Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Delta Spirit: San Diego's Finest

A few weeks ago, Matthew Vasquez's Delta Spirit released their third full-length record...another instant classic! Gritty rock, a little noise experimentation, stomping rhythms and gorgeous harmonies à la Beach Boys.
For fans of: Pixies, Violent Femmes, Longwave, Ambulance Ltd.

In exchange for your e-mail address, Delta Spirit will give you their debut EP, I Think I've Found It (2006)...the opening track will definitely get your blood pumping!

Here's the video for the impossibly catchy "Gimme Some Motivation" ...

Dig it!!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Jesus Loves Anchor Babies

I really enjoyed Bill Santiago's recent piece re: TIME Magazine's "Latino Issue" published in the Huffington Post.  Check it out!!

Dear TIME Magazine:
Someone just handed me a copy of your latest issue. You know, the one with all of the Latinos on the cover. Why so many? Are you trying to make up for all those years since that Ricky Martin cover back in 1999? I still have that one, by the way. But this one is very special too. More special, kinda. The headline really got my attention: Yo Decido. Is it true that this is the first time TIME has had a Spanish sentence on the cover? Because, you know Spanish has been around a long time in this country. Actually, it was here before English. So it seems like TIME is behind the times on that.

You're catching up, though, and that's admirable.

But you blew it. Here's what the title should have been: Somos Los Deciders.
What do you think? I know, brilliant. See, first of all it's Spanglish, which may one day be the official language of the United States, the way things are going. I mean you'd be surprised how many Latinos are bilingual and perfectly able to think and speak in both English and Spanish simultaneously. Actually, ni siquiera nos damos cuenta that we're doing it.  Plus, did you get the reference to Bush and how he used to call himself, 'the decider'? (I always called him El Pendejo, Jr., myself.) Anyway, my version works on a lot of different levels, makes you look cool, and is pretty hilarious. I bet you're sorry you didn't run your idea by me first. Well, next time, remember, I'm here if you need me.

Now the subtitle, I like. Very provocative. It says that Latinos are going to pick the next president. If that's true, Republicans are in trouble. Because every time we Latinos look at the GOP, what we see is Gringoes On Parade. You mention in your editor's note, right there on the second page, that Ronald Reagan used to say that Hispanics were Republicans who didn't know it. Well, I think Republicans son unos malditos racistas desgraciados who don't know it.

Have you been watching those debates? I have. Not all 20,000 of them. But a few, and it's scary what gets applause. English-only, applause. E-verify, applause. Build a wall on the border, applause. Build two walls, applause. Electrify both walls and put a moat in between them filled with crocodiles, applause. Deport Dora the Explorer, applause. Nominate Jan Brewer for sainthood, applause. Repeal Oprima El Dos, applause. Replace capital gains tax with piñata tax, applause. Ban ethnic studies, applause. Ban ethnics, applause. Fire teachers with accents, applause. Fire baseball players with accents... well, let's not get carried away.

And TIME, you refer to these Republican tendencies as "nativist drift." How cute. I would have stuck with "raging river of supremacist xenophobia," myself. But that's a style issue, I guess. I mean as far as our Latino image getting a bashing in mass media, the crap Republicans are putting out there is almost as bad as that new sitcom '¡Rob!' On the other hand, the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC) just honored Rob Schneider for his show at this year's Impact Awards. The impact being outstanding achievement in leaf-blower jokes. Hey, you guys should do some research and find out if that show is funded by a Republican Super PAC. It does seem to be right in line with the GOP idea of Latino outreach.

I loved the part in your article about how even Karl Rove wants his party to chill out and adopt a more moderate tone on their anti-Latino stuff. But don't you ask follow up questions? I wanted a little more information on that. Does that mean he's changing his mind about developing deportation drones, that would robotically fly in, scoop up illegals and drop them off in Tijuana? I hope so, because I think it would be hard for the drones to always tell who's here legally and whose not. I bet even a few Puerto Ricans would be picked up by mistake, like those poor dolphins that get caught in the tuna nets all the time.

Or does Rove just mean his devoted disciples should soften the tone of their rhetoric? Because I think if your party frontrunners are calling Spanish the "language of the ghetto," it's more than a tone problem. Although, I did appreciate Gingrich going on Youtube to apologize, in Spanish, and clarify that he meant "barrio," not "ghetto."

Then Gingrich, or as my Titi Norma calls him, "El que stole Crismas," has the cojones to call Mitt Romney anti-immigrant. That's like Snooki calling Kim Kardashian an overrated reality whore.

Romney's the one who wants to get half of the 11 million undocumented Latinos in this country to "self-deport" by the end of his theoretical first term. It's supposed to be a more humane alternative to the "lock and load" plan. That idea is prompting many Latino voters, including myself, to call for Romney to self-screw.

Do you know the whole Romney story about his ancestors moving to Mexico? Because you left it out of your story and I think if you're writing about Latinos and this election, it's something your readers should know about. I mean it's all up there on Wikipedia. You could have just cut and pasted it into your story if you were too lazy to do your own reporting.

OK, so Romney's a Mormon, right? The Church of Mormon, by the way, is what you join if you think Scientology isn't cultish enough. So, Romney's great grandfather believed that marriage should be strictly between a man and as many women as he can fool into joining the harem. Polygammy (lots of gams) was part of the Mormon religion. Still is but on the D.L. Anyway, they passed a law against polygammy here in the United States. So, Mitt's great grandpa self-deported to a polygamous Mormon colony in Mexico, where he could enjoy his religious freedom with whoever's turn it was that night.

