Artworks by the preeminent mural artist Angel Quesada of Houston, Texas
“Guardia del barrio," stationed as a sentry at 1505 St. Emmanuel at Leeland, one of the main entry points from Houston proper into the east end.
“Muertos Mural," at 111 N. Ennis, created for radio station KLVL, displays its popular show, "yo necesito trabajo," and symbols of the funeral home on which it’s painted.
“Segundo Barrio” is at 2900 Navigation Boulevard.
Angel Quesada (#ARTKUNGFU) has been making massive artworks marking the streets of Houston, Texas, for over 25 years. Influenced by Mexican and other Latin American artists, Quesada revels in exploring the fine line that connects geometry, spirituality, and being able to see the human hand at work in a large scale context. He is a professional practitioner and teacher of Tai Chi Chuan who in 2003 ranked 6th nationally in the art of Tai Chi. Since the early 90’s, he has served as an artist, curator, exhibition designer and arts administrator throughout Texas. For more about Angel, click angelquesada.com.
Yalitza Aparicio as "Cleo" in Alfonso Cuarón film, "Roma"
In “Roma,” Cuarón returns to “Y tu mamá indígena también”
Two guest reviews of the Alfonso Cuarón film, “Roma”
First Review, by Álvaro Ramirez
There is a scene in Alfonso Cuarón's film “Y tu mamá También” where the protagonists, Tenoch, Julio, and Luisa are traveling through the Mexican countryside, oblivious to the campesino world passing outside their car window. Suddenly, the narrating voice interrupts the endless flirtations between the characters, as Tenoch looks at the town where his indigenous nanny comes from. Her name is Leo, and he called her “mother” until the age of four. In his mesmerizing new film, “Roma,” Cuarón returns to “Y tu mamá también” to pick up the story of these others, the indigenous mothers who raise the children of the middle class and rich Mexicans, a story that has yet to be fully explored in Mexican cinema. (Warning: MANY spoilers for “Roma” ahead!) Cuarón sets his story in 1970-1971 in the neighborhood of Mexico City called La Roma, and paints in black and white the parallel, everyday lives of a middle-class family and their indigenous servants. What is refreshing is that the director presents the story from the point of view of one of the maids, Cleo. As we follow her daily routine behind the scenes of family life, Cuarón takes us into the bilingual spaces where these invisible people forge the urban sustenance enjoyed by their white employers. Through great acting, directing, and camera work, Cuarón intricately weaves the lives of domestic workers with that of the family they serve, showing the class differences between them. At the same time, we note that they have much in common, especially Cleo and Sofía, the lady of the house: both women's lives begin to unravel after the men they love abandon them. Sofía is left with a family of unruly children and little money, and Cleo with an unwanted pregnancy. At first, a social distance that causes friction between them separates mistress and servant, but their trials and tribulations as abandoned women soon begin to bring them together. The personal struggles of the two women are subtly and symbolically set against scenes of the political and social upheaval that Mexico is also going through. “Siempre estamos solas” (we women are always on our own), says Sofía to Cleo in a pivotal scene, which emphasizes that sense of disruption, vulnerability, and violence present for all women in Mexico regardless of class or ethnicity, as depicted in this film. Cleo's situation, however, is further compounded by her indigenous background and uprooted existence; far from her village in the countryside, she is at the mercy of men and of her mistress as well. Forced by the circumstances, Cleo must choose whether to return to her native town, also beset by political turmoil, or confront her new urban reality and try to convince the father of her unborn child to marry her, but soon finds his more sinister side, which leads to a horrible experience and leaves her traumatized. Sofía and the children convince Cleo to make a trip with them to the beach in Veracruz, where she will have to confront once more a hard decision which will either redeem her or end disastrously. “Roma” goes beyond “Y tu mamá También” and is also far ahead of all the falsified female representations in telenovelas. It is a beautiful film that gives us a view of the social texture of a country in which the indigenous female strands are embedded and recognized for the important role they play in everyday life of the city. They are represented fully with an inner and outer existence, at work and at play, and with a complex intimate life. However, the success of “Roma” ultimately rests on Cuarón’s skillful film narrative, in which he shows that, despite class, social, or ethnic differences, indigenous and white Mexican women suffer similar fates at the hands of men; and that the survival of the family is not only dependent on the resilience and strength of females, but on their understanding of the human bonds that unify them.
