Latino Boom Chapter 8: Beyond Worlds, Beyond the Boom
|Jack Agüeros: “Horologist”
The professional way in which Maximiliano Vazquez and his partner, Mr. Livrehomme interact with each other and with their customers reflects how seriously they take their jobs. They treat their professions as horologists not as an opportunity to make money as they can easily overcharge at will, but rather as a way to do something for which they have a passion. Time is an important factor for virtually each character in the story, and everyone seems to have a valid reason for being rushed.
2) What is the effect of listing each day of the week throughout the story?
3) How does the manner in which Vazquez and Livrehomme approach their jobs reflect the way they approach life?
4) Besides their ethnic backgrounds, what similarities exist between Vazquez and Garcia?
Sandra Benítez: “Fulgencio Llanos: El Fotógrafo”
Unlike the U.S., where wrestlers are known by their outrageous characters, wrestlers in Mexico wear colorful, unique masks and hide their faces. El Santo, one of the most famous Mexican wrestlers ever, was able to keep himself masked inside and outside the ring until after his retirement. Fulgencio Llanos’ photograph of him is undoubtedly very unique and would yield him a lucrative amount of money.
2) Ultimately, who is unmasked in this story?
3) Would you accept a ride from someone like Jim?
4) If Fulgencio were the one offering a ride, would you accept it? Why or why not?
NPR All Things Considered Essay: “The Masked Men of Mexican Movies” by Bobb Cotter
Lorraine M. López: Soy la Avon Lady
While the stereotypical image of an Avon lady is someone who has wonderful skin and is physically attractive, this story presents the opposite image. The narrator is overweight and looks manly. She has a poor relationship with her obnoxious brother and her uncle seems to be the only relative who cares for her, but even he has his limits. In a culture where Machismo thrives and expectations of women’s appearances and behavior can be very narrow, the main character has many challenges ahead of her. The reference to West Side Story (par. 151) is to the song, “America,” in which Anita sings idyllic praises about wanting to be in America. Amalia’s version is inaccurate in that the real lyrics state the character wants to be in America, not that she wants to be American.
1) Do you associate certain professions with specific ethnic backgrounds? If so, which ones?
2) What does the end mean?
3) Do you think Uncle Enrique should provide the main character with more help? Why or why not?
4) Why does her brother treat the main character so badly?
Jaime Manrique: “The Documentary Artist”
This story is about a film professor at a university in New York and his student, Sebastian, who drops out and disappears for sometime. The professor thinks of Sebastian as amusing and unsettling (par. 2), as he behaves inappropriately yet is clearly a genius. Sebastian, who is gay, and has an unhealthy relationship with his parents, becomes homeless, and he and his demise become a mystery that the professor needs to solve.
1) In what ways is the city a factor in Sebastian’s demise?
2) Would you define Sebastian first and foremost as an artist? Why or why not?
3) What does Sebastian’s documentary indicate about him?
4) What do you think is the primary role of a documentary filmmaker? Does Sebastian accomplish that?
Ernesto Mestre-Reed: “After Elián”
In November 1999 Elián Gonzalez captured the attention of the world and became the center of debate among Cubans, Cuban Americans, and those who were filled with pro-Castro and anti-Cantro sentiments. A Cuban refugee ship carrying him and his mother sank on its way to the U.S. She drowned, but he was rescued by fishermen. The Coast Guard’s description of events is as follows:
Elian Gonzalez, a 5-year old Cuban boy, was found on Thanksgiving morning clinging to an inner tube three miles off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He was among three survivors of a boating catastrophe which killed 11 migrants fleeing Cuba. The Coast Guard searched from Islamorada to Boca Raton, using a HU-25 and a HH-65 from Air Station Miami, a HC-130 from Air Station Clearwater, the CGC Maui, and a 41-foot UTB from Station Fort Lauderdale. The child later gained international notoriety when his father, a Cuban citizen, attempted to have him returned to Cuba, a desire that Elian’s relatives in the U.S. fought through the U.S. court system all the way to the Supreme Court. The Court ruled in his father’s favor and the child was returned to Cuba.
