Saturday, August 07, 2010

Interview 1 - Ernest Hogan: charla with the most-unknown Chicano author

In a spring 2010 La Bloga post I mentioned Ernest Hogan, author of Cortez on Jupiter, a 1990 science fiction novel that "treats its Chicano protagonist in the way a Chicano would write it." I threatened to do an interview of Hogan, even though I tend to get out of sync and fall into gonzoismos. If you want to read regular interviews of Hogan, go here or here.

Entonces, Hogan had two novels (Cortez and High Aztech) picked up by Ben Bova's Discovery Series from publisher Tor. If you don't know about Ben Bova and Tor, you're no sci-fi reader, but FYI Tor is huge corporate publisher of spec lit. So 20 years ago Hogan broke into the spec fiction market in a big way. La cosa es, the vato's a Chicano.

I read Cortez years ago and dug the holymadre out of it. In years, what I found were Anglo sci-fi readers who knew of Hogan but didn't know he was Chicano. Al otro lado, I found NO Chicano literati who knew about him or his books. When I got in touch with Hogan, I told him I'd thought he was dead.

He responded: "Now and then I find these 'What ever happened to Ernest Hogan?' things online. Guess I have some work to do."

While Ernesto works on re-informing the sci-fi world he's not dead, I'm working on informing the Chicano world that we've had a 'mano we could have been proud of and reading, for the last 20 years, but we just didn't know about him. Truism: "Chicanos don't read sci-fi", so that's why they don't know about Hogan? That could be a topic for another time or conference.

When you learn how Hogan plays with Spanish, Spanglish, Náhautl, when you hear how he worked the immigration issue in far-futuristic stories, when you read about his crazy vato-heros playing god with the universe, you might forget "Chicanos don't read sci-fi" and try to win the autographed copy of Cortez on Jupiter we're giving away next Sat. To enter, send us an Email with the answer to the question below. If you win, we'll contact you for surface mail info. In the meantime . . .

Charla/Interview Text:

RG: First, 'Nesto--if it's alright to call you that--tell La Bloga readers about yourself, your background, and answer the BIG question: were you the first Chicano SciFi writer, or at least, first notable one?

EH: I answer to 'Nesto, Ernesto, Ernie and Ernest. I was born in East L.A., and my family moved down the San Bernardino Freeway to West Covina before I enrolled in kindergarten. A lot of our neighbors were Chicanos. The Irish surname comes from an Irishman who jumped ship in San Francisco and wound up in New Mexico in the days of Billy the Kid. As far as I'm concerned, if you add something to a mestizo mix, you just become more mestizo. And I am not related to Ernest Hogan, Father of Ragtime.

I'd really like to say that I was the 1st Chicano Science Fiction writer, but I'm not sure. Back in the pulp days, Jewish writers were often forced to use Anglo pseudonyms, so who knows? When Norman Spinrad reviewed Cortez on Jupiter for Asimov's, he assumed I was an Anglo. I wrote the magazine declaring, "I AM A CHICANO!" That was in the December 1991 issue, and Isaac Asimov commented, "Now if we can only get used to thinking of cultural varieties as different, but not unequal. . ."

I guess that makes me the first science fiction writer to call himself a Chicano.

RG: Okay, maybe you've established your Genuine Chicano-born green card legitimacy--assuming nobody obamas you for a birth certificate--

EH: Funny about my birth certificate. It lists my mother as "Mexican"--even though she was also born in East L.A., and my father as "White"--even though he would proudly clinch his fists and say, "This is how I proved I was a Mexican." Bureaucracies--they never get things right. But then, to be Chicano, Latino, etc. is to live wondering when your citizenship is going to be called into question.

RG: I gotta go back a bit . . . You say you're father called himself Mexican, but had an Irish name. According to history, some Irish who settled in Mexico, including the SW before 1845, enlisted with Mexico against the gringo invasion. Any chance your family roots trace back to one of them joining the Brigada San Patricio?

EH: It would be cool to claim my family went back that far, but these people sneaking into the Wild West didn't keep records, so our history tends to be . . . undocumented. The story my father would tell has my great-great grandfather arriving via San Francisco in time to be in New Mexico for the Lincoln County War, and ride in a posse after Billy the Kid. Another grandfather, with a Spanish name, was on the Kid's jury. I guess I need to grill my sister who has done the research on this and do a "Mi Familia v. Billy the Kid" essay.

