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The #LatinoLit series continues with a poem by Puerto Rican author and poet Odilia Rivera Santos. As she states on Facebook Author page:

I was born in Arecibo, Puerto Rico and moved to the South Bronx at the age of almost-six. I am from a family of nine and nobody speaks to anyone else in my family very often, which is a long story that doesn’t matter.
The move from Puerto Rico to NYC meant that as a family, we were thrown into an environment in which shootings, drug addicts and constant chaos was the norm. I immersed myself in reading and writing at a young age, which allowed me to receive an excellent liberal arts education, and the skills necessary to be accepted into specialized high schools — but I hated high school.
I have studied yoga, meditation, nutrition, Western Herbal Medicine, the Fundamentals of Traditional Chinese Medicine, French, and received a BA in Comparative Literature.
I love to read and learn new skills. Sometimes, people say they don’t use their degree and I always think that is an incredibly ignorant statement; it is like saying “I never use my brain.”
I use all I have learned from relatives, books, classes, films, life experiences and music everyday.
There is no better mix then a little autodidacticism and formal education; this concoction created an extraordinarily well-organized circuitry that allows me to gain new skills quickly, and to assess and understand new situations well enough to ask questions . . . so much of life is rooted in asking questions.

#LatinoLit Author Odilia Rivera Santos

We are proud to present one of her poems form her blog:

in Cuba, …


When I arrived in Cuba, a man attached himself to me
his hands were strong; his eyes aggressive
When I arrived in Cuba, the breeze confused me
women stared, their smiles patched with gold
When I arrived in Cuba, I did not feel sad
I breathed free air, but a man spoke
of liberty
he taught me what I had not seen.
When I arrived in Cuba, I found another man
with the face of a boy
he searches; he dances in the ruins; he speaks of
being
always
on the margins
in his house, he is not a complete man
When I arrived in Cuba, the streets had games
and rules
I understood a little
When I arrived in Cuba, I did not get lost easily
it was with great effort that I got lost
When I arrived, I distributed gifts
people accept a favor, a gift, a hand
without questions
When I arrived, it was an island, a city, a barrio
When I arrived, I asked if they had squirrels
When I arrived, I dreamt of standing
on a balcony to admire the stars
there was no balcony
I fell for a little while
it was not an unpleasant experience
Soon I saw I was not foreign
I have been hungry
I have accomplished much
with little
I know how to sing and argue
I want to stay home
and see the world too.

© Odilia Rivera Santos

To know more about Odilia, become a fan of her Facebook Author Page or follow her on Twitter.

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Tonight we closed a poll we launched last Wednesday that asked one simple question: What is your stance on the new Whole Foods store in Jamaica Plain? Before sharing the results, we did want to say that this poll did not pretend to be Rasmussen or Gallup. However, we did make sure that the poll follow some simple requirements:

  • Voting could happen only once per computer. Once someone voted once, you could not vote from the same computer, so technically, someone could have voted again if that person cast a new vote on a different computer.
  • The poll only accepted votes from the Boston area. According to my tracking statistics, 80% of the 127 votes casts were from URLs within 5 miles of the Hyde Square section of JP, where the new store would be located.

So the results are in. 127 votes were cast. 85 (67%) voted to support the new store. 42 (33%) voted to not support the store.

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Originally from Los Angeles, #LatinoLit Silvio Sirias is the true definition of the bilingual, bicultural author who weaves his words through many worlds. Sirias, whose novel MEET ME UNDER THE CEIBA won the 2007 Chicano/Latino Literary Prize for Best Novel, has written several novels based in Central America, a region that has influenced him even since he lived as an adolescent in Nicaragua. We had the chance to chat with Silvio about how he uses social media to promote his work and the advice he would give aspiring new writers.

 

Silvio Sirias

 

JRV: Has social media helped you promote your books and increase your book sales? What experiences have you had with social media?

Silvio Sirias: Social media—primarily Facebook and Twitter—played important roles during the virtual book tours of my two novels, BERNARDO AND THE VIRGIN (Northwestern University Press) and MEET ME UNDER THE CEIBA (Arte Público Press). Both Facebook and Twitter helped spread the word regarding the schedule and the host websites. With the assistance of Condor Book Tours—and I highly recommend authors sign-up with enthusiastic publicists, such as Nilki Benitez—our efforts translated into larger audiences and, of course, momentary spikes in sales.