Now Romney talks very proudly about how he is descended from "legal" immigrants, as opposed to "illegal" immigrants. He never mentions that he comes from "legal" immigrants, who fled this country to evade "the law." He's the descendent of felonious fugitives. Next time you interview him, ask him about that, would you please?  His father was born in a Mormon church colony in Chihuahua, Mexico. Technically, that makes Mitt Romney an anti-immigrant anchor baby. They should give him an Impact Award, for outstanding achievement in hypocrisy.

You know who reminds me of Romney? Rubio. Looks the part. Speaks in empty bromides. Sketchy about his family history. Is he really supposed to be the Republican secret weapon for wooing Latinos away from Democrats?

All I know about Senator Marco Güero, I mean Rubio, is that he's a Tea Party guy. Let me know when he switches to the Tequila Party. Then maybe I'll take him seriously as a contender. Cubans drink rum, but if he wants all those Mexican votes, he better start swilling the agave juice and learn himself some ranchera songs. A nice pair of alligator skin boots wouldn't hurt, either.
Given previous poster candidates that Republicans hoped would exemplify their commitment to minorities and women (Sarah Palin, Herman Caine), how can one not be electrified by the prospect of Rubio on the ticket in November as the Vice Presidential guanabee. That's the rumor, right?

I have to ask, is that sidebar interview you did with Rubio, on page 29, a paid advertisement? It was pretty softball, if you ask me. You shouldn't let him get away with such evasive answers, like when you asked him why he opposed the Dream Act. He said, because "the support is not there." Well, yeah, because he doesn't support it. What a doofus. Don't you guys call the people you interview on their B.S.? I'll tell you why Republicans are against the Dream Act. Because Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream and 45 years later, the white people lost the White House. The Republicans have learned their lesson. They don't want any more minorities doing any dreaming.

Kudos, though, on including a column by Jorge Ramos (the straight Latino version of Anderson Cooper) in your issue. You gotta believe this guy when he predicts that Latinos in this country, 50-damn-million and counting, will one day put a Latino in the White House. Of course, Jorge isn't saying anything new. I think he wrote the same column last month for Newsweek.

Get this, though. I read a great book recently where the main character was a Latina president of the United States. That's right, a Latina. A Latino of the female persuasian. A Chicanasapien. A bilingual Ovary-American. But not only was it fiction. It was science fiction. That's how implausible the publishers considered the idea. They figured they better put it as far in the future as possible, because nobody's going to buy a Latina clicking her tacones in the Oval Office until after everything in the 'Jetsons' becomes a reality first. Flying cars, then a Latina Commander-in-Chief. I forget the name of the book, but when I remember, I'll email it to you. That way you can start working on your article about la presidenta estadounidense. You'll be due for another Latino cover story right about the time she gets elected.

Meantime, what's up with calling Obama the "deportation president"? The guy you quoted saying that, doesn't speak for all Latinos. Puerto Ricans don't call him that. We call Obama the "boricua-on-the-Supreme-Court president." I personally sent Obama a thank you note, with a bottle of top-shelf coquito for that. Never thought I'd live to see the day there'd be someone on the Supreme court who knew what mofongo was. I think Sotomayor's life experience is going to play a pivotal role somewhere down the line, when the constitutionality of frying plantains comes up the in court docket, or anyone tries to overturn the landmark decision Maduros v. Tostones.

Unfortunately, appointing Sotomayor won't get him any Latino votes in Puerto Rico, because of course Puerto Ricans on the island can't vote in federal elections, even though they are supposedly United States citizens. Oh, don't get me started. You guys are seriously going to have to do a sequel to this article of yours right away so that you can address the finer points of everything you glossed over. See, if the immigration debate were amplified just a smidge to become a debate on Latino citizenship in general, then the Puerto Rico statehood question might get more than 30 seconds of lip-service on the mainstream news once every four years. Check the island's Facebook profile. Puerto Rico's relationship status with the United States: "It's complicated."

Can I get something else off my chest? Just because the immigration issue, such as it is, isn't about Puerto Ricans, per se, doesn't mean it doesn't impact us directly. Republicans can be wonderfully inclusive when it comes to their bigotry. Excuse me, I mean their nativist drift. So we understand that the less than hospitable sentiments toward Latinos that fuel GOP views on immigration, applies to all Latinos, regardless of national origin or legality.

When you hate against our Latino hermanos and hermanas, you hate against us. And trust me, we know you can't tell the difference between "órale" and "chévere." So it behooves us to care about immigration. And yes we use words like "behoove" too. Because we think it's chévere. ¡Órale!

What gets me is that there isn't even any consistency in immigration policy from one Latino denomination to the next. Ever heard about the wet-foot/dry-foot policy? So, OK, and this is for real, if a Cuban swims to this country from Cuba, as long as that Cuban manages to get one dry foot on U.S soil, just one dry foot (the other foot could still be in the water, bitten off by a shark or whatever), he or she instantly gets granted asylum and is on their way to citizenship.

Now, for comparison, let's say you're a Mexican crossing the border and walking through the desert for days without a drop of water, so dehydrated that you're pissing dust and cactus needles. Do you think that wet-foot, dry-foot rule applies to you? Absolutely not. Your case is handled under the much more draconian wet-back, go-back policy.

