Jorge Corral, born in Los Angeles, attended Loyola University for both his undergraduate and law degrees. He is an attorney in private practice in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Corral attended the MFA International Program in Creative Writing at UNLV until his son, Gabriel el huracan, was born. He is currently working on a novel about the Zapatistas, the 2001 Zapatour, Cuba, and jumping the Tijuana border. Corral participated in the 2001 Zapatour, and provides translation for escuelasparachiapas.org – and of himself, he says: “Soy adherente a la Sexta.” Corral can be reached at email@example.com. We’ve been treated before to excerpts from his novel-in-progress, Zapata Vive, Dude! Below is another excerpt. At the end of the excerpt, I post a few literary news items. --DAO
CHAPTER FOURTEEN: EL JUGLAR DE LOS CAMINOS
An indigenous woman cursed and laughed as she boarded the van to Las Margaritas. She traveled with an older man, a mestizo with a thick mustache, wearing a straw hat, with several red handkerchiefs around his neck, a pack on his back, holding a guitar, and pulling a radio and speaker system on a small dolly. They sat with Martin and Paloma.
"Where are you going my friend?" asked Andres Contreras, famously known among los jodidos y los olvidados de Mexico as the Minstrel of the Roads.
"Las Margaritas," said Martin.
"What's there to do in Las Margaritas?" asked Andres.
"Just visiting," said Martin.
"On your way back make sure you go to Ocosingo, near there is the archeological zone of Tonina, it used to be a city, a Mayan necropolis, a collection of pyramids ninety-two meters high, seven levels, with internal galleries and passageways. After that you can have lunch at the edge of the Tulija river, then see the waterfalls of Misol-ha, then you can visit Palenque and sleep there so you can take a tour of the jungle the next day." Andres removed a worn handkerchief from his neck and polished his guitar.
"Thanks," said Martin.
"I've been all over this crazy planet called Mexico, from California and Texas, where I worked picking fruit and bussing tables, I worked for a lot of tyrants and assholes while I was on the other side, to Mexicali, where I was born, Tijuana, Juarez, Tamaulipas, all across this country to the very tip of Chiapas, to Tapachula to be precise. My name is Andres Contreras."
"Martin Saucedo and this is Paloma."
Martin shook hands with el Juglar de los Caminos.
"This is Bertha, but she's known in the highlands of Chiapas as la Chamulita."
Paloma and la Chamulita smiled at each other.
"Are you two from San Cristobalito?" asked la Chamulita.
"Oaxaca," said Martin.
"But you live on the other side, I knew it the moment I saw you," said Andres.
"You're right, I was born on the other side but I've been living in Chiapas for a while."
"And you?" asked la Chamulita, looking at Paloma.
"Near Tapachula, in the hills, it's a small village near the border."
"You have to be careful around here, Paloma. You sound a little like you're from Guatemala, which is normal since you are so close to the border, but there are many army checkpoints in Chiapas and they are always looking for young girls that cross the border to work in brothels." La Chamulita removed a long orange veil wrapped around her waist and placed it on Paloma's head. "There, now you look local, just cover up a little, you're showing too much skin."
"Thank you." Paloma obeyed and searched in her bags for a longer skirt and a long sleeve shirt.
"Here, take these so you can get an idea of what happens on this side of Mexico." Andres handed Martin three CD's of his music.
Martin reached into his pocket for money.
"No, we are friends, it is a gift." Andres held onto Martin's arm, not allowing him to reach for his money.
"Thanks." Martin looked at the CD's, then put them away in his backpack.
"Where on the other side were you born?" asked Andres.
"I have never been there. So you speak English," said Andres.
"Better than Spanish."
"Your Spanish is fine, your accent is not so bad." Andres tied the handkerchief around his neck and began tuning his guitar.
"I don't have an accent," said Martin.
"You do, you can't hear it yourself but it's there. It sounds like it has a little north and some south in it, like you haven't really lived in either and your accent fluctuates -- it goes from north to south and back. It's not bad but we can tell a Chicano when we hear one. And it also has much to do with your selection of words and sometimes your facial expressions...you make gringo expressions when you speak," said el Juglar.
The Chicano from Vegas frowned and Paloma from Tapachula placed her hand on his thigh.
"I don't want to offend you but you think in American first then translate into Mexican, right? And thinking in American is not the same as thinking in English because the English think European, just like thinking like a Spaniard has little to do with thinking Mexican...and the Mexican way of thinking has nothing to do with the way of thinking of the indigenous -- they are on a different level, a higher plane, another dimension, really. It's all very beautifully simple and complicated."