Regarding my experiences in social media, I’m far more adept at attracting attention—positive, I hope—on Facebook. Twitter is still somewhat of a mystery to me, even though I have been participating for more than two years. I think this is because the discourse in Twitter is slightly encrypted, and the vast amount of useful information that travels over this medium overwhelms me. Nevertheless, I’ve met many kindred spirits on Twitter—a Latino and Latina literature niche-group, as you would say, Julio—and this alone has been worth the effort. What’s more, Twitter has helped educate me—and substantially—about the world of publishing.

JRV: Everyone is saying that the self-publishing movement will eventually become how every book is published. Will large publishing houses become extinct? Why or why not?

Silvio Sirias: I’m jumping on the self-publishing bandwagon myself with a collection of essays entitled LOVE MADE VISIBLE: ESSAYS AND REFLECTIONS ON WRITING, TEACHING, and OTHER DISTRACTIONS. The reason I’m going this route is because, although a fun read, I think, Love Made Visible would prove difficult to place with a traditional publisher. As a result, rather than spending months sending the manuscript around looking for a home, for this project self-publishing makes sense. I’m hoping that readers who have enjoyed my writings in the past will support me on this solo venture.

I don’t think, however, that the monumental surge in independent authors constitutes a death knell for traditional publishers. Undoubtedly, publishers were asleep at the wheel when the tidal wave hit them. But at the helm of the book industry are creative, quick-thinking people. After they recover from the shock they will redefine their place in the market and carry on. That said, though, the absolute dominance they had in the industry is already a thing of the past. The present situation in the publishing world, and the freedom it now allows authors, reminds me of the Spanish proverb: “En río revuelto, ganancia de pescadores” (There’s good fishing in troubled waters).

But the problem I foresee with self-publishing is that there will be an almost crushing amount of chaff. As practiced gatekeepers, traditional publishers have an advantage: their ability to choose what they consider to be wheat. (And in the major publishers’ view of the marketplace that means what sells, regardless of literary quality.)

JRV: What is the best advice you would give new authors about promoting your works and using social media? What works? What doesn’t?

Silvio Sirias: I bow to your expertise on this matter, Julio. I’d urge them to follow you on Twitter (@julito77). Other than that, I feel that the best writers can hope for is to make readers aware of their work. Convincing readers to make a purchase, that’s a different matter. What authors need to keep in mind is that in the developing world of social media one has to be persistent, astute, yet very, very judicious. Social media will help sell a few books, but only great writing will keep readers coming back.

To Become a Fan of Silvio on Facebook: Click here.

To Follow Silvio on Twitter: Click here.

 

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Raul Ramos y Sanchez

Great news for my dear friend and award-winning author Raul Ramos y Sanchez. The author of HOUSE DIVIDED and AMERICA LIBRE will be on CNN en Español today, February 23, at 6pm EST/3pm PST.

He will be interviewed by CNN en Español anchor Juan Carlos López.

Juan Carlos López

You can watch the interview on DirecTV Channel 419 and Dish Network Channel 859.

¡Enhorabuena, Raul!

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The latest installment from FRANKY BENÍTEZ: A Story of Love, Pain, and Hope from San Juan to Boston:

All rights reserved by ARCHIVO HISTORICO Y FOTOGRAFICO DE PUERTO RICO

 

The torrent of clouds raced over the rays of the Caribbean sun, blackening the colonial port of San Juan within seconds. Holding his only possessions in a leather satchel made by a fat Moroccan from Seville, Octavio Antonio Benítez Aragón, the great-grandfather of Franky Benítez, sprinted past africano porters dragging steamer trunks in the Puerto Rican mud and Spanish nobles opening black umbrellas to find cover from the impending downpour.

Octavio Antonio, seventeen years old, his dark curly hair dangling over his green eyes and olive skin, opened the wooden door of a café at the very moment thousands of tropical rain drops splattered onto the port.

He looked around. The café’s scents of crusty bread and espresso steam held the criollo merchants heading back home from Spain to the island, new arrivals with labor papers in hand, two sugar speculators from New Orleans, three crying babies with their mothers, and two priests reading from a Bible and crossing themselves every time they whispered Jesus from their lips.