Republicans insist the GOP isn't anti-immigrant, that it's only anti "illegal" immigrant. And, boy, they love to harp on how anyone who comes here "illegally," violates the principles that this country was founded on. OK, well, here we go. First of all, while the "legality," of the immigrants in question today is certainly something that has to be resolved, still, it's principally used as a pretty convenient pretext by conservative Republicans, overwhelmingly lacking in pigmentation and rhythm, to indulge in hate born out of the territorial fear that they are losing ground. Or as Glen Beck puts it, the fear that the country is going to "collapse under the weight of diversity."

Answer me this, you oh-so-principled Republicans who claim direct lineage to the perfectly legal founders of this great land. How soon after wiping out the original native Americans, did your people start feeling their "nativist drift?" Get my drift? Republicans hide their true feelings behind the word "illegal" in reference to immigrants. It's no different than calling Obama socialist when you what you actually mean is a little darker.

You know what? I do get it, in a way, how the wave of folks from south of the border can feel so overwhelming. It seems like the country's changing over night. The truth is sometimes I look around and think, boy, there's an awful lot of Mexicans here these days. And that's on the New York City subway. But I say, so what? Just embrace it. I myself just had a little daughter who is half Mexican. So I can tell Republicans from personal experience, resistance is futile. Start saving for the quinceañera and enjoy it.

See there's more overlap with Latino communities than you'd think from reading your article, TIME. You perpetuate the mistaken assumption that we Latinos stick to ourselves, to our own little tribes, as exclusively separate constituencies based on specific heritage. What about all the mixed Latino families? One of the best things about being Latino is that we can date, marry and breed interracially, within our own race.

And TIME, you don't mind if I call you TIME, do you? Please forgive my going on and on like this. I just feel that your very important issue is very short on important background information that is very relevant, if you want your readers to understand how Latino voters feel about the way that Republicans feel about Latinos. Basically, we can't understand how Republicans can be chasing the Latino vote, while simultaneously chasing Latinos out of the country. Seems like a bit of a disconnect.

All that said, it is true, though, that deportations have gone up like crazy ever since Obama took office, as your article correctly points out. Obama swears that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is just doing its job. Maybe, but they are doing their job extra well under Obama. Could be that ICE misinterpreted the White House request to avoid breaking up families, as a directive to deport entire families instead, and that's why deportation has skyrocketed. I don't know.
But you have to look at everything else that Obama has done for Latinos. You didn't even mention most of the big ones. For instance, he eased restrictions on travel to Cuba, with the narrowly passed Babalú Bill, so that American fans of "I Love Lucy" can go visit the homeland of Ricky Ricardo, without making a suspicious stopover in Cancún. And he proposed legislation to make November 5th, National Pupusa Day. Unfortunately, Republicans are still blocking that proposal because the word "pupusa" is too sexually suggestive.

If he gets another four years, I don't know what he'll do about immigration. He does have a tendency to appropriate conservative ideas, though. So maybe he'll take up Romney's self-deportation suggestion. Only Obama's also big on tech and modernizing national infrastructure. So I wouldn't be surprised if he announces the answer to our immigration problem is self-teleportation, and awards a stimulus package to build out the necessary technology. We shall see.

I am a fan of the President. I admit it. I just am naturally drawn to complete sentences. If he could speak them in Spanish, even better. But I am not going to automatically pull the lever for him. If he wants my vote a second time, he has got to pledge to make the ñ standard on all new American keyboards. That's the deal breaker for me. And if there's anything he can do about putting the ñ back in the spelling of Montana, I'd really appreciate it. Because I know it's supposed to be Montaña.

Oh, and that's another thing. What about the negative economic impact of the Republican anti-Latino agenda? English only? Any idea how much it's going to cost to change the names of all the states, cities, towns and streets with Spanish names in this country? Think of all the signs and maps and GPS applications that would have to be scrapped and updated. I'm sure Ron Paul would agree, The United States can't afford English only! I'm assuming English-only would also have to include changing the name of Ronald Reagan's place up in the mountains of Saint Babs, from Rancho del Cielo (maybe Reagan was Hispanic and didn't know it), to Sky Ranch, or Airhead Ranch, depending on the translation.

And Rubio's rosary beads notwithstanding, if Republicans expect to win enough Latino votes just because they brand themselves as the party of faith and family, they better check their cultural calculus. Because there's one article of faith dear to all family-loving Latinos that seems lost on the GOP. As all devout Latinos know: Jesus loves anchor babies. (Even Mitt Romney, probably.)
There are Latinos who would love to vote Republican (not my friends, but I hear they are out there), if only the party were sincerely more welcoming to immigrants and meant to actually pass legislation that would help the situation.Yet Republicans behave as if all that "give us your tired, your hungry, your poor, your huddled masses" stuff is no longer relevant in this day and age -- unlike the right to bear semi-automatic weapons, which never goes out of style.

I'd like to think the message of the Statue of Liberty isn't outdated. It's just that the statue is in the wrong place. We gotta move it to the border! How about over by Nogales? Can we afford to do it? I say, let's use the fence money.

