Patricia Engel

Blog Entries:


On this, the last day of October, and my last day curating here at Arrob@, I would like to thank Prof. Claudia Milian, once again, for inviting me to contribute, as well as the greater Duke LSGS community. I have enjoyed my time here greatly.

As part of my farewell, I'd like to leave you with one final image; a painting I first saw a few years ago at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana by the Cuban artist Augusto Menocal. Painted in 1930 and titled "No quiero ir al cielo," ("I don't want to go to heaven"), I keep a postcard reproduction of it on the desk where I write as a way to remind me where our journey, as Latinos, really begins.

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Politico investigates how the U.S. Border Patrol, made up of 46,000 gun-carrying officers, "became the country's most out-of-control law enforcement agency."

Customs and Border Protection not only employs some 60,000 total personnel—everything from desert agents on horseback to insect inspectors at airports—but also operates a fleet of some 250 planes, helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles like the Predator drones the military sent to Iraq and Afghanistan, making CBP both the largest law enforcement air force in the world and equivalent roughly to the size of Brazil’s entire combat air force.

But the Border Patrol has also become one of the nation’s deadliest law enforcement agencies over that same period, involved in more fatal shootings—at least 46—since 2004 than perhaps any other such agency.

As one senior DHS official told me, “The agency has created a culture that says, ‘If you throw a rock at me, you’re going to get shot.’”

From The Los Angeles Times, Latinos express disappointment over President Obama's ongoing failure to act on immigration reform.

The Pew survey showed that Latino support for Democrats has receded on a couple of key measures, including party identification and a question about which party better represents their interests.

More than six in 10 Latino adults said they disapproved of the administration’s record on deportations, with only one-quarter approving. The numbers are slightly less negative, with 55% disapproving and 33% approving, among Latino registered voters.

A moving account from The Washington Post of one man's shattered dreams as a result of the Obama's decision to delay changes in immigration policy.

It had taken him 13 years of work in restaurant kitchens and chicken plants to find the version of the United States he’d first come looking for: a four-bedroom house in the suburbs. A doormat imprinted with his last name. An F-150 truck. A family membership to the Akron Zoo. Then it had taken only a week in detention and a three-hour flight in handcuffs to remake him into what Mexicans called a naco, a villager, a nobody.

What happened was that Javier never left as the years went by — good years, another baby, a promotion at work — and ever so slowly the country’s politics started to shift. The president made his big announcement about bypassing Congress with an executive action by summer’s end, one of the biggest risks of his career. But then his political opponents threatened to impeach him, and some of his allies worried about the effects on their own jobs, and eventually the president made another announcement, this one much quieter. He was going to delay, he said. The immigration changes would still happen, his aides clarified. At least most of them. Or some. But later.

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This song and video by Mexican Grammy-winning band La Santa Cecilia, tells  of those who come from elsewhere to work in the U.S. The song', "El Hielo," or "ICE", the acronym for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was a colloboration with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network #not1more anti-deportation initiative.


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Bellas Letras

As my time at Arrob@ is coming to an end, I want to invite you to explore some wonderful literary journals that are committed to showcasing Latino/a voices. There are many (though not enough), and I am surely missing some here, so please take this as just as an open door to an exciting world of fresh voices.

The Acentos Review, Huizache (founded by Dagoberto Gilb), Asterix (edited by Angie Cruz), Somos, Kweli Journal, Hinchas de Poesía, Sampsonia Way, Literal Magazine, Bilingual Review, Buenos Aires Review, Palabra, El Andar, Cura, Azahres, Apogee, and MiPoesias to name just a few.

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Residents from La Comuna 13 in Medellín paid tribute to the 90,000 disappeared victims of the armed conflict in Colombia by burying themselves in the soil and planting flowers in their "graves" symbolizing their hope that the government arrives at a peace agreement during their negotiations with the FARC in Havana, Cuba.




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La Musa


Dominican musician and writer Rita Indiana talks to Radio Ambulante about her creative decision to abandon her career in music as frontwoman for the band Rita Indiana y Los Misterios and dedicate herself to a life of writing fiction.

Already the author of the books Papi and Nombres y Animales, her next work is a science fiction novel slated for release in 2015.


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From The New Yorker, Guatemalan-American author and journalist Francisco Goldman (Say Her Name, The Art of Political Murder), describes the shock, chaos, and theories surrounding the disappearance of forty-three students in Iguala, Mexico.

