Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza

Ok, if you read my last post about Half-Resurrection Blues by Daniel José Older, then you know I’ve been thinking a little bit about the dualities contained within individuals lately. Broderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldúa is the epitome of this conversation from a her own real life perspective. A fair warning; this book is not all in English.  Now, the only language that I know is English, I still knew what was going on and I believe I gained something from reading the book. I did spend enough time on Google Translate figuring out the Spanish parts of the book to know that if you speak Spanish and English you’ll a get fuller more complete and textured reading experience. I suggest everybody read this book, and, if anything, not knowing Spanish will make more visceral to the English speaking reader the experience of many Latinx, Chicanx, and Spanish speaking Americans.

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Borderlands/La Frontera is a collection of essays and poems in which Gloria Anzaldúa explores how we define ourselves via her own experiences as a Chicana, a lesbian, an activist, and a writer. Her essays are not her already set in stone definitions of what it means to be each of these things rather, they depict her efforts to simultaneously embrace and reject the social expectations that come with each label to be at peace with the “she” she is. Gloria Anzalúa grew up right next to the Mexican/United States border which she points to as a physical manifestation of the ideas she’s talking about, the borders contained within. The life she describes living is one of never being quite enough; no matter what group she was encountering there was part of her that had to be suppressed,  shamed, or hated. This self hate is aided and encouraged by every culture’s desire to be better than “the other”, instead of embracing and appreciating the differences in each other and ourselves.

This is a lot for just one book to cover, especially since she’s not restricting herself to just one “border” within, she’s talking about all them. What I appreciate about this book is that she’s tackling a large topic with a microscope pointed towards herself.  It would have been very easy for her to be very academic and look at statistics of various groups that support her points and separate each issue into it’s own chapter. Instead she bares all to the reader. She let’s herself become the studied and vulnerable which adds a beautiful and heart wrenching amount of texture and feeling to the book.

In particular, I appreciate that she is a poet.  If I didn’t know before reading her essays, I certainly would have figured it out while reading. She uses such beautiful language and imagery.  Now, you don’t have to be a poet to pick the most perfect word, but poets certainly have a knack for it. She’s discussing intangible, abstract ideas that if she’d tried to be less poetic, it would have been significantly less effective. She layers facts and feelings by choosing the most exact word to puncture indoctrinated ideas of who we have to be. It made my little poet heart very happy.

Common Place Book Entries:

“Humans fear the supernatural, both the undivine (the animal impulses such as sexuality, the unconscious, the unknown, the alien) and the divine (the superhuman, the god in us).  Culture and religion seek to protect us from those forces.”

-Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldúa

“The queer are the mirror reflecting the heterosexual tribe’s fear: being different, being other and therefore lesser, therefore subhuman, in-human, non-human.”

-Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldúa

“I want the freedom to carve and chisel my own face, to staunch the bleeding with ashes, to fashion my own gods out of my entrails.”

-Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldúa

“Silence rose like a river and could not be held back, it flooded and drowned everything.”

-Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldúa

“The writer, as shape-changer, is a nahual, a shaman.”

-Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldúa

Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep listening. Keep creating.

Half-Resurrection Blues

If you read my post on Shadowshaper and/or this years Nerdcon: Stories then you know that I was lucky enough to sit down and chat with the author of Half-Resurrection Blues, Daniel José Older. I was very excited to pick up more of his books but life and school kept getting in the way. Finally, I picked up this book because I wanted a little break from the school stuff I’ve been reading and wouldn’t you know it, I found a relation between this book and the things I’ve been thinking about for school. Maybe subconsciously I didn’t want a break from school I just wanted a fantasy perspective.

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This is the first the A Bone Street Rumba series and it does not start slow. Daniel José Older takes us directly over the cliff and into the action. Right off the bat we find out that our main man, Carlos Delacruz is kind of dead. He toes the line between the dead and the living and can communicate and interact with both, though he’s working for the New York Council for the Dead. I think it’s interesting thinking about this book compared to Shadowshaper because Shadowshaper is very clearly a young adult book (in that it’s content is a little scrubbed up to be appropriate for all ages) while this, in my opinion, should be read by all ages, it has not been scrubbed up.  It’s a little grittier, a little darker, and a little more real (which is an awesome thing to be able to say about a story that has ghosts in it!)

This story cast a fantasy light on an issue that I’ve been learning, reading, and thinking about a lot lately, which is the tension between the dualities within us. What I mean by this may become more and more clear with the next couple of posts as I discuss it in different contexts. Within the context of this book we have Carlos who, as far as he knows, is the only being that can communicate and interact with both the living and the dead. These are two communities that are in danger of forgetting exactly how much of an effect they have on each other. Invariably one’s actions and activities will influence they others existence. Carlos is left trying to navigate two worlds and neither of them are set up for the whole of him. This story doesn’t dwell on it too much, but I think that’s a characterization of Carlos. If he lets himself steep in the unfairness and impossibility of his situation then that’d be letting the outside sources tear him apart. He’s got to keep moving, keep working, and keep fighting. His journey even just within this story is fascinating which makes me so excited to see where he’ll go in the series.

Half-Resurrection Blues has action, adventure, some badass ladies (which will never ever stop making me happy. Seriously, read this book and let me rave to you about how Kia is my favorite), and bureaucratic deception and secrets. I am so impressed by Daniel José Older’s ability to layer the complexities of essentially two separate worlds on top of fully developed and rich characters with personal stories the reader can’t help but be invested in. I absolutely can not wait to dig into the next few books in this series!

Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep listening. Keep creating.

