Review: Posada-Offerings of Witness and Refuge by Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo

Review: Posada-Offerings of Witness and Refuge by Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo

posada

In the four sections of her first poetry collection, Posada- Offerings of Witness and Refuge, Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo takes us with her through the multiple, imaginative and too real border spaces of migration, language and belonging. In the first part, she goes on a journey of remembering, collecting and reconstructing her family’s history. Starting with the stolen metate they brought from  Teocaltiche, Bermejo connects the memories and stories of her family, from Uncle Manny’s recollections of his tía Susana and her remedies to Bermejo’s mother who was “never gifted the story of her birth,” presenting in her work the “Pieces I’ve Gathered so Far.”

Part 2 demonstrates the way in which Bermejo draws inspiration from Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo and others and appropriately explores gender roles and the relationships of the women in her family, from mothers and daughters in “Frida’s Monkey Nurse:”

I tie her to this world never knowing

where the other will spit her out, never knowing

 when it will finally swallow her whole

to her relationship with her grandmother, to whom this collection is dedicated, in “This Poem is for Nopales:”

Grandma, in the hospital room, when I kissed the fade of your cheek

to say goodbye, crisscrossing chin hairs caught my attention.

Now, when I look in the mirror and And hairs have bloomed overnight,

I think of roots. I think of you. I hope I can be a nopal woman too.

In part 3, “Things to Know for Compañer@s. A No More Deaths Volunteer Guide,” Bermejo draws on her work with the humanitarian organization No More Deaths, which gives medical aid and support along the border. Her poems bear witness to life and death on the migrant trail peppered with resilient cacti.

 Did you know?
 When barrel cacti become tombstones and their
 yellow starburst blooms offerings for the dead, you won’t be too cool to 
 belt Katy Perry songs.
Did you know?
Migrants are hurried over trails at night and without light. 
Their blisters are caused by continuous friction, muscle cramping by 
dehydration, vomiting by drinking bacteria ridden cow pond water, 
and those who move too slow are left behind.

In the last part, Bermejo pays witness to other/s’ stories of refuge and migration, connecting and piecing together similar and interrelated struggles from Arizona to Chavez Ravine to Gaza. She bears witness to tales of desperation, of refuge and migration and gives names and faces to those who too often remain just numbers to us. Posada is a fantastic, visceral debut collection of social justice poetry, not only exploring the different meanings of borders, but also providing safe spaces and comfort for those straddling them.

Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo is a first generation Chicana. She is a 2016-2017 Steinbeck fellow and has received residencies with Hedgebrook, the Ragdale Foundation, and is a proud member of the Macondo Writers’ Workshop. In Los Angeles, she is a cofounder of Women Who Submit, a literary organization using social media and community events to empower women authors to submit work for publication, and curates the quarterly reading series HITCHED.

Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge is out today! Go get it here.

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Disclaimer: I was given an e-copy of this book by the publisher, Sundress Publications, but never fear I remain my opinionated self!

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Thoughts: Gabi, A Girl in Pieces #HHM

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Gabi has a lot on her plate. It’s her last year of high school but apart from classes and college applications, she also has to deal with a father who is fighting a losing battle with meth addiction, her friend Cindy getting pregnant (as a result of date rape, we learn later), her other best friend Sebastian coming out, as well as exploring her own sexuality and first relationships.

Isabel Quintero’s first novel Gabi, A Girl in Pieces, published by CincoPuntoPress, is a tour-de-force. The good thing about being blissfully ignorant about new releases and a lot of hype before joining twitter is that I mostly missed all the excitement and picked up this book only now because I vaguely remembered someone saying it was good and it being LatinX Heritage Month. So I got to skirt the overblown expectations trap, yay, but am totally doing this to you now with this review. #sorrynotsorry

If you’re into intersectional feminism (you better be!), then this book will make you want to get out your highlighters. Let me quote this section, which everyone else is apparently also quoting (google told me, but still thanks for the easy c&p)):

My mother named me Gabriella, after my grandmother who, coincidentally, didn’t want to meet me when I was born because my mother was unmarried, and therefore living in sin. My mom has told me the story many, many, MANY, times of how, when she confessed to my grandmother that she was pregnant with me, her mother beat her. BEAT HER! She was twenty-five. That story is the basis of my sexual education and has reiterated why it’s important to wait until you’re married to give it up. So now, every time I go out with a guy, my mom says, “Ojos abiertos, piernas cerradas.” Eyes open, legs closed. That’s as far as the birds and the bees talk has gone. And I don’t mind it. I don’t necessarily agree with that whole wait until you’re married crap, though. I mean, this is America and the 21st century; not Mexico one hundred years ago. But, of course, I can’t tell my mom that because she will think I’m bad. Or worse: trying to be White.

This excerpt really concisely introduces all the issues Quintero adresses in the novel and also drives home the point that Gabi lives at a very specific intersection of gender, race and ethnicity. So the novel explores one culture’s version of the double-standard, that of patriarchal machismo Mexican-American dichotomy of the virgen/puta. And Gabi has to realize that many women in her community have internalized this toxicity and police other women’s behavior and expression of sexuality (as they tend to, don’t get me started on this issue), her mother among them:

“for my mother, a woman’s whole value is what’s between her legs. And once a man has access to that, she has no more value.”

