Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Review: America Libre. Book Give-Away. Mesoamerican Conference.

Michael Sedano

Review: Raul Ramos y Sanchez. America Libre. NY: Grand Central. 2009.

I was happy to read Daniel Olivas’ review of Hit List Monday because it opens the week with a taste of the sublime, unlike the novel I started reading last week, instead of Hit List. The dog ate it, what can I say?

Fortunately, the edition I read of Raul Ramos Y Sanchez’ America Libre, is an advance copy anticipating its July 2009 paperback publication. So there’s time to fix a lot of stuff. Geography. Idiom. The “H” word. Most of all, Ethos.

America Libre takes place mostly in a dystopic present-day Los Angeles, but the trouble is nationwide. A Latina takes an errant bullet from drug-raiding San Anto cops. Barrios across the Southwest explode in violence. A National Guard platoon draws down on a mob and when the smoke clears twenty-three people lie dead. Across the nation, the barrios explode. Bloodthirsty television news channels provide only slanted, anti-raza coverage. Soon, lawlessness, or police indifference, bring vigilantes into the barrio. Bloody drive-by slaughters not only go unsolved, they grow in audacity. Increasingly, across the nation, xenophobia divides the country into brown v. white.

Conservative assholes, but I repeat myself, nativist assholes, ditto, hold sway in Congress. In a short period the United States of America begins rounding up all “Class ‘H’” people—“Hispanic” or Spanish-last name residents. Relocation camps in places like North Dakota will house the, first quarantined, then ultimately, concentration camped, population.

In Los Angeles, a group of, at first dissidents, then armed defenders, take on the violence. They ambush a three-car vigilante caravan. Using AK-47 and Rocket Propelled Grenades, led by an ex-Army Ranger, Afghanistan veteran and third-generation Hispanic, Manolo “Mano” Suarez, the barrio defender tortures the leader’s identity out of a vigilante. Joined by the incredibly rich and sexily blonde Hispanic Uruguayan Tupamaro Jo, and fiery orator Ramon Garcia, Mano helps the pretend poverty pimps craft a bloody liberation movement. Hispanics will take back their land from the …

Exciting material, could be a lot of fun to read, but for some serious obstacles.

The timeline gets mucked up. Each chapter tracks events by month and day, e.g. Month 2, Day 10. Someone--an editor, an assistant, a careless author—loses track of time. Month 11, Day 8 sees Mano quit his job with Jo and Ramon. Next chapter, listed as Month 21, Day 17, has Mano back on the street jobless and cheated out of twenty bucks, regretting quitting his job three weeks ago. Nine months of four weeks transpire in titles, but only 21 days in novel time. There are similar lapses in the sequencing gimmick.

Throughout the novel I had to keep asking myself who Grand Central thinks is its audience. Chicana Chicano readers, especially Angelinas Angelinos will have a lot of trouble enjoying the action owing to troublesome location errors, or, perhaps, ambiguities. And that's a small problem.

“East LA” is a place, not a stereotype, nor a metaphor. America Latina’s core action takes place in “Easlo,” an expression I hear for the first time in the novel. In El Lay, locals refer to “East Los” or “East L.A.”, and just as often respect specific communities like Boyle Heights, East Los’ neighbor to the West. Ramos y Sanchez writes as if “East Los Angeles” is a stereotype. In fact, Mano lives on Fourth Street, which is in Boyle Heights, not East LA. In another glaring locational error, after Mano and his crew of bombers blow holes across downtown L.A., the CIA moves its headquarters from its overlook of the Veterans Cemetery to some nondescript landscape. The Federal Building Ramos y Sanchez describes is on the tony L.A. Westside, miles from the downtown and not visible from East LA.

That type of blunder is easily fixed with a map or an informed editor. Less tolerable is the language people, supposedly raza, use. “Hispanic” is the major culprit. It’s clear Ramos y Sanchez and his editor struggled with the term. A limited Spanish-speaking Mexican-American like Mano and his guisa might indeed call each other and their gente “Hispanic” but dang, lots of characters buy into the term without any editorializing from the author about one of the most sensitive idiomatic expressions among Chicanas Chicanos Latinas Latinos, raza. I recommend the author and editor explore this terminological perplex with an ear for authenticity. Manitos and a chingón of Tejanos say “Hispanic” but in El Lay, Boyle Heights or greater East Los, hasta la westside, the “H” word might get your ass kicked. Among Mexicanos, Los Tigres Del Norte put the issue to song: En Estados Unidos te dicen que soy latino / Pero no te quieren decir que soy un Americano.

