Fragments of Tales and the Bonemeal of Humankind Two excerpts from Feathered Serpent Dark Heart Of Sky Myths of Mexico
By David Bowles
Five hundred years ago, Mexico was quite different. The Triple Alliance of Anahuac—what we now call the Aztec Empire—dominated an area that stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific coast. Arrayed all around them were dozens of other nations: the Maya, the Purepecha, Zapotecs, Yaqui, Huichol, Huastec, and Tarahumara, among many others. All of these peoples had different languages, gods, and traditions. Over the centuries, though, migration, trade and conflict had spread certain common cultural traits widely. Twenty million people lived in this land when the Spanish arrived in 1519. But the conquistadores were not interested in the cultural richness of Mexico. In their single-minded hunger for glory and gold, in their zealous drive to see the “Indians” kneel to the Christian god, the Spanish swept across the landscape with their steel swords, their guns, their armored horses. They also brought with them diseases that devastated the indigenous population. It was genocide. Seventy-five years later, only one million people remained. Most of these survivors converted to Catholicism. Many blended with the Spanish colonists who came to occupy lands emptied by conquest. That fusion of races and ethnicities is called mestizaje. In time, a caste system was created to carefully separate this new hybrid population into special groups. Spaniards—both those born in Spain, peninsulares, and those born in Mexico, criollos—had the greatest rights and privileges. Below them others were ranked by how much Spanish blood ran through their veins: castizos (75%, with 25% indigenous), moriscos (75%, with 25% black), mestizos (50%, with 50% indigenous), mulattoes (50%, with 50% black). Pure indigenous and black individuals were at the very bottom of this social hierarchy. As a result of this caste system, the sort of life a person had was essentially determined by the number of Spanish ancestors they laid claim to. Light skin and eyes, European features—such attributes brought advancement and opportunity. As a result, those who were products of mestizaje often turned away from their own native heritage and sought to be more like the Spanish conquerors, even oppressing people with less Spanish blood than they had. Even after the caste system broke down and Mexico won its independence from Spain, traces of this old prejudice stubbornly survived. A fledgling Mexican identity was arising, however. The late 19th century saw a renewed interest in the pre- Colombian glories of the nation. But much had been lost. The few traditions that survived were diluted and fractured. And so they have remained, even down to my own generation. By the time my grandfather Manuel Garza was born, his family’s indigenous past had been wiped away. They were Spanish-speaking Mexicans, then Mexican- American Texans, heirs to traditions from across the sea. Ranches and cattle were the lifeblood of their community in northern Mexico and deep South Texas. Their norteño music and weekly mass were also European, if flavored with native spice. One of the worst insults was indio. Everyone swore their ancestors were pure Spanish. Even though the stories my grandparents, aunts and uncles told me when I was child were thick with local lore—strange boogeymen and wailing women—no trace remained of the old gods, the ancient priests, the vaunted heroes of Mexico’s pre- Colombian past. In school, I was taught—like my father—the myths of the Norse, the Egyptians, the Romans, and especially the Greeks. I devoured the Odyssey, hungry for those Bronze-Age sensibilities, that interweaving of human and divine. On my own I read other great epics of Western mythology: the Iliad, the Aeneid. I widened my net, plunged into India and its Ramayana, sought out the Sunjata of West Africa. But it wasn’t until I took a world literature class in college that I read a single Aztec or Maya myth. Amazing. I had attended schools just miles from the Mexican border, but not one of my teachers had spoken of Quetzalcoatl or Itzamna, of Cihuacoatl or Ixchel. My family also knew nothing of these Mesocamerican gods. Something important had been kept from me and other Mexican-American students. At first I was shocked and a bit angry. Yet who could I blame for five centuries of syncretism and erasure? Rather than lash out in response to the loss I felt, I began to scour the local libraries for every book I could find about pre-Colombian Mexican myths. In the end, I realized, it was my responsibility—knowing of this lack on my part—to reconnect with that forgotten past. That duty to the history of one’s people has never been better expressed than in one of the few remaining poems of the Maya, from the colonial-era manuscript Songs of Dzitbalché:
It’s vital we never lose count Of how many long generations Have passed since the faraway age When here in this land lived Great and powerful men Who lifted the walls of those cities— The ancient, awesome ruins, Pyramids rising like hills. We try to determine their meaning Here in our humbler towns, A meaning that matters today, One we draw from the signs Those men of the Golden Age-- Men of this land, our forefathers— Urged us to seek in the sky.
Consecrated to this task, We turn our faces upward As darkness slowly falls From zenith to horizon And fills the sky with stars In which we scry our fate.
