Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Review: Desperado. On-line Floricanto

No Hope Vato Turns Hero in Noir Novel

Review: Manuel Ramos. Desperado. A Mile High Noir. Houston: Arte Publico Press, 2013.
ISBN 9781558857704

Michael Sedano

"Desperado" doesn't have much meaning in English. The bad guy in cowboy stories is a desperado. The 494th most popular song in Rolling Stone's 500 best songs is "Desperado." Thus, when Manuel Ramos names his newest crime novel Desperado. A Mile High Noir, some might miss how Ramos extracts every etymological nuance from the term in crafting an ethos and landscape for Gus Corral. Gus is a person from whom all hope has been ripped from his alma, a guy with no plan, no accountability, a guy sitting around waiting for something to come his way, while the neighborhood around him goes away to loss and ruin by development.

More painfully, Gus Corral has a keen mind. He recognizes and accepts his lot, as if being des esperanzado comes with being Gus Corral. He's the innocent bystander. Then next thing Gus knows, he's locked in a hopeless situation threatening to kill Gus, his sister, a girlfriend, and a casi innocent bystander buddy. That's Gus' luck.

Ramos introduces Gus at a nadir of existence: divorced, homeless, getting by on the charity of his ex-wife, getting the sharp end of chisme for it. Constantly broke, when Gus does get a little coin he blows it in sleazy bars. The landscape echoes Gus' trouble. His desperate segunda sits in the path of neighborhood transition from barrio to hipster haven.

Gus' homeboy from high school, Artie Baca, now a big-time real estate developer, uses Gus' desperation and contempt bred of familiarity. He targets Gus to be the fall guy in a stupidly lethal scheme because he knows Gus can't resist the carrot even if it's at the short end of the stick.

It's grand having Manuel Ramos mystery novels back in play. The master of chicana chicano noir hasn't lost a step in the hiatus between 2013's Desperado and 2003's Brown on Brown, with a pitstop in 2010 for the nostalgia-driven King of the Chicanos. Ramos uses a deft hand to juggle the novel's two murders, the murder of Artie Baca and the metaphorical murder of the lost and ruined homeland.

Desperado, as the subtitle says, is puro noir. Lots of danger. Heaps of irony and atmosphere. Blood, sex, Juan Diego's tilma, Pancho Villa's skull; Ramos has a way of keeping readers on their toes. Everything's changing except Gus Corral, he's stuck in the same place out of time.

Gus Corral is one of those vatos who can't catch a break. Maybe it's the tipos he hangs with, maybe it's the way he looks or the way people respond to his style, maybe it's something else outside of him. For his part, Gus Corral makes crappy decisions that put him and his friends into situation after situation.

Of course, situations are what make the novel a fun read. Just turn the page and observe his pendejadas.

When Gus' old pal dangles a dangerous deal in the air in the form of a $1000 check, Gus knows it's fishy but he decides to accept. When a couple of Denver dicks slap Gus around, he doesn't tell the truth from the git-go and gets brutalized for his decision. But then, if he'd come clean the outcome would have been death by torture from a vicious narcotraficante named Carne. That's the type of no-hope, lose-lose predicament Ramos likes to put his characters, then write his way out of them.

Once the characters are hip deep in caca, the fun multiplies and comes fast and heavy. Gus gets tangled up with the two dicks and an underage sex slave, a one-nighter with a then-out-of-reach high school crush that turns nightmare when the butcher takes her hostage. Talk about getting lucky, eh?

Along the way, Gus mixes it with monied urban developers, his pal's engañosa wife, hooks up with old pals from back in the day, makes you antojado for a cup of coffee, and wraps up a busy day sucked into a suicide mission, guns blazing.

Gus survives, mostly by his own wits, emerging a hero. But Manuel Ramos' noir always comes with a few surprises, like a deus-ex-badguy you had to see coming, a judge to take the luster off Gus' heroism you didn't, and a final flashback to catch readers off guard.

Desperado A Mile High Noir is a lot of fun to read, plus it leaves you weighing how one person's change is another's decay. That the theme of a lost and ruined homeland is among the dominant motifs of chicanarte. How place mirrors and helps define a person's opportunities and satisfaction. In the end, Gus proves the general shape of an outcome is up to the actor, but external factors make one hunker down and deal with what circumstances dish out.

Gus is another character gem, like Ramos' Luis Montez, who makes a pair of cameos in the novel. Ramos knows how to turn a self-admitted pendejo like Gus Corral into a sympathetic and heroic pendejo you're pulling for, even if, at the last page you shake your head that after all this adventure, Ramos leaves Gus in the same boat. Can't catch a break, and in his own mind, feels one notch lower now because of the secret Ramos holds in reserve for his final irony.

But lessons learned, maybe a little esperanza has creeped into Gus' outlook and we'll see Gus Corral making a comeback in a second novel. The vato earned a second chance.

