Friday, September 29, 2017

Important Latino musicians who used the universal language of music to impact the world

Music is a language we all speak. It doesn’t matter what language the lyrics are in, the melodies and harmonies speak to each of us in a universal language. Music is also a big part of any culture and the Hispanic culture is no different. In fact, I’d say music is extremely important. Have you ever been to a Latino home for a party when the radio wasn’t playing? I haven’t. In fact, most Hispanics and Latinos won’t considered it a party until there is music they can dance to. So when I asked my Facebook friends for their advice about who in music has been influential in Hispanic and Latin communities, the response was strong. It was hard to pick just three but I feel I have chosen three performers whose music has a lasting impression on his audience.

First, Vicente Fernández was born February 17, 1940 in Huentitán el Alto, Guadalajara Jalisco, Mexico. He is called El Rey de la Musica Ranchera (The King of Ranchera Music). Ranchera music is a genre of traditional Mexican music which dates back prior to the Mexican Revolution and become closely associated with the mariachi groups which evolved from Jalisco, Mexico. Fernández spent his early years on his father’s ranch. At 8, he began playing the guitar and singing ranchera music. He begab to sing in contests at local festivals and won many times. By 1960, he devoted himself full time to music. His big break came in the spring of 1966 when Javier Solis, the El Rey del Bolero Ranchero died and Discos CBS offered Fernández a recording contract. He would have a long and successful career until he retired from live performing on April 16, 2016. Even though he retired from performing, he continues to record and publish music. While he was usually accompanied live by a mariachi group, he is not considered a mariachi musician because he does not play an instrument live. His greatest hit was Volver, Volver (1972). It is a song about going back to a love her left behind. Fernández sings the song with such emotion you can hear the tears in the narrator’s voice. I listened to this song twice. Once without the English translation and once with the translation, the emotion is so raw in the song, you can’t help getting choked up. I read several comments online which describe family functions and a drunk dad or uncle will eventually play this song and sing along. One commenter said “We all have that one dad or tio that plays this and cries.” While another commenter said “Is this like the universal sad song for Hispanic families? Every single woman in my family cries when this plays.” Volver, Volver reminds me of many country and rock songs where a man realizes he was wrong to leave and is coming home…if she’ll let him. Vicente Fernández is currently 77 years old. When he does pass away, I know the response from his fans and the music world will be resounding.

Second, Juan Gabriel was born Alberto Aguilera Valadez on January 7, 1950. He was a beloved Mexican singer and songwriter. Nicknamed Juanga and El Divo de Juárez, he was known for his flamboyant style, breaking barriers within Mexican music. He is considered one of the best and most prolific Mexican composers and singers of all time. A true pop icon. At 13, he composed his first. In the 1960s, he would perform at various bars around Juárez, Mexico. While trying to achieve a recording contract, he was wrongfully accused of robbery. He spent a year and a hald in prison until he was released due to the lack of evidence. He chose his stage name Juan Gabriel in honor of Juan Contreras, his mentor, and his father, Gabriel. He released his first studio album in 1971 with his first of many hits, No Tengo Dinero. He had successful hit after another. He became a world renowned singer performing in a wide variety of styles from mariachi to pop to disco. His lyrics often spoke of heartbreak and romantic relationships. Although he never married, he had 6 children. Four of them with Laura Salas whom he describes as “the best friend I ever had.” When his sudden death of a heart attack was announced on August 28, 2016, the shock rippled through his fans. Even though I wasn’t familiar with his work, I remember the impact the news of his death had. One of his most well-known songs is Querida, a song about a lost love and begging her to come back. The song sounds like a very 80s pop love song but it is one that still sounds good and resonates decades later. Another song is Amor Eterno, a song he wrote for his mother after her death. It was first recorded and made famous by Spanish singer Rocio Durcal. It has become a standard song at funerals for those who refuse to say goodbye. He would call the song a prayer of love and a mediation on love. It is a song about the grief and life after a loved one has passed. Both songs and many others are a testament to the versatility of this man’s amazing talent.

Third, Carlos Santana was born July 20, 1947 in Autlán de Navarro, Jalisco, Mexico. He learned to play the violin at the age of 5 and the guitar at the age of 8 under the tutelage of his father, a mariachi musician. The family moved around for years before eventually settling in the Mission District of San Francisco, California. He graduated in 1965 from Mission High School and was accepted at both California State University, Northridge and Humboldt State but chose not to attend college. He was influenced by artist of the 1950s, Ritchie Valens, B.B. King, John Lee Hooker with musical influences of jazz, folk, and rock and roll. He became known for Latin infused rock, jazz, blues, salsa and African rhythms. He began his career with the Santana Blues Band, which was later shortened to Santana, and quickly gained popularity in the club circuit of San Francisco. A memorable performance at Woodstock in 1969 would lead to a recording contract with Columbia Records. He is most known for covers of Oye Como Va (written and original recorded by Tito Puente in 1963) and Black Magic Woman (written by Pete Green and originally recorded by Fleetwood Mac in 1968). Santana would see records sales sag in the 1980s as the tastes in music were changing. He would see a resurgence in popularity in 1999 with the release of his corroboration album, Supernatural. This album is how I was truly introduced to Santana with the song Smooth with Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty. Seventeen years away from the charts, Supernatural would help him achieve hits and numerous Grammy awards. In 2002, he’d released another corroboration album, Shaman, which didn’t have the same success as Supernatural. However it would produce 2 radio friendly hits including The Game of Love with Michelle Branch. He continues to create music and release albums experimenting with sounds and styles. Santana has been cited as an influence by Prince and Kirk Hammett of Metallica. I think he will continue to influence many future guitar musicians as he experiments and expands his style.