Álvaro Ramírez, a native of Michoacán of Purépecha ancestry, has taught Spanish Golden Age and 20th Century Latin American Literature in the Department of Modern Languages at Saint Mary’s College of California, since 1993. At present he is also director of the Ethnic Studies Program. A scholar on the writings of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, essayist on Mexican culture and film and Chicano studies, he recently published a collection of short stories titled, Los Norteados (Ediciones Alfeízar, 2016) a couple of them first published in Somos en escrito.
Alfonso Cuarón and Yalitza Aparicio on the set of "Roma" Photo by Carlos Somonte
Cuarón’s “Roma,” a world of astounding diversity of indigenous stories
Second review, by David Martínez
Insofar as “Roma” is inspired by someone, Libo Rodriguez, who meant a great deal to the director, Alfonso Cuarón—she was the maid who raised him during his childhood in Mexico City—it is not surprising that the story of “Cleodegaria Gutiérrez,” who is affectionately called “Cleo,” and is played by the incredible Yalitza Aparicio, feels more like an act of veneration than merely a movie. Cuarón obviously wanted to honor the life of this woman in a way that did justice to both her character and her struggle by remembering cinematically her humanity in a world that largely overlooked people like herself.
As a Nahua-speaking indigenous person, Cleo is a part of the underclass of “Indios,” the poor, the peasants, whose ancient civilization has been appropriated into the national image of Mexico—such as the eagle and snake emblem of the Mexican flag—yet, whose modern descendants are accorded little more than second class citizenship.
Cleo, who has migrated from her unnamed village, where her people’s land is being seized by the Mexican federal government, works for a doctor and his family in the Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City. The doctor’s family is not only wealthy but also “criollo,” meaning of European descent. In spite of the significant class differences, Cleo is regarded as a part of the family. Even compared to “Adela,” played by Nancy Garcia, who is the other maid in this household, Cleo has a more affectionate relationship with her employers, especially their four children. Having said that, there is no doubt that Cleo, and Adela, not to mention others in the family’s employ, are treated as servants. The mother, for example, “Sofia,” played by Marina de Tavira, does not hesitate to be direct, oftentimes terse, in her directions to her staff. More to the point, Cleo’s interaction with the doctor’s family affirms the normality of the class relations between the petit bourgeoise criollos and their indio servants.
As for the story that Cuarón tells about Cleo, ultimately it is a narrative of hardship and endurance, especially in the lives of women in Mexico. Occurring during the late 1960s—the 1968 Olympics is mentioned—Cleo’s personal ordeals, including a tragedy, are rendered against a backdrop of political upheaval in Mexican history.
Not many remember outside of Mexico the massacre that took place on October 2, 1968, when government troops surrounded a mass student protest at the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, in the Tlatelolco neighborhood, in which dozens were gunned down indiscriminately. The massacre is referenced to in frightening detail during a scene in which Cleo is shopping for a baby crib. She is pregnant, alone, and afraid.
Indeed, it is while the shooting occurs and some students run into the furniture store for safety that Cleo sees “Fermín,” played by Jorge Antonio Guerrero, her former boyfriend, who simply glares at her, gun in hand, before disappearing back into the chaos of the streets below. As I watched this scene unfold, I thought about what I had read about this terrible event. More specifically, I thought about Elena Poniatowska’s monumental 1971 book La noche de Tlatelolco, which was translated into Massacre in Mexico by Helen R. Lane (1975).
More to the point, I thought about the hundreds of testimonies that Poniatowska recorded in the pages of her book. Yet, there was neither any mention of the rights of indigenous people, their land disputes with the Mexican federal government, or, for that matter, of women’s rights. The student movement was mostly a middle-class movement, people who would become like the family that Cleo worked for, and who were fed up with their authoritarian government, led by President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz. In light of which, I realized sadly that there was no one protesting on behalf of people like Cleo, be they indios or women. She had to persevere on her own.
