2016: Year in Review

Feliz 2017, everyone, and farewell to 2016. Between Syria, Brexit, Orlando, and our electoral apocalypse, it’s hard to separate 2016 from its tragedies. So much rage, so much ache. And I doubt that the headlines of its first two weeks have allayed anyone’s anxiety about 2017. It feels like a thousand marbles are crashing down upon our heads at once, each one representing a different program or ideal that has long been a touchstone for many of us, now racing out of reach. As individuals, we cannot chase after all of them at once; indeed, we’d fall if we tried. But if we strategize about who runs where after what, we have a shot at maintaining our nation’s integrity.

I feel many emotions about 2017: fear, anxiety, dread. But hope is among them—a great deal, in fact. And I attribute that to being a writer. Even when my subject matter tends toward the brutal, I meet extraordinary people because of it. People of wisdom, people of grace. They are the fuel I will draw upon in the (4?) year(s) ahead. …

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Art Against The Wall

Happy Spring, everybody!

I am thrilled to share that my story about artists’ response to the U.S./Mexico border wall has been published this month by the Oxford American. Here is the opening:

The first object revealed itself immediately: a man’s black Reebok, size nine. That there was only one, inches from the iron bars, implied struggle. The absence of dust on the shoe—which coats everything in this swath of Texas—meant it hadn’t been here long.

“It wasn’t when I took my walk this morning,” said Mark Clark, a painter who lives half a mile away.

I noticed a second object in the dirt: a water bottle. Like the sneaker, it was also stranded in the no-man’s land on the other side of the wall, between the eighteen-foot-tall barrier and the Rio Grande. My friend, the artist Susan Harbage Page, saw the bottle, too. After making a photo with her Canon 5D, she slipped her fingers through the three-inch gap between the pylons. She unscrewed the bottle’s cap. Carbonated water fizzed out, drenching her sleeves. She drained and tugged the …

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India at last!

Before summer falls to autumn, I thought I’d share the story of its passage, starting with my trip to the Sangam House near Bangalore, India in May.

First some background: India is the country I have most wanted to visit for more than two decades now. In 1999, I landed a job at a feminist magazine in Delhi, bought a plane ticket and a visa, and even secured an apartment—only to cancel the trip when my dad was diagnosed with cancer two weeks before my departure. Thankfully, he pulled through like a champ, and when it seemed like I could reschedule the trip several months later, I bought a package of Hindi language tapes to start preparing. Every single one of them, however, was blank. Then I visited the local Indian restaurant (in Corpus Christi, Texas) to try to find a language tutor there. Nope: it had just gone out of business. At that point, an Indian friend sat me down and said, “How many signs do you need? It’s clearly not the time for you to go to …

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Count On Me

I am so proud to announce the release of COUNT ON ME: Tales of Sisterhoods and Fierce Friendships, by the amazing Latina networking organization Las Comadres. Editor Adriana Lopez gathered some top-notch Latina writers–including Esmeralda Santiago, Lorraine Lopez, Sofia Quintero, Reyna Grande, Michelle Herrera Mulligan, and our beloved compadre Luis Alberto Urrea–and asked them to write a tribute to their closest friend (or comadre). The result is a deeply moving anthology of a dozen essays that officially goes on sale September 4!

Here is a taste of my own contribution to the anthology, “Road Sisters.”

We were hungry, we were tired, and we were lost. Daphne was in the driver’s seat; I was navigating (and failing). We had been driving for three hours by that point, searching for Chilchinbito – a village so tiny, it didn’t appear on our Arizona atlas. We had been told that the Cowboy family might host us for the night, but they had no phone to confirm this. And so, we were relying on faith, blind faith. Faith …

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The Torture of Solitary

April marks the 40th year anniversary of solitary confinement of the Angola 3 (two elderly Black Panthers doing time in Louisiana). The Wilson Quarterly just published an essay I wrote about their plight, and the tens of thousands of other prisoners enduring this mental torture in the United States. Here is the opening segment:

Here is what I knew about Joe Loya before stepping into his car: During a 14-month stretch in the late 1980s, he stole a quarter-million dollars from 30 Southern California banks by donning a tailored suit and, occasionally, a fedora, striding up to bank tellers, and, in a low and smoky voice, demanding all their money. His panache earned him the nickname “The Beirut Bandit” because, he said, “no one could believe a Mexican from East L.A. could be so smooth.” He was finally bum-rushed by undercover agents while reading the newspaper at a UCLA campus café. (His girlfriend had tipped them off.) As he served out a seven-year prison sentence, he grew increasingly violent, once …

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A Sort of Homecoming

I’m happy to announce that The Florida Review has just published the first chapter of my thesis/next book. It’s called “A Sort of Homecoming” and here’s a little taste:

I am so starved for company, even a dead man’s would do.

Stamping on my boots, I follow a trail leading into a desert jungle thick with yucca and mesquite. Rain is so scant in this swath of South Texas, trees grow out instead of up, fusing together like brush. In some patches, you can’t see but two feet beyond. But it’s noisy here—gloriously noisy. Beetles munch through mounds of deer dung. Orange-bellied orioles and dust-colored sparrows twitter from treetops while flocks of chachalacas cluck about. My boots trample footprints, paw prints, hoof prints.

A chain link fence appears up ahead, enclosing acres of cleared land. The ranch hands call it Cowboy Cemetery. I pace among the graves, peering at the sunken stones. In the olden days, families carved the names of their departed into planks of wood and thrust them into the …

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The Michelangelo of New Mexico

I am so happy to share that The Believer has just published my profile of master frescoist Frederico Vigil in their November/December annual arts issue. Writing and publishing this essay was a year-long endeavor, which seems daunting until I realize that’s only one-tenth of the time it took Vigil to paint the fresco in the first place. It was a deep honor to pay tribute to an artist I profoundly admire. Here is a taste of the essay:

Frederico Vigil is afraid of heights.

“When I first went up here to paint the ceiling, I would clench the bottom with my toes como chango, like a monkey. I clenched so tight, my two big toenails popped off.”

A scissor-lift ascended through the middle of the watchtower. The enormity of Vigil’s latest work—a four-thousand-square-foot fresco depicting three thousand years of Latino history—became even more apparent from an elevation. There was Benito Juárez. A steam train blazing out of California. Oxen pulling carts along the Camino Real. A smirking Cervantes. Each image gleamed as if painted a moment …

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