"What do you sing about?" asked Martin.
"Injustice." Andres tapped his guitar and studied Martin. "I've been looking for someone like you to translate a song of mine, El Mono de Alambre."
"Okay, let's do it," said Martin.
"Why not? We have two hours until we get to Las Margaritas."
"The way this conductor drives this van it will be three or four hours. Okay, let's get started," said Andres, then addressed the other passengers in the van, "If anyone is offended by the truth set to music, please speak now."
The passengers, mostly poor Chiapanecos and European tourists, kept silent.
"Okay, good. Ready?" said Andres.
"Ready." Martin opened his notebook to a clean page.
"The title would be translated to 'monkey of wire', correct?" asked Andres.
"Monkey of wire?" Martin looked up from his notebook.
"Mono de alambre," said Andres.
"No, monkey of wire won't work. In English the word is puppet."
"Yeah, like a puppet on a string, right? That's what you mean."
"Like the dirty politicians in Mexico, the ones at the bottom are handled by those at the top and the bigshots in Mexico are handled by the top dogs in the United States or druglords," said Andres.
"Okay, that's what I thought you meant. go ahead," said Martin.
"Buenos días señores, somos agraristas."
"Good morning people, we are farmworkers."
"Chinguen a su madre los latifundistas."
"Wait, 'fuck your mother' is kinda strong," said Martin.
"It is supposed to be strong."
"Yeah, but I think that in Mexico you can say that phrase much more casually, like saying 'oh shit', right? And in English 'fuck your mother' sounds too literal."
"I want it to mean what it says," said Andres.
"How about 'go to hell' instead?"
"Let's move on, write down 'fuck your mother' and next to it 'go to hell'." Andres strummed his guitar. "Por todo el país venimos cantando y a los vendé patrias la madre mentando, vamos a bailar, vamos a bailar el mono de alambre."
"Hold on, throughout the country we come singing and to all the traitors cursing their mothers, let's dance, let's dance the song of the puppet."
"Y los diputados y los senadores chinguen a su madre. Chinguen a su madre todos los priistas, chinguen a su madre también los panistas..."
"Wait, is that a chorus? How many times can we write 'fuck your mother' in one song?" asked Martin.
"As many times as is necessary, I haven't even started naming individuals yet, like Salinas de Gortari, Ernesto Zedillo, Televisa, Jacobo Zabludosky, Cardinal Geronimo Prigione..."
"Cardinal? You mean like a bishop?"
"Higher than a bishop, almost the pope. Can we continue?" Andres tapped his guitar three times.
"Okay." Martin shook his head and turned over to a clean page in his notebook.
"What we are doing with this song is pointing out the contrast between the good people and the oppressors, praising some and cursing others while showing there is a need to fight for change for the benefit of humanity, all that expressed in the most common vernacular. And the translation into English is for the Chicanos on the other side, so they will know their history and our struggle. But we need to change the people in the song, instead of Salinas and Zedillo we put in Bush and Cheney, and instead of Zapata and Villa we can use Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King."
"How about Cesar Chavez?" asked Martin.
"Or Reverend Jesse Jackson," said Andres.
"No, I think he's a millionaire. Malcolm X is better."
Large green trucks from the federal army appeared on the side of the road. Soldiers held rifles and stood at attention several feet from each other.
"We are going to be inspected," said Andres.
"We are all traveling together, sightseeing," said la Chamulita, then turned to Paloma and whispered, "Don't be afraid, they are only here to intimidate us."
"Is this going to be a problem?" asked Martin.
"Only if they recognize me," said Andres.
"Let me hold your guitar," said Martin.
"No, they may consider you my accomplice," said Andres.
"Accomplice? I'm a musician from Las Vegas."
"Can you play that thing?"
"Okay, let me hold your radio."
El Juglar laughed and looked ahead to the soldiers. The road through the Sierra of Chiapas was winding in a steep ascent and improvised speed bumps were frequent. Indigenous women and children carrying firewood wrapped in leather straps on their back and held against their foreheads walked past the soldiers, who held their rifles and stared ahead, oblivious to the presence of their brown sisters and brothers marching past with bundles of wood. Several vehicles formed a line, waiting to pass the federal army inspection.
"Who do you have inside?" asked a young soldier holding a rifle against the side of his leg.
"Tourists," said the driver of the van going to Las Margaritas.
"From where?" asked the soldier.
"Some are from Mexico, there is a couple from France and I think there is a man from Canada."
"And him?" The soldier pointed at El Juglar de los Caminos.