Before I forget, who's the photographer that took all the super intense pictures you put on the cover of this issue? Because I need some new mug shots of myself. That's what they looked like to me, all those faces in rows of boxes. C'mon TIME Magazine! If you're going to do a profile on Latino voters, you can't be insensitive to how that visual might come across. Do you have any Latinos on staff over there? Just saying you might want to include them in the meetings. Bounce a few concepts off your in-house vida-loca people. It's gonna save you some embarrassment.

Like it or not, the negative-stereotypes of Latinos are so ingrained that the very layout of your cover runs the risk of conveying the message of criminality. Even to me. I automatically thought, "Why else would TIME Magazine put that many Latinos on the cover, unless they had just been busted in a major drug cartel sting?" Then I thought, "Oh, look, they got the grandmother, too. Probably she's the gang leader. It's always the sweet little abuelita running the family operation."

I understand most of the flack you took on the cover, though, was about the dude behind the letter M in your TIME logo. Turns out he's Asian not Latino, huh? Big deal. And what did you apologize for? Because you suck at racial profiling? A little residual Linsanity leaked onto your Latino cover. Coulda happened to any once well-respected magazine. Matter of fact, next time you do a cover story on Latinos, don't put any Latinos on the cover. Make them all Asian. It'll be symbolic of the fact they're taking over next.

Why? ¡Porque because!
Bill Santiago

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Before I head out, here's the first part of another translation that I've been working on...Jorge Eduardo Benavides' story, "Distinguishing Marks: None" + some pictures of the reading we did at the Reader's Loft (Green Bay, October 2011).   
                                    "Distinguishing Marks: None"

Perhaps the first time there was something altogether amusing in the matter. Even Zapata, el gordo, always so serious, always so gloomy, cracked himself up when García Urquijo, who was gazing out of the window during the first five minutes of the blackout, asked, why two candles, man, we have no idea how long this will last. He said it with his back turned, without addressing anyone in particular. Clutching his whiskey, Ramiro blew out the candle next to him in the same exact moment you extinguished the other one which rested on the bookshelf on the opposite side of the room. Even if it was only coincidental, this perfect synchronicity left you all momentarily in the dark, and in the midst of so many unexpressed fears—the muffled murmur of tanks, intermittent siren blasts at the end of the street, gunshots of an unknown origin stirring up confusion—after the initial surprise, the four of you exploded in laughter.
Perhaps that wasn’t the first time, but rather the first confirmation, the setting-in-motion of an absurd and boundless sequence of events which linked the two of you together in the simplest ways for God knows how long. You had known Ramiro from the years of the First Dictatorship, those long-ago days of pick-up soccer games and fruit popsicles—running through the rubble of the city to arrive on time for the discussions on neo-negativist doctrine at the sector’s communal council in the Plaza Italia. Already at that time there was a bond between you. The shared tastes and preferences of a special friendship, a communion of obsessions and passions which could be explained by the simple reason that you wandered the streets together day and night. You two had been selected for the first positions of the Party’s youth section, unquestionable and efficient profiles, elite leadership, first generation of the rational and idealist.
Nevertheless, now that you are driving through the deserted streets, smoking cigarette after cigarette, tense and smothered by a tide of confusion—in a type of tobacco-induced fear and urgency—you ask yourself how to set boundaries on what is reasonable, what is yours and what is his. Whose was that peculiar custom of knotting a tie (the Windsor knot nobody wears anymore), the predilection for lemon in Campari, the handwriting full of sharp, pointy l’s and m’s? It had gone on for so long and yet it took a foolish candle incident for you to realize; so many years with suspicion on the tip of your tongue, the faint discomfort of observing him and not knowing exactly what bothered you about his gestures. All of a sudden that get-together with friends put you face to face with the mirrored fear which could not be explained in a rational and logical world. In the beginning, the incredulity at the absurd situation of not being able to remark upon that illegible scrawl you saw him scribble on the check fifteen minutes ago, that was your signature. Then the insanity, the horror, obliged you to do what you did, and in this fear which dampens little by little your grease-smeared shirt, there is no regret whatsoever. Dawn will surprise you with a phone call from Zapata el gordo or García Urquijo, come quickly, it was horrible, and then you will take a breath of relief, finding your own image again. In the morning, you will wake with a dry throat and coated tongue: a blessed hangover which you will begin to wash off with a cold shower and a clean shirt, convinced that everything has passed, a nightmare which will end up dissolving itself with the sugar of the morning coffee.


Introducing Jorge and reading my English translation of “Cosas de niños” (“Kid’s Stuff”).

Jorge wowing the crowd...the best line of the night: "Pero me gustan los niños……….con arroz!” …Read the story and you’ll get the reference!

GSR, Hernán, Michael Wesley (recent UW-Green Bay grad, now a Quito-based human rights activist) and Jorge.

Hernán, Mari, Alejandra & Jorge.

Escaping to warmer climes!

Looking forward to being back in Lima and meeting with some exceptional writers.  Hasta pronto!

Big in Canada!

Eventually, I'll dedicate a long-winded post on my love for Canadian rock...Tragically Hip, Sloan, Super Friendz, Zumpano, Thrush Hermit, Death From Above 1979, Broken Social Scene, Hot Hot Heat, Feist, Bedouin Soundclash, the Dears, anything featuring Ruth Minnikin (the Guthries, the Heavy Blinkers et al), Wolf Parade, Metric, Zeus and a huge ETC. ETC.

The past few weeks I've been telling everybody I know to check out Islands and their new release "A Sleep & a Forgetting," their most focused record to date.

