Elena Parra: A Story by Ana Consuelo Matiella. Part 1.

Elena Parra
by Ana Consuelo Matiella

Elena Parra walked down the dirt road, her chanclas making a flip-flop sound as she took each rapid step away from her family and her pueblito, San Ignacio. She didn’t take much with her, just a mochila with water for the day, some socks, underpants, and a sweatshirt, in case she got cold. She felt guilty about stealing her mother’s money, the cash she kept in a tomato sauce can at the bottom of the wooden table that held the wash basins to wash the dishes. But she had no choice. She had no money and she had to get away fast before anyone would find out what happened.
She knew that once she got to the edge of town, she could hitch a ride to Magdalena and from there she could take a Transportes Nortes de Sonora bus as far as Imuris because that is where the tourists would stop to buy quesadillas and beer before their final trek back to the border. Once in Imuris, surely a kind family of Gringos would give her a ride to Nogales, Sonora.
In Nogales, Sonora, she would be safe, even if she didn’t get to the Other Side just yet.
The Other Side. That is what everyone called it. “We are going to al Otro Lado,” as if al Otro Lado was some magical place where all your troubles would melt away just because you got a job. You might end up working for a nice family that would buy you clothes and feed you and pay you a few extra dollars, and all for just cleaning their big house and taking care of their children.
Elena Parra knew this story and had heard it many times because her friend Martha had escaped San Ignacio and made it all the way to el Otro Lado and came back to tell about it. She came back “with child” as they said, because what choice did she have when she got pregnant, and her boss lady didn’t know what to do with her. Martha’s “family” from el Otro Lado were a nice bunch of Mexicans who had become American. They drove her all the way back to San Ignacio and dropped her off at her grandmother’s little store. There Martha stayed and had her baby, a blonde little boy whom everyone called Güero. It wasn’t too bad for Martha. She had her grandmother and the store and her Güero and there she would make a life, helping her Nana, raising her son, and entertaining the local girls with stories from the Other Side.
Elena liked listening to Martha’s stories; Martha was a real cuentera and embellished her cuentos with sound effects and a few little tunes, mostly rancheras she knew by heart.
So now it was Elena’s turn to get out of San Ignacio with one big difference: while Martha came back with a baby in her panza, Elena was leaving San Ignacio with a baby in her panza. Another difference, and a big one was that Elena Parra’s father was not as benevolent as Martha’s Nana and would not take kindly to the fact that Elena Parra had opened up her legs to the wrong boy at the wrong time.
There it was, the predicament that Elena Parra found herself in.
Going to Nogales, Sonora was going to be okay because once there she knew that her Tía Manue would open her large fluffy arms and let her rest in the bosom of her tiny little house on top of the hill overlooking Stink Bug Bridge – El Puente del Pinacate. And while Manue did not have a tiendita to make her living, she did have a widow’s pension from when her husband fell off a ladder while inspecting a building for the health department. Manue would take her in because in addition to being Elena’s aunt, she was also her madrina. And the promise of the Madrina was that if anything happened to your goddaughter, you would step up and take care of her.
So, Elena Parra had a predicament, but she also had a plan. All she had to do was get to Nogales, Sonora. How hard could that be?
“Flip-flop, flip-flop, flip-flop,” the fine dust of the desert ground seeped in to her chanclas and was soft against her bare feet. The sky was blue like it always was and the day was warm but not hot. It was October and soon, the sun’s angle would be kinder to the eyes, and the night air would be just right for sleeping. She would be at her tía’s after dark, but she knew exactly how to get there even though she would be exhausted from climbing the 106 steps to get to the top of the hill.
Elena didn’t expect things to go right all the way, but she also didn’t expect things to go so wrong so quickly.
The three boys that picked her up to take her to Magdalena were not strangers, but she broke the rule of never getting into a car alone with more than one man, even if you knew who they were. And she only knew one of them by name. Vico. He was the wiry one that spoke too fast and always wore a white cowboy hat and boots. He dressed like a cowboy even though he had no cows. A vaquero sin vacas.
She could hear their laughter before they stopped to ask her where she was going.
“A Magdalena,” she said, “to the bus station.”
“Get in,” said the driver, a dark-haired boy she had seen only from afar at the dances on the plaza.
She hesitated, and Vico said, “Andale pues, Elena, what are you waiting for? We don’t bite.”
She got into the back seat of the old brown Toyota sedan next to another boy who didn’t look at her. He was drinking from a cahuama, a large brown bottle of beer.
They drove down the dusty road for a good half hour in silence. The beer guy kept dosing off and startling himself out of sleep. He was awake now and staring at Elena with blood shot eyes and a crooked smile.
Elena’s mouth went dry, so she reached into her mochila for her water bottle and when she pulled it out, her small coin purse slipped out and on to the floor of the car. The stuffed bills were sticking out of the metal clasp.
Beer Guy looked down and watched Elena try to reach for the coin purse that had fallen by his foot. He tapped Vico’s shoulder from the back seat and when Vico looked back, he pointed to Elena Parra’s coin purse with his chin.
“So where are you going, Elena Parra? That you are in such a hurry?” Vico said.
Elena put the coin purse back in her pack. “Just to visit my aunt in Nogales,” she said.
“How much did your mother give you to spend? Can you buy us some tortas for the road?”
Elena clutched her mochila to her chest. “No, I just have money for the bus ticket.”
