Tuesday, December 27, 2005


Writers in the Round: New Heartland Voices Video

An "Academy Evening" event held Nov. 29, 2005, in Madison at the Overture Center for the Arts. "Writers in the Round" is a reading series featuring poets, fiction writers and essayists of diverse ethnic backgrounds--voices that are seldom heard in mainstream culture. The first evening in this series highlights Madison's Latino community with poets Oscar Mireles (pictured at left) and Rubén Medina and fiction writer Luana Monteiro . Academy Evenings are organized by the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters. (Video courtesy of Madison City Channel 12).

View the video [1 hr. 28 min.] | Read the transcript


Writers in the Round: New Heartland Voices

Free Academy Evening reading series highlighting Madison's Latino community with poets Oscar Mireles & Ruben Medina and fiction-writer Luana Monteiro

When: 11/29, 7:00 pm

Cost: Free, but tickets required

Call: 265-2500

Web: http://www.wisconsinacademy.org

Email: bsanford@wisconsinacademy.org


Wisconsin Studio, Overture Center
201 State St.
Madison [MAP]


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More Information:
The Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters is pleased to announce its Academy Evenings forum series new season schedule for 2005-06. Academy Evenings take place regularly in the Overture Center in Madison and at other venues around Wisconsin--this season in the Fox Valley, Milwaukee, and La Crosse. The public forums are engaging presentations, free of charge, about a wide variety of topics of public interest featuring Wisconsin's leading thinkers, scholars and artists. They are intended to encourage public interaction with these leaders in an intimate atmosphere designed to build community. All presentations are free of charge and open to the public. For Academy Evenings in Overture, free tickets are recommended to ensure seating. They will be available one week prior to the event at the James Watrous Gallery in Overture, 201 State Street, Madison. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Thursday 11-5; Friday 11-9; Saturday 11-9; Sunday 1-5. Telephone 608/265-2500. Maps and directions to all events are available at www.wisconsinacademy.org.

Tuesday, November 29, 7-8:30 pm, Wisconsin Studio
Writers in the Round: New Heartland Voices
A reading series featuring poets, fiction-writers, and essayists of diverse ethnic backgrounds--voices that are seldom heard in our mainstream culture. The first evening in this series highlights our Latino community with poets Oscar Mireles and Rubén Medina and fiction-writer Luana Monteiro.

Monday, December 05, 2005


Why did you name me Javier Dad…Part 2

A couple of years ago
I wrote a poem titled
“Why did you name me Javier… Dad?”
which looked at the meanings behind
my four children’s names
which was complicated by the fact
that they had latino names
and we lived in Madison Wisconsin

Diego Jesus Marjil Mireles
has become Colombicano
his screen name for instant messaging
it stands for half Colombian
and half Chicano
and it stands out
in a virtual world of names
like monkeylover
peppills and whokilledkenny

Lorena Pilar Barbosa-Mireles
Has become ChicanaHottie27
I can figure the Chicana part fairly easy
I am not even going to touch the “hottie” thing
The number 27 gets a little more confusing
Since she is only 15 years old
But was born on the 27th of the month

Javier Oscar Barbosa-Mireles
has never been called Junior
or Oscar the second
just Javy or
Chavs by his brother Diego
His screen name is ChicanoPlaya25
Which at 12 years old
Is a lot to live up to

Sergio Andres Barbosa-Mireles
Goes by the name of Pimpasmurff
Which I think he first signed on at in 6th grade
He has been too lazy to change it
or I think he only hears the pimping part
plus he forgot the smurffs are blue little creatures
from the Saturday morning cartoon scene

So as I tally up the score
three of my four children
have self-identified an unmistakeable latino name
in cyberspace
to let others know
who they are,
and where they came from

In this era
of blending in, and forgetting why
They have stepped back
reached inside
for something as simple
as a name


Why did you name me Javier, Dad?

Why did you name me Javier, Dad?

Why did you name me Javier, Dad?
My son Javier was asking me this question
As we were driving home from his T-Ball game

“Can I change my name when I get older? ”

Each one of my three other children
has asked me the same question
when they were about five or six years old.

My oldest son, Diego asked me one night
When I was reading him a go to bed book.
Why was I named Diego Jesus Marjil Barbosa-Mireles?
I informed him, as my first child, in which Imy wife let me pick the name,
That he was named
After the famous Mexican Muralist, Diego Rivera
And found out later,
that my Diego was born almost on the same day as his namesake,
100 years, minus one day.
He was named Jesus, after my older brother
Whom I never thought would have children
And named Marjil, after my grandfather.

