Thursday, August 15, 2013

Chicanonautica: Coming of Age in the Quixote Cult

When it comes to books, I’m a hunter-gather. I like to discover them rather than have them assigned to me by an academic authority or hard-sold to me by a corporate entity. So when I found Genaro González’s The Quixote Cult in a used bookstore in Santa Fe, I flashed a sharp-toothed grin.

The book begins:  It’s the tail end of that tiger called the nineteen-sixties . . . I was just beginning high school then, but remember the deranged rush of Moon landing/Vietnam/sex/drugs/rock&roll and the mad dream of revolution. The book was like a reunion with old friends.

It brims over with so much verisimilitude that it reads like a memoir, but González wove it into the form of a novel, complete with literary references and overlays. The narrator, De La O, and his buddies discuss Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, and Carlos Castaneda, and especially, Don Quixote.

I’ve always liked the idea of hijacking the book that is considered the beginning of Western Lit and claiming it as Chicano. “This is your new capitán speaking. Fasten your seatbelts -- we’re flying across a different border today . . .” And, through the conquistodor/hijo de la chingada connection, we carry the DNA!

And, don’t worry, The Quixote Cult, is more about tilting with windmills than discussing literature.

It’s full of vato humor, in a universe that Cheech & Chong scratched the surface of, but here we get more depth, carne. These Chicano Marx Brothers go to college and become militants, but find themselves questioning everything -- even themselves -- along the way. The comedy of militancy leads to psychedelic climax, and a coming of age that’s real and honest.

Though not quite Young Adult -- gente who remember the Sixties will probably like it best -- The Quixote Cult is a good book for introducing the subject and era to younger generations. Later they can explore Acosta’s Revolt of the Cockroach People and Treviño’s Eyewitness.

It also shows college as a new frontier, an identity crisis battlefield for Chicanos. Back in my day, they didn’t know what to do with us and mostly tried to swept us under the carpet, hoping we’d go away. With embattled Ethnic Studies programs, I don’t see much progress in this area.

Sometimes your only option is to go stark, raving Quixote . . .

A sample of Ernest Hogan’s novel High Aztech can be read free online. The ebook can be bought on Smashwords and Amazon.


Unknown said...

By the way, I wrote about this and a few other Chicano novels that use Don Quixote in a chapter of my 2006 book Transnational Cervantes.
-- William Childers


I'll have to look into that!