“Well, let’s take a look,” Vico said, and reached over and grabbed her mochila.
“Please don’t be mean, Vico.” She said. After all, she did in fact know him and his family. She never thought he was a bad guy.
“I’m not being mean,” Vico said, “just hungry.” He chuckled as he grabbed the coin purse.
Beer Guy laughed a stupid drunk laugh and that is when Elena Parra realized she was in trouble.
“Ay, ay, ay,” Vico said finding the coin purse. “Let’s see how much you have for your little trip.”
He pulled the crumpled bills out and counted them. “Fifty pesos? That’s enough for tortas and a bus ticket, ¿qué no?”
Elena looked out the window of the old Toyota trying to muster up the courage to open the car door and jump out.
Beer Guy reached over to her side and slammed the door lock down with his brown fist.
The three boys laughed, and the driver swerved while he said, “Well, muchachos, it looks like we won the lotería!”
Elena sat back without saying a word. The driver turned on the radio full blast as they barreled down the dirt road that led to the paved road to Magdalena.
“We’re almost there, Preciosa,” Beer Guy said as he reached over and stroked Elena’s knee. When Vico noticed, he yelled at him, “¡Déjala en paz! Leave her to me.”
Vico winked at Elena and Beer Guy was amused. He attempted a celebratory howl.
When they came to the turn that Elena knew was a left turn to go into the narrow-paved highway to Magdalena, the driver turned right.
Vico said, “Where are you going, Pendejo? I thought we were going to Magdalena.”
“Change of plans,” the driver said and sped down the highway in the direction of Santa Ana.
Elena Parra sat in the corner of the back seat of the old Toyota pushing herself as far away from the scene as possible. The tears rolled down her cheeks as she realized her father’s beating would have been much better than this.
After what seemed like a long time to Elena, Vico as if startling himself out of a deep sleep, turned a deep shade of red and pounded on the dashboard.
“No! ¡Chinga tu madre, Buey!” He said. “This is going too far!”
The driver looked over to Vico and said, “No mames, Buey, I’m just fooling around.”
“Turn back,” Vico said staring at him. “I’m serious.”
“Cálmate, Pendejo. I know where I’m going. It’s not far. We can get some tortas and have a little fun.”
“Pull over!” Vico yelled. “Pull over now or I’ll break your face.”
Elena was sobbing softly to herself.
The driver jerked the car into a U-turn in the middle of the highway.
As Elena looked out the window, she saw the place that everyone called Las Tres Hermanas up ahead. It was a small gathering of out buildings and three houses in a row in a clearing behind a tall, barbed wire fence by the highway. They were grand houses by Elena Parra’s estimation. They belonged to a prominent family of ranchers, the Maytorena’s, and the story told that Mr. Maytorena built each of his beautiful daughters a house on the edge of his vast cattle ranch.
Vico pulled the steering wheel away from the driver and the car swerved and hit a dirt embankment as the driver slammed on the breaks.
The driver hit his head hard against the steering wheel and screamed. “¡Te voy a matar, Cabrón!”
Vico called out to Elena. “Get out! Get out and go!”
Elena saw that Vico was almost as afraid as she was.
The driver staggered out of the car to stop her, and Vico ran around and kicked him in the groin.
“What the hell are you doing?” Yelled the driver.
Vico opened the back door and yelled at Elena again. “Run!”
The driver shoved Vico against the car and started to make a grab for Elena and Vico punched him hard in the face.
Elena scrambled out of the car and ran toward the barbed wire fence that surrounded the property. She ran toward the gate and looked for a way to open it. The sign on the gate read, “¡Peligro¡” with pictures of red lightning bolts.
While Vico and the driver were fighting, Beer Guy got out of the car and stood by holding himself up against the car. Elena took off toward the periphery of the fence for a few yards and saw a space in the barbed wire where she thought she could crawl through without tripping up the fence. She put one leg in carefully and bent down in a straight line and inserted her head through the wire while her other leg straddled the barbed wire. With her body halfway into the yard she slowly balanced and pulled her left leg out away from wire and into the yard. Then she ran without looking back. She ran away from the highway, away from the fence and deep into the mesquite grove behind the houses. When she couldn’t run anymore, she hid behind a mesquite tree; she looked back but couldn’t see the road. She then heard the car peel out. From the sound of it, it sounded like they were heading back toward Magdalena.
Elena Parra sat by the mesquite tree until her heart stopped pounding. She felt a sudden urge to gag from the dust in her throat. She couldn’t swallow. She needed water but her water was in her mochila along with the rest of her belongings, and they were gone. She thanked God.
There had to be water somewhere near the houses.
As she walked toward the houses again, Elena remembered driving to Santa Ana with her mother and father on trips to buy feed or some other provision that they couldn’t get in Magdalena. She remembered her mother telling her about the houses…
“Look at the Tres Hermanas,” she would say, “and how beautiful they are. One of them pink, one of the yellow and the other the color of a peach.”
As a little girl Elena only imagined what those houses might look like inside. Maybe they had crystal chandeliers or velvet couches; maybe they had a real sink with running water and a gas stove. All the things that Elena Parra’s home didn’t have.
“I was lucky one time to know the lady that cleaned the houses,” Mrs. Parra said, “and I went into the pink house. That one belongs to Elsa, one of the three Maytorena sisters. The other two belong to Ciria and Maria del Carmen.”
Elena loved hearing stories about Los Maytorena and how rich they had gotten. The story told that their grandfather had come from Spain many years ago and married a Mayo woman, the beautiful and tall Gertrudes, now known as Doña Tule. She was so beautiful that no one minded that she as an Indian.
