Can there be such a thing as the opposite of Chicano literature?
(1) The question arises, in part, in considering Manuel Ramos’ report on the business-as-usual exclusion of Chicana Chicano writers from Time magazine’s list of the 100 best English-language novels published since 1923.
Who can argue against Vonnegut, Nabokov, Atwood? I would thump the lectern for alternatives to certain writers’ work. Giles Goat-Boy for Barth, A Cool Million for West, Robber Bride for Atwood. As my eyes swept the list, though, I saw numerous titles and writers whose work has been surpassed by Chicana and Chicano writers. Not that I'd read all 100 of Time's list, but the majority. So here’s what I told Time:
The panel needs to read more. A lot more. Chicana and Chicano writers have produced notable fiction that merits consideration. Sadly, when a reader's literary compass excludes an entire culture's production, there's little wonder a "top 100" list will illustrate a conscious, or unconscious bias.
Here are five titles to get you started:
Graciela Limon. Memories of Ana Calderon.
Benjamin Saenz. Carry Me Like Water.
Alfredo Vea. Gods Go Begging.
Alicia Gaspar de Alba. Sor Juana's Second Dream.
Ana Castillo. Peel My Love Like an Onion.
(2) The question hit me again, this time in the funny bone, at the Mark Taper Forum Saturday afternoon, where I sat astonished by David Mamet’s farce, “Romance.
Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross,” had heretofore defined my relationship with the playwright. The telemarketing boiler room drama explodes in deadly intensity, profanity, and just plain human meanness. “Romance,” similarly, is laced with personal animosity and profanity, but unlike “Glengarry,” Mamet’s new play is a courtroom / bedroom farce that takes ethnic and sexual prejudice to outrageously absurd extremes. In one exchange, lawyer and client launch a hate speech assault on one another that builds for five minutes. The Episcopalian defense attorney hurls slurs like “hook nose shimie” and “baby eater,” and lots of exotic stuff I’ve never heard, at his Jewish client. The client gives as good as he gets, denigrating the sect and taunting the lawyer about his son’s pederastic priest in a truly ugly retort that drew gasps from the people sitting near me. When the two men run out of words, they go into several minutes of “f*ck you” repartee that had the audience howling in pain.
Remarkably acted with precision timing and effectively staged by director Neil Pepe, “Romance,” is so far removed from anything ever staged by a Chicano troupe that it seems absurd even to raise the issue. Except “Romance,” through November 13, launches the Taper’s 39th season, which concludes with the July 27th run of “Water and Power,” written by Richard Montoya with Culture Clash. Obviously the comparison not only is not far-fetched, it’s now a matter of time and Los Angeles audiences will have to deal with it.
Interesante, que no?