I found quite a lot of meaning in those scattered myths. They helped me through some very dark moments in my life. In time I became a school teacher, then a university professor. Though no standards required it, I did my best to share the heritage I had rediscovered with my students. My passion for our lost past drove me even further: I began to study Mayan and Nahuatl, wanting to decipher the original indigenous texts myself without the filter of a translator’s voice. The difficulty was that so much had been destroyed. The Conquest not only decimated the native population of Mexico. It also eviscerated their literature, their history. Conquering soldiers and zealous priests had burned many of the indigenous manuscripts, and converted native minds shrugged off the lore of millennia. Though some Spaniards and mestizos sought to preserve what they could of the venerable old words, setting down songs and sayings using the foreign alphabet, the damage had been done. Today, we cannot just pick up the indigenous equivalent of the Odyssey and read it—beyond the Popol Vuh, a Quiché Maya text from Guatemala, no such work has survived in Mesoamerica. What we have are stories and fragments of stories, preserved piecemeal across multiple codices and colonial histories or passed down word-of-mouth for centuries in remote communities. As a result, the work of a chronicler or teacher is made very difficult: we have no cohesive narrative of Mexico’s mythic identity, no mythological history to rival other classical epics. As I pondered the dilemma, I saw a need for an exciting fusion of the different stories, one that could make Mesoamerican mythology come alive for a Western audience the way William Buck’s abridged take on the Ramayana did for Hindu epics, one that employs engaging, accessible, yet timeless language, much like Robert Fagles’ translations of the Iliad, Odyssey and Aeneid. So I set out to write the book you hold in your hands. Of course, I am hardly the first to retell these tales. The collections I found as a college freshman in different border libraries existed because of wonderful scholars and authors who gathered together written and orally transmitted myths and legends. What makes the present volume different is that—instead of telling the tales separately, discretely—I craft a single chronological narrative. Drawing from a variety of sources (especially Nahuatl and Maya texts such as the Popol Vuh, Cantares Mexicanos, the Codex Chimalpopoca, Primeros Memoriales and the Florentine Codex), this fresh take blurs the line between the legendary and the historical. My intent has been to stitch together myths and legends, organizing the tales so that they trace the mythic past of Mesoamerica from the creation of the world to the arrival of the Spanish. As a Mexican-American author and translator, I see myself as one of many transmitters of tradition down the generations. My renditions treat these stories with respect and intimacy, as though they depict actual events. Because of the state of the existing lore, however, I have used several different techniques to create English- language versions. A few of the pieces are simply translated with some editorial adjustments to fit the larger narrative. Others are looser adaptations of myths and legends with some partial translation. Many are straight-up retellings, often of orally transmitted stories. Quite a few of the myths are themselves syntheses of multiple sources, interwoven into a coherent narrative that I have quilted into the chronological sequence of the book itself. For the most part, I have synthesized several texts together from a single cultural tradition. A few times, however, I have blended Maya and Aztec cosmovisions wherever their overlap suggested an older Mesoamerican mythology from which both may have drawn. In such instances, I am not trying to erase the distinctiveness of the two very different cultures, but to reflect the hybrid mestizaje that has long been a characteristic of the Mexican identity. I have provided notes on my sources and a comprehensive bibliography. My hope is that readers will become intrigued or excited by the mythological history I have woven and feel compelled to dive into the original texts as I once did, seeking to find some part of myself reflected in those ancient, enduring words. David Bowles August 22, 2016
Armando Rendón. Feathered Serpent Head From Teotihuacan.2018. Photograph. Exhibit at de Young Museum, San Francisco
The Creation of Human Beings
The Fourth Age had come to an end. The gods, saddened at the destruction of the earth, gathered in Teotihuacan. “The sea-ringed world emerges. The heavens have been restored. But who will sing us songs? Who will worship us? Who will keep the cosmic wheels turning?” Feathered Serpent turned to the Divine Mother. “We must once more strive to make human beings. Let this new attempt combine all the strengths of the previous.” “To do so,” she told him, “we will need the bones of those who have died.” Hurricane smiled. “Brother, if you want them, you will have to descend to the Land of the Dead and petition the king and queen of that fell demesne.” “So be it,” Feathered Serpent declared, departing. He came to the river at the edge of the Underworld, which the dead can only cross on the back of a hound. Twinning himself so that his nahualli stood before him, he addressed that hairless spirit dog: “Xolotl, double of my heart, bear me across broad Apanohuayan so that on its farther shore I may seek the bones of the dead.” “Gladly, my plumed master. Seize the folds of flesh upon my back, and I will swim you to your destination.” And so all dogs buried with their owners for this purpose are called xoloitzcuintle to honor the nahualli of Feathered Serpent. With Xolotl’s aid, the creator god easily navigated the next eight obstacles and stood before the King and Queen of Death in their eldritch, windowless palace at the heart of the Underworld. “What brings you to our realm now, after so many years, O Feathered Serpent?” asked the king, his