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

Octavio Romano

Monday, May 09, 2011

Lunes con Lalo: Minority Publishers

Minority Publishers
And you ask, what's your bitch?

by Abelardo B. Delgado
Among the institutions in this county that have either purposely or unintentionally damaged and obliterated our culture is book publishing. 

The dispensers of textbooks – texts that have been literally shoved down the throats of Chicanitos (whose inner sense tells them to spit them out) -- have also criminally profited by these ventures. 

The immediate reaction of publishers in general, when confronted with such charges, is the biblical question, “When did I do all these things?” We quickly respond: When you neglected to acknowledge us, as a continuous identifiable community. This has made us invisible to the Anglo community and the Anglo, in turn, has accepted the verbatim invisibility of our Raza.

Because of you, the Anglo knows us not. Your texts, which our children learn from, have tried to make us in your image. But in the face of your constant acculturation bombardment through all media, is the word of mouth of our parents. Here, handed down to us, is a whole heritage seldom captured in a written from. For this last reason, we have a legitimate quarrel with all textbook publishers in that we want that heritage put in written form and presented -- primarily for the preservation of our Chicano culture, and secondarily as a contribution of a way of life, which ultimately may be a value to offset the materialistic, destructive trend of your society.

In our anger, we tried to be exponents of the lies that have been shoved upon us, and sometimes we forget that in the publishing companies now existing, lies the power to make corrections and reparations. 

We feel that we must speak of a mutual effort to bring a needed freshness of those texts in your galley proofs. We suggest that now the Chicanos be counted as competent writers at all levels and in all fields – and that the efforts to scout out Chicano writing talent fall upon the publishing establishment. We are not hung up about your getting a reasonable profit out of your effort. We do however, question anything you do that is double talk or tokenism. We say there are options: either you do a job in which Chicanos have an editorial review role, or you assist us in developing parallel institutions of our own to insure that knowledgeability and sensitivity will portray our own Chicano heritage with fidelity.

More than making us invisible, your texts and other printed media have portrayed us as an unproductive and servile population. This has insured that we will play out these roles.

Our talents have not only been ignored. We have been forced to take a pseudonym and to crash into the cubicle of oppression, so that we have lacked the models what would help us to escape the barrios and the campos.

Publishers even today continue to commit the crime of presenting our Chicanismo through white colorless minds and through eyes which see blue in our brown. We do not resent having to read about our own Raza from the Steiners of the book world.* The gentleman's skill as a writer and his knowledge of the subject is not at question, but rather the snubbing attitude of publishers to rely on him to even quote what we write. In his book, “La Raza,” he mentions me and devotes some space to quoting some lines of my poetry. I write the company that published him. I said, we know you are making out on this book, how about a couple of thousand dollars to publish ourselves and a couple of hundred complimentary copies for the Chicanos in the barrio who could not afford the seven dollars for a book, A polite reply in the mail... we are referring your letter to the proper persons. That was months ago, and since then not a word. 

And you ask, what's your bitch?

That's our bitch.

As a closing statement, let me recall a recent incident in which a big publishing company invited some Chicanos in a community to a luncheon and at the end handed each a questionnaire to outline our woes (in 25 words or less). Some of us, sensing the insult, demanded that a different approach be offered and that higher-ups in the company talk to us. It happened, days later, that a couple of them offered to talk with us.

My own poem “Stupid America” best cries out these complaints.

stupid america, see that chicano
with a big knife
on his steady hand
he doesn't want to knife you
he wants to sit on a bench
and carve christfigures
but you won't let him.
stupid america, hear that chicano
shouting curses on the street
he is a poet
without paper and pencil
and since he cannot write
he will explode.
stupid america, remember that
flunking math and english
he is the picasso
of your western states
with one thousand masterpieces
hanging only from his mind.

We Chicanos are at the stage of development in which we are highly cognizant of the social discrepancies which our country has rendered us. For this reason, we will develop our own publishing outlets at the risk of investing our very meager resources but we Chicanos are also wise to the game by now. We will not allow the publishers to profit at our expense or do any injustice to our cause in our own country.

For most of us, more is at stake than a few of us making a few bucks by literally selling out our talents, since our prime concern happens to be social improvement for all, rather than literary advancement for a few.

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from "Minority Publishers." Publishers' Weekly, March 15, 1971. Formatted for the web. Published with permission of the Delgado family. All poems are copyright of the Estate of Lalo Delgado and may not be reproduced without permission.

Rojas Commentary:  Delgado's comments on developing "our own publishing outlets" may be at a crisis.

The economy has taken its toll on Chican@ publishers, most of whom are independent small presses. Either the output has not been grand, or the presses have shut down completely.

By independent, I mean independent from universities also. The birth of Aztlan Libre Press was good news, but the amount of small presses owned and run by Chicano(a)s is has diminished.

This does not mean Chicanos are not getting published as university presses continue to be the Chicano(a)s major outlet. What this does mean, however, is that publishing venues owned and run by Chicano(a)s have become rare, and to use the descriptor "Chicano" or "Chicana" we are accused of "identity politics."

Delgado's comments on Steiner echo those of Ricardo Sanchez (see below) in how many Whites (but not all), even liberal ones, exploit and gain much mileage off Chican@ writers. This is especially true in those Whites who compile anthologies that include Chican@ writers or those White academics who's focus is Chican@ literature, and are only too happy to help deny tenure to a Chican@ academic whom they see as competition. Lalo would agree, the exception does apply and I know of some exceptions.

* Refers to Stan Steiner and his book La Raza: The Mexican Americans (Harper 1970). See our post of  The Prospector's 1971 interview with Ricardo Sanchez in "Mictla: Interview answers questions on need for Chicano publisher" and his comments on Stan Steiner.

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