Here are three more excellent clips: a) a live version of "Vapours" (the title track from Islands' previous album), b) a promo clip for "The Arm" (2008) and c) Islands' side-project entitled Human Highway.


Long live Wirikuta!

Santiago Armengod
Protejamos los Sitios Sagrados - Rojo (Protect Sacred Sites - Red)

Dr. Stephen Perkins, Senior Academic Curator of the Lawton Gallery at UW-Green Bay, has just shared with me the latest acquisition in his ever-expanding collection of (incredible) political art posters.  Here is a quick description regarding the context of the above print:

Wirikuta is a site sacred to the Wixarica (Huichol) Indigenous tribe in the state of San Luis Potosi, in northern Mexico. Like many sites sacred to indigenous nations across the globe, Wirikuta is facing desecration in the name of capitalist expansion and natural resource extraction.

First Majestic Silver, a Canadian mining company is planning to open a massive mine that will destroy this sacred place and the habitat of thousands of species.

Every year the Wixarica do sacred pilgrimages to Wirikuta from a number of states where the nation resides.

Although many New Age groups have profited out of indigenous cosmology and beliefs, a number of these groups fail to support Indigenous struggles in defense of the land.

Because Wirikuta is one of the only places on Earth where the sacred Peyote cactus grows; a large number of an otherwise depoliticized sector of society has expressed their support for the Wixarica struggle in defense of Wirikuta.

This print is part of a Graphic Portfolio being produced in Mexico City by the ECP Martires del 68 School to contribute with graphics and bring attention to this issue as well as natural resource extraction.

To learn more about the Wixarica Resistance you can visit the “Tamatsima Wahaa” Wrikuta Defense Front, click HERE.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Islands' new single and amazing video!!

Islands...I just love this band...

An Inca Cola Haiku (a riff on Iwasaki)

My knit beanie  

es un chullo peruano

Made in China...

Blacksburg, VA, 1995

Of Bubblers & Turd-floaters…

The other day I shared with my classes the viral video sweeping the interwebs and forums of Spanish language instructors: “Qué difícil es hablar el español” by the supremely talented Colombian sibling duo of Juan Andrés and Nicolás Ospina, aka Intentalo CaritoIn the clip, the two playfully analyze the regional variations of popular expressions in Spanish…as told by a hapless gringo trying to acquire the language while bouncing from Mexico to Patagonia to Spain to Venezuela etc. etc. The song is loads of fun and quite informative!
For the complete lyrics, click here.

Y aunque estaba confundido con lo que comía en la mesa,
de algo yo estaba seguro,
un ‘strawberry’ es una fresa.

Y que sorpresa cuando en México a mi me dijeron ‘fresa’
por tener ropa de Armani y pedir un buen vino en la mesa.

Con la misma ropa me dijeron ‘cheto’ en Argentina.
-“Cheto es fresa yo pensé”-, y pregunté en el mercado de la esquina:

-“Aquí están buenas las chetas?”-, y la cajera se enojó.
-“Andate a la re(beep) que te remil parió!”

The next class, one of my students brought me an article from USA Today, “Lexicon of regionalisms to live on after final printing,” which discussed some interesting idioms from around the country.  This made me very happy for two reasons:
a)   I’ve got a student connecting with the class material…
b)   I just learned some amusingly colorful language!

-      In Wisconsin, we say bubbler when referring to the water fountain.

-      A devil strip is the piece of grass between the sidewalk and the street in northeast Ohio.

-      And my favorite: toad-strangler, turd-floater and fence-lifter all mean heavy rain in the Gulf States, Texas and Oklahoma respectively.

Benavides: The Fragmentation of Contemporary Latin American Literature

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Cherchez la femme: Love in the Time of Terror

Jorge Eduardo Benavides (Arequipa, Peru 1964- ) studied Law and Political Science at the Universidad de Garcilaso de la Vega in Lima.  After graduating from the university, he led creative writing workshops and worked as a radio journalist in the Peruvian capital.  From 1991 to 2002, he lived in Tenerife, Spain, where he was editor in chief of the newspaper Siglo XXI as well as a weekly columnist for the Sunday supplement of the Diario de Avisos.  During his time in Tenerife, he also founded and directed the workshop on narrative Entrelíneas, taught courses at several institutions including the Universidad de La Laguna and the Casa de la Cultura de Santa Cruz.

He has published two collections of short stories, Cuentario y otros relatos (Okura Editores, 1989) and La noche de Morgana (Alfaguara, 2005) as well as four novels with Alfaguara, one of the most prestigious publishers in Spanish and Spanish-American letters, Los años inútiles (2002), El año que rompí contigo (2003), Un millón de soles (2008) and La paz de los vencidos (2009).  Benavides has won several important awards including most recently the 2009 Premio Novela Corta Julio Ramón Ribeyro for his novel La paz de los vencidos.  He has been a finalist for the Premio Tigre Juan and Premio Internacional de Novela Rómulo Gallegos.

As a professor of creative writing, he has given seminars and courses at Harvard, the Instituto Cervantes in Vienna and Albuquerque, and other universities and cultural centers in Madrid, Granada, La Coruña, Santander, Lima, Miami and Geneva.  He also directed an on-line creative writing course in collaboration with Grupo Prisa’s literary blog, El Boomeran(g). 

He currently resides in Madrid, directing the Centro de Formación de Novelistas ( and writes frequently for publications such as El País, Letras Libres, Eñe and Mercurio.

