Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Access, A Question of It Coulda Been Different

Review: Dr. Cintli. Writing 50 Years más o menos Amongst the Gringos. San Antonio: Aztlán Libre Press, 2021. 

Michael Sedano


No one ever needs ask “I Wonder what Americans are thinking?” The nation’s newsmedia hires an abundance of pundits and op-ed writers whose collective output answer the question and feeds into healthy debate.


I wonder what Chicanos are thinking? 

Not just right now, but over the past fifty years? Damned if anyone can know, unless, through the decades, a reader’s enjoyed continuous access to obscure publications like La Raza, Lowrider Magazine, or syndicated work like Column of the Americas, or X Column, where they met the work of Roberto Rodríguez.


Dr. Cintli, Rodríguez’ nom de plume, has the only fifty-year career telling a nation what he and his gente are thinking and feeling about the crap raza live with. There’ve never been a lot of capable raza pundits, so it’s good Roberto Rodríguez was out there among ‘em.


He’s only one writer, a contentious person will object, how can one man tell what la Chicanada is thinking, or speak for an entire raza?


That’s the point. Opinion writers come and go. A couple decades ago, Chicano editor Frank Del Olmo, launched the LATimes’ “Latino Initiative.” A valiant attempt that wasted people like George Ramos and Agustin Gurza, and promoted people like Mikael Ramirez. The Times interviewed, but didn’t hire, Dr. Cintli. 


This book, Writing 50 Years más o menos Amongst the Gringos, would not have happened, if Rodríguez had taken that mainstream job. 


That hypothetical mainstream Rodríguez could have not have produced the ninety-one essays, poems, fictions forming this valuable 500-page document. He likely wouldn’t have pursued that Ph.D., either. His entire academic obra would never have materialized.


Because the author didn’t get access to mainstream audiences, he carved out a writing career outside mainstream big media for 29 years before turning into an academic. 


When Rodríguez went up for tenure at his University job, he agreed to abandon column writing since it was non-academic work; this is “publish that and perish”. Upon the award, he returned to writing columns, but in a voice fit to a Ph.D.'s academic outlets instead of popular media.


But access is what Writing 50 Years is all about. Students need Access to these ideas. C/S history students need Access to this first-hand history of the movimiento. Hasta English majors need Access, a verb, this open-minded Chicano observer’s critiques of cultura. Dr. Cintli's a keen observer and sharp critic; doesn't pull punches, too much.


Dr. Cintli’s positions will awaken dormant, comfortable minds and engage classrooms in loud debate over essays like his take on Cheech and Chong’s Born In East L.A., or a recent PBS documentary on Ruben Salazar.


I first “met” Rodríguez when he wrote about the killing of Salazar. He impressed me as a responsible journalist, rare in that profession, where corrections are rituals of verbiage.


Writing at the time in a team with Patrisia Gonzalez as  Column of the Americas, the writer lamented Salazar’s murder, and failed to name the other two Chicanos killed by police the same day. I wrote them to complain journalists invariably lament only one of their own. Three of ours were killed by police that day. As the only columnists with a forum, failure to tell the full story contributes to erasure, the opposite of Chicano History and the purpose of Chicanismo.


The Columnists wrote an apology for being haplessly subversive. The essay appears in the present volume, edited to include the names of Angel Diaz and Lin Ward. (Ward was 14 years old when he was killed. Rodríguez himself was 16 that day.) Sadly, Rodriguez avoids naming the three in a 2014 blogpost about a PBS program on Salazar. Diaz and Ward fade away beyond history. Lástima. Say the names.

Born In East LA made the author laugh, there are some funny bits. Giving the movie an "A" grade, Rodríguez tells his local newspaper readers why Access matters:

Cheech has accomplished some thing almost incredible--that is--he's given humor to a serious subject. For that, he should get an "A." Perhaps his sublime message on immigration, through a laugh, will get middle America to understand that undocumented individuals are as human as the person next door.

The movie gets "F", too:

In the opening scene – when a blonde girl walks – all of East LA stops. "F." On Rudy's cousin Xavier – the epitome of a stupid Mexican: two "F's" on the OTM's (other than Mexicans) scene where Rudy attempts to teach non-Latinos to pass off for Latinos by dressing, walking and talking like cholos - "F".


It's a beautifully incisive review that reached a regional audience of a now-shuttered newspaper. He's not looking to cost Cheech & Chong money, the writer fears the movie has given the laughing world "erroneous ideas about East L.A." That movie had big Access, que no? 

It didn’t have to be this way, Dr. Cintli’s career. He could have been well paid for his work and gotten bylines like a Steve Lopez or Al Martinez (neither newsman is raza despite the name). But the Times and Rodríguez passed on each other, and so we do have this collection. Exchanging a national audience for niche readerships reduces only the size of an audience, not the value of the ideas and histories. 

We need this book to give Access to 91 separate ideas that got missed by lack of Access.


I don’t know how many thin-skinned delicadas delicados work on textbook committees in high schools, but “gavacho” sprinkled liberally throughout the early essays may prove a stumbling point, perhaps, too, “gringo”. There are useful discussion exercises following the book’s major sections. The writer’s use of the expression ought to be mandatory in any discussion of audience.


Noted Chicano artist, Magu, would sprinkle his conversations with Dr. Cintli-style contempt for “gringos” and “gavachos.” He started watching his tongue when a woman chewed him out for casual hate speech. He didn’t mean it that way, Magu protested, but that’s what it means to her and it stops her from listening.  


While I doubt Rodriguez’ Lowrider audience was distracted in the same way, I wonder what today’s Chicanx are thinking? This book is for today’s kids, to get them thinking and talking about themselves through the lens of this history. Not a whole lot has changed between essays from the seventies and last month, so the book will prove a useful aid to articulate and enumerate issues and attitudes.


Raza. LGBTQ. Other-than-Chicanx-Latinx. Latiné. Identity and belonging are not about the battle of the name—Anglos declared war on “chicano” and won one essay explains—but what it means to name yourself, to be amongst, not of.

I hope readers rejoice at the publisher's generosity. Using an easily-read font with ample white space on the page produces a 500 page volume. In a college textbook store, a book like this will sell for hundreds of hard-earned dollars. Aztlan Libre Press markets the book at 30% off the low $35 price tag for course adoptions.

Aztlan Libre Press Link Click to visit and get your copies.



No comments: