Monday, April 20, 2015


An Immigrant American Hero is the story of Patricio (Tico) de la Fuente, a Mexican immigrant who came to this country during World War II when he was only six years old. Leaving behind a life of wealth, nannies and mayor domos in the mining towns in Chihuahua, Mexico, Tico and his family moved into a garage in East Los Angeles. Accepting their new life of reduced circumstances, Tico's parents never gave into the idea that their sons were not meant to succeed in life. They insisted that Tico and his brother, Chacho, focus on their education and remain faithful to God and the Catholic Church. It was his faith in God, and strong family values that inspired him throughout his life, so that no matter what the circumstance, this American immigrant hero faced his life with humility, bravery, and laughter.

An Immigrant American Hero is a modern literary novel inspired by the stories of very real extraordinary immigrant men. Where the book American Me told the East Los Angeles story of immigrants becoming the gangsters of Mi Familia, (the Mexican Mafia), An Immigrant American Hero is but one story of the heroes coming from the same community.

Reviewed by: Sandra
Rating: 4 stars

Review: After some time living in Mexican foster home, 8-year old Tico finally embarks on his journey to California to be reunited with his family. Though it hasn't been easy to keep the tears at bay, Tico made every effort to be the "brave young man," which enabled him to be kind, respectful, and humble--attributes that would be fruitful in his next life.

Of course, no path is without its rocky roads.

"Mexicans were tolerated when they were quiet and made no noise while doing their assigned tasks. Americans did not tolerate foreigners who made too much noise or spoke a different language or tried to change what had always been." (35)

"[Tico] had been proud to be from Mexico. Yet, all around him, the word “Mexican” was linked to thieves and hoodlums—people not worthy of trust." (45)

"He learned from his father’s example: though he walked with crutches, then a cane, laughter and joy could still be found in hard work." (47)

Well-written and captivating, An Immigrant American Hero is a coming-of-age story of a courageous and bright boy that surpasses all obstacles while navigating through the prejudice and politics of 1950's Los Angeles . Readers will be entranced by his extraordinary development and his unyielding faith. Being "an outsider" never stopped our aspiring young hero, which led him to the Navy reserves in the battlefield of an American war.

Perhaps his one downfall was his fierce dedication, especially to that selfish and unstable wife of his; sometimes that dedication can be a fatal flaw. Nonetheless, Tico is an admirable character. Even the cumbersome layer of militia protocols and lawyer jargon does not diminish the quality of this work.

A worthy and comprehensive read that vividly portrays the blissful struggles of the Immigrant American hero.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Q&A with Mary de la Peña

Mary de la Peña is a native southern Californian-- born in Pasadena but raised in the spirit of Old California's Mexican heritage. Spanish is her second language, but her first love, having learned it from second grade through college, where she was imbued with the culture and mores of the Mexican people.

It was the cacophony of voices demonizing an otherwise hard-working and gentle people that made the author seek out and write about the quiet immigrant heroes who surround us but are never identified. Thus, An Immigrant American Hero is but one of the many stories of immigrants who came to this country and made it strong with their blood, their seat, and their fortitude.

Mary de la Peña is a practicing criminal defense lawyer in the Inland Empire area of Southern California and married to her law partner/ husband. For more information, visit

1.       What inspired you to write AN IMMIGRANT AMERICAN HERO?

I was at my first writers’ retreat in Sedona, Arizona, and the leader of the group asked us to picture the person who has most supported me in my endeavor to become an author. I pictured my husband’s face, and the story flowed from that image as fast as a river runs after a snow melt. This book is, in essence, a fictionalized version of my husband’s and his family’s story.


2.       How would you describe Tico and how would you say he evolved in this story?

Tico, because he came to this country as a lost little boy at an orphanage, always had the need to be accepted. He wanted to “fit in,” and he did so by working hard at whatever task he took on as his own. At his core was the desire to live up to his perceived duties so that he could be accepted and ultimately loved. Within that core were values that he stayed true to, including family, honor, duty, and God.

His evolution came through always seeing the inequities and trying to solve them or make them better, all the while staying true to his core values. It was only later in life that he learned that honor and love can also be received.


