Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Salvation and Life in the Mission

Review: Cathy Arellano, Salvation On Mission Street. San Francisco: Kórima Press, 2016
ISBN: 978-0692692455

Michael Sedano

A first book is a coming-out party in diverse senses of the phrase. Like a Quinceañera  or a debutante ball, the first publication marks the writer’s debut among literary peers. In a different sense, for author Cathy Arellano, coming out meant a drunk uncle blurting it out. In a loving familia like los Martinez, no one lost sleep over it.

Being out is a fact, not a theme of Salvation On Mission Street, though narratives happen upon Arellano’s sexuality like they happen upon other facts of life. These 27 stories, poems, and a family map take a generally chronological journey into one familia’s life in San Francisco’s Mission District. The family map dates residences from 1958 to 1984, setting a time frame for stories. Not until the closing pages, however, does time matter to the Martinez family.

That’s a subtle time element linking the collection’s first two pieces, poems. The poems describe graffiti demanding a succession of causes that signaled Mission activism over the years. From U.S. out of El Salvador, then out of Honduras, to  the timeless,Yanqui Go Home. Arellano’s not sure if that means her.

There’s Free Huey, Free Angela, Free Norma Jean and whatever sundry cause gets spray-painted on a wall, then covered over with the next causa. Until recently, the only thing changing in the Mission is the date. What happens to Arellano’s family, los Martinez, happens over again next door to a different set of six or eight people sleeping in two rooms, loquacious drunks, harried adults, flexibly pragmatic children. To borrow an old teevee intro, “there are 50 thousand stories in the Mission, this is one of them.”

There’s warmth. There’s extended family love with a knuckle to the head, crowd management strategies that include cussing and shouting. There are primas. Salvation’s familia narratives will tickle many a reader, if only for Arellano’s styled nostalgia, though readers won’t miss the author’s political resistance. That comes with growing up brown, and growing up brown in the Mission.

There’s a heaping tablespoon of irony in almost every story, it’s in the way the author looks at the world and fine-tuned by the Mission. The title story offers a wonderful laugh derived from the irony of a church lady preaching salvation to teenagers Cathy and Angel. When the church lady works up to a big finish and demands “Do you?” believe? Arellano answers “I do!” whereupon she and Angel embrace in an “I now pronounce you” erotic kiss.

There’s heartbreak. A major element of coming into one’s own majority is the death of elders and loved ones. Mom dies, perhaps from AIDS. Arellano understates her mother’s joie de vivre and love of dancing the night away in bars and clubs. In her Foreword, Cherríe L. Moraga refers to mom as  “Motown-loving painted-lipped high femme”.

Arellano abandons her brightly ironic tone where she relates her mother’s death. The writer presents an incredibly intimate moment, daughter telling mother it’s OK to leave, and the moment life passes. That must have been hard to write and edit, but like most of the work, Arellano’s writing sparkles and not from tears alone.

Prima Nancy dies young. After introducing the older cousin as a lovably bossy adolescent, and a gentle flower picker, the author devastates the reader with the news of Nancy’s dying young. Oddly, Nancy isn’t one of the familia named in the dedication. Maybe I’m the only one to notice.

That plus ça change motif gets plowed under by developers as the book wraps up. Gentrification brings time certain eviction dates and ugly permanent change for families and for the neighborhood. For families like Arellano’s, poor people living hand-to-tamal and residing for generations within a few blocks of their previous rental, exogenous money means million-dollar penthouses atop mom and pop grocery stores, and “improving our community / by kicking us out”. The final chapter, a poem “If You Can’t On Mission Street,” marks Arellano’s hail, and farewell, to her Mission.

Readers are going to enjoy meeting Cathy Arellano through Salvation On Mission Street, her debut collection of stories and poems. Everyone’s life is worth a telling, and most worth living. Arellano couldn’t find herself and her familia in the literature she studied as an English major. She decided not to pursue a Ph.D. in literature and instead write literature.

Good start.

Order Salvation On Mission Street publisher-direct from San Francisco's Kórima Press (link), or ask your local independent bookseller to order. Buy local, buy brick and mortar.

Dini Karasik, Jennifer Givhan, Raquel Z. Rivera, Andrea Serrano, Cathy Arellano

Mail Bag
February Comes Fast. To New Mexico We Go!

February 18, 21, 23, 24 & 25, 2018
2 pm—Saturday & Sundays
7:30 pm—Wednesday & Friday

Hector Armienta’s Bless Me, Ultima is a fully-staged opera with orchestra, sung in English with both English and Spanish supertitles and presented in three acts with one intermission. This will be the world premiere of the Rudolfo Anaya masterwork.

Opera Southwest, along with the National Hispanic Cultural Center and San Jose’s Opera Cultura, is thrilled to have commissioned an opera based on Rudolfo Anaya’s best-selling novel Bless Me, Ultima. The composer, Hector Armienta, has worked with Mr. Anaya on the libretto, and the resulting piece will be an historic event. Maestro Guillermo Figueroa conducts.
$15, $29, $45, $59, $75, $89; discounts for groups of 10+ and patrons 30 and younger

Mr. and Mrs. North America and All the Ships At Sea... (NBC News story)
Seven Words For The CDC

The banned words are guidance on how to present the budget to the sensitive ears in the chain of command in Health & Human Services, and not really prohibited. What this discloses about H&HS remains up for discussion.

"In a statement sent to NBC News on Monday, CDC Director Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald pushed back against reports that the agency had prohibited use of the words "vulnerable," "entitlement," "diversity," "transgender," "fetus," "evidence-based" and "science-based."

"The CDC remains committed to our public health mission as a science- and evidence-based institution, providing for the common defense of the country against health threats. Science is and will remain the foundation of our work," Fitzgerald said. "As I have said previously, there are no banned, prohibited or forbidden words at the CDC — period.""


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