All posts filed under: volume one

Introduction to Volume 1

I wouldn’t have blamed Daniel Hernandez for being skeptical. Daniel is the director of the Chicano Resource Center at the East L.A. Library, run by the L.A. County Library system. Over the summer of 2013, he and I were talking about a speech I was to give at his center on my two books of nonfiction stories about Mexico and Mexican migration. But then I veered off topic. How about a writing workshop to go along with it? I’d been giving my workshop, Tell Your True Tale, to classes at high schools and community colleges for a few years by then. I had 50+ stories up on my website (www.samquinones.com). I designed the workshop to demystify writing. I get people writing stories from their own lives, or those of people close to them. I told Daniel I found this an effective way to teach some of the basics of storytelling, of getting people to begin to think like writers while, just as important, getting them energized to write. From there, I said, I focus on …

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Carmen

The summer of 2009 I spent in Houston working with janitors as they fought to renew a union contract. That July 4th, local pastors held a press conference supporting the janitors. Several union janitors were asked to attend. That’s when I met Carmen Sanchez. I picked her up and drove her to the event. Carmen was our shortest member, in her sixties, direct, well groomed. She was from Chihuahua, Mexico. She was always at union events. She’d been a janitor for 12 years. That afternoon, driving her home, my car got a flat tire. I called AAA, but it was clear that due to the holiday help would be a long time coming. So it was that I found myself with Carmen Sanchez in the middle of downtown Houston on July 4th. I thought I’d just get Carmen a cab and have her on her way home. But she refused. “I don’t have anyone waiting for me at home,” she said. That day, Houston dripped with humidity. She took out a jug of ground-oatmeal water. …

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Black Palace

Two twenty-foot black barred gates stood corner-to- corner separating him from the catcalls on his right where tattered men clawed at him. To his left was a clean, orderly ward. Miguel stood, distracted by the gates when suddenly he felt a yank on his blue silk tie. “Give me your tie,” said an inmate on his right. He pulled away quickly and the yelling escalated. The guard looked him up and down. Miguel’s tie matched his eyes; he wore a tailored navy blue suit and stood six feet tall. “Would you like a luxury cell or do you want to join them?” he said, pointing to the right. “I’ll take the luxury cell.” The guard smirked. The left gate opened and with that the shouting from the right faded. The guard escorted him down the corridor. Miguel heard the far off strumming of a guitar from the galleys above. He was placed in a single cell on the ground floor. Meals would be served in the dining room. The cost for “luxury”: five hundred pesos …

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On The 194

I was on the bus from Baldwin Park heading to Alhambra to visit my folks one day. I chose a seat in the back. To my left, a few seats away, were two older people, a Mexican-American man and a Chinese woman. She wore a cropped hot pink jacket with ¾ length sleeves called a bolero. He was turned sideways in his seat so as to face her and talking animatedly. Sounded like he was talking about some people they knew and reprimanding her about something. She just kept looking straight ahead. He went on talking. I lost interest in them. The ride grew mundane. Stops, starts … people got on, people got off. The familiar beeep, beeep, beeep, like a trash truck backing up, rang through the bus. We agonized. We knew it was going to be a prolonged stop as the wheelchair access ramp lowered. Bus riders fight our resentment when a handicapped person boards. People in the front seats looked around at each other and hoped someone else would give up their …

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Cardboard Box Dreams

The train screeched to a halt in Empalme, Sonora. Don Luis adjusted his wide-brimmed sombrero over his head and clutched his small bag tightly to his chest. It carried the barest essentials: one change of clothes, including a thin shirt and a pair of pants for the journey that lay ahead. He dipped his hand into a pocket and retrieved the identity documents he’d need to be contracted as a bracero. The men filed out of their seats, adjusting their norteño hats. Empalme represented one more stop along their journey – a junction, as its name in Spanish implies, a temporary way-station en route to El Norte. Men sat cross-legged, others propped themselves against each other, their hats slumped over their faces, shielding them from the Sonoran heat. Lines of aspiring braceros snaked around the station. They shuffled their feet, kicking up dust, waiting for the lista de braceros, the bracero list from their home state regions to be called. The loudspeakers above the station crackled for a few seconds. Braceros perked their ears, standing …