But he was not impressed,
He still thought I should have probably named him
Bill, or Tom or another name that doesn’t take too much space.
And no one would notice the first day of school

Sergio Andres, my second oldest son,
Asked me the same question, when I was try to get him out of the bathtub
He said that the kids had a hard time saying his name and
Came up with words like Surgery and Sergio Valente
And words we can’t say in a family style poem
Finally he said “Didn’t you know any English names Dad? ”
I told him his mother and I purposely
picked Spanish names that could not be easily changed to English ones
Like Carlos to Chuck, Juan to John and José to Joe.

But when my daughter Lorena Pilar
asked me right before I had fallen asleep trying to read to her
Why she named her Lorena.
I told her that it was the most beautiful name
I could ever think of

and why would she want to be
one of the thousands of Jessica’s or Amber’s or Tiffany’s
she was very hurt and thought I was punishing her
or something

which gets us back to my youngest son Javier,
who was initially named Oscar Javier
but after less than 24 hours of repeatedly hearing
“little Oscar” “little Oscar” Little Oscar”
in the nursery room of the Hospital

my wife and I agreed that we would not subject him to 20 years of that
so we switched his name to Javier Oscar

and I was ready to give my personal cultural pride speech
to my six year old and was about to open my mouth wide with advice
when suddenly I got this inspiration, this imspiration
to keep quiet and say nothing
and listen to what my son had to say

“you know Dad,
I want to change my name when I get older
to Oscar,
so I can be more like you…”



My brother Junior didn’t remember
what happened last weekend
when he first opened the front door

Omero and Charley entered in
with drunken laughter
talking about Janie’s
hot cousin from Kenosha

Not aware that an ambush
was awaiting them
above loud voices
playing poker
in a grimy crowded kitchen

spindly card tables overturns
green money and yellow screams
fly about as
dark fists race angry faces
for the best angle

a gun
not aimed at anyone
went off
Charly is stuck in the way

His brown eye
shattered red
on his shirt
on the floor

His dreams
lay still
underneath the sunglasses
left on the carpet


Assassination Day

In the seventh grade in 1967,
playing football on the school playground
I heard that
Martin Luther King Jr.
had been assassinated,

Some kids cried,
other students didn’t know what to feel
I felt a little sad.

I headed up to the third floor classroom
for my fourth period class
at Washington Junior High School,
I realized I had to step it up a bit
cause I was running late

As I turned the corner and
shot up the final set of stairs
I saw an unfamiliar black face

standing like King Kong
at the top of the stairwell
with his eyes swinging
as wildly as both his arms
and hitting people
as they walked up those steps

I was about to turn around
When I realized
that I did not have enough time to go
around the second floor detour
without being late.. for class

I continued to march up those thirteen steps
I could see some students
begin to shift their whole bodies
slightly to the left
leading with the right shoulder
as if
to provide a target
for the attacker
to aim for besides their face

Other students decided
to take the hit
head on
directly in the middle of their chest,
their pummeled bodies flying
as if hit by the thick force
of water from a fire hydrant

I could hear him screaming
“they killed him,
you killed him,
they killed him! ”

As I took another
cautious step forward
I snuck a quick peek at his face,

I knew everyone in the school
and I confirmed to myself,
that he was not a student
but before my eyes left his face
I made a startling discovery
I saw a tear appear on his cheek

he was crying
he was crying
but kept punching
and swinging
not one of the students said anything
when they got hit,
they just released a “umph”
almost being careful
not to let out a sound
to warn other students

And the students held in
their tears too
clutched in between their
clenched prayer fists
hands into fingers

At this point
I realized
this person
who had terrorized our school
armed only with his lightning fast fists
was crying,
and hitting
the world around him
in a whirlwind of emotion
that was raining upon all the students
in that stairwell

and I was next up for the unending
onslaught of violence

and as he cocked his arm
for the more than one hundredth time
I wrestled the urge
to capture my balance
as soon as I could,

an angelic voice
from the other side of the stairwell
said…”hey man…
hey man…
that’s Oscar…
he’s cool
he’s ok’

and the man-child
quickly stepped aside
and let me pass

and as I headed down the hallway
with a sigh of relief draped across my face,

I realized it wasn’t that simple

And have wished every day since that I would have had the courage
to speak up for what dreams
Martin Luther King Jr. stood for

even if it meant
falling down
over my words
in that stairwell


Lost and Found Language

It started in 1949, when my oldest brother
came home from school in Racine, Wisconsin
after flunking kindergarten
It said in his report card that he 'spoke no English'
and he declared to my parents
that 'the rest of the kids have to learn to speak English
if we planned on staying here in the United States.'

so my parents lined up
the rest of the seven younger children
had us straighten up our posture
tilt our heads back
reached into our mouths with their hands
and took turns
slicing our tongues in half

making a simple, but unspoken contract that from then on
the parents would speak Spanish and their children would respond
back only in English

How do you lose a native language? does it get misplaced
in the recesses of your brain? or does it never quite stick
to the sides of your mind?

