by Ernest Hogan
Most Chicanos – pochos – don't know Mexico. Our blood connections to native tribes was cut off and forgotten long ago, for various reasons, not the least of which is the painful process of learning how to get along in the U.S.A. It's hard to trace your roots while you're being watched by folks who think you're going to suddenly start raping, stabbing and dealing drugs.
Chicano Studies helps, but often gets all tangled up in its own issues. I personally, find myself compelled to read, travel and otherwise search for my roots. It's an obsession that has me writing Neo-Aztecan Chicano Sci-Fi, and other anomalies.
Now and then I find a book that helps. One is Unknown Mexico: A Record of Five Years' Exploration Among the Tribes of the Western Sierra Madre; In the Tierra Caliente of the Tepic and Jalisco; Among the Tarascos of Michoacan by Carl Lumholtz, M.A., member of the Society of Sciences of Norway, Associé Étranger de la Société de l'Anthropolgie de Paris.
Sí, sí, it's a five-year mission – from March, 1894 to March, 1897 -- to seek out new life, and new civilizations . . . in Mexico.
Not just a great book about Mexico, it's a good source for what a Jules Verne/steampunk scientific expedition would be like, with lots of psychedelic western material – some of the earliest, first hand accounts of the effects of peyote among the Tarahumara, the Huichol, and other tribes. The myths, monsters and superstitions reminded me of my family.
Lumholtz, whose life's work was “the study of savage and barbaric races,” is a good “alien” observer. He lacks an American's preconceived notions about Mexico and Mexicans. But this isn't just keen, high-resolution scientific reportage – because of the subject matter, things often are like magic realism: he has to fight rumors that he is a traveling cannibal, and that his camera is a demon.
And there are lines like, “Every shaman has a tame rattlesnake in his house . . .”
Also, after years of living among “savage and barbaric” people, Lumholtz, concludes that, “Primitive people as they are they taught me a new philosophy of life, for their ignorance is nearer to the truth than our prejudice.”
Volume 1, as an illustrated ebook, is available from Gutenberg. I could only find Volume 2 on Internet Archive, as an unedited scan, but I was hooked, and read and enjoyed it anyway. Physical editions are available, and I'm lusting after both volumes. This book not only helps with the Great Chicano Identity Crisis, but is a gold mine of material to a writer of fantastic fiction.
Not to mention the rasquache joie de weird that is part of it all.
Ernest Hogan's NeoAztecan Chicano Sci-Fi classic High Aztech will be out in a new edition soon. Also watch for his “Chicanonautica Manifesto” in Aztlán.