Although Elena Parra knew no one would be home, she knocked on the back door of the yellow house. Nada.
She knocked on the pink house. Nada.
She knocked on the house the color of a peach. Also, nothing.
The afternoon was dead silent. No birds. No cicadas. No crickets. Nada.
She went around the front of the houses, afraid to find the brown Toyota with her assailants waiting for her, Beer Guy sobered-up and ready to pounce on her while driver watched. Vico, gone, or worse, dead on the side of the road, hit with a rock on the head. Bloody.
She shook off her vision as she noticed that there were flowers growing by the front door of the peach-colored house. And then she saw that there were flower beds in front of the others as well. Perritos is what she called those miniature purple and yellow flowers that looked like little dogs, and margaritas were the white daisies with yellow centers. There had to be water if there were flowers!
Elena saw a thick green hose under the greenery and followed it to the faucet on the side of the house. She turned it and water gushed out from a leak. She sucked water into her mouth, spit out the dirt from her mouth and guzzled the water, not bothering to go find the end of the hose and drink from it.
She looked around the property and saw the stables and the animal corrals. There was no one there. She was alone.
Elena Parra had set out on a simple plan. To get to Magdalena, then Imuris, then Nogales, Sonora. She wasn’t even going all the way to the Other Side. She just wanted to get to her Tía Manue where she would be scolded and cussed at and then hugged and sobbed over and then blessed a million times and doused with holy water with a huge scream to our Blessed Mother – “¡Ave María Purísima! What are we going to do now, Child?”
That’s all she wanted. And look what she got.
She sat on the stoop of the porch of the peach-colored house, waiting for someone to come and help her. She did not dare go out to the highway to catch a ride.
“Please, please, somebody help,” she whispered and leaned against the screen door. It moved – it wasn’t locked. She let herself into the screen porch. She sat on an old wooden chair. She waited. And waited. The sun was almost down, and she wondered what she could do.
“Just sleep on the porch,” she whispered to herself. “Wait until morning and then hitch a ride back to San Ignacio. Tell them the truth.”
It was her fault. Her and Fidencio, the neighbor’s son, met up at the dance at the plaza and did it. It was no big deal, not what she was expecting at all, and she swore she would never do it again. She swore she would never have sex with anyone let alone Fidencio who was clumsy and had scratchy hands. He wasn’t even a good dancer. He just shoved her around the dance floor, dragging his feet in a haphazard way. Al trochi mochi is what that style of dancing was called. Willy nilly.
Nothing to tell stories about. No cuento here. Not like Martha’s. Nothing like Martha’s sexy escapades with the cute Gringo. No romance. No pretty dress. No French cologne. Just Fidencio on a whim on a hot night in San Ignacio.
Her father would kill him for sure because he was kind of a useless kid. And he would beat her with his belt like he had done so many other times before for much less offensive acts than opening her patas for some good for nothing kid who didn’t even know how to shave.
Night fell on the peach-colored house and Elena Parra was cold and hungry. She could stand the hunger more than she could stand the cold. While in the daytime the place was quiet, she started hearing a variety of noises coming from just outside the porch. The hooting didn’t bother her at all because for a long time she considered owls her friends. When she heard the owls late at night at home in San Ignacio, she always felt soothed by it like a lullaby putting her to sleep. Tonight, was different. Elena was alert to every sound. Coyotes never bothered her much either but here she was alone in a strange house and the yelping seemed to be getting closer. She laid down on her side and could feel her little bump under her shirt. Now there would be two of them and how would she be able to provide for the little creature if she didn’t go back home to her mother and father.
Would her father beat her after she had a baby? She knew the answer as she heard scratching at the door. It startled her and made her sit up. There was no way anything could get into the porch. It had a latch and the door fit tight. She was safe, but there was no doubt there was an enormous coyote trying to get in.
“I’m safe,” she said, and then she started repeating, “Blessed Mother, I trust in you. Blessed Mother, I trust in you. Blessed Mother, I trust in you.”
This was the way she prayed. Being too lazy to recite the full rosary with all Our fathers and all the Hail Marys, that’s the way she said her beads from start to finish and then end with, “Oh my God I am so sorry for having offended thee…” The Act of Contrition. She knew that one by heart from start to finish.
She had recited the Act of Contrition a dozen times a day since the Fidencio incident, on that terrible day behind the plaza. Much good it did her. God had obviously not forgiven her.
Elena Parra was sure that this mess that she found herself in was all just punishment for having sex with the wrong boy at the wrong time.
“I am never doing it again, ever,” she told Martha.
“Well, you are only 15 years old, and you might change your mind. So never say never.” Martha said.
But Elena Parra was resolved. She made a manda to the Blessed Mother. If she could somehow get to safety, to her Tia Manue’s and she took her in and let her have her baby and didn’t let Elena’s father beat her with the belt until he could no longer swing his arm, she would never ever have sex again.
“Sht. Sht.” Elena hissed at the animal. She got a stick and hit the door with it. “¡Andale! Go away!”
The animal wouldn’t budge. He kept whining and trying to pry the door open with his paw. He looked up at her through the screen with his yellow eyes and panted like a dog. He seemed harmless, but she knew these crazy beasts and they were not called tricksters for nothing. If she weakened and let him in, he would tear her to shreds.


