Monday, October 19, 2009

I live in Pasadena, a beautiful mid-sized city in Southern California known for the world-famous Rose Bowl and Rose Parade, among many other landmarks and claims to fame. We also have the Jet Propulsion Lab, a critical part of our nation's space program, along with Cal Tech, one of the top scientific universities in the U.S., on a par with MIT. Pasadena has world-class museums and art galleries, the mansion where the TV Batman show was shot years ago, historic homes built by famed architects Frank Lloyd Wright and the Greene and Greene Brothers of Craftsman Bungalow fame. Pasadena is a beautiful cultural gem we're proud of!

Another thing Pasadena has that we Latina/o authors in this city are very proud of is a little core group of authors who have recently published books. (The famed police novelist, Joseph Wambaugh, lived in Pasadena, and the classic cowboy writer, Zane Grey, lived next to our city). Here are some of these authors and their books published this calendar year:

Roberta published Latinos in Pasadena, part of the nationwide photographic, historical book series called Images of America, issued by Arcadia Publishing. As the back cover of her book states, Roberta's ties to Pasadena are substantial. She is much more besides a writer. She is well-known as a community activist, historian, lecturer, city commissioner, television producer, arts trustee, and advisor for the Pasadena Historical Museum and local school district. In her book, Roberta culled archival photos, newspaper articles, academic research papers, a local history project completed for Pasadena in 1995, and countless oral anecdotes and privately-owned vintage photo collections. She wove all her findings into a beautiful little book that traces "the legacies of Mexican-Americans and other Latino men and women who often worked for Pasadena's rich and famous...for generations."

Each photo is accompanied with historical explanations that help readers understand the impact of Latinos in Pasadena's evolution. Early Pasadena Latino settlers were mostly migrants and immigrants, but Pasadena is now about one-fourth Latino, and Roberta's book explores "the complexity of community and individual identity" that has led to the Latino presence being felt and respected in high levels across our city today, from the superintendent of schools, to school board members, city council members, prominent professionals, and others in leadership roles.

Roberta has left open the possibility of writing and publishing additional volumes in the near future, since "there still is so much more to be shared." We wish her much success!

Randy, like Roberta, has made a name for himself in Pasadena, Calfornia, not just for his writing, but for his community activism and leadership. His book, Hope in Times of Darkness: A Salvadoran American Experience, was published by Hamilton Books, an affiliate of Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group. This is a memoir in which Randy details his personal evolution in America. Born in the U.S., Randy was deported with his undocumented mother to El Salvador when he was a baby. He witnessed much turmoil and violence in El Salvador and eventually was able to return to the U.S. as a young boy. He lived in volatile South Central Los Angeles, where numerous friends and schoolmates were caught up in gang violence and ended up dead, imprisoned, homeless, unemployed, or desperately struggling to make a meaningful life. Through much personal initiative, studiousness, family supportiveness, and help from mentors, Randy achieved academic success, stability, and greater hopes of living the American dream.

Randy's book not only traces his growth into the community leader and successful social activist he has become, it throws a spotlight on many social injustices that plagued our society in recent decades and that continue to create barriers to equality of opportunity for many people living and working in America, primarily immigrant families. Randy contends that elected leaders, along with dedicated community organizations, must work to erase these injustices and build hope in all people.

Victor, born in Kingsville, Texas, is nonetheless a "true-blue Pasadenan." Like Roberta and Randy, Vic has devoted most of his adult life to serving our his case, as a police officer, exhibiting fine artist, arts activist, and community volunteer as well as a writer. In 2009, Vic published his third book, a romantic, sexy novel called Telenovela, issued by Outskirts Press. This fast-paced, engaging novel is a story within a story, so to speak. The main plot is set entirely in Pasadena, but occasional flashbacks take us to Mexico. The "telenovela" of the title is actually a Mexican soap opera that some of the book's characters watch occasionally and that, ironically, parallels the events that the main characters are actually experiencing. The book alternates at times between the plot of the telenovela and the events involving the book's characters, so that the melodrama of the former underscores the drama of the latter. It's an interesting, engaging dynamic!

The book's main characters are two beautiful, intelligent young Latina women who are first-generation Americans. The parents of Miriya emigrated from Argentina, and Lorena's parents came from Mexico. Unbeknownst to these protagonists, they have fallen in love with the same man, a situation that threatens the budding, genuine friendship between the two women. There are plenty of romantic scenes in the book to compete with a racy modern movie, but there are also scenes of sadness and pathos, rib-tickling humor, and down-to-earth authenticity in how modern Latinas balance careers, cultures, and their own evolving identities.

Victor has written two other books: Pasadena Police Department: A Photohistory, 1877-2000, issued by Herff Jones in 1999; and Love, Death, and Other War Stories, published by iUniverse in 2005. The first book was commissioned by the city, and the second book was inspired by Victor's police experiences in Pasadena. He is currently working on his fourth book, which he hopes to complete before 2009 ends.

Stay tuned. In the meantime, support these outstanding three I've introduced you to. Their books are all available through your local bookstores, or at, among other online venues. These authors make our pride in Pasadena even stronger, with their contributions to the reputation Pasadena already has as a culturally, artistically rich city.