Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Review: Indian Country Noir. Call for Poets Arizona. Unapologetic Mexican.

Michael Sedano

Sarah Cortez and Liz Martínez, eds. Indian Country Noir. NY: Akashic Books, 2010.
ISBN: 9781936070053 (pbk.) & 1936070057 (pbk.)

Isn't that a marvelous cover? It shouts out loud, "Indian Country!" New Mexico's magnificent Ship Rock outlined against towering thunderclouds. I looked at the cover and thought, Jim Chee, Joe Leaphorn, House Made of Dawn. Ira Hayes, maybe.

As the adage goes, do not judge a book by its cover. Because anyone looking at the cover art of Akashic's Indian Country Noir and thinking Southwestern United States has misled themselves. Indeed, in what comes as a pleasant surprise, most of the tales selected by editors Sarah Cortez and Liz Martinez take place in a broader conception of America as indian country--the entire northern continent, in fact.

Tony Hillerman isn't even an afterthought, nor are N. Scott Momaday nor Sherman Alexie. True to the noir series convention, the current iteration of Akashic's run of outstanding titles features fourteen writers--seven women, seven men--you may not yet have come across, and a few you have, but in other contexts. The pleasure, mostly, is all yours, in this case.

The most-published, and perhaps best known, writer in the collection is Lawrence Block. He's no Indian, attesting to the editors' decision to include stories featuring North American Indians in one way or another, rather than adding a stricture that the writer also must be an Indian.

That's a tough break for some India Indio writer looking for some ink by breaking into an "Indian" anthology. But then, some writers' or stories' conecta to Indiohood are tenuous. There's Mistina Bates, who declares herself the "great-great-grand-daughter of a full-blooded" Cherokee who served as a Texas Ranger. I bet family reunions were interesting in that familia. Then there's Block's story, "Getting Lucky," the oddest, most inappropriate selection in the anthology. It's a sex story featuring a con woman posing as a Yupper Indian who suckers a lucky gambler into an orgiastic tryst before scalping him alive. Plenty noir, but not at all "Indian." Tough break for that hungry writer whose place Block takes. Maybe it's a deliberate irony, the phony India and the usurping Anglo writer.

One of the more touching stories introduces Ira Hayes, as the old song goes, fighting drunken Ira Hayes. The Mt. Suribachi flag-raiser is on a war bonds tour in Chicago, in Liz Martínez' account near the close of the book. Hayes feels comfortable only when he hits the bar. The military has assigned a minder to ensure Hayes gets his drinks and stays out of too much trouble. And that's what goes down, until Hayes, in a drunken stupor has a flashback to hand-to-hand combat back on Iwo Jima. Unfortunately, his enemy is a Chicago cop, who ends up shot dead, along with an innocent bystander. It's a perfect crime.

A couple of other stories stand out for tension or noirish wit. There's David Cole's "JaneJohnDoe.com" set in Tucson, Arizona. A narcotraficante on the lam from the latest crack down on smuggler murderers kidnaps a woman whose specialty is creating phony identities. The narca, a lusty woman, gets hers in the end with a faked identity that would pass muster from even the most racist Arizona cop's "reasonable suspicion" that the narca is in the country illegally. The noir twist in the ending, where the victim gets the one-up on the villain, is the fun part. Not all is ideal with Cole, however. In a gaffe, his bio at the back of the collection claims he writes about "illegal immigrants." That's not noirspeak, thats puro offensive talk, no matter Cole wrote it well in advance of the current fascist pedo in Arizona.

Reed Farrel Coleman's "Another Role" has its roman à clef moments and a delicious comeuppance for the bad guys. Harry Garson looks muy Indio but he doesn't have a clue what kind. Ni modo, he's made a grand living playing chiefs and warriors in a string of western movies, in roles Iron Eyes Cody doesn't land. Garson's big break came years ago as Chief Smells Like Bearstein, in the teevee farce "Crazy Cavalry." Now Garson's down on his luck hitting the bottle too hard.

Readers will enjoy how Coleman has lots of fun playing against Hollywood stereotypy. Coleman gives down-on-his luck Garson one final Indio role, one that brings a hit man after him. In a heart-warming twist, the Indio gets to discover his tribal identity, using it to turn the table on the crooks who hired him. When the hit man stares down at Garson's body, he has a flash of celebrity recognition, a "cute meet" in reverse. "Bearstein!" the hit man whispers, "Sorry, chief."

One of my dad's favorite family stories is about his two uncles, footloose boys in Redlands, an orange-picking town east of Berdoo. The local cop didn't care for Mexicans nor Indians, and made it his business to kidnap the boys for transport to Riverside's Sherman Institute, a boarding school for Indians. Every time the cop took my great uncles to Riverside they'd show up back in Redlands in a day or two. Finally the cop gave up and the family remained together.

Few Unitedstatesians realize that Indians invented forced busing when the government kidnaped Indio kids and shipped them off to Indian Schools like Sherman Institute or the well-known Carlisle school where Pop Warner coached football and where Charley Bear, AKA Indian Charley, was housed until he ran off. Charley is Joseph Bruchac's character in "Helper," the anthology's opening story. It's a good choice for Indian Country Noir, replete with humor, depravity, revenge, and justice.

Carlisle may be familiar to sports fans and movie goers as the place where Burt Lancaster as Jim Thorpe begins his fabled athletic career. The school for Charley Bear is an ugly place that sends kids into slavery and sexual exploitation on local farms. Charley Bear gets a small measure of revenge on a family of monsters, an act that comes back to threaten him decades later. Bruchac loads his story with the Indian obbligato of war heroism, exploitation, a friendly white man, closeness to mother earth. Despite these commonplaces, from the opening lines readers will recognize a masterful writer who'll keep you reading despite the stereotypy: "The one with the missing front teeth. He's the one who shot me. Before his teeth were missing."

