Excellent collection of linked essays exploring the "New World Border," primarily that linking the U.S. and Mexico, but extending farther into Central...moreExcellent collection of linked essays exploring the "New World Border," primarily that linking the U.S. and Mexico, but extending farther into Central America with a couple of illuminating glimpses at the Spain/Morocco (i.e. Europe/Africa) border and the German/Polish border. A third generation Californian whose grandparents migrated to Los Angeles but never abandoned their intention of going back south, Monroy bases his analysis on the tension between metaphorical understandings of capitalism as "creative destruction" and "developing underdevelopment." The first chapter on NAFTA does an excellent job demystifying the ideological cant surrounding a system which "works well if you ignore the human cost." That's exactly what Monroy refuses to do. He's at home with the vocabularies of social science and history, but the heart of The Borders With is Monroy's story-telling. He brings Helen Hunt Jackson's largely forgotten novel Ramona back to life; presents a damning portrait of the "intellectual president" Woodrow Wilson, congenitally incapable of seeing past the borders of his own mirror; reflects on his own position as a "pocho" encountering Mexican roof crews in Colorado and the kaleidoscopic mosaic of Long Beach; and takes a realistic, sympathetic look at the countless people working their way through negotiations of identities that simply can't be reduced to one or two-variable equations predicated on race or ethnicity. In the introduction, Monroy writes that he hopes his book will encourage us to understand one another with increased "compassion."
I love Ruben Martinez's Desert America (and most of his other writings), Gloria Anzaldua's Borderlands/La Frontera, and, in more complicated ways, Ed Morales's Living in Spanglish and Richard Rodriguez's Hunger of Memory and Days of Obligation. But if I were recommending a single book for readers trying to get a beat on the Latino/Hispanic/Chicano/Indio United States, this is the one I'd choose.(less)
A bit of a disappointment from a writer I value very much. Despite the title, Darling is more a collection of essays than a spiritual autobiography. A...moreA bit of a disappointment from a writer I value very much. Despite the title, Darling is more a collection of essays than a spiritual autobiography. As I read the first chapter--a probing meditation on the relationship between the three Abrahamic religions and the desert in which they took form--I was anticipating an extended engagement with issues of spirituality, emptiness, the evolution of religious institutions. Unfortunately, Rodriguez doesn't place those issues anywhere near the center of the book until the final chapter, which culminates in a fairly prosaic set of thoughts about the role of religion in the modern political world. Although he mentions the place of religion in the Civil Rights Movement, Rodriguez apparently lives in a world where fashionable intellectuals are 97% fashionably atheistic. That's simply not the world I live and work in and I found his choice to close with the duo of Christopher Hitchens and Mother Teresa especially aggravation.
The remainder of the book is a set of essays, some fascinating (his thoughts on Cesar Chavez), some that didn't do much for me (the color brown, the problems of digital culture and the fall of newspapers). It's interesting that he finally openly acknowledges the unkept secret that he's gay, although the essays that touch on sexuality aren't the strongest in the book. The Hunger of Memory and Days of Obligation remain the places to start if you're new to Rodriguez's work.(less)
There was enough information in here to keep me reading, but ultimately it felt like an unsatisfying compromise between a theoretical academic study a...moreThere was enough information in here to keep me reading, but ultimately it felt like an unsatisfying compromise between a theoretical academic study and a book about, well, "food." Pilcher announces his intention as "historicizing authenticity" and that's all well and good and accurate enough. He shows that the whole idea of "mexican" food is an invention at the service of various political and cultural agendas. He presents information about the ways in which "indigenous," "creole" and "French" food had different meanings in the colonial era, about the exoticism, mostly stereotyped, surrounding the San Antonio "chili queens," the differences between regional cuisines inside Mexico and along the US border, and the connections between anti-immigrant hysteria and legal attacks on LA taco trucks.