Part of this patriarchal view is also the refusal to accept homosexuality and Gabi’s friend Sebastian is thrown out by his parents when he comes out. On the other side of the coin we have the boys will be boys mentality, about which Gabi writes a scathing poem.

Gabi is furthermore not marked Mexican-American by her skin color, instead she is so light-skinned she can pass as white but as a result has to deal with feeling alienated at times. Since I basically have the opposite problem, this was an interesting change in perspective.

The book also shows Gabi’s acceptance when it comes to her body and she moves from regarding herself as a “fatgirl” to acceptance. There’s a terrible lack of “fativism” in books and hopefully this will change in coming years, but it’s another reason why I hope Gabi will be read and taught widely, so these young women will see themselves represented too.

I also loved was watching Gabi coming into her own as a poet, apart from the diary style of the novel, we also get to read Gabi’s poetry and her attempts at spoken word. Poetry is how Gabi finds a way to express and empower herself. Her words are sharp and to the point and you’ll want to pick up a poetry collection immediately after finishing this book (I’ll be gushing about one particular, exciting collection later this week, stay tuned!).

The language use is wonderfully done as well, I’m glad there’s no glossary and hardly any translations. Quintero makes me work for it and I gladly got out my rusty Spanish for beginners knowledge, and between knowing other romance language and guessing from context…no excuses people! I’m sure LatinX will love this book and the intermingling of English and Spanish…Spanglish? And us other readers do well to remember to work on our privilege.

It’s amazing that this is a first novel. It’s a book that will be taught in high schools and colleges everywhere!

Other thoughts:

Reading the End

Twinja Book Reviews

Life of a Female Bibliophile

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

5 On a Theme: Chican@ & Latino/a Speculative Fiction

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This was a difficult one! But since Chicana and diverse SF were requested, here’s my attempt to combine them. A note on terminology: I’ve included writers that I have seen included in Latino/a or have seen identify themselves as such. Some but not all also identify with the sometimes overlapping but radical Chican@, let me know if I got something wrong! Also, the @ is for inclusion of all gender identities but since Latin@ is something else, please excuse my binaries.

I think the difficulty in finding Chican@ and Latino/a science-fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction, without going in the direction of Latin America and magical realism, just goes to show that we need to promote these stories better and let authors and publishers know that we will greet these books enthusiastically. From what I can tell, writers and artists are doing amazing things in the borderlands as Vourvoulias uses the term for that grey queer space of non-/indie-/self publishing. They should be getting lots of acknowledgement and recognition in the limelight too. These stories are what I want to see when I enter a bookstore!

Lunar Braceros

1) Lunar Braceros by Rosaura Sánchez and Beatrice Pita

This science fiction novella is set in a dystopian 22nd century in which the US does not exist anymore and different territories have emerged. The new order connects to the history of oppression suffered in the Americas and is written with an explicit social justice approach which is what drew me to the book in the first place. I loaned this one from a friend who warned me that the ideas and politics were amazing but that the style was more lecture than dialogue. I’m glad I knew this beforehand and got so much out of it, such an amazing work, I would’ve gladly read more!

high aztec

2) High Aztec by Ernest Hogan

Techno Aztec/h city Tenochtitlan formerly known as Mexico city has stainless steel pyramids and lots of immigrant (I’m only using this term instead of refugee etc cause things are turned on its head with US citizens as those fleeing) influx from the declining US and Christian and Aztec beliefs clashing. There’s another problem though: Zapata! He’s a cartoonist carrying a virus and everyone is after him. Hogan has written genre fiction and I mean this in the nicest way possible. This is so cool and has been under my radar for far too long!

ink

3) Ink by Sabrina Vourvoulias

Dystopian fiction taking the anti-immigration rhetoric and politics of the US to its logical conclusion. People with such a history, Latino/as have to wear biometric tattoos and they are known as inks. We follow different narrators over several years and see them caught between these violent conditions, belonging, magicks and making connections. The four narrators made the book’s structure a bit chaotic but I loved it nonetheless! Also how awesome is this cover!

the assimilated guide

4) The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria by Carlos Hernandez

This is a new short story collection published by amazing RosariumPub. Hernandez writes strange, intriguing stories from a Cuban-American perspective. Expect everything from sexy robot pandas to quantum mechanics bringing along unicorns to illegal aliens! This is on my tbr.

Latino.a rising art

5) Latino/a Rising Anthology

I know, this one won’t be out till next year but I’ve been following their campaign and it’s so amazing to see there was enough support to get it done! The anthology will be published in 2017 by Wings Press. Vourvoulias will also apparently contribute a story and check out the line-up here!

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There’s also an amazing article by Vourvoulias, where you can find Latino/a speculative short story recommendations and this list of Latino/a genre writers. Another great source is La Bloga’s Latino Speculative Literature Directory.

Do you read diverse science fiction and speculative literature? How do you come across them? Also: Do please leave me your faves in the comments!