Stay tuned for the ending, next post!

Sympathy for the Devil or The Gentleman from Cracow

I’m afraid I’ve been thinking about evil. Recent events in this country have seen to that. But evil—or the devil—isn’t very central in Judaism. As far as I know, the devil appears only in Job, and there is seen doing what the devil does best—walking around on earth, and stirring up trouble. Then the devil and God make a bet about Job. But throughout, at least from my perspective, the devil is seen as subsidiary to God, even a part of God. For in Hebrew the word Satan simply means adversary.
But Milton and Mick Jagger aren’t the only ones who have some sympathy for the devil. The great I.B. Singer goes into quite a bit of detail about this personage in his short story “The Gentleman from Cracow”—a tale which has fascinated me ever since I read it as a teenager.
In a classic set-up, a suave outsider comes to town. He lends money, encourages orgies, and before much time has passed the formerly pious villagers are partying full out. Every kind of vice prevails.
Singer writes: “And then the gentleman from Cracow revealed his true identity. He was no longer the young man the villagers had welcomed, he was a creature covered with scales, with an eye in his chest, and on his forehead a horn that rotated at great speed. His arms were covered with hair, thorns, and elflocks, and his tail was a mass of live serpents; for he was none other than Ketev Mriri, Chief of the Devils.”
Vanishing as suddenly as he arrived, the devil leaves the villages embarrassed, ashamed, shocked, and horrified. Only the pious rabbi hasn’t been taken in—but he is a pretty ineffectual fellow. So…what happened?
Singer seems to say that evil—or, a more classic Jewish way of putting it—the inclination to do evil—comes from within and without. Those villagers would never have gone berserk on their own. But the tendency to bad behavior was inherent, or latent. And then, like a match to deadwood (or, dare I say it, a racist president to the KKK and neo-Nazis) the outside influence corrupts everything.
Are Singer’s villagers punished in the end? Not really. In an odd but thought provoking twist Singer cites the “kindness of the Jews” as the reason that neighboring villages help out and restore the community. Surely at the end of “Gentleman” Singer isn’t proposing that Jews—or humanity in general—is basically kind. Rather there is a balance here, with the inclination to do good.
The pious rabbi’s grave shines a beacon of light. Life returns to normal. The devil has gone back to the big city and left our village alone.
Let’s hope so.

5 Tips for Applying to Writing Fellowships and Residencies by Danielle Corcione

I’m glad to be included here…enjoy.

5 Tips for Applying to Writing Fellowships and Residencies
by Danielle Corcione

If you’ve ever applied for a writing residency, retreat or fellowship, it sometimes feels intimidating to know your application is lumped into a pile with highly accomplished and well-established writers.
As a young writer, the application alone was a big enough barrier to scare me away from life-changing opportunities and thinking ahead in my writing career. For many writers like myself, it’s easy to fall into a hole of self-pity and invalidate our own personal achievements.
Luckily, the application process doesn’t have to be this way.
To learn some strategies about applying to residencies and fellowships, I reached out to a handful of writers who have been accepted to and completed prestigious opportunities. Here are their tips.

1. Communicate clearly in your application
Mailee Hung, a 2017 Bitch Media Writing Fellow, stresses the importance of effective communication in your letter of intent.
Your statement should “clearly outline what your project is, how you’re going to do it, [and] why that particular residency/fellowship is the best venue to do it in,” she says. “You need to state your claims early, if only to show that you’ve thought about it seriously and you know how to build an argument.”
Overall, you need to be ready to sell your best self.
Articulate why your work is particularly unique and special. Poet and former Artist-In-Residence at the Everglades National Park Miriam Sagan even recommends addressing some weaknesses.
“I heard through the grapevine I was once rejected for a residency because I asked for ‘too short” of a stay,” she explains. “From then on, I addressed my need for short stays directly.”