At this point, it is important to observe that in spite of the layers of discrimination that Cleo encounters on a day-to-day basis, Cuarón is consistently respectful of her struggle. Despite her flaws, such as not returning home upon hearing that her mother’s land has been seized or choosing a boyish fool like Fermín for her lover, Cuarón is never judgmental or condescending toward Cleo or the community she represents.
If anything, “Roma” reveals that hardship in Mexican society is not limited to the poor, but goes all the way up the social ladder, including Sofia, whose story of misery parallels Cleo’s. On this level, the relationship between Cleo and Sofia, if Cuarón condemns anything explicitly in his film it is the way that Mexican society, especially its machismo culture, berates women.
Consequently, when “Roma” explores the coinciding lives of Cleo and Sofia, the film becomes a compliment to “Y Tu Mamá También” (2001), in which another woman’s tragic life unfurls in subtle yet dramatic tones, complete with a life-changing journey to the ocean. With this in mind, I am reluctant to join the chorus of critics who have faulted “Roma” for not being more aware of Cleo’s indigenous culture, either in terms of the villages that Mexico’s indigenous peoples inhabit or the urban subculture they maintain allover North America (including the immigrant community that certain US politicians love to demonize).
I am also reticent about criticizing Cuarón for not being more ideological or didactic about the colonization, racism, and globalization that created Cleo’s world in the first place. On the contrary, Cleo’s story is all the more profound for the way it shows how historical and inter-generational trauma, not to mention political and economic exploitation, come to dominate the lives of their victims without any banners, slogans, or lectures attached. One often has to go through much before one accesses the perspective that enables one to understand what has really happened and why.
As I watched Cleo’s epic tale unfold with each black and white scene, I thought about the many women in my life—I grew up poor and with very few advantages—whose generous yet vibrant spirits shaped me into what I am today, and how my memories of them have been nurtured by age and experience. Cuarón and I are of the same generation, and like him many of my memories were captured in countless black and white photos, which influenced the way that I remember people and events.
At the same time, this is not to say that the people I remember from long ago are without life and vitality. Aesthetically, Roma’s cinematography evokes the photographs of Manuel Álvarez Bravo and Graciela Iturbide. As such, Cuarón’s black and white images illustrate the mythology, the oral tradition, the Creation Story of the world that Cleo inhabits. For me, that is what “Roma” accomplishes when it recreates the world-building power of word and image.
In this sense, Cleo is a culture hero, like the icons portrayed in retablos, which express an adulation for the lives of saints. However, Cleo—Is she Catholic? Probably. Who knows?—does not affirm the teachings of the Church, but rather of the generations of migrants who have endured the travails of an indigenous world that has survived the Spanish Conquest, the Mexican Revolution, NAFTA, and now the threat of Donald Trump.
In the end, if I have any criticism of “Roma” it is that it was a bitter reminder of how infrequently stories like Cleo’s have been told, be it in film or novel. Gregorio Lopez y Fuentes’s El indio (1935) comes to mind, as does Carlos Fuentes’s La región más transparente (1958). In terms of film, only Gregory Nava’s “El norte” (1983) arises for immediate comparison.
My paltry list, however, does not mean that this is all that there is about this type of story, namely the indigenous class struggle. It only indicates how irregularly such stories appear in film and literature. On the other hand, there is a significant number of movies and novels about the Mexican, sometimes Central American, immigrant experience, not necessarily indigenous, such as Tony Richardson’s The Border (1982), Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s “Babel” (2006), Cary Joji Fukunaga’s “Sin Nombre” (2009), and Jonás Cuaròn’s “Desierto” (2015).
With respect to literature, aside from the titles mentioned above, there is Gloria E Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera (1987), Victor Villaseñor’s Rain of Gold (1991), and Ron Arias’s The Wetback and Other Stories (2016), to name but a few. In the case of the indigenous experience, more than a subgenre of film and literature, the lives and stories of the peoples and nations of the Western Hemisphere constitute an expansive chronicle of communities whose roots go millennia beyond the arrival of the European settlers during the late 15th century.