La Bloga On-line Floricanto May’s Penultimate
Christopher Carmona, Edward A Viduarre, Elena Díaz Bjorkquist, Héctor Rojas, Vanessa Bazzania Becerra-Bautista

“Check|Point by Christopher Carmona”
“Chicano Blood Transfusion” by Edward A Vidaurre

“The Proof is in the Food” by Elena Díaz Bjorkquist
“Indocumentado” by Héctor Rojas
“Sobreviviré” by Vanessa Bazzania Becerra-Bautista

Check | Point
Christopher Carmona

idling at Sarita checkpoint
Anzaldúa in my backseat
dogs with jobs sniff my tires
men in green eyes and tired uniforms wave carson through
they know only one question
toughest to answer…
I am leaving what I thought was America
but was really something else
the question burns me up
U.S. citizen?
there are only two answers
yes, sir… no, sir
but Anzaldúa in my backseat whispers truths in my ear
truths that I may have been born in this country
it does not belong to me
I belong to the land and its hodgepodge of peoples
mixed together in the great genocide soup
existing together in a land so hot it has burnt my memory
U.S. citizen?
simple answer: yes, sir… wrong answer: no, sir
where do I exist? what do I answer?
somewhere… in-between
pinned to a dissecting tray
sliced into little pieces
how do I work? how am I put together?
analyze me… label me… name me
my tongue moves too much
I will not be pinned
I want to say that I am not a U.S. citizen
I am not a citizen of any nation
I belong to this land and its people
no fences to divide… only bridges to cross
but I can’t say that
as I inch closer I need to remember
take sunglasses off
turn off radio
practice answer… yes, sir
don’t want to be pulled over
don’t want to be searched
just want to go on through
no hassles… no poetry… no confrontation
nothing to delay… nothing to arouse suspicion
1100 undocumented aliens seized to date
am I one? oh wait, I am a U.S. citizen!
then what is this fear that creeps through me?
I will be caught… I will be deported to a land I don’t know
I will be detained… accused of being a terrorist and sent to Gitmo
I will be forgotten… locked in a hole forever
I am not a U.S. citizen…. citizens have rights
waived away when planes crashed into buildings
we are just as brown as any Muslim/Mexican/Mojo
we are all the same… not U.S. citizens....
we are suspicious characters
we need to carry papers
prove we are not that kind of brown
we do want to overthrow the government so we can be equal
we do want to blow it all up
not with bombs and bullets
with marches/poems/Spanglish
we want democracy not built on the backs of people
we want democracy built for the least privileged
we don’t want to be subject to a checklist
Chican@ isn’t even an option
have to check Hispanic
even closer… I’m the next car in the line
what do I say?
can I answer, I don’t know?
can you tell me? I was never really clear on that one…
how do I determine if I am a U.S. citizen?
is a birth certificate all I need?
what about Obama?
They still don’t believe he is one and he’s the president
I don’t even know what a long form birth certificate is…
is that the one with a printing of your feet?
can you tell me officer? please?
what if he doesn’t know?
what if he is just like me?
trying to work… raise a family… just survive
do not ask questions!
what if he breaks protocol… declares everyone… illegal?
what do we do then? do we resist? do we cry out in protest?
but what if he lets his guilt get the better of him?
he stops doing his job and lets everyone through… no questions asked?
is that possible? wouldn’t that be something? la migra taking a stand?
but here I am…I pull up and lower my window
U.S. citizen? he asks
Yes, sir.

by Edward A. Vidaurre

I got shot in the gut
and now I need
a Chicano blood transfusion.
Make sure the vials come from the underground.
Alurista is coming down the corridor and wants my hat for his collection

What for the rush and bloody pain
What for the blooming and the rain

Close the door! Put a sheet over my body and tag my toe.
My brown skin is hindered by the loss of blood.

Help! Minute men are looking for me,
La migra is banging on my door!
La chota has me surrounded
In hand, pistolas with hairline triggers,

I can hear them approaching with
their steel- toed boots crushing
the concrete up the piss stained staircase.
breaking out the chalk, ready to outline me
for being a Voice

Where’s the sangre?
I’m losing consciousness
strap Juan Felipe Herrera down
-take it from him
cause’ I can only come up with 180 reasons why a Guanaco can't cross the border.

Look for the descendants of
“Corky” Gonzales
who also is the blood,
the image of myself.

Ask a Chicana in the Midst
with beautiful brown eyes,
to hold my hand during the
mezcla of Pipil y Maya

I can't write anymore, my pen is missing
along with my grandma's recipe for champurrado y chiles rellenos.

I need those to help me break
through the concrete wall mierda stretching from Califas to Tejas.

