Tuesday, March 03, 2020

Aboard the Way-Back Machine: 2014. Lowriting. Gluten-free Torta.

La Bloga takes a look back at March 4, 2014, retrieving a pair of features including The Gluten-free Chicano's meatless torta, an egg dish not a sandwich, and Michael Sedano's review of a collection attempting to "take the pulse of Chicano Soul as expressed by automotive enthusiasts writing in diverse genres."

What do the next six months hold in store? Six years ago, March 2014, were you prepared for what would come your way by summer's end? What would you do differently, more of, less of, not at all? We know today's Super Tuesday. GOTV has to be in everyone's future, in 2020. What's it going to look like in 2026?

Take Me Low Riding In Your Car, Car

Review: Lowriting: Shots, Rides & Stories from the Chicano Soul. Santino J. Rivera, Editor. Art Meza, Photographs. Saint Augustine, FL: Broken Sword Publications, LLC, 2014.
ISBN-10: 0989631311 ISBN-13: 978-0989631310

Michael Sedano

The man lurks across the aisle from my company’s display. A leading automotive window manufacturer, we are at the huge SEMA show in Las Vegas.

The man stares at the van window display, then walks around to the other side of our large display area where the sunroof sales team works the crowd. Over three days he keeps appearing at the periphery of vision as I churn the crowd into the display. Finally, on the third day of the show, he walks close enough for me to step into the aisle and greet him.

English. He doesn’t speak a lot of English, back home in Kyoto. He whips out a copy of Low Rider Magazine and points to a tricked-up van with a set of bay windows and a bubble window in the rear hatch. My company makes those windows, I gesture and open my catalog.

No, not the windows in Low Rider. He pulls out a copy of a slick Japanese auto magazine. An installer’s nightmare, a craftman’s virtuoso installation. The Japanese van has a line of five window slits on the driver side, his and hers sunroofs, a pair of roof-top vents, and six more windows on the passenger side. My company manufactures them all, in Los Angeles. A tour, of course.

Over the course of several years, the gentleman from Kyoto visits me four times a year to socialize and place his orders. When his business struggles he haggles a bit more, occasionally reducing an order to a twenty-foot container. His normal buy fills a forty-footer. That’s a lot of windows.

A few years after I start selling windows to Japan, Luis J. Rodriguez comes to Tokyo and witnesses what we had wrought. Rodriguez sees a well-defined low rider cultura, from wheels to drapes, vatos to hynas, thriving among Japanese gente.

I say “we” because the assembly workers at the window factory are almost every one of them raza: Mexicanas and Mexicanos, a few Salvadoreñas Salvadoreños, and a handful of Chicanas Chicanos. They used to get a kick out of my stories about their windows cruising Tokyo streets low and slow. Copies of the Japanese magazines showing the fruits of our labor wore out their staples in the lunch rooms. If they read English, they would truly dig low writing.

Rodriguez’ account of his 2006 trip to Tokyo’s low rider culture kicks off the first two prose pieces in Broken Sword Publications’ latest contribution to chicano culture, Lowriting: Shots, Rides & Stories from the Chicano Soul.

Editor Santino J. Rivera has assembled a hybrid anthology mixing belle lettres with expository writing. Lowriting makes an ambitious attempt—270 pages--to take the pulse of Chicano Soul as expressed by automotive enthusiasts writing in diverse genres.

Three prose pieces frame the collection, Rodriguez and Rivera at the opening, and near the end, Xicano X’s apologia brings the collection to anthological climax, despite 100 pages remaining in the work. It’s an interesting collection.

Underlying the essays scattered across the collection is a vision of cars and cruising as dualities. On one hand, the cars and bikes stand for artistic and often self-taught engineering skill. On another hand--those of writers and poets--low writing collectively contains a metonymy for the chicano part of United States culture, the cars, the gente, the traje, the history. One should remember the Japanese Luis J. Rodriguez visited were imitating “American” culture, and chose low riding aesthetics. Finding Japanese Xicanos screams irony to Rodriguez, that la cultura finds a valued place in Japan while back home it’s the contrary.

Rivera’s interview with film star Danny de la Paz tackles a host of theoretical issues revolving around cars and chicanismo. The interviewer approaches the star like a fan but when the third wall comes down he discovers a serious analyst who’s done high-level chicano studies research.

De la Paz delineates between his characters’ ethos and the actor’s own upbringing as a middle-class kid in a preponderantly Anglo suburb outside of Los Angeles. There’s a dissonance lurking under the Q&A, that moviegoers think Puppet and Chuco are real and that De La Paz has special insight into their portrayal. He wasn’t a vato off the block, he was a theatre-trained college actor who used to watch “real vatos” during filming.

It’s a jarring disconnect that even the actor perceives. Rivera observes that De La Paz considers himself an “ambassador of the Chicano culture,” and delves into what rhetoricians call “ethos,” the persuasiveness, or authenticity, of a character’s (or politician’s) embodiment. The subject hangs out there, just out of reach of the interviewer. The interview ends with the interviewee illustrating that acting the part doesn’t make one an expert but only a more informed fan. De la Paz owns the low rider archetypes, it turns out he doesn’t own a low rider.