2. Understand your needs
Poet and teacher Laura Wetherington, who participated in residencies at the Vermont Studio Center and the Centre d’Art Marnay Art Centre, recommends writers begin their program search by identifying their own artistic needs because, as you’d expect, programs can be very different from each other.
“Are you looking for a place to collaborate with other artists and feed off the collective energy, or are you looking for a solitary, quiet situation?” She says. “Do you need the internet, access to the post office or to bring a bunch of books with you?“
Knowing the answers to these questions will strengthen your statement of intent, because it provides you with a stronger connection to the program and its accommodations.

3. Go abroad
Sagan has completed more than a dozen residencies and fellowships, both domestic and abroad.
She says international residences are far less competitive compared to those within the United States.
“[International programs] cost about the price of a Motel 6 daily or less and tend to be government subsidized,” Sagan explains. “If you need funding, look at short-term Fulbrights for artists and other exchange programs. Look at your city’s Sister Cities too.”
For potential funding opportunities as a Philadelphia-based writer, I can look into my city’s affiliate Sister Cities, which include Tel Aviv, Israel; Florence, Italy; and Aix-en-Provence, France.

4. Fundraise as needed
“The slightly funded residencies are much more competitive,” Sagan explains. “Go for unfunded ones as well.”
Sagan recommends pursuing crowdfunding if you’re pursuing an unpaid residency and all other funding opportunities fail. “A GoFundMe campaign can get you anywhere,” she says.
She also adds to keep your expenses as low as possible. Minimize your luxuries by cooking on a budget rather than eating out, for instance.
Also, remember to maximize your time and use it to the fullest if offered the opportunity. Take advantage of the financial investment (especially if the program isn’t funded) you’re making.
After all, it’s unlikely that you’ll fit that much writing into your regular schedule without a residency or fellowship.
Think about what you can do with sustained time that you can’t do on your regular writing schedule, and prioritize that,” explains Gemma Cooper-Novack, a writer with a CV of over six residencies including the Betsy Hotel Writer’s’ Room in Miami, Florida.

5. Just do it
But most of all? “Don’t get discouraged!” Mailee adds.
Most writers will be too intimidated to even consider applying. Slap on some imposter’s syndrome and the application process becomes a nightmare. However, it’s important to just do the thing and at the very least submit an application.
The worst that could happen is, well, you won’t get an offer.
“Some of my most devastating rejections have led me to make the best decisions of my life,” she elaborates. Apply to anything you’re excited about, and know the value of your own work. There are a lot of reasons for rejection beyond “you just weren’t good enough.”
Plus, applying to programs gets easier over time.
“If it’s at all possible, I strongly advise taking the first residency you’re accepted to, even if you have to put down some money, get into one however possible,” stresses Cooper-Novak. “I do think that after I got my first residency [at Can Serrat in El Bruc, Catalonia, Spain)], other residencies started to look at me more closely.”
As you can tell from these writers’ advice, applying to a residency and/or fellowship doesn’t have to mean beating imposter syndrome. The process may still be a little intimidating, but not so much that it prevents you from actually submitting your application.
Take it from the experts: apply and apply again until you’re accepted.



