I was interested to learn that “Punta de Partida,” a seminar on Chicana Chicano literature, is coming this month to San Antonio’s University of Texas campus. Co-sponsored by UNAM, Mexico’s National University, the seminar brings writers John Phillip Santos and Helena Maria Viramontes together with academics Norma Cantu, Axel Ramirez, and Gerardo Kleinberg. UNAM’s Mario Melgar Adalid moderates. Conferences like this make me long to be a denizen of a university campus somewhere. La partida de que, I'm wondering. At any rate, I'll be looking for the proceedings, and will get back to you on anything interesting.
I was surprised to learn that UNAM has a San Antonio campus. An intellectual outpost? A retreat for exiled scholars? Had I paid attention to the news blurb I would have noted that Melgar Adalid is director of UNAM-SA,USA. When I phoned for more information and got a UNAM recorded message, the realization sank in.
UNAM's a favorite spot of mine. A few years back, after reading Alejandro Morales' Death of an Anglo and finding some curious stuff, I visited the central biblioteca to find the novel in its original Spanish. There were dozens copies of Verdad Sin Voz, its Mexican title, some one reserve for a class. Moreover, UNAM's collection of Chicana Chicano titles was extensive. Glad to see Mexico's interest in chiclit still alive and well.
Speaking of alive and well, the news from Hurricane Katrina gets worse by the day. Will heads roll? Just as in Iraq, where the US failed to plan or think matters all the way through, the Gulf Coast looks like another quagmire. If there's a "law of unintended consequences," it will come to full fruition in the aftermath of relocating all the victims. Here's one vision of same.
The Man in the Spare Bedroom
The eviction riots of 2008 marked the turning point. Thousands of Katrina refugees massed in the streets of Las Vegas, barricaded the sports stadia of Houston and San Anto, took over private homes. Chanting “Hell No, We Won’t Go!” even as riot police and National Guard troops knocked bloodied protestors to the ground, some walked, others were dragged onto buses for transport out of town and out to the permanent refugee camps set up on remote indian reservation land.
Seven years had passed and one man remained in our spare bedroom. Mike was the last of the nine souls whom we’d welcomed into our home in September 2005. The rest of us survived the cholera that killed three guests shortly after arriving. One by one, the others drifted off until, by Dia de los Muertos 2012, only Mike remained. Mike never gave us his surname. “Mike is enough,” he’d always answer.
Mike was quiet and industrious. Most nights, the only sign of his presence was hearing his shopping cart wheeling up and down the driveway on his forays to scavenge aluminum and plastic from recycling barrels. During the day he either kept to his room or reported to the jornaleros centro to pick up odd jobs.
Mike never joined us for meals. Even during those months when we and the survivors gathered for mealtime, Mike’s chair sat empty. We would leave a plate for him at night. In the morning we would find his plate washed and put away. "Everyone recovers in their own time," my wife would remind me, when I grew impatient at Mike's lingering occupation of the upstairs bedroom.
That Sunday, Mike came downstairs as I was cooking. “Coffee?” I asked. To my surprise, Mike poured himself a mug and sat.
I mounded chorizo and egg, sliced tomatoes, and frijolitos chinitos on his plate. “My favorite,” Mike exclaimed with delight.
Seizing the moment, I warned him about my chile pequin salsa, then taught him how to taquear his chow. “I never ate greaser
style before,” Mike said, stuffing a tort-wrapped morsel into his mouth. I smiled but ignored Mike's offhand remark. He was, after all, a guest.
I asked Mike about the boom town New Orleans had become. Could he find work there?
Mike shook his head. “I don’t think the government would have me back.”
My ears perked up. “Back?” I asked.
“Yeah, back." Mike pushed a piece of tortilla into the beans, looked up and spoke, "Before Bush converted the nation to the Monarchy, I worked for him in DC.”
I stared into his eyes. “Mike,” I asked, "what did you do, before Katrina?
“Before...K...Ka..." it was either the salsa or the word he choked on. Mike swallowed some toronja juice then spoke. "Me, I was the director of FEMA. Is there more chorizo?”