In his comment on my blogging about a Chicano canon, Manuel Ramos recommends several writers whose work deserves inclusion on any readers "must read" list. I hope they will be as productive as New Mexico's Rudolfo Anaya, and one day folks will dispute which of Anaya's non-crime books is his best.
Serafina's Stories. Rudolfo Anaya. Albuquerque, NM:UNM Press, 2004. isbn 0-8263-3569-1
Chicano crime novelist Rudolfo Anaya has produced a delightful collection of bedtime stories kids and adults will enjoy equally. Adults will get a kick out of reading aloud these stories Anaya says he's collected and translated from the New Mexico’s oral tradition and that represent the Hispanic community's folkways, and values. Picaro and trickster tales have universal appeal, and when well-crafted, make the reading fun. These are fun.
The twelve stories would be fun to read aloud, to the right kids. Anaya weaves Serafina’s stories into a plot centered around events at the eve of the Pueblo Revolt in 1680. New Mexico’s Governor will conduct trials of twelve indians captured plotting revolution. One turns out to be sixteen year old Serafina, her Castillo--Spaniard--name. The teenager has been raised in the Church, speaks Bilingual eloquently, knows the Iberian cuentos, and works a deal. She'll tell the Governor a story every night. If the Governor likes the story, he'll free a prisoner.
Serafina adds a local spin to classic tales of amputated ears, eyes put out, daughters forced to marry strangers and other exercises of wildly simple human values. Catholic rites and absolute monarchy might want explaining now and again–and if not, Serafina raises the issue to make sure kids hear it. Kids who have been raised listening to fairy tales will find some cuentos familiar, plus such kids probably have high tolerance for magic. Experience-- or a capable reader-- will help the kids recognize the same foundation myths, allegorical desperation, and contorted plotting that makes their other bedtime stories fun.
The stories build a moral landscape in the Governor’s heart. The Governor "falls" for the girl as if a daughter, but her stories offer a constant reminder of the cultural gap between man and child, between his pueblo’s imported customs and the indians’ colonized culture and religion. Through marriage and propinquity, the Spanish and Indian cultures fuse, yet foreign pressures seek to pull the cultures inexorably apart. The local padre recognizes the practicality of allowing the indians their religion, but the big shots from the Inquisition sour the land of enchanting stories. Serafina must be a witch, argues a powerful Churchman, how else explain the insanity of freeing the revolutionaries one by one? The zealot priest intends to drag Serafina in chains to Mexico City, then to be sold into slavery in the mines of Durango. Only the Governor stands between that fate and some alternative.
In an afterword comes the most curious element of the book. I wonder if Anaya wants to exacerbate or settle the ongoing "battle of the name" that preoccupies a significant portion of Anaya’s Chicano audience. Anaya applies "Hispanic" to the culture and stories, twice. He eschews "Chicano"," Latino", "Mexican". Yet, the dustjacket describes Anaya as the country's "premier Chicano author". I wonder if, just as Serafina’s indian name cannot be spoken–or translated–the New Mexico term "Hispano" ought not to be anglicized into the solecism, "Hispanic."
My advice is to skip the afterword and allow the work to stand on its own merits. Find a kid or two. Read them Serafina’s Stories and that will be its own reward.