By Felipe de Ortego y Gasca
My works on Backgrounds of Mexican American Literature and “The Chicano Renaissance” were still years in the future when I first met John Rechy in 1964 at an El Paso, Texas, soiree hosted by Molly Shapiro. Rechy’s novel City of Night had just been published the year before and he was riding a high wave of recognition. I was still two years from becoming a Chicano. And John Rechy would become an important Chicano novelist. That night, however, neither of us thought of ourselves as Chicanos. We were still Mexican Americans or mejicanos as we referred to ourselves then. But the Chicano Movement, percolating since 1960, would change our nomenclature.
Rechy was warm, buoyant, and obviously delighted by the adulation he was receiving from those whom Molly had assembled for that night’s treat. James Baldwin had praised City of Night highly. There was a certain reticence on Rechy’s part not because of those of us who had been invited to hear him speak about his novel, but because that was part of Rechy’s charm. His rugged good looks carried the evening. I admired him with a trace of envy for I fancied myself a writer also.
I had never met a Mexican American novelist. I had no idea of Mexican American writers or, for that matter, Mexican American Literature. But the trove of Mexican American literature was there. Not waiting for me to “discover” it. Just to organize it into a history. Later, in Backgrounds of Mexican American Literature (University of New Mexico, 1971) I created a scaffold for it. Subsequent scholars would bring it to life.
It turned out, John Rechy was among the first of the Chicano novelists in that first decade (1960-1969) of the Chicano era, publishing Numbers in 1967 and This Day’s Death in 1969. The other Chicano novelists of that decade included Fray Angélico Chavez and his novel The Lady from Toledo (1960), Antonio Serna Candelaria with Unscaled Fortress (1966), Floyd Salas with Tattoo the Wicked Cross (1967) and What Now My Love? (1969), and Raymond Barrio with The Plum Plum Pickers (1969). That was it.
In 1969, it seemed to me, on the basis of what I was able to find in completing Backgrounds of Mexican American Literature, that the novel Pocho was a clear marker in establishing the beginning of the “Chicano Novel” because it dealt explicitly with the origins of the Mexican American experience. That marker was not set in stone. It was just a convenient starting point given the data I had to work with.
I came across the novel Pocho by Jose Antonio Villarreal in the fall of 1969 when at the urging of Louis Bransford, founding director of Chicano Studies at the University of New Mexico, I taught the first course in “Chicano” literature in the country at the University of New Mexico, so I have believed. Pocho had been published by Doubleday in 1959 and quickly went into remainders, not because of its literary merit but because the country was not ready for Chicano literature, even though Mexican Americans had been writing steadily since February 2, 1848, when they went from being Mexicans to being Americans (see “Mexicans and Mexican Americans: Prolegomenon to a Literary Perspective,” Journal of South Texas, Spring, 2005).
Insofar as current research indicates, about a dozen novels were written by Mexican Americans during the period from 1872 to 1959: several by Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton and Eusebio Chacon. Included in this group are novels by Daniel Venegas, Aurelio Espinosa, Josefina Niggli, and Américo Paredes’ novel George Washington Gomez dating from 1930 but not published until 1990 by Arte Público Press. We still don’t have a full record of all the novels written (or published either in English or Spanish) by Mexican American writers between 1848 and 1959. Research into those forgotten pages of American literature continues. The University of Houston project on “Recovering the Hispanic Literary History of the United States” is uncovering that trove.
From the perspective of the 21st century and almost five decades of Chicano novels, it’s easier to make historical and critical judgments about Chicano writers and the art of the novel. To begin with, one of the major obstacles in Chicano literature has been one of nomenclature: how does one define “the Chicano Novel”? For example, is Famous All Over Town by Daniel James a Chicano novel since the work deals with the Chicanos of East Los Angeles–its characters are all Chicanos. James passed himself off as Danny Santiago in getting the novel published.
Some Chicano critics dismiss as Chicano novels certain works by Chicano writers because they are not “movement” novels or don’t address the social and/or political issues affecting Chica-nos. For example, in her commentary on the Chicano novel, Carlota Cardenas Dwyer excludes as Chicano novels the works by Villarreal, Rechy, Salas, Barrio and Vasquez on grounds that their novels do not promote a specific social or political issue unequivocally Chicano. Rafael Grajeda excludes the works of Villarreal and Vasquez in his selection of Chicano novels on grounds that “the works do not confront clearly and honestly the implication of their premises,” namely, that the central characters arrive at an understanding and acceptance of themselves as Chicanos.
As a genre, the novel has raised more questions about its literary form and function. There is also the meaning of the word fiction to take into account. What exactly does the word “fiction” mean? When a novel is so apparently autobiographical or patently realistic in the details about the characters that their live counterparts are easily recognizable, is that “fiction”?
Origins of the novel as a genre are obscure. And trying to date the novel historically leads us back to the chicken-and-the-egg question about fiction. Though as Northrop Frye argues, the novel should not be constrained by the strictures of fiction. In loose terms we can say that The Decameron is a novel–an episodic novel much the same as Tomas Rivera’s work And the Earth Did Not Part is a fragmentary novel. The structures of the two novels are pretty much the same. But if we allow that The Decameron is a novel, what do we make of The Canterbury Tales? Is it an episodic novel as well? Do purpose and intent help us to ascertain the character of a novel? Henry Fielding conceived the novel as a “comic epic in prose,” a definition that cuts out most novels. To work around the constraints of definition, some works have been called “romances,” a term older than the term “novel”—its shorter form “roman” used in France for the novel.
