What You See in the Dark by Manuel Muñoz is a noir thriller set in 1950s Bakersfield. The fictional story of Mexican-American Teresa Garza’s romance with and murder by Anglo Dan Watson, is set against a re-imagining of the location scouting and filming of the shocking motel scenes in Hitchcock’s Psycho. The story itself is told in the harsh lights and darks of desert life — for whatever reason as I read and saw the story in my mind’s eye, the novel was in black and white, sunlight harsh and brilliant while the nighttime shadows were dark.
The novel has an interesting structure, counterpointing the romance of Dan and Teresa, with the location experiences Janet Leigh (referred to only as The Actress), cast as Hitchcock’s (who is only named as The Director) initial victim. What You See in the Dark is told from multiple points of view by the story’s different characters, switching between second and third person, which has jarring quality, yet also makes it feel richer and longer. The use of second person, naming the reader as “you” made me feel implicated in the story, at times longing to turn away and deny what was a voyeuristic point of view, watching through the windows at the local drive-in or peering at the couple through the windows of the shop:
If you had been across the street, pretending to investigate the local summer roses outside Holliday’s Flower Shop, you could have seen them through the café’s plate glass, the two sitting in a booth by the window, eating lunch.
… Read the rest
In her new book, The Immigrant Advantage, Texas journalist Claudia Kolker writes against the too common stereotype of immigrants as disadvantaged burdens on society who need to either be assimilated or pushed out as quickly as possible. Instead she looks at individuals and communities from diverse backgrounds — Vietnamese, Korean, Mexican, West Indian, African and South Asian — to discover the social, financial, academic and health advantages conferred from their native cultures.
I enjoyed this book, reading through it over five hours in fewer than four sittings, despite stopping to share interesting bits with others. Kolker’s style is engaging and her passion and research for her subject is real and is clearly influenced by her own Latina Jewish background Her enthusiasm for the people and customs she’s writing about shine through. I was fascinated and cheered by her confident willingness to try diverse customs to solve problems in her own life.
While I found the trust and relationships implied by the Money Clubs a bit daunting, I also was intrigued and by the end wanted to try it myself. Like so many of the customs Kolker writes about, this method of loaning and saving connects people, allowing them to share their financial goals and aspirations with each other. It also involves significant social connection and breaks the age-old taboo of mixing money and friendship. I felt a pang when reading about it, not sure I had enough friends that I would trust and who would trust me enough to try this.… Read the rest
My dad’s up in Oregon this week and I have his car to use. While I drive, I don’t have a car so this is quite a change for me. Don’t get me wrong, I can get around the city pretty well on the bus, but I never feel as much part of Los Angeles as I do when I’m driving.
My dad’s car is a new Toyota Highlander. It’s a little bigger than I’m used to driving, especially backing it out of our carport parking space, but once I’m on the road, it’s great. It was especially great yesterday as I had an interview for a job with Dr. Karen Mary Davalos, chair of the Chicana/o Studies department at Loyola Marymount University. Having a car meant I didn’t have to take the bus there, something that no doubt let me seem much cooler and more collected.
But having my dad’s car meant something else. His car is always clean, at least on the inside, something I appreciate — I hate clutter in cars. On the way to LMU I stopped off at Kinko’s to print out some color copies. Because I was in my dad’s car, when I parked at a meter I knew there’d be change in a little pouch in the glove compartment. When I came out from making copies and had a sudden rush of concern that I had coffee breath, I knew there’d be minty gum. There’s always a box of tissues and bottled water.… Read the rest
Ultima came to stay with us the summer I was almost seven. When she came the beauty of the llano unfolded before my eyes, and the gurgling waters of the river sang to the hum of the turning earth. The magical time of childhood stood still, and the pulse of the living earth pressed its mystery into my living blood. – Opening page from Bless Me, Ultima
This is a slightly different sort of review. Although I read the book years ago, I wanted to review the novel. At the same time, I’ve gotten back into calligraphy and so wanted an audio book. There are sadly few works of Latino/a literature on Audible.com but Bless Me, Ultima is one of them. Listening to the wonderful reading by Robert Ramirez brought me a different and deeper appreciation of Rudolfo Anaya’s novel. I would highly recommend discovering or rediscovering this text through its audio form.