The disappearance of the forty-three has aroused horror, indignation, and protest throughout Mexico and all over the world. An air of sadness, disgust, fear and foreboding hangs over Mexico City, where I live, like the unseasonably cold, gray, drizzly weather we’ve been having. This is usually a festive time of year, with the Day of the Dead holidays approaching, but it’s impossible to feel lighthearted. As one friend put it, the government’s cardboard theatre has fallen away, exposing Mexico’s horrifying truths.

There’s another question going around Mexico City: Is the government withholding what it knows about the missing students’ whereabouts for political reasons?

Mexican poet Homero Aridjis comments on the explosive tensions mounting in Mexico as a result of the narco violence and corruption.

Today all Mexico resounds with the cry "They took them alive, we want them back alive." If the 43 are ever found, and they are dead (for why and where would their abductors be hiding them?), all hell may break loose. Are the president and his cabinet ready for a major upheaval?


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A new mother, G. Cristina Mora, author of Making Hispanics: How Activists, Bureaucrats, and Media Constructed a New American, explores in an essay for NBC the origins of the Latino/Hispanic label and what it means for the future of her young half-Mexican, half-Cuban daughter.

In the late 1960s Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and Cubans in the U.S. for the most part inhabited different worlds and tended to have different political interests and cultural institutions. Many even resisted the idea of coming together. This changed slowly as Mexicans and Puerto Ricans realized that their common fights for social equality ultimately hinged on the availability of data.

At the time Chicano and Puerto Rican activists were busy organizing and bringing attention to issues of urban poverty, discrimination, and bilingual education. They both realized, however, that they couldn’t access government anti-poverty grants because they lacked the data to substantiate their claims. At the time the US Census Bureau categorized these groups mainly as white and lumped their data together with that of Irish- and Italian-Americans. So census reports on poverty, for example, were mainly about black and white differences and the conditions of Latinos were obscured.

It was only after getting Congressional and White House support that Mexican and Puerto Ricans together pressured the Bureau to change its practices. After much negotiation the Bureau came up with an umbrella “Hispanic” category. Labels like “Latin” “Latin American” and “Raza” were considered, but officials settled on the “Hispanic” term because it was seen as attached to a more American identity rather than a foreign one.         

At the The Washington Post, Yale University linguistics professor Claire Bowern poses the question: "Why is bilingual education 'good' for rich kids but 'bad' for poor, immigrant students?"

To put it bluntly, bilingualism is often seen as “good” when it’s rich English speakers adding a language as a hobby or another international language, but “bad when it involves poor, minority, or indigenous groups adding English to their first language, even when the same two languages are involved.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “We have room for but one language in this country, and that is the English language.” But Roosevelt himself was trilingual, and America has never been home to just a single language, from the several hundred indigenous languages that were here before European settlement to the early colonists from Britain, Germany, France and elsewhere in Europe, from the slaves brought here from the coasts of Africa, to more recent immigration from Central and South America, Oceania, Asia and the Middle East. It’s time to change the monolingual mindset and to recognize the benefits of bilingualism for all who want it.

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Daisy Hernández, a talented Cuban-Colombian writer across the genres, has released her memoir, A Cup of Water Under My Bed, to acclaim, and her essays and articles on topics ranging from the effects of immigration on family relations, queer identity, race and class tension at The New York Times, as well the ramifications of Chagas, "The Kissing Disease," or, as it's known in South America, "El Beso de la Muerte," as it makes its way to North America, as well as her commentary on Latino/a issues are always fascinating and relentlessly illuminating reads. I highly recommend any and all of her writings.

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What is the "Hispanic mortality paradox"? The Washington Post reveals a bit of the facts behind the mystery of why Hispanics die at slower rates than non-Hispanics regardless of income or access to healthcare.

Why? Markides speculated that Hispanic culture may have some protective effect. Tight-knit families and immigrant communities offer crucial support to people battling illnesses. Hispanics, especially recent immigrants, also tend to behave in more healthy ways, smoking and drinking less. This may explain why second- and third-generation Hispanics, who are more plugged into the mainstream culture, see less of a boost to their health.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Hispanic women carry a genetic trait in their DNA that makes them less susceptible to breast cancer.

The hereditary quirk, located on Chromosome 6 near an estrogen receptor gene, appears to have originated in indigenous American peoples in South America, and it doesn’t appear equally in all Hispanic women.

