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

Octavio Romano

Monday, December 04, 2006

Sandra Cisneros is a Sellout!: Our Love Hate Relationship with Successful Chicano Writers, Part II

Making it Big

So admiring the struggling writers may not be so much a Chicano(a) phenomena, but more of an “American” (yes, I cringe at the word too) one. “American” culture loves the rags to riches story. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Go hungry. Starving artist. Then make it big.

The greatest example of this is Elvis. You thought I was going to name a writer right?

Elvis, a trucker, raised by a single mom. Poor. Southern. He goes to become one of the biggest icons of the 20the Century and even a big icon today.

But it is that story we love and sometimes manufacture in our own minds. The early media hype of Mike Tyson, was closely tailored after Rocky. Thug taken from the street. A Mickey-like trainer, Cus D'Amato, takes him in and trains him. We just love that story and I think it transfers over into Chicano(a) Literature. I guess our literature is more “American” than we think.

After making it big, there is the fall from grace. At least some of us hope for it.

Selling out

As soon as our writers make it big, they are soon hit with the onslaught of “selling out” by Chicano(a) Literature fans. We say they are only famous because of this and that…”They really have not done much to deserve this credit…They have a big ego…Overrated…Blah,” Blah, Blah. This is also part of that “American” ideal. Once they are on top, we love to see them fall.

I think we do this to Cisneros and other writers. In Cisneros case, there is always the criticism that she is only famous for House on Mango Street. Ilan Stavans said that much of her fame was based on a small group of works. Truthfully, I think this did not take the entire writer’s career into account though. We frequently look at writer’s careers as starting with their first book. Sometimes we believe a writer is not really a writer until they have a book.

Many writers know the hard road it took before they had a book published. For Cisneros, it was House on Mango Street. Or was it? But before that, she had been publishing, I think, since the late 1970s in various journals such as Mango and America’s Review. Then she published the chapbook Bad Boys in 1980 off the Mango/Chicano Chapbook Series. I think it was actually #8.

The One Book

Many famous writers we know are famous simply because of one book. Think about that. Salinger and others. Some even if they published other stuff afterwards, they are still remembered for one book. This crosses cultural lines and is somewhat bothersome to some artists.

Los Lobos have other songs others than “La Bamba.” Their battle with the “La Bamba” stigma has been written about.

We remember the Baroque composer Pachabel for his “Canon in D.” We also remember her for…actually that’s about it.

In one NPR story they were interviewing Barber about his Adagio, and he angrily said, “I’ve written other stuff!”

Lalo Delgado, in an interview I will release later, chuckled when he talk about being known for “Stupid America” as a signature poem. I asked him about the high and lows about having a signature poem. “I wrote other stuff, too,” he said making fun of himself.

Even our statements about being published in
New York are not entirely correct. Felipe Ortego’s anthology We Are Chicanos was the first anthology published by a major New York Press. That was in the early 1970s. Around that time, many books were being tapped by New York Presses including Richard Vasquez’ Chicano, the paperback edition of Ricardo Sánchez’ Canto y Grito mi liberacion (a title in Spanish at that), among others.

The flock to publish Chicanos in the early 1970s can be compared to the flock to publish “Latino(a)s” today. I think critics will agree, that just like today, when many New York publishing houses are flocking to publish “Latino(a),” and much more “Latina,” writers, it may be compared to the same rush in the early 1970s. Unfortunately, I’m hoping this rush will be for the better. The 1970s rush was short lived and few of titles published a by New York presses back then are memorable and somewhat looked upon with embarrassment by critics. Some are now being republished and to some critics, undeservingly.

On the other side of that, I recently saw Carmen Tafolla in Kansas City. She talked about when she was a blossoming writer, she would open books, and every book in its first few pages said “New York.” So, when she was young, she thought all writers came from New York and all stories had to take place there. She said she started a novel with a character in New York, but quickly realized it wasn’t her. Anyway, that’s just a side note.