Published in 1972, the Bildungsroman novel Bless Me, Ultima is a Chicano literature classic. The basic story is narrated by Antonio Márez, who is only six years old at the novel’s beginning. He is a child torn between ways — between the Lunas –his mother’s Catholic farmer family and his father’s wild vaquero background; between Spanish, the language of home and English, the language of education; between the Catholic religion and the traditional earth religions of the curandera and his native ancestors. Though Ultima, the curandera who comes to live with the family at the story’s beginning, Tony becomes entangled in a series of battles between good and evil, personified in the struggle between Ultima and three evil witches and their father. … Read the rest
What Night Brings by Carla Trujillo, who edited the ground-breaking anthology Chicana Lesbians: The Girls Our Mother Warned Us About, is the story of the life of eleven year old Marci Cruz, growing up in California in the 1960s. Marci tells us, the reader her secrets. She has two prayers: the first is that her violently abusive father will go away; the second that God will physically change her from a girl into a boy.
The reason for her first prayer is obvious. What night brings is a father who, while at times loving and affectionate, can explode in fits of violence, beating Marci and her sister Corin with his belt and fists. Marci prays because her mother is so crazy with love for this man she ignores the escalating abuse of her daughters. One of the ways this story is unique is that Marci and her sister, for the most part, don’t romanticize their father, instead disowning him and calling him “Eddie” rather than dad.
Marci tells the reader she’s not praying for her father to die, just that he’ll go away. Her reason for not wishing him dead is she’s afraid that if she does God won’t answer her other bigger prayer, to be turned from a girl into a boy. This desire for a male body is intense, forming the basis of her dreams and sexual fantasies. Her reason for wanting a boy’s body is that she’s attracted to other girls and believes the only way she can have relationships with them is by becoming a boy.… Read the rest
Reading Caramelo was an odd experience. I used a library copy, but the only one my library had was the large print edition. The large type gave the odd impression of being shouted at. At first, I thought the larger print was the reason it was taking me a long time (several days) to read through this deceptively simple text.
But that’s the thing. Cisnero’s novel, like her earlier work The House on Mango Street, is not a simple narrative. In fact, it’s not really plot driven. It’s a series of interconnected moments, told with rich detail and, at times, overwhelming emotion. The narrator, Lala or Celaya Reyes, tells the story of three generations of her family’s history in Mexico City, Chicago and San Antonio. Yet we’re constantly reminded throughout the text that this isn’t entirely a fiction as Cisneros weave her own family’s, U.S. and Mexican histories into the book’s footnotes, using the device of the novel to fill in gaps in the historical record.
The narrative device is a candy colored (caramelo) rebozo, left unfinished by the too-young death of Celaya’s great grandmother, the Awful Grandmother’s mother. It fascinates Lala from the time she is a small child until she inherits it as a young teenager. Like her grandmother, for whom she has little affection, she braids and unbraids the unfinished threads of the scarf. Likewise the narrative feels incomplete as Lala tries to piece together her family’s stories from what they tell her, what they haven’t told her and from her own creative imaginings.… Read the rest
[This text was written for the new blog, Aztlán Reads, to which I’m excited to have been asked to contribute. The blog post is here. Go ahead, leave a comment.]
Just as there is a presumption that United States history begins in the east and moves to the west against a savage frontier, so is there a presumption that this expansion was an inevitable and ultimate good. Even now, to connect western expansion with race slavery and Native American genocide is to write against the “official” versions of Californian and southwestern history. María Amparo Ruiz de Burton’s nineteenth century novel Who Would Have Thought It? writes against these assumptions and makes the connection between United States imperialism and issues of race clear, as her novel’s trajectory connects the U.S. west to the east, and the north to the south.