eyes like pinpricks of fire in the black orbs of his skull, framed by his owl-plume headdress. The god’s tilma and breechcloth were spattered with blood, and round his neck he wore a chain of human eyeballs. “I am come to take the precious bones that you have guarded with such diligence.” “And what will you do with them, Lord Creator?” asked the queen. “The gods in Tamoanchan need humans to ease their sadness. With these remains, I will fashion a new race of men and women to praise and honor us. They will be mortal, so their bones will return to your hands, as will the bones of their children and their children’s children, for as long as this Fifth Age shall last.” “Very well,” replied the king. “First, however, as a sign of honor, take this my conch and travel four times round my realm, sounding an exultant call as you go.” Feathered Serpent agreed, but as he prepared to sound the shell trumpet, he realized the conch had no hole for blowing. Summoning worms, he had them burrow in at the apex of the spire and smooth its hollow interior. Then he had bees and hornets fly inside, adding their distinctive buzz to the air he sent rushing through the whorls of the conch. The resulting call could be heard in every corner of the Underworld, even in the very throne room of Lord and Lady Death. After his fourth circuit of the Land of the Dead, Feathered Serpent made his way back to its center and stood once more before the sovereigns of that realm. “Very well, take the bones,” growled the King of Death. Once Feathered Serpent had departed the palace to collect the bones, however, the skeletal god called together his council, the lords of that frightful realm. “Go after that plumed snake, my vassals, and tell him that I have changed my mind. He must leave at once without the bones.” The ghastly messengers caught up to the creator god and repeated their sovereign’s command. Feathered Serpent reluctantly agreed. “I will leave then. Tell your king and queen.” The lords of the netherworld watched him fly off, heading out of the Land of the Dead by the eastern route the sun once took to emerge at dawn each day. They themselves traveled back to the eerie castle to inform their masters. But they were deceived. When Feathered Serpent had heard in his heart the command of the King of Death, he had told Xolotl: “I must take these bones, forever. I need you to change shapes with me. Having assumed my form, you will agree to the king’s wishes. Once you and the messengers have gone, I will steal the remains and flee.” So it was that he emerged from a place of hiding in the form of his nahualli, gathered the bones of men and women, wrapped them in a bundle, then rushed like the wind to avoid detection. The god of death became aware of the ruse, however, and he called again to his council: “Lords, Feathered Serpent is at this very moment stealing the precious bones! Use all haste to cut him off before he emerges in the sea-ringed world: dig a pit into which he will fall and be trapped!” Using hidden routes known only to the rulers of the Realm of Fright, the dread lords raced ahead of the Feathered Serpent and fashioned a vast and cunningly disguised pit. The creator god, startled by a covey of quail that swirled about him on the king’s command, tumbled into the trap, smashing the bones into smaller bits. Shooing away the birds, which had begun pecking and nibbling at the fragments, Feathered Serpent gathered up the remains and assumed once more his true form. “Ah, Xolotl, how was I so easily deceived? Not one of them is whole.” The twin of his heart answered from within. “All is as it must be. The bones have been shattered, but they will have to suffice.” Feathered Serpent seized the bundled bones in his canine jaws and ascended to Tamoanchan. He placed the bones in the Protector’s hands, crying out: “Divine Mother, the bones are broken! What can we do?” The Divine Mother smiled. “All must be broken before it is made whole. We will now grind the remains into powder, my sister and I. Then all of us must do the proper penance to moisten the bone flour so it can be kneaded and shaped.” When the Divine Mother and the Protector had used metate and mano to pulverize the bones, Feathered Serpent pierced his flesh and bled into the flour. Then each of the gods in turn did the same. The resulting dough was shaped into men and women who were brought to life by the spirits wending their way down from Omeyocan, sent by our grandparents to inhabit the sturdy new forms. Feathered Serpent bowed his head as the humans opened their eyes. “Thus is our hope born. We did penance to deserve their existence. Now they will do penance to preserve ours.”
David Bowles, has taught English and education courses at the University of Texas since 1997. A product of an ethnically diverse family with Latino roots in the Río Grande Valley of south Texas, his focus is on the study of indigenous philosophy, mythology, and legend through primary sources. He is the award-winning author of several books, including Flower, Song, Dance: Aztec and Mayan Poetry (2013); Shattering and Bricolage (2014); Border Lore: Folktales and Legends of South Texas(2015); and The Smoking Mirror (2015). His translations have appeared in various venues, including Somos en escrito. He may be contacted at:email@example.com or www.davidbowles.us.Feathered Serpent is available from Cinco Puntos Press,www.cincopuntos.com.
Comment from: Rosa MIzerskiMarch 25, 2018 at 11:00 AM Beautiful English rendition of "The Creation of Human Beings." The themes of the underworld, "Prometheus," and dogs as companions in epic journeys resonate with those of the Eurasia, even though it had been at least 10,000 years since the human migration from the old world. Nothing is truly destroyed. It is remembered once again in the imagination. --Rosa Martha Villarreal
Three related commentaries by a contributor follow.
Discourse on the issue of finding a mutually acceptable label for all peoples of indigenous-hispanic origin or affinity now extant in the territory known as the U.S.A.