The word “novel” is a term difficult to define, but in the main it refers to an “extended” work of prose that employs the techniques of fiction: plot, setting, point of view and characterization. As fiction it also employs various approaches associated with fiction–psychological approach, sociological approach, archetypal approach, etc. At large, there are no strict rules for the form and content of the novel. That leaves us pretty much where we started. Let’s consider the following.
Just as the short story is short, so too the novel is long–longer, that is. One could say the novel is an extended short story, but that isn’t quite accurate because the short story is bounded by particular elements of unity that do not inhibit the novel. Analogously, the short story is like a backyard; the novel is a ranch. There’s considerable more room in the novel to tell the story, elaborate more pieces of the story, space to develop character(s), plumb their being(s), exposit relationships, span generations. The novel is a canvas; the short story, a snapshot.
Like people, novels come in all sizes, shapes and forms. While Bocaccio’s Decameron is a series of stories told by narrators hiding out from the plague, the work has been variously identified as a novel. In many ways, the word “novel” is a catch-all term for a variety of prose manifestations. The origin of “the novel” is hard to place, but in English the novel had its beginnings in the early 18th century. In Spain, the novel took root in the 16th century. It took 100 years for the novel to migrate to the United States from England. And given the character of America, the American novel grew self-consciously from the genteel traditions of New England, giving way to novels of social commentary and the amorphous novels of today enveloped in what is called “magical realism.”
Emulating first “the romance,” the American novel evolved through naturalism to realism. After the Civil War, the American novel was regarded as an instrument for social commentary. Richard Chase explains that “the American novel tends to rest in contradictions and among extreme ranges of experience” (The American Novel and its Tradition, Baltimore: John Hopkins, 1957, 1).
Generally, our assessment of American novels has focused on those contradictions and ex-treme ranges of experience. Henry James defined that range of experience as “what happens to us as social creatures” (Ibid. 21). That has been the general canvas of the American novel–what happens to us as social creatures. For this reason American novelists have tended to create in their novels a veri-similitude of the society in which their characters move, patterned in terms of human relationships and the human predicament.
Since 1945 the American novel has tended to reflect the uncertainty and ambiguities of modern life. Some critics of the novel suggest that as a consequence the American novel has become too stylized, too personal. The large vistas of traditional American novels have given way to narrow perspectives and a banality of language, say many critics of the genre. The upshot is that the American novel provides a range of critical assessment, depending on what we think the function of the novel ought to be. Lionel Trilling thought the novel was “a kind of summary and paradigm of our cultural life” (“Art and Fortune” in The Liberal Imagination, 1950).
While there is some controversy about some forms of short fiction–whether a short work is a piece of folklore, a tale or a short story (something more fictive than the novel)—the novel as a genre has raised more questions as a literary form than any other of the literary genres. Discussion of “cataloging” the novel is much like the story that the only thing one can be sure of when the person driving a car in front of you puts his or her hand out the driver’s window to signal a turn in the old-fashioned way is that the window is down. There is, of course, the meaning of the word “fiction.” What exactly does it mean?
In The Four Forms of Fiction, Northrop Frye points out the distinction between fiction as a genus and the novel as a species. Of course, none of this sheds light on what the novel is, except to say that as a species it is not short; otherwise it would be a short story. Few critics would call a short story a short novel.
Is a “novel” still a “fiction” when it is so apparently autobiographical or patently realistic in the details about the characters that their live counterparts are easily recognizable?
However the novel may have come into being, we know a lot about its evolution after the Western Renaissance. Generally, though not conclusively, we can place the novel first in Italy, then in Spain, and identify the Spanish influences in the early English novel. In the 19th century, the strongholds of the novel were in France and Russia, giving way to its ascendancy in the United States toward the end of the 19th century and continuing until well into the third quarter of the 20th century. Since World War Two, however, the stronghold of the novel seems to be in Latin America. It’s a genre that migrates with ideas and with the imagination. The current trend of “magical realism” in the novel is of Latin American origin, though that origin springs from the tradition of the fábula (fa-ble) and earlier folklore.
The Chicano novel dates from 1959 with publication of Pocho by Jose Antonio Villarreal. Already mentioned, there were Mexican American novelists before 1959. By 1969, ten years after publication of Pocho, there were only eight novels published by Chicano writers. In 1970 with publi-cation of Y no se lo trago la tierra by Tomás Rivera, Chicano literature bifurcated along language lines–Chicano works in English and Chicano works in Spanish. These forking paths did not (and do not) signal a philosophical rift between two camps of Chicano writers. It means, rather, that there are some Chicano writers who prefer to write in Spanish or English or are more comfortable in one or the other language. However, many Chicano writers work in both languages, like Rolando Hinojosa or Alejandro Morales, to name but two. This raises again the question of linguistic realities for Chicanos who may be monolingual or bilingual and/or may participate to varying degrees in Chicano English and/or Chicano Spanish. Manifestations of these linguistic realities crop up in all the genres of Chicano literature. The question is: are these linguistic manifestations congruent with the realities of Chicano existence? Or does the language of choice predicate a particular perspective or point of view?
