Thursday, September 13, 2018

Chicanonautica: On the Lookout for Aztlán

By Ernest Hogan

Every summer, my wife (author of Medusa Uploaded) and I, and her mother take a road trip to New Mexico, and other nearby states. The Southwest. AKA, the Wild West. I like to think of it as Aztlán. I keep on the lookout for signs of the world that existed before the coming of tract housing, strip malls, and other air-conditioned delusions. It can often be found in the wide-open post-apocalyptic landscapes, with the ancient ruins, postmodern ghost towns, and roadside datura.

This year we reversed our usual routine, and shot up north through the Apache, Hopi and Navajo reservations, on our way to Utah. Indian country is always a relief after being in the heat island of Phoenix for weeks of killer summer.

I was glad to see that some of the murals on crumbling structures had been touched up--there were even some new ones. Last year they were all looking neglected, and I was afraid that another interesting cultural development was disintegrating under the current political/economic environment. I should have known, outlaw art doesn’t die easy.

Our first stop was Kanab, “Utah’s Little Hollywood,” where movie people stayed while creating their new Americano mythology. Murals romanticize the pioneers, though back in the nineteenth century, everybody called them “emigrants.” The streets bristle with tributes to celluloid cowboys and Indians, some long forgotten.

Emily’s mom asked about a “traditional Mexican restaurant,” but there weren’t any to be found. There weren’t any Mexicans to be seen. I was the closest anybody came, and the white tourists speaking Germanic or Scandinavian languages looked at me with my brown skin and bandido moustache as if I were part of the kitschy decor.

We had better luck in Parowan (a Native word meaning “evil water” . . . hmm), a town on the Old Spanish Trail, from the pre-Anglo days. Right on the Trail was La Villa, touted as a Lozano restaurant--lozano meaning sexy, romantic, hot, gorgeous, but also elegant, haughty, or arrogant. To our delight, it was an old-fashioned place with good Mexican food made by Mexicans. Emily’s mom approved.

Besides Asian tourists, the next non-Anglos we saw were Native Americans in Blanding, also home of the fabulous Dinosaur Museum. They were in and around the Edge of the Cedars Museum. One guy was crossing a street. Some worked there. One woman came in as a customer. Indians were as scarce as Mexicans in Utah. “The Utes and Paiutes are practically invisible,” Emily remarked.

In Bluff, near the Four Corners, but still in Utah, we enjoyed Navajo tacos in the Twin Rocks Cafe. It’s was founded in 1880, built on the ruins of a pueblo that archeologists estimate dates back to 650 A.D. In the Big Rez, Navajos seems to be taking over the town, which is a good thing.

Finally, we cut across Monument Valley (Hollywood’s Texas backdrop) through Arizona into New Mexico. After passing through the Navajo and Zuñi reservations, it was hard to keep up with what tribal lands we were in. And you could see the Indians. The Hispanos were everywhere, along with names in Spanish that go back to before America invaded.

"It feels good to be surrounded by people who speak my Spanish,” said Emily’s mom, who in Utah, tried to talk to the Indians in Spanish, and got only puzzled looks.

Ernest Hogan, contributor to the American Book Award winning Altermundos, took a lot of pictures and notes while vacationing in Aztlán. He will be blogging about it at Mondo Ernesto soon.


Daniel Cano said...

Ernest, thanks for putting us right there with you. In a way, I felt like I was reading science fiction, as the past, language and people, are nearly gone.

A F Waddell said...

Oh man, I DIG this landscape and your descriptions of it. Every time I drive through New Mexico it calls to me. Too expensive for me to live there I imagine. But it's so inspirational!

bloodmother said...

Been a while since I've been home. These are some places I haven't checked out. Thanks for posting.