Review: Maxine Borowsky Junge and Con Safos (staff). Voices From The Barrio, “Con Safos: Reflections of Life in the Barrio”. San Bernardino, California: [publisher not identified], 2016. Available via print on demand.
“El movimiento” is the foundation myth that satisfies a hungry need for inclusion and identity. Say the words “el movimiento,” or one of myriad terms for that period in the late 1960s and beginnings of the seventies, and evoke rich tapestries of ideas, events, and personal recollection. These memories are punctuated here and there with honored luminaries and passing personalities, triumphs and desmadres, a sense of one’s own place as part of something major.
That perception of movimiento as finite, and ended, is one of the reasons Maxine Borowsky Junge and Con Safos’, Voices From The Barrio, “Con Safos: Reflections of Life in the Barrio, belongs on every researcher’s reading list, every library history shelf, in the hands of anyone who wants to remember the movement because they were in it, woulda liked to be pero, tu sabes, or a reader of cultural history who enjoys compelling narratives of history-making events told by the makers.
Distribution being a bugaboo of independent publishers, World Cat lists two west coast libraries with copies, Cal State Channel Islands and Portland State. Amazon publishes the book on demand and ships upon payment, about thirty-two bucks.
Recounting the history of a legendary magazine during its existence between 1968 and 1970, Voices From the Barrio presents itself in a hybrid of academic analysis heavily interspersed with intimate looks and the personal voices of the magazine’s various staff configurations. It is a book on paper, not an ephemeral web presence. It’s an artifact that people can pass from hand to hand, store in physical permanence, incapable of erasure without unimaginable horror. Then again, it would probably be banned in Arizona.
Today’s information economy can create social and literary channels with a few keystrokes, a few dollars for a website, and messages become accessible by a potentially global audience. Facile experience and fragile knowledge could come of scrolling glances at hundreds of webpages a day. A book creates a different form of knowing.
The history of “old-fashioned” print media offers instructive examples for modern publishers, print or web. For raza, this history of Con Safos Magazine offers particularly useful and interesting insights into the times, the gente, the ganas, the writing, that makes C/S an important resource, a template for resistance and resisters today. Do it the right way.
Building the product, the magazine itself, models a microcosm of how movimientos come together. Structurally, the editorial hierarchy of WWII-generation editors kept a firm and flexible hold on policy. They have clear goals and standards, they hold a steady course toward goal. Both core and changing staff share a talented drive to produce worthwhile messages. Content reflected current events, indelible opposition to the war in Vietnam, multilingualism. Literature included consciousness-raising poetry and fiction, writing grew out of a rhetoric of identification. Style aimed for the sublime, for exactitude in language and a writer's sense of cultural inclusion. The C/S family figured it out as they went along but always motivated for quality. The combination of good illustration, good writing, clear logic, funny when it’s supposed to be, made Con Safos Magazine a sought-after buy in a restricted distribution network. Complete sets of the magazine are rare, and the FBI seized the final issue.
There was leadership by example—“I’m not an alcoholic, I’m a drunk” realism sealed the deal for the new literary editor; leadership by dint of qualification—the final art director, Magu, was an MFA candidate at UC Irvine; leadership by qualification—Ralph Lopez can write the pants off an essay or a memoir. C/S quoted Camus. The originators share a clear sense of vision even as the vision created itself from the raw materials of everyday life and politics. Being-in-becoming is one definition of movimiento sensibility.
|Frank Sifuentes, Alurista, Oscar Acosta in 1973|
Borowsky Junge doesn’t pull punches to guard against remembered hurts and newly injured pride. She calls out that gender imbalance. She relates how Frank Sifuentes’ folky story-telling couldn’t get past the editor and Pancho didn't get published in C/S. He found an audience with technology; a short time before he died, Frank began podcasting his stories. He beamed with pride when the organizers of the 2010 reunion floricanto at USC included him to read on the first, Veteranas Veteranos day of readings.
There’s a profundity about this history and what Con Safos Magazine stands for and comes out of. Some of the writers and editors crossed over, qepd, but there’s a healthy lot of them still breathing. Borowsky Junge’s interviews bring their voices before today's audience.