As such, there is a connection to land, language, and kinship that informs the modern effects of globalization and transborder migration. Cleo’s story, if anything, is a story of how even when the Mexica homeland appears to be buried underneath layers and layers of colonial history and society, the indigenous claim to this place interjects itself into the contemporary lives of the people around them, reminding them of who really owns the land and how their days in this place may be numbered after all.
While there are undoubtedly many ways of telling Cleo’s story, including from the point of view of an indigenous writer and director—which we will hopefully see sometime soon—Cuarón’s “Roma”and Aparicio’s “Cleo” nevertheless transformed me. More specifically, as an indigenous person myself, I genuinely felt inspired to learn more about this world and the astounding diversity of indigenous stories and experiences that it holds.
David Martínez (Akimel O’odham/Mexican) is an associate professor of American Indian Studies at Arizona State University, Tempe Campus. He is the author of Dakota Philosopher: Charles Eastman and American Indian Thought (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2009); editor of The American Indian Intellectual Tradition: An Anthology of Writings from 1772 to 1972 (Cornell University Press, 2011) and author of the forthcoming Life of the Indigenous Mind: Vine Deloria Jr and the Birth of the Red Power Movement (University of Nebraska Press, 2019).
Review of Altermundos: Latin@ Speculative Literature, Film, and Popular Culture
By Scott Duncan-Fernandez
Any brand spanking new robot may require batteries. For a first of its kind book to package literary, media, and cultural criticism about Latino speculative fiction, Altermundos would generate much more of a charge with some knowledge of Chicano Studies and issues. Most importantly, though, Altermundos elevates a genre to its worthy place of criticism, which has been ignored as low culture or critiqued (or, disdained) as art despite its speculative roots. While Altermundos calls itself and at times adheres to “Latino sci-fi,” it sticks mostly with us Chicanos, and of course, mostly speculative works: Chicanofuturism, Chicano sci-fi, and Chicano literature and culture. Not only does Altermundos give a fresh look at some classic Chicano work with a new speculative lens, it brings forward many works of Latino sci-fi, fantasy, and horror that have been in the periphery. Latin@ Rising (Wings Press, 2017), (reviewed here in Somos en escrito, under the title, “¿Qué hay en la bolsa?”) gave us a look at the present and future of US Latino speculative fiction; Altermundos validates our past and with its many essays discussing issues ranging from feminist, queer, social, post-colonial and social justice gives us a future to look forward to. Since I began this review earlier in 2018 and set it down, there have been many Latin Scifi happenings, here on Somos en escrito as well. The Mexicanx Collective has…collected into a group of Mexican sci-fi writers. Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Machado is being made into a movie. The second volume of Latin@ Rising, now called The Latinx Archives, and a new printing of the original is in the works. (I have a couple of flash stories that will be included there). The Extra-fiction contest at Somos en escrito had its first winner in Rudy Ch. Garcia and received many other fine work with an extra something. I keep seeing more and more sci-fi flavored (some a pinch, some a cup) novels and stories by our communities floating up from the depths of the periphery.
Batteries required for those not up to light-speed.
I love reading literary criticism and especially those works dealing with US Latino and speculative fiction, so of course, I’m right in the crux of the demographic of their audience. That said, I’m concerned that those who like literary criticism in general won’t take this as seriously because it deals with speculative works. The fact is that this book enhances and reinvigorates Chicano literary analysis. This is a fresh onda bigger and better than the one my fellow Texan ran away from so quickly in that mess of a movie, Interstellar. Altermundos is 80 percent literary/media criticism, 10 percent personal essay, and 10 percent fiction or poetry. Like literary fiction and poetry, literary criticism is a discussion and it’s a bit difficult to jump in and nod like you know what’s going on. While many may be up to speed, for those interested in sci-fi and lack a basis in Chicanismo, they may need a little help. If you are in the opposite camp, you may find, as Altermundos makes a case for, sci-fi elements floating in the pozole of Mexican American literature. An important work to know in general and for the criticism presented often in Altermundos is Borderlands by Gloria Anzaldúa. Quotes from it are spread throughout, as well as quotes from her interviews. Her book opens its arms to mestizaje, and advocates for a new kind of mestizo-mindedness that includes gender as well, which comes up in many Altermundos essays. Anzaldúa clearly applies Post-Colonial and Queer theories in terms of identity and mestizaje to the crossroad of selfhoods that our experience entails. Another book is Chicano Manifesto. While not discussed in Altermundos, it remains to this day the best book to know issues of Chicano society, history, and identity, and one many other books build upon. (Disclosure: our own editor, Armando Rendón is the author.) Many books offer a background on Chicano literary theory, including Chicano literature itself. The two overlap more in the Chicano realm than in the standard American realm as they often deal with issues of identity and history, Drink Cultura by Jose Antonio Burciaga, for an example. Yet,Borderlands and Chicano Manifesto are the ones to help anyone get up to speed forAltermundos.