In conclusion, Santana once said “There’s a melody in everything. And once you find the melody, then you can connect immediately with the heart.” The music of these men are perfect examples of melodies which connect with the heart. It doesn’t matter what language it is in, the melody drives the emotion that words will often fail to convey. There are so many more examples of amazing music which transcends language and culture. Listening to the story told in these songs reminds me that no matter what culture we are form, we all experience love, hurt, grief and joy. You may not understand the words but you can hear the emotions in these songs and the musical notes pull at your heart in a language we all can understand. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Jonah, Micah, Nahum: minor prophets with a major message

This month’s study is one three minor prophets with very important messages. Jonah, Micah, and Nahum are short book with a big impact. Everyone is familiar with Jonah and the big fish. However, what are the important themes in the book? What lessons can we learn from his story? In the book of Micah is the answer to what does it mean to pervert one’s faith? As well as to the question what does God truly expect from us? Nahum is the prophecy against a powerful and once repented nation. What does it mean to say that God is judge and ruler?

Jonah was a prophet who was sent by God to the city of Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria during the approximate time of 785-760 BCE. At the time, Assyria was a great enemy of Israel and Jonah resisted being sent to Nineveh into the arena of bitter enemies. Why should they hear and receive God’s message of salvation? Jonah took to the sea and God sent him a violent storm and into the belly of a great fish (Jonah 1:17). The book of Jonah is unique because it is a narrative story of the prophet rather than his prophecies. There are three major themes in the story of Jonah. First, God is sovereign. God is in control despite our desires to obey or not. The storm was used by God to guide Jonah to see God’s wisdom in sending him to Nineveh. Second, God’s message to all peoples. He loves all and offers his salvation to all. Jonah’s message was simple “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned” (Jonah 3:4). The Nineveh heard the message and repented. The king proclaimed that everyone “urgently call on God” (Jonah 3:8). However, even though Jonah delivered the message as he was commanded. He still didn’t want to see the Ninevites receive God’s salvation. He was angry when God didn’t bring destruction to the city. God sent him another message about compassion (Jonah 4:1-11). Third, when your repentance is real, God will forgive. When you respond in obedience, you will receive God’s mercy, not his punishment. Jonah offered his repentance from the belly of a great fish and God heard him (Jonah 2:1-10). The Ninevites turned from their evils way and God had compassion on them (Jonah 3:10). There is no place you can sink that God cannot hear you.

Micah was a prophet to the people of Israel during the dates of 742-687 BCE. The main theme of Micah is about perverting faith. Micah speaks directly to the false prophets, disobedient leaders and selfish priests in Judah and Israel. While they publicly carried out the religious ceremonies, they were privately seeking to gain money and influence. “Hear this, you leaders of the house of Jacob, you rulers of the house of Israel, who despise justice and distort all that is right” (Micah 3:9) and “Her leaders judge for a bribe, her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money. Yet they lean upon the Lord and say ‘Is not the Lord among us? Mo disaster will come upon us” (Micah 3:11) It is because of these leaders that the Lord will destroy Israel (Micah 3:12). To mix selfish desires with an empty display of religious piety is perverting faith. To remain silent for fear of losing money or church members is dangerous for the church; however, many pastors are influenced by these factors and will not speak up for what is right. On a similar note, God delights in faith not the sacrifices at the temple or the tithes you may give the church. He delights in faith that produces justice, love for others and obedience in him. Micah 6:6-8 tells us that God is more please with acting justly, be merciful, and walk humbly with him. The type or amount of sacrifices doesn’t matter. What God truly wants is faith and obedience. True faith generates kindness, compassion, justice and humility. We can please God by seeking these results in our work, family, church and neighborhood. We may not always succeed but with God’s guidance we can succeed in the future.

Nahum was a prophet to Judah and Nineveh approximately between 663-612 BCE. His purpose was to pronounce God’s judgement on Assyria. Nahum is writing his prophets approximately 100 years after Jonah prophesied in Nineveh which means that Nineveh’s repentance was short lived. God judged Nineveh for its idolatry, arrogance and oppression. Even though Assyria was a great military power of the day, God would completely destroy this powerful nation. Nahum 1:3 states “The Lord is slow to anger and great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished.” Nahum 2 describes Nineveh’s fall which come true in 612 BCE as the armies of Babylon and Medes destroyed the seemingly invincible Nineveh. The city was so completely wiped out that its ruins were not discovered until the 1840s! God is judge and no human power can avoid his wrath. God also rules over all the earth even those who don’t acknowledge him. God is all-powerful and human plans are futile against God’s plans. Overconfidence in their wealth and power was the key to Assyria’s downfall. However, there is a bright light in Nahum’s message of doom. Nahum 1:7 states “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him.” This verse is important today as we are bombarded with news of nuclear weapons, armies and war. When we place of faith and trust in God, he alone can truly rescue us from fear and oppression. When we place our confidence in him because he alone rules all of history, all the earth and our lives. Does this mean we will survive any danger? Not necessarily, however, God is more powerful than anything on earth. What can physically hurt us can never spiritually hurt us as long as our trust is in the Lord.

In conclusion, Jonah is the lesson that God’s message is for everyone. It does not matter if we like the person or people, we are to bring his message of salvation to everyone who can hear and receive it. If God has shown us mercy and compassion, then we are to follow his example and show mercy and compassion to others by giving them God’s message. Micah is the important lesson for those in power. Whether it be church leaders, political leaders and leaders in our families, twist God’s word for your own personal gains and God will judge you harshly. The inner acts of faith are often more important than the outwardly acts of religion. Nahum is the lesson that God is more powerful than anything on earth. He can save and destroy.  

Monday, September 25, 2017

What is game theory?: a basic introduction

Recently I noticed in movies and TV shows, game theory is being mentioned and it struck me that I don’t know what game theory is. So here I am researching it and sharing what I learned with you. First, let me say that there is so much more to game theory than what I can write about without being long winded or boring. I will only cover the basics. That being said, here we go. Game theory is the study of mathematical models of conflicts and cooperation between intelligent rational decision makers. It is mainly used in economics, political science and psychology. It can also be applied to logic, computer science and biology.

The first known discussion of game theory occurred in letter to James Waldegrave, a British diplomat from Charles Waldegrave, his uncle, in 1713. Known as the Waldegrave problem, it was a mixed strategy solution to a two-person card game called le Her in which a standard deck of 52 cards are played between a dealer and a receiver. James Madison used what is now called game theoretic analysis to predict how the states can be expect to act under different taxation systems (Vice of the Political System of the United States, April 1787). Throughout the years, many other theories devised their own game theories. In 1838, Antoine Augustin Cournot used duopoly, a form of oligopoly where only two sellers exist in one market, and presented a solution to the Nash equilibrium. The Nash equilibrium is a solution concept of a non-cooperative game. The study of game theory didn’t truly exist as its own field until 1938. While there are many game types in game theory, I will be discussing three.