Akashic Books has not failed me yet with its noir series. While I haven't read every title in the series--I wish I could--each one that I've read has been a genuine pleasure that fulfills expectations for mystery, detection, suspense, humor, in a word, noir. The occasional gaffe borne of thoughtless bio shorthand, or the persistent image of drunken Indios, are a couple of those irritations one unwillingly suspends in pursuit of story and fun, and, in this case, enlarging one's acknowledgment of America as Indian country.

Arizona Institutionalizes Hate. Call for Poets.

Recent legislation by Arizona law-passers has the country in furor. Breathing while brown and walking while brown join the de facto crime of driving while brown, under Arizona legislation requiring law enforcement to demand papieren from anyone who looks like they are in the state without proper immigration documentation. I'm sure refugees from Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano are quaking in their boots, along with the state's Indians and Mexican origin gente, and habitués of tanning salons.

Is ability to pronounce Eyjafjallajokull reasonable suspicion for arrest?

Francisco Alarcón, joined by Alma Luz Villanueva and Antoinette Nora Claypoole, have issued a Call for Poets to write about Arizona's current status. La Bloga Tuesday will publish selected submissions beginning next Tuesday, May 4 and continuing. Alarcón, Villanueva, and Claypoole are investigating turning the submissions into a hard copy anthology.

Submit work by posting a Note to Facebook at Poets Responding to SB 1070.

The Unapologetic Mexican

When I was a kid, the cultural praxis related to ethnicity enforced a fantasy history that called Chicanas Chicanos "Spanish" or "American of Mexican Descent," or plain old "American." Among courteous people, it was impolite to accuse someone of being "Mexican." Among the pigs and haters, "Mexican" was, at best, a slur, akin to such counterparts as "White asshole", "Okie", "Arkie", "white trash." Among la palomilla, we called ourselves Mexicans or Chicanos, and the anglos were Americans, or Anglos. Lurking silently in the background was that etiquette of self-denial. Not even el movimiento erases all of that.

Meet The Unapologetic Mexican. It's a web presence as well as the persona of its author, Nezua. Make that personae. Nezua has taken his persona through at least two iterations. The earliest presence offered puro confrontational art; intellectual, reasoned, informed, distinctly nationalistic Xicanismo. A few years later, the site morphed into a self-consciously higher tech version. Since that opening of Act II, the UMX has become El Machete that sees its responsibility to provide information with a "Latino-Centric" perspective. As such, the site merits your attention and recognition as, if not an antidote to "mainstream" media's blowhard portavozes for hate, at least a worthwhile counterstatement to all that crap.

I find interesting the four year history of the site as a time-compressed mirror of the movimiento. Chest-pounding, fire-breathing indictments of every racist xenophobe exact a price in personal exhaustion. Xicanismo is not free. And after a while that stuff grows old. I'm reminded of Cicero's insight in De Senectute, that bitter old men are not bitter because they are old but because they were bitter young men. I'm not sure some veteranos of el movimiento ever learned that. But it seems something of this dawned, if obliquely, on the Unapologetic Mexican. I see this in the quiet, controlled delivery of Nezua's most recent video. I like this approach--though as an old public speaking teacher I'd like to see more engagement from the speaker--and will look with interest to see how the Unapologetic Mexican handles the pedo from Arizona. Click the various links in the above and take your own tour of Nezua's endeavor, and please leave a comment on what you think.

Book Give-Away Winners, News & Notes Reminder

Last Tuesday La Bloga posted a quiz that produced two 100% correct answers to 100% of the questions. In return for their perfection, Hachette Book Group mailed a free copy of Iris Gomez' Try to Remember to:

1. Linda Rodriguez of Kansas City MO
2. Mariana Marin of Carmichael CA

Here's the quiz and the correct answers:
1. The Los Angeles Theatre Center current season is called _East of Broadway_.
2. Dan Olivas' reading technique is notable because _he stands away from the lectern.
3. The La Bloga columnist who is an oral communication teacher and "read your own stuff" coach is named _Michael Sedano_.
4. Juanita Salazar Lamb writes mystery stories featuring a character named __Sara Garcia_.
5. The title and author of the book you'll receive if you're among the first three to answer all these questions correctly are _Try to Remember_ by __Iris Gomez_.
Congratulations to winners Linda and Mariana. I'm crossing my fingers one or both of you winning La Bloga readers will contribute a guest review. A ver.

La Bloga friend Roberto Cantú invites scholars, students, and people interested in the Mexican nobel laureate to the 2010 edition of the school's annual celebration of the writer's career. The 2010 meeting, titled, World Civilizations, Modernity, and Octavio Paz: A Plurality of Pasts and Futures opens in the Golden Eagle Ballroom on the El Sereno campus near East LA. The event is free, although conference organizers warn that campus cops enforce parking regulations 24/7.

For information on the conference, visit the Paz blog or contact Dr. Roberto Cantú at the Department of Chicano Studies, California State University, Los Angeles, 5151 State University Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90032. (323) 343-2195. rcantu@calstatela.edu.

That's the final Tuesday of April, a Tuesday like any other Tuesday, except You Are Here. Thank you for visiting La Bloga. Over half a million people have visited La Bloga since we started counting. That was a year or more after RudyG, Manuel Ramos and I launched La Bloga.

Thank you for reading. Nos wachamos next week in the month of May.


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