Showing posts with label Kermit Lopez. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kermit Lopez. Show all posts

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Like son, like father?

We at La Bloga receive so many books to review each year that we 're never able to cover them all. A year ago one snagged my interest, and I went out on a limb to suggest that Cibolero by Kermit Lopez deserved to win the Premio Aztlán Literary Prize. Apparently, the gente de Premio Aztlán paid no attention to me, but nevertheless I stand by my original post.

Six months later, following in his son's footsteps, Kermit's dad also got his novel Sirena published by IUniverse. I don't know who wrote his story first--the son or the dad--but I imagine a family dinner at this house could be worth listening in on. Do they debate which is better, more historically accurate, or more Chicano? Are there family feuds where half line up with the old man and the other half with his hijo before la comida starts flying? Or do they do a typical Chicano-family thing and never talk about that subject?

In any event, below is info on E. G. Lopez's Sirena, taken from the book itself and the publisher's website. If anyone out there has had the opportunity to read both, we'd welcome your comparative lit piece on the two. It's a sign of the current flowering in Chicano lit when two in the same family can become authors. Who knows?--maybe there's a female member of the Lopez family composing something that'll top them both.

Overview from back cover: Epic account of a New Mexico Hispanic family swept up in a clash of empires, one waning and the other ascendant. A tragic tale of parallel nations, peoples, and lovers converging nowhere this side of infinity, marching in lockstep towards disaster.

The twins see it coming. Ron and Jake Valdez, prophets without honor, hamstrung by their own demons, powerless before the juggernaut. After Guantanamo, it was easy, first baby steps, later giant steps.

Homeland Security, Patriot Act, private armies, and concentration camps. In the name of freedom, they destroyed freedom, the bright shining star imploding, devouring itself.

About the author: E. G. Lopez was born in Santa Rosa, New Mexico. He is a Navy Veteran and graduate of the Milwaukee School of Engineering, BSEE, and the University of Pittsburgh, MBA, and a retired investigator for the National Labor Relations Board. In Sirena, he focuses his experience and a 300-year New Mexico oral heritage on an issue as old as humanity that threatens the integrity and the very viability of our great nation today.

N.B.: To my recollection, neither son nor dad tend to use the word Chicano in describing themselves or their work; the use of Chicano is purely my own perspective. - RudyChG

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Cibolero by Kermit Lopez - a review

I'll start by going out on one of my habitual limbs to say I'd nominate this one for the Premio Aztlán Literary Prize. No, I don't think it's as passionately written as last year's winner, Across a Hundred Mountains by Reyna Grande, but hell, she raised the bar so high, authors are going to be scrambling for some time to catch up with her.

To quote from Kermit Lopez's website, Cibolero "is a tale of sorrow and terror, hope and triumph, set against the backdrop of 1800's New Mexico. Antonio Baca, a former cibolero, or buffalo hunter, pursues his daughter's kidnappers in Post-Civil War era New Mexico and Texas. Cibolero is a fictionalized account of the Hispanic experience before and after the conquest of the Southwest by the United States." (Go to the publisher IUniverse website for a more extensive account.)

Press like that made me want to read Cibolero; it sounded intriguing. But I confess I soon grew more intrigued by the historical references the author used to develop his story. In truth, there's such a wealth of this, the novel should more rightly be categorized as historical fiction.

Cibolero proves that you Chicanos've come a long way, Bebé. Categoried on the back cover as a "Western"--rather than some "ethnic" labeling--it's got all the elements that once accompanied John Wayne on the screen. Cowboys, Indians, horses, shoot-em-ups, cross-prairie chases--the Western culture in detail by an author who knows his history, even researching his own family's history to lace into this novel.

Anyway, as a Western it's got your bad guys, the Texas Rangers, and then your real evil bad guy, Calhoun, son of a wealthy slaveholder rancher; the hero, Antonio Baca; and the quest, to rescue his daughter Elena, Captain Travis Russell, the head of the Rangers is a mixed-up gringo with some morals who won't go along with all the rape and pillage ideas of his men and is the only thing standing between Elena and a gang-raping or two before certain death. His role raises the gringo to co-protagonist with the Hispanic Baca, something we don't usually get from raza writers. I loved that.

The whole cibolero backdrop to the novel introduced an aspect of our history I'd never known. The high plains of New Mexico, el Llano Estacado, serves as the principal scenario, adding to the novel's unique perspective. Likewise, Lopez gives us extensive insight into the plains culture, including details about the omnipresent cibolero lance used to hunt the buffalo, now destined to serve a different purpose.

Using the back-story to Antonio Baca, as a typical New Mexican Hispanic, Lopez interweaves most of the significant economic, historical and political events of this part of the Southwest. Of course, it's a story with plenty of ugly parts, some still denied by the apologists of U.S. history. Especially the parts about los pinches rinches, the Texas Rangers.

There's not many problems with this book; I found the prose, dialogue and plot enjoyable. My initial reaction to the opening was that it felt "slow," especially given how much I think I already know about New Mexico, history, etc. I finally came to the conclusion that Lopez couldn't avoid it: the pace of that writing reflects the time, place and culture he's sharing. A New Mexico tale is not something to be rushed. At least, that's my take on that.

[image courtesy of the author's website)

The only historical bone I've got to pick with Lopez is that Anglos from Texas are referred to as "Texans." Texicans is what they loved to go by before 1836 and some time after; of course, maybe it's there, and I just missed it.

Now for the bad news: Lopez's historical accuracy may be what keeps his book from reaching a wider audience. In a county where the majority don't notice that their President's WMDs wear no clothes, how popular can the truth be? Readers who read Westerns assumedly are looking for escapist literature. (Readers of historical fiction might not be so much.) Being confronted by the ugly truth of what your ancestors did to the Southwest--Mexican citizens, the indigenes, the buffalo and the land--probably won't let them escape enough to enjoy the story. I'd recommend the publishers reclassify and rewrite press about the novel to attract more an historical-fiction audience.

Okay, so the Premio Aztlán committee is probably going to ignore my opening remarks (Amazon has one reviewer who gave it five stars), but today at least you can easily purchase a "Western", some escapist literature, written by one of us. Remember the old days when you couldn't? To boot, you'll get a more realistic account of los pinches rinches than you get in Texas public schools.

Lastly about the book, several times when reading it, I had flashbacks of Tell Them Valdez Is Coming. It always bothered the holy pinche out of me that Kirk Douglas portrayed such a cowering Bob (sic!) Valdez who, yes, later became the shoot-em-up hero, but still--. Hollywood has yet to fully make that up to us, and giving Lopez an option would be a good way to start. (N.B.: the only redeeming value to that movie was Lancaster's response to what did he used to hunt: "Apache, before I knew better.")

About the author's name: I had the same questions you do: is this his nom de plume, did he legally change it, or, what were his parents smoking? That's some not-so-critical info I'd like to have seen on the author website. Also, a historical bibliography and way to contact the author would be nice. It does have a short streaming video on the book that's worth checking.

Rudy Ch. Garcia