GRAN MALÓN: In solidarity with Carmen Aguirre

Carmen, author of the national bestseller Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter, which won Canada Reads in 2012, was owed $60,000 in royalties when D&M Publishers went bankrupt later that year. She has never received any of that money. Carmen makes her living as a writer and an independent theatre artist, and whatever we raise through this campaign will go directly to her.Malón is a Chilean term of Mapuche origin. Initially, its meaning had to do with Mapuche raids/assaults on the Spaniards, but in the last sixty years it has evolved to mean a big party where everybody “takes over/assaults” somebody’s house (with their previous consent) and contributes with food, music and whatever else is needed to have a good time. In this case, we’re requesting financial contributions and, if you are in the region, your attendance at our Gran Malón. There will be food, readings and performances—and we’ll have a good time! Autographed copies of the Douglas & McIntyre edition of Something Fierce will also be for sale at the event. Again, all proceeds will go directly to Carmen.
We have creative ticket pricing for this event: $20 to $500. You can choose to attend in person or virtually. With your virtual attendance, we’ll thank you by name during the evening’s program. 
Date: Monday, June 9 Time: 7:30 to 10:00 p.m. Location: Heritage Hall Address: 3102 Main Street, Vancouver (at 15th Ave.)
Note: We expect this event to sell out, so please order your tickets in advance to avoid disappointment.
For more information, visit
Finally, please forward this info by e-mail, Facebook, Twitter–whatever you’ve got!–to anyone you think might be interested.
Thanks for your support, and look forward to seeing you there.

For those who think young

Before its too late. Harper ’s got to go!

I’m concerned that many young folks in my own family, particularly my great-nieces and nephews, don’t understand what a serious threat Stephen Harper and his Conservative government in Ottawa pose to our way of life in Canada.

Since Harper became Prime Minister, his government has screwed up things up in every important area of our lives, from health, education, workplace security and the environment to the cost of housing.

These days, how many of you can afford to go to college or university, learn a trade, or develop a technical or creative skill without applying for a giant bank loan that will take years to pay off? And given what is happening in the work force today, do you think you’ll have enough money to support your own kids over the course of their education? For the first time in Canadian history, you will likely have a lower income than your parents did.

How many of you today have health plans through your workplace that pay health premiums, with or without extended health? Who pays for your dental work? Can you afford to go to the dentist on a regular basis?  How many of you—or your parents or grandparents—need  prescriptions you can’t afford to fill?

Right now, the government in Ottawa is looking for ways to make the oil companies richer while they gut the Canada Health Act. Our tax dollars used to support one of the best health care systems in the world. No more! The Conservatives today are cutting  $36 billion dollars from Canadian Medicare. Every person who buys anything from books to shoes to a muffin and coffee has to pay the GST.  But how come banks get bailed out, corporations squirm out of paying taxes, and those who have money make more money as a result?

The next federal election will be held sometime in 2015. We’ve got one year to make some choices about who is going to manage our country. Think about it carefully. What kind of future do you want for yourself and for your kids and grand kids?

I’ll be blogging about these issues in more detail over the next few months.  Stay tuned!


















Drawings from the Children of Gaza

VANCOUVER – A Child’s View from Gaza comprises startling and courageous works on paper using crayon, paints and markers by children who survived the 22-day Operation Cast Lead military attack on Gaza in 2008-9. The travelling exhibit opens Friday, March 9 at 7:30pm at the Unitarian Church at 949 W. 49thAve.

In the words of curator Susan Johnson, the exhibit provides a chance “to learn what a child in Gaza has experienced – what they feel and why. It’s an opportunity for the viewer to learn, to put prejudice aside. When,  asks Johnson, “have you ever heard the voice of Gaza’s children?”

The Vancouver tour launch will feature two important speakers whose work with war-scarred children in the Middle East is world-renowned. Barbara Lubin, Executive Director of the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) has just returned from Gaza and will speak on the current conditions there.  MECA is a non‐governmental organization working for peace and justice for Palestine, Israel, Lebanon and Iraq, focusing on the rights of children. The reception will also feature a video interview with Dr. Eyad el-Sarraj, President of the Gaza Community Health Program.  Dr. el-Sarraj works with children suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He has also appeared before international panels investigating the impact of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead.   His interview with journalist Pam Bailey will provide an up‐to-the-minute account of the situation facing the children of Gaza. Vancouver showings at the Interurban Gallery, Simon Fraser University, UBC, Langara and People’s Coop Books will provide an opportunity to see some of these poignant drawings.  A larger exhibit of this work became the subject of controversy when its presentation was cancelled by the Oakland Museum of Children’s art last fall. While the show did open at another venue nearby, the controversy created broader international interest the art – work that was called “dangerous” by opponents of the show. See the exhibit in Vancouver and in your city if it travels there: Support projects aimed at helping the children of Gaza:  Gaza Community Mental Health Program Support an organization doing work in support of children throughout the Middle East:  Middle East Childrens’ Alliance  

Canada Reads: Vote for “Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter”


Please join me in supporting the book “Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter” by Carmen Aguirre in this year’s CBC Canada Reads competition. This year, for the first time, the competition will focus on non-fiction.  It would be extraordinary to have Carmen’s book make the shortlist.