I didn't want him to leave that out, but I would have put the center of gravity a lot closer to the food itself. I don't remember any passages that made me smell the difference between habaneros and serranos. Cilantro, a major star in my Mexican food galaxy, receives almost no attention. It's basically the problem with a lot of academic writing; the abstractions, which can be switched from topic to topic without much change, take over.
Not sorry I read it, but I was glad when it was finished.(less)
The second of Jimmy Santiago Baca's Rio Grande books--I'm assuming there'll be future volumes on summer and autumn--this volume is less anguished than...moreThe second of Jimmy Santiago Baca's Rio Grande books--I'm assuming there'll be future volumes on summer and autumn--this volume is less anguished than Winter Poems Along the Rio Grande, more celebration than wrestling with the demons that get between human beings and the world we live in. As a result, some of the poems veer towards the gnomic--Santiago Baca certainly isn't afraid of direct statement: "What is broken is blessed." What makes the poems vibrate for me is the way Santiago Baca links those moments to the specific experience of the Rio Grande bisque, often tied to running, which for him is essentially a form of prayer. Santiago Baca is a poetic cousin, younger brother to Gary Snyder, sharing Snyder's belief that the key to understanding your world--which is a mode of connection, not control--is to know your watershed. This volume isn't the one I'd recommend to new readers of Santiago Baca--I'd still start with the volume containing Martin and Meditations on the Valley--but I'm thankful he's still running and writing.(less)
On the surface, this is a book about the changing landscapes--natural and social--of the Southwest. It does that well with chapters on Martinez' time...moreOn the surface, this is a book about the changing landscapes--natural and social--of the Southwest. It does that well with chapters on Martinez' time in New Mexico, Arizona and west Texas, always with his earlier life in L.A. in the background. He does a nice job tracking the impact of the real estate booms on communities, highlighting the tensions between the Nortenos, more recent Mexican immigrants, and the new arrivals, mostly white and affluent, seeking spiritual or creative connection with the land. There are incisive sketches of the conflicts surrounding environmentalists who want to maintain or protect a pristine landscape and the older residents who feel, correctly enough, that they're being ignored.
But what makes Desert America even better is the way Martinez deals with his own complicated relationship with land, society, and, crucially, with the drug addiction that he's fought in his own life and that pervades some of the communities he lives in or visits. He never offers a simplistic answer, always comes correct on his own peculiar position between demographic groups. He knows that even as a Chicano with deep political convictions, he's part of the invasion from the perspective of the locals in Velarde, New Mexico, and that as a writer, he shares some of the tendencies he (again correctly enough) criticizes in the art colony of Marfa, Texas.
The last chapter where he reflects on the relationship between despair and addiction is extremely well done. About as good a book about the contemporary Southwest as I can imagine. Highly recommended(less)
I have a deep affection for Jimmy Santiago Baca, based on his sense of the West, his fierce commitment to remembering the world he came from (and in w...moreI have a deep affection for Jimmy Santiago Baca, based on his sense of the West, his fierce commitment to remembering the world he came from (and in which he continues to live, albeit from a difference location), his sense of humor. Winter Poems Along the Rio Grande adds a deeper spiritual sensibility, one that reminds me of Joy Harjo and Denise Levertov. There were times as I read when I wondered whether the moments of prayer and wisdom would read cliche, a bit abstract, to someone who wasn't familiar with JSB. Decided I wasn't going to let it bother me and simply gave myself to the flow. It wasn't hard because there's plenty of the specific blues detail familiar from Martin and Meditations on the Valley and Black Mesa poems. Here, that focuses more on JSB's struggles to make his connection with his lovers last, something that doesn't come easy. As he tracks the ebbs and flows, moments of joy and despair, he thinks back on his past, knows that the question is deeper than "why does this keep happening to me." The best poems are deep in the blues--number 14 (the poems are numbered, not titled) is one of his very best. He listens to corrodes, Dylan, jazz....and the music infuses his lines. Through it all, the Rio Grande, and the running paths beside them, presides--the spirit's presence in the southwest. Probably not JSB's best volume, but definitely worth the time.(less)
