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5 Memoirs to Spring For: Anzaldua, Bag, Muzyka, Strayed, Rodriguez

March 4, 2015

If you are looking for a few good books to read this spring, books where the authors are exploring issues of identity, crossing borders,  overcoming obstacles, and living living sin fronteras, and look no further than these:

On Monday, I introduced my students to four of these books as they will choose from them for the book clubs they will be doing in the coming weeks: Violence Girl by Alice Bag, Life by the Cup by Zhena Muzyka, Always Running by Luis Rodriguez and Wild by Cheryl Strayed.220px-WildCoverFromAuthorsWebsite

Because my class is smaller and they don’t seem that interested in music, I deleted Tony Fletcher’s book Boy About Town. This semester I also replaced The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien with Always Running because Always Running is Ventura College’s One Book One Campus book this year while Things was last year’s.

Read more and watch trailers here.

Always Running is a new book for me, and like most of the others on the list, I read it aloud to my husband before I taught it to my students. While it is graphic, it is that graphicness, that attention to sensuous detail as well as his attention to language as befits the poet laureate of Los Angeles while makes the book so compelling. Over and over my husband and I were struck by how much violence the author experienced growing up, and how hard it is to leave the gang life behind; I would argue that “la vida loca” is a harder addiction to break than heroin.

We are also excited that Luis Rodriguez will be visiting Ventura College on Weds. April 22 (Earth Day) from 6-8pm. It is possible that we may also have a visit to campus from authors Zhena Muzyka and Alice Bag as well as a showing of the film Wild (read a review of the film here). On my invitation, Zhena visited campus last fall and held a lovely tea ceremony while Alice Bag (and Tony Fletcher) performed and read on Earth Day last spring.

In addition to reading and responding to the texts in their book clubs, each book club will present their book to the rest of the class trying to convince them to read it. Each group will create a blog to use in their presentation, and they will have the option of making a trailer for their books.

220px-Borderlands_La_Frontera_(Anzaldua_book)Today for class we read “How To Tame A Wild Tongue” by Gloria Anzaldua from her book, Borderlands/La Frontera; we’ve already read “The Path of the Red and Black Ink” and today we will read the title poem together in class (see the link above for the pdf with the correct indents–I am not able to replicate it here). The whole book is wonderful but I have yet to teach it; maybe next year. We are also reading Amy Tan’s essay “Mother Tongue” (pdf here) and we will look Antena,   “

Antena is a language justice and language experimentation collaborative.

Antena does writing, art- and book-making, translating, interpreting, and language justice.

Antena views aesthetic practice as part and parcel of language justice work.

Antena explores how critical views on language can help us to reimagine and rearticulate the worlds we inhabit.


Antena is a language justice collaborative founded in 2010 by Jen Hofer and John Pluecker, both of whom are writers, artists, literary translators, bookmakers and activist interpreters. In 2014, Antena Los Ángeles was founded as the first local branch of Antena, with the participation of Miguel Morales Cruz and Ana Paula Noguez Mercado. Antena Los Ángeles  is specifically focused on building multilingual spaces locally in Southern California.

Antena views our aesthetic practice as part and parcel of our language justice work. Antena activates links between social justice work and artistic practice by exploring how critical views on language can help us to reimagine and rearticulate the worlds we inhabit. Antena works with organizations, communities and individuals to create dynamic, well-functioning multilingual spaces for small and large groups of people to foster open communication and attentive listening across languages and cultures.  We primarily work with Spanish and English but have experience coordinating more diverse language combinations.

According to wikipedia, “Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa (September 26, 1942 – May 15, 2004) was a scholar of Chicana cultural theory, feminist theory, and queer theory. She loosely based her best-known book, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, on her life growing up on the Mexican-Texas border and incorporated her lifelong feelings of social and cultural marginalization into her work.”

To live in the Borderlands means you
are neither hispana india negra española
ni gabacha, eres mestiza, mulata
, half-breed
caught in the crossfire between camps
while carrying all five races on your back
not knowing which side to turn to, run from;

To live in the Borderlands means knowing
that the india in you, betrayed for 500 years,
is no longer speaking to you,
that mexicanas call you rajetas,
that denying the Anglo inside you
is as bad as having denied the Indian or Black;

Cuando vives in la frontera
people walk through you, the wind steals your voice,
you’re a burra, buey, scapegoat,
forerunner of a new race,
half and half—both woman and man, neither—
a new gender;

To live in the Borderlands means to
put chile in the borscht,
eat whole wheat tortillas,
speak Tex-Mex with a Brooklyn accent;
be stopped by la migra at the border checkpoints;

Living in the Borderlands means you fight hard to
resist the gold elixir beckoning from the bottle,
the pull of the gun barrel,
the rope crushing the hollow of your throat;

In the Borderlands
you are the battleground
where enemies are kin to each other;
you are at home, a stranger,
the border disputes have been settled
the volley of shots have shattered the truce
you are wounded, lost in action
dead, fighting back;

To live in the Borderlands means
the mill with the razor white teeth wants to shred off
your olive-red skin, crush out the kernel, your heart
pound you pinch you roll you out
smelling like white bread but dead;

To survive the Borderlands
you must live sin fronteras
be a crossroads.

gabacha: a Chicano term for a white woman
rajetas: literally, “split,” that is, having betrayed your word
burra: donkey
buey: oxen
sin fronteras: without borders

This week I again ask my students which book–

1. is their first choice to read and why,

2. their second choice to read and why

3. which one they don’t want to read and why,

4. who they’d like to work with and why

5. who they’d prefer NOT to work with

6. whether who they work with is more important than what they read.

Which books have you read? Which are now are your list?


2 Comments leave one →
  1. nydia permalink
    March 4, 2015 8:32 pm

    Great recommendations – adding to my own list. Wish I were one of your students. :)

  2. March 4, 2015 10:56 pm

    Reblogged this on whisper down the write alley.

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