A few terms of note
Altermundos: Spaces, grounded in realities that look toward utopian and decolonial futures. Alter-native: an outlook with Neo-Native eyes. Rascuache/Rasquache: You know what it is if you’re a Mexican American. It’s your grandparents’ back yard full of recycled and repurposed and redecorated objects. It’s what happens when teenage boys in the 50s see Anglo teens get new cars and then fix up their own lemons with style into ranflas. It’s doing a lot with a little and with style. It’s mentioned every other word in nearly every essay: this pocho will never forget rascuache again. CSP: Chicano Speculative Production. Something made by a Chicano and speculative in whatever media. Chicanafuturism: Inspired by Afrofuturism, it’s the way the use of technology transforms Chicano life and culture. While Afrofuturism often deals with diaspora, Chicanafuturism often deals with the post-colonial. Nepantla: Nahuatl word meaning “in the middle,” being caught between the dominant culture and one’s state of origin, which is used to connote the state of in-between in the Chicano experience. Nepantlera: Portmanteaux of the Nahuatl word nepantla and Spanish -era, someone who exists in Nepantla. Praxis: implementing ideas or theories. An important concern for social justice. Chicanonautica: A Chicano speculative traveler that trespasses to new frontiers. A term coined by the father of Chicano sci-fi, Ernest Hogan.
Selections of Work Many Chicano Speculative Productions lie on the periphery, but a few pieces reviewed are more fringe than others. I expected the movie Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones with its Chicano Hardy Boys and Nancy Drews taken over by the demons they investigate to make an appearance or have a mention. I look it up and the only thing Latin about the movie were its actors and setting. When it comes to films, this calls into questions what is a CSP, as often films taken or marketed as CSPs are Anglo written, produced, and directed by non Mexican Americans. The much beloved and recent Coco is in that category. We are not always the ones defining our very existence. It seems Altermundos has chosen movies with Latin directors such as Machete and Sleep Dealer and avoided movies that may not exactly fit the bill. Some of the story choices for review are somewhat recondite. Finding “Refugio,” for example, took a little searching. It’s a short story included in Night Bites: Vampire Stories by Women Tales of Blood and Lust (1996). It isn’t listed under the work on the author’s site and the Amazon page doesn’t list her name as included in the anthology. Granted, it took me ten minutes rather than ten seconds, but in this information age, that’s an eternity. “Refugio” is an excellent story, recondite or not, and I’m glad to have been introduced to Terri de la Pena’s work. This kind of thing, the finding of interesting work new to you, is what anthologies are about.
List of works that come up often throughout Altermundos: Sleep Dealer Alex Rivera, film Love and Rockets Jaime Hernandez, comic Los Vendidos (the sellouts) Luis Valdez, play Lunar Braceros Rosaura Sanchez and Beatrice Pita, novel Smoking Mirror Blues Ernest Hogan, novel The Ragdoll Plagues Alejandro Morales, novel The work of Guillermo Gómez-Peña The work of Gloria Anzaldúa
Serendipity in the periphery
After finding and reading/viewing/listening to most of the work critiqued or mentioned inAltermundos (I had read a few before and a few others had been on my radar), I found that many of these works come from the periphery. Though sci-fi and fantasy are booming—just look at how superhero movies have become big blockbusters rather than underfunded or fan made over the last two decades--our Latino works are still ignored, pushing in at the corners, or thought of as lessor, especially the Mexican American, southwest variety. Reading these fine works, which are somewhat forgotten or hidden, is distressing: The Ragdoll Plagues has great prose. Smoking Mirror Blues is like Neuromancer or Strange Days got lowered and fitted with hydraulics and a paint job of an Aztec temple on its hood. In other words, something well written and fresh that should have been a movie by now. These and the other works in Altermundos are deserving of the critical storms that they can weather. Like the quantum telescope, the critical eye of scholars changes them: it elevates the Chicano Speculative Projects and brings them into much needed attention. It’s about time. We Latinos need these stories where we are not the villain. Where our eyes are not forced to participate in a ritual that reinforces our subjugation and the view of ourselves as monstrous natives, mestizos, afro-mestizos, or rival Spaniards. CSPs are not Avatar or Alien Covenant. That is, our stories don’t portray obvious retellings of westward invasion to achieve dominance over everything to tell us who we are. We are the actors and we are humans in these works, and sometimes more than human.