RG: So 'Nesto, where the chingaus'd you get the idea of putting a Chicano in a sci-fi novel? Didn't you worry it'd get turned down by publishers for appealing to too narrow of an audience? Were you even hoping any barrio boy would ever buy or read it?

EH: Believe it or not, I didn't really think about it at the time. I was more interested in publishing a first novel, period. I first sent Ben Bova a far-future space opera for his Discoveries Series (Tor was looking for new writers at the time). He said the head honcho at Tor was a very conservative man, who wasn't beyond burying a book if he didn't like it, and my space opera had what Bova described as "unconventional sex" in it. When Bova offered to look at another proposal, I went into a panic because I didn't have one. Fortunately, I had just sold a story called Guerrilla Mural of A Siren's Song to Pulphouse: The Hardback Magazine (Summer 1989, #4) that was Pablo Cortez's adventures in a nutshell. I proposed it as Cortez on Jupiter. I wanted to write a Chicano science fiction novel, saw the chance, and took it. Granted, I probably got away with it because I sold it as science fiction, not Chicano. Maybe they didn't notice until it was too late.

And yes, I was hoping hermanos in the barrio would read it. I've gotten reaction from many barrios. And not just my family spreading the world in SoCal. I got letters saying "This is the first time I've seen these words my family uses every day in print!" At conventions and book signings, brown kids would ask "Did YOU write this book?" And when I said yes, something lit up in their eyes. I was trying to build a bridge from the barrio to the stars, even though some science fiction fans found the Spanglish hard to understand.

RG: 'Nesto, even though your works have received international acclaim, at the AWP conference this year, I asked Chicano authors whether they knew of you and your books. Nada. That told me you're probably the most unknown Chicano writer, even as far as the Chicano reading world knows.

EH: The Unknown Chicano writer? I guess it's because I've always published in sci-fi or other strange venues. From what I can tell, the Chicano reading world is a new thing that I've got to make contact with. Unfortunately, I'm more of pulp fiction than a ethnic studies kind of guy.

RG: Yeah, there were a lot of ethnic studies/university types at the AWP. I thought it was just me, but I wasn't the only one feeling out of place, in a sense. Here's what AWP panelist Mario Acevedo, pulpy vampiro author, said about that: "I'm glad to be invited anywhere but jail. Other than that, I'm not the upper crust of anything so if I go some place like AWP, I don't expect anyone to kiss my ass. Collegiate Chicano authors are academics and they act no different than gabacho academics, who generally look down their noses at genre authors. As a genre author, I'm proud of my work, am grateful I got published, and will continue to work hard at being the best writer I can be." (per Mario Acevedo)

Now, contrast that to a La Bloga post review of the Camino del Sol anthology, where Rigoberto González said, "There is no 'one way' to shape identity or express it, no 'one way' to write as a Chicano/Latino writer in terms of language, subject matter or sensibility."

Dan Olivas then asks: "But does this diversity of voices threaten to split writers into separate and insular literary camps? Rigoberto González doesn't see such diversity as a threat. In fact, he views it as "a strength, accepting and encouraging our artistic differences, because it will help us come together and move forward in solidarity, especially during these hostile times."

RG: Don't get me wrong; I loved the AWP conference, meeting and talking with the authors, the Negras (Modelos) and fish tacos. Pretty much everybody was friendly. But what's ironic to me--and maybe Mario--is, where's the carnalismo our gente's famous for?
Okay, 'Nesto, what do you want to add here?

EH: I’ve been living Mario Acevedo’s experience of being looked down on by academics, both Chicano and gabacho, since I was in high school in the early Seventies. Coming from a long line of renegades, I was more interested in comic books and monster movies than “literature” that was usually pre-packaged in New York or London. I wanted to be a cartoonist before I settled on writing. I was never a teacher’s pet. It was in the weird fringes of science fiction where people were willing to take chances on me. Literary journals thought I was too slick.

A Latino magazine that doesn’t exist anymore informed me that “we aren’t interested in science fiction” when I sent them review copies of my novels--chicas bellydancing in Florida were more their speed.