In his essay on “Contemporary Chicano Prose Fiction: Its Ties to Mexican Literature,” Charles Tatum raises an important point in getting at the wellspring of Chicano literature, particu-larly Chicano prose fiction. While Chicano fiction–in this case, the novel– has obvious connections to Mexican literature, it also has obvious connections to American literature. Chicano literature is not simply an extension of Mexican literature in the United States, anymore than it is simply an outcrop of American literature in a distinct region of the country. One can not talk about Chicano writers in the same way one talks about “Southern writers,” say. While both are geographically bound, more or less, the latter is part and parcel of American culture; the former still shares a culture with Mexico. Ultimately, the assessment of the Chicano novel will be in terms it brings to the discussion, much the way Louis Gates talks about Black literature. Which is as it should be.
To avoid the pitfalls of Rolando heading straight toward the “dark tower,” in my commentaries about “the Chicano novel” I use the locution: “Mexican American/Chicano writers and the art of the novel.” In the Chronology that follows, I’m sure I’ve missed some novels. Mea culpa.
Mexican American/Chicano Writers
and the Art of the Novel
Mexican American Fiction and the Beginnings of the Novel
1872 Who Would Have Thought it? by Maria Amparo de Burton
1885 The Squatter and the Don by Maria Amparo de Burton
1892 El Hijo de la Tempestad by Eusebio Chacón (Boletín Popular)
Tras la Tormenta la Calma by Eusebio Chacón (Boletín Popular)
1896 Vicente Silva y sus 40 Bandidos by Manuel C. de Baca
1924 Eustacia y Carlota by Felipe M. Chacón
1928 Las Aventuras de Don Chipote by Daniel Venegas (Arte Público 1984)
1938 Conchita Arguello by Aurelio Espinosa (Macmillan)
1945 Mexican Village by Josephina Niggli (University of North Carolina Press)
1947 Step Down, Elder Brother by Josephina Niggli (Rinehart)
1959 Pocho by Jose Antonio Villarreal (Doubleday)
The First Chicano Decade: 1960-1969--Early Efforts I
1960 The Lady from Toledo by Fray Angélico Chavez (Academy Guild)
1963 City of Night by John Rechy (Grove Press)
1966 Unscaled Fortress by Antonio Serna Candelaria (Bennett)
1967 Numbers by John Rechy (Grove Press)
Tattoo the Wicked Cross by Floyd Salas (Grove Press)
1969 This Day’s Death by John Rechy (Grove Press)
What Now My Love by Floyd Salas (Grove Press)
The Plum Plum Pickers by Raymond Barrio (Ventura Press)
Afro 6 by Enrique Hank Lopez (Dell)
The Second Chicano Decade: 1970-1979—Early Efforts II
1970 Chicano by Richard Vasquez (Doubleday)
Return to Ramos by Leo Cardenas (Hill & Wang)
1971 Y no se lo Trago la Tierra by Thomas Rivera (Quinto Sol)
Blessing From Above by Arthur Tenorio (West Las Vegas, NM, School Press)
Vampires by John Rechy (Grove Press)
1972 The Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo by Oscar Acosta (Straight Arrow Books)
The Fourth Angel by John Rechy (Viking Press)
Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya (Quinto Sol)
1973 The Revolt of the Cockroach People by Oscar Acosta (Straight Arrow Books)
Macho by Edmund Villaseñor (Bantam Books)
Estampas del Valle by Rolando Hinojosa (Quinto Sol)
1974 Peregrinos de Aztlan by Miguel Mendez (Editorial Peregrinos)
Two Ranges by Robert Medina (Bronson)
The Fifth Horseman by Jose Antonio Villarreal (Doubleday)
1975 The Road to Tamazunchale by Ron Aria (West Coast Poetry Review)
Caras Viejas y Vino Nuevo by Alejandro Morales (Joaquin Mortiz)
Come Down From the Mound by Berta Ornelas (Miter)
1976 Nambe--Year One by Orlando Romero (Tonatiuh)
Klail City y sus Alrededores by Rolando Hinojosa (Casa de las Américas)
Below the Summit by Joseph Torres-Metzger (Tonatiuh)
Victuum by Isabela Rios (Diana-Etna)
Heart of Aztlan by Rudolfo Anaya (Justa)
El Diablo en Tejas by Aristeo Brito (Editorial Peregrinos)
The Devil’s Apple Crops by Raymond Barrio (Ventura)
Chicano, Go Home by Tomas Lopez (Exposition Press)
Pachuco Mark by Rudolph Melendez (Grossmount)
1977 Generaciones y Semblanzas by Rolando Hinojosa (Justa)
Memories of the Alhambra by Nash Candelaria (Cíbola Press)
The Waxen Image by Rudy Apodaca (Titan)
Don-Phil-O-Meno si la Marcha by Phil Sanchez (Alamosa)
1978 Fabian no se Muere by Roberto Medina (Bilingual Publications)
The Giant Killer by Richard Vasquez (Manor Books)
Lay My Body on the Line by Floyd Salas (Yardbird Press)
From Common clay by Adalberto Acosta (Maryland Press)
1979 Rushes by John Rechy (Grove Press)
Pelón Drops Out by Celso de Casas (Tonatiuh)
La Verdad sin Voz by Alejandro Morales (Joaquin Mortíz)
Tortuga by Rudolfo Anaya (Justa)
Jambeaux by Laurence Gonzales (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich)
Letters to Louis by Abelardo Delgado (Tonatiuh)
The Third Chicano Decade: 1980-1989—Later Works