For too long, the indigenous-hispanic origin people in the U.S. have by default permitted institutions and individuals outside our community to impose their will as to what we are supposed to be called. The terms, Hispanic and Latino, were conjured up by federal agencies, the U.S. Census Bureau and the Office of Budget Management, back in the 1970s and 1980s. For some four decades, we have groused and prattled about how unjust it was to have these labels foisted on such a diverse population as ours, multiethnic, multicultural and multi-politicized. But no one did anything about it, including myself. I just complained and had a lurch in my stomach when someone used the word, hispanic, as a noun. (N.B.: I no longer capitalize hispanic to emphasize its sole use as an adjective.) Comes now a segment of our community seeking a gender neutral and yet inclusive term for what I call indigenous-hispanic Americans—not exactly a phrase that rolls off the tongue easily and quickly. What I’ve concluded is that all of us have to get together to evolve a term that is ours, that meets the criteria I’ve loosely set out above, and arrive at a consensus, by coming to our combined senses. In an earlier piece (To_X_or_Not_To_X − Part I), I argued for assembling one or more conclaves throughout the U.S.A. where we would have full discussions about the issue, and agree on a term that would describe/nickname/label who we are: the term would signify our identity, but it must be organic, that is, deriving from our own reality and worldview. We are essentially mestizaje, a people evolved from the blending of different cultures into one: the Hispanic or Spanish which is of European origin, and the indigenous which is our peculiar bond to the land now known as the Americas. Hence, my use of the term, indigenous Hispanic American. I object and, I believe, many others who care about such things also object, that the term, LatinX, was decided upon, given the trappings of an otherwise deliberated notion and then accepted sin más in knee-jerk fashion by organizations and institutions who were reacting most likely to the underlying pursuit of a self-identifying term that would be gender neutral. I assert that the Latinate or Hispanican community should address that concern but approach its resolution using an organic and inclusive-democratic process. Otherwise, we are merely re-enforcing the damage done by bureaucrats in D.C. who knew nothing of nuance let alone the history and culture of the Latinan people in the U.S. and rather than a unifying term, foisted a divisive title upon us, which some advocates seek to supplant by foisting a really eXotic term on all indigenous-hispanic origin peoples in the U.S. One other criteria, which has been generally accepted though not articulated, is that the designation be derived from the Spanish language rather than English. While the reasons may be obvious, it would be worth our time to make them specific. Spanish is the lengua franca of the indigenous-hispanic Americans along with another 500 million people worldwide, which makes it the second most widely spoken language by native speakers. Our lineage does not derive from the Anglo Saxon world; in fact, our Spanish blood is directly affiliated through war, occupation and trade with the African, Arab, Hebrew and other cultures around the Mediterranean Sea. Yesenia Padilla, the writer of an article in compleX.com, a website, titled, “What does ‘LatinX’ mean? A look at the term that's challenging gender norms,” says, “By dismantling some of the gendering (my emphasis) within Spanish, LatinX helped modernize the idea of a pan-Latin American eXperience—or Latinidad--one that reflects what it means to be of Latin American descent in today’s world. The term also better reflects Latin America's diversity, which is more in line with intersectionality, the study of the ways that different forms of oppression (e.g. seXism, racism, classism, and heteroseXism) intersect.” What proponents of the X don’t seem to realize or ignore is that the U.S. experience for Latinidad is totally different from any other Latin American population. The only demonym I know of in the U.S. that evolved from within is the word Chicano, which conveys an origin of indigenous Mexican and Spanish European descent. The intersectionalities Padilla clicks off go far beyond what the simple replacement of vowels with an X can resolve; it may even cloud the underlying issues. She goes on to quote Professors María R. Scharrón-del Río and Alan A. Aja, who defend the term, arguing that it should replace "Latino" when referring to people of Latin American descent. They say moving towards non-gendered language is a way to escape the ghost of colonialism that still haunts Latin American culture. What “ghost?” Latinians face a neocolonialism right now! We are still being labelled from outside our communities; we are still treated as second-class residents of a country of which our forebears, native and colonialist, were its earliest civilizers; we are labelled as “an immigrant people” in order to keep us subordinated to the majority population even though we, as indigenous and early colonizers, were here hundreds and even thousands of years before the non-hispanic Europeans. Substituting a gender ending with an X re-enforces two socio-psychological realities: the neocolonialism we have had to endure for centuries and the Black Legend effect, which originated in the era of exploration when adventurers likes Columbus bumbled their way across oceans to “discover” new lands, ushering a new era of eXploitation. The latter has persisted for centuries and undergirds the racist stereotyping of indigenous-hispanic origin peoples in the U.S. and the Americas. In other words, our community is adversely affected for being indigenous and of hispanic origin. Scharrón-del Río and Aja write, according to Padilla, that, "LatinX" actually represents the people the term is supposed to represent, so it's "a concerted attempt at inclusivity" that "fosters solidarity with all of our LatinX community." What the original proponents of the X factor failed to realize or chose to ignore was that they were attacking a language that is not theirs to manipulate unilaterally, and introduced a factor, the X, which supposedly addresses a pan-American concern with a binary idiom. In effect, they seek to address a social dynamic, gender disambiguation, which has nothing to do with noun endings, by seeking to turn an entire language upside down. I propose we eXplore the language to find a term which we can all agree is gender neutral, organic, logical and does not do violence to the language of Cervantes, de la Cruz, Lorca, García Marquez, Neruda (some of my favorite masters of the Spanish idiom). We should address the concern for a gender neutral term which could resolve the demand for inclusivity, through a process that is organic, arising from the nature of the language and its cultural foundation, which dates back to al-Andalus of 13th century Spain. As another contributor to Somos en escrito, Sonny Boy Arias, put it so subtly, “I don’t need no stinkin’ X factor to tell me who I am or what I stand for. I got 500 years of X factor and all it got me was new forms of X factor, bato!” Let’s not fall into the trap that Alexis de Tocqueville cautioned against in Democracy in America,that we may reach a point where we over-democratize, even in our words, and it will affect all symbolic meanings in everything we do—to the point of absurdity. Armando Rendón −Editor
Three commentaries on the power of X by Ray Padilla, a retired professor of education, posit a candidate for how to label people of Chicanan ancestry, that is, the mestizo of Mexican-U.S. evolution, based on shared biological, political and ethnocentric values. Although Padilla focuses on Chicanada, his principles are applicable to the broader and greater discourse we must have to arrive at a label that works for everyone born or living in the U.S. of mixed indo-hispano ancestry. I recognize some readers out there might object to the idea they might be lumped in as either indo or hispano, but the term is a construct offered for the sake of argument—work with me.
