Friday, March 16, 2018

King of the Chicanos - Justice

This week, an excerpt from my 2010 historical fiction novel, King of the Chicanos (Wings Press). Escobar is a fictional town where much of the story takes place. The year is 1964. Young people are discovering a political consciousness that is different from the ideology and dogma of the old left movements. People of color fill leadership roles, and many are martyrs to the various causes. The activists are eager, fearless, self-righteous. And ready for action.

Escobar 1964
©Manuel Ramos

Josh Abraham liked to tell the story of the year when his parents took him to Russia to meet Joe Stalin. He remembered a very long boat trip with seasickness and rough sailors. There was another long trip in a train; bitter cold and very wet snow. He recalled strange food and strange looking people, at least in the eyes of the boy. But the highlight, “as you can well imagine,” was when the crusty dictator rubbed the boy’s head and said he was a special child.

“I never got over that, obviously,” Josh, lifetime member of the Communist Party of the United States of America, would say.

Abraham eventually traveled to Cuba where he was introduced to Fidel Castro’s brother. Josh never talked about that visit and his friends were left to guess as to what had happened to Josh on the beautiful but very poor island.

Abraham rushed to defend Tino and Ramón, free of charge, of course. He saw it as his revolutionary duty to defend the uprising cultural minorities of the working class. He liked the idea of a good courtroom fight, too. Abraham was a damn good lawyer who knew how to win in a courtroom even when the deck was stacked against him.

It helped that Abraham made sure the jury spent several minutes looking at the photographs of Tino and Ramón that Catarina had taken right after the men were bailed out of jail. Each sported black eyes, swollen lips, cuts and bruises.

And then Abraham came up with an inspired tactic. He had Soledad Cortez demonstrate what she was doing during the time Robinson claimed he was held against his will. The thin, petite woman stood up from the witness chair and burst into song. Pancho Arango later said that her voice was so authentic and moving that it would not be equaled until 1971 when Ersi Arvizu and El Chicano recorded Sabor a Mí. The prosecutor tried to object to the “theatrics” and “histrionics” but the judge and jury were mesmerized by We Shall Overcome. The song floated to the ceiling of the courthouse and flew outside to the street on the wings of doves, hummingbirds, butterflies, and huelga eagles.

A crowd had camped on the courthouse lawn during the trial, the overflow from the courtroom, which was packed every day. Pancho and Soledad spread the word about the trial and organized car pools to get the community to the courthouse. The people set up a camp, carried signs and chanted slogans that demanded freedom for Tino and Ramón, and did all they could to ensure that their presence was heard and felt by the judge and jury. When Soledad’s voice filled their ears, they linked arms, swayed back and forth, and sang along.

The judge choked on emotion. Jurors brought out handkerchiefs and even a pair of bruiser deputy sheriffs sniffled and silently mouthed the words to the song. Many in the courtroom later swore that they heard an organ accompanying Soledad’s singing—a golden-toned, heavenly organ.

The crowd on the courthouse lawn continued singing after Soledad finished. Someone had a guitar and the people sang anything they wanted, from folk songs to Mexican rancheras to rock and roll.

Tino and Ramón were found guilty of a minor charge, disturbing the peace, that required them to pay a fifty dollar fine. Then they walked away, with a new friend and a brilliant lawyer.


Manuel Ramos has three noir short stories in the literary pipeline: Night in Tunisia (Blood Business, Mario Acevedo and Joshua Viola, eds., Hex Publishing, 2017), Snake Farm (Culprits: The Heist Was Only the Beginning, Richard Brewer and Gary Phillips, eds., Polis Books, 2018), and Sitting Ducks (Blood and Gasoline, Mario Acevedo, ed., Hex Publishing, 2018). His next novel is scheduled for publication in September, 2018.

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