“What would you like, young man?” Octavio Antonio heard the voice of an elderly man from behind the café’s glass display of guava pastries, caramel flan, and cheese turnovers.

“Nothing, sir. Just trying to get out of the rain,” Octavio Antonio said as he took his handkerchief from the breast pocket of his only ditto suit, whose sack coat was starting to wear from the long voyage across the Atlantic, and wiped the sweat beads from his brow,

“If you are not buying anything, please leave my café,” the man said.

Octavio Antonio nodded. “Yes, sir.”

He walked back out onto the cobblestone streets of the capital city, the rain soaking his clothes and drenching his boater, which he bought in Huelva the day before his trip with the last reales his father Don Antonio Octavio had given him. The city, if he could call it that, had narrow, winding roads that made walking slippery in the middle of a downpour. Octavio Antonio, not knowing where he was, kept walking, and at times stopped for cover under the bottom of a pastel-colored balcony that formed part of the city’s colonial structures modeled after the houses of Andalusia.

After thirty minutes, the drops vanished from the sky and the sun crept through the remaining clouds, imparting a late afternoon light onto the soaked city. Octavio Antonio noticed he was not far from the city’s central plaza, the Plaza de Armas on San José Street. His meeting place. He took out his handkerchief to dry his eyes and cheeks, as he strolled to the plaza’s main area. Before he reached the plaza’s pigeon-filled fountain, a voice shouted behind him.

“The American ship exploded in Havana! U.S.S Maine destroyed! Read all about it in this afternoon’s edition! El Mundo has the story! American ship exploded! Hundreds dead!”

It was a boy with skin as dark as molasses. He wore no shoes, yet he was able to hold a stack of newspapers under his left arm as he shouted the headlines from the afternoon edition. Octavio Antonio watched as the boy started to run past him and heard towards the plaza. Soon, the island’s merchants would saunter out before their late afternoon coffees with steamed milk and buy a newspaper from the boy.

Octavio Antonio knew this voyage had its risks, but when he had received the letter from his uncle Rogelio six months before to help with Benítez & González Sugar & Rum Company, S.A., all Octavio Antonio could think of was how quickly could he escape his town of Lora del Río in southern Spain and book a steamer ticket from Cádiz to San Juan. His father urged his son to stay, but Octavio Antonio had adventure in his soul. Among the olive trees and frisky bulls that others in his town raised and trained, Octavio Antonio would spend days dreaming about his fortune, his destiny, his freedom. His father was born to cultivate olives. Octavio Antonio was born to lead men, like the Moors who had owned his land centuries ago.

So, convinced that Puerto Rico was his future and ambition, he wrote back to his uncle Rogelio to inform him that he would indeed go to Puerto Rico once he had enough money for the voyage. Octavio Antonio then worked any task he could muster from his fellow neighbors, picking olives until dusk and cleaning stables until dawn. By November of 1897, Octavio Antonio had enough money to purchase his one-way ticket. He celebrated his last Christmas in Spain drinking sherry and confessing his sins.

In late January, just a few weeks before his departure from Cádiz, Octavio Antonio received a letter from his uncle that only confirmed his decision:

15 December 1897 A.D., Juncos, Puerto Rico

To my dearest nephew:

May the Lord grant you blessings, prosperity, and happiness in the blessed new year of our Christ. My joy of your potential arrival was recently overshadow by a even more momentous occurrence: several of my fellow partners have heard through their contacts in Madrid that the Spaniards have granted this island of Puerto Rico autonomous rule! Puerto Ricans will now be able to govern themselves and begin to free their chains from their Spanish brothers. There is talk that a government will be formed on the island before the summer solstice of 1898.

This is indeed wondrous news, since it will allow Benítez & González Sugar & Rum Company, S.A. the opportunity to export its rum without the impositions of the Spanish government. The years of struggle for our independence and freedom have begun to dissipate. When you arrive to this beloved island, it will be active with anticipation. I cannot think of a better place for an industrious young man to earn his fortune. I long to be your age again and not the old man that I am, the one who had first through that the original scream for revolution in Lares over twenty years ago was mere childish folly. Yet when I did finally decide to emigrate to this lush, green island, I discovered quickly that Puerto Rico could become the commercial pearl of the Caribbean and eventually all of Latin American. Like Rodó’s Ariel, it would swirl into a world of profits. And when I began to read the accounts of Betances and others who had committed to a free Puerto Rico, my heart became more attached to my new home each and every day.