Back to Cisneros. House was published I think in 1986 on Arte Público. I seem to remember it earlier, but I may be wrong. Many of us do not realize this fact (Downtown Brown has the original on the main page of his website.). We are use to seeing the New York Press paperback edition we all use in classrooms. We forget that House was published by Arte Público, though the largest of the small presses, it is still minuscule in comparison to the New York presses.

Many people also put down Arte Público because it publishes “nobodies.” But many of these writers and their books will go on to the big time. Cisneros is perhaps the greatest example. Victor Villasenor’s Rain of Gold was also first published at Arte Público. Both of these author’s book were later taken by New York publishers.


Introducing New House Intel Committee Chair Silvestre Reyes. Remember the Border?

News: Nancy Pelosi's pick to head the influential House Intelligence Committee used to be the top border agent in El Paso, back when he looked like an up-and-coming Republican. Now he may be the perfect man for one of the Dems' most difficult jobs.

Read more at: http://www.motherjones.com/news/update/2006/12/introducing_reyes.html

Queso Mennonita to be pasturized

Check out the NPR Story on the Mennonites of Chihuahua, all to familiar with Pasenos.

Mexico's Canadian Mennonites

Listen to this story...by Lourdes Garcia-Navarro

Morning Edition, November 28, 2006 · In the 1920s, the Mexican government wanted to settle the barren northern areas of the country with industrious farmers.

At the invitation of the then-president, 20,000 Mennonites left Canada and settled in the state of Chihuahua.

They are still there, a flourishing community so well known that one of Mexico's signature cheeses is named for them: queso menonita.


New Anthology Charts Latin America's Aspirations and Challenges

South End Press has released a new anthology that charts Latin America’s aspiration and challeges.

ON Dispatches from America, Noam Chomsky says, "After suffering half a century of vicious military dictatorship and state terror, and the disaster of rigid adherence to the neoliberal doctrines of the 'Washington consensus,' Latin America has undergone remarkable changes that offer real hope for a better future."

Publishers’s Descriptions

Lost in the coverage of the midterm elections here was the outcome of another historical political event, this one unfolding in Nicaragua's presidential race. "The Sandinista victory in Nicaragua shows that South America's progressive wave is now definitively lapping its way northward," says Teo Ballvé, co-editor of Dispatches from Latin America: On the Frontlines Against Neoliberalism, a new anthology documenting the rise of popular movements in Latin America.

The New York Times concurs: "[an Ortega win] would be a defeat for the Bush administration, which strongly opposed his election...[and appears] to be another gain for leftists in Latin America." Other reports, citing Ortega's campaigning on a platform of "peace and love" and "spiritual revolution," challenge interpreting his election as further evidence for Latin America's "rising Left."

While Ortega's election, the re-election of Lula in Brazil, and the compromise on Panama for the UN Security Council are not total victories for the left, they are not defeats. As Dispatches co-editor Vijay Prashad writes, "If there is no 'rise of the Left,' there is certainly a comprehensive roll-back of US influence in Latin America. That alone should draw readers to study the roots of the dynamics of change in the region. How did we go so quickly from Pinochet to neoliberalism and now to this...a period of hope, where the tide can shift in any direction?"

This change has emerged throughout the region, building from the ground up. From the rise of the Zapatistas in Chiapas to the presidential elections of indigenous leaders and radicals like Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales, long-standing and nascent movements of resistance are transforming Latin America from the laboratory of neoliberalism--popularly know as "globalization"--into a launching pad for resistance. Drawing from the pages of the well-respected NACLA Report and reporting on countries from Mexico to Argentina, Dispatches from Latin America offers a riveting series of accounts that bring new insight into the region's struggles and victories.

Progressive victories in Latin America were once seen as anomalies, but as Dispatches makes clear "business as usual" in Latin America has been forever changed.

$19.00 paper | 0-89608-768-9 | 376 pages
For more information on Dispatches from
Latin America please contact Alexander Dwinell at 617-547-4002
or alexander@southendpress.org

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