Category Archives: Uncategorized

Building a New Archive with Community

East of East Logo Final-01-1“East of East” is a collaborative and interdisciplinary archive project by the South El Monte Arts Posse and La Casa de El Hijo del Ahuizote. From January to February 8th SEMAP and La Casa academics, artists, journalists and trained community members will conduct oral histories, creative writing and map making exercises, and digitalize photos. This community generated material will form the basis of a new, digital archive. For more on this project you can read KCET’s article. Throughout the month we will host a series of events, which we will post here. We will also produce articles about SEM/EM, be sure to check out our recent articles on anarchism and Ricardo Flores Magon in El Monte, the founding of South El Monte, and a profile of El Monte author Michael Jaime-Becerra over at Tropics of Meta.

DCA logo 2.“East of East” is made possible by the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, Cultural Exchange International Grant

Ricardo Flores Magón & the Anarchist Movement in El Monte, California

Tropics of Meta

This is the very first installment of our new series, East of East: Mapping Community Narratives in South El Monte and El Monte, produced in collaboration with the South El Monte Arts Posse. Over the coming weeks and months, we will be posting entries from a forthcoming anthology about the diverse histories, communities, and cultures of the California cities of El Monte and South El Monte, created by a wide range of scholars, artists, poets, activists and other community members.  The reader is part of the SEMAP-La Casa archive and public history project, and the first entry is brought to us by Yesenia Barragan, Mark Bray, and Alvaro Marquez.

“Forward, comrades! Soon you will hear the first shots; soon the shout of rebellion will thunder from the throats of the oppressed…Land and Liberty!”

These were the prophetic words of the Mexican anarchist Ricardo Flores Magón printed…

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Birthday Party for Our Books (Directions, Itinerary, Map)

Approximate Address: 750 Rosemead Blvd, S. El Monte,

Directions: Take 60 freeway, exit Rosemead, head South. Make Left into park entrance.

At Legg Lake: follow arrows, see map below too.

SEMAP birthday party map


Noon to 1:00pm-LUNCH
1:00 to 1:10-Opening Remarks, Reading by Kenji Liu

1:15 to 2:00-Activities
-Monster Sculpting with Adrian Rivas
-Typewriting poems for Piñata

2:00- Birthday Cake!

2:15-2:25-Aimee Suzara

2:25-2:35- Vickie Vertiz



Metro Public Art Opportunities: El Monte Station

El Monte and South El Monte have some really great public spaces and transit, but very few permanent public art installations. In the near future SEM/El Monte residents will be able to enjoy four new art pieces. Can’t wait to see them. For more info, check out Metro’s Public Art Call:

Metro is seeking four artists for El Monte Station.

The two-level El Monte Station opened in 2012, and is located at the corner of Santa Anita Avenue and Ramona Boulevard in the City of El Monte, 12 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. The station provides transit service on numerous lines for Metro, Foothill Transit, LAX FlyAway airport shuttle and Greyhound and serves over 18,000 customers a day. A bus rapid transit service, the Silver Line, is the only transit service that connects to all Metro Rail lines.

Artwork opportunities have been identified for the concourse level walls at each of the station’s four transit bays.  Artwork will be translated onto powder-coated aluminum panels using an ink sublimation process.  The artist fee will be $10,000.

Deadline for submittals (delivery, not postmark!) is 5:00 pm PST on Monday May 6, 2013.

Submittals may be delivered by hand or by mail only. Electronic submittals will not be reviewed.

Please note eligibility includes artists who live and work in the United States with the exception of artists currently under contract for Metro stations, or who have completed a permanent Metro Art commission within the past 3 years. Employees, contractors and members of transit authorities constructing rail and bus lines for Metro are ineligible.

For complete details and information regarding submittal requirements, visit click on “Artist Opportunities” to download the full Call to Artists.




