Sunday, January 29, 2012

Guest Columnist: Sonia Gutiérrez

José Inés García “The Modern Troubadour”: Derailed—the PoliticKs of American Literature 

Sonia Gutiérrez

“As we looked at other anthologies of poetry, covering this period in American  poetry, we found ourselves, both as poets and readers, dissatisfied with much of what we saw.”      
                                 —Twentieth-century American Poetry

“Why do we not read translated texts,” I asked as I remembered the books listed on the syllabus—all novels and one memoir—all written in English. Passages from Tomás Rivera’s novel, . . .y no se lo tragó la tierra/. . .And the Earth Did Not Devour Him, wisped through my mind rapidly.  “American Literature must be written in English” was the quick response that pushed my tongue back—an answer that has haunted me for years. I now revert back to my infamous childhood question “¿por qué?” to understand a metaphorical derailment but not an accidental derailment of literature instead the type that is caused by an American literary tradition.

His contemporaries, Carl Sandburg, Amy Lowell, and Wallace Stevens, appear in the Twentieth-century American Poetry but not José Inés García. The 2011 first edition of The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature does not include the work of José Inés García either; nevertheless, the anthology does include the poetry of Williams Carlos Williams (Sedano). If you do an Internet search of poet José Inés García, you will not find him, prior to September 18, 2011, that is. Who was this poet who called himself “The Modern Troubadour,” and why did I not learn about García in my American literature classes?

Professor and author Dr. Manuel M. Martín-Rodríguez introduced the work of this poet unbeknownst to many readers—José Inés García—on his University of California Merced’s literary webpage Alternative Publications last year.

Native of Chasimal, New Mexico, José Inés García  was born in the nineteenth-century on January 21, 1871. By 1894, at the age of 23, he was an editor for La Cronica in Mora, New Mexico. In Trinity, Colorado, he also worked as an editor for El Progreso and Casimiro Barela’s press. In 1914, José Inés García and J.T. Maestas founded El Faro, and shortly after in 1915, José Inés García became the official owner of El Faro, which served both as a press and bookstore. Astonishingly, according to his biographer, Erminio Jesús Martínez, José Inés García was also a matter-of-factly blind.

Even with José Inés García’s distinct literary career and poetic voice, the American literary canon derailed a poet whose poems show dexterity and a penchant for the vernacular. In the United States, English Only politics haunt writers whose work is written in Spanish even though languages know no borders. Defining American as a literature that “must [exclusively] be written in English” excludes non-English literature and languages that are “American” by birth. And I do wonder what lettered gems have gone unnoticed to the derailment of belles lettres?

Unfortunately, an English Only Americanism has excluded José Inés García and other writers and poets from riding on elitist literary tracks. Decades later, similarly to García, Tomás Rivera, American by birth, was a poet, educator, novelist, essayist, chancellor, who wrote both in English and Spanish. Rivera’s American novel, y no se lo tragó la tierra, was written in Spanish but often does not make into American literature classes because his novel was written in Spanish. For this reason, Rivera’s novel can be found tucked in Spanish or Chican@ literature classes, away from mainstream literature.

Although José Inés García’s books are difficult to locate due to unaccounted historicity, Dr. Martín-Rodríguez provided readers with José Inés García’s poems written in Spanish including “Un lenguaje extraño” (“A Strange Language”), “Me casé sin reflejar” (“I Got Married without Thinking”), “Para mi amigo Panadero” (“For My Friend the Baker”), “Un indito en su jacal” (A Little Indian in His Hut), and “Canción de Cuca” (“Song of Cuca”) to name a few. What follow are José Inés García’s “Canción de Cuca” and “Song of Cuca,” respectively.

Canción de Cuca

                               Obsequio para la Srita. Lydia Mendoza

Salí de Cuba para Pachuca
En una barca que yo compré,
Y a una gacela de nombre Cuca
En las riberas me la encontré
Y Buenos Días le dije luego
Y Buenos Días me respondió,
¿De quién la barca color de cielo?
Es mía, mía, repuse yo.

Qué hermosa barca, qué hermosa barca,
Me dijo ella y suspiró,
Si usted se embarca, si usted se embarca,
En ella misma me embarco yo.
Yo bien quisiera y no quisiera,
Porque sus padres y qué dirán,
Que vino un joven de Tierra Fuera
Y se la llevó como el gavilán.

No tengo padres, no tengo hermanos
Y ni parientes que me echen menos,
Con esos brazos, con estas manos
Manejaremos muy bien los remos.
Si este es el caso, querida Cuca,
Ven a la barca y subiremos
Y ante viaje para Pachuca
De nuestra dicha platicaremos.

Song of Cuca

A Gift for Miss Lydia Mendoza

I left Cuba for Pachuca
On a boat that I bought
And a gazelle the name of Cuca
On the shores I found
And Good Morning I then said
And Good Morning she responded
Whose boat the color of sky?
It’s mine, mine, replied I

What beautiful boat, what beautiful boat,
She told me and sighed
If you embark, if you embark,
On its very self I will board too
I would like that and not
Because of your parents and what people will say
That a young lad came from Foreign Land
And took her like a hawk

I don’t have parents, I don’t have brothers
Nor relatives that will miss me
With those arms, with these hands
We will manage the oars very well
If this is the case, dear Cuca
Come to the boat, and we’ll board
And on voyage to Pachuca
Of our good fortune we will talk.

(Translation By Sonia Gutiérrez)

José Inés García’s “Canción de Cuca” captures the romantic innocence emblematic of popular culture, specifically the ethos of classic Mexican love songs, such as “A la orilla de un palmar” (“Near a Palm Grove”) and “Soy un pobre venadito” (I’m a Poor Little Deer”)—songs that I inherited and learned to love and cherish in the USA.

Clearly deserving a place in canonized literature, José Inés García should be included in future editions of The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature. And the canonizers must revisit Americanisms that skew American readers’ perceptions of the world. The Spanish language is historically, among many native languages including Zuni, Lakota, Shoshoni and hundreds more, an inextricable part of the United States of America’s history and literature, both geographically and linguistically.

Translators with no doubt in my mind will translate the poems of José Inés García poems for readers to feast. That is in fact how we have inherited the literature of the world: David’s fearless slingshot, Medusa’s waving head, Rainer Maria Rilke’s encaged panther—if only by translation. And when train freights, heavy with time and the same repackaged merchandise, make it to their final destinations, starving readers will look elsewhere with a longing to see themselves reflected similar to how Tomás Rivera ends his novel. In the precise diction of Rivera’s translator, Evangelina Vigil-Piñón, Rivera captures an act of love and acceptance: "[S]he even raised one arm and waved it back and forth so that the other could see that [s]he knew he was there."

¡José Inés García bienvenido!

Sonia Gutiérrez is a poet and Professor of English at Palomar College in San Marcos Califas. For notes and references contact Ms. Gutiérrez via the Comments below or this email.