Xicano X writes a first person fan letter to low riding in the essay, “Lowriders: Time and Money Well Spent.” El Equis doesn’t own his own low rider but rhapsodizes about other people’s cars. The title explains premise of his essay. Activists and professors lament the lana and love devoted to a machine and idle cruising when there are so many issues la comunidad needs address.

Xicano X’s response is to reaffirm low riders as valuable cultural commodities that, with book banning sweeping the nation, keeping low riding culture alive is a way to ensure the survival of material culture and the values imbued in a paint job or hydraulics.

The essays, provocative as they be, are not the best part of Lowriting: Shots, Rides & Stories from the Chicano Soul. The poetry is. And, that said, one of my favorite non-expository pieces is not a poem at all, but former bloguera Gina Ruiz’ inventive story, “Lorca Green.”

Ruiz’ story comes with a familiar theme of alienated kids and sexual abuse. There’s a collection of neighborhood kids and a pachuco outcast. The vato has a soft spot for the girl narrating the story. Ruiz’ skillful narration leads the reader to what seems a set-piece rape scene when Ruiz kills the narrator. The dead girl’s voice wraps up the loose ends and brings matters to a heart-satisfying close.

Andrea J. Serrano’s “To All The Cholos I Ever Loved Before” and “A Prayer for Nuestra Señora la Reina de la Calle Central A Litany (With a Nod to Juan Felipe Herrera)", are the first poetry after the opening essays. Serrano sets a high standard that only a few of the other poets equal. Serrano’s poetry makes an especially inspired choice given the prevalence of “hynas” as toys rather than essential members of the scene.

In “Cholos” the persona might be one of those groupie hynas flitting from driver to driver. But she’s not an empty bikini, she’s a woman with longings and right now she misses the simplicity of mindless cruising because, like the woman in “Prayer,” they’ve grown beyond the mindless part but kept the identity that cruised because the mayor, the cops, adults said “no cruising.” That was like telling you not to be yourself.

Nancy Aidé Gonzalez, Viva Flores, Ricky Luv, Richard Vargas, Raúl Sanchez, and Tara Evonne Trudell, make important contributions to the literary collection, while Roberto Dr Cintli Rodriguez, Allen Thayer, and Gustavo Arellano’s essays do the same for the anthology’s expository collection.

Rivera issued a call for writers and most of the literary work is new and produced for this book. The expository stuff mostly is reprints, well worthwhile. Thayer’s discographic essay, for example, will put tunes into your ear.

Art Meza’s fotos range from breath-takingly engaging to documentary car portraits. Among my favorites are the back cover foto that appears also between the Danny De La Paz interview and Andrea Serrano’s first poem. The foto, “Dreaming Casually, Mayra Ramirez ’56 Chevy Bel Air” displays gorgeous rich tonality from the black black of the rear window at the foto’s right to the mosaic of greys to pure white framing the driver’s arm resting on the door. And yes, they’re worth a thousand words, and the price of the book.

I read the collection on a computer screen. The graphics are stunning. The print book hopefully comes on good heavy coated stock that treats Meza’s work with the respect fine art photography merits, or why bother?

Josh Devine’s spot illustrations offer clever graphic amuse bouches between entries. I wonder if the spark plug Lupe is Devine’s work? The clever pastiche deserves a credit.

The entire collection deserves not only a reading but an order via the publisher or indie booksellers. Low riding, like football or ice hockey, might be an acquired taste, but low writing, like any United States literature, is essential to comprehending the “soul” and the “chicano” in “chicano soul.” As the interview relates about the film, Boulevard Nights being taught in C/S classes, Lowriting: Shots, Rides & Stories from the Chicano Soul will be taught in chicano studies courses.

The Gluten-free Chicano Cooks
Meatless, Glutenless, Fast and Cheap Torta

This is 1920s depression-era cooking, a can of string beans, an onion, an egg, some cheese, butter. And it's delicious! It's a torta de string beans.

Growing up, my familia called these tortas. When I got to the big city after the Army, I learn the locals use "torta" for a sandwich. But then, they also called a taco a "burrito." We all speak a dialect. Where I come from, an omelette is a torta and a sandwich is a sandwich.

Use an omelette pan or one you can flip the contents with ease over medium flame. Lightly coat the sartén with some non-stick spray, then drop a tablespoon of butter into the heated pan.

Add some sliced or diced onion to wilt, and in a few seconds, the drained string beans.

Here I'm using a 6" individual sartén for a single serving. With a larger pan, you'll likely want to finish it under the broiler, and if all else fails, go ahead and scramble everything.

Cook for a few minutes, or until refrigerated beans are hot all the way through. Pour a couple of vigorously beaten eggs into the mixture, cook until the egg is almost set and top with a big pinch of grated cheese.

Fold the torta, or flip it, or--and this is what I did because the torta stuck a bit to the bottom--pop it under a high broiler for a few minutes until brown and crusty.

Present whole on a plate with your favorite sides. If you use a 10" skillet, serve on a platter and cut the large torta into pie-wedges.

Fifteen minutes start-to-finish. Gluten-free, meat-free, inexpensive, delicious, authentically chicano.

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