Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Review: Lunar Braceros 2125-2148.

Rosaura Sánchez and Beatrice Pita. Lunar Braceros 2125-2148. San Diego: Calaca Press, 2009.
ISBN 978-0-9843359-0-9

Michael Sedano

Just as U.S. imaginative culture begins shifting its focus from the undead world of blood-sucking vampires to yet-to-be-born sci-fi worlds, along comes Rosaura Sánchez and Beatrice Pita’s Lunar Braceros.

Standing at the forefront of this shifting literary interest, Lunar Braceros not only numbers among the very few Chicana Chicano sci-fi fantasies, the novel also flies against the wind of other-worldly super warriors and 3D special effects.

The braceros of the title, Lydia and Frank, are grunts, nothing fancy. Like their 20th century namesakes, tomorrow’s braceros are being ripped off by their employers behind promises of building a better life. The couple labors on the moon burying nuclear and toxic wastes ferried into space from a dreadfully dystopic earth. Unlike the braceros of 1950s U.S. agriculture--who were Mexican migrants--Lunar Braceros come from the chronically unemployed residents of Cali-Texas. In their time, gente unable to support themselves within the norms of surrounding culture become wards of the Cali-Texas state and are shunted off to large prison compounds, like the Fresno Reservation where Lydia comes from.

The future, according to the authors, will be just like the past, only worse. Much worse. Political power will split along a bicoastal axis. The eastern US coast will align with Europe. The western US will align with China while extending its geographical hegemony south, gobbling up most of Mexico and points south as far as Colombia.

In one sense, the future sees the fruition of today’s drive for diversity and inclusion. Power is as likely to reside in the hands of a brown-skinned person as an anglo. Conscienticization does not accompany such access. Vendidismo does. Society’s dregs—the residents of the closely guarded reservations--are much more likely to be brown, black, and asian than not. Los de abajo—“cholos” in the language of the res--are also the typical bracero working the lunar mines and hazmat bunkers. In their world, people imprisoned on the res can be bought free if an outsider can deposit sufficient cash in a bank.

Sánchez and Pita tell their story using a variety of voices. The narrative builds upon chunks of recorded text. One moment transcribes a home movie. Another text chunk reads like a fugitive’s letter to the folks back home. Another paragraph intrudes a narrator filling in the historical blanks for the reader, as a way to sustain the central plot and build the authors’ fantasy world. Text style signals the switches, bolded sans-serif, then italics, then standard serifed font signals the various voices. In addition, each voice chunk is separated by a typographical “bug” suggesting phases of the moon from dark to full. Line art by Mario A. Chacon provides some eye candy visual variety from all those text shifts.

Lydia and Frank are members of the third set of braceros sent to the moon on multiyear contracts promising rich bank accounts upon return to earth. They stumble across a hazmat container filled with mummies, including Frank’s brother. In this fashion the braceros learn their employer has killed the earlier crews instead of returning them home. So much for dreams of buying their families off the reservations.

Their employer keeps workers under constant surveillance. Lydia and Frank use sign language, Spanish, and Caló to organize the workers into a life-saving mutiny. Once returned to earth, they go on the run from vengeful authorities. The letters and other media fragments constructing the narration are Lydia’s consejos to the son she left behind on earth, hoping he’ll be able to use the truth of lunar bracero exploitation to understand his place growing up parentless in his merciless world.

If Lunar Braceros sounds a bit experimental that’s because it comes from San Diego’s legendary Calaca Press. Calaca, and owners Consuelo and Brent Beltran, champion spoken word, chapbooks, and new writers. As an independent publisher, Calaca enjoys the liberty of publishing work because it is interesting not because it will make a ton of money. It’s doubtful Lunar Braceros will attract a wide audience of book of the month club NYTimes best-sellers readers. And, it’s fair to say, Sánchez and Pita’s writing isn’t ready for a Pulitzer yet. Readers of Chicana Chicano literature, however, will probably enjoy the heck out of the way this novel twists ugly contemporary trends into a hellish cartoon.

As Donald Rumsfeld might have said if he were a reader of novels, you read the novel you get, not the novel you wish you’d gotten. Still, I would like to have seen less exposition and fantasy historicizing and more action.