First, cooperative versus non-cooperative games. In cooperative game theory, players are able to form binding commitments externally enforced, i.e. contract law. The focus is on predicting which coalitions will form place and the resulting payoffs. Cooperative game theory does not focus on how coalitions achieve their payoffs. For example, a coalition can exchange whatever it wants among its members; however, it does not discuss how offers or counteroffers are made. The image of a bargaining table in which two or more people are hashing out a business deal or even a criminal plea deal. Non-cooperative game theory, players cannot form alliances or if all agreements need to be self-enforcing, i.e. credible threats. The focus is on predicting individual players’ actions and the possible payoffs while trying to predict what strategies the players will choose. In essence how people should or do act for the maximum individual benefit.

Second, symmetric versus asymmetric game theory. In symmetric game theory, payoffs for playing a particular strategy depends only on the other strategies played and not who played them. If the players changed without changing the strategies, the playoffs would be the same. The game of chicken is an example of a symmetric game. Each player has two decisions to yield or not. Regardless who yields and who doesn’t, the payoff is the same. If one player yields, the other player should not yield. If one player won’t yield, the other player should. In asymmetric game theory, there are no identical strategy sets for both players. For example, the ultimatum game which is used in economic experiments. One player receives a sum of money and proposes how to divide the money. If player two accepts the proposal, the money is split according to the proposal. If player two rejects the proposal, neither player receives any money.

Third, zero sum versus non zero sum game theory. In zero sum game theory, the choices made by the players can neither increase nor decrease the available resources. The total benefit to all players always adds to zero. In other words, a player only benefits at the expense of another. Chess is an example of a zero sum game as one player benefits when the other player loses a piece or cannot make another move. In a non-zero sum game, the outcomes results are greater or less than zero. A gain by one player does not necessarily correspond with another player’s loss. In layman’s terms, it is a win-win situation. One example is The Prisoner’s Dilemma. It is the problem faced by two accomplices locked in separate cells. Each is offered three choices by the police: one, they can both confess to the charges, both will be jailed for five years. Two, if only one confesses, he will be freed but the non-confessor will be jailed for ten years. Or three, if neither confesses, both will be tried for a minor offense and will be jailed for one year. If both prisoners know that the other will not confess, neither will confess and serve one year in jail. It’s a win-win for both prisoners.

In conclusion, game theory is, at its core, about prediction. Predictions of behavior, strategies, decision making and payoffs. It is about keeping an equilibrium or balance. It is about human conflicts and cooperation within competitive or game situations. It is about optimal decision making for the best outcomes for all involved or one individual over another. The theory is applied to many games we play: chicken, chess, poker and other situations where decisions are made for the best outcomes. It is a very simplified explanation and only hits the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what game theory is and how it is used. I’m curious to read further and hope it was informative for you, if you were unaware of what game theory is. 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Latinos in movies and TV: laughter, thought provoking and beauty

Today’s post will focus on a famous Latinos in movies and TV. It was very hard to pick just three because there are so many great actors and actresses who deserve to be celebrate as the talents they are. To me, they are amazing people, talented actors who just happened to be Latino. Actors who made us laugh, who made us think and mesmerized us with their beauty. Actors who helped paved the way for future generations of actors. Individuals who came from nothing to rise above and become beloved and revered actors. Two of the names you will recognize as they are household names but one you may not know. My hope is that you learn something that you didn’t know about these individuals and see them beyond their profession, beyond their characters and see the person behind the famous name.

First, Desi Arnaz otherwise known as Ricky Ricardo from I Love Lucy (1951-1957). Born Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha III on March 2, 1917 in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba. I featured Arnaz in a post year and learned a great deal about the man. While I tried to find someone else to profile, I could deny his influence on TV, so I wanted to feature him again. Leaving Cuba as a young man, he came to America with nothing. And he learned to deeply love his adopted country. He was deeply patriotic and devoted to the United States. He wrote in his memoirs that he knew of no other country in the world where “a sixteen year old, broke and unable to speak the language” could achieve the success that he had. It is amazing to me that somewhere in the world, at any point in the day, I Love Lucy is still on the air and being enjoyed by millions of fans who weren’t even alive when the show first aired. Arnaz had a successful career after I Love Lucy. Toward the end of his life, he owned a horse breeding farm and raced thoroughbreds. He contributed to various charities and nonprofit organizations including San Diego State University. He also taught classes in studio production and acting for television at San Diego State. He died December 2, 1986 at the age of 69 from lung cancer.

Second, Edward James Olmos is an accomplished actor of both TV and movies. Born February 24, 1947 in Los Angeles, acting wasn’t his first choice. He really wanted to be a baseball player. At 13, he joined the Los Angeles Dodgers farm system playing as a catcher. He left at 15 to join a rock and roll band. He would later pursue acting as he took classes at the East Los Angeles College. He starred in Miami Vice (1984-1989) as Lt. Martin Castillo and Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009) as Admiral William Adama. He is most famous for his movie roles. In Stand and Deliver (1988) as Jaime Escalante, the teacher who taught math to Latino students that everyone else had written off. In American Me (1992) as gang leader Montoya Santana and in Blade Runner (1982) as Detective Gaff, a role he will be reprising in the upcoming sequel Blade Runner 2049 (releasing October 6. 2017). He is also well known for his activism where he devotes most of his time to causes particularly involving children especially at risk kids. His main message is that we all have a choice about where life takes us. He also stresses the importance of education, the risks of gang life and tries to promote taking responsibility for one’s actions and happiness in life. He once was quoted, saying “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Third, Dolores del Rio had a successful career in TV, movies and the stage. Born August 3, 1904 as Maria de los Dolores Asúnsolo Lopez-Negrete, del Rio is considered to be the first Mexican actress to crossover to Hollywood and have a successful career in the 1920s and 1930s. She was a silent film star who was among the few who could continue in talkies. She is considered one of the more important female figures of the Golden Age of Mexican cinema of the 1940s and 1950s. She was, at first, billed to be the female Rudolph Valentino, the female Latin lover. However, her beauty and elegance shined brighter than that image. She embraced her Mexican heritage and enjoyed playing roles which allowed her to showcase it. Her film debut was in the film, Joanna (1925) and her first talkie film was The Bad One (1930) in which she could speak and sing in English “with a charming accent.” Del Rio was one of the prototypes of female beauty in the 1930s. She was never played the stereotypical Latin bombshell. Her image included words like “sophisticated, aristocratic, elegant, glamourous lady” by her contemporaries such as Marlene Dietrich and Joan Crawford.  Dolores del Rio died on April 11, 1983 at the age of 78. She is still celebrated as royalty in Hollywood as well as in Mexican cinema. She had appeared in over 50 films, none of which, I am sad to say, I have heard of or seen. I hope I can get the chance to see one of her films.