Poetic Excavations: A Review of Aimee Suzara’s Finding the Bones

Finding the BonesAimee Suzara will be featured with Vickie Vertiz in SEMAP’s Birthday Party for Our Books at Legg Lake in Whittier Narrows Parks on May 18th. Suzara’s poetry chapbook, Finding the Bones, forthcoming on Finishing Line Press, is about a Filipino migrant family, their place in the Philippines and the U.S., as well the relationship between the “sending” and “receiving” country. The scope is simultaneously expansive (geographically and historically) and intimate as she asks the reader to constantly move between countries, to grasp the present by understanding the past. Divided into three sections, Finding the Bones digs through the materials of an unnamed narrator’s personal and family story, while discovering ancient layers of sedimented life, creatures that bear some eerie semblance to us. Suzara’s poetic excavations complicate the relationship between “hard science” and supernatural activity and re-member their artifacts into new life forms.

In the first part, “Manifest Destiny,” we are presented with multiple layered destinies that continuously unfold across numerous planes of time instead of the singular Manifest Destiny of history books. In “Manifest Destiny 1980”, westbound migrations take place not in canvas-covered wagons or horseback, but in a shiny red Saab on a paved road. The journey of a young Filipino family, including a 4 year-old girl, is layered over the westward push mandated by Thomas Jefferson’s letter to Meriwether Lewis and the Discover Corp in 1803. Sometimes Suzara reveals these parallel journeys, and sometimes she mashes the narratives jaggedly into each other, such as in her cut-up-style “Science.” Here, the narrative about the found skull of a native American man is mosaiced with the narrator’s story about her own skull that was warped at birth, as well as text about racial classification based on skull structure. Together, the narrative shards form a kind of strange kaleidoscopic composite body that evokes the eeriness (if not horror) of desecrated human remains, and the racial legacies of obsolete practices in western science.

In “Possesions,” the chapbook’s second part, the technologies of empire and US conquest of the Philippines are dissected for us to inspect. Suzara uses primary sources to reveal the role that measuring, inspecting, exhibiting, and naming played in disciplining colonial subjects. In “Suture”, Suzara combines historical documents from 19th century British observers, the names of Filipinos on live display at the St. Louis world Fair with the narrator’s experiences. Yet,  “Possessions” also evokes the supernatural, pressing on the multiple meanings of the word. A possession can be defined as control over property as well as domination by something else such as an evil spirit, passion or idea. Suzara stitches together disparate parts into a new being that highlights the monstrosity of colonization and construction of race.

Hands sew together what does not belong. /One day, it will heal into something unrecognizable

 In reading Suzara’s carefully constructed depiction of empire, the reader is simultaneously taking an inventory of empire’s residue on father, mother, and daughter—the  “cowgirl-Material Girl’s” desire to have freckles, dimples, and pale, white skin. In “Tiny Fires”, the ancestors’ reproach Americanized migrants and colonized Filipinos and a daughter searches for her mother.

By naming the family members father, mother, and daughter Suzara invites us to sift through our own narratives to find the bones that will tell us or testify to their (and our) unspoken histories.


Aimee Suzara has been sharing poetry and multidisciplinary performance since 1999.   Her play, Pagbabalik (Return) appeared in festivals in 2006-7 and she is working on her second, A History of the Body, both supported by the Zellerbach Family Foundation. Recently, she collaborated with Amara Tabor Smith and Deep Waters Dance Theater for the food-justice themed dance theater piece, Our Daily Bread. Her poems appear in several journals and anthologies such as Kartika Review, 580 Split, Lantern Review and Walang Hiya: Literature Taking Risks Toward Liberatory PracticeCheck the Rhyme: An Anthology of Female Poets and Emcees and Poets (Lit Noire Press) and her chapbook, the space between (Finishing Line Press). She’s been featured as a spoken word artist throughout the SF Bay Area and nationally, including at Stanford, Mt. Holyoke College, Portland State University, and UC Santa Cruz.  An advocate for the intersection of arts and literacy, she is a creative writing lecturer at Cal State University Monterey and leads workshops in poetry and performance for youth and adults.