Below I have pasted in the paragraph I submitted as my reason for nominating the book.  I have also included a paragraph describing the Canada Reads competition, a short biography of Carmen Aguirre, and links to some interviews and reviews of the book.

Please nominate “Something Fierce” today, and urge all your friends to do so, too. You can keep it short—anything from up to 250 words counts as your vote. The deadline for nominations is midnight on October 14.

Nominate here:  right now!

CBC Canada Reads opts for non-fiction lineup

This morning, CBC Books announced that the 2012 edition of its annual book battle, Canada Reads, will focus on non-fiction. Canada Reads: True Stories follows the same format of last year’s 10th anniversary contest by culling its list of contenders from public recommendations and a popular vote. Recommendations are being accepted online over the next three weeks via CBC Books. The longlist will be released Oct. 18, at which point public polls whittle the list down to 10. From there the celebrity panel — to be revealed in November — takes over, selecting five titles to champion over the airwaves in February. It seems, though, not just any non-fiction fare will cut the mustard. The contest is open to works of memoir, biography, and literary non-fiction only. From CBC Books: We want stories. Books that are page-turners with captivating narratives, memorable characters and vivid prose. Books so riveting you forget they are non-fiction. Books that introduce readers to a brand new world and bring them wholly into it. While we love the work that Canadian essayists, academics, chefs, decorators and self-help gurus do, those books aren’t quite right. We want the final five to have stories that captivate the country.

Carmen Aguirre

Carmen Aguirre is a Vancouver-based writer and theatre artist who has worked extensively in North and South America. She has written and co-written fourteen plays. In the spring of 2012, her one-woman show Blue Box, commissioned by Nightswimming Theatre, will premiere in Toronto and Vancouver. As an actor, Aguirre has dozens of film and TV credits, including a lead role in the independent feature Quinceañera, winner of the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, an Independent Spirit award, GLAAD awards and various People’s Choice awards at festivals around the world. As a stage actor, Aguirre has worked with a host of acclaimed Vancouver theatre companies. 

Aguirre was the founder and director of The Latino Theatre Group, was playwright-in-residence at The Vancouver Playhouse from 2000 to 2002, was playwright-in-residence at Touchstone Theatre in 2004, and facilitates Theatre of the Oppressed workshops around the province. Set in Vancouver, her comedic drama The Refugee Hotel (Talonbooks) reflects the predicaments and concerns of refugee communities worldwide while focusing upon Chileans who fled their homes in the wake of Augusto Pinochet’s coup in 1974.

My nomination of Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter

I found this book gripping–exciting and inspiring at the same time. As the  story of one family’s lives after the violent 1973 coup in Chile, it evokes a depth of political passion that is rare in recent years. Carmen Aguirre arrived in Vancouver with her parents at the age of six as a political refugee. Five years later, she returned to Latin America with her mother, sister and stepfather. While their parents set up a series of safe houses for resistance members, the girls’ dangerous double lives began. In her first book, award-winning playwright Aguirre has crafted her amazing story with drama, humour and a skill for fast-faced narrative. Hers is also a uniquely Canadian story–many Chileans fled to Canada after the coup, and Aguirre explores with insight and affection the difficulties of life in exile. On the back cover of the book, novelist Camilla Gibb calls this “a moving, heart-racing journey,” It is that and much more.



Pueblo UNIDO: Saving the Zihua bahia and village life

What will it take to save local fishing and village life in Zihuatenejo, Mexico

These days when Mexico receives media attention it is usually related to drugs and violence. One of the key stories not being told is about how traditional trades are being lost as privatization gains momentum daily.  I won’t venture here into the connections between the so-called war on drugs and the selling-out of some important ways of life in Mexico. I would simply like to draw attention to a small tragedy in process in the fishing and tourism-dependent village of Zihuatenejo.

Its all about controlling water and the waterfront.  The village is located in the State of Guerrero, 100 kilometres north of Acapulco.  It’s close to the village of Ixtapa, well-known to those who like to holiday at resorts.  Zihua, as the locals refer to it, has a few resorts, but also a large ex-pat community of U.S., Canadian and European citizens who own condos or time-shares. There is also a significant community of dual citizens who came here thirty, forty or fifty years ago and never left.

I have been hearing about Zihua since the 1960’s, though I had never been here until recently. Like many others of my generation and political persuasion, I find it difficult to go anywhere and just to be a tourist. I prefer to immerse myself in the culture.  Like so many other places in the world, Zihua is no longer the picturesque village it once was. The beaches are not as clean; the hills are alive with the sound of construction. And as in so many other places, the proliferation of For Sale signs indicates the effects of the recession and an aging population.