In conclusion, Desi Arnaz is one of my favorite actors. His character of Ricky Ricardo is a part of lexicon that when my husband speaks in rapid Spanish, I always tease him and call him “Ricky.” Although he is always remembered as Ricky Ricardo and the man who was married to Lucille Ball, he was also a man who did great work in and out of Hollywood. Edward James Olmos is an actor that has been an icon for many years and will continue to be held in high esteem. Dolores del Rio was an actress who broke the image of a Latin bombshell with her grace and beauty. While she has faded into obscurity for most of us, she still is remembered as the talented actress of American and Mexican cinema. Three amazing actors who opened our eyes to amazing characters and stories through the magic of movies and TV. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

A Minor Fall: a major disappointment

A Minor Fall by Price Ainsworth is a legal thriller about up and coming personal injury lawyer Davy Jones. He is giving cases he’s not supposed to win; however; somehow he finds a way to win and win big. After one particular case, he is given a big case by his boss, mentor and father-in-law, Timothy Sullivan. He tries to emulate him in every way. He is sent to Kentucky to represent landowners in a suit against an oil company. Beth Sheehan, a beautiful contract lawyer, is added to the team and soon the sparks fly between Davy and Beth. While in Kentucky, they have a brief affair. The stress of the affair and the pressure of the case starts to get to Davy. He starts a downward spiral which seems out of control. He begins to questioning everything. Will he lose his wife? Will he lose his job at the firm? Will he abandon law altogether?

Unfortunately, I could not finish this book. I made it through three chapters and I was disgusted that I didn’t want to continue. First, the language. There were a couple scenes when character use dirty sex talk. I don’t care what people say, it is NOT sexy. I don’t like it. Second, there is a scene as they are heading to Kentucky to start the next case, they are on a plane. Davy, pretending to be asleep, witnesses his boss and father-in-law, receives a blowjob from his paralegal! That was the final straw. I realized I didn’t care about Davy. I didn’t want to see how or if Davy changes after his moral crisis. Mr. Ainsworth is a lawyer who wrote a book. While the legal knowledge and descriptions are spot on, his story never takes off. He’s no John Grisham. I do not recommend A Minor Fall.   

A Minor Fall

is available in hardcover and eBook

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Latinos in Literature: life, heroism and beauty

Today I will discuss three famous Latinos in literature. As an avid bookworm for most of my life, I have read a variety of books across genres, languages and cultures. When I decide to discuss a few important Latinos in literature, I didn’t realize what a task it would be. While there are so many great writers to choose from, it was hard for me to pick just three. However, I hope discuss the wide range of talent and cultural impact in these writers’ works. All three have been influenced by the world around them as well as influenced those who followed. All three are from different ancestral backgrounds but through their writing they attempt to bring the world closer together with stories of growing up, stories of heroism and beautiful poetry of love.

First, Sandra Cisneros was born December 20, 1954 in Chicago, Illinois. The only daughter in a family with six sons, she often left pushed aside and isolated. Ms. Cisneros is best known for her debut novel The House on Mango Street (1984) which is taught in classrooms across America. It is a coming of age story of Esperanza Cordero, a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago with Chicanos and Puerto Ricans. The major themes include the quest to lead a better life and the promise to help those who remain behind. The biculturalism and bilingualism is very important in Ms. Cisneros’ writing. She will use Spanish in place of English when the flow of the passage is improved by the beauty of the language. For example, instead of saying “my girl,” she will use “mihija” which is a Spanish endearment literally meaning my girl. However, there is a poetry with the use of mihija. I didn’t read The House on Mango Street in the context of a classroom but after the recommendation of a friend. The themes are common of any coming of age story: the beloved childhood adventures, the heartbreak as one realizes that life is dirty, unfair and requires hard work from you. In many ways, the book reminds me of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943) as the main character grows from a child’s point of view of the world into the jaded adult view of someone who grows up too soon.

Second, Julia Alvarez is a Dominican-American poet, novelist and essayist. Born March 27, 1950 in New York, she spent the first ten years of her life in Dominican Republic until her father’s involvement in a political rebellion forced the family to flee. One of my favorite of Ms. Alvarez’s books is In the Time of Butterflies (1994), a historical novel about the Mirabal sisters: Minerva, Dede, Maria Teresa and Patria during the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo. The sisters were active in the underground revolution against Trujillo. Three of the sisters were murdered on November 25, 1960 while on Puerto Plata Road. Their code name, Las Mariposas “The Butterflies” and their story has remained with me years after reading the book. Ms. Alvarez once said “A novel is not, after all, a historical novel, but a way to travel through the human heart.” In her books, the reader is able to see, feel and experience another side of life through the eyes of her characters. There is a beauty and brutal honesty in her writing. The scenes in which the sisters suffered in prison and later the scene of their death are hard to read; however, gives the reality of what the sisters and their fellow revolutionaries suffered to fight Trujillo. These are the scenes which I remember the most. As with most courageous stories, the Mirabal sisters have not been lost to time thanks, in part, to Ms. Alvarez’s book. When a writer has such an important impact to help keep such stories alive is noteworthy.

