Monday, September 19, 2005
SPOTLIGHT ON RICHARD VASQUEZ
Monday’s post from Daniel Olivas…
Born in 1928, Richard Vasquez worked for several newspapers, including Santa Monica Independent, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times. In addition to Chicano, he published two other novels, The Giant Killer and Another Land. He died in 1990.
In time for the 35th anniversary of the novel's initial publication, HarperCollins/Rayo has just reissued Vasquez's Chicano which has been out of print despite being a bestseller when it was published. It revolves around the Sandoval family who flee the chaos and poverty of the Mexican Revolution and begin life anew in the United States. Award-winning author Rubén Martínez offers a foreward where he puts Vasquez’s novel into historical, political and cultural perspective.
Chicano was groundbreaking when it was first issued. Luis J. Rodriguez, author of Always Running (Touchstone Books) and Music of the Mill (HarperCollins/Rayo), notes: "In my hunger for works that spoke to my realities, my traumas -- and perhaps my hopes -- as a drug addict and gang youth, I came across Richard Vasquez's novel in a bookstore. The title stopped me cold. Chicano. That's what I was!” Rodriguez adds: “I never met Richard Vasquez. But I know inside his words sang and his stories flowed. His writer's blood filled my pen. Thank you [Rayo] for the reissue of a classic in Chicano literature. It feeds me still."
The following is an excerpt from Chicano [from Rayo’s Web page]:
The locomotive roared out of the narrow stone canyon and for a few moments quickly gathered speed as the tracks dropped sharply to meet the level terrain of the valley of desert stretching ahead. The men in the cab strained their eyes and briefly, just before the tracks leveled to the valley floor, they caught a glimpse of the engine and two flatcars carrying the protective troop detachment far ahead. Then, in the valley, the shimmering heatwaves cut vision to a few miles, although the tracks stretched out in an arrow-straight path for many miles.
The men glanced at one another, nodding faintly, a little of their anxiety abated at the reassuring sight of the train with soldiers ahead.
The noise of the locomotive steadied to a monotonous pounding as they settled down for the long stretch of unbroken ground before they would climb into the next low range of stone mountains.
The wheels of the fifty boxcars and cattle cars, all full of cattle, were among the first to christen this one-hundred-mile stretch of track through nothing but desert and mountains.
This was northern Mexico, where the sun rose with hideous vengefulness each day, allowing only the martyred cactus and low brush to survive on the sandy plains. One of the men pulled his head from the window into the cab, wiped away the tears caused by the torrid wind and shouted above the roar of the firebox, steam, wheels, and rushing air, "They should stay closer to us."
His companion wiped his grimy face with the sweat-soaked kerchief around his neck. "No, amigo," he hollered back, "they must have time to warn us if they run into a blockade . . . or something." It was the "or something" that made the two men's eyes hold an instant.
A third man, through shoveling coal for the moment, joined them. He was fat, wore greasy overalls, as did his companions, had an enormous mustache and his hair almost covered his ears. All wore shirts with sleeves torn off at the shoulder.
"It was a mistake, making this railway here. If the Yaquis don't get us, the bandidos will. No law, no city for two hundred kilometros, no nothing. I think I quit and go to the Estados Unidos," he said.
"Don't kid me," said an engineer, "they don't let Mexicans drive locomotives in the United States. And besides, they have bandidos there, too."
"Not like here. Here we have fifty little generals each with his own little army, claiming to want to free Mexico, when really they just kill and steal and rob," the fireman said.
With squinted eyes, watering from the sweat and hot wind, the men passed a cloth water bag and each drank deeply, splashing some on the face and hair. Then the vigil at the windows was resumed, and the fat fireman went back to shoveling coal, and the train sprinted on into the heat waves.
More than an hour later they were stirred from their near lethargy by the slight slowing of the rhythm of the engine and tracks, and they knew the sloping climb out of the valley had begun. The engineer pushed the throttle forward a little, and the engine steadied for a while, then again started to slow its rhythm. Again the throttle was pushed forward, and soon the fireman was shoveling rapidly and the train was moving slowly, smoke trailing, as it lumbered up the incline into the mountains. They wound through a wide, low canyon, climbing, then abruptly picked up speed as they neared the summit. Over the top, the engineer put reverse steam to the driving wheels to check the train's speed, and the descent was almost as slow as the climb. For a moment coming around a curve the floor of the vast valley ahead was visible, and the tiny train carrying the troops could again be seen.
