Sunday, June 19, 2011

Remembering Our Dead (in Juárez)

Last weekend I went to Ciudad Juárez to join the march for Peace, organized to demand the end of violence in Mexico, especially in Ciudad Juárez, called by some news sources the most dangerous city in the world.

With about a hundred other El Pasons, I walked across the international bridge to join the march.

What amazed me most about this gathering of thousands was how many regular people came out with pictures and the names of their dead.

It’s as if they were there, not for political purposes, not for symbolic reasons, but because they wanted to remember their loved ones, wanted to shout their names, wanted someone to know, wanted justice, wanted somebody to do something.

I took a lot of photos that day, but the ones that struck me the most were those of the family members and friends of the dead.

I put this video together to remember.

Watch The Deaths in Juárez in People & Blogs  |  View More Free Videos Online at

Monday, June 6, 2011

A New Image: Andrés Montoya Lives!

We finally framed our new Malaquias Montoya print.

I have been a serendipitous collector of Malaquias Montoya’s work for many years now.

This is the first Montoya image I got, many years ago,
when I was a student at Fresno State, rooming with his son, the late great poet Andrés Montoya, after whom the Notre Dame poetry prize is named.

The Chican@ students invited Malaquias Montoya to speak on campus and display his art work, part of our annual Chicano heritage celebration. Malaquias kept some of the works he displayed at our apartment, which was located in a complex that everyone called the Ghetto Woods, across the street from the campus.

I remember a bunch of large packages arriving at our door from UPS, how excited we were, so many works of art from thee Malaquias Montoya, in our apartment!

For a few weeks, whenever friends came to our place, Andrés and I lied and said that they were ours, but when they asked to let them have one, we had to admit the truth.

We knew the day would come when we would have to give them back to Andrés’ father.

Fortunately, he took some pity on us, and he gave each of us an image. I chose the one above.

It depicts a Mexican illegal wrapped in an American flag, tied tight in a bundle with barbed wire, a classic Malaquias Montoya motif.

The next one is an image of Abraham Lincoln, and a quote by him.
The words Lincoln wrote often shock people who have come to my house and see the print on the wall, because they have always thought of him as a liberal, nice, non-racist kind of guy. Like much of the art movement from which he produced, Montoya challenges us with facing another angle on history, one that contradicts the lies my teacher told me.

Years later I acquired a few more Montoya images.

This one is a more recent image, given to Sasha and me by Malaquias and Lezlie when Sasha and I got married.

We even have a print from his other son, Maceo Montoya, also a wedding gift. Maceo is not only a great artist--as good as his father--but he is also a brilliant fiction writer, whose first novel, The Scoundrel and the Optimist, has recently been published to sweeping reviews and awards.

Here’s something very few people might have:

I have some watercolors painted by Andrés Montoya himself, a year or so before he died of leukemia at 30 years old.

His last few years on earth, he had started to paint and draw.

He rented a studio in downtown Fresno and painted all day long. He gave me a few of his watercolor paintings and pastel drawings.

This one, he said, was among his favorites, and he wanted me to have it.

“Thanks,” I said. “What’s it called?”

“What’s it called?” he repeated my question. “Uh, it’s called The Little Man Takes a Walk to Lodi While Praising God.

“That’s kind of long for a title,” I said, skeptical that he wasn’t making it up on the spot.

About a year later, when he was in his hospital bed, bald from the chemo but, as usual, in good spirits, I asked him, “Hey, do you remember that water color you gave me of the walking man?”

He said, “You mean The Little Man Takes a Walk to Lodi While Praising God? What about it?”

“Er, nothing,” I said.

He also gave me some drawings as well as a painting that I keep in the garage. It’s an abstract piece, or at least he wanted it to be. It has such beautiful colors, lines and curves and swirls, but I don’t hang it on the wall, because it might reflect his more carnal desires. I mean, even though he would have denied it, it’s obviously shaped like something specific.

(Nudge, nudge. Say no more.)

One day, not too long ago, Francisco Aragón from the Institute for Latino Studies at Notre Dame told me about the Andrés Montoya initiative. He said that Malaquias Montoya was going to create a print inspired by one of Andrés’ poems. He would make a limited amount and would number and sign them. This would help to raise funds for Notre Dame’s Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize. I knew I would buy one, before he even told me the price.

The $440 was a bargain, not to mention an investment, but the fact that it helps finance the prize seemed pretty important. All the winners, Sheryl Luna, Gabriel Gomez, Paul Martínez Pompa, and Emma Trelles have become and are becoming important Latin@ voices, the ones to look out for. What a way to honor our Americas, our literature, our commitment to community and voice, our love for language and image.

Besides, the initiative will also help with the publication of Andrés Montoya’s posthumous book of poems, colón-nization, which I edited and compiled.

And it’s a beautiful work based on a powerful poem.

DW and I went to the art store and bought a frame, matting, an X-acto knife and did the framing ourselves, something I’m learning to do with my photography.
(By the way, I have been told by a reliable source that in the blogging world “DW” means “Dear wife.” I’m not sure if this is true, but I thought I’d try to get away with using it.)

DW and I put all. . . .

Naw, it doesn’t fit.

Sasha and I put all the materials on the table and measured, cut, and pasted.

Our cat Joey wanted to help, but I suspect it was more for the shiny moving things than it was a commitment to art.

Anyway, here it is framed and beautiful.

Want a tip?

Buy this work. Click here.

It’s not only a good investment in a signed work by one of the most important Chicano artists ever, but it also goes to a good cause.

It brings Andrés and his words back to life and keeps the lifeblood running through the veins of Latina poets today, keeping them in print, honoring them with the literary prizes they deserve.