As many as 20% of Latinas in California are likely to have at least one copy of the variant, significantly lowering their risk of breast cancer, while about 10% of Puerto Rican women are likely to have inherited it, the researchers said.

Meanwhile, The Latin Times discusses a recent study which finds that depression among Latinos remains heavily undertreated.

"The main message of this study is that physicians need to pay more attention to depression and anxiety among Hispanics and Latinos," Dr. Wassertheil-Smoller noted. "Our findings also have important implications for managing cardiovascular disease. When patients already have cardiovascular disease, we know that being depressed worsens their prognosis."

Another interesting finding from the same study:

First-and second-generation Hispanics/Latinos were significantly more likely to have symptoms of depression than those born outside the U.S. mainland. A history of cardiovascular disease (heart attack, stroke, or revascularization/stenting) increased the likelihood of depression by 77 percent.

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A moving performance by Manu Chao at the controversial Maricopa County Immigration Detention Center Tent City in Arizona


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Some good discussion about the benefits of bilingualism in children:

Mind/Shift reports on the ways bilingual education through elementary language immersion programs is being explored for shaping young brains as they develop.

“Bilinguals are more efficient in resolving mental competition,” said psychology professor Judith Kroll, an expert on bilingualism and director of the Center for Language Science at Penn State. “They’re apparently able to keep languages separate while keeping them both available and active in their minds at the same time.”

From the BBC, studies show that bilingual children cope better in noisy classrooms than their monolingual peers. 

"The observation that the ability to control interference improves with age, but only within the bilingual group, is a remarkable finding," said Dr Filippi.

Salon addresses the concerns some non-native speakers have about trying to raise their children bilingual based on their own language skills.

What most people don't know is that not only are kids really good at learning languages, but they also have skills that help them learn from non-native speakers. For one thing, they learn very quickly who are good language role models: They can tell whether you're a reliable speaker or whether your input should be taken with a grain of salt. Kids are also really good at extrapolating from the patterns they hear and filtering out noisy data, so even if you're not always conjugating your verbs correctly, they'll pick up on the general trend.

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Tan Cerca, Tan Lejos . . .

Cuban-American artist, writer, and activist Coco Fusco speaks at MIT about the evolution and censoring of the internet in Cuba.

 The New York Times reports on the increase of Cuban migrants arriving by land and by sea to the United States:

Not since the rafter crisis of 1994 has the United States received so many Cuban migrants. The increase highlights the consequences of a United States immigration policy that gives preferential treatment to Cubans and recent reforms on the island that loosened travel restrictions, and it puts a harsh spotlight on the growing frustration of a post-Fidel Castro Cuba.

And The Guardian describes the many routes and means taken out of the island to other countries:

US Customs and Border Patrol figures show that more than 22,000 Cubans arrived at the US borders with Mexico and Canada in the fiscal year that ended last month. That was nearly double the number in 2012, the year before restrictions were lifted.

The number of Cubans holding a Spanish passport tripled between 2009 and 2011, when it hit 108,000. Many of those Cubans fly to Mexico or the US on their Spanish passports, then present their Cuban passports to US officials.

Thousands of other travelers make their first stop in Ecuador, which dropped a visa requirement for all tourists in 2008. The number of Cubans heading to Ecuador hit 18,078 a year by 2012, the latest year for which statistics are available. From there, many hopscotch north by plane, train, boat or bus through Colombia, Central America and Mexico.

Cuban dissident author and blogger Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo edited this great collection of works by contemporary Cuban writers, published by the international online literary magazine Sampsonia Way.

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He has followed it with another anthology, Cuba in Splinters, which he talks about in the video below.


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A few musical morsels from Colombian electro-cumbia band Bomba Estéreo


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In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, Stacked has put together a great starter list of over forty examples of YA fiction by Latino/a authors and/or featuring Latino/a characters including titles by Matt de la Peña, Ann Jaramillo, Benjamin Alire Saenz, Oscar Hijuelos, Meg Medina, Margarita Engle, and many more.

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I love this list from PBS of children's books about Latinos who made a difference in the world, from Frida Kahlo to Diego Rivera, Sonia Sotomayor to Pablo Neruda, Gabriel García Márquez, Pelé, Dolores Huerta, and César Chávez. 


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El Gran Silencio

The facts speak for themselves here: U.S. Deportations of Immigrants Reach Record High in 2013.