Can you imagine it, my nephew? This former Royalist and lover of the Crown joining hands with fellow Puerto Ricans last year as we heard of the news in Yauco, where the first Puerto Rican flag had be flown by patriots, although to Spain, they were dangerous rebels? That day, I grabbed a hammer to one of my finest barrels and let the drink overflow into the mouths of my fellow friends! It was a celebration that had taken decades to occur, and to some whose families lived on the island since the early Spanish governors, the wait has lasted centuries. When the authorities stopped the Yauco liberation, hope still lingered in our souls, since we had already devoured the taste of freedom and of money. We were determined, and our brave leaders ensured everyone that the Spanish Primer Minister, the very enlightened Práxedes Mateo Sagasta, would indeed be granting autonomy to the island.

We did achieve it, and as I take time to pause between another Christmas celebration, I felt the urge to write this to you and inform you that yes, my nephew, you are indeed wise for your desire to live on this island as a free man. Of course, we will not change much in terms of who we are, we still speak Spanish and my accounts on the continent will not vanish once Puerto Rico meets its destiny. Once we are free, we will all be rewarded with riches never seen on this island before!

You are like the island, my dear nephew, you are as bright as the sun that shines on Puerto Rico each and every God-given day. If the Lord is willing, I see a future that will propel you to be able to not only live on the island, but also bring you back to Spain on regular holidays to enjoy the family you will leave behind as well as the country that was your first home. Now, your home will be with me in Juncos, and eventually you will grow to be prosperous, powerful, and mighty.

With this I must leave you to attend to the guests who will soon be arriving. Remember, my nephew, Puerto Rico will be yours and yours will be Puerto Rico. I urge you to come to this island with a mind to challenge our colonial mentality, which has kept us shackled like the africano slaves of Loíza. You represent the island’s progress and what it will become: a country that the whole of Latin America will exhibit as a model testament to the free enterprise markets, political stability, and human dignity.

I wish that our Lord protect you on your journey and bring you to me prepared and at the ready to form our own empire of sugar and rum, not unlike the Crown I used to defend when I was young and thick-headed like you.

May the Lord bestow you blessings. Your loving uncle,
Rogelio

PS Please write to me with the final details of your itinerary so I can make sure to arrange one of my laborers to meet you at the Plaza de Armas near the end of day when you arrive. He will ensure that a private carriage will be made available for your long journey into the mountains of Juncos, where I will be waiting for you at our company with open arms of anticipation and love.

PPS Please share my affection to my brother and sister-in-law. I long for the day when I can return to Spain and visit them. I can assure you that the recent developments will allow me to achieve this goal successfully before we enter the next century. Can you fathom how close we are to a new age? The Pearl of the Caribbean, the Isle of Enchanment, will soon be real!

As he waited for the carriage to arrive in the plaza, Octavio Antonio could still recall the words his father shared with him upon listening to the details of his brother’s letter.

“Fortunes are for dreamers, Octavio,” his father said. “Rogelio has always claimed that such fortune will be found in Puerto Rico. He has been writing the same letters ever since he left us. That is why he had never returned. He cannot pay back his debts.”

Near the plaza’s fountain, another voice began to snuff out Octavio’s memories. He look up and saw a younger man, with skin as mixed as his own, signaling to him.

“Don Octavio? Don Octavio Benítez Aragón?” the voice said.

“Yes, that is I,” Octavio said to the man.

“Your uncle has sent me to find you. My name is Rafael, Rafael Castro of Juncos. I am one of your uncle’s supervisors. The carriage will arrive shortly. It will be a long ride, but you will be provided with all the comforts merited to a young man who has traveled so far to get here.”

Octavio Antonio smiled. Rafael appeared to be a few years older than him, and his mustache smelled of rum. The same rum that Octavio Antonio had battled a bout of seasickness and stale bread so that he could learn from his uncle and become a master merchant.

“I am ready, Rafael. I am ready to go to Juncos and see my uncle. I have never met him since he had left my family before I was born.”