DREAMERS By Lorenzo Atencio

By Lorenzo Atencio

The last bell rings. I get all my books and get ready to leave when our science teacher Mr. Mays announces to the class:
“Okay, one last thing. I have good news. The regional chapter of the Math and Science Association will have this year’s competition in thirty days. If you are interested in entering a science project, stay for a few minutes after class. As always, the winner gets a full scholarship to the state university.”
Seven students remain sitting as the class room empties. I turn to look at them. There are four nerdy looking boys from a different class, and my unshakable nemesis Cheryl Soisbee and her best friend Carol Porter.
When all that remain are sitting, Mr. Mays says, “Please take a parental permission form to be signed by your parents or guardians. Get them back to me on Friday. We will discuss your projects then. If you don’t have any questions, you may leave.”
As we walk out, Cheryl gives me a sideways look and says to her friend, Carol, “I didn’t know that ESL students are allowed to submit a project in the science fair.”
“What’s ESL?” asks Carol.
“English as a Second Language. You never heard?” asks Cheryl. “Oh yeah. I just forgot – the M E X I C A N S” says Carol.
They both look at me with a smug smirk and laugh. I had told myself to ignore them no matter what they do, but I am so tired of their harassment that I snap at them, “What is your problem? What have I ever done to you?”
“You were born.” answers Cheryl without hesitation. “I don’t like that you act like you’re an American. Now you want to be in the science fair. You have to know how to speak English to be in the science fair. You should just go back where you came from.”
“I have as much right to enter the competition as you do.” I say.
Cheryl’s answer is quick and automatic, “Prove it.”
I say, “I’ll show you at the science fair.”
“You’re going to have to speak English there.” Cheryl and Carol laugh again as they turn to leave, then Cheryl adds, “Maybe we should call Immigration.”
I feel like telling her to go ahead and call Immigration, but I hear my father’s voice in my head warning me of the consequences of being deported. I have no memory of Oaxaca, Mexico. When I was 4 years old, my parents brought me and my 2 year old brother, Marcos, to America to follow their own American Dream: a job and an education for their children.
Now I am about to graduate from high school and I desperately want to attend college. I have to figure out how I’m going to get Papa’ and Mama’ to sign the permission form. I’ll discuss it with Marcos on our bus ride home. He’s always a good listener.
Marcos sums it up for me. “Luz, you know how Dad is about being deported. Always telling us to stay under the radar and don’t answer questions. He doesn’t want to go back to Oaxaca.”
“I can understand that. I just want to be an engineer. I have always wanted to be an engineer. My only chance and my only hope of being an engineer is to win the scholarship to the university.
“Just talk to him. He’ll probably say this not a good time to be visible with half the country screaming for deporting all undocumented immigrants.” says Marcos. “But you’ll know what to say.”
“Let’s hope that Mom and Dad say yes.”
Later that night, as Papá reads the newspaper after supper, I sit next to him at the table. When he notices me, I begin, “Papá, I would like to go to college and study to be an engineer. Do you think that will ever happen?”
Mr. Arenado is slow to answer his daughter. “Hija,, it would make me so proud and happy to see you become an engineer. But your mama and I don’t have the money to pay for college.”
“What if I found a way of going to college without it costing you anything?”
“Are you going to rob a bank? Or maybe you will win the lottery?” Dad raises an eyebrow. Mom
asks, “Como?”
I see an opening. “No silly. I can get it by doing extra school work. I can win a full scholarship to
the university.”
“No se. I don’t know. That sounds too easy. What are you not telling me?” asks Papá.
“Well, it’s a competition to see who can make the best science project. I have an idea to make electricity from the sun to turn a small fan. It’s clean energy that’s being looked at by big companies.”
“You just sign this consent form saying that you give me permission to enter the science project competition. It doesn’t cost you anything.”
Papa’ asks “If you win, you will be in the newspapers, right?”
“Well, Papá, being in the newspapers seems to be automatic, but I can say I want my privacy and not allow pictures of me. The school doesn’t know if I have documents and they don’t care.” I argue.” No one will even know that I’m undocumented or from Mexico.”
Papá says, “Hita, when they see you in person, they will see a pretty girl with dark skin color and Mayan features and know that you are from Mexico. There are many people that resent immigrants to the point of hate. Someone will ask questions. This is not the time to be visible.
Papá says even more emphatically, “I sure don’t want to go back to Oaxaca. There is nothing there. No jobs. No food. No way,”
“Papá. Think about it. We’ve been in this country for thirteen years. How many jobs have you had? I think you’ve worked at every restaurant in town. French, Chinese. Italian. Que no?”
“Don’t forget Mexican restaurants,” adds Papá.
Mama’ says, “I feel like there is an angry mob carrying torches looking for us to deport us. I don’t understand what we have done that is so bad. We aren’t suicide bombers or terrorists. We come to work. Ms. Lopez says the immigration laws are being used to steal our wages and homes and to break up our families. They call us ‘illegal’ because it sounds like ‘criminal.’”
“Stop. Stop. Wait a minute. Who is Ms. Lopez?” asks Papá.
“Ms. Lopez is our civics teacher. We discuss the Constitution and immigration issues in her class. I like her.”
“She says they are turning the screws – intentionally putting fear into our lives. Papá, we have to push back. Whenever we are told that we don’t belong in America, we need to boldly say ‘yes we do.’ I want to enter the science fair to show everyone that I have the right to enter that contest. And because I can win.”
“Ms. Lopez thinks deporting 11 million immigrants is either a bluff or the dumbest idea she’s heard. She says they aren’t going to deport 11 million people.
Marcos chimes in, “That would be 11 million Walmart shoppers. What does Walmart say about that?”
I answer emphatically, “Now is exactly the time to be visible – and vocal. We can’t just roll over and play dead. “Papa’, things are changing. There is a revolution coming. Not a revolution like Pancho Villa’s. A revolution of ideas.”
“Si. We’ve earned the right to stay in America. I have pledged my allegiance to America every day in school for twelve years. I believed it when I was told that all men are created equal, and I still do. You’ve been working hard. You both have given your time and labor and the owners have succeeded.“
“That also means we won’t be able to pay the loans at the credit union, or our car payment, or our trailer payments if we are deported. Uncle Sam would be shooting himself in the foot to deport us.” says Papá with a grin.
“Why haven’t they deported us sooner? She says if they were going to deport us they could have easily done it with the technology available today. They just want to scare us to squeeze more out of us.Undocumented workers turn the wheels of our economy by our hard work. Who will turn the wheels if we are kicked out?”
“Maybe there’s an App for that.” murmurs Marcos
Mamá adds, “I wonder if the first lady can fix breakfast? Anyway, I’m ready to buy a truck and load up our possessions and go back to my beautiful state of Oaxaca where my family is, if we have to.”
Papá ends the discussion. “Your mother and I need to talk this over. We’ll give you our answer in the morning.”
That night I dream of a priest wearing a cape of brightly colored feathers, standing in front of the sun. He smiles at me and the brilliance of his smile washes over me and magically transforms me into a hummingbird of green and blue. I harvest energy nectar from the sun and carry it to all things in the universe. And with that task comes the ability to fly in any direction, up or down, forward or backwards, fast or slow, or just hover. It gives me a feeling of power and freedom.
The next morning, I barely feel traces of the power to fly, but I remember the dream clearly. When I describe it to Papa’ he says, “You dreamed of Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god who causes the sun to rise. He is the strongest god of the Aztec religion. That is a very good omen.”
Then Papá looks at me and says, “Well, we agree that since we can’t give you college, we will not deprive you of an opportunity to go to college. We are willing to risk deportation because we agree that it’s time to come out and fight.”
Neither Marcos or I say anything until we walk out of the house and down the street. Then, Marcos raises his hand for a high-five. “You did it! I didn’t think you could ever change their minds.” I jump and slap his palm.
“Now I have to focus on my science project.”
As I think about creating electricity from the sun, I am reminded of last night’s dream. I know that Huitzilopoch is with me.
I exclaim to the universe, “I’m feeling like a hummingbird.”