I do agree with Rigoberto González that there is no one way to be a “Chicano/Latino” writer. Dan Olivas needs to realize that Latinos are a large, diverse group. The term Latin America was coined by the French, out of their vision of an American empire with a Francophone elite--this means Quebec, Haiti, and Brazil are Latino. Most of the people of Las Américas are Latino. We are far bigger and more diverse than the Anglo minority. We are always discovering--and creating new identities, new ways to live. It’s what I write about.

I don’t worry about splinter groups--as long as they give each other space and keep communicating with each other. The gente in the barrio next door, doing things different than your abuelos--maybe you can learn something from it. Don’t try to get them deported.

This reminds me of Satellite Spanish and the Global Barrio. Since the 80s, Spanish language TV networks have been getting beamed all over the Western Hemisphere. Before that, Chicanos from L.A. couldn’t understand people from Texas or Puerto Rico, and you could forget about Spain or South America. Now Telenovela Spanish is becoming the lingua franca of the New World. We still have our local culturas, but they can be broadcast from Alaska to Tierra Del Fuego. Kinda ciencia-ficción, ey?

RG: Speaking of language, your books Cortez on Jupiter and High Aztech are based in two different demasiado loco azteco-español vocabularies. Like colatl for cola, monotl for mono. Before I jump all over your colatl for some of the liberties you took with mi otro idioma, could you explain to readers the two approaches and how they're integral to the chicanismo of your novels?

EH: As a recombocultural mutant, I consider mangling languages part of the job.

The Cortez on Jupiter Spanglish is a futuristic version of my own native SoCal Spanglish--an example of what happens when languages go wild and start developing without schoolmarms to keep everybody in line. Yeah, I was deliberately using unconventional spellings to suggest quirky pronunciation, and ignoring proper grammar. These days, we’re probably seeing such things developing in places like Connecticut and Alabama.

The Españauhatl of High Aztech came from my study of the Aztecs, and my running across a book about aztecismos--words from Náhuatl and other native languages that have become part of Mexican Spanish. “Ticmotraspasarhuililis” was a direct steal. I was amazed that words I’ve grown up with like chichis and nalgas are from the Aztecs. Just what language did I speak before they sent me to school? I must admit, I may have overdone it, gone native in the world I created. When Ben Bova asked me to make a glossary for High Aztech, I was amazed at what I had done. Most of these words were spontaneous, though sometimes I would generate something to take the place of contemporary slang. I also wracked my brains to write it all so that the reader didn’t necessarily have to know all those words when encountering them for the first time--like traveling to a strange land, picking up and figuring things out as you go.

Pablo Cortez didn’t recognize the borders between languages. Xolotl Zapata (High Aztech) lived in a rapidly changing environment, processing new information, and becoming fluent in it as he goes along. These are both very Chicano ways of doing things--my way of doing things. Those who insist on only reading easy-to-understand prose tailored to their background and experience are not going to understand when the future turns their world inside out.
fin parte 1

Part II of the Charla-Interview continues next week (if I'm still an unemployed teacher) when someone will win an autographed copy of High Aztech. To win Cortez on Jupiter, send me an Email [rDoTchDOTgarcia@cyboxDoTcom] with the full names of three of Ernesto's protagonists. We'll draw a winner from those with correct answers. But if you want to leave comments about this Charla-Interview, please do so here.

all drawings by Ernest Hogan
(an even more unknown artist?)

Es todo, hoy


msedano said...

what a grandelotl introduction to the vato. thanx for this.


Thania said...

Thanks Rudy for this great interview.
I'm going to spread this post as chisme.

Annette Leal Mattern said...

Rudy, how nice to meet Ernesto through your eyes. Makes me wish I were a fly on the wall when you two sat down to talk. Great article. Can't wait to read his work. Chicano Sci-fi...who knew???

Anonymous said...

Great interview. I'm a big fan of Ernest Hogan's work and hope part two of this interview will cover his third novel Smoking Mirror Blues which really throws a non-anglo spanner into post cyberpunk beat SF. It's partly the mashed up vocabulary but also the exuberance of Hogan's ideas that lead me to describe him as Hi-NRG SF.
Kev Mcveigh

durioste said...

Rudy, Thanks for posting this. Excellent work! Look forward to the 2nd part. BTW, a manito writer by the name of Arthur Tenorio published a SiFi novel by the name of Blessing From above in 1971. Lomeli &n I did a brief review of the work in or Chicano Perspectives in Literature bibliography in 1976. Saludos de
Donaldo Urioste