Politicized characters lack the ideological vocabulary one expects of Tupamaro or 60s veteranos. Instead of “amigo” the expression would, in the appropriate context, be “compañero” or “carnal” or “brother” or a host of other phrases that define relationship among speakers. For Ramos y Sanchez, “amigo” is the singlular expression of solidarity or palhood. Like “Hispanic”, the novel’s use of “amigo” contributes it a stunning lack of authenticity. I frequently have to read the author’s name again to make sure it’s not Amado Muro.

Everything that stuns my sensibilities is fixable in this action novel. Grand Central Publishing is home of Robert Ludlum’s library of high action thrillers. With that heritage in mind, Ramos y Sanchez has an obligation to give the reader more and better action. Things happen off stage or in exposition that deserve eye witness details and loud noises. The action develops much too slowwwwwly, and challenges even the most charitable reader’s willingness to suspend bullshit filters. Dozens of ammonium nitrate bombs detonate across Los Angeles downtown and not a drop of blood shed!?!

I suspect the most unfixable element is the horrid stereotyping of raza. In this world, as noted, dystopic, but other than gangbangers, junkies, whores, and looters, the barrios of this Los Angeles got themselves populated by gente with no backbone. All the crap that goes down and the people do not rise as one to do as they actually engage today: use political muscle and union power to organize the community. In this Los Angeles, outsiders sweep into town and lead us into temptation. The homegrown hero, torn by his loyaty to law and ordure and his Hispanic community, resolves the dilemma only after a National Guard tank levels the building where Mano’s son stood. In other words, out of selfishness rather than selflessness.

This puppet-like ethos of Los Angeles’ Chicano community makes America Libre one of the more subversive works of stories about chicanos by non chicanos. The cover blurb and author’s website describe the author as a Midwestern Cubano. If true, the author could possible fix the whole shebang by relocating the revolución to Pilsen or, mejor, Miami. That’s the ticket. One-way.

May / Book Give-Away!

La Bloga is happy to join with Hachette Book Company's promotion of free books recognizing May's Latino Book Month. Hachette is offering a library of five titles, including:

1.       B as in Beauty By Alberto Ferreras ISBN: 0446697893

2.       Into the Beautiful North By Luis Urrea ISBN: 0316025275

3.       Hungry Woman in Paris By Josefina Lopez ISBN: 0446699411

4.       The Disappearance of Irene Dos Santos By Margaret Mascarenhas ISBN: 0446541109

5.       Houston, We Have a Problema By Gwendolyn Zepeda ISBN: 0446698520


To qualify for your five books, click here to send your name and a street (UPS) address along with the answer to questions:

Who are the editors of Hit List?
Who wrote the Foreward to Hit List?
Whose skull is the focus of Manuel Ramos' story in Hit List?

2009 Conference on Mesoamerica. Continuity and Change in Mesoamerican History From the Pre-Classic to the Colonial Era Comes to Cal State El Lay Mid-Month.

Congratulations to Dr. Roberto Cantu and his team of scholars and dedicated student workers on their upcoming academic conference presented in homage to Maya linguist Tatiana A. Proskouriakoff. The two day event runs May 15 and 16 at CSULA. The first three events indicate the promise of an intensely researched event:

A Valley Zapotec Text from 1614: What it Tells Us

Featured Speaker, John Pohl lecture, “The Hummingbird and the Flower Prince: New Approaches to Identifying Regional Political Interaction from an Analysis of the Narrative Themes on Postclassic Polychrome Vessels

Ulama: the Survival of the Mesoamerican Ballgame

Click here to view PDF of the conference schedule. This is a public, no registration fee event. CSULA sits astride Asia and América in El Sereno. Alhambra and Monterey Park to the east are Chinese and Vietnamese restaurant-rich communities. Lincoln Heights on the near West, City Terrace, East LA, and Boyle Heights on the South, SE, and SW respectively, offer infinite choices of tacos, tamales, raspados. To pick only one, Moles La Tia provides unequalled pleasure.

Tempus has fugitted with alacrity. Uau, 5 May. El Drinko de Mayo, as Lalo Alcaraz satirizes the bironga-heavy adverts that usually pepper us around this time of year. Not so much this year, must be the zombie strain of pig flu.

See you May's week 2, day 3.


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