Third, Pablo Neruda is the pen name, and later legal name, of Chilean poet-diplomat and politician Ricardo Eliecer Neftail Reyes Basoalto. Born July 12, 1904, he has been called the greatest poet of the 20th century in any language. He began composing poems at the age of 10 and was published by 13. It has been thought that he published under a pseudonym to avoid his father’s disapproval of his poems and interests in writing and literature. Neruda would serve in various diplomatic posts including Buenos Aires, Barcelona, and Mexico City. He was an ardent communist for most of his life and an admirer of Stalin and Lenin. He died September 23, 1973 at the age of 69. However, it is his poetry which has gain him notoriety. Pablo Neruda has influenced many in music and movies. Jackson Browne featured a Neruda poem on the back of his album, The Pretender (1976). One of his famous poems, LA Muerta (The Dead Woman) was featured in the film, Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990) starring Alan Rickman and Juliet Stevenson. The poem is about grief and living after a loved one has passed. My favorite quote from this poem is “I shall walk with frost and fire and death and snow, my feet will want to walk to where you are sleeping, but I shall stay alive, because above all things, you wanted me indomitable.” An image of a constant grief and missing the person once they’re gone; but a moving forward because the beloved wouldn’t want him to be defeated by her death.

In conclusion, these are just three examples of amazing writers who are a great asset to their culture as well to the world of literature. They are just writers for the Latino community but for the world as a whole. Their writings speak to the universal truths of life that we all must face and the lessons we all must learn. I highly recommend reading the books and poetry I have discussed here as well as branching out to other writers. I think we can learn about a culture, a people and ourselves within those pages. Within the adventures of a book, we can discover that we aren’t that different after all. 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Art of Hiding: when life comes crashing down

The Art of Hiding by Amanda Prowse is the story of woman who must rebuild her life when her husband dies and the life she had disappears. Nina McCarrick is 34 years old with a wonderful husband, Finn, and two sons, Connor and Declan. One day she gets the dreaded call that no one wants to get. Finn has been in a car accident. After the daze and shock of his death and funeral starts to clear, she learns that Finn had been hiding terrible secrets which leaves her and the boys destitute. Having to leave their post home, they move back to her childhood home to Portswood, Southampton to be near her sister, Tiggy. It is a world away from the life they are used to; but Nina tries to their new home comfortable. As they adjust and move on with life, Nina begins to question herself, her abilities, even her own strength. She rediscovers who she was before Finn came into her life and dictated everything for her. Can she finally follow her dreams she long pushed aside? Will she be able to forgive Finn for his mistakes? Can she and the boys truly be happy in their new life and home?

This is the third book I’ve read by Ms. Prowse and while I enjoyed it, I must say it wasn’t as good as the other two. The Art of Hiding was so fast paced, I felt it was over too quickly. Even though it takes place in England, I feel this story could have taken place anywhere in the world. The pain, the anger, the tears, the recovery is universal. Questions can be running through the readers’ heads: “How could Nina not know?” While Finn never really speaks a word in the story, only through memories, he is a strong influence and you understand how Nina did not know about the details of their life. It wasn’t her job to know, which angers me but it fit the story. It fit Nina as she focused being a wife and mother. I think my favorite character is Tiggy. She was blunt and helped Nina realize what she gave up without really wanting too. If you’ve enjoyed Ms. Prowse’s other books, you will enjoy The Art of Hiding.

The Art of Hiding
is available on Amazon

in paperback and on the Kindle

Friday, September 15, 2017

Hispanic Heritage Month: the often unsung heroes who fought for what is right

Today starts Hispanic Heritage Month which will continue until October 15th. This month is designed to recognize the contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans to the group’s heritage and culture as well as their contributions to the United States. September 15th was chosen as the start of Hispanic Heritage Month as it is the anniversary of independence for five Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. All occurring in 1821. Other Latin American countries celebrate their independence days in September as well: Mexico (September 16), Chile (September 18) and Belize (September 21). In the coming posts, I will focus on famous Hispanics and Latinos in the areas of literature, movies and TV and music. For this post, I want to feature people who may not have heard about; but their story has had an impact on our country.

First, Sylvia Mendez is a little girl who became the face of segregation long before Brown v Board of Education (1954). Mendez v Westminster (1946) successfully ended a de jure (law) segregation and paved the way for integration and the American Civil Rights Movement. Sylvia was born in 1936 in Santa Ana, California to Gonzalo Mendez, a Mexican immigrant,  and his wife, Felicitas, a native of Juncos, Puerto Rico. When the family moved to Westminster, California, there were two schools: Hoover Elementary, a two room wooden shack in the middle of the city’s Mexican neighborhood, and 17th Street Elementary, designated as whites only. Realizing that 17th Street Elementary provided better educational benefits, Gonzalo along with his sister Sally Vidaurri, attempted to enroll their children there. Vidaurri’s children were permitted to enroll because they were light skinned; however the Mendez children were not due to their dark skin and Hispanic last name. The families immediately went into action and filed suit with the city. The school board tried to claim a “language barrier” but it was quickly proven false when the children testified showing proficiently in English. The case made its way to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals where the court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. Governor Earl Warren moved to desegregate all public schools in California. Thurgood Marshall used the Mendez case in his arguments in the Brown v Board of Education. When Brown appeared before the Supreme Court, Earl Warren was now Chief Justice and deeply influenced by the Mendez case, helping desegregate the nation. Sylvia Mendez would become a nurse and after 30 years, retired from the field. She has received many honors and recognition, the most recent being the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

Second, Ralph Lazo is the only known non-spouse, non-Japanese American who voluntarily relocated to a World War II internment camp. Born November 3, 1924 in Los Angeles, Lazo was of Mexican and Irish descent. At 17, he learned his Japanese American friends and neighbors were being forcibly removed and incarcerated at Manzanar. He was so outraged that he joined them on the train to the camp in May 1942. The officials at the camp never questioned his ancestry. He remained at Manzanar High School, where he was elected class president, until August 1944 when he joined the army. He served as a Staff Sergeant in the South Pacific and would receive a Bronze Star for heroism in combat. After the war, Lazo would graduate from UCLA and earn a master’s degree from California State University, Northridge. He would spend his career teaching, mentoring disabled students and encouraging Hispanics to attend college and vote. He was also instrumental in a class action lawsuit in which Japanese Americans were seeking reparations which resulted in the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. The act offered an apology to interned Japanese Americans on behalf of the U.S. government and stated that the internment was based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” He died on January 1, 1992 from liver cancer. He was 67.

