Kansas City: Respite in the Heartland


The invitation arrived a few months back. Diana and I were invited to read as part of a Dia de los Muertos event at the Writers Place in Kansas City, Missouri. It was the perfect excuse for my favorite mode of travel—a road trip!

On the morning we left Diana bought bacon buns from the Bridgeport Bakery to jump-start our journey with a savory snack. I was determined to keep the 500 mile stretch of Midwest inter-state interesting with my favorite Pandora stations. We occasionally pulled over to obscure rural towns and rest-stops for bathroom breaks and to gas-up the car. Nine hours later we were welcomed into the lovely home of Kansas City resident and founding member of the Latino Writers Collective Xanath Caraza. It was the beginning of a charming weekend and plenty of wonderful discoveries about a city that up until very recently I knew too little about.

This brief get-away also served as a creative pilgrimage with plenty of delightful discoveries that left me inspired–they are as follows:

The Writers Place I’m told that this literary community center was founded by a Latina, and the mansion it calls home was once a brothel, later an evangelical church and now the writers that frequent the spot suggest there is a ghost.

The Latino Writers Collective is a fierce group of Kansas City writers, “they hold bi-weekly meetings and critiques, collaborating to hone and polish the work of its members for publication.” To date they have published two anthologies: Primera Pagina: Poetry from the Latino Heartland and Cuentos del Centro: Stories from the Latino Heartland. Proyecto Latina has been lucky enough to feature two of its members: Linda Rodriguez (Oct. 2010) and Xanath Caraza (April 2011).  It was an honor to have the opportunity to read with them in Kansas City.

The Plaza is a posh entertainment district full of Spanish inspired architectural eye-candy.  We squeezed in some window shopping and Diana splurged on cookie cutters in the shape of a hummingbird and a daschund. At the coffee shop I was pleasantly surprised that the barista that prepared my pumpkin latte pronounced my name correctly.

Dolores Huerta was not new to me, but it was the first time I got to hear her speak. I was pretty star-struck but I managed to ask if she would take a photo with me.

Mattie Rhodes Art Gallery had an impressive number of altars, for their Day of the Dead exhibit, squeezed into their storefront space. One interactive ofrenda titled Mujeres Poderosas allowed Diana and I to add our mothers names. It was in this space that I encountered a French Bulldog named Diego, with the same frog eyes as his name sake, a bow-tie collection and the sweetest temperament.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum features a sculpture garden with a 56 foot metal tree and a scattering of giant shuttle cocks.  Our visit was short but it packed a punch: we viewed an exhibit of prints by Jose Guadalupe Posada and we saw the Day of the Dead community ofrenda that our friend Xanath had a hand in creating–you can listen to a piece on the making of this ofrenda here.

Rotary Cheese Graters You know, the darnest things will impress me. Xanath hosted us to breakfast and dinner, and when we asked if we could help it was this kitchen gadget that kept me entertained–she joked that it was part of her husband’s dowry. There were other gastronomic indulgences in Kansas City: A pint of craft beer from Boulevard, a local brewery and the signature burnt ends bbq brisket for dinner. How about a scoop of goatcheese and fig flavor ice cream? Diana, Xanath and I vowed to write odes to it.

10.17.10 Domingo Newsbytes…

It’s a gorgeous autumn day and the city seems to be exploding with arts events. There is definitely no shortage of things to do this weekend.

On Friday, I had the opportunity to go to the Lila Downs concert at the Chicago Symphony Center. As a teenager I got the opportunity to work at this venue. While working there I noticed there were no Latinos in the audience or on stage. Coming back to the Chicago Symphony Center to see Lila Downs made me feel so proud to see a Latina on stage and Latinos in the audience. I’m delighted that the Chicago Symphony Center is diversifying its programming. I will definitely be going back! As I was roaming the lobby area I caught a glimpse of author Sandra Cisneros standing in the line for the bathroom. How cool that she came out to support Lila!

On another note, our reading series is Monday, October 18 at 7pm  is Proyecto Latina @ Catedral Cafe in Little Village. Come out and hear the lovely work of Linda Rodriguez! We want to congratulate Linda because we just found out that her book, “Heart’s Migration,” won the 2010 Thorpe Menn Award for Literary Excellence. Read more about Linda…

The National Museum of Mexican Art will be holding their first annual Revolucionarios Awards honoring the contributions of  Mexicans in the arts. Felicidades to Tanya Saracho who is one of this year’s winners.

Do you like  mouth watering albondigas? Well blogger Maura Hernandez  shares her recipe at the Blogolicious conference.

While we didn’t have an opportunity to score an interview with Lila our friends at Arte y Vida did. Check it out.

One of my favorite Chicago foundations turned 95 years-old this week. Feliz Cumpleaños to The Chicago Community Trust!

NALAC Regional Arts Training Workshop is coming to Minneapolis on October 22 & 23. Check it out if you can!