“He will welcome you with an embrace only family can recognize, even those who have never had the pleasure of meeting before. Let us go.”

“Yes, Rafael. Let us go to find my life.”

Three months later, in the very same place where Octavio Antonio Benítez Aragón had arrived on a steamer from Cádiz, a dozen American ships led by Rear Admiral William T. Sampson bombarded San Juan. The city’s residents were in a panic. A month later, the Americans blockaded of San Juan harbor. The month after that, General Nelson A. Miles landed in Guánica, on the southern part of the island, along with over 3,000 American soldiers. The resistance to Nelson’s landing was sparse and weak. By the end of August, Puerto Rico was a colony again, this time under a different master, and Octavio Antonio Benítez Aragón was mourning the death of his uncle and the loss of Benítez & González Sugar & Rum Company, S.A., due to a bankruptcy ruling.

Each night, it was told many years later that the residents of Juncos would hear the wailings Octavio Antonio Benítez Aragón every night at around three in the morning, when the local tavern had closed and he had nowhere else to go.

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While covering the social media saga of author Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, several of our readers had emailed us to see if we could find more information about famed Hollywood attorney Marty Singer, who was hired by Encanto Productions’ Ann Lopez to ensure that Valdes-Rodriguez cease from posting her opinions and thoughts on social media about the TV adaptation of her book, THE DIRTY GIRLS SOCIAL CLUB.

According to its website, Singer’s firm, Lavely & Singer, is “one of the world’s premier talent-side entertainment litigation firms.” The profile on its website continues with this quote:

First, we represent clients against the tabloids and other media and internet outlets in disputes which arise prior to, as well as after, the publication of articles which defame the clients or invade their privacy. We also police the manner in which the names and likenesses of our clients are commercially exploited throughout the world. Second, we represent clients in the resolution and litigation of a broad range of entertainment industry disputes including copyright and other intellectual property disputes, contract breaches, and business torts.

It is clear that Brooklyn native Singer, nicknamed “The Mad Dog,” knows his stuff and understands that in the entertainment business, you got to be tough. His actions in representing Ann Lopez resulted in a rather detailed retraction and correction by Valdes-Rodriguez regarding her social media fight with Lopez. Occasionally, Valdes-Rodriguez has tweeted and posted some updates about her situation, but it is no longer as detailed or frequent, when compared to the period between December 23, 2010 until January 6, 2011.

Singer’s web page also includes a section called RAGING BULLS, where the following excerpts and quotes a 2000 Los Angeles Magazine article are included:

  • “What these lawyers possess is the proven ability to go all the way, to a jury trial if necessary, and play by whatever rules are laid down to save their client’s freedom or fortune in a civil or criminal matter. On the other hand, when one of them makes a phone call or sends a demand letter, arguments are often settled quickly … and quietly.”
  • “I’ll make one call to a publicist to check out a tip,” growls New York Post Page Six editor Richard Johnson, “and pretty soon I get a hand-delivered letter from Singer threatening all sorts of disasters and financial damages.”
  • “Marty is a heavy hitter, but he’s reasonable,” claims [National Enquirer Editor Steve] Coz in a careful tone. “He’s one of the few that ‘gets it’–his clients need the press every bit as much as the press needs his clients.”

As with any lawyer, Singer has his web critics, and some of his letters have been publicly shared online. Here are some of those links.

Yes, Singer is the real deal when it comes to a lawyer who will fight for a client. Which leads us to this question: What about the countless of social media accounts on Twitter and Facebook who shared their unfiltered opinions about Valdes-Rodriguez and Lopez? We saw tweets that used profanity to insult Lopez, Encanto and NBC from social media accounts who expressed their anger and passion about the story. Will Singer go after them as well? And if so, what recourse does he have to tell other social media accounts to stop their expression of opinion and free speech? We are in interesting times, when news and opinion flows as quick as a WIFI connection. Will printed hard copy legal letters still have its effect?

As you know, we declared Valdes-Rodriguez a “social media winner,” which is quite different from saying that she won her battle with Lopez. Valdes-Rodriguez was savvy and understood that if her message got out in social media, it would take a life of its own. We also believe that Lopez could have used social media to answer the allegations instead of doing business the old-fashioned Hollywood way. Sure, Singer has very likely won the legal war, but the little mini-battles that happened in the social media space were all won by Valdes-Rodriguez.