Third, Rodolfo Gonzales whose poem Yo Soy Joaquin (I am Joaquin) helped solidify the Chicano movement. Born June 18, 1928 the youngest of eight children, Gonzalez grew up in Denver, Colorado’s tough Eastside Barrio where the Great Depression took a heavier toll on Mexican Americans. He would graduate from Manual High School at 16. He was known for his fiery disposition that he was given the nickname “Corky” because he was “always popping off like a cork.” He is best known for his poem and his activism. The poem, Yo Soy Joaquin, is viewed as the cosmological vision of the Chicano people. Neither Indian nor European. Neither Mexican nor American but a combination of these identifies. Where an individual can be all four without conflict or ridicule. Scholars have credit Gonzalez with authoring the historical and political definition of what it is to be Chicano. After a violent incident in Denver, Gonzalez retreated to a private life in 1973 with family and Denver’s Chicano community. He was still active in the movement; however, he maintained a lower profile. In 2005, he was diagnosed with renal and coronary distress with acute liver disease. He refused treatment, preferring to live out his last days with his family. He died April 12, 2005 at the age of 76. If you have the chance to read his poem, Yo Soy Joaquin is a powerful trip through the historical inheritance of the Chicano people as well as the current struggles. The opening stanza sets the tone of this powerful poem:
“I am Joaquin,
Lost in a world of confusion,
Caught up in a whirl of a gringo society,
Confused by the rules, Scorned by attitudes,
Suppressed by a manipulations, And destroyed by modern society
My fathers have lost the economic battle and won the struggle of cultural survival.
And now! I must choose between the paradox of
Victory of the spirit, despite the physical hunger”

In conclusion, everyone knows the most famous individuals who have helped the Hispanic and Latino people. However, there are so many other individuals, unsung heroes who have stood up against the oppression of their own people and for the oppression of others. I thoroughly enjoyed write about these three individuals. Although only eight at the time, the experience of trying to enroll in school had a deep impact on Sylvia Mendez that she continues to advocate education for Hispanics. Ralph Lazo was a wrong and stood with his friends and suffered with them as they were interned due to hysteria and fear. Rodolfo Gonzalez become the voice of a movement. While I had to brief in terms of this post, their stories have had a great impact on me. I look forward to researching and writing my future posts as I look into the impact that Hispanics and Latinos have had on literature, movies and TV and music. I hope you will come back to read more about these amazing individuals.

P.S. For those who may be confused by the differing terms. Hispanic refers to people who are from Spain, Spanish heritage or Spanish speaking. Latino refers to people are native of Latin American countries or have a family past in those countries. Chicano is the chosen identity of those who are Mexican origin or descent. Since I married my husband, I have learned that many individuals do not like the terms Hispanic or Latino and prefer Chicano. I will be using all three terms as it pertains a particular post or individual

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Best Kind of People: the aftermath of horrible accusations

The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall is the story of one family’s journey after their seemingly idyllic life is torn apart. George Woodbury saved the life of his daughter and countless other kids at the Avalon Hills Prep school when he tackled an armed man whose goal was to kill. He became the school’s hero and the town’s favorite son. A few years later, that image would be stained when he is arrested for sexual misconduct with a minor. He is sent to jail pending trial. Meanwhile his wife, Joan, his son, Andrew and his daughter, Sadie, must deal with the aftermath of his arrest. The town becomes split in two as one half vilifies George and the other half supports and refuses to believe such charges. Each tries to do their best to move on with their lives and support their husband and father. But as more and more information comes out, they each have their doubts about his guilt or innocence. As the family moves closer and closer to the trial, the ties that bind them together are getting frayed. Is George innocent? Is he being set up? Is he guilty? How will they get on with their lives?

The Best Kind of People is an interesting book with an in-depth, no-holds-bar look into what happens to a family when serious accusations are made. When we hear about someone being arrested for sexual crimes such as the ones portrayed in the book, we often forget about the family. The wife who may or may not have known what was going on. His children who must consider the fact that their father could be guilty. The story is told from the perspective of Joan, Andrew and Sadie as the days past and the reader gets insight into each character and their thoughts, feelings and reactions to the events going on around them. I highly recommend The Best Kind of People. It will make you stop and think about how adults interact with teens and what can be seen as inappropriate or simply innocent.

The Best Kind of People
will be available September 19, 2017

in hardcover and eBook

Monday, September 11, 2017

A Game of Deceit: where can she turn?

A Game of Deceit by K.A. Davis is the story of one woman’s fight to discover the truth behind her husband’s sudden disappearance and the possible link to her father’s disappearance so many years ago. Kathryn Landry is a successful interior designer until one day when she arrives home to discover her husband, Neil, gone. His clothes and things are gone. Something’s fishy about him leaving as his important medication is still in the bathroom. She reports him missing and she is quickly pulled into a web of lies and mistrust that she doesn’t know who she can truly turn to. First, John Selton, a client and a private investigator, starts investigating Neil’s disappearance and Detective Mike Williams, who was a young detective who handled her father’s disappearance and doesn’t trust John. Both men try to sway Kathryn to his side, but who can she really believe? Will she find out what happened to her husband and her father?

A Game of Deceit is a fast paced story of cat and mouse as Kathryn finds herself in the middle of a sinister plot. I enjoyed every step as Kathryn wondered who to believe and trust. I was with Kathryn as she wavered between John and Mike. The ending! I totally didn’t see coming. Looking back over the clues, Ms. Davis does a great job at setting the final showdown between Kathryn and the story’s villain, who I cannot give away. The book also leaves it open for a sequel as not all has been revealed yet. If you have mystery and thrillers, you will enjoy A Game of Deceit. I highly recommend it.