In the end, U.S. authorities took Elián away from his relatives by force and returned him to his father in Cuba, where he currently lives and continues to be a political symbol. The events still resonate with Cuban Americans (such as the main character in the story) who are haunted by media images of Elián being taken away from his Florida relatives and returned to Cuba.
1) Do you agree with the main character’s opinions on language? Why or why not?
2) In what ways does the story have a happy ending?
3) Compare he ways she is treated by strangers with the way her family treats her.
4) Why does the sea mean so much to her?
Links: Books by Ernesto Mestre-Reed
Achy Obejas: “We Came All the Way From Cuba So You Could Dress Like This?”
Unfortunately, the lives of Cuban Americans and all immigrants, for that matter, can often be somewhat predictable. The ideals of parents with strong roots in their respective countries often clash with those of their children, whom they view as “too Americanized.” The narrator’s sexual orientation, her desire to return to Cuba, and the way she dresses, pit her against her parents. Meanwhile, her parents’ lives can be said to be somewhat predictable as well, as they struggle to build new lives and make a living in the U.S.
1) The father classifies people into Communists or non-Communists. In what similar ways are people in the U.S. classified?
2) Why are the parents so persistent that the narrator not go back to Cuba? Do you agree with them?
3) How would you characterize the narrator’s relationship with her parents? Why?
4) In what ways does the family overcome barriers?
Cecile Pineda: “Notes for a Botched Suicide”
This story provides a dark psychological portrait of a woman (the narrator) and her elderly godmother who is nearing the end of her life. As the author provides more and more details about the godmother, the reader also learns important details about the narrator. Ultimately, the reader gets a clear sense of how the ailing health of a loved one can affect those who care for them. In Latino cultures convalescent homes are not seen as viable options, and for the narrator in this story, this holds true, for better or worse.
1) Do you agree with the godmother’s assessment that “you wait your whole file . You save. And then you die” (par. 97)?
2) In what ways is the description of the falling woman at the story’s beginning an apt metaphor for what takes place in the story?
3) What do the last three sentences of the story mean?
4) What is the significance of the story being broken up into sections?
Befrienders Worldwide: “works to reduce suicide worldwide with 31,000 volunteers in almost 40 countries”
Benjamin Alire Sáenz: “Obliterate the Night”
This story describes the relationship between a couple, Olivia and Jonathan, and the events that lead to their breakup. Their marriage is full of lies, and ultimately the reader has to be the judge of these lies–and determine which lies are justified “white” ones and which are not. For Olivia, choices about her life have not been based simply on what she, herself, has wanted, and this adds to the complexity and intrigue of the story.
1) Why does Olivia marry Jonathan?
2) What does it mean for the sun to “obliterate the night”?
3) Before marrying Jonathan, what would you say is Olivia’s turning point in her life?
4) How would you react to Olivia’s secret if you were Jonathan?
Links:American Book Award Winner: Books by Benjamin Alire Saenz
|Miguel Algarín: “Body Bee Calling: From the 21st Century”
This poem offers inspirational advice and plays with language in a creative way. It is an ideal introductory poem for the Beyond Worlds chapter in Latino Boom in part because the works in this part of the book challenge expectations of what might be deemed “Latino literature.”
1) Do you agree with Algarín’s advice that we should avoid a void? Why or why not?
2) Try drawing parts of the poem as you make sense of it. Does it resemble the flight of a bee? Why or why not?
3) What is “the other eternal circle” (9)?
NPR All Thing Considered: “Poetry from the Nuyorican Café”
Ana Castillo: “Women Are Not Roses”
This poem is a tribute to women and defies the stereotypical image of women. The notion of a women being like roses has been popularized in songs and poems such as Robert Browning’s “Women and Roses,” below.