1980 The Aguila Family by Tomas Lopez (Mexican American Publications)
Pachuco by Dennis Rodriguez (Holloway)
1981 Mi Querido Rafa by Rolando Hinojosa (Arte Público)
Faultline by Sheila Ortiz Taylor
There are no Madmen Here by Gina Valdes (Maize)
The Last Deal by Laurence Gonzales (Atheneum)
1982 Another Land by Richard Vasquez (Avon)
Rites and Witnesses by Rolando Hinojosa (Arte Público)
Not by the Sword by Nash Candelaria (Bilingual Press)
The Healing Ritual by Ricardo Martinez (Tonatiuh)
Portrait of Doña Elena by Katherine Quintana Ranck (Tonatiuh)
1983 Reto en el Paraíso by Alejandro Morales (Bilingual Press)
The Valley by Rolando Hinojosa (Arte Público)
El Vago by Laurence Gonzales (Atheneum)
Bodies and Souls by John Rechy (Carroll & Graf)
Three Coffins for Nino Lencho by Armando Rico (Tonatiuh)
1984 Mi Querido Rafa by Rolando Hinojosa (Arte Público)
Muerte en una Estrella by Sergio Elizondo (Arte Público)
The Rain God by Arturo Islas (Alexandrian Press)
Clemente Chacón by Jose Antonio Villarreal (Bilingual Press)
Dudes or Duds by Charles Aranda (Carlo Press)
The Legend of La Llorona by Rudolfo Anaya (Tonatiuh)
Adventures of the Chicano Kid by Max Martinez
1985 Leaving Home by Lionel Garcia (Arte Público)
Dear Rafe by Rolando Hinojosa (Arte Público)
The Comeback by Ed Vega
Partners in Crime by Rolando Hinojosa (Arte Público)
Face by Cecile Piñeda (Penguin)
Inheritance of Strangers by Nash Candelaria (Bilingual Press)
Puppet, Margarita Cota-Cardenas
1986 The Mixquiahuala Letters by Ana Castillo (Bilingual Press)
Trini by Estela Portillo (Bilingual Press)
Claros Varones de Belken by Rolando Hinojosa (Bilingual Press)
El Sueño de Santa María de las Piedras by Miguel Mendez (Univ. Guadalajara)
1987 A Shroud in the Family by Lionel Garcia (Arte Público)
1988 Rainbow’s End by Genaro Gonzalez (Arte Público)
The Brick People by Alejandro Morales (Arte Público)
Death of an Anglo by Alejandro Morales (Bilingual Press)
Delia’s Song by Lucha Corpi (Arte Público)
Schoolland by Max Martinez (Arte Público)
Oddsplayer by Joe Rodriguez (Arte Público)
1989 Marilyn’s Daughter by John Rechy (Viking)
Across the Great River by Irene Hernandez (Arte Público)
The Wedding by Mary Helen Ponce (Arte Público)
Becky and Her Friends by Rolando Hinojosa (Arte Público)
Face of an Angel by Denise Chavez (Arte Público)
Kicking the Habit by Jeanne Cordova (Multiple Dimensions)
The Fourth Chicano Decade: 1990-1999—Fin de Siècle
1990 Hardscrub by Lionel Garcia (Arte Público)
Intaglio by Roberta Fernandez
George Washington Gomez by Américo Paredes (Arte Público)
1992 Eulogy for a Brown Angel by Lucha Corpi
Rain of Gold by Victor Villaseñor (Arte Público)
Albuquerque by Rudolfo Anaya
1993 So Far From God, Ana Castillo (Norton)
In Search of Bernabe by Graciela Limón (Arte Público)
The Ballad of Rocky Ruiz by Manuel Ramos (St. Martins Press)
1994 The Candy Vendor’s Boy by Beatriz de la Garza
The Memories of Ana Calderon by Graciela Limón
Mother Tongue by Demetria Martinez (Bilingual Review Press)
The Last Known Residence of Mickey Acuña by Dagoberto Gilb
The Ballad of Gato Guerrero by Manuel Ruiz (St. Martins Press)
La Maravilla by Alfredo Vea, Jr. (Dutton)
Dogs from Illusion by Charley Trujillo (Chusma)
1995 Under the Feet of Jesus by Helena Maria Viramontes
Zia Summer by Rudolfo Anaya
Dr. Magdalena by Rosa Martha Villarreal (TQS)
Carry Me Like Water by Benjamin Alire Saenz (HarperCollins)
1996 Rio Grande Falls by Rudolfo Anaya
Caballero by Jovita Gonzalez & Eve Raleigh
1997 Breaking Even by Alejandro Grattan-Dominguez
A Message from the Desert by Rudolfo Anaya
The House of Forgetting by Benjamin Alire Saenz
1999 The Day of the Moon by Graciela Limón (Arte Público Press)
The 21st Century—Millennial Vistas
2001 Loving Pedro Infante by Denise Chavez (Washington Square Press)
2002 Let Their Spirits Dance by Stella Pope Duarte (Harper Collins)
2003 Drift by Manuel Luis Martinez (Picador Press)
2004 Dark Eclipse: Rise of an Era by Christopher M. Salas (One Level Higher)
Playing with Boys by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez (Macmillan)
2005 Color of Law by Mark Gimenez (Anchor Books)
The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Urrea (Little Brown/Time Warner)
Erased Faces by Graciela Limón (Arte Público)
2006 In Perfect Light by Benjamin Alire Saenz (Harper Collins)
Our House on Hueco, Carlos Nicolás Flores (Texas Tech University)
Twist of Fate by Roberto de Haro (Vantage Press)
2007 Their Dogs Came With Them by Helena Maria Viramontes (Atria Books)
2008 The Flowers by Dagoberto Gilb (Grove Press)
If I Die in Juarez by Stella Pope Duarte (University of Arizona Press)
Nymphos of Rocky Flats by Mario Acevedo (Rayo)
The River Flows North by Graciela Limón (Arte Público Press)
Brotherhood of the Light by Ray Michael Baca, (Floricanto Press)
2009 Dead is so Last Year by Marlene Perez (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Suzanna by Irene Blea (Floricanto Press)