3.       What were some of the most important lessons that Tico learned in his journey?

I believe the hardest lesson he learned was that outsiders (perceived outsiders) must work harder to be accepted than those to whom status has already been bestowed. However, humility and hard work, while understanding the needs of others and tending to them, can also win acceptance. (Ex: Tico understanding outsiders at East LA College and running as an outsider; Tico helping officer recruits tend their uniforms; Tico commandeering a fuel tanker plane for his men to refuel their jets; Tico leading a strike force to save Marines putting their safety ahead of his career; Tico tending to a very mentally ill wife for years; and Tico tending to immigrant clients.)

It was only when he finally let someone in to love him—someone who truly loved him— could he find love for himself, finally learning that he was worthy of love.


4.       How would you define "Immigrant American Hero" and do you think Tico achieved that title in the end?

An Immigrant American Hero represents all the immigrants who have the courage to come to this country, leaving behind all that they know, in an effort to find a better life. It is their sacrifice and endurance that has made this country strong, making them everyday heroes. 

As for the fictional character, Tico, he is very much inspired by my husband’s life. Because of that, I can truly attest to the fact he is a hero in every respect. Not only is he a “hero,” as defined through military service and honors, but he is an everyday hero to his clients and to his family.

Federico de la Peña, an immigrant from Mexico at the age of seven, has risen to the top of his careers, achieving honors and recognitions that in his humility is embarrassed to admit. 

For instance, as a criminal defense attorney, he was the first Spanish-speaking attorney in California’s Inland Empire to be recognized by the American Bar Association as one of the top 100 trial attorneys in the United States. He achieved that status by working hard every day for his clients, getting up to go to court, then staying late at the office, only to go to the jails late at night to comfort those clients who had been incarcerated. He is a well-practiced and well-respected criminal defense attorney who is also fluent in Spanish. He is consistently recognized by Martindale/Hubbel with a consistent A/V rating for more than 25 consecutive years, being recognized for his ethics and legal knowledge. He is also recognized as one of the top criminal defense attorneys in the Inland Empire by Inland Empire Magazine and Lexis/Nexis. These honors do not come lightly—only come to those who are honored by judges and opposing counsel.

He is also a hero to me, his wife and law partner. This man gets up every day and goes to work, though he is 77 years old! His work is his life, though he suffers from lingering issues from his years as a fighter pilot for the United States Navy. His back is crippled with arthritis and nerve damage, yet he does not let that stop him. His mission is to bring humility, strength, and justice to the courtroom on behalf of his clients. Yet, he is also a loving and attentive husband to me, his wife of almost 25 years, and my law partner for 26. How many women can truly say their husband is their hero?

The integrity and ethics of this man all relate back to the strong family values instilled in him by his Mexican family—hard work, family, education, and God.


5.       What was the hardest part about writing this book?

The hardest part of writing this book was getting my husband to accept his status as a hero. That, and the determination from a legal standpoint to make it “fiction.” The rest was easy. The actual writing of the book took me 4 ½ days! Getting my husband to read the book and “okay” it took six months.


6.       What do you hope readers will gain from your book?

It is my sincere desire that those who read the book will understand that heroes are those people who chose to do the right thing on a consistent basis. Also, in this day of demonizing immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries, that those who read the book learn that our immigrants have much to contribute to the United States. I also hope that second- and third-generation immigrant readers will gain an understanding of the sacrifices made by their parents and grandparents, who came to this country to make a better life for their families.

However, the most important lesson from the book is that education and hard work are the keys to success and acceptance. Also, no matter what the circumstances of a family, if it is impressed upon the children that they must stay in school, and that they must work hard, the children will learn the building blocks to having a successful career.

Lastly, I hope that my readers learn that honor is sometimes very hard. Staying with a commitment can be difficult. But, it is that very commitment to family, country, profession that makes a hero.


7.      What do you like best and what do you like least about being a writer?

Writing for me is like flying: it sets me free from my everyday life. When a story is unfolding I am transported to another time and place. I can see, hear, feel, and live through my characters. As a criminal defense attorney, my work for my clients can be daunting with reluctant judges, difficult opposing counsel, and needy clients. But when I write, I have control—well, sometimes my characters take on a life of their own, but at least I have the illusion of control.

What I like least is the heavy lifting of marketing. I love book signings and interaction with other writers, but the social media parts of marketing can be intrusive because they need constant tending. That is what splits me in two. Writing I can do in my downtime from the practice of law. Marketing is constant yuck!


8.       Who are some of your favorite authors?

Walter Farley when I was as a child. One of my more recent titles, as yet unpublished, is an homage to him; Velvet Blue Dancer is the story of boy who rescues a horse and learns that heroes do not need superhuman powers to be a hero.