The Obama administration deported a record 438,421 unauthorized immigrants in fiscal year 2013, continuing a streak of stepped up enforcement that has resulted in more than 2 million deportations since Obama took office, newly released Department of Homeland Security data show.

A UCLA study reports some interesting findings:

“Whites feel lukewarm about diversity when they are told that they are about to lose their majority status in the United States for the first time,” said Yuen Huo, UCLA professor of psychology and the study’s senior author.

The Wall Street Journal describes the plight of child immigrants in desperate need of legal counsel:

Just under half of the children appearing before the New York City Immigration Court have no attorney, according to The Legal Aid Society. The children are far more likely to be deported without an attorney, and advocates say the situation is desperate.

The Miami Herald offers a glimpse into the extraordinary journeys of Central American children who find the end of their migratory routes in the cells of Florida detention centers and the organizations that aim to help them.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the agency in charge of border control, says that between October 2013 and Aug. 31 this year, 66,127 unaccompanied minors crossed the border.

They also have provided this powerful short documentary with personal accounts:


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Cámara Oscura

The New York Times published a portion of Italian photographer Ernesto Bazan's new book, Isla, the final installment in his Cuba trilogy.

You can see examples of his past works here and here.

Of then ten years he spent living and photographing the island before political pressure led him to relocate to Mexico, Bazan says:

“I was in a land where the people, the regular people, are so friendly, open and generous, despite the difficulties they experience each day,” he said. “I could have stayed there all my life taking pictures.”

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The New York Times also published a wonderful collection of portraits by photographer Quetzal Maucci, where children of immigrants, just a few of the more than 20 million adult American-born children of immigrants in this country, speak on their experience with identity in the United States. Maucci, the daughter of Peruvian and Argentinean immigrants writes:

"Technically, I am an American, but that label doesn’t quite seem to fit. For much of my childhood I felt tension between the culture I was immersed in at school and the culture that my mothers kept alive within our home, the one I returned to each night."

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Alguien Dijo . . .

Some interesting pieces I've come across in recent days:

From Newsweek, a very good photo essay titled, "As Colombia Pursues Peace, Millions Remain Displaced," which offers this sobering statistic:

Colombia is, after Syria, the country with the highest number of registered internally displaced people as of 2013—5.7 million, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.

From IndieWire, the hard question of why the acclaimed documentary "Mala Mala" about the transgender community of Puerto Rico, hasn't found acceptance from the LGBT film festival circuit or been able to find U.S. distribution.

"I cannot ignore the racial component," Sickles added. "A lot of these film festivals are appealing to a gay, white demographic."

From the Huffington Post, a piece about the journeys of two Latinas who came from similar beginnings but whose trajectories have taken very different turns as a result of U.S. immigration policy.

"If you could just take the time to meet ten Latino families around the country, you would understand why we cannot wait. You would know why we need this now and not when it's comfortable for you," Carla said when asked what she would tell President Obama if she had the chance. "In the Latino community, our word means everything. A promise means a promise. It's hard to get that trust back."

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I love a good anthology. What's better than getting an excellent assembly of work by a diverse cross-section of writers in one beautifully bound book? That's why I'm so excited to get my hands on these two new anthologies featuring many wonderful Latina/o voices.

Immigrant Voices, edited by Cuban-born writer and translator Achy Obejas (Ruins, Days of Awe) and Megan Bayles, inlcudes incandescent and revelatory works by Junot Díaz, Carolina De Robertis, Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, and Eduardo Halfon, as well as non-Latinos like Laila Lalami, Edwidge Danticat, Yiyun Li, M. Eveling Galang and many more.

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The anthology All About Skin, just out from University of Wisconsin Press and edited by Jina Ortiz and Rochelle Spencer, includes gorgeous and bold pieces of fiction by more than twenty women writers of color such as ZZ Packer, Chinelo Okparanta, Emily Raboteau, and Latinas like Jennine Capó Crucet, Amina Gautier, Ivelisse Rodrigez, Aracelis Gonzalez Asendorf, Glendaliz Camacho, and even contains a story by yours truly.