"The man with the guitar."
"I don't know, looks like he's from around here."
"You there! Next to the man with the guitar, come outside!" The soldier looked at Martin and motioned to other soldiers to open the side door of the van.
"Who me?" asked Martin.
"Stay here, I'll go," said Andres.
"No, I'll go, I'm a tourist from the United States, what can they do to me?" Martin climbed over his backpack on the floor and over Andres's radio and speaker system and stepped down from the van.
The soldiers were all young and indigenous.
"Where are you from?" asked the soldier in charge.
"Identification and passport."
Martin handed the soldier his U.S. passport and Nevada driver's license.
"What are you doing with that man with the guitar?"
"He's my friend," said Martin.
"Do you know his name?"
"Andres Contreras is a troublemaker."
"Has he been talking about the Zapatistas?"
"No, we were talking about Las Vegas. He wants to go."
"Where are you going?" The soldier pointed at Andres and yelled, “Get him out here!"
Two soldiers placed their rifles across their backs and pulled Andres out of the van.
"Wait my friends, I'm coming out, just let me put down this guitar," said Andres.
"I asked you where you are going," said the soldier.
"Las Margaritas, then Ocosingo, the archeological zone at Tonina, the waterfalls at Misol-Ha, then Palenque," said Martin.
"This van is not on a tour," said the soldier.
"He's taking me," said Martin, referring to Andres, who was standing next to him.
"Now you do tours?" The soldier turned to Andres.
"Well, you know how it is my friend, just trying to make a little extra for the tortillas and this young man said he didn't like the tours with all those damn foreigners so I told him I would give him a real Mexican tour -- not a European tour, or an Asiatic tour, or a tour from the Taliban, I said to him, "I have been up and down these beautiful sierras and deep in the Lacandon jungle' and I could show him our true and authentic Chiapas. Wouldn't you agree?"
The young soldier in charge stared at Andres, then turned to Martin and returned his ID and passport.
"Thank you," said Martin.
Andres and Martin boarded the van and the trek to Las Margaritas resumed. The road became more narrow and the Sierra of Chiapas swallowed the van. Martin listened to the jungle through an open window.
"You should roll up your window," said Andres.
"It's so big and green and it smells so clean," said Martin.
"A monkey could come flying through that window, they know tourists always carry delicious snacks."
Martin rolled up his window and stared into the vastness of the Lacandon Jungle.
"Why were you so friendly with those soldiers, like you knew them," asked Paloma.
"Underneath that green uniform they are men but they are trained to act like animals. If you talk to some of them the right way they will see that they are simply serving the oppressor while punishing the common decent citizen," said Andres.
"I was a little nervous." Paloma folded the orange veil and handed it to la Chamulita.
"I have been arrested over fifty times and slept many nights in jails all over Mexico," said Andres.
"For what?" asked Paloma.
"For singing my songs." He picked up his guitar and handed Martin his pen and notebook.
The van passed cornfields and rows of agave planted along hillsides. Homes made of cement blocks with laminated roofs appeared on the side of the road. A sign advised that they were entering the municipality of Las Margaritas. The van parked near a small market. Young men sat playing dominos in front of the store. They stared at Paloma as she got out of the van. Martin and Andres went into the store and bought drinks. La Chamulita went across the street to make a phone call.
"Hey Andres, Paloma and I are actually going into La Realidad," said Martin.
Andres took a long drink from his orange Fanta and smiled. "I knew there was more about you and Paloma than just sightseeing."
"I have a package to deliver for Subcomandante Marcos and Paloma would like to request some assistance from him."
"We also need to speak to Sup, I just wrote a song that requires his consent and la Chamulita has a message from a woman's collective in Guerrero. It won't be easy locating Marcos and it will be even harder to actually see him, but I'll see what I can do."
"So we can all go together," said Martin.
"Yeah, but Marcos is not in La Realidad," said Andres.
"But that's where I was an instructor for a Zapatista school and where Captain Hilario gave me my assignment."
"I went to Cuba to translate for some Irish insurgents."
"Nice job," said el Juglar.
La Chamulita crossed the street and said," We have a ride into the jungle."
Martin picked up his pack and Paloma's bags and followed la Chamulita and Andres down a dirt road. A lime Volkswagen bug was parked in front of a two-storey brick residence. Barefoot children kicked an old flat soccer ball in an empty dirt lot among chickens and pigs. Andres whistled at the brick home and made room for his equipment under the hood of the bug. A young man came out of the house and shook hands with Andres and La Chamulita. Paloma and Martin stopped playing with the kids and shared the backseat with la Chamulita.