Commentary I, first put forth on October 18, 2016, in LaRed Latina, a listserv
By Ray Padilla
There is a simple yet important concept in the academic world that goes a long way toward reducing confusion in thought. It is the concept of "unit of analysis". When considering any phenomenon, it is critical that we know what we are talking about. Therefore, knowing the unit of analysis is critical. Here is an example from education. Suppose that we are interested in the topic of educational attainment. The question is: What is the unit of analysis? Is it the individual student? The classroom? The school? The school district? The state? The nation? Comparisons in educational attainment can be made across all these units of analysis. So it is necessary to be clear as to which unit of analysis we are discussing. The unit of analysis will determine what evidence we can bring into the discussion and how we make our comparisons. Note this: Standing alone, no unit of analysis is more or less important than any of the others. However, for whatever reason, we may choose to focus on one unit of analysis as opposed to another in any particular discussion. Yet, in a different discussion some other unit of analysis could come to the foreground. Now switch topics. Say we are discussing the universe of peoples that we might label collectively as "Indo-Hispanic". These are the people that resulted from the Spanish conquest of the two American continents. In Spanish, the term used historically is "Indo-Hispano." It is related to the term "Hispano Americano," which historically was used to designate the peoples of the Americas that populated the Spanish empire in the place called "Hispano America." The term "mestizo" is equivalent to Indo-Hispano with the direct reference to ethnicity eliminated. Mestizo power began to emerge after the wars of independence from the hegemony of Spain. In the twentieth century, the concept of mestizaje has bifurcated so that it has taken somewhat different paths on either side of the U.S.-Mexico border. Some authors think that mestizaje south of the border still privileges Europeans while the sameconcept north of the border is used as a way to resist the racialized ways in which mestizos have beentreated in the U.S. But here is the central issue: If we want to refer to the collectivity of Indo-Hispanos or mestizos, what term should we use? Of course, we could use either of these terms but these terms seem to be outdated in the context of U.S. ethnic and racial diversity. In the last 50 years or so two terms emerged as favored candidates for a proper name: Latinos and Hispanics. Of course, there were others, but these two seem to have the most sticking power. In spite of their favored status, these two terms have generated much heat and controversy. The uproar is related to ideology, politics, tribalism, and plain old misunderstanding (especially about the unit of analysis). No need to rehash here the controversy because lots of keystrokes have been devoted to this controversy on this forum. Yet, anyone with even an ounce of political savvy knows that keeping the mestizos apart in little tribes is no way to gain political power and all that it entails. Ways must be sought to bring together the great mestizo people into one population that can act to promote its own interests. But how can that be done if we can't even agree on what to name the collectivity? So here is a modest proposal: Let's invent a new name. All people go through different name changes until they hit upon the one that best suits them. Look at this sequence: Negro, Black, Afro, Afro-American, African American. Never mind that negro means exactly black. What is the name? Xkanx. Either X is pronounced "shi". So the word is pronounced shi-kan'-shi. Some features: The word is both male and female; it is both singular and plural; it refers both to the people and the land they inhabit; it replaces mestizo. So we are the Xkanx people. Under this large unit of analysis there are many nationality groups, ethnic groups, racial groups, etc. The term does not require that, for example, Puertorriqueños, Cubanos, Chicanos, etc. stop being themselves. It all depends on the unit of analysis. And when we discuss a relevant topic we must keep in mind the unit of analysis. So Latino-phobes rejoice! Hispano-phobes rejoice! You are a Xkanx and that is that. Underneath that general rubric you can be whatever you wish to be at a different level of analysis. But remember this: Tribalism only works if it is open to transactions across tribes. So OPEN tribalism is the order of the day. CLOSED tribalism is self-extinguishing. And for those who are wide awake: Xkanx is, like mestizo, biologically driven. Developing a Xkanx culture and consciousness is a matter of socialization.
