Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Hollyhocks: Rudy Anaya QEPD

Pat Mora, Jesus Treviño, Michael Sedano Remember Rudy

A Tribute to Rudolfo Anaya:
Corina Martinez Chaudhry, CEO TheLatinoAuthor.com

It’s June 28, 2020, 9:45 Sunday morning. I pull up my newsfeed. Immediately I see that Rudolfo Anaya has died at the age of 82. I cannot believe it. One of the founding fathers of Chicano literature has gone beyond the beyond. I feel a rush of emotions. First, I feel sad that this iconic man has left this earth, but then I immediately reflect on what Rudolfo Anaya has done for many of us as he shared his life amongst us.

I travel back to when I first time met Rudolfo in person; albeit, I had conversed with him through many emails in the past. I pondered how extremely fortunate I had been to have known this great author and to have shared a sandwich and an iced tea with him and Reyna Grande at his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, back in 2014. The llano desert plains of Albuquerque, New Mexico, were now in Rudolfo’s rearview mirror, but he had left a legacy that would be hard to follow and had given many of us a sense of pride in our culture and gente.

I remember the first time I read Rudolfo’s book, Bless Me, Ultima. I had grown up in a time when Chicano literature books were almost non-existent, and if they were around, they were well hidden in the deep folds of library shelves collecting dust because they sure weren’t part of our English curriculum. By some miracle, I had managed to find his book on one of those powdery library shelves. The title of his book had drawn me into the first page. I was hooked!

I must admit that before reading Rudolfo’s book, I had known nothing about great Chicano writers. The thing was, I had always been an avid reader, but I had not been exposed to this type of literature before. I could not put the book down. Rudolfo had captured my culture, it’s beauty, its mysticism, and had woven a beautiful story that would stand the test of time in all circles.

Previously I had only heard about curandera’s, owls, and brujas through the many stories of my parents and friends, but now here it was, all written down for the world to see. Who was this man that had taken my sense of familia and had captured what I had grown up hearing and seeing all my life? I had always kept this part of my culture hidden from the gavachos at school and work because they could not possibly understand the mysticism that existed in the Latino culture. But here it was. All the beautiful words were written for the world to see. I could never have imagined that one day I would cross paths with the very person who had awakened my sensibility of who I was with powerful words that flowed like a tranquil river to an intense waterfall.

After reading Bless Me Ultima, I began to research as much as I could find about Rudolfo and his books. I quickly learned that Rudolfo was born in 1937 and had lived most of his life in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Oh my gosh! Only about 140 miles from Gallup, New Mexico, where I was born. My sense of pride had just gone up a notch. His parents, as well as mine, were also New Mexican and he had also come from modest beginnings. His father, don Martin, was a vaquero (cattle worker and sheepherder) and his mother, doña Rafaelita, came from a family of farmers, yet Rudolfo Anaya went on to earn two Master’s degrees – one in literature and another one in guidance and counselinfg from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. His undergraduate degree was in English literature. Throughout his life, Rudolfo received many awards to honor his outstanding works. One award was an NEA literature fellowship in 1979, and another one was the National Medal of Arts (one of the greatest honors given to artists by the United States government) in 2001. His accolades were immense.

Although I hadn’t grown up in New Mexico, except for the first 3 years or so of my life, the connection to this man’s writing and where he grew up, gave me much pride. Some of this I must attribute to his and my New Mexican connection partly because being born in New Mexico pulls at your strings throughout your life, but mostly it was Rudolfo’s writing that grabbed me from the very first moment I read the first line of his book. Bless Me, Ultima had drawn me even closer to my tierra.

As time passed I learned of Rudolfo’s many writings through research, emails, and conversations with him. This iconic writer had spent all his life writing various works from fiction to non-fiction, to anthologies, to poetry, and even Children’s books and all had achieved some success. Throughout the years I read many of his books. Some of my favorites are Tortuga published in 1979, Randy Lopez Goes Home published in 2011, and The Old Man Goes Home published in 2013, but of course, my all-time favorite was Bless Me, Ultima published in 1972. Even more astounding was that Bless Me, Ultima was adapted into a movie in 2013 and later into an Opera. A resumé that would stand for all time. With a few strokes of his pen, Rudolfo had managed to capture the culture of New Mexico and the llano desert plains taking his doorstep to the world.