I worry about my citizenship/permiso para jalar/needing a haircut on Sundays I worry about people that drive small cars/con placas vencidas/con placas behind them

Alright I think it’s done

I feel the same

With the blood of
Mi gente del barrio

The Proof is in the Food
by Elena Díaz Bjorkquist

Great-granma Pepa sat on the edge
Of the bed stricken by a stroke,
Unable to walk or speak,
Her eyes flashed stories
I wished I could read.

Like a mime, not speaking,
Like a statue, not moving,
Only her daughter, mi abuelita,
Interpreted her wants,
Understood her grunts.

I dreamt Granma Pepa came to visit me,
Entered my kitchen, opened the cupboards,
Said to me, “Mija, ¿para qué necesitas todo esto?
Tantos platos, tantos vasos, tantos sartenes.
No necesitas tantas cosas para cocinar
Buena comida.

Y este ‘microwave,’
Para qué necesitas cocinar algo rápido?
La mejor comida se cocina
Con tiempo.”

I lovingly prepare dinner for Granma Pepa.
Mole de pollo, arroz, frijoles
Con nopalitos y tortillas de harina.

Mole de chile colorado grown
By Papá in his garden.
Red chile so hot, it makes your eyes
Water and sweat pour from your brow
Like in the hottest of Tucson summers.

The chicken, freshly killed by Mamá
Like she did so many years ago,
Wringing its scrawny neck
Until it stopped struggling,
Then dipping it in boiling water to loosen
Its feathers for plucking.

Arroz—long grained white rice like
The kind Papá bought in burlap sacks
To feed the family during the strikes.
The rice that filled us, sustained us,
Made us less hungry.

Frijoles de olla con nopalitos
Like Abuelita used to make,
Picking fresh cactus pads
From her garden, the ones
Without espinas that the Spanish
Miners brought from their country,
The nopales that Mama
Saved from Old Morenci
Before it was destroyed and
Now grow in my own garden.

Tortillas de harina made with lard
Rendered from the hogs Papá
Raised and slaughtered,
Rolled out with the glass alka-seltzer
Bottle Mamá used as a palote,
Cooked on the placa she gave me
When I got married,
The placa from Granma Pepa’s
Cast iron wood-burning stove.

Granma Pepa scoops mole with a tortilla,
Chews slowly, nods, and tears off
Another piece of tortilla
For frijoles y nopalitos.
I wait, not touching my food,
Holding my breath.
“Mija,” she says in English for the benefit
of my husband, “You haven’t forgotten
how to cook our food in spite of all
the fancy things in your kitchen.”

por Héctor Rojas

Los Estados Unidos dan oportunidades
A millones de gentes
Que no podrían obtener en su propio país
Por eso esta tierra es bendita
Para nosotros los latinos
Mojados que buscamos mejor vida
Trabajo cualquiera
Nosotros lo haremos
Piscar, Limpiar, cocinar
Solo será un oficio temporal

La tierra pertenece
Al ser quien la trabaja
Esta tierra fue nuestra
Antes de la llegada de los europeos
Pero poco a poco la recuperamos
Tras el sudor que nutre nuestro pastor
Tras la agonía de abandonar nuestro hogar
Para correr al otro lado
De la frontera brutal
El titán que trata de detener a la gente

Indocumentados, ilegales, mojados
Sea como nos veas o nos llames
Aquí no venimos a robar
Nos rompemos la espalda
Por una oportunidad a estudiar
Porque la educación es la llave
Que abre las esposas de la pobreza
Nos libera de la cárcel que es opresión
Cura nuestra enfermedad de ignorancia
Y nos mantiene unidos


por Vanessa Bazzania Becerra-Bautista

No me mires con esos ojos hijo mío
Que tu padre no es ningún criminal
Me vine persiguiendo un sueño
Que ahora es tu realidad

No me mires con lágrimas en los ojos hijo mío
Pues fui entrenado bien
Crucé una frontera con valentía
Dejé mi cultura
No por falta de amor
Si no porque mi amor por ti fue más grande

Ahora que me llevan preso por imigrar y trabajar
Te pido que not haya lágrimas
Ocupo tu esperanza
Ocupo tu paciencia
Ocupo tu amor
Ocupo tu fe

Tu papá volverá
Si así tú lo crees
Así es que por ahora
Sueña conmigo
Que tu padre
Siempre estará contigo

“Check|Point by Christopher Carmona”
“Chicano Blood Transfusion” by Edward A Vidaurr
“The Proof is in the Food” by Elena Díaz Bjorkquist
“Indocumentado” by Héctor Rojas
“Sobreviviré” by Vanessa Bazzania Becerra-Bautista

Christopher Carmona is a Chicano Beat poet from the Rio Grande Valley of Deep South Texas. He was a nominee for the Alfredo Cisneros de Miral Foundation Award for Writers in 2011 and a Pushcart Prize nominee in 2013. He has been published in numerous journals and magazines including vandal., Bordersenses, and The Sagebrush Review, and tecolote. His first collection of poetry called beat was published by Slough Press and his second book, I Have Always Been Here is due for publication late 2013 by Otras Voces Press. He is also editing a Beat Texas anthology called The Beatest State In The Union: An Anthology of Beat Texas Writings with Chuck Taylor and Rob Johnson and is working on a book called Nuev@s Voces Poeticas: A Dialogue about New Chican@ Poetics with Isaac Chavarria, Gabriel Sanchez, & Rossy Lima Padilla to be published by Slough Press in 2014. Currently he is the organizer of the Annual Beat Poetry and Arts Festival and a member of the Nuev@ Chican@ Poetics Coalition.

