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Customer Review

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nice Intro to Some Fresh Voices, June 20, 2007
This review is from: Lengua Fresca: Latinos Writing on the Edge (Paperback)
Although one can certainly argue about what "the edge" is and who is qualified to determine it, there can be little argument that this anthology is a welcome sampling of contemporary Latino-American writing. Unlike all too many angst-ridden ethnically-based anthologies, the writers here generally don't pine for the past, dream about the mother country, or anguish over dual identities. Rather, they take the melting pot as a given and move on to say what is has to say without overthinking perspective. The two editors (one a professor at Amherst, the other the head of the National Book Foundation) have to be complimented on the range of kinds of material: novel excerpts and short stories are a given, but they also include poetry, music lyrics, political cartoons, a graphic novel excerpt, brief essays, excerpts from memoirs, a skit for the stage, and even a restaurant menu. It's quite a barrage of genres, and it's a little surprising they didn't include anything from a blog (although their introduction does take the form of an email dialogue). The 26 pieces are arranged in three sections: Voces (about "the intermingling of tongues in a linguistic or metaphoric way"), Fronteras (about "crossing and being crossed by borders") and Melodramas ("scenes in which the public and private meet"). Some fit into the sections clearly, but for the most part this division didn't add much to the reading experience and it might have been more effective to divide based on format.

The fiction features excerpts from Trace Elements of Random Tea Parties by Felicia Luna Lemus, Loving Che: A Novel by Ana Menendez, The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia, and Song of the Water Saints by Nelly Rosario -- none of whom I'd previously read. The samples from Loving Che and Song of the Water Saints were a little too traditional in tone and The People of Paper totally failed to resonate with me. However, I quite liked the attitude and style of the section of Trace Elements of Random Tea Parties, about a lesbian living in Los Angeles. The short stories tended to be much more to my taste, especially "Chango" from Oscar Casares' Texas-set collection Brownsville, and "Practice Tattoos" from Michael Jamie-Becerra's LA-set collection Every Night Is Ladies' Night. Both are books I've read, loved, and heartily recommend. Daniel Chacon's "Godoy Lives", from his collection Chicano Chicanery, had a nice style and tone (although it's built around an implausible coincidence). Manuel Munoz's "Good as Yesterday", from his collection Zigzagger, perfectly captures the vibe of small towns in the central valley of California, as a young woman narrates her teenage brother's love for another man. And Cristina Henriquez's Panamanian-set "Ashes", from her collection Come Together, Fall Apart, is a softly tragic story of a young woman coping with her mother's death. All of these whet my appetite to try more by their respective authors.

I have to admit I'm not a poetry person, so I skipped the poets, who include Richard Blanco (City Of a Hundred Fires), Juan-Felipe-Herrera (Exiles of Desire), Aleida Rodríguez (Garden of Exile), and Rane Arroyo (The Portable Famine). I also skipped the lyrics of Lila Downs (Una Sangre/One Blood) and Hip Hop Hoodios (Agua Pa' la Gente). I skimmed the skit "The Mission" from comic outfit Culture Clash, and could image how it would be quite funny live. The political cartoons of Lalo Alcaraz (La Cucaracha) were pretty decent, and the story from book 15 of the comic Love and Rockets by Los Bros. Hernandez is as strong as one would expect from the legends.

The non-fiction included the mouth-watering essay "Tomato Potatoe, Chalupa Shaloopa" by Dagoberto Gilb about food, along with pieces from five books. In "Don Quixote En Spanglish", editor Stavans offers a sample of the Cervantes classic in Spanglish. Having recently read Don Quixote in English, I got a sense of it, but since I'm not a Spanish speaker or reader, I gave up after the first page. Similarly, I couldn't tell you what the excerpt from Susana Chavez-Silverman's Killer Cronicas: Bilingual Memories (Writing in Latinidad) is about, since it's all in Spanish. "La Extranjera" from Stephanie Elizondo Griest's Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana tells of the breakup that led her to Havana, and her initial impressions. Luis Alberto Urrea's "Tijuana Cop" is the oldest piece in the book, drawn from his 1993 book Across the Wire: Life and Hard Times on the Mexican Border. It describes a day-long ride along with a Tijuana policeman, which is vivid, but disappointingly predictable in its detailing of violence and corruption. Finally, I skipped the lengthy piece from Luisita Lopez Torresgrosa's memoir The Noise of Infinite Longing since I'm not a fan of memoirs in general.

On the whole, there's plenty to sample here, although it's such a mixed bag that one is hard pressed to draw broad conclusions from it other than the obvious one that Latinos are producing interesting materials in all kinds of literary forms. The collection can't really be considered "new" Latino writing, since a good chunk of it is pre-millenial, but it is a good starting point for those looking to broaden their horizons beyond the usual standard bearers for Latino writing.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 17, 2008 8:07:00 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 17, 2008 8:09:48 PM PST
J. Chavez says:
Unfortunately, not understanding the reason for Stavan's particular sections, you've clearly missed the point. Many Latin@s/Chican@s writing today haven't, as you said, taken "the melting pot as a given and move on to say what is has to say without overthinking perspective." This thinking perspective, though possibly delineated here in new formal considerations and discourses, attempts to take multiple perspectives into consideration. As Gloria Anzaldua argued in _La Frontera_: "There is another quality to the mirror and that is the act of seeing. Seeing and being seen. Subject and object, I and she. The eye pins down the object of its gaze, scrutinizes it, judges it. A glance can freeze us in place; it can possess us. It can erect a barrier against the world. But in a glance also lies awareness, knowledge." Perhaps the writers in this collection have further considered the kinetic energy inherent in awareness, knowledge, and in seeing--a seeing that, despite the expected cualdron-like, self-violence we're expected to commit against ourselves to fit in, progress can be made. And, perhaps, they asked that you see beyond them as subjects and broaden your own horizons.
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A. Ross

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