But it is home to a way of life of thousands of working people who, fish, run small businesses, provide services and work in other areas from construction to mining.  On the first Sunday of my visit, I went down to the village waterfront–the Bahia.  As I watched the fish market transpire, with fishers selling their fresh catch to everyone from men and women shopping for their families to restaurant cooks looking for their menu’s daily catch, my eye was drawn to a big sign that read “Stop the privatization of the Bahia and the Barra de Potosi.” The latter is a small community south of Zihua.  I started asking questions of the fishers and some locals.

A few days later, I went out onto the water with two fishers.  They make extra money by taking visitors out to fish or get a feel for the place from the water in their small launches.  Once we were out on the water, I could see the full gamut of vessels that use the harbour, from row boats and small motor launches to a couple of yachts.  Most boaters greeted one another and shared information about the state of their luck that day. The fishermen I was riding with stopped to pick up a much older man who works on one of the bigger boats.  All in the name of community.

After some digging I found out that the issue of privatization of the bahia has been going on for some time.  It involves the federal government agency, Fonatur, whose legal responsibility is to focus on wealth creation through development and tourism. But the government department responsible for the waterfronts has decided to privatize that responsibility by handing over the Zihua Bahia including the Salinas lagoon and the Barra de Potosi to the Miami-based corporation, Integral Port Administration (IPA). Whatever future amounts IPA pays to Fonatur for these resources, will come from charges to any person or organization who is given permission by IPA–not likely the current users, locals who have long been in the business.  So whether you sell food, crafts, or fish on the waterfront in these communities, life will change if this project is not over turned. A couple of years back the same players, under different names, tried to expand the cruise ship pier in Zihua. The public, lead by the fishing co operative and local business owners, organized resistance and had that overturned.  Serious concerns over pollution of the bahia including threats to turtles and other endangered species were at the top of the list of public concerns. Add to that the hazard to fishing and village life from various aspects of the cruise ship industry and people from all walks of life protested and the cruise ship pier was defeated.

The failure of the first plan spelled the beginning of the plan now going forward.  This time, the plan is not only to build piers but to control the entire waterfront in Zihua and Barra de Potosi.  API (the Fonatur sub-contractor ) paid 200,000,000 pesos (about 20,000,000 dollars) for a 25-year concession to build and control all business on the water front.  If this deal is not stopped anyone who has a business on the waterfront from restaurants to shops that sell mostly locally and regionally-made products will lose their concessions without payment, and be forced off the waterfront. In addition, fishers will be charged for mooring their boats, small tour boats will be charged–and API will make lots of money.  While it lasts! Mexico’s public private arrangements are like everywhere else in the world, the public pays and the private collects the profits. In this case you have to wonder though, for how long.!

The project seems to be working totally against current common sense and economics. API’s sales pitch proposes that Zihuarenejo should become more sophisticated–like Acapulco!  It all spells change in Zihuatenejo and not good for working people or the regional ecology or economy in the long run.

What I find shocking is that at a time when so much of the wealth of Mexican cultural life is being threatened by overwhelming forces of violence and evil, it’s federal government is pursuing a path that will lead yet another village to lose it’s identity.  Nor do I understand why, at a time when world travellers are looking for something different than the hamburger culture, when Eco living is more important than ever, and when countries around the world are falling apart because of legislation based on greed, that such a project is seriously being pursued.

Why would this same federal government that claims to be fighting crime not be encouraging projects to promote what is already a success– encourage real village life, keep it simple, use tax dollars to clean up the water, improve the water treatment systems and protect the other species who share the place with people.  Why not work toward boasting of the cleanest Bahias in the world for fishing communities and tourism. Why would the Mexican government not encourage Fonatur do the job it was created to do?

Am I naive! I don’t think so!  When I met with the people in Zihuatenejo, I told them that I would try to get the message out to visitors–new or returning,  and other people, about this self-destructive proposal.  Just as I was preparing to leave, on June 1st, 2011 I went down to the Bahia to have a last look.  There was a huge Marina Fiesta going on with games, food and drinks–all put together by the co operativa. What a site to see the community come together and plan, sing, eat and celebrate together.  It’s an annual event, but this year it took place under the sign that says No to Privatization of the Bahia!

I have asked the group  to consider adding this project to their campaign to stop the war on drugs. Your encouragement to them might help to make it possible.

We are all living the results of massive privatization through cuts to public services.  Here is one we might all help to thwart.

Letters can be sent to the United States of Mexico, Secretaria des Comunicaciones y Transportes  : Avenida Xola, esquina con Eje Central, S/N, Col. Narvarte, Del. Benito Juárez, México, DF.- Tel. 52 55 57239300  

Letters of support to the co operativa representatives:;