Saturday, January 13, 2018

An Interview with Dr. Aristeo Brito, author of "El Diablo en Texas"















I sat down with my camarada Dr. Aristeo Brito, former head of the Spanish Department at Pima Community College and author of the book “El Diablo en Texas,” a classic in Chicano literature since it was published in the mid 1970’s. The book, winner of the Western States Book Award, was originally published in Spanish, but is now available as a bilingual edition, with a translation by William David Foster. The small novel is in three parts: Presidio 1883; Presidio 1942; Presidio 1970

Aristeo is multi-talented, he paints and he plays the guitar and sings. He has recorded songs for children and his voice is featured in the upcoming Con Safos Magazine documentary singing a barrio version of Juan Charrasqueado.

Antonio- Qué onda Aristeo, tell me vato why did you write your novel in Spanish?

Aristeo- no pues lo que paso es que when I was at the university doing my doctoral studies all the Spanish profes were Anglo and thought that they knew all there was to know about Spanish. Pues me enchilaba because the Spanish that I had grown up with, they didn’t know existed.

Antonio-In Presidio?

Aristeo- Simón, in Presidio and in Marfa and across the border in Ojinaga. So I wanted to show them my world of Spanish.

Antonio- Well the Spanish in your book is definitely it’s greatest features. It’s so authentic and unique that even today it sounds contemporary.

Aristeo-Well thank you. 

Antonio- One of the elements that I like is that you use both Spanglish and slang and that you spell the words as they are pronounced. Here are a couple of examples that I’ll read to you. The first is after a very heavy rain has brought work to a standstill.

Downtown toda la raza jue saliendo de los chantes, a ver qué fregaos taba pasando en el pueblo escueto. Todos iban a patín porque los jefitos no vían cooperao con las ranflas. Además se necesita gota pa dar el round y también está escasa de a madre como el borlo. La pinchi lluvia no vía dejado camellar toda la semana así que unos batos tenían que contentarse con milal como el chinito la noche del diciséis Los otros se vían ponido a tirar crape de a nicle detrás de Johnny's Bar, al cabo que una bola ni siquiera te ponías feeling. Y se la traías parada pos podias hacer roncha y luego te ibas a jugar pool por beeria. Pero si no, pos quedabas brujo de a madre y como siempre, así pasaba con los que andaban más jodidos que las mangas de un chaleco. En los cabrones dados el bato más zura siempre salía ganando. Así que aunque les tronaras los dedos de a madre y les soplaras y los trataras como jainas, siempre vinían las jodidas burras. Ni siquiera little Joe, ni Five la viva, ni Sexto el ojo de plata te hacían caso. Te tiraban a loco aunque le periquearas. Chingao, parecía que los dados taban loaded. 

Antonio- here's a small section from the introduction


And you ain ́t nothing but a hound dog finding your thrill on Blueberry Hill bailando solos con zapatos puntiagudos con taps tapping tap tapping chalupas down the street unpaved no sound carros con colas arrastrando sus dos pipas with fenderskirts para cubrirse de vergüenza.

Aristeo-Well that’s how we talked ese. But as important as the language is in the book, the loss of land that took place as described in first part of the book is also important.

Antonio –absolutely. And it captures something that happened throughout the Southwest.  But what is also very moving is the description of the harshness and the drudgery of having to eke out a living and all of it acerbated by the racism.   

Aristeo-si, te jodillas en los files.  My jefito was a sharecropper and grew cotton on 80 acres and I was out there working by the time I was 12, picking the cotton, cleaning the fields, driving the tractor. I would get two dollars a week.