Felipe de Ortego y Gasca is Scholar in Residence and Chair, Department of Chicana/o and Hemispheric Studies, Western New Mexico University; Professor Emeritus, Texas State University System-Sul. RossCopyright ©2009 by the author. All rights reserved.
To my Republican brothers & sistersTo my Republican brothers & sisters,
and to all of us who need to hear it said.
by © Rafael Jesús González 2009
As the issues of a general public health plan, the environment, the war, and other issues are debated, Republicans lie more and more, and the usual high-flown, tired, vague, meaningless catchwords are bandied about, many of us responding to them like the dogs in Dr. Pavlov’s laboratory, or the rats in the laboratories at U. C. Berkeley a matter of blocks from where I write. But what do they mean?
Words are sacred only in as much as they have a contextual meaning and state a truth. If you are going to fling them at me, I must insist that they have a definition we can agree upon. Let us begin with a few:
“Patriotism” means to me putting the welfare of the country above my own, or seeing the welfare of the country as inseparable from my own. What does it mean to you?
But what is “The Country”?
Is “The Country” the land, the rivers, the lakes, the mountains, the valleys, the trees, the plants and animals that constitute its terrain?
If so, what do we propose to protect and nurture them?
Is “The Country” the people who inhabit the land?
If so what do we propose to ensure the health of the people? What do we propose to ensure that the people have enough to eat? What do we propose to ensure that the people have a shelter over their heads? What do we propose to ensure that the people learn and have the knowledge through which they can make decisions that will make them happy? What do we propose to ensure that the people may have work by which to earn the money to purchase what they need? What do we propose to better the lives of the people?
Is “The Country” the Constitution that codifies its ideals and sets it laws?
What do we propose to do to protect that constitution and ensure that the laws of “The Country” are in accord with it? How do we propose to ensure that those laws are just? How do we propose to ensure that those laws are equally applied?
Is “The Country” the government? Is it the government even if the government does not protect or nurture nor the land, nor the waters, nor the plants or animals that its borders define? Is it the government even if the government does not protect or nurture and ensure the well-being of the people that inhabit the land? Is it the government when it does not honor the Constitution or its laws? Is it the government when it serves not the land, nor the people, nor their ideals but only serves some of those people ensuring that only they have what they need, and more?
A government that does not take care of the land or of the people or of the Constitution is not “our” government and therefore it is not “our” country. For then, who is us, and what do we call “ours?” It must then be the government of those few it serves — and the few do not a “Country” make.
I hear “Democracy” and the words of a great Republican sound in my ears: “. . . a government of the people, by the people, for the people . . .”
How do we propose to make a government of the people? How do we propose to make a government by the people? How do we propose to make a government for the people?
When I hear the word “Democracy” mouthed by politicians and demagogues who do nothing to ensure a government of, by, and for the people (not just some of the people) and instead shred the Constitution and Bill of Rights, do away with habeas corpus, torture prisoners, spy on us the people, deny women decision over their own bodies, kill the folk in other lands in the name of us the people, sacrifice our youth in illegal and senseless war, and refuse to care for those who do return, wounded in body and mind, my blood boils for I am sick of bull.
For me, then, “The Country” means the land that defines it, the people that inhabit it, its institutions that manifest its ideals and its laws, and its government that protects and nurtures it in all its aspects, a government of, by, and for the people, all of the people not just the privileged.
I hear the term “The Flag” flung about often and see red, white, and blue stars and stripes promiscuously waved giddily about and become dizzy. But what is “The Flag?” Is it a piece of cloth sewn or printed in certain colors and patterns? What does it mean?
As a sign it may mean something: if flown over a building or ground, it may mean “this is a center of government or public building”, or “this is a car dealers’ lot;” if it is flown from a ship, it may mean “this is a ship of the U.S. government or this is a ship from the U.S.”