Last Fall, Benavides was a writer-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay where he taught two courses (Spanish 438: Major Spanish and Latin American Writers and Spanish 465: Special Topics-Creative Writing).  In addition to his teaching duties, Jorge gave several well-attended (and well-received) lectures and workshops at the Brown County Library, Reader’s Loft Bookstore, Instituto Cervantes in Chicago and University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Madison, WI October, 2011.
With Dr. Cristina Ortiz (UW-Green Bay) and Dr. Ksenija Bilbija (UW-Madison), October, 2011.
With Dr. César Ferreira (UW-Milwaukee) in Chicago, October, 2011.

For more information, check out the Cervantes Virtual site created by Eva Valera (Universidad de Alicante), Jonathan Blitzer’s interview and translation in Words Without Borders and Jorge's personal website.
Jorge and I at the Santiago Calatrava-designed Milwaukee Art Museum, October 2011.
That brief Wikipedia-esque intro on Benavides was mainly for the uninitiated.  Here’s more…

I first met Jorge in Madrid the summer of 2007 while I was trying to narrow down the topic of my doctoral dissertation.  At that time, I had become bored with the style over substance which characterized many of the McOndo writers (to be fair, most of the authors from the anthology have since produced incredible stuff –Fuguet, Soler, Paz Soldán, Fresán et al…) and Jorge’s work was just such a refreshing read…equal parts socially committed and aesthetically challenging.  His novels are masterful totalizing postmodern narratives, while his short stories blend Cortázar’s neofantastic literature with Julio Ramón Ribeyro’s eye for detail.
But nothing could have prepared me for his most recent work, Un asunto sentimental.  He certainly doesn’t eschew the literarity of his previous novels—there’s a fair amount of structural experimentation—however, what stands in my mind above all else is the story itself…it’s absolutely riveting.  The novel will be published by Alfaguara in the coming months, and as we get closer to the release date I plan on writing a more “professional” review/analysis. For now, I should tell you it’s wonderful: there’s love, doomed relationships, intrigue, dueling ideologies and worldviews, terrorism and a host of characters that constitute a veritable who’s who of contemporary Spanish and Latin American authors. There are remarkable descriptions of Venice, Berlin, Barcelona, Damascus, New York, Madrid, Istanbul, Lima, Geneva etc. … Un asunto sentimental is the literature of our globalized world, the literature of now.
The first time I interviewed Jorge, he claimed that his works do not lend themselves to filmic adaption.  I beg to differ.  (It’s probably because I tend to make my students imagine what actor would play a role in an adaption of any given book we read in class…I feel as though this activity engages students who are otherwise not exactly voracious readers…).  As I read this latest novel, I couldn’t help but envision certain episodes on the big screen. I even thought of the actress that I’d cast to play Dinorah Manssur, the novel’s focal point.
The beautiful Syrian actress Kinda Aloush.
The following is one of the most powerful images of Un asunto sentimental…after finishing it, I thought to myself, “This could also be a scene from a movie…an iconic scene, no less.”
I am sure Jorge hates this idea...hehehe...

»Faltaban pocos minutos para las ocho de la mañana. Lo recuerdo perfectamente porque acababa de mirar el reloj por segunda vez. Quería llegar temprano a la biblioteca y me había dormido. De pronto, un teléfono móvil timbró a mi izquierda y la chica de cabellos recogidos en una cola de caballo tardó en hacer el ademán de buscarlo, atenta al semáforo, dejando que fuera su diestra la que rebuscara con familiaridad en el bolso. A mi derecha timbró con un segundo de diferencia otro teléfono y esta vez fue un hombre joven, de traje azul, el que se llevó la mano al bolsillo interior de la chaqueta, en un gesto brusco e instintivo, como si quisiera aplastar un insecto. De inmediato timbró con estridencia el teléfono de la señora que estaba su lado, y casi al instante repiquetearon diez, veinte, cuarenta teléfonos más: todo los móviles hasta donde alcanzaba nuestra vista y oído se pusieron a timbrar y a vibrar, como el mío, que saqué de inmediato. En ese momento inverosímil e irreal todos nos miramos a los ojos con incredulidad y miedo mientras atendíamos nuestras respectivas llamadas. La mía me devolvió la voz vibrante de Isa, una amiga con la que me veía esporádicamente, “¿ya te has enterado? ¿Dónde estás?”, dijo a modo de saludo, y su tono serio, exento de dramatismo, resbaló por mi espalda como el filo de una cuchilla. “¿De qué, qué ha ocurrido?” Miré a mi alrededor y la chica de los cabellos recogidos en una cola tenía el rostro descompuesto y ceniciento, como si fuese a ponerse a gritar en cualquier instante, el joven de traje azul estaba muy pálido y escuchaba lo que le decían por teléfono asintiendo con la cabeza mecánicamente. Una señora exclamó en un tono destemplado, incrédulo, como si le faltara el aliento “mi hijo” y se lanzó a codazos a detener un taxi. Pero ya más personas se abalanzaban levantando las manos, exasperándose porque otros les ganaban los taxis que iban apagando sus letreritos verdes de disponibilidad uno a uno. “Jorge, Jorge, ¿me escuchas? Ha habido un atentado en Atocha”, escuché la voz de mi amiga a punto de quebrarse, “no se sabe ni cuántos muertos hay pero es horrible. ¡Horrible!” A lo lejos se alzó la estridencia circular y avasallante de una sirena, y luego otra más, como un lamento.
»Todo Sol y alrededores sufrió como un espasmo: de pronto un tropel angustiado de gente corría en busca de un taxi, cruzaba a la carrera la calle y sin dejar de hablar por el móvil, esquivaba peligrosamente a los autobuses, a los coches de la policía que aparecieron veloces como un mal presagio no se sabe de dónde, igual que las ambulancias cuyo ulular añadía zozobra y confusión. Al principio, durante aquellos irreales primeros minutos, hubo un estupor incómodo de sabernos todos compartiendo aquella horrible noticia pero sin el alivio gregario de decírnoslo mutuamente, cada uno viviendo su preocupación o su drama en solitario, en medio de todos los demás que también pensábamos en los nuestros, en los miles de amigos, hermanos, maridos, mujeres, cuñados, hijos que a esa hora colapsaban la estación de Atocha donde habían explotado dos o tres bombas, nadie sabía nada a ciencia cierta, al menos no los que estábamos en la calle y luego de ese inicial desconcierto en que tardamos en comprender los alcances de todo aquello caminábamos en silencio o llorando hacia la estación o hacia casa, hacia algún bar en todo caso donde los televisores mostraban repetidas, idénticas, minuciosas imágenes de la horrible matanza: sonámbulos e irreconocibles, con la ropa hecha jirones, ensangrentados,mutilados, los supervivientes de aquella carnicería deambulaban entre gritos o en silencio, y las cámaras mostraban los vagones desventrados como latas de sardinas y nosotros mirábamos aquello sin poder creerlo, incapaces de aceptar que eso estaba ocurriendo a menos de un cuarto de hora de caminata de donde contemplábamos tamaña desolació temblaban tanto las manos que me pedí un café y luego un chupito de whisky.»