for me, it would always start with the question
from a brown faced stranger 'hables espanol? '
which means 'do you speak spanish? '

which meant if they had to ask me
if I spoke Spanish this was not going to be a good start
at having a conversation...

my face would start to get flushed
with redness and before
I had a chance to stammer the words 'I don't'
I could see it in their eyes looking at my embarrassed face
searching for an answer that they already knew

as I walked away
I knew what they were thinking
'Who is this guy? '
'How can he not speak his mother's tongue? '
'Where did he grow up anyways? Racine?
'Doesn't he have any pride in knowing who he is? 'or 'Where he came from? '
I tried to reply, but as the words in Spanish
floated down from my brain they got caught in my throat,
by the rocks of shame I had piled up in 20 years.
I spoke in half-tongue which was only good enough
to be misunderstood.

my future wife
taught me how
to speak spanish
by being Colombian
and secondly
by being patient
and thirdly
by not speaking english

I had already knew
the language of hands and love
which got me confident enough
to find the beautiful sounds of latin rhythms
that laid deep within me

and although
I still feel my heart jump a beat
when someone asks 'hables espanol? '
now the spanish resonates within me
and echos back 'si, y usted tambien? '

and today as I talk with the spanish speaking students
in my adult education classes
they can not only hear my mind
splash ancient spanish sounds off
my heart
but feel my words

my native tongue
once cut by my parents
out of necessity and survival
my half tongue
has finally grown back making me whole again.


It smells just like yesterday

My older brother Jesus said
the smell of ripe onions
always reminded him of summer

We’d start working early
in the six a.m. dark
on the Horner farm in Southern Wisconsin
while the dirt was still wet
from the sprinkled dew

rows of the bald white onions rested
beneath the soft soil we were told to pick them up
by the neck the way a cat
carries her litter

Shake the dirt off there round backs being careful not to tear
their long green ribbons

At fifteen cents a bushel
we thought we were smart
until we were caught trying to hide
large clumps of soil
near the bottom of the bushel basket
to make it fill easier.

Around eleven o’clock we became tired,
my father would say “this row here, will be the last one today”
so we would try to hurry and finish only to find

his story would change as we neared the row’s end
it doesn’t pay to work half a day

when I was twelve, my father told me
“this summer… this summer…. will be the last”
with a quarter squeezed in my hand
and a dirt-crusted smile on my face
I knew he was right

Years later
we drove on Highway 31, past the Horner farm
my father took a long glance out the car window
and said
back there back there near the corn bin is where I stayed
when I didn’t know better



Every single morning
during my childhood
or so it seemed we would have
atolle, an mexican style oatmeal swimming inside
a large silvery pot with twin ear handles
squatted directly on top of the stove

red and yellow gas flames licking the lower sides of the base
as if the kettle were trying to tickle itself
into a heated frenzy

we never ate ice cold milk
poured into a wooden bowl waiting for a load of
dry mouth cereal laced with sugar
to sweeten up the start of another day

and the only time
we were supposed to eat
krusty kreme donuts
to nourish our bodies for the day
we got stuck instead with
day old pan dulce, mexican sweet bread
which was neither sweet
nor resembled a krusty kreme

and even when we had those
very special meat filled days
of mexican sausage or chorizo
mixing its red blood stained juices
with farm fresh yellow strips of eggs
and creating delicious chunks of meat-filled scrambled
to wrap your hot tortilla around

the next day was always… oatmeal atolle oatmeal atolle

“I hate atolle,

and eating oatmeal
this cold March morning in upstate Vermont
I had all but forgotten
winter school days waking up in Wisconsin.
when atolle cooking
arose those warm chest feelings
that simmered around my body hugging my insides.


Elvis Presley was a Chicano

In the latest edition
of the National Inquirer
it was revealed that
Elvis Presley,
Yes…the legendary Elvis
was a Chicano

Fans were outraged
critics cite his heritage
as an important influence
I was stunned
Can you believe it?

Well…I didn’t really at first
but then I remembered…
his jet back hair
you know with the little curl in front
sort of reminded me of my cousin “Chuy”

Elvis always wore
either those tight black pants
like the ones in West Side Story
or a baggy pinstriped Zoot Suit
Pachuco Style
with a pair of blue suede shoes to match

Then I figured no, it couldn’t be
So I traced his story back to his hometown
a little pueblo outside Tupelo, Mississippi
s son of migrant sharecroppers
looking for a way out
of rural poverty

Let’s see… Elvis joined the army
Maybe he enlisted with his “buddies”
They never made a movie about it
But they fought hard anyways

I read somewhere that Chicanos
have won more Silver Stars
and Purple Hearts then any other ethnic group
Maybe Elvis was a Chicano
I wasn’t convinced yet!