Many essays aim to recast or “retcon” all of Chicano literature as a speculative production. I agree…mostly. Like any idea, it fits here and not there. Like Ernest Hogan says, “…Chicano is a science fiction state of being.” We are mixed, we don’t fit in a culture that throws aspects of the monstrous upon us. This causes many CSPs to ask, “¿Oye, what kind of mutant are you?” This does give a new, refreshing point of view, but it’s also something that may be over applied. Imagination and the imagination of belonging may be speculative, but is Jane Eyrespeculative? I know that’s an old British book and not Mexican American, but it’s one where a female character imagines (literally in some places) her identity and a world in which she can have more agency. Many Chicano literary works and media also seem to deal with pure, uncut reality and sometimes they point to a future of inter-reliance and over-coming that isn’t here yet, something that isn’t always super-duper speculative. In other words, don’t get no F on su tarea, kids, for saying The Squatter and The Don is puro sci-fi. Speculative isn’t always robots, zombies, and aliens, but there is a little over-reaching here.
“Poison Men: A Chicana Vampire Tale” Provided as an example of what a feminist Chicana vampire tale can be, Linda Heidenreich includes this original work in the essay “Colonial Past, Utopian Futures.” It’s the first time I’ve seen fiction about Josepha, the woman who was the first recorded Chicana lynched in California under US rule. Josepha killed a man who violently broke into her and her boyfriend’s home. The lynch mob hanged her and her last words were to ask that her body be given to her friends. Josepha has been mentioned in passing in histories, often incorrectly and dismissively as Juana. In the story, Heidenreich offers that Josepha is a vampire. Healed after her hanging, she finds a cabal of older vampires to learn from, to spend centuries on learning. Heidenreich argues for a better kind of vampire tale, a tale of sexualized other that doesn’t have to end in a type of control—marriage, death, or sexual passivity. A point and example for all of us to ponder, especially us straight male writers about our portrayals. I love this salvaging and empowering of our stories and historical figures.
Machete Yes, Machete gets his own section. Essays on Machete could have taken up the entire book, but he only gets one. Danny Trejo’s cool character (I’m not a fan obviously) brings much together: resistance, folk traditions, and science-fiction. The topic discussed toward the end I found the most interesting: How Machete inhabits a folk hero position (in a “whatever works” manner) and how like the corridos of old, such as those of Juan Cortina, Joaquin Murrieta, and Tiburcio Vasquez, he unifies voices of Mexican American identity and resistance. I might even add, camp. Chicanos are nothing if not humorous, and humor is a great weapon against naked emperors.
“For those seeking signs of intelligent life” by Deborah Kueztzpal Vasquez An enjoyable short story (memoir?) where the narrator shares her intergalactic origins and upbringing via her mothers. As a boy, I, too, heard how my sister and I were star people from our mother; at times we believed and other times we laughed. The narrator takes a trip to the motherland in the sky and how we all can be there if we erase hate and materialism from our hearts and how governments have twisted extraterrestrial knowledge and how we can do better if…. I like that Altermundos includes a few fiction pieces. In “For Those Seeking Signs of Intelligent Life,” there is social critique, a new-old way of being, a method to resolve trauma and to see the world. Not only a good story, but something that exemplifies the many purposes CSPs may bring to the table on critiques and necessary information to living one’s life as an indigenous person and/or a person inhabiting many crossroads of ethnicity, nations, and gender. The author’s artwork is likewise excellent and adds to the story and allows the viewer to wonder out on their own personal rocket ship to the space gods.
