Thursday, December 06, 2012

Chicanonautica: Latino Writing in the Dark Ages

Manuel Ramos’ post, “Golden Age for Writers?” got me thinking. Rudy Ch. Garcia’s “If not the Golden Age of latino writing, no importa” made me feel that I had to say a few things about the subject. After all, I’ve had such a long and glorious career . . .

Back in the Seventies, in the wake of the Chicano Movement no one encouraged me to become a writer. Teachers, and other people in authority tried to talk me out of it; they warned me that it could lead to a life of poverty -- they were right, but I did it anyway.  The struggle has been epic.

These days I’m amazed at the subculture of support that has developed for wannabe writers. When I was starting out, it was me against the whole pinche world. Today’s aspiring writers lack that certain quixotic fighting sprit. They -- and their potential readers -- are the poorer for it.

When I started out, I didn’t make a big deal out of my ethnicity. Just getting published was hard enough. Also, I figured that it shouldn’t matter. It was the early Eighties by the time I started selling stories. Hadn’t the world advanced beyond that?

Apparently, it hadn’t.

Because of my name from my New Mexico Irish connection, folks in places like New York assumed I was a white guy.

“You’re really brave -- writing about blacks, and minorities, and stuff -- they get offended, you know!”

Not being one to try to “pass,” I let my Latinodad be known, and it turns out it was an issue. Nobody ever said it plainly, but once they realized they were dealing with a Chicano, the New Yorkers all started acting funny, uncomfortable . . . Then there was the guy who refused to shake my hand or even talk to me -- and the other one, who saw me and took off running. 

Suddenly, “the audience” had a problem with me. I shouldn’t have been surprised when nobody in New York would buy my novels -- for years. They would politely flatter me, then tell me how their readers just don’t buy my stuff. Sure, there were some who thought I was some kind of genius, but they were a “noisy minority.”

I used to take it personally, but now I see that this was the time when the New York publishers went under corporate control. Working at Borders, I saw that modern fiction consumers were programmed to buy entertainment modules produced by multinational corporations that, as one woman informed me: “will keep your mind off things when you’re waiting at the airport, but if you lose it and can’t finish it -- it doesn’t matter.”

That is now changing, thank Tezcatlipoca.

I just kept on writing, and sending stuff out, and getting published now and then by small presses and various weird venues. I like to say that I keep one foot in the underground so I’ll have a place to stand.

So I didn’t get rich. I’d starve without a day job. But I’ve had a career. My novels and short fiction have earned me a reputation, so these days, I usually get published as the result of an editor getting in touch with me.

Things are better in the 21st century. And it’s not just my stubbornness and the fact that I'm not afraid of poverty -- the interconnected social and technological revolutions are a big factor.

Before I plugged into the social media, a lot of people thought I was dead. It was lonely in the old days. You could publish something, then nobody would notice, and you could disappear. Now you can hang in there, like a guerrilla in the interwebs. 

So it ain’t as bad as it was. Though I often think that if my writing brought in more actual money, this age would seem a lot more golden. Then I remember that the Aztecs didn’t value gold the way Western Civilization does. They though it was pretty, but it was the excrement of the gods.

Ernest Hogan had been called a “precusor of modern Chicano spec lit,” “Vintage Gonzo Chicano SF,” and  “a mad, Mexican Hunter S. Thompson,” among other things.


Sabrina Vourvoulias said...

I had to smile at your mention that people start out not thinking you're Latino because of your name - me too. ;) I have started seeing more Mexican-American, Dominican-American, Cuban-American and Puerto Rican writers publishing in small presses and magazines, but it is no "oleada." Distinctive voices, distinctive ways of seeing - these are the ways we're told we aren't marketable or are too "difficult" for most readers. Since I'm just starting out (en mi vejez, yet) I'm glad to have the careers of seasoned Latino writers like you to look to for insight and inspiration. I know it continues to be a challenge - but I want to say siga haciendo la lucha because it really means something to those of us following in your trail. =)


Glad if I hear that the weird tales of my career can be inspiring, Sabrina. Guess I'm just the Old Sci-Fi Chicano, survivor of the Atomic Age. Maybe I really am a calavera in a spacesuit.

sramosobriant said...

Una otra leprachano aqui, y tambien de Nuevo Mejico! Leprachana doesn't sound right, does it?


Leprahano -- me gusta! Also, anybody else ever notice the resemblance between The Banshee and La Llorona?

Arturo Mantecon said...

There is a resemblance between La Llorona and one of the banshees--Cliodhna.
There are resemblances between many mythical figures in Amerindia and Europe.
Some have pointed out a resemblance between La Llora and Medea, who weeps at the shore for her dead sons by Jason.