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Gracias Totales

Like so many, I was deeply saddened by the news of Gustavo Cerati's passing last month. Since suffering a stroke four years ago that left him in a coma until his death, Cerati left a tremendous void in the music industry. As the frontman of Soda Stereo, he was an indisputable cornerstone of the Rock En Español movement, and his work as a solo artist and as a songwriter collaborating with other noted musicians transcended the confines of genre. Here, the LatinTimes puts Cerati's work at the top of their list of the "Top 35 Latin American Alternative Albums of all Time," though his influence on other artists is unquantifiable.

He will be sorely missed and in his honor I leave you with my favorite Soda Stereo song, "De Música Ligera," the last song Cerati performed with the band at their last concert together in Buenos Aires in 1997.

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Last spring, when I was in Havana doing research for a novel, nearly every local I spoke with told me about the film Conducta, which had just recently finished screening in theaters. I was told that to watch the film among Cubans at a theater like Cine Yara or Cine La Rampa was a unique and particularly moving experience because Conducta, the second film by director Ernesto Daranas Serano (Los Dioses Rotos), addresses, in unexpectedly direct ways, the frustrations and desperation felt by so many Cubans and is critical of Cuba's political and social regime in ways rarely seen on the island.

Conducta tells the story of a beloved veteran school teacher and her bond with one of her students, a troubled young boy named Chala who breeds pigeons and trains dogs for bloody fights, to help support his drug abusing mother and the flaky guy who may or may not be his father.

I was sorry not to have caught the film while it was showing in Havana. I'd heard the theaters were full of applause after certain lines, gasps at others, laughter in the face of familiar moments and tears falling in response to others. But it wasn't long before one of my Cuban friends turned up with a bootleg DVD of Conducta as a gift for me and I was able to watch it as soon as I returned to the U.S.

I know the film has had a limited North American release thus far but is now entering the film festival circuit and is Cuba's entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 87th Annual Academy Awards in 2015, so it may have another wider theatrical release, if we are lucky.

I highly recommend catching a viewing of this film, any way you can.


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Más Sabe el Diablo . . .

Since it's back-to-school season and I'm back to teaching myself, at the University of Miami, I'm very excited by the wonderful new anthology, Wise Latinas, edited by the very talented Guatemalan-American writer and educator Jennifer De Leon, which explores how the pursuit of higher education affected a wide selection of women and the complexity of emotions one feels upon being a new arrival to college life, from brazen bravado to profound despair.

The anthology features fantastic pieces by Latina writers like Sandra Cisneros, Julia Alvarez, Joy Castro, Ruth Behar, Daisy Hernández, Jennine Capó Crucet, Li Yun Alvarado, Stephanie Elizondo Griest, and Yalitza Ferreras, just to name a few. I particularly love the essay "Leaving Miami" by Cuban-American author Chantel Acevedo which describes how heavy an anchor family is when confronted with the desire to leave for college and the guilt that lingers after one has left in pursuit of a nomadic academic existence.


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¡Noticia, Noticia!

I'm very happy to hear that Radio Ambulante is the recipient of the Premio García Márquez for innovation in journalism. Created by Peruvian-American author Daniel Alarcón (Lost City Radio, At Night We Walk in Circles). Radio Ambulante is a Spanish-language (with English offerings and translations) network delivering crónicas by journalists throughout the Americas.

At Radio Ambulante, You can also hear Chilean writer Alejando Zambra read one of his stories, hear about justice found for a young Colombian domestic servant named Nohemí, an isolated community in Peru with a mysterious plague of blindness, and reports from the front line of the 2013 immigration ruling in the Dominican Republic.

¡Felicidades to the Radio Ambulante team!

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I'm thrilled to share the space here at Arrob@ and thankful to Duke LSGS's fearless leader, Professor Claudia Milian for bringing me into the community as your curator for the month of October.

You can call me Miss October, but my given name is Patricia. I'm a Colombiana-Americana writer of novels and short stories (Vida and It's Not Love, It's Just Paris), and if you want to know more about me, you can check out In the meantime, I think what's important to know is that as an artist, I feed off inspiration, beauty, and the rawness of life, so I will use my curatorial moment here at Arrob@ to share bits of culture, art, music, film, literature, and any shards of humanity that I find moving, evocative, or thrilling for our generation of Latinos and Latinas across the Americas.

For now, I will leave you with a favorite (destined to be classic) song by the Boricua party band turned musicians-of-consciousness Calle 13. I've got their new album, Multi_Viral on repeat, particularly the track Perseguidos. But this song, Latinoamérica is a beautiful anthem that reaches across the continents to tell some of our story.



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