There’s un montón de gente walking around all abashed right now, having heard Corky Gonzales has gone home to wait for la muerte to come calling. Have a safe journey, vato.
I like Gonzales’ small epic, Yo Soy Joaquin , and always have. But that montón of avergüenzados number among the poem’s detractors. With the man’s decision to die with dignity, I hear people saying they need to rethink their attitude toward the piece, and similar revisionist thoughts. Good for them. The poem merits respect.
I Am Joaquin is one of those poems that has to be read out loud because it sounds so darn good, even when a poor reader gets hold of it. Let an accomplished oral interpreter sink one’s teeth into the poem and audiences will be rising at the end, sharing the poem’s triumphant declaration, "Yo perdudaré! I will endure!"
I’ve heard critics bad mouth the piece for its simplistic imagery. But when the piece first appeared, Gonzales had captured the sound and feel of the times, the burgeoning of popular awareness that "chicano" could mean more than a simple self-referent, the term could be invested with motive power and used to give added urgency to the movimiento.
I love the opening for its echo of another important United States poem of modern landscapes, Ginsberg’s "Howl":
Yo soy Joaquín,
perdido en un mundo de confusión:
I am Joaquín, lost in a world of confusion,
caught up in the whirl of a gringo society,
confused by the rules, scorned by attitudes,
suppressed by manipulation, and destroyed by modern society.
Gonzales’ poem is full of hope and optimism, whereas Ginsberg’s vision looked hopelessly across the chaotic landscape of US culture, with no redemption on the horizon:
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,
"Howl" is too damn long, and so is "Joaquin," though not so much. And so, too, grows this blogpistle. Hey folks, think good thoughts for Corky Gonzales. And before he’s gone, go out and buy a copy of "Yo Soy Joaquin" and read it out loud to someone you care for. Then, when you get the inevitable news the poet’s left us, go outside and scream out the final lines, because, sabes, you are Joaquin, too:
Or whatever I call myself,
I look the same
I feel the same
Sing the same.
I am the masses of my people and
I refuse to be absorbed.
I am Joaquín.
The odds are great
But my spirit is strong,
My faith unbreakable,
My blood is pure.
I am Aztec prince and Christian Christ.
I SHALL ENDURE!
I WILL ENDURE!