Monday, May 9, 2016

Call for Papers: Silence in Oral Narratives

Hello fellow scholars of literature!

I am very excited to share the following conference panel CFP for the upcoming PAMLA 2016 conference in Pasadena, CA (November 11-13 2016). The panel, Silence in Oral Narratives, focuses on the figurative spaces created in the social unconscious by silence and purposeful lack of discussion on certain taboo or painful topics. The goal is to explore the harmful ways this silence and inability to pass on important information can hurt or prevent the healing of people and society.

This connection became apparent to me while studying indigenous literature and seeing the ways minorities have experienced a fracture in their cultural narrative when they have been overwhelmed by Western morals, religion, culture, and knowledge. My focus in researching this topic has always led me toward the exploration of narrative as it pertains to female-to-female relationships and how certain feelings of affection, anger, jealousy, and competition are actually created and fueled by this inability to openly discuss certain topics. The most obvious taboo topics including sex and sexuality, we can see how fear of public shaming can prevent women from openly speaking about these topics to their children or withhold specific information to alter the narrative to their liking and benefit. The eye of the public and the cultural/social identity certainly contribute a great deal to this intentional silence. I am very excited to get the chance to hear others explore the causes and consequences of this topic, whether it is in the realm of children's literature or not!

Please take the time to read the CFP and consider applying or sharing with those whom you think would be interested in contributing to this panel!

Thank you, and I hope to see you all at PAMLA 2016!

CFP: Silence in Oral Narratives
Oral narratives are an integral part of our cultural learning experience. Even with all the world’s knowledge at our fingertips, parents take time to have “the talk” with their children, transforming a conversation into a ritual of sharing knowledge. Transcending the notion of telling a story, oral narratives allow people to see themselves in past and future generations, linking them through a shared culture, heritage, and experience. The sharing of personal narratives and purposeful opening of a past wound in order to impart hard-earned wisdom/lesson onto the next generation serves as the building block for well-informed and better-prepared leaders in society. When certain narratives are not acknowledged and shared for fear of experiencing pain or public shame again, the resulting silence creates anger, ignorance, and isolation in the social consciousness, which prevents healing and progress in society. This panel invites scholars in literature, history, anthropology, and cultural studies to share their research and reflections on this topic.

P.S. You can also explore other session topics for PAMLA 2016 here

Saturday, May 7, 2016

A Brief Review of "The Book of Life"

               It comes as no surprise that The Book of Life, directed and written by Jorge R. Gutiérrez, a long time fan of acclaimed Latino director Guillermo del Toro, received such excellent reviews in the film world—scoring an eighty-one percent on Rotten Tomatoes and a seven-point-three out of ten on IMDB. This animated film tells the story of a love triangle that situates itself on the well-known day in Mexico called Día De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead). What this movie does best is appeal to audiences of any demographic into a space where learning about the Mexican culture becomes easy through the children characters that are used to narrate the story.

            In an interview, del Torro (producer) recognizes Gutiérrez’s passion and comment to the Mexican culture. This is clear through the artistic style, music, and story that The Book of Life gives to its audience—the most praise-worthy aspects of this movie. Taking contemporary popular and recognizable songs like, “Creep” by Radiohead, and transforming them into mariachi style sounds, allows the audience to meet the Mexican culture in the middle of what is both familiar and unfamiliar.

            Another way the movie does this is by using a story-within-a-story narrative device. It begins with five “detention” children arriving via school bus to spend the day at a museum. These children are in for a sweet surprise when their apprehension about visiting a “boring museum” becomes a unique and special experience just for them. Led by La Muerte in disguise through a secret door and into the museum’s secret room of Mexican artifacts, these rude and misbehaved children become captivated by the story that La Muerte reads to them from the Book of Life—a book that has every story that ever was and will be. This frame story works exceptionally well in drawing in the audience because it provides an easy, accessible way to identify with the children if the viewer is also unknowing of Mexican culture and folklore. However, the fact that these children are from a detention program seems counterintuitive to the often-stereotyped identities of how Latinos are represented in Hollywood.

            As soon as one of the children discovers the Book of Life, it shows the common stories that the audience should already know, such as Cinco de Mayo and the legend of the Chupacabra. But as with the complexity of any culture’s stories, the movie at least privileges the audience who don’t know these things by having only one of the kids able to recognize one of those two stories. La Muerte goes on to tell the love story to the children that begins on Día De Los Muertos. We are introduced to the main characters of that story, Maria, Manolo, and Joaquin as small children. At the same time, the audience is presented with a third story—the story of Xibalba and La Muerte’s wager. Within this combination of stories, the audience is taken to the town of San Rafael in Mexico (where the love story takes place), the Land of the Forgotten and Remembered (the places that are like heaven and hell to the Día de Los Muertos), and the secret room in the museum which appears to be in the United States (where the audience is also allowed into). To stay away from any spoiler alerts I will stop with the summary now, but I will say that the way this love triangle story ends, opens a new dynamic to the frame story that encourages the detention children to take their lives into their own hands—which seems to be the point of the movie. As del Torro states, “The book of life is about what it takes to create your own destiny” and it really is (

            However, the criticism that I am left with about this movie comes from the dichotomy of stereotypes that The Book of Life seems to be wanting to break free from—an attempt to put Mexico, its people, and its culture, in a position that is more agreeable than the often produced images of the Mexican characters in Hollywood—yet still fall short. For instance, one mariachi band mate says slurring his words to one another: “We’ve already been to four bars; twice!” and also when one of the detention kids says: “What's with Mexicans and death!?” and also when Manolo’s grandmother explains how she got to the Land of the Remembered: “Eh. Cholesterol.” Perhaps Gutiérrez incorporates these stereotypes as comic relief, but it also affirms and perpetuates that these stereotypes do exist among Mexicans and reflects the dominant culture's assessment of Mexican identity. And while a few stereotypes might not seem too bad, another conflict I had with the movie was the use of accents and how they differed within certain characters. Manolo’s character speaks with a Mexican accent, as do many of the characters in the love story frame, but Joaquin's character, voiced by Channing Tatum, speaks with a flawless American accent. Joaquin grows to be the most respected hero of the town subtly highlighting Hollywood's preference for inauthentic ventriloquism over authentic Mexican-American voices. For the duration of the movie, it presents the American voice in a better position than the voice of Manolo's character who speaks English with a traditional Mexican accent. Yet, he is not the only Anglo voice actor in this film. Ron Perlman, an actor of European descent, does the voice for Xibalba and controversially does this voice with a made up Mexican-American accent—a juxtaposition of authenticity in representing the Mexican culture.

            While this movie possesses a few problems, I find its pros outweigh the cons by a long shot. Like the sweet voice of La Muerte that calmly asserts her authority over the children, the movie allows me to believe that this story is good for all audiences but perhaps it is meant to encourage Mexican children to become more than the detention kids and in fact write their own stories.