Thursday, June 18, 2020

Chicanonautica: José Torres-Tama, Part One: ¿Que es Sci-Fi Latino Noir?

Back in 2012, Melinda Palacio got me in touch with José Torres-Tama. We talked about something about him for Chicanonautica/La Bloga. Somehow we never got around to it. Damnear a decade steamrolled by. We went from SB-1070 and Sheriff Joe Arpaio to our current dystopian/apocalyptic stituation. He got his Taco Truck Theater. I became the Father of Chicano Science Fiction.
Suddenly, the chaos caused by the current administration was amplified by COVID-19, like the impact of a dinosaur-killing asteroid. Was this the sociological equivalent of an extinction level event? What are artists, writers, and creatives of all kinds to do when we have to be quarantined like the beginning of some sci-fi flick? I hunkered down, and bashed away at my novel. Then, via the internet, things began to happen. Zoom, and Guillermo Gomez-Peña, pulled me into a new, evolving reality. You can read about this in earlier Chicanonauticas. Torres-Tama was part of this migration to another alien environment, after his event/presentation, we got in touch after his Dreamocracy in America event, and decided that it was about time we did that interview/write-up.
There was a flurry of text messages. Texting was something I had been resisting for years, but here I was again, being pulled, kicking and screaming into a future not-of-my-own making. He also sent me a lot of emails with attachments to documents and videos. There would be no lack of material here.
I thought a good way to begin was to ask him what he meant by “scifi Latino noir” as he describes a lot of his work. He sent me a series of images. Right away, we entered a different culture from the usual Anglo/Americano sci-fi, which tends to be verbal/cerebral, coming from the reasoning part of the brain, even when showing us monsters and exploding spaceships. Latinoid (pardon me if I feel justified in using my own term in this context) tends to be visual, sensual, art/image-oriented.

The images, interspersed with the text here (uh-oh, I’m combining the visual with verbal, making this into a multimedia experience . . .) were of his performances. There he is as various “alien” characters, the alienness is both sci-fi, and the Latinoid experience, the props reference religion and politics. These are not just pretty pictures, they mean something. Latinoid artists love to slather on layers of meanings. Marshall McLuhan said that the medium is the message, but with us messages are our media. No pure abstraction, art for art’s sake, “politics just distracts from the sort of stuff that makes rich patrons feel good and spend money”sort of thing.
After more communications at that same time that he was doing other things, like being interviewed on Nuestra Palabra, a program out of Houston from Pacifica Radio, and writing an Op-Ed piece on immigrants trapped in Louisiana ICE Detention Center for Colorlines, a social justice daily, as well as dealing with landlord troubles. “I do have my Activist Bat Utility Belt on because it's essential gear during this pandemic.” He texted me the following:
My “sci-Fi Latino noir” perspective was imposed upon me by a country that labeled me a “permanent resident alien” when I first entered its territory in 1968. To add to the “alien” theme, I was given a “Green Card.” So being an “alien” in this U.S. sci-fi reality was written into the script for me and for “other aliens” with such a designation in the so-called land of the free. This is the “alien” prism that launches my point of departure and perspectives here in the United States of Amnesia... JTT
Yeah, I understand. As a born-in-East L.A. Chicanonaut, I had a similar identity thrust on me, by the same society from the opposite direction. I see how an Ecuadorian with Quechua blood, growing up in New York, living in New Orleans, working as a writer, poet, journalist, renegade scholar, educator, visual and performance artist, an activist, and father, equals a powerful kind of sci-fi that is not just a genre of light fiction to entertain the masses as they go about the business of helping transform the entire planet into liquid assets.
We needed to talk more . . .
I’ve used all this space and I’ve been just introducing. I’m going to have to do like they did with the ancient, black&white Flash Gordon serials, and continue, in two weeks . . .

Ernest Hogan's day job at the Phoenix Public Library is back online, albeit in a newfangled “curbside service” model, where he wears a mask, and the public isn't allowed into the building. He's also writing like crazy, as editors and publishers get back to him. Buy Latinx Risng. Watch for big news soon!

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