The bug climbed deep into the jungle and handled dangerous curves without protective barriers. The impressive precipices took Martin's breath away. An hour later he saw huts and cornfields in a green valley and noticed a large sign along the road, which advised: "YOU ARE NOW IN ZAPATISTA REBEL TERRITORY; HERE THE PEOPLE RULE AND THE GOVERNMENT OBEYS."
"Where are we going?" asked Paloma.
"Where rain, mud, corn, tears and hope are abundant," said Andres.
Rain fell from the heavens and mud began to cover the road as Tzotzil and Tzeltzal children carrying bundles of corn ran past the lime bug.
◙ My review of Daniel Alarcón’s novel, Lost City Radio (HarperCollins), appeared in Sunday’s El Paso Times. I note, in part: “Alarcón's narrative has the ebb and flow of a dark dream. With a fluid chronology that curves upon itself and doubles back effortlessly, he allows the past to mingle and compete with the present. There are no false steps or strained sentences. Lost City Radio is, quite simply, a triumph. Alarcón has created a sublimely terrifying, war-ravaged world populated by unforgettable and fully realized characters. But at the novel's core is a story of hope, one that renders the resiliency of human nature in all its imperfect glory.”
Alarcón is also burning up the literary journal world. He has a short story in Swink and he edited a portfolio of Peruvian writing in the new issue of A Public Space.
◙ Alex Espinoza continues to collect praise for his debut novel, Still Water Saints (Random House) including Adam Hill’s review in yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle. Hill notes, in part: “Most readers know a few of the common problems of first novels written by graduates of master's of fine arts programs. Some dazzle with ambition and ideas but are lacking in pure narrative pleasure, and some seem like formulaically fictionalized memoirs of people who haven't lived long enough to offer us much in the way of wisdom and a deeper understanding of life's continual complexity. Happily, Still Water Saints, the first novel by Alex Espinoza, who earned his degree from UC Irvine, suffers from none of those shortcomings. That doesn't mean it's a perfect book, but it certainly is an enchanting one.”
More news regarding Espinoza:
* The Spanish version of Still Water Saints is called Los Santos de Agua Mansa, California, translated by Liliana Valenzuela, has gone into its second printing. In fact, it went into a second print run even before it was released on January 30, 2007!
* Espinoza has an essay in the LIVES section of the New York Times Sunday magazine yesterday. Read it here.
* Espinoza will be in Texas this week then he has three Los Angeles area readings in March: Borders in Chino (March 4 at 3 p.m.), Skylight Books (March 10 at 5 p.m.), and Vromans in Pasadena (March 13 at 7 p.m.).
* Finally, Espinoza will be doing a live radio interview on AIRTALK with Larry Mantle on KPCC 89.3 that will run on March 13 from 11:30 a.m. to 12:00 noon.
◙ Mario Acevedo will be touring California for his new novel, X-Rated Blood Suckers (HarperCollins/Rayo), the sequel to last year’s wildly successful debut detective-vampire novel, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats (HarperCollins/Rayo). Here are some dates:
Friday, March 9, 2007:
7 p.m. Mysterious Galaxy
7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92111
Saturday, March 10, 2007:
1 p.m. Dark Delicacies
4213 W Burbank Blvd.
Burbank, CA 91505
and later that day:
5 p.m. Mystery Bookstore
1036-C Broxton Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90024
Sunday, March 11, 2007:
2 p.m., M is for Mystery
74 East Third Ave.
San Mateo, CA 94401
◙ News from UCLA’S Chicano Studies Research Center Press: The new issue of Aztlán is rolling off the presses and should be in subscribers’ mail boxes in the next two weeks.
If you are not a subscriber, you will miss the following wonderful articles: Paul Allatson on the poetry and prose of the late Chicano author Gil Cuadros; Steven S. Volk and Marian E. Schlotterbeck on three cultural responses to the femicide of women in Ciudad Juárez; Susan Rippberger and Kathleen Staudt on public schooling on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border; Robert Chao Romero on Chinese-Mexican intermarriage during the early twentieth century; and Tara J. Yosso and David G. García on a critical race theory framework for reading literature. The dossier section includes personal essays on the year 1972 and Patssi Valdez is the cover artist. If you would like to subscribe, you can go to the Center’s store to buy a current subscription or send them your postal address by email so that they can send you a subscription package. The Center is also selling full sets of the journal in hard copy for $100. Just email them.
◙ That’s all for now. Until next Monday, remember: ¡Lea un libro!