As an adult, definitely Sue Grafton! It was one of her books that I read while on a long weekend in Santa Barbara, California, that inspired me to dare to write. I read her Kinsey Milhoune and thought, I can do that! From there, I started writing mysteries, at least four of which are in various stages of neglect, having never been finished. But, that is what started me on the journey. I took writing classes, and began writing in earnest a few years later, all while reading and paying attention to other authors and how they manage their characters.

I love John Sanford; J. A. Jance; Patterson’s early work; Baldacci; and Brian Haig. For a change of pace I like Stephen King’s early works, and Dean Koonz. More recently I have discovered Steve Martini, as he does a really good job of describing criminal defense work. I enjoy John Grisham, but he writes about civil attorneys—a world I don’t really know.

Influential authors are Michael Connelly—he spoke to one of my writing classes at Cal State—Fullerton before he became a huge success. I must admit he doesn’t really get a criminal defense attorney quite right in his Lincoln Lawyers series, but I like the rest of his work. His motto: “Keep writing!”

My tone in my recent fiction work under my “mystery writer” name, M. J. Hatch, in the Murder Most… series is heavily influenced by Janet Evanovich, Carl Hiaasen, and Elmore Leonard. I like finely crafted characters that are surrounded by “crazies.”

In all seriousness, the author that had the most influence on me is Tony Hillerman. He got the tone and texture of his characters’ speech patterns perfectly. Thus, it is critical to me to make sure my characters’ dialogues are truly reflective of who they are as people.


9.       Are you working on anything right now?

I just finished the third of the Detective Jake Swanson mysteries, Murder Most Merry, and am currently working with Thomas Hill to do a second edition of A Layman’s Guide to Criminal Defense. After we finish the second edition of that book, my husband and I will work on “A Layman’s Guide to Criminal Jury Trials and Other Proceedings.

I am also working on two other books and new characters. However, in transitioning from one computer network to another, I seem to have lost the outline to one of the books. I can tell from the first 128 pages the plot is very complex—too complex to write without an outline! Hopefully it will come to me again.

Speaking of mysteries, famed actor Robert Wagner loves the Murder Most… series, and especially the lead character’s partner, Melissa Sanchez. Wagner loves it so much we are working to get funding to develop a TV series based on the character. I also love Melissa—she is dedicated, hardworking, straight shooting, and the perfect foil for the more laid-back surfer dude lead character, Jake Swanson.


10.   If your book would be turned into a movie, who would you imagine playing the part of Tico? (Actor can be ANYONE, living or dead.)

Actually, I see the movie more as an anime-type movie. There are some great artists in Mexico that would do a fine job of bringing the movie to life as an animated picture. If I ever get a script, a friend of mine wants to take it directly to the head of Universal Studios for production and distribution.



11.   And, finally, what do you think is in store for the future of Latino literature?

The Latino culture is strong in Southern California, thus stories that incorporate the people as fully formed characters will by necessity rise in popularity. Someday, hopefully soon, publishers will recognize that books like An Immigrant American Hero resonate with a wide swath of readers. With that realization I am sure more young writers of Latino descent will write and see their books in print.

My husband is proud of his Mexican heritage and believes there is a strong artistic culture within its people. It is my sincere hope and belief that this will come to the forefront and more people will see the beauty in the Latino culture of family, home, and faith.

