Thursday, December 10, 2009

Alicia Gaspar de Alba

Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Chicana Scholar, Novelist and Poet

A color photo of Alicia Gaspar de Alba circa 2008.Alicia Gaspar de Alba is a scholar, cultural critic, novelist, and poet whose works include historical novels and scholarly studies on Chicana/o art, culture and sexuality. She comes from the border area between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, where she lived until age 27. She has a B.A. and a M.A. in English from the University of Texas at El Paso, and a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of New Mexico. She started her doctoral work at the University of Iowa in 1985 but left after a year, then lived in Boston, Massachusetts for four years, where she worked as a braille transcriber and a parttime instructor of ESL at UMASS/Boston. She is a lesbian professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, currently serving as Chair of the Cesar Chavez Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies. She is also jointly appointed in the departments of English and Women's Studies. She is married to the artist, Alma Lopez, and they are one of the 18,000 gay and lesbian couples whose marriages are still legal in California.

A color photo of the front cover of 'Three Times A Woman: Chicana Poetry'.Three Times A Woman: Chicana Poetry (1989)
(as a contributor)
The poem "Beggar on the Cordoba Bridge". The other two poets contributing to this collection are María Herrera-Sobek and Demetria Martínez.

A color photo of the front cover of 'The Mystery of Survival and Other Storeis' by Alicia Gaspar de Alba.The Mystery of Survival and Other Stories (1993)
"A people that loses its memory loses its destiny." So reads the graffiti on a wall, read by the narrator of the first and best of these works while she and her mother are fleeing a man who has abused her. Unfortunately, Gaspar de Alba drums in that message over and over in these pieces, set on both sides of the Mexican-American border, that read more like morality lessons than short stories. In one tale, a Mexican-American man who applies for a position, in 1921, as a reporter for the El Paso Herald is offered instead a humble clerk's job. In another, a Chicana lesbian takes up with a white woman who has changed her name to Zulema as a gesture of solidarity with women of color. A Mexican-American woman studying poetry-writing in self-exile in Iowa goes to a Tarot reader for an interpretation of her recurring dream about a pinata, and a strange woman pronounces herself the curandera , or healer, of a modern-day Mexican village even though its inhabitants reject her. Gaspar de Alba is a poet, and she sketches the characters in delicate language, but that spareness can also be frustrating when it results in a lack of action and plot. Two of the stories are in Spanish. This is a debut collection. Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

A color photo of he front cover of 'Chicano Art Inside Outside the Master's House: Cultural Politics and the Cara Exhibition' by Alicia Gaspar de Alba.Chicano Art Inside Outside the Master's House: Cultural Politics and the Cara Exhibition (1998)
In the early 1990s, a major exhibition -- Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmation, 1965-1985 -- toured major museums around the United States. As a first attempt to define and represent Chicano/a art for a national audience, the exhibit attracted both praise and crontroversy, while raising fundamental questions about the nature of multiculturalism in the U.S. This book presents the first interdisciplinary cultural study of the CARA exhibit. Alicia Gaspar del Alba looks looks at the exhibit as a cultural text in which the Chicano/a community affirmed itself not as a "subculture" within the U.S. but as an "alter-Native" culture in opposition to the exclusionary ahd homogenizing practices of mainstream institutions. She also shows how the exhibit reflected the cultural and sexual politics of the Chicano Movement and how it serves as a model of Chicano/a popular culture more generally. Drawing insights fromn cultural studies, feminist theory, anthropology, and semiotics, this book constitutes a wide-ranging analysis of Chicano/a art, popular culture, and mainstream cultural politics. It will appeal to a diverse audience in all of these fields.