A Game of Deceit

is available in paperback and eBook

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

A Prophet without Honor: a story which explores the what ifs in World War II history

A Prophet without Honor by Joseph Wurtenbaugh is a novel of alternative history. The story begins with the birth of Karl von Haydenreich and the tragic death of his mother, Charlotte, while his father, Captain Henrich Haydenreich, is fighting on the western front in World War I. Told through a series of letters, telegrams and memoirs, the reader hears how young Karl is raised by his stepmother, Rosamunde. Rosamunde was his mother’s best friend and a Jew. Despite both families’ objections, Henrich and Rosamunde marry and have a wonderful life until her death during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918. Left in the care of his father, Karl is groomed to follow in the family’s footsteps and have a career in the military. When he comes of age, Hitler is coming to power in Germany and the road to World War II is set. In 1936, Hitler sets his army to occupy the Rhineland and bluffs the French and British thinking the German army would retreat at the first sight of opposition. The bluff works and Hitler’s military machine marches across Europe with utter destruction. In a world where history took a different path, it is a story of danger, spies, and romance. Would Hitler fully take over the world or would there still be a force to stop him? Who would have the courage to lead such a charge? Is Karl that man? 

A Prophet without Honor is an interesting retelling of history if one event had taken a different course. I have never read an alternative universe story before and I found the idea intriguing. The characters’ voices and actions have a tone of such accuracy you feel you could really be reading a book about our history. As Karl follows his orders, the thought is in the back of your mind that he was raised by a Jewish woman who he called “Mummi” Surely he couldn’t believe in such hatred against the Jewish people. I enjoyed the story as there is no clear hero or villain such as with life. I loved the realism that we often cannot and will never know the heroics of the men and women who fought against Hitler. If you enjoy reading a story about an alternative universe but reads with such realism, I recommend A Prophet without Honor.

A Prophet without Honor

is available on Amazon for the Kindle

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Generations: who they are and their common characteristics

In recent years there has been a lot of talk about this generation or that generation. So I began to think who makes up the generations and what are the common characteristics of each generation? A generation is the creation of shared experiences, the events which happened, what people did, listened to and read. The first thing I found is that is no consensus on the years in which the generations start or end. So the years I will be using are the most commonly used when discussing the various generations. You may come across articles or other media which use slightly different dates. Also while I will be using generalizations when discussing the individuals who fit into each generation, remember that there is always an exception to the rule. Many but not all individuals who were born in each generation will fit the characterizations.

First, the Lost Generation are those who were born between 1883 and 1900. They came of age during World War I and the Roaring 20s. They were born during a time of mass immigration from Central, Eastern and Southern Europe. The world was changing at a rapid pace at which the world was changing. From cars becoming the preferred mode of transportation to the Wright Brothers’ flight (1903) to airplanes being used in warfare. The term “Lost Generation” was coined by Gertrude Stein and popularized by Ernest Hemingway in his book The Sun Also Rises. The first generation to know war on a global scale. And as a result of the war experiences, many of this generation became cynical, disillusioned, with a lack of purpose or drive. With the large scale death and the aftermath of the war, many lost faith in traditional values like courage, patriotism and masculinity. Some became aimless, reckless, and focused on material wealth as seen with the opulence of the 1920s. Many would not return to their hometowns after the war and flock to cities and even Europe. Paris became the biggest outposts of expatriates and the center of literary achievements of the 1920s. This attitude can be seen in the literature of the day. Themes such as decadence (The Great Gatsby) and gender roles and impotence (T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock) (O’Connor).

Second, the G.I Generation are those who were born between 1901 and 1924. They came of age during the Great Depression and fought in World War II. This generation is often referred as the Greatest Generation which was coined and popularized by Tom Brokaw’s 1998 book The Greatest Generation. In the book, Mr. Brokaw featured men and women who fought and contributed on the home front toward the war effect. They did so not for fame or recognition but because it was “the right thing to do” (Brokaw, 1998). As a generation, they are often portrayed as the ultimate hero with a strong sense of personal responsibility and civic duty, humble natures, strong work ethics and faithful commitment. They are seen as assertive and energetic do’ers who are community minded with strong personal morality and standards of right and wrong. This generation and the time period of WWII is still the most written about era with new books being written and published every year. It is also a time period which has been portrayed in movies since the war ended with classics like From Here to Eternity (1953) to Saving Private Ryan (1998). Over 1,300 movies have been made so far and certainly more will be made in the future. This is a generation and an era that is highly revered by the future generations.

Third, the Silent Generation are those who were born between 1925 and 1945. They came of age during the McCarthy Era and the height of the House Committee on Un-American Activities hearings. Many felt it too dangerous to speak out and were encourage to conform to social norms. Hence the name, “the Silent Generation.” They would also serve at the tail end of WWII and in the Korean War. They would be hard workers like the G.I. Generation with “waste not want not” attitude stemming from a childhood during the Great Depression and the war effort at home. They were often more conformers more on the side of self-preservation than belief. They wanted to show they were patriotic and proud Americans.  This generation helped shape the pop culture of the 20th century (CNN) with pioneering rock musicians such as Bobby Darin, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and many more. This generation produced iconic filmmakers such as Stanley Kubrick and George Lucas. Television legend Johnny Carson is a member of the Silent Generation as well as television journalists Dan Rather and Barbara Walters. No president was born during this generation, although there have been iconic government officials, such as Sandra Day O’Conner, who are a member of this generation. And many social and political activists, Martin Luther King Jr and influential authors, John Updike and Gore Vidal.

Fourth, the Baby Boomers. Those who were born between 1946 and 1964. They came of age during the turbulent 1960s and 1970s. This generation is often associated with the rejection or definition of traditional values. As a group, they are the wealthiest, most active and most physically fit of the generations before them. They tend to think of themselves as a special generation. Individuals from the Baby Boomers were also the ones to start defining the world in terms of generations. They were also the generation who helped term the phrase midlife crisis. According to Paul Begala of Esquire magazine, “The Baby Boomers are the most self-centered, self-seeking, self-interested, self-absorbed, self-indulgent, self-aggrandizing generation in American history.” Ouch! While baby boomers are often seen as the “save the world” revolutionaries of the 1960s and the 1970s, they were also the party hard career climbers of the 1970s and 1980s. The first “Me” generation, they ushered in “make love, not war” and societal non-violent protests which often times turned to violence anyway. While as a group, they are seen as self-righteous and self-centered, they were also optimistic and driven having grown up with prosperity the previous generations did not have. The baby boom coincided with the suburban boom as many returning GIs used the GI bill to buy their homes outside the cities. They were the first generation to grow up with televisions in the home. As well as the first generation where divorce was becoming an accepted reality.