Voices From the Barrio includes a generous set of excerpts from Lopez’ memoir, “Running With The Brown Buffalo. Roaming The Heights Of Lincoln Heights With Oscar Acosta, AKA ‘Zeta’ Circa 1968-1975.” On other pages, readers find sterling exemplars of Chicana Chicano arte, fiction and essays, poetry from rrsalinas’ “A Trip Through the Mind Jail,” some gems from Sergio Hernandez’Arnie and Porfi cartoon.
The set of oral histories that form the heart of the volume inform a conclusion that C/S Magazine owed its popularity not simply to C/S being the first independent Chicano literary magazine—anyone can publish a magazine--but more because the persona of the magazine and the distinctiveness of its voices resonated with readers. Its creators were, as the book title says, from the barrio.
The people who put together the magazine weren’t in publishing for the money but their mutually created and nurtured message. In McLuhanesque language popular during the era, C/S was cool media, C/S involved multiple senses simultaneously engaged—touch, vision, graphics, and identification. This characterizes physical media. But for Con Safos Magazine there is an enhanced dimension: raza sought out and remember C/S because it pierced deep into the corazones of their cultural being.
Voices From The Barrio, “Con Safos: Reflections of Life in the Barrio” is a magnum opus. Three hundred eighty-seven pages accompanied with vii pages of Forward by Jesus Treviño, five pages of useful Preface by Borowski Junge, some footnotes, no indexing. Sadly the printed copy I received from Sergio Hernandez reflects compromises between heft and paper quality. Illustrations work fine as line art but photographaphs, fine work by Oscar Castillo for example, remain flat on the coarse grain looking like box camera snapshots without snap. Voices From The Barrio, “Con Safos: Reflections of Life in the Barrio”is available via print on demand. Maybe a buyer can upgrade to coated stock and hope the image files are equal to the images.
I know several of the people interviewed here and they are cool people. I would love to have been part of the phenomenon of writing and publishing Con Safos Magazine when I was growing up. But I was in Isla Vista or the Army then. Ni modo. Fans of the sixties will get a kick out this insider's view of the popular magazine.
I know for sure I would have been overjoyed to get copies of Con Safos Magazine while I was on duty on a Korean mountaintop at the heyday of the magazine. It is the stuff dreams are made on. Come to think on it, there are lots of gente around who need some of those dreams right now. If you can’t go home again to re-assemble a Con Safos Magazine renaissance, reading its history is satisfying and edifying. “We” did this once and we can do it again.
Visit Jesus Treviño's Latinopia for video of various C/S tipos and Hernandez' revivified Arnie & Porfi cartoons. Jimmy Velarde, Diane Hernandez' brother, nears completion of his film of this vital history. La Bloga will share details when available.
Related Reading: Notable New Books
Mestizos Come Home! Making and Claiming Mexican American Identity. By Robert Con Davis-Undiano. Norman: U of Oklahoma Press, 2017.
Independent presses and academic presses are becoming the last, and first, refuge of razacentric books. Case in point is the Chicana & Chicano Visions of the Américas series published by the University of Okahoma Press.
The newest title in the series is Mestizos Come Home! Making and Claiming Mexican American Identity by Robert Con Davis-Undiano.
California born and schooled, Davis is a graduate of Cal State East Bay (Hayward State) and UC Davis.
Per the publisher, the book "focuses on defining, confronting, and contesting [the terms] 'Mexican American and mestizo.'"
Examining six areas of cultural and social change since the 1960s, including the rise of chicanismo in literature and academic fields of study, Mestizos Come Home! sounds like an ideal companion to a reading of the history of Con Safos Magazine.
This is a newly revised and expanded edition of the classic 1989 collection of essays about Aztlán. Another academic accompaniment to understanding movimiento and useful adjunct to a reading of Voices From the Barrio.
The publisher, University of New Mexico Press, shares a book blurb from La Bloga friend, Roberto Cantu, who observes, "As a symbol for political action, a place of spiritual plentitude, or as a challenge to transcend ethnic borders, Aztlán emerges throughout these essays as one of the Chicano Movement's fundamental ideological constructs. This volume will be of interest to students and critics concerned with the understanding and comprehensive reconstruction of one of the Chicano cultural emblems of the late 1960s. Given the present emphasis in Chicano studies on discourse analysis and critique of ideologies, this volume is a contribution to Chicano cultural criticism."