A color photo of the front cover of 'Sor Juana's Second Dream' by Alicia Gaspar de Alba.Sor Juana's Second Dream: A Novel (1999)
This bold novel unravels the mystery and complexity of the woman Carlos Fuentes calls "the first great Latin American poet." Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648-1695), poet, playwright, rhetorician, and musician, is often equated with Sappho, the lesbian poet whom Plato named the "Tenth Muse." The Mexican nun has fascinated readers around the world for centuries as scholars have attempted to understand her brilliance, her feminism, the affairs of her heart, her decision to enter a convent at the beginning of her luminous intellectual career. In this novel, Juana Ramírez de Asbaje, an illegitimate ortolla, is sixteen when word of her self-taught erudition travels to the palace in Mesico City and she becomes an attendant to Doña Leonor Carreto, Marquesa de Mancéa. Wanting only to study, confused by her love for la Marquesa, and loath to marry, in five years juana becomes Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz in the Convent of Santa Paula of the Order of San Jeronimo. There, her quill becomes her salvation and damnation as her notoriety mounts with each new artistic commission. Popular with court and clergy, she receives a stream of guests at the convent, among them la Condesa de Paredes who becomes Sor Juana's intimate friend. More than two decades later after brilliantly defending her right to think,teach, and write, Sor Juana appears before the Inquisition and abruptly withdraws from the spotlight. Mixing fiction with Sor Juana's own words, and drawing on the most recent Sor Juana Scholarship, Alicia Gaspar de Alba creates the most full-bodied portrait of Mexico's Tenth Muse to date. This remarkable novel about a remarkable woman will enlighten a new generation of readers, and stoke the interest of devotees who already are captivated by the inspiring Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. (from the publisher)

A color photo of the front cover of 'La Llorona on the Longfellow Bridge: Poetry y Otras Movidas' by Alicia Gaspar de Alba.La Llorona on the Longfellow Bridge: Poetry y Otras Movidas, 1986-2001 (2003)
A collection of poems and essays. In her introduction, Gaspar de Alba explains that her writings gathered together in this book track her travels, both physical and metaphorical, between 1981 and 2001. The writing serves as a "bridge" in her life's journey, while "La Llorina is the border." La Llorona is the mythical Mexican mourner who wanders in search of her lost children and for de Alba, represents the elusive and vital artistic force behind creativity. In sections divided into each of the places she visited in her travels, Gaspar de Alba incorporates this Mexican archetypal wailing woman searching for her lost children. La Llorona is more than an archetype: she is a tour guide through the ruins of love and family, the constant presence of the poet’s voice. She transcends time, place, and gender. The lines of the poems breathe that haunted spirit as they describe her journeys, or movidas,-- both geographic and figurative -- in search of the lost mother, the absent father, the abandoned child, the lover, the self. The essays track other movements of thought: reflections on identity, sexuality and resistance. As a leading interpreter of border life and culture, poet, storyteller, and essayist Gaspar de Alba explores the borders and limits of place, body, and language through a painful series of moves and losses. She prevails and becomes the forger of her own destiny, her own image on the landscape, the interpreter of her own dreams and history.

A color photo of the front cover of 'Velvet Barrios: Popular Culture and Chicana/o Sexualities' by Alicia Gaspar de Alba.Velvet Barrios: Popular Culture and Chicana/o Sexualities (2003)
(as editor)
In Chicano/a popular culture, nothing signifies the working class, highly-layered, textured, and metaphoric sensibility known as "rasquache aesthetic" more than black velvet art. "What is more evocative of sexed and gendered barrio representations than those black velvet images of voluptuous maidens, feathered warriors, airbrushed Chevys, tattooed cholos, and sacred virgins?" From the Hagiography of "locas santas" to the sexual politics of early Chicana activists in the Chicano youth movement, from the representation of Latina bodies in popular magazines to the rigual performance of Mexican Femaleness, as enacted by the quinceañera, form the iconic fetishization of el Pachuco, la Malinche, and la Llorona in film and literature, to the cultural tradition of border crossings and the stereotypical renderings of recipe books and calendar art; be it baseball, the Four Directions, or nationalistic rhetoric through which Mexican masculanity is measured; by looking at gang life or fraternity initiations, lowriding or hip hop, detective fiction or performance art -- all of the essays in this collection engage methods of popular culture studies with discourses on gender, sexuality, identity politics, representation, and cultural production. Collectively, these essays represent the first book to focus fully on some of the more closeted issues of barrio popular culture. (from the publisher)