Women and RosesBy Robert Browning I. I dream of a red-rose tree.And which of its roses threeIs the dearest rose to me? II. Round and round, like a dance of snowIn a dazzling drift, as its guardians, goFloating the women faded for ages,Sculptured in stone, on the poet’s pages.Then follow women fresh and gay,Living and loving and loved to-day.Last, in the rear, flee the multitude of maidens,Beauties yet unborn. And all, to one cadence,They circle their rose on my rose tree. III. Dear rose, thy term is reached,Thy leaf hangs loose and bleached:Bees pass it unimpeached. IV. Stay then, stoop, since I cannot climb,You, great shapes of the antique time!How shall I fix you, fire you, freeze you,Break my heart at your feet to please you?Oh, to possess and be possessed!Hearts that beat ‘neath each pallid breast!Once but of love, the poesy, the passion,Drink but once and die!—In vain, the same fashion,They circle their rose on my rose tree. V. Dear rose, thy joy’s undimmed,Thy cup is ruby-rimmed,Thy cup’s heart nectar-brimmed. VI. Deep, as drops from a statue’s plinthThe bee sucked in by the hyacinth,So will I bury me while burning,Quench like him at a plunge my yearning,Eyes in your eyes, lips on your lips!Fold me fast where the cincture slips,Prison all my soul in eternities of pleasure,Girdle me for once! But no—the old measure,They circle their rose on my rose tree. VII. Dear rose without a thorn,Thy bud’s the babe unborn:First streak of a new morn. VIII. Wings, lend wings for the cold, the clear!What is far conquers what is near.Roses will bloom nor want beholders,Sprung from the dust where our flesh moulders.What shall arrive with the cycle’s change?A novel grace and a beauty strange.I will make an Eve, be the artist that began her,Shaped her to his mind!—Alas! in like mannerThey circle their rose on my rose tree.
1) Who is “she” in Castillo’s poem?
2) If you were to write a poem about men, what would its title be? Why?
3) What do you think Browning would say about Castillo’s poem? Why?
Sandra María Esteves: “Puerto Rican Discovery #11: Samba Rumba Cha-Cha Be-Bop Hip-Hop”
The Samba, Rumba, Cha-Cha, Be-Bop, and Hip-Hop are all types of dances. The Samba and Rumba have their origins in African culture and were popularized in Cuba and later, in the early part of the 20th century, in the U.S. The Cha-Cha is a variation of the Rumba. Like them, Be-Bop and Hip-Hop are known for their fast and dynamic beats. The poem is dedicated to Merian Soto, currently Associate Professor and MFA Program Coordinator at Temple University, who co-founded Pepatián, an arts organization in Bronx, New York, that has made tremendous contributions and provided opportunities to aspiring artists.
1) Which action verbs contribute to the energy of the poem?
2) What does it mean to dance with the mind (38)?
3) What are “syncopated seeds” (41)?
Sandra María Esteves “Gringolandia”
The origin of the word “gringo,” which is used to refer to non-Latino foreigners (and usually to Anglos) is not known. One theory is that its use came about because of a popular song in the 1800s that included the words “green grows” and Mexicans associated the term with the people who sang it. As this poem indicates, one thing is for certain—the term is often used in a derogatory manner, including sarcastically by Latinos to criticize other Latinos.
1) In which cases do intellectuals use language in the way that is criticized in the poem?
2) How might the “north american intellectuals” (1) respond to this poem?
3) In what ways does the poem gain momentum as it gets to the last stanza?
Julio Marzán: “The Pure Preposition”
Caliban (7) is a half-man, half-monster from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. He is a central figure in Colonial studies. He is enslaved by Prospero, whose knowledge, books, and magic, give him power over Caliban. Caliban plots to kill Prospero and steal his books. The following famous lines reflect Caliban’s prespective on what Prospero has taught him:
Caliban: You taught me language; and my profit on’t Is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you For learning me your language! (I, ii, 517-519)
1) Based on the lines above, in what ways is Marzán’s allusion is appropriate?
2) What do lines 8-9 in “The Pure Preposition” mean?
3) Do you think that what the poem says about prepositions can only be said about prepositions and not other parts of speech? Why or why not?
4) Why are some of the words hyphenated?
Aleida Rodríguez.: “Plein Air”
“Plein Air” means open space and often refers to paintings of the outdoors (such as the ones of the U.S. West). This poem argues that the creation of poetry is more challenging than painting.
1) What words within the poem help support the poet’s point?
2) Do you agree with the poet’s main premise that painting is more challenging?
3) In what ways does the poem incorporate irony?
Links: Books by Aleida Rodríguez
Michele Serros: “Annie Says”
The types of writers that Tia Annie brings up in this poem are not the kind which her niece aspires to. However, they are all that the aunt knows about; not surprisingly, she cannot give her niece helpful advice, nor can she be supportive. The Brown Berets (55) were a group of Chicanos who, like the Black Panthers, were inspired to social action by the various human rights issues that led to the Civil Rights Movement.