These past few months I have been working on the English translation of the novel. One of the most complicated aspects of the project is negotiating the different linguistic registers that Jorge utilizes so skillfully. At times, he alternates narrators with markedly distinct ‘narratorial’ accents: the point of view is obviously different, but the tricky part is capturing the subtle nuances of the language—the principle narrator, the fictional Jorge Eduardo Benavides, has the Spanish of a Peruvian who has spent the last twenty years in Spain, whereas the secondary voice, Albert Cremades, exudes a very Iberian (ok, Catalan) inflection. Time to get back to work...

These sounds fall into my mind

The great Brian Eno famously stated that the most important beats of the 70s were: Fela Kuti’s afrobeat, the funky drummer-style of Clyde Stubblefield and the motorik of the kraut-rockers Neu!, Kraftwerk and others.

For a quick description of afrobeat, check this out:

For Clyde Stubblefield, aka The Original Funky Drummer, arguably the most sampled musician on the planet:

And here's an excellent BBC documentary on Krautrock...vielen herzlichen Dank...

Lastly, yes...I was totally referencing the mid-90s club classic "The Bomb" by the Bucketheads with the title to this post.  Remember that tune? I couldn't get enough of it back in the day...

Banda de Turistas' new single!!

For a free (and legal) download of the latest single by Argentine rockers Banda de Turistas, click below and enter your e-mail address. Mil gracias Nacional Records!!

For fans of: the Beatles, Zurdok, Sloan & Brit-pop.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Trends that have worn out their welcome...

How about a moratorium on these thingies!?!?!

The only two that have kinda' made me chuckle:

Galdós in 2012: Rick Santorum channeling his inner Doña Perfecta

What I really love about teaching at a smallish university is having the freedom to design classes the way I see fit.  I can experiment.  It’s the same level of autonomy that a typical college radio DJ enjoys… play some Screamadelica-era Primal Scream, Delroy Wilson, the Undertones, the Beach Boys, Sonic Youth, Django Reinhardt, Sandy Denny, los Mirlos, Giorgio Moroder, Rita Lee, A Tribe Called Quest, Girls Against Boys, Michel Polnareff, a track from a Sarah Records compilation and wrap up the set with a poetry reading by Richard Brautigan or something off John Coltrane’s Stellar Regions…At UW-Green Bay I don’t have to worry about straying into a colleague’s territory and risk incurring the wrath of the specialist in colonial theatre, Catalan vanguard poets or Puerto Rican code-switchers…
I did some college radio at Virginia Tech (WUVT) and later in Madagascar (above) with Radio Antsiva - 97.6 FM Antananarivo in 1997.
My “college radio” course is called Spanish 465 – Special Topics:
This variable content course will allow students to analyze seminal aspects pertaining to the language, history and cultures of Spain, Latin America and the Spanish-speaking communities in the United States.
This is the third time I have taught the course…the first two times I stayed within my interdisciplinary research comfort zone of representations of political violence in Latin American literature, film, music and visual art…this time around, however, I decided to offer my students a survey of Spanish history through the study of canonical works of literature, historical fiction best-sellers, commercial blockbusters and/or critically-acclaimed films and one of the most popular television series on TVE.
So over Thanksgiving break I began to conceptualize my new Spanish 465 course: La historia moderna de España a través del cine, la televisión y la literatura.
The last few weeks we’ve discussed the theme of las apariencias engañan in Lazarillo and analyzed its most recent filmic adaption; debated the praise of folly in Cervantes’ “El licenciado Vidriera; evaluated the critical view of Spain’s Golden Age as portrayed in the Viggo Mortensen-starring film “Alatriste”; recited the Romantic poetry of Espronceda, Bécquer and Rosalía de Castro on Valentine’s Day; howled at the stereotypical Spanish attitudes ridiculed in Larra’s “Vuelva usted mañana”; took sides in the forum of debate provided by Galdós’ thesis-driven Realist novel Doña Perfecta and finally, imagined the dangers of harvesting percebes after reading Pardo Bazán’s “El pañuelo.”    
Galician percebes...a delicacy, it may cost 100 euros for a plate.