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Out first short story submission to #LatinoLit was sent to us by author Gilberto González, a Philadelphia native who writes about life in his city. Born of Puerto Rican parents, González grew up in Philadelphia and understands fi rst-hand the racism and hardships facing the Latino community. “Going through high school was tough. Going through college was tougher,” he said. González did not let adversity slow him down. After receiving an associate degree of fi ne arts from Community College of Philadelphia, he continued his education at University of the Arts, where he earned a bachelor degree in graphic design. In 1989, González tapped his personal motivation and graphic design skills in order to create Cinco Graphics at the Taller Puertorriqueño, a professional training program that allowed high school students to prepare for college or the workforce in graphic design.

#LatinoLit Author Gilberto González

Damaris

by Gilberto González

One summer I walked out of my house, a typical Philadelphia row home. Here everyone knows your business because the walls are thin and everyone is always hanging outside. This day the Kensington streets were crowded when I noticed across the street this amazing girl. We looked at each other and smiled. She was half white and half Puerto Rican. She had light brown hair, very soft white skin, she was a little taller than me, slim, with a nice full ass. I normally would never walk up to a girl because I was shy, but for some reason, I decided to talk to her.

“Who are you?” I asked.

She replied, “Damaris, Maria’s sister.”

“Why are you here?”

She replied, “Babysitting my big sister’s kids for the summer.”

“Why are you so pretty?”

She just smiled and said, “Because my mother made me that way.”

After that first encounter at North Howard Street we were in separable. Every evening, once she finished babysitting her sister’s kids, I would walk her home. She lived about four blocks from my house on 5th and Berks.  Her family lived on the second floor of an apartment building. After a few weeks of walking her home, I became a fixture at her door stoop. When it was time for her to eat dinner we would get up and stand in the foyer of the building. With the doors closed we would start to kiss and the kiss would seem to last a long time. Her lips were soft, not too wet or too dry, and she covered my lips from top to bottom. From the moment she pressed her lips to mine it felt nice. It was one of the best kisses I ever had.

One evening she told me that she confessed to her mom that she loved me and that she wanted me to come into the house. That evening I was allowed upstairs. I met her family and they all seemed to like me. Her mom was Puerto Rican but her father, the white guy, did not live with them. Instead, her mom introduced this little black guy as her stepfather. So now I was introduced to everyone in the house and we sat to eat dinner.

A bit later, during dinner, I asked to use the bathroom. I walked up the dark hallway up to the third floor. Once inside, as I stood at the toilet, I looked around and I saw all the normal things including some picture frames. They were images of barns and the frames were the kind you would see in every household in Philadelphia. They were a pair of black, plastic vine frames. As I was standing in front of the toilet, I noticed a roach crawl behind one of pictures. I thought I’d do Damaris and her family a favor and kill the bug. So I hit the frame in attempts to kill the thing. But, when I hit the frame, roaches came out crawling in all directions. All this happened as I started to urinate. While in a panic about the bugs, I tried to keep control of my bladder. As the roaches ran all over the place I urinated on the rug, the sidewall, the top of the toilet; it was everywhere. Once the roaches disappeared and found new hiding places I began to clean the bathroom. As I was cleaning I soon noticed these dark rings in the toilet and that this was not the cleanest bathroom. As I left the bathroom I began to see bugs all over the house, and that did it for me. I soon realized that Damaris and her family were not the cleanest people in the world. If my mom saw a roach in our house she would scream and beat the bug to hell. I was not a snot but moms tend to pass on their practices to their children and being clean was something my mom beat into me until I got married.

After that, I could no longer look at my sweet-lipped honey without seeing bugs. I walked her home a few more times, but I would refuse to go into that apartment. She would get upset with me and cry. She would asked me  “if I was no longer interested in her.” or “Did you find someone else?”

She cried, and for weeks her family was angry with me. I could not tell her or her family the truth.  I could not tell them that her house filled with bugs grossed me out. Her family continually asked me why am I playing with her. But all I could say was, “Sorry.”

Copyright @2010 Gilberto González

To learn more about Gilberto, here is his story from MyLatinoVoice.

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