As a symbol, it is so vague and complex in its connotations that it is only as meaningful as the things it is supposed to stand for: Country, Government, Democracy, the Land, Ideals. And all these are so confused in the minds of the flag wavers and of us that “The Flag” can only mean whatever we have been indoctrinated and conditioned to believe. When demagogues and liars wag “The Flag”, it is demeaned.
Don’t confuse me with flags; “The Flag” can only have meaning for me once you have defined “Country” for me and proved to me that you care for and promote the ideals for which it stands. I detest hypocrites.
Often with “The Flag”, I hear the term “Morality” mouthed. What is “Morality?” What it means to me is treating the other with respect and with compassion; it means holding the other’s, my brother’s and my sister’s, well-being as important as I hold my own. My sense of “Morality” has been formed by what a great Teacher was supposed to have said: “feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned,” “Judge not lest you be judged,” “you who are sinless cast the first stone,” “you are your brother’s [and your sister’s] keeper,” “turn the other cheek,” “blessed are the peacemakers,” “the law was made for [people] and not [people] made for the law.” And when a wealthy young man asked him how to achieve paradise, he told him, “Give what you have to the poor. It is more difficult for a rich man to enter paradise than it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.” He also said “as you do to your brother and sister so you do to me,” “a new law I bring you, love god above all else, and your neighbor as yourself,” that is to say that my welfare is inseparable from yours.
What do you propose to do about feeding the hungry, providing water for the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, healing the sick, caring for the imprisoned, teaching the ignorant, bringing about peace? Until you can answer these questions, I can hold nothing but contempt for your “Morality.” Don’t confuse me with crosses; I detest hypocrites who hide behind these as much as I detest those who hide behind flags.
The same holds true for “Family Values.” What are these? Are they any different from “Morality”? I know what “Family Values” are; my father and mother, my grandfather and grandmother taught me these. “Family Values” predicate that we take care of one another. They predicate that when a member of the family is a child, or is ill, or old, those who can work take care of them, feed, clothe, shelter, heal, educate, nurture them. Family Values predicate that what there is must be shared equitably among all members of the family. Family values are that we respect and love one another.
What “Family Values” are you talking about? What do you propose to give work to a father so that he may support the family? What do you propose to assist a mother in caring for the children? What do you propose to shelter a family? What do you propose to cure an ill father, an ill mother, an ill son or daughter, an ill grandfather or grandmother, aunt or uncle? What do you propose to educate the children of a family? For the life of me, I cannot distinguish “Family Values” from “Morality.” Until you can answer these questions, I cannot take your “Family Values” as anything but more bull.
And “Freedom?” Freedom is nothing more than but the ability to choose among alternatives; the more alternatives there are available to us, the more alternatives we are aware of, the more freedom we have. To exercise freedom, we first have to be alive; to live, we must have food, and water, and health, and clothing and shelter from the elements. To be free we must learn what is true and what is not, what is healthy and what is harmful, what makes us happy and what does not; we must learn sound values. To exercise freedom we must be made aware of alternatives, opportunities, and trained to take advantage of them; that is what education is. Freedom requires that every person be able to elect and be part of the government which rules over “The Country". Freedom requires a culture, a society, a government that will assure that everyone in the “Country” meets these conditions for “Freedom” and then make laws to protect the people from coercion, from fear, from predators (unethical employers, unethical money-lenders, unethical merchants and manufacturers, unethical politicians, unethical government itself.)
What do we propose to ensure “Freedom”?
And if these apply to “The Country”, then “Morality” decrees that they apply to the entire world. If we truly believe in “Globalization”, that the world is one interdependent whole, then we must treat the entire world justly, protecting the Earth; its people, for humanity is as a family; the highest ideals of justice, and compassion, and peace. Only then, can freedom, and justice, and peace have any meaning and such terms as “Free Market” are only more bull when what they refer to is predatory and immoral, depending as it does upon coercion, abuse of the environment, and poverty.
I have addressed my questions to you who are Republicans, but they are equally addressed to Democrats, and to us all. Until these questions are answered me, I am under no obligation to listen with respect to any vague and bombastic appeals to “Patriotism,” to “Country,” to “Democracy,” to “Flag,” to “Morality,” to “Family Values,” to “Freedom.” When “The American Dream” has become a nightmare, too much of the real thing is at stake to put up with bull. Our lives, the very health of the Earth depends upon us and what direction we decide to take in a world grown too small to make borders meaningful and a wounded Earth that will soon refuse to sustain us. Now let’s get with it.
A mis herman@s Republicanos
y a todos nosotros que necesitemos oírlo
A la vez que se debaten un plan de salud público, el medio ambiente, la guerra y otras cuestiones, los Republicanos mienten más y más y uno oye los lemas usuales, pomposos, exhaustos, vagos, sin sentido lanzados de un lado a otro, muchos de nosotros reaccionando como los perros en el laboratorio del Dr. Pavlov o como las ratas en los laboratorios de la Universidad de California Berkeley algunas cuadras de donde escribo. Pero ¿qué significan?