Commentary II, on XikanX, also on LaRed Latina
By Ray Padilla
As evident from various past postings that I made to LaRed Latina, I consider the Chicano identity (really identities) and correlative labels to be a quintessentially postmodern identity, by which I mean that the identity is conditional, circumstantial, dynamically changing, uncertain, provocative, trans-racial, historically evolving, politically laden, etc. Much the same can be said about the Latino identity. The Newtonian universe of absolute categories went out over a hundred years ago with the advances in physics made by Albert Einstein. After that, philosophy became a free for all. We Chicanada were ahead of our time, but not necessarily by choice. We became a postmodern people early on due to the vicissitudes of history, including the Columbian incursion into the Americas and the big stick of Uncle Sam, not to mention our own Mexican penchant for government of the few, for the few, by the few (fuchi government). As La Raza evolves historically, there will be a natural tendency to form ever larger groupings. This will entail shifts in identities to enclose more diversity while maintaining some common ground as the basis for coming together. What is important is to look beyond the labels and identities to ascertain whether or not we are moving forward in increasing our economic and political power. Also, and this is important, whether or not we are moving in a more democratic direction. The U.S. as a whole, and other nations worldwide, are now catching up with La Raza in terms of becoming postmodern peoples. But the first thing that the postmodern people of the U.S. did was to elect a postmodern president. How will our democracy fare? Postmodernity by definition is highly relativized and we have to wonder whether our classical ideas about democracy can stand the chaos. Keeping these points in mind, earlier I proposed a new movement of La Raza that includes a new identity and grouping. I proposed the term "XikanX" (pronounced Shi-Kan-Shi, with stress on the last syllable). The term includes all the people who resulted from the intermingling of Native Americans with the various peoples who invaded or were brought to the American continents. oo0oo
Commentary Part III, first presented on November 11, 2016 in LaRed Latina, a listserv
For some time now, I have been trying to introduce Raza and Chicanada to new political thinking. Chicanada seem to be stuck politically somewhere between the old corrupt politics of Mexico and Latin America and the great U.S. experiment in democracy. The former is seen by Chicanada as something to avoid like the plague and the latter is seen as irrelevant and inscrutable. Thus, we are dubbed the "sleeping giant." The great principle of U.S. politics is that individuals will rationally pursue their self-interest (NOTE: self-interest is not necessarily equal to selfish-interest). A corollary to this principle is that it is legitimate for individuals to use the power of government to pursue their self-interest (self-interest does not include corruption or illegal activity). Following this principle, it was quickly realized by the U.S. electorate that a way to gain political empowerment was to ban together with people who shared similar interests and to vote as a block. That behavior quickly led to the organization of political parties. A second consequence of the great principle is that individuals and interest groups quickly realized that to gain political power it was necessary to form coalitions. People don't have to agree on everything. If they can agree on something then they form a coalition with others to gain enough political power to achieve a specific goal. When interests diverge the coalitions fall apart and other coalitions form. So for Chicanada and Raza to gain political power we need to understand the underlying principles of U.S. politics. What counts politically in the U.S. is amassing a large volume of votes in order to prevail. This means that Chicanada and Raza must assemble large voting blocs through groupings that share ideology and through coalitions that are ad hoc. This approach means that we need to expand our notions of who we are and that we are not isolating ourselves into some kind of purist notion of ethnicity. The Chicano identity, as espoused by El Movimiento, turns out to be too restrictive to achieve a wide political base. Moreover, a narrow, ethnically based identity tends to restrict our ability to create coalitions of similar interests because we become absorbed by our own ethnocentricity. As a result of all this (and a great deal more that could be added), I have advocated that we move to a biologically based identity. You may recall my proposal for an AmerEEcan identity. The most recent proposal that I made calls for full recognition of our enormous genetic diversity. The label that I proposed to recognize our biologically based diversity is “Xkanx.” The Xkanx people will include millions of individuals that have resulted from the epic encounter between the peoples of the American continents and the rest of the world. It is this mestizo group, in the context of U.S. politics that can have a huge impact on the course of U.S. and world history. In short, I no longer see Chicanada as a marginalized ethnic group that seems to have nowhere to go. I see Chicanada as the potential avant garde of the Xkanx. But we need to stop thinking naively about U.S. politics and base our political behavior on a sophisticated understanding of the U.S. political system. And we need to be clear as to who we are and who we can become.
Ray Padilla, El Vato de Sananto, earned a doctorate in Higher Education Administration at UC Berkeley in the early 1970s, taught at Arizona State University for 19 years before joining the UT San Antonio faculty in 2001 where he retired in 2009. He has deep roots in San Antonio, he says, as his grandparents worked their way through there more than a hundred years ago on their way to Chicago.
More and more I’ve begun to see the use of the letter “X” in otherwise lucid and proper writing in an attempt to neuter the words, Latina and Latino, thusly, latinX. The X factor, as I understand it, was intended to allow for persons who do not identify as o’s or a’s to use a gender neutral, or X-factored term. I get that.