Tropics of Meta

While most artists find their voice in the studio, Ramiro Gomez Jr. found his in the space between two very disparate and disconnected worlds. In 2009, he left the California Institute of the Arts and moved in with a wealthy family in West Hollywood to work as a live-in nanny and care for two infants. Although nervous about his huge new responsibilities, he was also grateful and relieved to finally have some stability and a chance to rethink his artistic path.

With one baby strapped to this chest and another baby slung on his hip, Ramiro found his way to the park, the un-official gathering and organizing space for maids and nannies. At first the other domestic workers didn’t know what to make of him. Males, and especially second generation Latinos, are not common in this predominantly Latina migrant occupation. But once they warmed up to him and saw his…

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Interview with Vickie Vertiz, author of Swallows

 jsa_9901a What authors or books inspired you to write Swallows? Who is your book in dialogue with?

In college, I took a class organized by a friend called “Women of Color in the United States.” One assignment was to read excerpts from Loving in the War Years. It was then that I found the words I needed as a Chicana to describe the world around me. In this sense, Swallows began after reading that book. When it first came out (and even today), Cherríe’s writing broke through so many social, cultural, and literary barriers. Cherríe has said that she started to write to save her life; writing from the silences in my own life has also saved me, and the poems in this book come from that place.

Swallows provides a very intimate portrait of your family, at times blurring the lines between fiction and non-fiction. How did you negotiate sharing your families’ personal stories with the world?

In poetry as in other writing, the truth is always blurred. In this book there are poems where little girls fly over the Sears Tower, which of course, hasn’t happened (yet, although we see how Hello Kitty went to space, so just give it a couple of years).

Memory is a tricky thing, and I don’t pretend that everything in this collection is factual, and I worked really hard so that it is also not confessional (no one wants to read your journal). What I will say is true, is that my family shaped who I am, their choices were both hard to watch and necessary to help me (and my brothers) become who we are. Did we lose a lot of pets? Yes. Did I have a fat, ex-boyfriend? Yes. Did it all happen the way I wrote it? No, but it’s based on what I felt, even if it didn’t happen.

While this story is about a Mexican-American family it seems to tells us a lot about families in general. Particularly the tension between love and conflict and the very fragility of the family unity.  Can you talk a little about the role of the family in Swallows?

I was lucky enough to read a few poems from the collection at Skylight Books this past week. I read “Pets” which is also a video poem you can see here. After reading it I told the audience that this poem is not just about my family because I dare someone to tell me there are no “putas” in their pasts. That poem is about my father’s affair with a woman that lasted a lifetime. What family doesn’t have secrets or boundaries that were not crossed? We’re all family in that sense.

Again, my family shaped me; their choices were hard to watch, yet necessary. What are we if not a product of our families, our lineage, and our ancestors? My mother and her sisters are all artists. They embroider, they’re carpenters. I’m just continuing the tradition.

Some of the most present characters in Swallows are those that are physically absent. What is it like to live with these “phantom” like characters?

My sister Victoria who died before I was born is my Tocaya. Since my name is a shortened version of my sister’s name, I am another version of her. We still celebrate her birthday every year. My family sets up a Christmas tree in December and we take flowers to her grave every chance we get. She’s not really gone; she lives on in who I am and the choices I make.

As for the other ghosts (grandparents, former pets, other women), they’re like fossils that give us fuel to keep our cars going. That may be a crappy analogy, but it’s true. The fact that my brothers and I grew up without grandparents  means there missing link to our past that is filled with story. We imagine who they were, how they sounded, and we get all this from the stories our parents tells us. Writing this book is really just an adaptation of those stories we heard growing up. It’s an urban Chicano folk tale told in poems.

Has your family read Swallows? How did they respond to being in print?

My brothers have read excerpts, and I hope they read the whole thing. The younger one came to the reading at Skylight last week and he really liked what I read. There are some stories that are for me to tell, and that’s what’s in this book. My extended family doesn’t read poetry (and I haven’t told them about the book), and my parents don’t either, so for now, I’m “safe.” I’m wrestling with the things that are not for me to tell in the creative memoir I’m writing about high school in 90s LA.

To Purchase Swallows click here.