by Ernest Hogan
Okay, I admit it. I’m not quite bilingual. I was born way the hell back in the Atomic Age when there were all kinds of quaint superstitions going around. Wise folk advised my mother not to let me be left-handed as nature intended (so I have horrible handwriting). The Los Angeles County School District was determined to get rid of Spanish contamination, to enable us to get along better in American society -- besides, in the future, everybody was going speak English, anyway.
The funny thing was, I wasn’t aware that there were two separate languages. Words were words, if they were useful, who cares where they came from? However, there were a lot of words that other kids at school -- and even teachers! -- didn’t know, and they were considered smarter for not knowing them.
By the time I decided to reconnect with español, it was like reattaching a severed limb -- it would work, but never perfectly. So I lurch along, a Chicano Frankenstein monster, hablando muy güaqui. Maybe, if I try hard enough, I can be cool like the Frankenstein cars of Cuba.
Bilingual poetry books helped with this reattachment. Even though I’m more of a clumsy slapstick comedian with a surrealistic streak than a poet, I enjoy the poetry and the bilingualism.
And I love when it goes beyond the two languages on facing pages, and the words from different worlds mix it up on the same page.
Charlie Vázquez, author of the visionary distopia Contraband, delivers both kinds of bilingüalismo in his Meditations/Meditaciones - Bronx/Salsa. His memories of growing up in the Bronx get you hearing the music and tasting the spices. He also gets un poco sci-fi (ay, como in español? ci-fi?) with “Crotana Star Wars Ice World,” connecting with pop culture, and “Puerto Rican Earthling” in which Latino history becomes a war of the worlds. He does some of the tradition translation across the pages thing, too. It’s a fine addition to any poesía bilingüe collection.
After connecting with Emanuel Xavier via Facebook (que moderno!), he sent me an anthology he edited: Me No Habla with Acento: Contemporary Latino Poetry. As suggested with the title, the languages mix it up in the hands of more poets that I can mention here, in a lively selection of flashes of the Latino Experience. It starts with Gonzalo Casals forward, “Hyper-Hybridized Cumbiaelectronica Bachata-Hop Beats” and keeps bopping. Ci-fi emerges in Paul S. Flores’ “Santa Rosa” with the delightful recurring phrase “Chicano hormiga supernova.” And Claridad De La Luz (AKA “La Bruja”) provides an excellent addition to taurine literature with her “Matador.” Looks like Latino poetry is as sabroso as ever, rocking and rolling into a dazzling future.
These books are full of the rythms, colors, sounds, smells, and tastes -- the sensory input, if I can be geekoso -- and attitude, that make urban environments proper places for human life, and take us back to the place where languages have no borders, and words run wild through the streets. They make this Chicano Frankenstein monster feel at home. Maybe I can get that reattached limb working properly.
Ernest Hogan has been playing mad scientist. Ebooks are coming to life in his laboratory. Check with Mondo Ernesto for updates.