Problem is there seems to be a “movement” seeking to have “latinX” designate all persons who are indigenous to the Americas, with Hispanic roots through bloodlines and ethnicity, born and/or living in the United States of America, who do not identify solely as of white European/Caucasian origin—my definition of a Latina or Latino. From what I can gather, the X thing dates back to 2014 – three whole years ago! – and has gained acceptance among many persons, and organizations, of indigenous Hispanic origin. As editor of a magazine which daily strives to find and consider for publication that particular italicized composite of writers described above, the idea of the “X” factor violates basic tenets of literary endeavor, that we respect language, that it be organic and that it elevate the meaning and purpose of the Word. Or, as my old friend and preeminent scholar of Chicano literature, Felipe de Ortego y Gasca, put it, it’s “an insidious blurring of hereditary and cultural roots.” Put another way, while it purports to allow for “gender inclusivity,” the use of the “X” blithely obliges the millions of people in the U.S. who are Hispanic by birth and identify as either male or female to veil their gender; it’s a form of linguistic neo-imperialism, to put it bluntly. Or, to put it more colorfully, the tail wagging the dog. I understand the intent, and basically I support and respect those who seek some recourse, but not at the expense of common sense or a language that is no one’s own to hash up. Besides, Latino and Latina are already made-up nouns, concocted by protagonists for an English dominant society. Adding an X compounds the linguistic hegemony conveyed in the words which have their origins in the bowels of the U.S. Census Bureau and the Congressional Budget Office, such as the use of Hispanic as a noun. (I get a lurch in my stomach to hear the term.) Have any discussions about the suffiX taken place during the past few years—confabs involving hopefully a wide range of interested parties, such as socio-linguists, writers, community activists, even politicians, to arrive at a broadly accepted term or policy about the issue? It appears that the use of X has made its way into certain areas of parlance much as the terms, Latino and Hispanic, did—by unilateral actions and arbitrary decisions by persons otherwise evincing a social evolution in the meaning of gender. Personally, I don’t care how anyone might want to identify themselves, as long as it doesn’t impose on my right to call myself what I want. I did hear of a symposium, titled, LatinxFuturism, held June 22nd last by the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute in New York City. The questions posed for discussion were: Do Latinxs see themselves as having a common ground or are we more concerned with our individual national constituencies? How do intersectional politics of race and gender fit into the mix? Is it possible to see a future for LatinXs in New York and the U.S. that brings together all of our issues? The questions are basically worth addressing eXcept they presume the predominance of the X factor as the predicate for eXchange of ideas. The first question might have been, can we impose on all indigenous Americans of Hispanic origin the further Anglicization of a term imposed on us by X-ing the Spanish language? At the kind of conference I envision, I could conjure up a few alternatives for consideration. In order of potential acceptance (or not), they are: 1. Establish a policy with all sides taken into consideration that henceforth, the word, Latine (or other term agreed upon), could be used to connote gender inclusivity. In other words, make it a bland social construct like Hispanic (lurch) as a noun. 2. Do what I do, only use the term preferred by the individual I’m considering for publication such as MeXican, Puerto Rican, or Nicaraguense, or an –o, –a, or –x. 3. Consider terms within the Spanish idiom which are organic to the language, that is, which can be derived from the actual language itself, not forced from without, especially given the English dominant nature of the letter, “X.” No word in Spanish starts with X, eXcept derivatives of Greek-based words, such as Xenophobia. X is not found in any form as a suffiX within the Spanish language. One critic I read showed how a sentence with the o’s and a’s changed to “X” looked like—an egg splattered on a wall is more appealing to the eye. a. Several of the demonyms of ethnic/national origin have been folded easily into U.S. usage without raising gender flags: e.g., MeXican, Colombian, Venezuelan, etc.; in fact, that terminology covers most of the Latin American countries. Only a few demonyms raise the “X” flag and they’re all in the U.S.A.: Chicano/a, Hispana/o, and Latina/o: as far as I know, none of these terms are used as identifiers in Latin America. 4. Evolve a term which is gender neutral, whose meaning derives organically from the Spanish language itself and thus acceptable worldwide. A basic method of demonymizing an ethnic term in English is simply to add -an, or –ian, to wit: a. Chicanan or Chicanian, Hispanan or Hispanian, and Latinan or Latinian. Alternatively, how about Chicanamerican, Latinamerican, or, Hispanamerican? 5. We could spend at least three years in conferences, webinars, and online video calls or whatever other technology develops during the time to reach a consensus. Recollection alone serves me with regard to the name-calling battle that occurred within the National Association of Chicano Studies, back in 1994, I believe, when women academics brought a national conference to a halt over their demand that the name be changed to National Association of Chicano and Chicana Studies. a. This suggests another solution: adding the X factor as a separate entity to o and a to produce, e.g., National Association of Chicano, Chicana, and ChicanX Studies or NACCCXS). In general usage, the outcome would look like this: Chicana/o/X as in “the Chicano/a/X Literary Club.” Obviously, a kind of oXymoron, because there’s nothing literate about the suffiX: o/a/X. Wouldn’t it be less cumbersome simply to turn NACCS into NACS – National Association of Chicanan Studies? b. Another solution might lie in the only other demonym I know of for an ethnic/national group in the Americas that’s gender neutral, alluded to above—Nicaraguense. So, we could have Chicanense, Hispanense or Latinense, or just “Nense,” for short.
So, to sum up, before the use of X as a suffiX for Chican-, Latin- or Hispan- spreads any further willy-nilly, I suggest certain steps occur: · Let’s agree that we need to have a serious discussion about the X factor. · Determine the problem or issue the X factor seeks to resolve. · Conduct discussions including organizations dedicated to scholarly and policy pursuits, writers and a broad spectrum of our communities—no government officials allowed— to address the various options. · Reach a consensus about which term makes logical, practical, and literate sense, and publish the outcome far and wide—within the U.S. at least because I don’t believe anyone cares beyond our borders. For sure, Somos en escrito will publish every word of the outcome. For now, I defer to the default status: call yourself whatever you want, let everyone else do the same, and think really hard about what makes sense. −Armando Rendón Executive Editor
Review of Linda Ronstadt, Simple Dreams, A Musical Memoir, also in Spanish: Suenos Sencillos, Memorias Musicales
by Michael A. Olivas
It is too early to mourn the passing of Linda Ronstadt, but as the popular press has shown, it is not too early to note the passing of her voice and singing career, struck mute by Parkinson’s. In a very oblique fashion and with understated tones, she surfaced her health situation in an AARP publication in August 2013. However prematurely, I have been in mourning, all the more since I read her self-written autobiography, Simple Dreams, A Musical Memoir and its Spanish counterpart, Sueños Sencillos, Memorias Musicales.
If there were any woman who epitomized 1960s rock and roll, it was she—maybe Janis Joplin, who flamed out too early to tell. She met Joplin when they were both starting out and trying to get paying gigs at L.A.’s The Troubadour, home to so many classic singers and groups. She remembers her briefly, with Joplin telling her that she was there to try out a new dress, and that she felt pretty.