These last few days, upon hearing of Rudolfo’s passing, I have taken time to reflect on how I came to know this amazing writer. It was September 2013 that I began my first conversation with Rudolfo Anaya. I had texted him to get an interview for my TheLatinoAuthor.com website. At first he responded cautiously, but quickly we developed a rapport and from there it was like I had known him all my life. He talked about his writing, but he mentioned that he was not too savoir-faire about all this new technology and computers. We laughed through text, him telling me it was funny and I using the well-used laugh icons. I told him not to worry that I would walk him through the whole process. He was right about not being too savvy about technology, so I quickly adapted and sent him one question at a time so as not to confuse him. Eventually he answered all my questions. What comes to mind and makes me smile is the time I misspelled his name (I type fairly fast). He responded that same day with “You spelled my name wrong. In show biz that is an unpardonable sin! It’s Rudolfo!” I had typed his name as Rodolfo. I, of course, was apologetic but I told him not to worry because I always proofread everything before I uploaded things to the web. Later as we conversed through the phone we laughed about the misspelling. It was how he joked.

A few months later (May 2-3, 2014), I had the privilege of being the Public Relations Coordinator for the 2014 Conference on Rudolfo Anaya: Tradition, Modernity, and the Literature of the U.S. Southwest at California State University, Los Angeles. Not only was it a memorable experience, but it was an honor to provide insight to the many attendees and speakers about the literary contributions of Rudolfo Anaya to the world. Unfortunately, due to health reasons, Rudolfo was not able to attend. Dr. Roberto Cantu, who had been instrumental in putting this conference together, kept Rudolfo abreast of the conference agenda.

A few months after the conference, Reyna Grande and I went on a road trip throughout the Santa Fe – Albuquerque area. Reyna had a couple of conferences in that region and on the way we stopped by Rudolfo’s house. Rudolfo graciously fed us sandwiches and so we spent the afternoon conversing about anything and everything. Rudolfo was apologetic that his home was undergoing construction, but nevertheless, he made sure Reyna and I enjoyed the afternoon. The view was phenomenal as Rudolfo pointed out the Rio Grande from his home and that took us on a totally different conversation. This surreal afternoon will remain always in my memory.

Throughout the years thereafter, Rudolfo and I would text back and forth always strategizing about the writing world. I once got an email from a person wanting me to ask Rudolfo if he would be interested in a Chicano movie project. Rudolfo quickly replied that he was not. “I am busy enough without a ‘new Chicano movie’ project,” he said. I’d often send him requests I received from various organizations and people, but more often than not he’d turn them down saying he was too busy with new writing projects and then we’d discuss the world and writing again.

As I look back on the emails and conversations I had with Rudolfo, I can truly say how privileged I was to personally connect with this great writer who left a lasting impression on millions of people throughout his writing. The two quotes from Bless Me, Ultima that personally stand out for me are:

“It is because good is always stronger than evil. Always remember that, Antonio. The smallest bit of good can stand against all the powers of evil in the world and it will emerge triumphant.”
― Rudolfo Anaya, Bless Me, Ultima

“It seemed the more I knew about people the more I knew about the strange magic hidden in their hearts.”
― Rudolfo Anaya, Bless Me, Ultima

For me, having known him for only a short time, these two quotes are telling as to the mindset of this great iconic writer who came into our lives to instill a sense of belonging, pride, and a ‘si se puede’ attitude.

I think it will be a while before another writer who made such an impact on many of us (Chicanos, Mexicanos, Mexican-Americans, Hispanos, and Latinos, whichever you prefer) comes along again. Yes there are many remarkable writers among our gente and many are making their steadfast mark on the world, continuing to open doors for us, but there will only be one Rudolfo Anaya – a groundbreaker who helped open the flood gates to the literary world for all of us. May your journey into the unknown be as great as you believed it would be Rudolfo. I wish you Godspeed wherever you are and I trust you will be using your pen to change your surroundings much like you did here on earth!

Hollyhocks Time: Rudy Anaya QEPD
Michael Sedano

There’s a good reason Rudolfo Anaya became that one writer, and Bless Me, Ultima that one book, everyone thinks about first, when they discuss “Chicano Literature.” It’s the same for every major writer and important novel: Quality.

When I heard Rudy died last week, I didn’t think how Rudy Anaya was one of our Best men, that he worked to be the Best writer he could, that he accepted his role as Icon and legend. Instead, I remembered instantly our last conversation, about the Hollyhocks and that time of year it all came true. Órale, Rudy, just like you planned it.

Rudy Anaya was the best writer he could be. Rudy Anaya was the best icon he could be. Rudy was the best man he could be.

Ultima isn’t alone in Anaya’s notable work. The Sonny Baca series, with Lucha Corpi and Manuel Ramos, founded the genre of Chicano detective fiction. Billy the Kid, through Anaya’s eyes, gives the character thoughtful respect. Serafina's Stories a total delight for all ages. The oeuvre expands through the years until he is recognized with a Presidential Medal.

