Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Is Anyone Goin' to San Antone?

Review: Literary San Antonio. Bryce Milligan, Ed. Ft Worth: TCU Press, 2018. ISBN 9780875656939

Michael Sedano

The summer after high school graduation, I flew to a speech tournament in Houston Texas. The return trip, by train, stopped overnight in San Antonio Texas, where I took an an enchanted walk in the warm summer night near Alamo Square.

Walking into a bustling shopping area was like being in San Bernardino, except bigger. I felt delighted no one would ask after my grandmother, and every beautiful Chicana I saw on the street wouldn’t be a Prima.

I told that story to Mario Robledo one night at Bravo Battery, a HAWK missile outfit out of Fort Bliss Texas. Mario was a 19-year old vato from the streets of San Antonio, Regular Army. There was nothing holding him to the best city in the USA, so he joined up.

The shit-kickers played this song down in base camp, by Charley Pride, "Is Anybody Goin' To San Antone?" When I saw the album cover my mind was officially blown Texas-size. One kid exclaimed "Charley Pride can marry my sister!" Over subsequent years multiple business trips into San Antonio confirm high school me's opinion of the best city in the world, and good people all around.

I imagine Mario put in his 20 years. Robledo today, enjoying his late 60s a retired contented man. He’s holding a copy of Literary San Antonio in his lap and saying,”I’ll be darned, who would’ve thought, there’s no place like home.”

Literary San Antonio is the perfect book to pass those endlessly empty hours on the mountain, or  provide immediate gratification for a browser who enjoys tastes of serendipity. Leaf through and you’ll get caught. The book serves every reading interest from merely curious to literary scholar.

Period work, 19th century writers like the quondam giant Sidney Lanier narrating a mythic storming of the doomed Alamo, and the 1960s’ Ricardo Sánchez, explaining "chicano" as a lexical item. The Meaning of Chicano. Rarely anthologized work like Josephina Niggli’s Saints Day, and work intended only for a print audience, like the final story. Niggli's war story captures a grunt's eye view of a war of attrition.

Journalism combined with political organizing collects Emma Tenayuca’s classic example of argument while providing a contemporary shudder at how little changes in raza life, The Mexican Question in the Southwest.

Small politics with larger scope come into focus through columnist Jan Jarboe Russell's account of the battle of the Alamo among society women, Letter from San Antonio. No retreat! No surrender! Hay otra voz, especially among the mover and shaker tipas who look after local culture.

Speculative fiction readers will delight in the out-of-body experiences in O.Henry’s story The Enchanted Kiss. Modern readers will give the syntax and dialect spelling a friendly reading. The palsied twisted Chuy Pingarrón finds a spot in literary history with Candy on one side and Arty from Geek Love on another, and the sausage man in Tod Browning’s Freaks in back.

The editor's note on O.Henry and local bridges makes a story of itself, and the period piece draws a memorable connection. What do iron and aluminum ring like?

The city’s teatro history, wasn’t available or perhaps what the editors found seemed as bathetic as certain cowboy laments described in the introduction because the editors went for quality, and drama is tough to sell. Quien sabe, right? Gregg Barrios' work gets an editorial nod, but all things being equal, one exemplar is what we share.

A memory play, Sterling Houston’s Driving Wheel is a worthy sample with the play's echoes of August Wilson in both dialogue and use of place to delve into intense family issues.

The volume’s raza side enjoys good proportion in the poetry and fiction chapters. The sixteen poets, principally women, illustrate why there never can be enough poetry, nor enough poems fully to capture the richness of theme and style that populate a region’s rhetorical discourse in poetry.

Carmen Tafolla, Laurie Ann Guerrero, and Rosemary Catacalos are three laureates of their town and state, and Naomi Shahib Nye is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Nye’s segment leads with a sadly apt prose piece about guns and bullets and time.

Reading the editor's biographies of the writers constitutes a deeper layer of San Anto literary history. There’s a montón of degrees, several MAs, and a Ph.D. in the mix. Niggli held MA. That persistent thread of brilliance that shines out from before Emma Tenayuca’s time, is certified by these paper accomplishments, as if their art doesn't already speak for itself and their pueblo.

There's lots of nuggets and delights across the genres. Readability goals achieved. A right way to eat a taco moment in Mary Guerrero Milligan's Loteria:La Rosa, wondering if taco is the folded-in-half kind, or the wrapped kind I grew up, also called a burrito? I got a chortle from the clash of vocalic styles, the colloquial meets the medieval, that culminates a wonderful paragraph in Ph.D. Norma Elia Cantú’s ekphrasis, “La Chola.”

Big hoop earrings. Big hair. teased bouffant.… defiant but also a bit fearful; she knows her future. Sees it in her tías… La chola fears cancer. Fears so many things: her boyfriend, her dad. Fears her uncles. Fears poverty. Fears illness. Fears old age. But most of all she fears them, the men who rule and decide for her. But maybe she’ll show them all. Become la reina del sur. Her own boss. Take no shit from nobody, as she is wont to say.

It’s important that kids see themselves in the books they have to read, in process of finding books they want to read. Like Literary San Antonio, no matter where that kid reads, kids and their folks will pass it around. I wonder if Robledo would have gone a different direction, if his high school let him read about his girl back home? I hope she wasn't afraid of the guy I knew on that Korean mountaintop.

A collection like that of Literary San Antonio's answers lots of cultural needs, not in San Antonio alone, and comes in a package diversity-palatable. Except to the most hidebound of the DRT, Daughters of the Republic of Texas, whose mismanagement of the thing itself, the Alamo, reflects a long-simmering tension between raza daughters, like Adina de Zavala, and anglo daughters.

The publishers obviously intend people to read this book without struggling with its 416 pages. TCU Press has chosen a extra large page dimension and large, legible even without glasses type.

Lots of gente and just plain folk have their San Antonio conectas, memories, and empty spots they won’t know existed until they get their hands on the print or electronic version of a fabulous sequel to the publisher’s Literary El Paso. Order Literary San Antonio via your local brick & mortar bookseller.

Loving Floricanto Update

At least two poets' biographical materials reached me after the Valentine column was put to bed. One, Briana Muñoz, notified me her materials shipped tardy, but that email has yet to arrive. Another, Moderator Sonia Gutiérrez, got tangled in the vagaries of email and ultimately arrived. Here's a link to the St Valentine On-line Floricanto updated.

1 comment:

Norma Cantu said...

Thanks, Michael--you got it!