The train had almost reached the next valley floor when the engineer, looking out the window, shouted and applied the brakes. The others looked. There ahead, dust still rising, was a rockslide piled high on the tracks, small stones continuing to fall from the cliff alongside the tracks. Shouting, the men threw open the door on the cliff side and jumped, rolling over and over in the dirt by the ties, and the next moment the engine was tearing into the slide, leaving the tracks, and pulling the fifty cars behind as, miraculously, it remained upright and churned into the shallow ravine away from the cliff. The steel wheels and undercarriage bit deep into the earth as the fifty cars, like a giant hand, pushed it relentlessly along, until the wheels of all the cars, too, sank deep into softer footing, and the entire train came to a jolting stop against the far bank of the ravine.
Only the sound of the desperately bellowing cattle, some injured and dying, all frightened, could be heard. Smoke poured from the locomotive, which was tilted at a crazy angle against an earthen bank, as though it were injured also. Two of the trainmen were on their feet, looking up in fear at the crags and bluffs overhead. The third, the fat man, lay on the ground cradling his foot, moaning.
The others approached him. "Hurry! Get up. We better get out of here."
The injured man groaned. "My foot. It's broken. Don't leave me. Stay here."
"We can't stay here. Whoever caused the rockslide will be coming now. We have to start after the troop train."
"They're gone," the injured man said, gesturing. "They won't be back."
"Yes, they will. As soon as they realize we 're not behind them, they'll come back to help us."
The man on the ground gave a laugh of pained irony. "As soon as they realize the bandidos wrecked this train they will go to the garrison where it is safe."
The third man spoke. "Maybe it wasn't the bandidos. Maybe the indios."
The man with the broken foot thought a moment. His voice was surprisingly calm. "You two better go. Maybe the train will wait for you. If so, maybe you can talk them into coming back for me. I can't walk. I'll have to take my chances with whoever is up there." He indicated the reaching cliffs and mountains. All three looked about, but there was no sign of life.
One of the men who was unhurt looked at the other. "We would be foolish to go on. At least here in the canyon we might find food and water."
"We might also find Indians."
"But we could only live several hours crossing that desert. The troops might have kept going."
Finally it was decided the two would walk after the train carrying the troops and see if the latter would return for the fireman.
And Hector Sandoval gently rubbed his swelling ankle as he watched his companions, each carrying a waterbag and a shovel for protection, climb the mound of rocks and start toward the shimmering valley below.
Hector Sandoval realized he was lying in the blazing sun. The cattle, still trapped in the wrecked cars, were beginning to quiet down. He crawled on his hands and knees to the ravine. He made his way down the slope to a clump of hardwood brush. Carefully, crawling along, he selected the right bough and took a pocket knife from his pocket and began cutting it. Soon he had it free. He trimmed the small branches from it, leaving the top in a large fork. He fitted the fork under his arm, whittled a little more on it, and soon had an operable crutch. He found that his injured foot could support none of his weight.
He made his way painstakingly to the locomotive. With a great deal of trouble he climbed in. The fire still burned, the steam still hissed and the cattle still bawled. But the sound diminished as he waited. The long afternoon progressed slowly, the pain of his leg increased as the hours dragged by.
HISPANIC HERITAGE MONTH (SEPTEMBER 15 – OCTOBER 15): LatinoLA lists many fine ways to help us celebrate this special month. The events include everything from literary festivals, jazz concerts to art shows. As LatinoLA notes, just following Hispanic Heritage Month, on October 23 and 24, the Los Angeles Latino Book & Family Festival will take at the Pomona Fairplex. This is the original and largest Latino book fest in the country, and 20,000 visitors are expected to explore the book sellers, storytellers, artists, craftspeople, food vendors, and entertainers. Co-founder Edward James Olmos will be there to welcome the audience.
NUEVO LIBRO: Rigoberto González offers us a thoughtful review of noted critic and scholar Ilan Stavans’ new book, Dictionary Days (Graywolf Press). He notes that by “[m]ixing personal anecdote with comparative analysis with tidbits culled from his encyclopedic frame of reference, Stavans keeps his ideas accessible and at times playful, proving his own dictum that a word can stretch side by side with the imagination.”
EDITORIAL INTERNSHIP: Tu Ciudad Los Angeles magazine is seeking motivated and talented interns to assist with editorial duties including but not limited to research and fact-checking for its print magazine and online outlets. Ideal candidates possess excellent written and verbal communication skills in English and Spanish, as well as a passion for providing the hippest and most relevant cultural and lifestyle news to L.A.’s English-speaking Latinos. Interns must be available to work in the magazines Wilshire Boulevard office between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. for a minimum of three consecutive months. Candidates must be college students. Internship positions are unpaid. Interested persons should send a cover letter, resume, and writing samples to email@example.com.
All done. Until next Monday, enjoy the intervening posts from my compadres at La Bloga. ¡Lea un libro!