At the heights of respect for a career, the elder writer turns his pen to reminiscence, death, dying. Young Alphonso retells young Antonio's and young Rudy’s career. Randy Lopez, he dead. The Old Man never stopped loving her.

Fiction aside, these last works, Randy Lopez Goes Home and The Old Man’s Love Story, will be Anaya’s lasting legacy. Everyone dies. Too many die ambiguously. Anaya thinks about being dead, thinks his way through the dying part, and in these books writes it down. That he lived his words beyond the last page makes them all the more vital.

The Iconic Anaya is a role thrust upon the man. Rudy, Jesus Treviño, and I are waiting for the sound of bus brakes out front. The Librotraficante bus parks and unloads a couple dozen readers. Anaya gathers himself, takes his fancy cane, and emerges to be surrounded.

The Great Man has a story about the cane he uses, feathers and minerals, and magic. The readers stand watching him with awe. Pásense. Inside, the Icon pours copitas of tequila, invokes the holy spirits of el maguey and bottoms up. Outside, two women chatter excitedly. Anaya, playing the gentilhombre of his generation, has tossed a couple of piropos at them. One woman says with a twinge of ire, “can you believe it, getting sexually harassed by Rudolfo Anaya inside of five minutes!”

His life was gentle and his art so alive that Nature might stand up and say to all the world, ‘This is a Chicano.’ Indeed, if I were commissioning a monumentl sculpture, à la Rodin's Balzac, I'd use Rudy as the model.

There's the time Treviño and I visited Rudy to record Anaya’s acceptance speech for the LATimes’ Kirsch Lifetime Achievement award. 
Rudy and I rehearse while Jesus sets up the lights and camera. A turn of phrase doesn’t fit his mouth right. We brainstorm. I edit Rudolfo Anaya. He likes it, changes the word and when he says it, it feels right. It flows. 

Rudy looks over at me and goes, “Thanks, Coach.” I laugh. Once a debate coach, always a debate coach. Once an Icon, always an Icon, but only in public.

“Rudolfo Anaya is here!” Pola Lopez heard (link) from other artists at Santa Fe Market that the legendary Chicano artist was on the grounds. Anaya walks into Lopez’ booth and looks for a short while. “I’ll take that one,” she remembers his quiet affirmation, really. He asks Pola to deliver and hang it. “La Entrada” hangs at Rudy’s entrada, open the front door and there it hangs.

“Is it Soul, Rudy?”

That’s the essence of the last conversation we had. You can read that interview in La Bloga and view parts at Latinopia. Is Life, Fiction, Writing, Arte, is it Soul?

You don’t ask a question if you don’t know the answer. Of course it’s Soul. Rudy’s Soul touched mine with Old Man, and we cried about it together. Then we talked about it, and this conversation sprang instantly to mind with the awful news:

•michael sedano: The soul is eternal. In the hollyhock garden the old man spoke with her soul in the hollyhock garden. He was looking for it. Can one produce that communion by looking for it, or does it simply appear because it appears?

•RA: For me the communion with my wife is always there. It’s not that I ask for it, it’s just there. The scene in the garden, the hollyhock garden, I can take you to the back yard where I have a little ramada with grape vines and a nice swing. And I’m sitting there, and my wife appeared. And she started walking down. In June I have beautiful hollyhocks out there, beautiful; the whole garden is full of color. And she started walking down the hollyhock path and that's when she turned and told me she was going. So she knew all along. We know all along. It’s not a secret. Some of us don’t pay attention to our soul, to our creative imagination.

What did Wordsworth say, “this world is too much with us, late and soon getting and spending, little we know that is ours.” Getting and spending, and not paying attention to that which is ours, the soul. And it’s always there. It’s like I am sharing something with you very personal. That my wife is always with me. She is in this room, she’s in the photographs, she’s in the chair that she loved to sit in to read. On and on, it doesn’t go away.

And it gets better when I’m gone and I go to her. Then we’re gonna take a trip. The first trip we’re gonna do is take us to Mazatlán. We loved the beach in Mazatlán. We loved the people. We had such good time. We already made a deal, the moment I’m gone like that, vamonos, we’re gonna fly to Mazatlán.

Órale, Rudy. It’s late June. The Hollyhocks outside on the path, they’re in full bloom. You turned in your sleep, dreaming that light shining all around the blossoms. She says, “Vamonos” and you say, “Vamonos” and ahi 'stas on la playa just like you said.

•Jesus Treviño: How would you like to be remembered, in our community but also obviously the world community because you’re now a world-class writer and you’re recognized not just by Latinos but by writers across the United States and the world? How do you think you will be remembered?

•Rudolfo Anaya: Up there in the clouds traveling with my wife back to Mazatlán, I hope people say that I did some kind deeds.

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