Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Two February Pieces

La Bloga 2/2/2005

Bloganote: here are two current pieces to ponder and post your comments. 

La Bloga invites your comments--by name or anonymously.


One short piece of news and one very short story -

I picked up this tidbit from The Poverty Law News, a weekly newsletter published by the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law.

Educational Achievement Reflects Family Background More Than Ethnicity or Immigration

This study by the Rand Corporation finds that the most important factors associated with the educational achievement of children are not race, ethnicity, or immigrant status. Instead, the most critical factors appear to be socioeconomic ones. These factors include parental education levels, neighborhood poverty, parental occupational status, and family income.


Kite Lesson - by Manuel Ramos

Florence, Colorado, 1955

Luis was seven when his father bought a kite and tried to teach him how to fly it.

They walked from their house to the baseball field, overgrown with weeds, and waited for the wind to gather. Luis stood in silence, away from the action.

Jesús was all business as he put together the plastic blue and red thing, attached the string and added a tail of old rags. When he finished his preparations the man chased away the dogs that sniffed at the contraption. He watched the sky for a hint of turbulence, a sign that it was time to launch the toy.

" I learned how to fly kites from my brother Danny. He knew so much about everything, son, so much. He was only nineteen when they killed him in Korea. He would've been a great man. Strong, smart. He taught me about life when I was no older than you, Luis. Lessons that a man needs to know to survive. La vida es dura."

Luis nodded but, as usual, his father lost him. He had heard the story of Danny many times. Jesús's eyes filled with sadness as he spoke of his dead brother. The boy was puzzled by the man's insistence on remembering.
The wind rose to a level that appeared to be right. Luis grabbed the kite and held it aloft, causing the wind to catch it. His father clutched the string.

"You should master this art, boy. And it is an art, after all, as well as a science. Kites show the delicate balance between security and the animal urge to let go, to live life in the clouds. Entiendes, chico?"
He jerked the string and the kite jumped.

"Let it go, Luis, let the damn thing go." He led the kite into the sky.
It was a beautiful kite. It lazily drifted upward to the full white clouds. Sunlight flashed off the plastic sheen creating red, blue and gold streaks.

Jesús reeled out yard after yard of string. The kite hungrily accepted the freedom. The man laughed and hollered and jumped among the weeds.

" There it goes, boy, there it goes! Our kite is now flying with the birds and we did it, we broke the law of gravity. My brother was right."
The boy watched the floating, tiny speck of color. He saw birds near the kite, the tail flapping crazily; and he heard his father's laugh, but Luis couldn't understand.

" Hijo, take the string, fly this baby."

Jesús offered the ball of string. He laid it in the boy's hand.

" Let it drift with the breeze. No need to give it any more slack, it's plenty high already."
Luis never held the ball. He felt it slip from his hand, saw it drag along the ground. Slowly it rose, so slowly that for years when he thought of this day it was in slow motion black and white. He ran after the string but it was above his head. Suddenly it took off with more speed than the boy had experienced in all of his short life.

Jesús jumped for the string but it was gone. He turned, looked at Luis, then shook his head. He kicked at the dirt with his boot, shrugged weary shoulders and walked back to the house.
The kite disappeared over some trees. Luis stared at the empty sky. When he looked for his father, the man was blocks away. Luis ran but he couldn't catch up to him.


A slightly different version of this story originally was published in The Upper Larimer Arts & Times. All rights reserved by Manuel Ramos.

Manuel Ramos

A Light Case of Cultural Appropriation

by RudyG

About my fifth personal groundrule I wrote, "Cultural appropriation (FYI, generally, writing about cultures you're not a part of, like Anglos writing about us, whatever we're called)--I don't like it. There's Anglo writers who I don't think commit cultural appropriation, e.g., John Nichols, but they're rare and few. The rest of them are cabrones. I'll discuss this, in general or specifically."

Okay, so, here's a specific: Allen Steele's Coyote Rising (Ace Books, 2004). Subtitled "A novel of interstellar revolution", it depicts the colonization of the planet Coyote by Earthlings who undergo a "revolution" to decide how the planet will evolve. (Not really a review, but that's not my purpose here.)

Among others, Coyote has a series of Spanish-surnamed characters (presumably Chicano)--Carlos Montero (terrorist/freedom fighter), James Garcia (architect/engineer), et al. I saw none of the baser stereotypical problems with these major characters, i.e., they weren't the formulaic chucos or hot-blooded Latinos we've all come to know and detest. However, what they came across as are white guys who happen to have Spanish names. So what's wrong with that?

There's no depth to them, Chicano-wise. They don't speak any Spanish (not even a good maldición), never make a taco, don't have bultos in their homes, never mention their abuelitos, and never suffered from ethnic bias, etcetera. In other words, they aren't very Chicano; they are completely acculturated. Oreos.

It's a good that Steele recognized Spanish-surnameds may exist in the future. As I said, I have no problem with the characters' overall characters. I guess I just don't like white bread trying to pass for tortillas. I don't know if Steel is a liberal who wanted to include a multicultural cast or a Bushite who just wanted to sell to a larger audience. Doesn't matter to me.

What does matter is what I feel is the unfulfilled promise provided on the dustjacket. Might you, a Chicano, deliberately buy a book because it seemed to include characters you could relate to? Would you feel cheated when you found you'd bought a loaf of Wonderbread, instead? That's how this reader felt. I don't consider this novel a major transgression of cultural appropriation; there's much worse. It's just a light, more frequently appearing example of how Chicanos are being absorbed by the nonChicano writing world: "We'll acknowledge your existence, but without knowing or describing your uniqueness."

Am I saying no Anglo writer should have Chicano characters in their stories, unless they're fully equipped Chicanos--speaking Spanish, eating tacos, etc.? No, because that might be another stereotype. Secondary characters, Chicano or otherwise, aren't necessarily very developed in short stories, for instance. They may be a little flat, as it's termed. And in some way, it's positive when we're no longer overlooked. But in the case of major characters--Chicano ones--I feel an author should somehow explain why NONE of those Chicanos really seem like Chicanos. Total acculturation? Okay, then we can argue about that.

Cultural appropriation is not a simple question to resolve in a short piece like this. Blame history for that, and everyone's grandparents who went along with creating that history. I'm not here to define what would make Chicano characters, written up by an Anglo, acceptable to Chicanos. A defense of Steele's portrayal might be that in the future, everybody will be acculturated and English-speaking, society having dissipated our picoso ingredients into a masa of bleached wheat dough. If that's the case, then the arena of my contention would be: what does history show and how will the future unfold? That's a discussion for elsewhere.

Maybe I just want some truth-in-advertising and Steele's dustjacket rewritten; "Only the characters' names are Chicanoesque, nothing else." Then I'd say, gracias for the warning.


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