Born in East L.A., CA in 1973, Edward Vidaurre writes poetry about his upbringing and experiences of living in the barrio. Raised in Boyle Heights in the projects of Aliso Village, his poetry takes you through his memory of La Lucha. Known to his friends as Barrio Poet, Vidaurre says:” Sometimes the barrio claims us, holds us by our feet like roots in its field of chalk outlines closed off by the screaming yellow tape being pulled from its soul.”

Vidaurre is the founder of Pasta, Poetry & Vino and Barrio Poet Productions. He has been nominated for a pushcart prize for his poem, "Lorca in the Barrio" and also is co-editing an anthology called "Twenty" for Newtown, CT through El Zarape Press with Daniel Garcia Ordaz, Katie Hoerth, Jose Chapa V and Rene Saldaña Jr.

A writer, historian, and artist from Tucson, Elena writes about Morenci, Arizona where she was born. She is the author of two books, Suffer Smoke and Water from the Moon. She co-edited Sowing the Seeds, una cosecha de recuerdos and Our Spirit, Our Reality; our life experiences in stories and poems, anthologies written by her writers collective Sowing the Seeds.

As an Arizona Humanities Council (AHC) Scholar, Elena has performed as Teresa Urrea in a Chautauqua living history presentation and done presentations about Morenci, Arizona for twelve years. In 2012 she received the Arizona Commission on the Arts Bill Desmond Writing Award for excelling nonfiction writing and the Arizona Humanities Council Dan Schilling Public Humanities Scholar Award in recognition of her work to enhance public awareness and understanding of the role that the humanities play in transforming lives and strengthening communities. She was nominated for Tucson Poet Laureate in 2012. She is one of the moderators of the Facebook page Poets Responding to SB 1070.

Her website is at http://elenadiazbjorkquist.com/.

My Name is Hector Rojas. I was born in Mexico city, Mexico in 1991. I came to the United States when I was 8 years old. I was raised in Salinas, California. In 2009, I became the first in my family to graduate from High School and the first to attend a University. I'm currently in my fourth year at UC Davis studying mathematics and Spanish. While at Davis, I've been involved with a student group named Scholars Promoting Education Awareness and Knowledge (SPEAK), which supports undocumented students academically, psychologically emotionally, financially and raises awareness within the community. After graduation, I plan on pursuing my teaching credentials and a masters in education.

My name is Vanessa Bazzania Becerra-Bautista and I have a passion for writing poetry. I find it therapeutic to express my feelings and thoughts through my poems. Poetry comes from the heart where love grows and blossoms into words. I am a humble immigrant to this country; my family immigrated to the U.S. when I was only three years old. My father and mother had a dream; a better life for their four daughters. My parents believe in the American Dream and want us to succeed in this country. My father always emphasized the importance of education to me and my sisters; he always made sure our homework was done. In 2008, I completed my Bachelors Degree in Psychology at California State University, Sacramento (C.S.U.S.) and became a “Dreamer”; an immigrant in higher education. During my time being a student at C.S.U.S. I volunteered in healthcare fairs as a translator for Spanish speaking families; where I informed many women about Breast Cancer Awareness. I maintained myself active in on-campus organizations where I had the opportunity to participate in cultural events like “Dia de los Muertos” where I put together an altar on college campus and talked about my cultural heritage which I am very proud of. I am currently a graduate student in the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (U.N.L.V) where I am pursuing my Masters Degree in Clinical Mental Health. In 2012, I became a small business owner for the first time; I hope my business can help our economy grow. My American Dream includes helping others, who like me came from distant lands to make this country stronger and more diverse. We are not alone in our journey, we have each other.


Manuel Ramos said...

Wow- Made my day. Muchisimas gracias, thank you, Em.

msedano said...

the bad part: i forgot to ask you to sign my copy when you at the pad. they say memory's the second thing to go...

Manuel Ramos said...

I forget what the first thing is ...

Alma Luz Villanueva said...

Keep writing, Hector, wonderful.

Alma Luz Villanueva said...

Mucho suerte to you, Bazzania, strong poema. Y todos poetas, andale.

Rene Colato Lainez said...