 

 

Nerdcon: Stories 2016

I bought my ticket for Nerdcon: Stories on impulse this year. It was after I knew I was going back to school but before I knew the schedule and I didn’t tell anybody for  while because I was on the fence about contacting Nerdcon and returning the ticket. I am so very happy that I decided to play hooky with school and attend this wonderful event. I was lucky enough to, totally by chance, end up in the same Airbnb as a fellow attendee of the conference. I went by myself last year (read about that here) and fully planned on flying solo this year as well, but it was so nice to have someone to nerd out with. I also loved that I could count on my new friend to tell me about the interesting panels and events that she went to and I missed. I think there is value in attending events like this one alone but part of that value is that you get to meet great new people like my new friend, Michelle!

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Some of you may know that Hank Green put up a video explaining that, from a business perspective Nerdcon was a failure. Tickets didn’t sell as well as they planned, and some other things, but honestly, just go watch the video. I haven’t attended a ton of other conferences (i.e. I haven’t attended any other conferences) so I have no point of reference, but I think that part of what makes Nerdcon great is that it is so small. In the most selfish (self destructive?) way possible I’m happy that they didn’t sell all the tickets. I don’t love dealing with huge crowds for even just a few hours much less an entire weekend. I was never elbowing or getting elbowed for the sake of making it to a certain panel, I knew that I would get in and it would be calm, and if I ran into someone awesome once, chances were I’d run into them again.  That’s my kind of conference. To let the hippie version of me take over for a moment, I dig the chill environment, man. I understand that, ultimately, the business aspect of a con need to be profitable (or at least break even) in order for it to continue, but if this was a failing con then it was the most successful, lovely failure I’ve ever witnessed.

This year the con felt smaller than last year and I’m not sure if that’s because there may have actually been fewer people or if the vibe was just more intimate. Playing into this intimate feeling was the very cool opportunity to go to a kaffeeklattsch with various panelists. The kaffeeklattsch that I was given was with Daniel José Older (whose book I talked about recently here). It was me, nine other wonderful people and Daniel José Older in a conference room talking about books and writing for an hour. (If you were wondering this is, essentially, my idea of what heaven must be like, conference room after conference room filled with coffee, tea, and smart people talking about writing and books.) This was such a wonderful opportunity and experience. What was extra awesome was I happened to sit next to one of the ladies in the kaffeeklattsch during a panel later that day! Friend goal of the day: accomplished.

There were several panels and conversations throughout the weekend discussing inclusion of minorities in various genres and how important it is. It astounds me a little bit that anybody gets pushback when they try to write a character that they and others will relate to. One of the more heart wrenching moments of the weekend was hearing author Cindy Pon talk about how her second book got rejected by several publishers because they already had an Asian fantasy book. This is so mind boggling dumb to  me that I think I actually sputtered and harrumphed out loud when I heard it. It was mentioned that those with established power (white/male/able bodied) see someone as the protagonist that doesn’t mirror themselves they get scared. To those people I posit, do you really want look in the mirror and see what you’ve got memorized already? Wouldn’t it be so much more interesting to look in the pond and see some new worlds? It’s so easy, no matter the story, to find common ground with the characters, no matter their life experiences, they are still human (depending on the story this may not be true but there are usually some human traits and qualities stuck in there somewhere). At the risk of overextending this metaphor, I think it’s so important to look into the pond to see how your reflection plays out in unfamiliar worlds. The whole learning empathy from stories doesn’t work if you only read stories that you recognize from your own life.

With this in mind, I recommend going to the NerdCon website here to find the names of all the wonderfully kind and talented authors that participated in NerdCon, buy their books, read their stories, and support their art. Happy reading!

Shadowshaper

I’m going into this post with two things on my mind. The first is I went to NerdCon:2016 this past weekend (Post about that is coming soon!) and, as it did last year, it’s made me think about the books that have influenced me. It didn’t take any time at all to start reminiscing about the good ole days when I was devouring anything written by Tamora Pierce and then running to the park to practice being a knight like Alanna in The Song of the Lioness series. Mix those beautiful memories with the fact that at Nerdcon: 2016 I had the wonderful privilege of sitting down with the author of Shadowshaper, Daniel José Older, and nine other curious and intelligent story nerds to have a conversation about books and you’ve found my happy place.

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Shadowshaper is set in Brooklyn and follows Sierra as she discovers a magic that lets spirits inhabit her art and bring it to life. After chatting with Daniel José Older for a while and seeing him on multiple panels throughout the weekend it is easy to see how his life and experiences have influenced his writing. While having this knowledge doesn’t change the book, it feels a little like I’ve been let into the greenroom of this story. It’s interesting to me to consider how stories are not just influenced but also often created from perspective. This perspective allows the reader insight into new worlds to explore, understand, and consider. If this book had been around when I was growing up alongside Tamora Pierce’s I imagine I would have been an artistic knight running around Brooklyn (the park across the street) fighting sexism with my sword (really long stick) and art spirits (chalk).  It’s exciting to me to think about how the stories like Shadowshaper, and others that are being crafted now are influencing young readers.

The story itself is rich with familiarity and feeling. It’s interesting to be plopped into Sierra’s world  that she knows so well and watch how she responds to her surroundings change both physically and magically. The relationship between the familiar “real” world of Brooklyn, that is in a state of flux, and the Shadowshaper community, that is experiencing the growing pains of turning power over to a new generation, provides an intricate set of obstacles for Sierra to weave her way through. Daniel José Older sets this stage one floorboard at a time and maintains an exciting storyline that pulls the reader through some of the more complex ideas presented via Sierra and her adventures. From what I understand, we’ve got two more books following Sierra’s story to look forward to, until then I think I may go reread The Song of Lioness series to keep me in the badass lady hero mood!

Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep listening. Keep creating.