Saturday, October 23, 2010

Chicanonautica: From Aztlán to the Center of the Earth


Aztlán is my native land. That's the American Southwest, to those who aren't tuned into the Chicano politico/poetics of the last half-century. I love these mountains, deserts, these crazy mixed-up peoples, and the millennia of history lost and found.

I may never make it to Mars, but Aztlán is a Mars on Earth. No wonder Hollywood came here to create its Wild West and sci-fi mythologies. Last time I was in Utah they were filming Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars. I would love it if, someday, colonies on Mars looked like Aztlán.

So I was delighted to read Tom Miller's Revenge of the Saguaro. It's not science fiction or fantasy. It's non-fiction, a travel book that's stranger than sci-fi. It makes make me homesick for Aztlán, and I live here. I'll be packing it, along with David Hatcher Childress' Lost Cities & Ancient Mysteries of the Southwest on future Aztláni road trips.

Not only does Tom Miller cover the Border, Bisbee, folk songs, cockfighting, and more . . . but he charges into Chicanonautica territory. I am eternally grateful to him for letting me know about Gumersindo Esquer, who some call the Mexican Jules Verne, a Renaissance Man of the Sonoyta.

The comparison to Verne comes from Esquer's 1928 novel, Campos del Fuego (Fields of Fire) that Miller describes as “a wild sort of psychedelically inspired Mexican science fiction.” Everything I can find about the book make me drool: It starts out as a realistic account of a trip into the volcanic craters of the Sierra del Pinacate, just north of the Border, that turns into journey into an underground lost world.


Gumersindo Esquer of Sonoyota: a Mexican Jules Verne in the Footsteps of William Hornaday,” by William K, Hartmann, Gayle Harrison Hartmann, Guillermo Munro Palacio, (Journal of the Southwest, Summer 2007) describes Esquer as an Aztlán visionary, outdoorsman, teacher, poet, gun enthusiast, and even painter. One painting – sadly missing – was called “Sonoyta in the Year 2000” showed a train crossing the region that he believed would one day become an important crossroads.

So here I am, dying to read this book – unfortunately, it's out of print.

It's listed in Google Books – with no reviews and not much information. Amazon says it's, “Currently unavailable.” It was reprinted in Mexico in 1985. Around 1964, archaeologist Irwin Hayden did an English translation that has never been published.

I'll be scanning for it as I comb through used book stores and antique malls, which brings me to one of the great ironies of our so-called Information Age: There are more things on Heaven and Earth than are accessable on the Internet. Everyday more stuff is saved, but a lot of futuristico/fantastico stuff -- that, despite being old, is wonderful and can do things to your brain that will make you better able to cope with the craziness to come – crumbles to dust.

We are in a race against time. It would be a shame if Campos del Fuego suffered the same fate as Esquers' painting of futuristic Sonotya.

Meanwhile, if you see a copy of Campos anywhere, please let me know.

Ernest Hogan has climbed pyramids from Tenochitlán to Chichén Itzá.

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