1) Do you think Tia Annie is educated? Why or why not?
2) Do you think that in order to write about the experiences to which Tia Annie refers, one has to first live that experience?
3) What is the significance of Tia Annie watching the soap opera, As the World Turns (69)?
Links: Books by Michele Serros
Gary Soto: “Chisme at Rivera’s Studio”
This poem describes the poet’s visit to the Diego Rivera Studio in San Angel, Mexico. Rivera was a famous Mexican artist known for his political and socially conscious murals. Frida Kahlo, another famous Mexican painter was known for her self-portraits that displayed her internal suffering at many stages of her life. As the poet describes the visit to the studio, he brings touches of their works to life.
1) Beyond the artists’ fame, why else is the poet so affected by his visit?
2) Based on the descriptions in the poem, what type of lifestyle did Kahlo and Rivera have?
3) What is the significance of the word, “peasant” (54).
Recommended Film: Frida
Tino Villanueva: “Variation on a Theme by William Carlos Williams”
This poem is a Latinized version of William Carlos Williams’ oft-anthologized poem, “This is Just to Say.” Williams was one of the United States’ prominent poets during the early and middle part of the twentieth century. Although Williams’ Puerto Rican ancestry was not well known until relatively later in the twentieth century, even now a debate exists as to whether he should be considered a Latino poet.
This is Just to Say
1) Write your own variation on this poem based on your ethnic background.
2) Do you think the poet is truly resentful for having eaten the tamales?
3) Why do you think the poet chose to write three words, tamales, perdoname, and riquisimos, specifically in Spanish?
Tino Villanueva: “Scene from the Movie Giant”
1) Do you recall the first film you saw in which racism was portrayed? Did you have a reaction similar to the poet’s?
2) Which word in the last line do you think is most meaningful?
3) Why is the poet’s age at the time he saw the movie significant?
American Book Award Winner: Books by Tino Villanueva
Tino Villanueva: “At the Holocaust Museum: Washington D.C.”
The Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. opened in 1993. Obviously, a visit to the museum can be a touching moment for anybody, as it was for the poet. According to its web site, the museum’s mission is as follows:
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is America’s national institution for the documentation, study, and interpretation of Holocaust history, and serves as this country’s memorial to the millions of people murdered during the Holocaust.
The Holocaust was the state-sponsored, systematic persecution and annihilation of European Jewry by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945. Jews were the primary victims – six million were murdered; Gypsies, the handicapped and Poles were also targeted for destruction or decimation for racial, ethnic, or national reasons. Millions more, including homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Soviet prisoners of war and political dissidents, also suffered grievous oppression and death under Nazi tyranny.
The Museum’s primary mission is to advance and disseminate knowledge about this unprecedented tragedy; to preserve the memory of those who suffered; and to encourage its visitors to reflect upon the moral and spiritual questions raised by the events of the Holocaust as well as their own responsibilities as citizens of a democracy.
Chartered by a unanimous Act of Congress in 1980 and located adjacent to the National Mall in Washington, DC, the Museum strives to broaden public understanding of the history of the Holocaust through multifaceted programs: exhibitions; research and publication; collecting and preserving material evidence, art and artifacts relating to the Holocaust; annual Holocaust commemorations known as Days of Remembrance; distribution of educational materials and teacher resources; and a variety of public programming designed to enhance understanding of the Holocaust and related issues, including those of contemporary significance.
1) What is the significance of the last line?
2) Why does the poet refer to himself as a “nobody” (87)
3) In what ways is the way the poem is organized into three sections significant?
American Book Award Winner: Books by Tino Villanueva
|Judith Ortiz Cofer: “The Story of My Body”
1) Of all the terms related to physical features mentioned in this essay, which is the most offensive? Why?
2) What is your impression of the hierarchy that the author mentions was present in Public School 11: “pretty white girl, pretty Jewish girl, pretty Puerto Rican girl, pretty black girl” (par 15)?
3) According to the essay, what are the main differences and similarities between the way skin color is viewed in Puerto Rico versus the U.S.?