Published in Philadelphia in 1872, Ruiz de Burton’s work is the first known novel by a Mexican American. Yet the claiming of Who Would Have Thought It? as an early Chicana/o novel lays bare more than one history of racism and resistance to the existing United States black / white binary. Writing this satirical novel, Ruiz de Burton attempts to reclaim whiteness for her own class of Californios by exposing the racist hypocrisy of the northeastern white elite. In doing so, she expresses sympathy with southern slave holding, seems to agree with the stereotypes of crudeness and vulgarity expressed about the Irish in the northeast, reinforces racist stereotypes about African and Native Americans and ridicules the position of abolitionists as little more than hypocrites.… Read the rest
While I was at the MALCS Summer Institute I confided in another attendee that I was nervous about the process of creating course syllabi as I’d never done it before. She, an associate professor of Spanish and all around lovely person, enthused that creating a syllabus was fun, and then told me she sometimes writes them to amuse herself.
With her words in mind, I tried to embrace this as an opportunity rather than something to fear. Sure enough, as I sat through the next talk, thinking about Chicana literature (I knew whatever course I came up with would be one focusing on Chicana/o literature), I came up with the idea of the “Chicana/o Gothic” — a course that would explore canonical and recent Chicana/o text through the dark lens of the gothic.
This is what I’ve come up with so far. I’d love to hear what you think — criticism is helpful. This version of the course is being imagined as one offered for a 10 week quarter. I’ve linked the texts I’ve reviewed to the reviews I’ve blogged.
Bless Me Ultima – Rudolfo Anaya
Calligraphy of the Witch – Alicia Gaspar de Alba
Brides and Sinners in El Chuco – Christine Granados
The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction – Jerrold E. Hogle
The Rain God – Arturo Islas
The Hungry Woman – Cherríe L. Moraga
What You See in the Dark – Manuel Munoz
Demon in the Mirror by by S. Joaquin Rivera
The Hummingbird’s Daughter – Luis Alberto Urea
Gods Go Begging – Alfredo Véa
Is there a Chicana/o Gothic?
… Read the rest
For the past couple days, as I read Alfredo Véa’s San Francisco novel Gods Go Begging, I’ve been flashing back to my undergraduate days studying Vietnam in film and literature with Professor John Hellmann at Ohio State. My first impression of Véa’s book is that it’s a great Vietnam novel, a story of physical and emotional warfare played out thirty years distanced from the conflict.
Yet as a Chicana/o text it’s even more interesting, with the hyperreal images of conflict, almost too brutal to be depicted. This sense of the hyperreal gives way to the magical real as the spirituality of violence and love are explored. The protagonist, Jesse Pasadoble is a San Francisco defense lawyer, thirty years back from Vietnam, yet emotionally he’s never been able to leave. As his past catches up to his present, Vietnam becomes part of his legal battle, the violent lives he’s surrounded by.
At first I wasn’t sure I could read this text as gothic (remember the course I’m planning) — it seemed too modern for that. Yet in this text the dead come back to life and speak the unspeakable, partly through grotesque depictions of their own bodies. Yet in these depictions of violence and death, what endures (and what the dead seem to be trying to speak) is about their desires, their loves.
This book isn’t an easy read by any means, but is one I would highly recommend. … Read the rest
[Note, this blog title was shamelessly stolen from a tweet by @laura_luna who has her own blog, creativexicana. I only steal from the best.]
Over on Twitter Chicano MA student @xicano007, who has a library anyone would envy, started posting images of his Chicana/o books along with titles and authors. Ever the busybody I suggested he start a hashtag so we could search them more easily and maybe join in. The result was #aztlanreads and it’s glorious with an explosion of tweets of Chicana/o and Latina/o books (poetry, novels, academic writing and histories). If you read Twitter, participate. If you don’t, follow the link and look anyway. Seriously, I promise it will make your day.
There have been so many books I remembered and even more that I hadn’t heard about. I seriously have to find a job so I can afford the book habit this hashtag is creating. I hope it lasts forever. It’s the best use of Twitter I’ve ever seen.
There’s more about #aztlanreads’ wonderfulness over on the excellent blog Lotería Chicana. She points out the power that the shear volume and quality of the Chicana/o texts listed have in combating the notion that there’s a shortage of books and materials out there.
Rumor has it that there’ll be hashtags for #aztlansongs and #aztlanfilm next. I can’t wait.
UPDATE: Aztlán Reads is now a blog! … Read the rest