Maybe my favorite Love & Rockets collection. All Beto, telling the story of Luba's life before Palomar. The story-telling in this one's particular...moreMaybe my favorite Love & Rockets collection. All Beto, telling the story of Luba's life before Palomar. The story-telling in this one's particularly fluid; Beto's a master of knowing what needs to be articulated and what can be left to the world between the panels.(less)
The central poem of this excellent first book, Variation on a Theme by Jose Montoya, uses Robert Hayden's masterpiece Runagate Runagate as a touchston...moreThe central poem of this excellent first book, Variation on a Theme by Jose Montoya, uses Robert Hayden's masterpiece Runagate Runagate as a touchstone for an engagement with the experience of Mexican immigrants (Corral emphasizes the fact that his father was an "illegal" and claims the identity of an "Illegal American." Hayden's a good point of reference in many ways. The poems which spoke to me most powerfully were ones that could be called "political" but they never reduce experience to ideology. In another echo of Hayden, the "illegal" also relates to Corral's homosexuality, which is a central aspect of the framing poems (the second and penultimate poems of the collection are both titled Acquried Immune Deficiency Syndrome." Corral's sense of language it fluid; he works through image more than statement, and his primary inter texts are visual (which often loses me a bit). The movement back and forth from Spanish to English reenforces the thematic and imagistic structures. The Variations poem is definitely my favorite, but others to start with include "Watermark" "In Colorado My Father Scoured and Stacked Dishes," "Border Triptychh," "Want," "Poem after Frida Kahlos' Painting The Broken Column, "Temple in a Teapot," and "Velvet Mesquite." He'll definitely stay on my list.(less)
An important story, but not a particularly good book. This started out as a Pulitzer Prize newspaper series, and it's much more effective at that leng...moreAn important story, but not a particularly good book. This started out as a Pulitzer Prize newspaper series, and it's much more effective at that length. Nazario understandably wants to emphasize the dangers and hardships faced by the Honduran protagonist as he makes a series of journeys north until he finally suceeds in reuniting with his mother, who left for the U.S. in order to make a living, when Enrique was small. The reunion isn't a fairy tale and that's part of the story, too. The problem is that the book becomes less and less effective the more often Nazario reemphasizes the same points; it's not well edited; at many points information is just flat repeated, probably reflecting its newspaper origins. Wish I could recommend it, but I can't.(less)
The first compilation of work from Jaime Hernandez, Beto's brother (or vice versa), co-presiding spirit of the Love & Rockets comics. I have a sli...moreThe first compilation of work from Jaime Hernandez, Beto's brother (or vice versa), co-presiding spirit of the Love & Rockets comics. I have a slight preference for Beto's tales of Palomar, but reading this shortly after B's collection Human Diastrophism made me aware that the real brilliance of L&R was in the juxtaposition of the two hermanos work. One of the great things about L&R is the way it places groups of women at the center of the story and then lets them interact and age in realistic ways that ground the silliness and sci fi elements.(less)
Like its predecessor Heartbreak Soup, HD collects material written by Beto Hernandez (of the notorious Hernandez Bros.) originally published in the Lo...moreLike its predecessor Heartbreak Soup, HD collects material written by Beto Hernandez (of the notorious Hernandez Bros.) originally published in the Love & Rockets comic book. The highlight here is the only novella length piece in the L&R universe, a story about a serial murderer loose in Beto's fictional universe of Palomar (a small Mexican town). The rest of the collection follows the cast of characters back and forward in time. Absolutely standard L&R; if you like the series, you'll like this.(less)
A nice snapshot of Chicano life, mostly in Chicago and the Southwest. Not a lot of memorable lines, but a smooth read with some humorous moments. Wish...moreA nice snapshot of Chicano life, mostly in Chicago and the Southwest. Not a lot of memorable lines, but a smooth read with some humorous moments. Wish he'd spent more time on Armadillo. The politics (borderline identity) have dated. I'll check to see if he's written anything more recent. (Note to my friends: having caught up on the archive project, I'll now start writing brief reviews on books I finish).(less)