Antonio- Here is a portion that describes the workers entering the cotton fields 


"Lentamente fueron entrando y al poco rato se vieron puras cabecitas gorrudas en medio de los algondonales. Tampoco tardaron en decubrir el engaño; la maldita carrijuela se entretejía por las plantas a modo de ni siquiera dejar cruzar. Una sola mata de esa fastidiosa enredadera servía para hacer bola a todo el mundo. Los azadones venían sobrando; habia que gatear por debajo y arrancar la raíz con la mano. Y así pasaba el día, sepultado en un laberinto como si se fuera un borracho que no encuentra la puerta de la casa. A cansadas aparecían los cuerpos en las orillas, cuerpos empapados con caras que escupen, que tosen, que tiran los azadones sobre la acequia y se dirijen al árbol cercano. Luego eternos movimientos de cabeza, hacia donde debe aparecer el socorro-la troca amarilla del viejo que trae la raya. Pero no se ve nada y entonces la vista se clava en los pechos húmedos femeninos, como si de allí brotara el ánimo más grande del mundo. Los viejos enclenques, al contrario, piensan en cómo hacerle esta vez pa que alcance el cheque mientras que las mujeres milagrosamente ponen zapatos nuevos en los huercos despues de haber calculado los biles atrasados de dos a tres semanas. Cabrones chamacos. Tienen patas de fierro. Más adelantito, la pacota de jóvenes saborean el baño frío y las cervezas."

Antonio –Tell me about the role that el Diablo plays in your novel. 











Aristeo- wow that’s a good question. El Diablo is the personification of all that is evil. In the first part of the book he’s a snake, later he becomes, la migra and so on. I grew up hearing stories of el Diablo showing up in the dance hall with chicken feet so there was some cultural context for using the devil.

Antonio- And is the novel autobiographical?

Aristeo Simon. Especially the first part of the of the novel which is the story about my family and throughout there are biographical pieces but there are also fictionalized aspects such as the boy born in the river.

Antonio- The reader sees clearly that there is not much in Presidio for a young person with intellectual curiosity and the backbreaking work crushes the spirit.

 Aristeo-Pues si.

 Antonio-Was the book the basis of your dissertation?

Aristeo- No my dissertation was an analysis of three Chicano novels. Pocho by Villareal, Bless Me Ultima by Anaya and Peregrinos de Aztlan by Mendez.

 Antonio- I think most people know the first two but the one by Mendez I think is less well known.

Aristeo- Probably so, but Miguel Mendez was an incredible writer and he was mostly self taught as he only finished high school.

Antonio- So how did he get to teach at the University.

Aristeo- That's an entire story in itself and really a consequences of the time period and the Chicano Movement.

Antonio- And you played a role in the Movimiento?

Aristeo Yes, I and several others such as Beto Guerrero, Hank Oyama, Pepe Barron and Alfredo de Los Santos who was actually from El Paso but he participated with us. And we also collaborated with people from Santa Barbara, the people involved in creating El Plan de Aztlan.

Antonio- Wow there's an entire story there.

Aristeo- Yes there is and some of that story was the formation of Pima Community College.

Antonio- We'll have to revisit that story at length some day. Are you currently writing something else?

Aristeo- I've started a story with my maternal grandmother as the central character based there in Presidio.

Antonio- I look forward to that story. And have you continued your activism? 

Aristeo- I've been very active with the Southside Presbyterian Church advocating for undocumented people. We have been placing jugs of water in the desert, providing sanctuary, we have a food program and we try to find them employment.

Antonio- It's a powerful mission. What about your paintings





Aristeo- I started doodling when I had to attend meetings and I saved many of them and when I retired, I enlarged them and started painting them.

Antonio- Well they are certainly colorful and interesting. Thanks for your time.





3 comments:

Concepcion said...

Aristeo Brito's Diablo en Tejas is a priceless gem. I was fortunate to meet Aristeo once upon a time, when doing parent education all over the Southwest with CONAC--(Congreso Nacional de Asuntos Colegiales)...Pepe Barron, Ricardo Martinez,Hank Oyama, and other vatos from Tucson. Thank you, Antonio, for this wonderful post.

Daniel Cano said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daniel Cano said...

Antonio, thanks for you fine, informative post. It reminds me of a time I met a bilingual teacher from Spain (there was a shortage of teachers in L.A. at the time). He was fascinated by the words his students used that he'd never heard, like "chango". He said, "I had to come all the way to L.A.'s inner-city to learn Spanish from my students."