A color photo of the front cover of 'Desert Blood' by Alicia Gaspar de Alba.Desert Blood: The Juarez Murders (2005)
An incisive mystery that delves into the violent deaths of young women plaguing the US-Mexico border. It’s the summer of 1998 and for five years over a hundred mangled and desecrated bodies have been found dumped on the Chihuahua desert outside of Juárez, México, just across the river from El Paso, Texas. The perpetrators of the ever-rising number of violent deaths target poor young women, terrifying inhabitants of both sides of the border. El Paso native Ivon Villa has returned to her hometown to adopt the baby of Cecilia, a pregnant maquiladora worker in Juárez. When Cecilia turns up strangled and disemboweled in the desert, Ivon is thrown into the churning chaos of abuse and murder. Even as the rapes and killings of "girls from the south" continue—their tragic stories written in desert blood—a conspiracy covers up the crimes that implicate everyone from the Maquiladora Association to the Border Patrol. When Ivon’s younger sister gets kidnapped in Juárez, Ivon knows that it’s up to her to find her sister, whatever it takes. Despite the sharp warnings she gets from family, friends, and nervous officials, Ivon’s investigation moves her deeper and deeper into the labyrinth of silence. From acclaimed poet and prose-writer Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Desert Blood is a gripping thriller that ponders the effects of patriarchy, gender identity, border culture, transnationalism, and globalization on an international crisis. (from the publisher)

A color photo of the front cover of 'Callligraphy of the Witch' by Alicia Gaspar de Alba.Calligraphy of the Witch: A Novel (2007)
Mexico, 1683. When Concepción Benavidez flees her indenture from the convent of San Jerónimo in Mexico City and sets out to join a band of refugee slaves along with her friend Aléndula, the two are captured by buccaneers in Vera Cruz led by the famed Laurens-Cornille de Graaf, who is running a slave and provisions ship headed for New England. Aléndula dies on the journey, but Concepción, upon arrival, is renamed Thankful Seagraves and sold to a Boston merchant, Nathaniel Greenwood, who plans to have her care for his crippled father-in-law and manage the Old Man’s chicken farm. Delirious, half-starved, and terrified by her ordeal on board the Neptune, during which the Captain raped her repeatedly, Thankful Seagraves gives birth to a daughter, coveted by Rebecca, Nathaniel's fallow wife, and over the next eight years struggles to adapt herself into English colonial life. With great difficulty she attempts to raise her daughter in the faith and language of New Spain and thus forge a connection between herself and the girl even while Rebecca slowly turns Hanna against her. Like her friend, Tituba Indian, Concepción is a perpetual outsider—her mixed-race looks as well as her accent and her Catholic background set her apart—and before long she gets swept up in the hysteria of the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692, culminating in a shocking accusation by her own daughter, who renounces her mother and declares her a witch. (from the publisher)

A color photo of the front cover of 'Our Lady of Controversy: Alma Lopez's Irreverent Apparition' by Alicia Gaspar de Alba.Our Lady of Controversy: Alma Lopez's Irreverent Apparition (2010)
(as co-editor with Alma Lopez)
A compilation of essays that use the "Our Lady" controversy as a case study for examining issues of censorship, representation, the female body, and the religious right in both the local and national alignment of church and state. Although focused on one digital print in the 2001 "Cyber Arte" exhibition at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, these essays shed light on broader issues and controversies that have been haunting the art world since at least the NEA debacle of 1988. Contributors include Luz Calvo, Emma Péerez, Clara Roman-Odio, Cristina Serna, Deena González, Tey Mariana Nunn and others. This publication will include the short video titled "Todas Somos Lupe" by Alma Lopez and the many transformations of the Virgin of Guadalupe in visual works by Ester Hernandez, Yolanda López, Alfred Quiroz, Marion Martínez, Rigo Maldonado, Delilah Montoya, Alex Flores, Anne-Marie Lopez and many more.

Making a Killing: Femicide, Free Trade, and La Frontera (2010)
(as co-editor with Georgina Guzmán)
A collection of twelve essays exploring the Juárez femicides from diverse scholarly perspectives.

Alicia Gaspar de Alba author web site
Alicia Gaspar de Alba at the Arte Público Press / Latinoteca web site
Alicia Gaspar de Alba at the UCLA César E. Chávez
Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies web site

Alicia Gaspar de Alba print interview at the UCLA BookZone March, 2008
Alicia Gaspar de Alba web page and streamed audio inverview at KUHF
"Our Lady" by Alma Lopez
Video book trailer for Calligraphy of the Witch

Newer Article: Mincemeat Recipes and Mincemeat History


Older Article: Story Bored, Comics as a Perfect Storytelling Medium

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