On deck for next week, we’ll read Unamuno, Teresa Claramunt, Lorca and watch bits of the Oscar-nominated “El abuelo” (an adaptation of a Galdós novel featuring the ubiquitous Fernando Fernán Gómez…“Is he, like, in every Spanish movie?” “Yes. And he was born in Peru.”)

Following Spring Break, we’ve got La sombra del viento (more than 10 million copies sold! The Spanish Da Vinci Code!); episodes of Cuéntame cómo pasó (but first I’ll have my students watch the pilot of “Wonder Years”…most of them haven’t heard of it…for them, Fred Savage is the MOLE in Austin Powers…); short stories by Rosa Montero; José Ángel Mañas’ Historias del Kronen and the last few classes each student will be assigned a short story from either the Inmenso Estrecho collections (Benavides, Pérez Zúñiga, Chirinos, Méndez Guédez, Iwasaki, Roncagliolo et al) or something from one of the “Nocilla” writers (Fernández Mallo, Cebrián or Chiappe).
We’ll see how it goes…
The challenge, of course, is trying to make some of the more classic readings relevant to twentysomethings.  As much as I’ve tried to keep “on task” and steer the conversation towards more Northrop Frye-friendly topics, this hasn't always happened.
With Cervantes, we spent some time talking about military recruiting (“Join the Army! See the World!”…and I couldn’t resist playing a short clip from Goldie Hawn’s “Private Benjamin”…).  

“He praised the soldier’s life, and gave him a vivid picture of the beauty of the city of Naples, the delights of Palermo, the prosperity of Milan, the banquets in Lombardy, and the splendid food in the inns. […]  He praised to the skies the soldier’s free life and the easy ways of Italy; but said nothing to him about the cold of sentry duty, the danger of attacks, the horror of battles, the hunger of sieges, the destruction of mines, and other things of this kind, which some consider to be extra burdens of a soldier’s life, when in fact they are the main part of it.”  (Cervantes’ “The Glass Graduate”- Exemplary Stories, p. 122 Penguin Classics)

I chose an abridged version of Galdós’ Doña Perfecta which emphasized the conflict between two opposing worldviews in late 19th century Spain: religious fanaticism versus the burgeoning secular philosophies (religion vs science, faith vs reason, tradition vs modernization etc.).  This being an election year in the US, I expected some of my students to relate the contrasting opinions in the novel with the national political debates playing out all over the media.

And then came Rick Santorum’s ill-advised comments about “Obama’s phony theology” …

Oh Ricky, Ricky, Ricky…really?  But thanks…you gave us tons to talk about!!

Let’s check out some of Santorum’s words, starting off with the basic idea that Obama holds secular values that are antithetical to the basic principles of our country.”
Here are some other gems:

(Apparently, Santorum does not accuse Obama of being anti-religion…something worse…“a radical environmentalist” –that’s exactly what I gathered after viewing the ‘full’ clip courtesy of The Right Scoop…give me a break, please…).
And out of the mouth of Doña Perfecta as she excoriates Pepe Rey (her secularist nephew):
"You have insulted us, you great atheist! But we forgive you. I am well aware that my daughter and myself are two rustics who are incapable of soaring to the regions of mathematics where you dwell, but for all that it is possible that you may one day get down on your knees to us and beg us to teach you the Christian doctrine."
“Why do you pronounce the name of God when you do not believe in him?”
“God, in whom you do not believe, sees what you do not see—the intention. […] You are a mathematician.  You see what is before your eyes, and nothing more; brute matter and nothing more.  You see the effect, and not the cause.  He who does not believe in God does not see causes.  God is the supreme intention of the world.  He who does not know this must necessarily judge things, as you judge them—foolishly.  In the tempest, for instance, he sees only destruction; in the conflagration, ruin; in the drought, famine; in the earthquake, desolation; and yet, arrogant young man, in all those apparent calamities we are to seek the good intention—yes, señor, the intention, always good, of Him who can do nothing evil.”
"As I said, I will not reproach you for entertaining those ideas. And, besides, I have not the right to do so. If I should undertake to argue with you, you, with your wonderful talents, would confute me a thousand times over. No, I will not attempt anything of that kind. What I say is that these poor and humble inhabitants of Orbajosa are pious and good Christians, although they know nothing about German philosophy, and that, therefore, you ought not publicly to manifest your contempt for their beliefs."
(from Galdós' Doña Perfecta, translated by Mary J. Serrano)
Ok, maybe it's a stretch...but in my humble opinion, Rick Santorum has that siglo XIX, religious zealout discourse down pat!

This post is dedicated to Dr. Ayo and Dr. Coffey for helping to keep Galdós relevant.
The following album cover is dedicated to former Senator Rick Santorum.

All for now, I'm off to "indoctrinate" students...