Friday, November 27, 2015


October 20, 2015

Had a great time once again with Cathy Gillis' PUENTE English students at Napa Valley Community College! They had just finished reading my book and they were enthused to meet the author and gave my wife and I a warm welcome. I answered some well thought out questions the instructor had gathered from them beforehand. Asked by the teacher that if they would like their books signed by the author, they quickly lined up to do so. One student presented my with a special gift on their behalf: A Puente T-shirt, orale!!

After, I did a community presentation for a small crowd and spoke of my love for and lifelong delving in the arts, painting, drawing, sculpture, drama, writing, and music and ended by doing a few songs for them, "La Maldiocion de Malinche", "Rosita Alvirez", and the "Corrido de Dolores Huerta." Showing slides of Mexican muralists, Rivera, Orozco, and Siqeuiros, I read my poem, "Para Los Tres Grandes" (or the Three Great Ones). I also spoke of my love for my Mexican culture and how promoting it has been my lifelong work.

We were treated to a beautiful room at a local Westin Hotel that evening! And after a nice meal at Don Perico Mexican restaurant in downtown Napa, we were swallowed up by the plush, king-sized, down comforter bed and had a great nights sleep. Meanwhile, I had gotten a text from an ex-Puentista student, Vanessa Aguiñiga, who was a present in one of my previous presentations two years earlier, apologizing for not being able to attend the presentation, but inviting us to lunch she would "treat" us to at her place of work, Napa Valley Bistro! Like, how can you beat all this?

Thank you Cathy, Vanessa, and to your students for providing us with such a wonderful day for my wife and I!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Burial and Disinterment of “Mr. Spanish”
By Richard Rios

     I recently watched “The Children of Giant”, a documentary on the making of the 1958 Hollywood blockbuster, “Giant”, directed by George Stevens starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean, in the last film before his tragic death. The story was based on the controversial novel (1952) by Edna Farber, about unscrupulous Texas cattle barons, and the racial divide between Whites and Mexicans in the early 20th century. The documentary, directed by Hector Galvan, tells of how the tiny town of Marfa, Texas, chosen for most of the on-location filming, with its large population of Mexicans, many of whom served as extras, was affected.

Funny, but what stood out to me in the documentary is one bizarre, darkly-humorous story epitomizing the phobia of racial discrimination against anything Spanish or Mexican, especially its language. Talk about English-only!

     In the local Blackwell School, a six-room adobe structure built in 1889, the racial division between Whites and Mexicans was made abundantly clear by the school’s policy prohibiting Mexican football players from using the same showers as the White players. The local cemetery was also clearly divided into a “White” and “Mexican” section. In her essay “The Politics of Tears: Marfa, Texas”, Mary Walling Blackburn, tells a story about a little-known “burial” that took place in 1954 at the school (also referenced in the documentary). Students (presumably Mexicans) were gathered at the school’s flagpole (quite appropriate) and instructed to write Spanish words on little pieces of paper. The papers were then placed in a make-believe coffin, and buried, in a symbolic ceremony that became known as “The Burial of Mr. Spanish.”

Blackburn further recounts that years later:

During the Blackwell Reunion of 2007, two hundred people assembled for the exhumation of Mr. Spanish. This disinterment was intended to symbolically reverse the previous suppression of Spanish by school authorities. However, when ceremony began, the original grave could not be located, so they orchestrated a performance, where the contents of the grave suddenly included an actual figure. This allowed for Mr. Spanish to be exhumed yet remain buried. Both dead and live, 'he' is nowhere and everywhere and language, as absence and presence, grids the ground. For myself and a few other outsiders, there was the misguided notion that something resembling the body of a man was to be pulled from the dirt schoolyard, something more like an effigy than a human. But what was disinterred from a shallow grave, dug expressly for the reunion, was a newly made child-size coffin with a book inside of it. In unremitting sunlight, Maggie Marquez, a local librarian and Ralph Melendez, the temporary gravedigger, both former Blackwell School students, held the new coffin aloft. Next, they lifted their fists to the air. Then Maggie raised the book to the sky - a small Spanish-English dictionary - and the plastic orange and red cover hovered for what seemed a while against the blue sky. The crowd, dressed in their old school colours, cheered.

     I was so moved by Galvan’s film that I immediately ordered the movie “Giant” from Netflix and watched it (again). More humor: in one scene, as Jordon “Bick” Benedict, Jr. (Rock Hudson), the tall, handsome Texas baron whose ranch “Reata” sprawls across some 500,000 acres, introduces his naïve, east-coast bride , “Leslie”, (Elizabeth Taylor,) to life in the “country of Texas,” a barbecue is held in her honor. Bick explains that it was Mexicans who actually invented the “barbecue” and that the word comes from the Spanish word “Barbacoa.” 

But as Leslie watches the Mexican cooks pull a burlap-wrapped bundle from a smoking pit in the ground, she asks Bick what it is. It turns out to be a cow’s head (Cabeza, a Mexican delicacy), but when a giant scoop of steaming cow brains is placed in Leslie’s plate, Leslie she faints and has to be carried into the house! OMG, I would have fainted too!

Oh, and as for my analysis of having watched, “Giant”, again, I fell asleep about two-thirds of the way in! Perdonenme.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

I've been working on the CD for a few months now. A satisfying project with the help of Mike Torres, Jr. Recording in Stockton. Had original selections of episodes we recorded for radio back in the early 80's on a bunch of old cassette tapes. All of them have been transferred to digital and a selection of some of the best will appear on the CD. It should be ready by the first of August 2015, and I will post details of how to order one for yourself.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

During the 1980's one of my students brought me a cartoon drawing he had made of two barrio vatos,"Cho & Lo" (Cholo) asking what I thought of turning them into live characters. At the time, I was teaching Chicano Studies at Delta College in Stockton and working with the Chicano Community Program at the University of Pacific's radio station KUOP-FM, 91.3, an NPR affiliate, doing Chicano and Precolumbian poetry, and skits and so his idea was a natural for radio. He would play the role of "Cho" and "I" the part of "Lo" and his lovely wife would do the introduction to each episode "As the Barrio turns and the Menudo burns", over the background song, "Cisco Kid" by "War." 
Thus, began a run that would last through the end of the 1980s and become a Sunday staple for the weekly program, and we would be catapulted for local fame, with kids in the schools rushing us for autographs!

We decided to address issues we found relevant, important or humorous, always with humor, slapstick, tongue-in-cheek, and satire: education, cultural conflict, gangs, drugs, machismo, the farm worker struggle, discrimination, and immigration. Some episodes, of course, were non-nonsensical or just plain Locuras. Our episodes began live on the air as the two of us read from prepared scripts, with only a few minutes rehearsal before each show. In time, we began to add extra readers, and sound-effects and we progressed to taping them during the week for each Sunday's airing, and that allowed us to add stock sound-effects, dubbing and over-dubbing and to correct our flubs.
For years, all that remained of Cho & Lo were memories and compliments by a random listener we would run into a Walmart or the mall.

But fortunately I had a small stash of recordings of Cho & Lo which I had transferred to cassette tapes and recently I have been working on producing a CD with a collection of some of our Locuras.
The CD will be available in early August and I will post updates here, date of release, price, and how to order a copy. I can assure you this CD will be a "tripiazo." Stay tuned for the next episode!!!