Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Opposite of Chicana Chicano Literature?

Michael Sedano


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?


Read! Raza.

mvs

7 comments:

Julio Sueco said...

I suppose the issue lies well within the english language doesn't it? Our english is still ensnared in the notion that our english is not english. We have two cosmovisions, the enlgish and the spanish, so the purity element is still a force to be reckoned with tanto en español como en inglés. Another issue is that we Xicanos and Xicanas are still viewed as alien to the land, the we are not from here philosophy and drummed propapaganda in anglolandia still pervades the fabric of the enlgish spealing world of the EEUU. Besides, it is very hard for new yorkers to even have an inkling of the Southwest's history.

Julio Sueco said...

Noticed some typos in the first comment, gotta learn to hit the preview first ...

I suppose the issue lies well within the english language doesn't it? Our english is still ensnared in the notion that our english is not english. We have two cosmovisions, the english and the spanish, so the purity element in language is still a force to be reckoned with tanto en español como en inglés. Another issue is that we Xicanos and Xicanas are still viewed as alien to the land, the we are not from here philosophy and drummed propaganda in anglolandia still pervades the fabric of the english speaking world of the EEUU. Besides, it is very hard for new yorkers to even have an inkling of the Southwest's history.

Maegan la Mala said...

I am so happy someone is writing about this. When the list came out I was looking for Latino lit on the list and was disgusted not to find one. I agree that part of it lies in notions of what is pure English and identity politics as well as a certain elitest attitude of what constitutes liturature. Do we dare call that racism?

Manuel Ramos said...

Maybe one day La Bloga will compile it's own list of 100 greatest whatever - English, Chicano/a, Latino - your suggestions are a good beginning, even though I can see arguing for alternatives for Limon, Castillo, etc. At the end of last year I did a list of the best of the year - totally my own subjective picks. Could be we might try that again. I am curious about one thing you say in your post: "Romance is so far removed from anything ever staged by a Chicano troupe that it seems absurd even to raise the issue." I've seen Chicano troupes stage all kind of plays (Pinter, e.g.), and here in Denver Jose Cruz Gonzalez's September Shoes just opened (although not by a strictly Chicano troupe), which I understand is so unique that it is classified as magical realism. I'm slow today (and most other days) so I guess my question is "what is opposite?" or "what do you mean by opposite?"

msedano said...

Absurdism and farcicality, while not unique to Chicano teatro, are hallmarks of our work. I think not only of Luis Valdez' "Honest Sancho's Used Mexicans" or "La Nueva Carpa de los Rasquachis" actos, but of several pieces that I directed or sponsored when I was with Teatro a la Brava during the 1970s and 80s. Valdez' -- as Teatro a la Brava's-- work avoided the violently bitter hostility that Mamet's piece heaps in abundance on the shell-shocked audience. I like the way Mamet and the director handle it. It is good stuff. I haven't seen Chicanos tilt to such profane depths, when doing puro chicanarte. Do we need to? OTOH, a chicano version of "Romance" might be muy funny, que no?

As for the "opposite of," what do you think that means? I thought it an interesting trope. Is it possible for any literature to be the opposite of another? If so, then this may account our exclusion from the Modern Library's or Time magazine's lists.

iliana said...

I'm adding those titles to my to be read list. I'd like to offer up Denise Chavez's "Loving Pedro Infante" and Rudolfo Anaya's "Bless Me, Ultima". Both fantastic reads.

Jacinto Guevara said...

Bless Me Ultima one of the best of anything? Por favor...

As a linguistics hobbyist I have always been fasinated by dialect. Those that are not us (and therefore are probably repressing us) do not have a more-correct way of speaking. Those that are not us are of German, Scandinavian, Slavic, Hindu, Scots/Irish, Whatever and and their ancestral languages have imparted something to American regional English dialect. The only tiranny is T.V. English and most English speakers of the world at one time or another feel the oppression of "not speaking right". But y'all educated writers of stories, why maintain a self segregating chip on the shoulder?

Suffice it to say an individual or a community are members of a linguistic group whether they have an educated vocabulary or not, but one is no less an English speaker than the other by virue (not detriment)of their ethnic/cultural background. Even in England there is a variety of dialects and only those with an inferior complex allow themselves to believe they speak incorrectly if they don't have the queen's diction.

We, you, and me have to stop feeling sorry for ourselves if we don't speak like Bette Davis, Doris Day, Farrah Fawcettt or Betty Boop.