“Strange Leaves” is an excellent story – it’s being described as horror caused me to question what horror is. I would classify it as a crime-thriller as it deals with a character coming across a victim of assault while crossing over into Texas, the “strange leaves” are the victim’s clothes on a bush. Body-horror and the use of technology make me wonder, does horror have to have an element of the supernatural, as I normally view it? Whatever you may call it, it’s a good story that brings attention to an important issue of assault of innocent women crossing over.
“Chicanonautica Manifesto” by Ernest Hogan Ernest Hogan, his own work often the subject of critique in Altermundos, puts many of the ideas expressed in the other essays succinctly, informally, and wonderfully. “Probably because Chicano is a science fiction state of being. We exist between cultures, and our existence creates new cultures: rasquache mash-ups of what we experience across borders and in barrios all over the planet. We mestizos have no sense of cultural purity. Mariachis on Mars? Seems natural to me.” Speaking of personal essays, “Flying Saucers in the Barrio,” which is about the Speculative Rock opera put on by high school Chicanos in the 70s, recounted by the teacher, Gregg Barrios, who wrote the play, is an amazing piece of history. The play is inspired and includes the music of David Bowie albums such as The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. In the play, the Starman, the “alien” as a Chicano doesn’t fit and isn’t welcome. The essay is an interesting and well written bit of reflection on early speculative Chicano work and a snapshot of a moment in the Chicano Movement.
Los Planes de Alterlandias (ala Plan de Santa Barbara, de Aztlan, etc.) Most Chicano work, literature and media give tools for life or validation. Often include poetry, resolving of identity, social critique, and a view or a plan. Some essays in Altermundosoffer plans and a list to ways forward. Others, like the short story, “For those seeking signs of intelligent life,” offer an example of what could be, a speculative existence you could live now if you tried. This is the vision of a human, Chicano-centered space that many of the works critiqued in Altermundos get at. A science-fiction of our own personhood that may be the future, ret-conned past, or the now. The plans, the lists of concerns, the call to actions, all are speculative. They are speculative praxis, they are meant to be implemented to create a future or a future self. Several Altermundosarticles have plans for social justice, e.g., “Decolonizing the Future Today: Speculative Testimonios and Neplantlerx Futurism in Student Activism,” by Natalia Deeb-Sossa and Susy J. Zepeda. Chicano CSPs are formative and speculative.
I said this first book of Latino Speculative Criticism is necessary…because we can discover and look deeply at how we portray the world in which we are human. To see how necessary this is, you don’t need to go farther than my desk: I’m only a little ashamed to say I have desk toys. Many people are familiar with the issues for Mexican American children have in the US finding positive representation in media. Being a non-fluent Spanglish speaker I’ve always been acutely aware of any brown representation in the mainstream of US science fiction, especially as a child. While it is common for the man-children of my generation to collect figurines and toys from science fiction and fantasy, I realized when I collected Mexican action figures that it was filling an old gap from childhood.
(Machete Danny Trejo on a lowrider speederbike, Y Tu Mama Tambien guy Diego Luna from Star Wars Rogue One, Ricardo Montal-Khan from original Star Trek, and Chakotay Robert Beltran from Star Trek.)
While not a creative act per se, collecting figures is, as the many authors in Altermundos put it, something I can look over and imagine a world where we are human. In short, Altermundos is an excellent selection of criticism that would allow anyone to know the Mexican American experience better, but there needs to be AltermundosDos and anAltermundos Planetas de Jovenes. We need more anthologies and more venues.
Scott Russell Duncan, a.k.a. Scott Duncan-Fernandez, recently completed The Ramona Diary of SRD, a memoir of growing up Chicano-Anglo and a fantastical tour reclaiming the myths of Spanish California. Scott’s fiction involves the mythic, the surreal, the abstract, in other words, the weird. Scott received his MFA from Mills College in Oakland, California where he now lives and writes. He is an assistant editor at Somos en escrito. See more about his work and publications on Scott’s website scottrussellduncan.com.