Las palabras son sacras solamente en cuanto tengan significado contextual y expresen una verdad. Si me las vas a lanzar, debo insistir que lleven definición el la cual podremos estar de acuerdo. Empecemos con algunas:
“Patriotismo” para mí significa poner el bienestar del país más alto que el mío, o ver el bienestar del país inseparable del mío. ¿Qué significa para ti?
Pero ¿qué es “El País”?
¿Es “El País” la tierra, los ríos, los lagos, las montañas, los valles, los árboles, las plantas y animales que constituyen su terreno?
Si es así, ¿qué proponemos para proteger y cuidarlos?
¿Es “El País” la gente que habita la tierra?
Si así es ¿qué proponemos para asegurar la salud de la gente? ¿Qué propones para asegurar que la gente tenga suficiente de comer? ¿Qué proponemos para asegurar que la gente tenga techo sobre la cabeza? ¿Qué proponemos para asegurar que la gente aprenda y tenga la sabiduría por la cual hacer las decisiones que las haga felices? ¿Qué proponemos para asegurar que la gente tenga trabajo por el cual ganar el dinero para comprar lo que necesiten? ¿Qué proponemos para mejorar las vidas de la gente?
¿Es “El País” la Constitución que codifica sus ideales y pone sus leyes?
¿Qué proponemos hacer para proteger esa constitución y asegurar que las leyes “Del País” acuerden con ella? ¿Cómo proponemos asegurar que esas leyes sean justas? ¿Cómo proponemos asegurar que esas leyes se apliquen igual?
¿Es “El País” el gobierno? ¿Es “El País” aunque el gobierno no proteja o cuide ni la tierra, ni las aguas, ni las planta o animales que sus bordes define? Es el gobierno aunque el gobierno no proteja o cuide del bienestar de la gente que habita la tierra? ¿Es el gobierno cuando este no respeta la Constitución o sus leyes? ¿Es el gobierno cuando este no sirve ni a la tierra, ni a la gente, o sus ideales mas sólo sirve a algunas de esa gente asegurando que solamente ellas tengan lo que necesiten, y más?
Un gobierno que no cuida de la tierra ni de la gente ni de la Constitución no es “nuestro” gobierno y por lo cual no es “nuestro” país. Entonces ¿quiénes somos nosotros y ¿qué llamamos “nuestro”? Entonces debe ser el gobierno de esos poco que sirve — y los pocos no hacen un “País.”
Oigo “Democracia” y las palabras de un gran Republicano me suenan en el oído: “. . . un gobierno de la gente, por la gente, para la gente . . .”
¿Cómo proponemos hacer un gobierno de la gente? ¿Cómo proponemos hacer un gobierno por la gente? ¿Cómo proponemos hacer un gobierno para la gente?
Cuando oigo la palabra “Democracia” declamada por los políticos y demagogos que hacen nada para asegurar un gobierno de, por y para la gente (no solamente alguna gente) y en vez hacen tirsos de la Constitución y la Lista de Derechos, deshacen de habeas corpus, torturan prisioneros, nos espían a nosotros el pueblo, les niegan a la mujeres decisión sobre sus propios cuerpos, matan a la gente de otras tierras en nuestro nombre, sacrifican a nuestra juventud en guerra ilegal e insensata, y se niegan en cuidar de los que vuelven, heridos en cuerpo y mente, me hierve la sangre pues estoy harto de pavonadas.
Para mí “El País” significa la tierra que lo define, la gente que lo habita, sus instituciones que manifiestan sus ideales y sus leyes, y su gobierno que lo protege y nutre en todos sus aspectos, un gobierno de, por y para el pueblo, todo el pueblo no solamente los privilegiados.
Oigo el término “La Bandera” arrojado seguido por aquí y allá y veo estrellas y bandas roja, blancas y azules promiscuamente giradas alocadamente y me da vértigo. Pero ¿qué es “La Bandera”? ¿Es un pedazo de trapo confeccionado o impreso en ciertos colores y diseño? ¿Qué significa?
Como seña podría significar algo: si sobre un edificio podría significar “este es un centro del gobierno o edificio público” o “este es un lugar donde se venden automóviles”; si sobre un barco podría significar “este es un barco del gobierno estadounidense o un barco de los Estados Unidos.”
Como símbolo es tan vago y complejo en sus connotaciones que sólo es tan significativa como las cosas que se supone representa: País, Gobierno, Democracia, Tierra, Ideales. Y todos estos son tan confusos en las mentes de los que la menean y de nosotros que “La Bandera” sólo significa cualquier cosa en la que hemos sido indoctrinados y acondicionados a creer. Cuando demagogos y embusteros menean “La Bandera”, es degradada.
No me confundas con banderas; “La Bandera” sólo me puede tener significado una vez que me hayas definido “País” y me hayas comprobado que te importe y promueves los ideales que representa. Detesto a hipócritas.