Creative Writing at SFCC: Come Join Our Fiction Classes!

There are spaces in Intermediate Fiction (English 225) at SFCC this fall. It’s aimed at focused development of craft and stories. Russ Whiting is the instructor—and I’ve asked him to talk about the class below.
There are still a very few spots left in my on-line fiction class (English 221)—take it from anywhere in the world! Focus is on flash fiction. Terry Wilson’s writing class (English 120), always a jump start, is also open to a few more folks.

Check out http://www.sfcc.edu

And feel free to ask me directly about our AA, certificate, and individual classes at: miriam.sagan@sfcc.edu

Interview with Russ Whiting

What are the major one or two things students will learn in the class?

I hope that students take away many things from the class, but I suppose the main thing we learn is  that writing is a craft and a practice, and we get better at it each time we go to the well.  The course is built around practice and I see my job as a facilitator or coach to prompt each student’s best writing.  The second thing I try to impress upon students is that the story, whether short or long, is the most important element.  We can work out the details as we share and critique as a group.  We work on ideas, plot, description, dialogue, point of view, and all the necessary elements of the story, but the most important thing is just going for it.

Will you address longer forms of story like the novella or novel, or mostly short stories?

I like all the forms that stories take and it is up to the students to decide which forms suit them.  Often, a short story can be a chapter or an outline of a novel or novella, so everything is fair game.  I will definitely discuss the difference between them, what is selling in the market, what editors and agents are looking for, and how to build each form and what each includes.  I’ve lined up a New York agent to do a phone interview with the class and answer questions about how the literary world has changed and what really works for readers.

What is your opinion about the central challenge that writers face?

I grew up on a farm and worked on ranches, doing the toughest labor you can imagine, but writing is still the hardest job I’ve ever done.  As a newspaper editor and reporter, freelance journalist, and now fiction writer, I think that shaping words to tell a story, entertain, educate, and elicit a visceral response in the reader is the ultimate challenge.  We want it to “sound” beautiful, have characters that jump out of the pages and become real in our minds, and tell a story that somehow matters.  In order to do all these things, we have to sit and write, usually alone.  Overcoming the obstacle of our own inertia is probably the toughest wall we have to climb, but that’s what the class is for.  We learn that we are not alone, that there are specific things we can do to break the resistance, and ways to trick the muse into action.

Anything else?

Only to say that I really love teaching this class.  We become a community of artists.  I have students who have published novels that began in this class, script writers who are producing short films and entering them into national contests, and even one student who is now teaching creative writing at a college in Missouri and continuing to write her own novels. It always gives my writing a boost and I want to be able to do that for other writers.

Letter To My Younger Self By Ana Consuelo Matiella

Dear Ana,
There you are in that photo you keep by your desk. It is five days after your mother died. You are holding Sara on your lap. You are wearing shorts. That was a long time ago, you in shorts. Your hair is long, pulled back, your eyes, washed out from weeping. Your daughter is a year and a half old and she too looks sad. Why is that? She couldn’t have known that your mother had just died. Sara, like you, is gazing straight into the lens of that old Pentax. You had a camera then and you took black and white. You are in Flagstaff, because Artu thought that after the funeral, you would want to get away from the Tucson heat.
It was July.
It was good to get away and walk in Oak Creek Canyon behind your young husband with a baby in his green back-pack. It was a comfort to see the little urchin look back to see if you were still there.
You stopped to watch the clear water wash over the river stones and a yellow swallowtail brushed your shoulder. You called it your mother’s spirit. Not dead a week, already making the rounds.
You didn’t know that for the rest of your life you would look and always find at least one large yellow swallowtail making the rounds in July.