Up Next: A review of An Immigrant American Hero

Friday, April 10, 2015

Review: THE LAST PACHUCO by Tony Levario

THE LAST PACHUCO is the story of two men’s quest to find a serial killer in their midst. In 1985 there were over 800 murders in Los Angeles County. Both the LAPD and the Sheriff’s Department were overwhelmed by the significant increase in gang and drug related violence. A serial murderer in their midst was not unique, both departments had worked together to solve the Hillside Strangler murders. The newest string of prostitute murders were unnoticed at first and then given a second-class status even as the two men search for answers. One man, DETECTIVE FRANK ORTEGA, is responding to the requirements of his position as a Sergeant in the Los County Sheriff’s Department’s Homicide Bureau and his desire to find justice for the victims. The other man, JOEY “CHUCO” LOPEZ, is trying to find his way in life after being paroled from state prison. His driving force was to respond to the request of his best friend, BIG HOMIE CABRAL, to stop the killings of his girls and find the KILLER. The first prostitute murder goes almost unnoticed by police. The following prostitute murders are obscured by a greater threat to the Los Angeles public – the NIGHT STALKER serial murders. The Night Stalker murders began in earnest on March, 17, 1985. The prostitute killings began shortly thereafter. Both ORTEGA and CHUCO recognize that the prostitutes being targeted are connected to BIG HOMIE CABRAL’S criminal organization. BIG HOMIE is the shot-calling, drug dealing killer currently housed in Soledad State Prison. The KILLER leaves very few clues, other than his Method of Operation and the area he operates within, exclusively the East Los Angeles area of the county. ORTEGA attempts to separate the prostitute killings from the ever-growing NIGHT STALKER murders. He is rebuffed, detoured and delayed by his supervisor and the prostitute murders are lumped in with the NIGHT STALKER killing pattern. The killings become so intense and terrifying for the public that the outcry for safety demands that a NIGHT STALKER TASKFORCE is created. CHUCO’S investigation continues, even as he comes to grips with the death of his adopted Jewish father. After his release he sets in motion his conversion to Judaism, the last request of his father. He begins to track down leads in the prostitute murders, clues that lead in only one direction, that the KILLER is a law enforcement officer. He later finds that his connection to the KILLER is more personal, involving the murder of Chuco’s father many years before. That murder occurred when Chuco was 12 years old and sent his life in a direction he never thought possible. The KILLER selects his victims exclusively from a stable of a shot-caller gang member from Big Hazard gang. CHUCO’S investigation reveals the relationship between the KILLER and BIG HOMIE, connections that disclose a violent past on the part of the KILLER and BIG HOMIE. As the NIGHT STALKER murders come to a conclusion and he is identified and captured ORTEGA and CHUCO begin to identify a different suspect in the prostitute murder. ORTEGA’S investigation into official police files divulges a connection between the KILLER and a murder that occurred in 1967, 18 years prior to the prostitute murders. It was ORTEGA’S first murder investigation, the murder of CHUCO’S father. That murder has remained unsolved for 18 years. ORTEGA and CHUCO both come to the realization that the murderer is possibly law enforcement related. They set up a plan and attempt to bait the KILLER into identifying himself without exposing other women to danger. Their attempt works, to a point, it draws out a killer, just not the KILLER they thought. Both of them are unsatisfied with the resolution of the case. They both believe the KILLER has not been identified and justice has not been done for the victims.

Reviewed by: Celia
Rating: 2.5 stars

Review: "It was though that the pairing of two Spanish-speaking detectives in the street gang capital of Los Angeles would stem the tide of violence and increase the ever important solve rate." (11)

The scene opens up to Frank Ortega and Beno Gutierrez arriving on the case of a dead gangster. Both have strict knowledge of police protocol, natural instincts, and a soft spot for their Latino heritage. You have to admire their fierce dedication to the cases.

Oddly, the story leaps to different locations and time periods, sometimes showcasing unknown characters and irrelevant data. I often found myself wondering the who, the what, and the where. I think there were just too many characters.

Homicide investigations play a crucial and heavy role throughout the book, which can be weary to the reader. You pretty much would need to think like a detective to truly get it as the procedures and terminology can be a challenge.

Of course, the hunt for this serial killer was the needle in this cluttered hay stack. And with the help of Chuco, a gang member recently released from prison, the story takes on an intriguing twist, igniting a light at the end of this long and dark tunnel. Only those capable enough to withstand the convoluted plotting, the extensive theatrics, and the nebulous street slang will reach the diamond in the rough.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Q&A with Tony Levario

Tony Levario is the pen name of a 33 year veteran of a large Los Angeles law enforcement agency. He worked a wide variety of positions throughout the county from patrol to detectives, retiring at the rank of Captain.  After retirement he was a professor at a Cal- State University and also practiced law.  He is currently preparing to retire from his current position as Chief of Police for a small Southern California law enforcement agency. 

