Thursday, October 10, 2013

Chicanonautica: The Colliding Worlds of Afro-6

Chicano ain’t no pure thing. Ain’t no puro Chicano. Puro Mexicano is an illusion. We are a collision of worlds, blood mixed on the crossroads. 

That’s especially true when the times they are a-changing. You can find yourself being knocked from black to Chicano, not being able to tell what revolution you’re caught up in. It was true back in 1969, when Hank Lopez’s Afro-6 -- that some consider to be the first science fiction novel by a Chicano -- was published.

It looks more like literary blaxsploitation than Chicano lit, but Hank Lopez was a Chicano activist and lawyer as well as a writer. According the L.A. Times, he was believed the first Chicano graduate of Harvard Law School . . .

You see, outside the barrio, Chicanos -- especially if they’ve grabbed themselves some education -- have a chameleon-like ability to blend into different environments. Sometimes it’s a survival skill. Other times it’s the way the natives perceive you. Take it from a long-time Chicanonaut.

Afro-6 was an influence on my novel High Aztech. It’s right there on page 1: I had once seen in the slums of Mexico City, a crumbling hole-in-the-wall saloon that was gloriously named La Conquista de Nueva York por los Aztecas en el Año 2000 . . .

But it’s not the Aztecs who conquer New York in Afro-6, but a well-organized conspiracy of black people.

And it takes place in the Sixties “present” rather than an imagined future. There is no futuristic technology. This makes it speculative fiction rather than sci-fi -- What If, asked of the current, serious situation rather than the “pure” entertainment of the post-Star Wars, pre-Afrofuturist/Postcolonial era.

It’s in the African American tradition of George S. Shuyler’s Black Empire, in which a Negro mad genius leads a organization of blacks to eventually cripple Europe and liberate Africa, and Sam Greenlee’s The Spook Who Sat By the Door, about a CIA token Negro who uses his training to start a black revolution.

And there’s plenty of world building, and extrapolation -- based on ideas by Che Guevera -- thought out in detail, on a national scale. 

Hey, kids of all colors and cultures, why not build worlds that become a better reality, instead of fantasies where you hang out until some corporation decides what it's going to do with you? Just saying.

Afro-6 doesn’t go as far as Empire’s transformed world, or Spook’s establishment of Black Nationalist state. Where it excels is in creating characters that provide a spectrum between black and white -- again, something that comes out of the Chicano experience. John Ríos, the Afro/Latino hero, after struggling with living between conflicting worlds, finds a new identity as a revolutionary . . . more sinister than Dr. Fu Manchu -- a character feared in the suburbs, but admired in the ghettos and barrios.

It was reviewed by none other than Ruben Salazar, who uses it as an opportunity to report that Black Harlem is blacker than ever before, and: We who were brought up on the idea that “America is a melting pot” suddenly realize that the theory is a myth if not propaganda. The review appeared in July, 1970. Salazar was killed August 29 of the same year. 

Travel between the worlds of black and white is still difficult. We are still blood mixed on the crossroads.

Ernest Hogan is often mistaken for black. He stopped correcting people about it decades ago.


Frank S Lechuga said...

I would say Ernest Hogan understands science fiction better than anyone in the Latino/Chicano/Hispanic dominion of literati and academics.

The elite Mexican directors in Hollywood who are directing major studio productions with science fiction storylines are not even close to him.


Thanks for singing my praises, Frank. Though understanding science fiction doesn't help in literatilandia, academia, or Hollywood. I'll keep writing my crazy stuff no matter what anybody says. Writers like Hank Lopez have always inspired me.