Fifth, Generation X are those who were born between 1965 and 1980. They were the latchkey kids as both parents usually worked outside the home and were without adult supervision after school hours. As well as the children of the increasing divorce rates. They are also known as the MTV Generation as the popularity of music videos and cable TV were available in many homes. This generation is often seen as slackers, cynical and disaffected. The cultural influence of grunge and hip hop groups helped fuel the cynical attitude of most Gen Xers. They were more peer oriented than any other generation before. They are also credited with entrepreneurial tendencies such as YouTube, Google and Amazon. They were raised during the technology transitional phase as computers were coming common place in schools and in the home. The popularity of the internet began to rise and enter the home as Gen Xers were teens. As adults they were more likely to marry late in life after a period of cohabitation. One article I read called Generation X the Ignored Generation (Shepley 2008) while another article echoed this sentiment saying “caught between vast self-regarding waves of boomers and millennials, Generation X is steeped in irony, detachment, and a sense of dread” (Cohen 2017). Gen Xers are often characterized as cautious, skeptical, unimpressed with authority and self-reliant.

Lastly, Millennials are the ones born between 1981 and 2000. They are called Millennials as most would graduate high school and enter college in the new millennium. They are also known as Echo Boomers as a surge in birth rates were seen in this time period. They have also surpassed the baby boomers in number. An estimated 75.4 million babies were born during the baby boom after WWII, while an estimated 83.1 million were born during the millennial time period. This generation is often referred to as the Me Me Me generation as the sense of entitlement and narcissism is often used to characterize these individuals. According to the National Institute of Health, 58% more college students scored higher on a narcissism scale in 2009 than in 1982 (Stein 2013). According to Joel Stein of Time Magazine, millennials are the children of baby boomers, aka the Me Generation, who produced the Me Me Me Generation. Despite the sense of entitlement and narcissism, the millennial generation also have an increased liberal approach to politics and economics. They are more civic minded fueled by a sense of tolerance toward all. According to Sam Tanenhaus of the New York Times, millennials are Generation Nice as they are more empathetic with an open-minded and open-hearted connection to others (2014). Do good ad pitches are aimed squarely at the millennials who collectively favor companies that embrace the values of good citizenship. Such as “Buy One Give One” campaigns of companies like TOMS, Smile Squared and Bixbee. According to research 89% of millennials have a strong likelihood to buy from companies that supported social issues.

In conclusion, when I first started this research I thought I would see how each generation would be vastly difference. However, many articles I read feature so many generalizations and tend to forget that because of the sheer number of baby boomers, they helped produced two generations: Generation X and the Millennial Generation. I think the difference is in the early baby boomers who were in high school and college in the 1970s produced the Generation X while the late baby boomers who were in high school and college in the 1980s produced the Millennial Generation and the social climate of each decade helped shape the generation of their children. The assumption that the generation before is the parents of the next generation isn’t always accurate. For example, my husband, who was born in 1980, is Generation X; however, his father, who was born in 1930, was a member of the Silent Generation.

One thing I’ve learned is that the generational differences aren’t so cut and dry like the media, society and academia wants us to believe. As I said in my introduction and my research concurs that, like with life in general, not everyone fits the characteristics of their so called generation. I think about my own generation and I think do I believe this way? Do I act like this? Or did I act like this as a teen? I don’t think so. I know some Millennials who certainly don’t like that the narcissistic individuals the media likes to portray. And I know some Millennials who do. It will be interesting to see what becomes of the newest generation, simply called Generation Z or Post-Millennials, as they are now entering school and becoming a part of the world with their own generational identity.

Begala, Paul (2017) The Worst Generation or how I learned to stop worrying and hate the Boomers Retrieved September 2, 2017

Brokaw, Tom (1998). The Greatest Generation. Random House; New York.

Cohen, Rich (2017). Why Generation X Might be Our Last, Best Hope.    Retrieved September 2, 2017.

O’Connor, Kate. Lost Generation. Retrieved       August 30, 2017.

Shepley, M.J. (2008) Gen X: The Ignored Generation?   ,8599,1731528,00.html. April 16, 2008. Retrieved September 2, 2017. 

Friday, September 1, 2017

By Light of Hidden Candles: family genealogy reveals surprising discoveries

By Light of Hidden Candles by Daniella Levy is the story of family history, religion and the story that connects us all. Alma Ben-Ami is studying at NYU where she is studying in a genealogy program and hoping to attend a semester in Madrid in order to research her family’s history. Her grandmother, asks her to find the family who gave their ancestor a ring and return it them. While preparing to go aboard, she meets Manuel Aguilar who is researching his own family genealogy. The two immediately hit it off and there is deep friendship blooming. There is one caveat that keeps them from going beyond friendship. Alma is a practicing Sephardic Jew who keeps kosher and observes all the holidays and observances. Manuel is a practicing Catholic. As it is stated many times “Religious Jews don’t date non-Jews.” But the attraction gets stronger as the two start their projects in Madrid. When it seems like a dead end, one discovery leads to another and the two on are the fast track to discovery the truth in their family trees. As Alma and Manuel make their discoveries, the reader is taken back in time to the story of Miriam de Carmona who lived in Spain during the Spanish Inquisition. Will the discoveries change how they viewed their family and their own identity? Will Alma be able to return the ring to the family who helped her ancestors?

By Light of Hidden Candles was a deeply emotional and moving story. I love genealogy as I have researched my family tree and continue to look for more information. I enjoyed being a part of Alma’s and Manuel’s journey through their family history. I enjoyed visiting the various places in Spain as Alma and Manuel visited them. However, I felt the religious arguments between the two were getting tiresome as it was the same argument time after time. And I would have liked to get more information about the Inquisition as I don’t remember much about it from my history classes. Overall, it was a good book and I recommend By Light of Hidden Candles.

By Light of Hidden Candles
will be available October 16, 2017

in paperback and eBook