He grew up in a barrio outside of Los Angeles with his 11 brothers and sisters and Mom and Dad. He resides in Southern California with his wife of 35 years. They have two adult daughters.
1.       What inspired you to write The Last Pachuco?
My brother, whose photo is on the cover, was the original inspiration. He led a very troubled life and in the end overdosed on heroin. I felt his life was more than what people viewed him. He loved our Mom and Dad and tried to help me with my life and goals. His addiction overcame his true nature. He was more than what he appeared to others.  I had to place him in a position in the story where he could show his worth and intent to better himself. So I placed him into the environment of the 1985 Night Stalker killings in Los Angeles and created the fictional killing of prostitutes that he investigates. It was a time I was familiar with and comfortable in trying to re-create in a fictional story.
2.       How would you describe the relationship between Frank and Beno?
Initially the relationship is teacher – student but it does evolve into a friendship. In many cases police partnerships last longer than marriages, and over time, the partners respond to each other just as married couples do. The partners learn each other’s likes and dislikes and take on certain roles and characteristics.
3.       How would you describe Chuco's character and how did he evolve in the story?
Chuco is confused and alone. He is trying to find his way. He is learning to be a religious Jew without any background in the faith. He is trying to get a head in life by going to school. He has goals and demons – his addiction to heroin and his constant battle to stay clean.  His friendship with Big Homie and the neighborhood he grew up in leads him into unusual situations and relationships. Add to that his developing relationship with Ruth and it compounds his life.
I think that Chicano kids growing up today find themselves in awkward positions of having to choose between their lifelong friends and doing the right thing, as opposed to being forced into making bad decisions by the same friends. This happens every day in every Barrio in the U.S.
4.       Did you do any kind of research for this book? If so, what?
The majority of the research was focused on the Jewish religion and customs. I spent a lot of time learning more about it and I still didn’t get it all correct. It was very difficult to look into this area for me with very little knowledge and background and discovery that there is so much to try to understand.
5.       What's your definition of pachuco?
My thoughts of a pachuco represent a transition from the 1940’s Zoot Suiter into a more secretive image and very tightly controlled clan like groups. Almost every Barrio had a small group of pachucos. They did not voluntarily interact with the neighborhoods. They were self contained.   There were very few “real” pachucos as I grew up. Everyone I knew was afraid of them. They were the genesis for the Chicano street gangs that we have today. They evolved into car clubs, neighborhood gangs and eventually violent street gangs.
6.       What do you hope readers will gain from your book?
First, I would like the readers to be entertained and enjoy the story and the interplay between characters. Secondly, for those outside the Barrio, I hope they learn that there is a pulse and life to these Barrios. It is not all gangs and bloodshed, that there are real people with the same goals and ambitions as every other American, despite the circumstances of their lives. Lastly, for those readers inside the Barrio, I hope that I represented the environment, customs and culture in an accurate light.
7.       What do you like best and what do you like least about being a writer?
I enjoy the writing process, telling an entire story with a beginning, middle and ending, having to make the story interesting enough to hold a reader’s interest. Developing interesting characters is a challenge. It is very therapeutic for me. I haven’t done enough writing to not enjoy all of it completely so for me there is no downside yet.
8.       Who are some of your favorite authors?
Michael Connelly is my all-time favorite, along with John Sanford and Lawrence Block – all mystery/crime writers. I read military history books with a strong interest in the Civil War. Although I like police detective stories, having lived it for most of my life I try to enjoy more diverse books.
9.       Are you working on anything right now?
I am doing a follow-up to The Last Pachuco to clear up those issues that were not resolved. Also, I’m researching a non-fiction story of a local (Los Angeles) Chicano who forged his parent’s signature and entered the U.S. Army at age 15 immediately after Pearl Harbor. At age 16 he, and 4 friends, were in the Philippines where he won a Silver Star and 3 Purple Hearts. After 3 months he was involved in the Bataan Death March and was held a prisoner for two years before being rescued. He refused to immediately return to the U.S. and went into the Army Air Corps, flying bomber escorts in the island hopping campaign. A real Chicano hero - his story, along with thousands of other Chicano kids who entered WWII, has never been heard. He returned after the war, married and quietly raised four kids. He is now 88 years old and wants to share his story with others.
10.   If your book would be turned into a movie, who would you imagine playing the part of Chuco?
I would love for it to be a movie. For the part of Chuco I could see someone like Michael Pena play that part. The more powerful part, in my opinion is Frank Ortega. This may seem a very unusual choice but I can see George Lopez playing that role – in a dramatic way. He’d be a perfect fit.
11.   And, finally, what do you think is in store for the future of Latino literature?
I would hope that all Latino writers pick up their pens or keyboards and WRITE. If they feel they have a story to tell – tell it. Culturally we have the most interesting customs and stories. Growing up Latino is both funny and sad and everything in between. I would hope that the young Latinos are heard because they all have a voice in our cultura.
Up next: A review of The Last Pachuco