daughter will be left with not only the stories she inherited from him but also a better understanding of the violent undercurrent that shaped her father’s life as well as her own.

Maria Venegas was born in the state of Zacatecas, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was four years old. Bulletproof Vest was excerpted in Granta and The Guardian. Venegas’s short stories have appeared in Ploughshares and Huizache. She has taught creative writing at Hunter College and currently works as a mentor at Still Waters in a Storm, a reading and writing sanctuary for children in Brooklyn. She lives in New York City.

Friday, June 13, 2014

#FridayReads: Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique

A major debut from an award-winning writer—an epic family saga set against the magic and the rhythms of the Virgin Islands.

In the early 1900s, the Virgin Islands are transferred from Danish to American rule, and an important ship sinks into the Caribbean Sea. Orphaned by the shipwreck are two sisters and their half brother, now faced with an uncertain identity and future. Each of them is unusually beautiful, and each is in possession of a particular magic that will either sink or save them.

Chronicling three generations of an island family from 1916 to the 1970s, Land of Love and Drowning is a novel of love and magic, set against the emergence of Saint Thomas into the modern world. Uniquely imagined, with echoes of Toni Morrison, Gabriel García Márquez, and the author’s own Caribbean family history, the story is told in a language and rhythm that evoke an entire world and way of life and love. Following the Bradshaw family through sixty years of fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, love affairs, curses, magical gifts, loyalties, births, deaths, and triumphs, Land of Love and Drowning is a gorgeous, vibrant debut by an exciting, prizewinning young writer.

Tiphanie Yanique is from Saint Thomas, Virgin Islands. The author of the story collection How to Escape from a Leper Colony, she is a 2010 Rona Jaffe Writers’ Award winner and was named by the National Book Awards as one of 2011’s “5 Under 35.”  She teaches at the New School and lives in Brooklyn and Saint Thomas

Friday, May 23, 2014

#FridayReads: The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez

During a flight to Boston, while browsing through the Oprah Magazine I came acrossThe Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez. I think you might like this one, folks:

A boy and a girl who fall in love. Two families whose hopes collide with destiny. An extraordinary novel that offers a resonant new definition of what it means to be American.

Arturo and Alma Rivera have lived their whole lives in Mexico. One day, their beautiful fifteen-year-old daughter, Maribel, sustains a terrible injury, one that casts doubt on whether she’ll ever be the same. And so, leaving all they have behind, the Riveras come to America with a single dream: that in this country of great opportunity and resources, Maribel can get better.

When Mayor Toro, whose family is from Panama, sees Maribel in a Dollar Tree store, it is love at first sight. It’s also the beginning of a friendship between the Rivera and Toro families, whose web of guilt and love and responsibility is at this novel’s core.

Woven into their stories are the testimonials of men and women who have come to the United States from all over Latin America. Their journeys and their voices will inspire you, surprise you, and break your heart. 

Suspenseful, wry and immediate, rich in spirit and humanity, The Book of Unknown Americans is a work of rare force and originality.

Cristina Henríquez is the author of the novel The Book of Unknown Americans, forthcoming in June 2014, as well as the novel The World in Half, and the short story collection Come Together, Fall Apart, which was a New York Times Editors' Choice selection. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, her stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, American Scholar, Glimmer Train, Ploughshares, TriQuarterly, AGNI, and the Virginia Quarterly Review, where she was named one of "Fiction's New Luminaries." She is also the recipient of an Alfredo Cisneros Del Moral Foundation Award. Henríquez lives in Illinois.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Throwbacks: Water Saints & Geographies of Home

I recently came across these two books published a few years ago that I think might be right up your alley, especially for my Dominican's:

Song of the Water Saints by Nelly Rosario 

This vibrant, provocative début novel explores the dreams and struggles of three generations of Dominican women. Graciela, born on the outskirts of Santo Domingo at the turn of the century, is a headstrong adventuress who comes of age during the U.S. occupation. Too poor to travel beyond her imagination, she is frustrated by the monotony of her life, which erodes her love affairs and her relationship with Mercedes, her daughter. Mercedes, abandoned by Graciela at thirteen, turns to religion for solace and, after managing to keep a shop alive during the Trujillo dictatorship, emigrates to New York with her husband and granddaughter, Leila. Leila inherits her great-grandmother Graciela’s passion-driven recklessness. But, caught as she is between cultures, her freedom arrives with its own set of obligations and dangers.

Geographies of Home by Loida Maritza Perez 

After leaving the college she'd attended to escape her religiously conservative parents, Iliana, a first-generation Dominican-American woman, returns home to Brooklyn to find that her family is falling apart: one sister is careening toward mental collapse, another sister is living in a decrepit building with her abusive husband and three children, and a third sister has simply disappeared. In this dislocating urban environment Iliana reluctantly confronts the anger and desperation that seem to seep through every crack of her family's small house, and experiences all the contradictions, superstitions, joys, and pains that come from a life caught between two cultures. In this magnificent debut novel, filled with graceful prose and searing detail, Loida Maritza Pérez offers a penetrating portrait of the American immigrant experience as she explores the true meanings of identity, family--and home.

Have you read either of these?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

New Swoon Exhibit: Submerged Motherlands

I've been a fan of Swoon for a while and I'm delighted to share the news of her upcoming show at the Brooklyn Museum opening on Friday. Those of you not familiar will note, she is a Brooklyn-based artist, who celebrates everyday people and explores social and environmental issues with her signature paper portraits and figurative installations. She is best known for her large, intricately-cut prints wheat pasted to industrial buildings in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Show information

Swoon (Photo credit: aur2899)
Swoon - Boy
Swoon - Boy (Photo credit: drbooks)
Swoon (Photo credit: carnagenyc)
Swoon (Photo credit: carnagenyc)
Swoon twin death
Swoon twin death (Photo credit: mercurialn)
Swoon Detail
Swoon Detail (Photo credit: Trois Têtes (TT))
Swoon (Photo credit: C-Monster)

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