Ana Consuelo Matiella

Readers–I invite you to submit such a letter to the blog this month of July. Details in previous post.

CALL for submissions to my blog Miriam’s Well on the theme LETTER TO MY YOUNGER SELF

CALL for submissions to my blog Miriam’s Well on the theme


flash memoir, insight, advice

A bit off the cuff–no more than 500 words

Deadline: send to me any time in the month of July, 2016

Send in the body of the email AND as an attachment—msagan1035@aol.com

Feel free to share this with other writers.


Miriam Sagan

Writers can be any age–you don’t have to be looking back over decades to do this.

Richard Feldman Interviews Miriam Sagan About Her Blog Miriam’s Well: Part 1

My husband Rich has been brainstorming with my about this blog ever since it started. He said he had some questions, so I was thrilled to answer them. Part 2 coming later this week!

1.  How did the blog originally fit into your mission statement, and how has that changed?
I’m charmed that you even know I have a mission statement! I picked this up from my work with personal coaching.

–To engage with as many people as possible in creative projects
–To put poetry in unexpected places where it will expand the viewer’s perceptions
–To use metaphor as a way to create connection, community, and a sense of relationship with the world
–To focus on the ephemeral, sustainable, and inexpensive

I think basically the blog still functions the way it was originally intended to. However, at the start there was a learning curve about web presence and presentation. But I do need to focus on that again and again, as in the re-design last autumn.

It also gives me a way to be creative and share writing every single day, no matter what else is going o in my life.

2.  Looking at your current list of categories, which one would you have found the most surprising when you started the blog?
I feel little out of touch with the categories. Baba Yaga and Patti Smith are the blog’s goddesses or guardians or totems, but those areas aren’t that active. Not exactly a category, but I was very surprised by the number of international contributors—that is in large part due to the ever increasingly active haiku community. So I’m surprised at how much the haiku and tanka section has grown.
3.  What do you think is the biggest current gap in the blog’s coverage?
Millennial writers. I need more voices that are different than mine. I’d love more younger perspectives. I’ve had several fantastic contributing bloggers—Bibi Deitz and Michaela Kahn to name just two—who have a lot of readers. But I’d love more from the even younger generation. You’ll note my millennial contributors are often family members—nieces, nephews, daughter—who I’ve begged material from.


My greatest support comes from my on-going contributors and readers. I’ve been prpud to publish so many terrific writers, and enjoy their growth and careers.
Miriam’s Well is ALWAYS looking for poetry, short fiction, art, and musings, particularly as related to our categories and in the area of haiku and other forms derived from the Japanese. If you are interested in being a guest blogger at any time, write me at msagan1035@aol.
The Well also runs a series of interviews for poets who have published at least one book or chapbook. Contact me if you are interested in doing an interview.
Miriam’s Well welcomes announcements of art openings, poetry readings, and community evens. Do keep in touch, follow the blog, and best of all—comment!

The Wind Takes Away The Pages of The Book I am Supposedly Revising

I’ve been working on a short book, another memoir in the same style as GEOGRAPHIC—flash prose mixed with poetry. It’s about my father, his death, my near death experience as a young woman, and more. I’m about a year and a half in. It is called BLUEBEARD’S CASTLE—and much of it has been test driven on this blog.
I printed out a copy to read. Despite my lifetime of being a writer, my emotions began to swing wildly—it was so smooth and lucid, it needed a huge amount of editing, I finally told the truth, the flow was off, and on and on—back and forth.
In the morning cool before the full heat of the day—heat made even less tolerable from all the smoke of the zero contained wild fire to the south—I sat outside on the patio by the roses, the garden freshly watered. Two curve billed thrashers were visiting the damp from their usual home in the front yard’s cholla, currently blossoming crimson.
I popped inside to refresh my cup of coffee and came back to find an almost imperceptible wind had scattered the first thirty pages. Luckily they were more or less numbered consecutively. Cursing, I picked them up, sorted them back together. One page was gone—maybe wind, maybe a printing error.
I sat down to read in earnest. It’s really quite good. I love it—at least so far. Let me just say I’m glad I wrote it. I’m grateful too to find myself still young at heart as a writer—worried, neurotic, self critical. I’m grateful I have problems to solve. I’m grateful my skill set is finely honed and I can solve them. And I am most grateful to the problems of writing I still can’t resolve, because it allows me to continue.

Speaking of GEOGRAPHIC (Casa de Snapdragon, 2016) last night we found it it won a Southwest Book Design Award!