"Chicano writers from El Paso are the most progressive, open-minded, far-reaching, and inclusive writers of them all."

Octavio Romano

Monday, August 01, 2005

One of my picks for "best of the 1990s" in Chicano Poetry

I'm happy to announce that one of my picks for "best of the best" of Chicano poetry in the 1990s has been translated into Spanish. Tino Villanueva's Scene from the Movie GIANT (Curbstone Press) has been translated by Rafael Cabaña Alamán and published by Editorial Catriel of Spain: Escena de la película GIGANTE.

In actuality the book is a bilingual edition and included a bibliography of acedemic works that have focused upon the book.

Scene from the movie GIANT won the 1994 American Book Award.

I don't know exactly when this edition will be out in the United States and I don't think ordering info is posted yet on the Editorial Catriel website, but you can email Tino at tvillan@bu.edu. He has a few copies and he still teaches at Boston University. I'd recommend this book for your Chicano or Latino Lit class. It's a bilingual edition, so it's good for your pochitos(as) and it is also in Spanish if you want to focus on Chicano lit written in Spanish.

There is also an HTML a piece available by the translator focusing on the book: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/B00082M9VI/qid=1122932574/sr=1-2/ref=sr_1_2/102-9917076-6604927?v=glance&s=books

The following review was published in the El Paso Times on June 1, 2003 upon the reissue of the movie "Giant" and viewing in Marfa, Texas where the movie was filmed. Ramon Renteria, the paper's book editor, who is from Marfa and says he was an extra in a deleted scene, wrote a companion article. I can't find it on the web and I don't want to copyright infringe so I can't post it.

"Inspired by film, poet recounts Texas bigotry"
Raymundo Eli Rojas
Special to the Times

The diner scene from the classic film "Giant" inspired the book-length poem by Tino Villanueva.

Before a great movie gets to the screen, it is taken from written form. This moves the reader from literacy into what communication theorists call a new consciousness.

Such was the case with the movie "Giant," starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean, based on the novel by Edna Ferber.

However, not content to lie on film, a motion picture can produce a thousand words in the souls of poets like Tino Villanueva, who viewed "Giant" as a 14-year-old and was particularly struck by one scene in which he saw a Mexican family refused service in a West Texas cafe.

Years later, he transformed the film's scene into a literal masterpiece in the book-length poem "Scene from the Movie Giant" (Curbstone Press, $10.95 paperback).

The poet sits in a theater and sees the scene from "Giant," realizing that, like the ejected family, he too, is brown:

"How in the beginning I experienced almost nothing to
Say and now wonder if I can ever live enough to tell
The after-tale, I remember this and I remember myself
Locked into a back-row seat ..."

The 1956 film interplays the several generations of a Texas ranching family. Underlying the film is the treatment of Chicanos -- Mexican-Americans -- Tejanos, in a not-so-kind era: "Some were swept up by power and prejudice. Toward neighbors different from themselves."
The movie ages with Villanueva, and readers ride along with the poet as he views the 1956 classic repeatedly throughout his life. He delves into the minds of all the characters in that one scene.

The poet describes Sarge, the cafe owner, whose voice never leaves the ears of the poet: "the voice ... Echoes through the cafe walls ... into the Holiday Theater where I sit ... 'Your money is no good here' Sarge tells the Mexican family."

In a simple drive through Texas, in a simple stop for food, the poet's mind is pried opened to the world's realities and prejudices.
Throughout "Giant," Rock Hudson, playing the main character, changes his views on treatment of "those people." After his son marries a Mexican-American woman, his grandson, as the movie states -- "looking like a little wetback" -- and many more eye-opening experiences, Hudson demands the cafe serve the Mexican-American family.

A fistfight ensues, "a right upper-cut to Sarge and a jab ... engaged in a struggle fought in the air and time of long ago." Hudson loses: "Can two fighters/ Bring out a third? To live."

Villanueva is one of those writers, who like Sabine Ulibarri, Abelardo B. Delgado, John Rechy, and Josephina Niggli, were publishing before the Chicano Renaissance of the late 1960s. From San Marcos, Texas, Villanueva teaches at Boston University.

Through his eyes, Villanueva puts into writing the thoughts and experiences of many generations of Anglos and Chicanos in Texas. He takes us from experience to writing, from writing to the screen, then to the poet's page, and returns to experience.

He inscribes the thoughts of many Mexican-American young men and women, who once upon a time wondered why their mothers packed so much food for a simple drive through Texas. It was not because of lack of eateries along the way, but because finding one that served people of color was an impossibility.

Raymundo Eli Rojas is the editor of Pluma Fronteriza (plumafronterizamsn.com), a publication dedicated to Latino and Chicano writers in the El Paso-Juarez-Las Cruces region.


Our late fronterizo, Ricardo Aguilar said: "Tino Villanueva is part of the Chicano Renaissance... he has striven to achieve universality in his verse, yet has never ceased to address the burning questions...which continue to affect Chicanos in the United States." -- Ricardo Aguilar, Hispania


Martin Espada says:
"As a Texas Chicano, Villanueva has known Sarge all his life. The brilliance of the metaphor is that it makes an abstraction like "racism" vividly concrete, and fully justifies the poet's anger. Ultimately, the poet is healed in the telling of his truth, "uproaring in shadow and light." - MELUS

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