The authors take the internal colony model as their starting point in fashioning their 22d century’s dominant culture. Rather than enclaves like East Los or Barrio Logan, Sánchez and Pita predict the reservation system, where all now see themselves as cholos. Today’s vendidos and vencidos are tomorrow’s consumers of the fruits of all labor, the price of assimilation into the coldly merciless mainstream. As Lunar Braceros concludes, events imply a revolution on the way. Lydia has disappeared into the unwashed masses of San Tijuana, her son intending to make his way north to join his family and his mother’s struggle.

Sánchez and Pita suggest rather make a serious argument. Assimilation is an intimately crucial proposition for gente today. What are you willing to give up, to join? Future raza is as bloodthirsty and cruel as any other hegemonist—though perhaps in their own defense they might prefer to describe themselves as equally unfair. After all, if people are unable to support the entire family in the free economy, the whole kit and kaboodle gets shipped off to a reservation, to be cholos and exist completely on the generosity of the free and equal.

Rosaura Sánchez and Beatrice Pita, I think, give in too easily to the pessimism that characterizes so much movimiento literature. But such pessimism makes for a richly imaginative, juicy tale in Lunar Braceros, so I’ll take what I got. This time.

Interesting Roundtable on English-speaking Writers Choosing to Write in Spanish

La Bloga friend Santiago Vaquera-Vasquez alerts readers and writers to a discussion conducted in the February 2010 issue of Believer Magazine. The following paragraph introduces the rountable as well as the subject:

I wanted to talk about the most basic tool that writers utilize—language—with two artists uniquely situated to understand its significance. For most of us, the language we work in is a matter of circumstance, not choice; our language is an inheritance, an accident of the time and place of our birth, the education we were given or subjected to, the country we or our parents emigrated to. Eduardo Halfon and Santiago Vaquera-Vásquez, two fluent, native English speakers raised in the United States, have both chosen Spanish as their literary language; something that I’ll admit struck me at first as crazy. I mean, isn’t writing fiction hard enough already?

Their discussion continues--in English--raising questions of audience, identity, marketability, accessibility of other-than-English writing by Latinas Latinos writing in the EUA. As the roundtable winds down it boils down--is that the best phrase?--to ruminations on the national language of las chicanas los chicanos:

DA: The idea of national languages is pretty archaic; after all, these are rather arbitrary bits of history—accidents, really. And I wonder: is the concept of native language outdated at this point?

SV: I often introduce myself to my classes as an unrepentant Spanglish speaker. When I first started writing in Spanish, I tried to pay close attention to maintaining a “proper”—domesticated—Spanish, but as I’ve continued to write I find myself moving away from this notion of a “proper” language. Spanglish is, in the eyes of some, a malcriado language. Undomesticated. A tongue-tied language. But if that is my language—after all, I grew up with a wild forked tongue, speaking and mixing Spanish and English constantly—then a malcriado I will be.

EH: I don’t know if the concept of a native language is outdated, but I do find very interesting that the three of us—each one in his own particular way, of course—is somehow searching for that native language through writing. And here I don’t mean native language as merely a system of words, but rather native language with all of its complex social and political and historical implications, native language as origins, as roots, as tradition, as family, as childhood, even, as something good and noble and peaceful that, I believe, is still tucked away somewhere deep within us. Maybe that’s why we write. To get back to that irredeemable place. To recover, through language, our paradise lost.

That's half of February 2010's Tuesdays, a Tuesday like any other Tuesday, except You Are Here. Thank you for visiting La Bloga. See you next week.

It's highly unlikely you'll browse across Lunar Braceros on your local brick and mortar bookseller's shelves. Ask them to order your copies, help create demand that could pull additional titles onto the shelves. Both your local indie bookseller, or you en propria persona, can order directly from Calaca Press' distributor, SPD, priced at $15.00. Finally, you can place an order at one of the internet-based booksellers that make a profit on shipping, and want to kill your local brick and mortar shop. And so it goes.


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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Such a horrible review of a great and necessary novel. It is unfortunate that the reviewer limits the sci-fi genre down to mere action and entertainment. Sci-fi is one of our most important genres because it speaks to our current moment. Sanchez and Pita are asking the reader to be informed about our current economic situation. When so many of us are living pay check to pay check to pay off debt that is 3 or more years old, we are already the wage-less class.

Lunar Braceros is an important text that doesn't offer a rosey picture of the world, but is rather in your face with our current reality and very possible near future. I enjoy teaching this novel immensely and my students have for the last year, since its publication, walked away more informed.