My awakening to my Chicano identity happened years before the Chicano Moratorium. It happened at a drive-in movie theater, triggered by a spaghetti western, called A Bullet for the General, also known as El Chuncho Quien Sabe?
I wasn’t a big fan of the horse operas from Italy back then. As a kid who grew up on the Roy Rogers and Lone Ranger TV shows, they seemed fake. I remember my reaction to Old Shatterhand -- an adaptation of the German writer Karl May’s novel -- was, “Those ain’t Apaches! Haven’t these people seen any John Wayne movies?”
Later, I realized that the Wild West was myth rather than history. Hollywood’s West, where Utah stands in for Texas, is just as phony as Italy’s where the Mediterranean plays Aztlán. Even now, in the 21st century, the myth is mutating . . .
But back in 1966, A Bullet for the General won me over with its delirious, non-stop action, and Gian Maria Volonté as El Chuncho.
There was also Klaus Kinski as Santo (!), the monk who wears crossed bandoliers and a sombrero over his robes, who did a sensational sign of the cross punctuated with hand-grenades:
“In the name of the Father!” BLAM! “And the Son!” BLAM! “And the Holy Ghost!” BLAM! That planted the seeds of creative blasphemy in my developing sensibilities.
English actress Martine Beswick, brownfaced as the sexy revoltuionary woman Aldelita, made an impression on my youthful libido.
But it was Volonté -- who was fresh from shooting it out with Clint Eastwood in both A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More -- as the powerfully heroic rebel chief, El Chuncho, charging into and cheating certain death, that stole the show. He’s everything that every wannabe revolutionary dreams of becoming.
El Chuncho wasn’t a simple superhero. He had flaws -- he is played by the pretty-boy, blond, gringo mercenary who ends up assassinating the general.
But ultimately he sees the light, and he had the last word -- or rather fires the last bullet, and goes dancing down the train tracks.
I’m reminded of the words of Chester Himes, “. . . all unorganized violence is like a blind man with a pistol.” In the end, this pistolero sees and becomes organized, no longer a mere bandido, but a true revolutionary, and therefore truly dangerous.
After that, my father bought some Charro Avitia records that he would play around the house and take to tribal gatherings at my Grandparents' house. Hearing those songs of revolution and love of firearms reminded me of El Chuncho.
Before seeing El Chuncho I would be insulted when people called me a Mexican. I was born in L.A.! I was an American, dammit! But if being a Mexican meant being like El Chuncho -- hey, that wasn’t bad.
I still wondered why they kept doubting my American citizenship. And why some would like me to go around showing my “papers” everywhere I go. Seems I needed El Chuncho’s attitude if I was going to survive in a world where lawmakers see my skin color and my ancestors as a threat.
Ernest Hogan has been going over his novel Smoking Mirror Blues, getting it ready for release as an ebook, like Cortez on Jupiter. Meanwhile, High Aztech is waiting in the wings . . .