Now we need to pick your brain. We need to know if you like the Domingo Newsbytes and if we should continue to keep this as a regular feature. Do you read it and find it useful or do we give it the ax. Let us know in the comment section or you are welcomed to drop us a line at info@proyectolatina.org

10.10.10 Domingo Newsbytes

Hard to focus on the news today, my friend Anita ran the Chicago Marathon and I was much too excited about tracking her progress.  Running is her passion and in addition to family and work commitments, in the last year she carved out time to train for today.  She’s definitely inspired me to indulge in my own artistic interests, set some goals and pursue some creative marathons of my own–these also happen to align with an ongoing dialogue I’ve been having recently with Diana and Coya about creative goals for 2011.  I will be sure to keep you posted.

Creative marathons are not new to me.  In 2010 I was honored to partake in hours of collaboration with the wonderful El Stitch y Bitch for the creation of a knitted and crocheted altar dedicated to our crafty ancestors.  The groups collaboration is the cover story of the November issue of Cafe–the story is not linkable yet so if you want to read it you have to pick up a hard copy of the magazine.  I usually find a free copy at Pilsen restaurants and/or cafe’s.

I was pleasantly surprised to see another Proyecto Latina favorite, Monique Frausto in that issue, she’s part of a story about Latinos reconnecting with their language and heritage.  And there is also a wonderful article on Concha Buika, that recounts a childhood memory that still haunts her, but taught her to seize the moment each and every time she takes the stage.

A random an interesting tid-bit about Google and the word Latina.  I know I’ve turned up questionable searches that include the word Latina in their name.

Seriously? Dear JLO, I’m going to tune-in but for the record I’m uncomfortable and resisting the Latina nanny concept.

Perhaps the life of Alicia Amador, could one day inspire a leading character on prime time tv.  According to Windy City Times, Amador passed away last Thursday of cancer–”her greatest legacy was the impact she had on children and families in the Pilsen community.”  Amador was a staff member at Mujeres Latinas en Accion and founding member of Amigas Latinas.

Finally, I’m counting down for the next Proyecto Latina on Monday, October 18th.  Kansas City poet, Linda Rodriguez will be sharing poetry and a piece title, We’ve Been Here All Along: 13 Ways of Looking at Latinos in the Midwest. I’ve gotten a sneak peek at the work she is sharing and I have to tell you its going to be a special treat. Plan to join us!

I leave you with a first in a series of short films, a project by Proyecto Latina friend and fellow artist extraordinaire, Ricardo Gamboa–who is always on creative marathons.  His most recent project focuses on concerns over immigration issues.

09.26.10 Domingo Newsbytes

09.26.10 Domingo Newsbytes

After a very intense summer I decided it was necessary to “disconnect” in order to re-energize.  So, I took time to enjoy that gorgeous Harvest moon and rejoice over the arrival of my favorite season.  This weekend as I got back onto social networking sites and answered non-work related emails I began to discover all the wonderful projects taking place this fall.

The week ahead is full of activities for Proyecto Latina, you can catch up with Diana and me next weekend at the Little Village Arts Festival (LVAF).

  • LVAF Opening Night Fri., Oct. 1, 2010, 7-9 PM.  Proyecto Latina is part of the evening’s line-up, we are honored to be participating again this year, we will have the following ladies paying literary homage their La Villita roots: Desiree Castro, N. Reyna Amaya and Irasema Gonzalez. Location: Universidad Popular, 801 South Hamlin Avenue.
  • Latinas telling their stories through the arts Sun. Oct. 3, 2010, 2-3  p.m.  The focus of this discussion is Latinas telling their stories through the arts and what impact it has on them as artists as well as what we can do as a community of women in the arts to support creative visions and generate new work to tell our stories. Audience Q&A included. Panelists: Desiree Castro, writer,  Thelma Uranga, fiber arts, Laura Vergara, artist. Moderator: Diana Pando. Held at Catedral Cafe, 2500 S. Christiana.
Earlier in the week you can catch Diana Pando on another panel:
  • Art as a means to resist: Talk-back with Latino/a artist, Sept. 29, 12:30-2:30 p.m. Part of Malcom X’s Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations, 1900 W. Van Buren, Cultural Center. Panel includes: Diana Pando, Proyecto Latina, Edith Bucio, and Segundas Productions.

image by Thelma Uranga

We also want to let you know about our other Proyecto Latina member Thelma Uranga–she shares with us the photo to the right, taken earlier in the week when she and Jessica Phillips  took El Stitch y Bitch to La Casita at Whittier Elementary in Pilsen.   In a gesture of solidarity they brought knitting supplies, gave lessons and shared a way to pass the time as the waiting continues in a stand-off to save the field house from demolition and have it turned into an adequate school library.

The Whittier sit-in has gone past its tenth day and officials have confirmed that the building will not be demolished without a third assessment.   The parent sit-in continues and mom’s are adamant that they, “don’t want fake grass. They want books.“  Anne Elizabeth Moore at Vocalo,  shares the perspective of nine year-old Monica who is accompanying her mother at La Casita sit-in, she is a fourth grader that says, “I love to read.”