Elvis was a Swooner, a dancer, a ladies man
and always won the girl
that hated him
in the beginning of the movie
he had to be a latin lover or something
even Valentino and Sinatra has a little Italian in them

Elvis played guitar
like my Uncle Carlos,
always hitting the same four notes
over and over again

But now, I think I have figured it out
It was probably that Colonel Parkers idea
to change his cultural identity,
since it was just after the second big war
and the Zoot Suit Riots

it wasn’t the right time
for a Chicano Superstar
to be pelvising around
the Ed Sullivan Show,
late on a Sunday night

I think is was just a hoax,
to convince more people to buy that newspaper

If Elvis Presley really
was a Chicano
He wouldn’t have settled
to die alone,
in an empty mansion

With no family around,
No “familia” around

Who cared enough
to cry


Bio of Oscar Mireles

208 Madison Street, Deforest, Wisconsin 53532
(608) 577-5737 (608) 846-6878

Oscar Mireles, age 50, is an educator, writer and school administrator from Racine, Wisconsin.

Mr. Mireles has been the Executive Director of Omega School for the past 11 years. Omega School provides adult basic education services (GED Preparation) in several sites in Dane County, including it's main facility on Sherman Avenue, two neighborhood centers, and the Dane County Jail. During his tenure, Mr. Mireles has assisted over 1500 young adults with securing a GED/HSED credential. The GED/HSED credential serves as an access point for entry level employment and/or post-secondary education. Mr. Mireles helped establish an endowment for the school and in 2006 is in the process of raising funds to purchasing a building and permanent home for Omega School.

Mr. Mireles was employed for 10 years in various positions at Centro de la Communidad Unida/United Community Center (UCC) in Milwaukee, before being promoted to Associate Executive Director.

As Director of Economic development at UCC he helped develop Cafe El Sol, a restaurant and catering operation, from sales in 1986 of $35,000 to sales of over $350,000 in 1992. As Director of Cultural Arts was instrumental in developing artistic programs and raising funds for the renovation of a former church into a 200 seat theater and arts gallery for latinos in the Walker Point neighborhood of Milwaukee. As Assistant Director, Mireles helped with the merger with Bruce Guadalupe Community School and UCC and was involved in the establishment of the UCC Alternative Middle School and its partnerships with the Mational Time to Read Program of Time Warner and corporate partner Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance company. Mr. Mireles played a key role in having UCC becoming selected as "1992 Affiliate of the Year" as one of over 158 affiliates of the National Council of La Raza.

Mr. Mireles has been a National Trainer for the Time Warner’s Time to Read Program,the nation’s largest corporate based literacy program. For the past 17 years, he has trained over 1,500 corporate and volunteer tutors in Time to Read sites in New York, Chicago, Houston, Kansas City, Columbus and Minneapolis.

Oscar Mireles is a published poet and editor. Mireles's poetry has been published in over 50 different publications, including Revista Chicano Riquena (now Americas Review), Viatztlan, Colorlines, Nuestra Cosa, Milwaukee Journal and Catholic Herald. Mireles's first chapbook of twenty poems was published in 1985 and was titled Second Generation (Focus Communications 1985). Mr. Mireles was Publisher and Editor of I didn't know there were Latinos in Wisconsin: 20 Latino poets (Focus Communications 1989). Reviewer Tim Forkes writes " the compilation stands as not only as a picture of Wisconsin's Hispanic community... but also the latest of Mireles' many contributions to society as a whole... he was the fire in the oven" Mr. Mireles organized the second anthology I didn't know there were Latinos in Wisconsin: 30 Latino Writers (Focus Communications 1999) and served as the Editor.

Mr. Mireles has received much recognition for his efforts in the education and community service. He was selected as one of the “10 Who Make A Difference” by the Wisconsin State Journal in 2001. He was also profiled in the Wisconsin State Journal’s“Know your Madisonians” column in 1999. He received a leadership award from the Verona Area Evenstart Literacy Program in 1997. He was listed as one of the "89 Most Interesting People in 1989" by Milwaukee Magazine. He was selected "State of Wisconsin Hispanic Man of the Year" in 1988 by the United Migrant Opportunity Service (UMOS) . He received the 1988 Future Milwaukee Alumni Community Service Award for outstanding leadership. He was selected "Board Member of the Year" in 1986 by the Milwaukee Chapter of Jobs with Peace. In 1980, he was selected "Man of the Year: by the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)

Mr. Mireles currently serves on the Grants Review Board of the Foundation for Madison Public Schools. He is President of Africasong Productions which coordinates the longest running state-sponsored Martin Luther King Jr. celebration. He is a member of the Education Committee for the new Overture Center.

Mr. Mireles was President of the Middleton Youth Wrestling Club, helping his son win a WIAA State Wrestling Championship and earn a spot on the Wisconsin National Freestyle Wrestling Team. He served as the PTO President for two years at Gompers Elementary. He was the United Way Agency Representative on the United Way of Dane County Campaign Cabinet.

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