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Chicano culture flows from border in NMSU professor's new book

Religious pilgrimages and lowriders are two cultural aspects of the Mexican-American culture captured in a new book by New Mexico State University Spanish professor Spencer Herrera, New Mexico Centennial Poet Laureate Levi Romero and photojournalist Robert Kaiser. "Sagrado: A Photopoetics Across the Chicano Homeland," is a collection of personal essays, poems and photographs, inspired by the building of the fence along the U.S-Mexico border. The book, which will be published in October, may be pre-ordered online.

Book cover
"Sagrado: A Photopoetics Across the Chicano Homeland," coauthored by New Mexico State University Spanish professor Spencer Herrera, New Mexico Centennial Poet Laureate Levi Romero and photojournalist Robert Kaiser, captures the Chicano identity and culture using personal narratives, original poems and color photographs.

"I wanted to show that despite fences and laws, the flow of culture could not be restricted," Herrera said. "You can't stop culture; it permeates borders."

The book, published by University of New Mexico Press, gives an intimate look at Chicano cultural practices and beliefs using 117 color photographs, dozens of personal narratives and poems. The photographic journey across the Chicano Southwest features quinceaneras, charreadas (Mexican rodeos), cultural icons, migrant farm worker stories, portraits of everyday people and much more.

"Each essay tells its own story; each poem can stand alone; each image is striking by itself," Herrera said. "But even though we are three different artists, our work weaves in and out with each other like a braid."

The endeavor, which was six years in the making, began with an expedition to "A" Mountain in Las Cruces, N.M., where Herrera and Kaiser documented the pilgrimage that honors La Virgen de Guadalupe, a Roman Catholic icon of the Virgin Mary.

Then, the work took the authors to Juarez and Palomas, Mexico, where they eventually traveled the border from San Diego, Calif., to Brownsville, Texas.

"The main title 'Sagrado' means sacred," Herrera said. "In our book, we define sacred as when two or more gather in the name of community. The power of culture and community is a beautiful thing to behold."

Herrera's partnership with Kaiser began in 2007. He said he immediately admired the photographer's close-up images and use of old-fashioned 35-millimeter film.

"With film he has limited opportunities to capture the story, which forces him to study and know his subject very well," Herrera said. "It often only comes down to one shot and he's good enough to get it."

Romero joined the project midway, which led to the third dimension in the book.

"The book became as strong as it is because of our inter-disciplinary, collaborative efforts," Herrera said. "It's truly a testament to teamwork, which is not always easy, but often much richer."

Herrera teaches Chicano/a literature and film as an associate professor of Spanish in the College of Arts and Sciences at NMSU, where he is a member of the Hispanic Faculty/Staff Caucus. He has guest edited a special issue on Chicano/a literature for the prestigious Cuban journal "Casa de las Americas." He has also published a literary anthology titled, "Before/Beyond Borders: An Anthology of Chicano/a Literature" in 2010 with Kendall Hunt Publishing.

Romero, a native of Embudo, N.M., is the author of two collections of poetry, "In the Gathering of Silence" (1996) and "A Poetry of Remembrance: New and Rejected Works" (2008). In 2010, he was awarded the honorary post of New Mexico Centennial Poet Laureate. He currently teaches in Chicano Studies at the University of New Mexico.

Kaiser is a freelance photographer based out of Las Cruces, N.M., who has worked as a photojournalist for more than 20 years. Design, color and composition are the hallmarks of his images, capturing the fleeting moments of interplay between formality and serendipity. His work has been widely published in magazines, newspapers and television news, including the Associated Press, The Washington Post, The New York Times, ABC News, The San Francisco Chronicle, The London Sunday Times and The Scientific American Magazine.

For more information about the book, contact Herrera at spencer@nmsu.edu. It may be pre-ordered at Amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/Sagrado-Photopoetics-Chicano-Homeland-Querencias/dp/0826353541, or Barnes and Noble http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/sagrado-spencer-r-herrera/1114866186?ean=9780826353542.