Very reminiscent of the 2001 hunger strike to have the Little Village/Lawndale High School built, it saddens me that almost ten years later these extreme measures still have to be taken  to ensure proper education resources for our community.

In a different fight for justice, Esperanza Medina made the news two years ago as an acid assault victim.  This week she removed veils that have concealed her face and injuries and stepped out publicly to share the story of her lengthy recovery.  She plans on wearing a sleeveless dress and pulling her hair back to reveal all scars when she attends court next week where she will confront her alleged attackers.

Chika A Day by Naomi Martinez.

Another woman who flipped the tables from victim to victor was Ingrid Betancourt.   She details the story of her kidnapping and six and a half years in captivity in a new book.

Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa shares that, “violence in Mexico is connected to vast shipments of weapons from the United States.“  She also points out that there are no links between high crime rates in and immigration.

On a way lighter note, some  final side-note items:

Ely Guerra‘s most recent Chicago concert was last night, in an interview with Jose Luis Benavides for Gozamos, she shies away from talking about future plans but ultimately shares that future creative pursuits include food and perfume, Guerra says, “Making perfume is like making music.”

For Hispanic Heritage Month, Amor Montes de Oca, from Arte y Vida Chicago will be Tony Sarabia’s guest for October 1 edition of Radio M for a  survey of Hispanic Legacy.

Artist Naomi Martinez is ten days into a self-imposed  30 day challenge, where she posts a doodle of her trademark Monstrochikas daily through Oct. 17th.  In today’s post Naomi announced that she will be also be conducting an art workshop for next week’s Little Village Art Festival where she will show attendees how to make felt plush animals–she promises to post details for that soon.

Finally, remember to save-the-date and join us the third Monday in October for Proyecto Latina reading series.  Our out-of-town guest of honor is the intensely fierce poet, Linda Rodriguez.  Get the full scoop of event details here.

10.18.10 Featuring Poet Linda Rodriguez

10.18.10 Featuring Poet Linda Rodriguez

In October 2010, Proyecto Latina has the  honor of featuring Kansas City poet, Linda Rodriguez.  Check out her full bio below and you will understand why having Linda with us will be such a huge treat.

This past winter, during Linda’s residency at Ragdale, we had an opportunity to chat with her about her book Heart’s Migration. Irasema and I walked away from this interview feeling so inspired! Here is what Linda had to say to us during her interview…

We are back to our third Monday reading series night.  Here is the full scoop on October’s Proyecto Latina.

Proyecto Latina
Feature: Linda Rodriguez

Monday, October 18, 2010 @ 7 P.M.

Held at Cafe Catedral,
2500 S. Christiana, Chicago, IL

Hope you can join us!

Linda Rodriguez has published two books of poetry, Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press, 2009), a finalist for the Thorpe Menn Award, and Skin Hunger, (Potpourri Publications, 1995, Scapegoat Press, 2007). She received the 2009 Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award from the Macondo Foundation and the 2009 Midwest Voices and Visions Award from the Alliance of Artists Communities and the Joyce Foundation and has been both a Ragdale Fellow and a Macondo Fellow.

She is the vice-president of the Latino Writers Collective, founder/co-coordinator of the Kansas City Women Writers Reading Series, a founding board member of The Writers Place, and has published poetry and fiction in numerous journals, such as Ariel, Downgo Sun, El Tecolote, New Letters, Plainswoman, Present Magazine, The Kansas City Star, The Pedestal Magazine, Potpourri, Queen City Review, Wheelhouse Magazine, Writer’s Digest, and Z Miscellaneous, as well as several anthologies, such as Cuentos: Stories From the Latino Heartland (Scapegoat Press, 2009), Imagination and Place: An Anthology (Imagination and Place Press, 2009), and The Red and the Black: An Anthology about Profit and Loss (Helicon Nine Editions, forthcoming).

Thanks to Proyecto Latina's venue sponsor for October 2010.

Her poems have been broadcast on The Writers Almanac with Garrison Keillor (NPR), Arts Round-Up KCUR-FM in Kansas City, and she has been interviewed and read her poetry on Proyecto LatinaKC Connections KCUR-FM, Talking Earth KBOO-FM in Portland, and New Letters on the Air (NPR). She has published numerous reviews and articles for general and scholarly publications, most recently “Making Time for Writing Poetry” and “Unique Issues Women Poets Must Overcome” in Women and Poetry: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing by Successful Women Poets (McFarland & Co., forthcoming). She has also published a cookbook, The “I Don’t Know How to Cook” Book: Mexican (Adams Media, 2008). Rodriguez is the former Director of the UMKC Women’s Center and was a co-convenor of the Women & Environment Caucus at the United Nations international conference, Women 2000: Beijing Plus Five.

She has a B.A. and an M.A. in English from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She is currently working on a book of poetry based on teachings from her Cherokee grandmother, a novel, and a co-edited collection of essays by mixed-blood women writers.