Muchas veces con “La Bandera”, oigo el término “Moralidad” declamado. ¿Qué es la Moralidad? Lo que significa para mí es tratar a la otra persona con respeto y compasión; significa que el bienestar de mi hermano o hermana me importa tanto como el mío. Mi sentido de “Moralidad” ha sido formado por un gran Maestro que se supone dijo: “da de comer al hambriento, dale de beber al sediento, viste al desnudo, aloja al desamparado, cura al enfermo, visita al prisionero,” “No juzgues para que no seas juzgado,” “tú que eres libre de pecado lanza la primera piedra,” “tú eres el guardián de tu herman@,” “voltea la otra mejía,” “benditos son los que hacen la paz,” “la ley fue hecha para el humano y no el humano para la ley.” Y cuando un joven adinerado le preguntó como ganar el paraíso, le dijo, “Da lo que tengas a los pobres. Es más difícil para un rico entrar al paraíso que para un camello pasar por el ojo de una aguja.” También dijo, “tal como hagas con tu hermano y hermana tal lo haces conmigo,” “una nueva ley traigo, ama a dios sobre todo y a tu prójimo como a ti mismo,” que es decir que mi bienestar es inseparable del tuyo.
¿Qué propones hacer para darle comer al hambriento, darle agua al sediento, vestir al desnudo, alojar al desamparado, curar al enfermo, cuidar del prisionero, enseñar al ignorante, hacer la paz? Hasta que me puedas contestar estas preguntas no podré tener nada mas que desdén por tu “Moralidad.” No me confundas con cruces; detesto a los hipócritas que se esconden tras estas tanto como a los que se esconden tras las banderas.
Lo mismo vale por los “Valores Familiares.” ¿Qué son estos? ¿Serán distintos a la “Moralidad”? Sé lo que son los “Valores Familiares”; mi padre y mi madre, mi abuelo y mi abuela me los enseñaron. Los “Valores Familiares” predican que cuidemos uno al otro. Predican que cuando un miembro de la familia es nin@, o está enferm@, o ancian@, los que puedan trabajar los cuiden, les den de comer, los vistan, los amparen, los curen, los eduquen, los nutran. Los Valores Familiares predican que lo que hay debe ser compartido equitativamente entre todos los miembros de la familia. Los “Valores Familiares” son que respetemos y amemos uno al otro.
¿De que “Valores Familiares” hablas? ¿Qué propones para darle trabajo a un padre para que sostenga a la familia? ¿Qué propones para ayudarle a una madre para cuidar a los niñ@s? ¿Qué propones para alojar a una familia? ¿Qué propones para sanar a un padre enfermo, una madre enferma, un hij@ enferm@, un abuel@ enferm@, tío o tía? Por la vida mía no puedo distinguir entre los “Valores Familiares” y la “Moralidad.” Hasta que me puedas contestar estas preguntas no puedo tener tus “Valores Familiares” por nada mas que embustería.
Y ¿la “Libertad”? La libertad no es nada mas que la habilidad de elegir entre alternativas, entre más alternativas nos sean disponibles, entre más conscientes seamos de alternativas, más libertad tenemos. Para ejercer la libertad primero tenemos que vivir; para vivir tenemos que tener para comer, y agua, y salud, y ropa y amparo de los elementos. Para ser libre tenemos que aprender que es lo verdadero y lo que no es, que es sano y que es dañino, que nos hace feliz y que no; tenemos que aprender valores sanos. Para ejercer la libertad tenemos que hacernos conscientes de alternativas, oportunidades, y ser instruidos para poder tomar ventaja de ellas; es lo que es la educación. La libertad requiere que toda persona pueda elegir y ser parte del gobierno que rige sobre “El País.” La libertad requiere una cultura, una sociedad, un gobierno que asegure que todo mundo en “El País” cumpla estas condiciones para la libertad y luego haga leyes para proteger a la gente de la coerción, del temor, de los rapaces (patrones, prestadores de dinero, mercaderes, fabricantes, el gobierno mismo de poca ética.)
¿Qué proponemos hacer para asegurar “La Libertad”?
Y si esto es aplicable al “País”, entonces “La Moralidad” decreta que son aplicables al mundo entero. Si verdaderamente creemos en la “Globalización”, que el mundo es único e interdependiente, entonces debemos tratar al mundo entero justamente, protegiendo la Tierra; su gente, pues la humanidad es una familia; los más altos ideales de justicia y compasión y paz. Pues solamente entonces podrá la libertad y la justicia y la paz tener significado alguno y tales términos como “Mercado Libre” son solamente más embustería cuando a lo que se refiere es rapaz e inmoral, dependiendo de coerción y del abuso del medio ambiente y de la pobreza.
He dirigido mis preguntas a ustedes que son Republicanos, pero igualmente son dirigidas a Demócratas, y las dirijo a todos nosotros. Hasta que se me hayan contestado estas preguntas, no estoy bajo ninguna obligación de escuchar con respeto ningún llamamiento vago y bombástico al “Patriotismo,” al “País,” a la “Democracia,” a “La Bandera,” a la “Moralidad,” a los “Valores Familiares,” a la “Libertad.” Cuando “El Sueño Americano [estadounidense]” se ha vuelto en pesadilla, demasiado de la cosa verdadera está en riesgo para tolerar pavonadas. Nuestras vidas, la misma salud de la Tierra depende de nosotros y de la dirección que decidamos tomar en un mundo hecho demasiado chico para que las fronteras signifiquen algo y una Tierra herida que pronto se negará a sostenernos. Ahora, sigamos.
Rafael Jesús González
P. O. Box 5638
Berkeley, Ca. 94705