Thursday, November 04, 2021

Chicanonautica: The Lost Legacy of Space Commander José Dominguez

by Ernest Hogan

With all the Chicano/Latinx sci-fi stuff going on lately, I found myself thinking about Space Commander José Dominguez. Wasn’t sure of his name, so I Googled it, and learned a lot.

If you don’t know, he was mentioned on an episode of the original Star Trek. Uhura got a message from him, about the delivery of some important supplies.

“Tell José he’ll get his chili peppers when we get there!” Kirk snaps.

Yup, it comes off like ethnic joke.

Then he says: “Tell him they’re Prime Mexican Reds. I hand-picked them myself. He won’t die because of a few more days without ‘em.”

I had forgotten the last part. It puts a whole different spin on things.

I had also forgotten that it was from the episode “The Man Trap” written by George Clayton Johnson, who I knew from my days in the early 70s in L.A. science fiction fandom. He was a friend and mentor. I was often there in a crowded hotel stairwell, listening to him discuss writing, his career, the mysteries of the universe, and visions of the future of media and pop culture (a lot which have come true), while a pot pipe was passed around. Yeah, I partook, like most of my generation.

Besides writing “The Man Trap,” George wrote episodes of the Twilight Zone, Kung Fu, many other TV shows, and co-authored the novel Logan’s Run. He was a 40-year-old hippie. Not at all what I thought a successful writer would be like. I learned a lot from him.

For one thing, he always fought to keep the networks, who answered to their sponsors, from cutting things out of his scripts he thought were important. In this episode in question, he convinced them to leave in a mention of the demise of the North American Bison after the salt-sucking monster--the last of it’s kind--is killed.

That and Kirk’s extended statement changed my mind about the intent of the line? Sequence? It’s short, almost a throw away . . .

I don’t find it offensive. I have a thick skin and have been called just about everything. We Chicanos joke about this kind of stuff among ourselves all the time. And dammit, mentioning ethnic food is not an offense. I like beans, and am a proud to be a beaner. If you don’t like it, I’ll fart in your face.

It would also be horrifying to be trapped in part of the galaxy with no access to chili. 

Some oversensitive types would have it cut out,  but it's the only mention of Mexicans or Mexican culture in Star Trek. Cutting it would obliterate the entire Lationoid Continuum from the universe. Which would be too bad, because its existence brings up some interesting possibilities.

First of all, didn’t food replicators produce adequate chili? I imagine gourmands would object to them, the way they do frozen foods and microwave ovens. Odd how this issue never came up.

It also shows a side of Kirk and the Federation that there was precious little of. Did parts of La Cultura exist in their universe? Why would the Corinth Starship Base be commanded by a Mexican while the rest of the Federation is run by white-haired white men? 

Also Dominguez seems to be Kirk's good friend. Why else would hand-picking chili peppers be a job for a starship captain?

There could be some interesting, subversive fan fiction here.  Steal this franchise. Heh, heh, heh . . .

Update: After I wrote the above, the news broke that astronauts on the International Space Station succesfully grew New Mexico Hatch Valley green chili and made space tacos. Here we go, amigos! 

Ernest Hogan watched Star Trek: The Original Series when it first came out, but broke with the Trekkies when he discovered more interesting universes to explore.


Scott said...

Maybe Captain Kirk delivering chilis means the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was revisited in the Eugenic Wars of the 90s and part of that stipulates a chili tribute. Maybe the space station isn't a part of star fleet, maybe it's space station Aztlan.

yellowdoorkitchen said...

Thanks for your post on Kirk’s chili pepper line. I just got finished watching "The Man Trap" for probably the dozenth time over the past 45-years. This was the first time I took notice the of the chili pepper comment and it immediately I struck me it could be racist. But then Kirk calls Dominguez by his first name. The two men obviously know one another fairly well. I have to imagine Dominguez would have had an equally colorful comeback at Kirk's expense.

Given the added insight into the writer you provided and knowing Star Trek's history of striving for (not always achieving) inclusivity as a corner stone of its philosophy, I have to chalk up the comment to mid-1960s culture and sensibilities. I’ll admit I was more taken aback at the crewmen leering at and commenting on Yeoman Rand in the hallway. I hope she has some pepper spray hidden in her boot!

Thanks again for your post!