Ronstadt’s own nomination for the Queen of Rock and Roll is Chrissie Hynde; she calls the Pretenders’ member the “first fully realized female rocker,” modestly giving her “my crown, however tenuously it hovered above” her own head. She is nothing if not modest, this female Zelig, who knew or sang with Frank Zappa, the Doors, Kris Kristofferson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Neil Young, the Eagles (her back up band), Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Lowell George, Jackson Browne, Ricky Skaggs, Roy Orbison, Aaron Neville, and many dozens more: a modern rock era who’s who. She knew Pamela Des Barres and Leslie Van Houten, surely an odd bookend of acquaintances.
I first learned of her Parkinson’s from a New Yorker article that came out soon after the AARP story, and which says better than I can what her accomplishments across genres were. And the NY Times followed closely on its heels with its own story, and she has now appeared on television and NPR and elsewhere—dutifully flogging the book and wistfully recalling her past accomplishments with the prodding of doting interviewers. But I will always love her voice most from the 1977 album “Simple Dreams,” and the sublime mariachi album, “Canciones de Mi Padre.”
Linda at the guitar, a singer from a family of singers
I saw her twice, once with the Stone Poneys at the Albuquerque Tingley Coliseum, on the NM State Fairgrounds, when the band played a double bill with Three Dog Night. I fell hard for her, and her voice, and when I heard she had dated Jerry Brown, I not only voted for him in the presidential primary years later, but contemplated leaving the seminary for her. (He spent one year in the seminary, although he has gotten plenty of mileage out of the experience.) She notes that they remained good friends, in part because they had no musical interest overlap together.
I then saw her and Kevin Kline in a glorious “Pirates of Penzance” in Central Park, when she was in her operatic phase. I would argue that no one who was so successful in rock and roll has been so versatile across types of music.
She writes of her light operetta interests, her one unsuccessful foray (an imperfect attempt at “La Boheme”), her countrified phase (with Dolly and Emmilou), her Nelson Riddle orchestral phase, where the famous arranger dies in the final stages of their collaboration, and what became her final works, a Christmas album and more classics and rancheras. Then, in 2009, the music died.
In the book, she essentially takes readers through the almost-40 years of her recording career, letting us know why she had such a wide-ranging repertoire—all songs and genres she heard in her childhood Tucson home, where her father and other relatives were amateur singers, mostly of Mexican and Spanish songs, which she absorbed until they burst from her with her 1987 Canciones. Starting out with a local group, the Stone Poneys, she hit the big time with “Different Drum,” a song she had to fight to get onto the group’s second album, where it went to No. 1. Soon after, she left to find her own way, with the then-unknown Eagles as her sometimes-backup band, and then her true discography and travelogue begin.
She matter-of-factly reports the problems she had, with lecherous men, many other men she either dated or befriended, and who protected her. In my reading, these are the most interesting and informative parts of her considerable backstory, leading to the many artistic decisions she made about finding her voice(s) and the musical paths she wanted to carve out. It is quite fascinating to learn how she made her choices, how hard it was for a woman of her stature to get the institutional support to pick her own music, and how mind-numbing the time between concerts on the road must be, especially for a single woman. And she includes great family and professional pictures into the text.
I was impressed that she wrote this herself, and my only regret (other than never meeting her and her not having been selected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) is that no strong continuity editor worked over her text. In several places, people just sort of jump in and out of left field—the two I jotted down were Maria Muldaur ("Midnight at the Oasis")—who appears as the mysterious “Maria” early on, admired by her and Janis Joplin; and her two children, completely dropped in, who make cameo appearances without any introductions at all in the last few pages. I only figured that Maria was Maria D’Amato Muldaur because I knew (somehow) that she had married Geoff Muldaur and the two of them had played together in Jim Kweskin’s Jug Band, mentioned but not explained.
Linda in her favorite striped dress
There are several such ellipses, but it is a very good read, and you can surely dance to it, in both the English or Spanish renditions. And almost no one has written for English-speaking audiences about the many Mexican and Mexican-American music personalities and recording business.
Parkinson’s disease has taken several of my close friends, and it is a cruel and debilitating disease. I hope her time left is fruitful and peaceful. I have been playing non-stop her “Greatest Hits” albums, and marvel again at just how beautiful and versatile her voice was. I hope that she knows just how many people have appreciated her accomplishments and have adored her.
A high school friend who knew of my early stages of grief put me on to the Diane Sawyer interview with her, which I had not seen. (It is on YouTube.) She is, as always, very matter of fact, and I love that when she is asked about whether or not she is mad (about her disease), she misunderstands, and says, "sure, about immigration." Gawd, I just love this woman, this great beautiful Mexican woman.
There have been and soon will be more reports on her fascinating and iconic life, including books by others (such as Graham Nash), that discuss her extensively. Still, listening to her on almost any of her three-dozen-plus albums is reward enough. She sang at her great fellow-Tucson artist Lalo Guerrero’s funeral. When she passes, which I hope will be in many years, can you imagine the tremendous lineup of singers at her graveside?
Michael A. Olivas is the William B. Bates Distinguished Chair in Law at the University of Houston Law Center and Director of the Institute for Higher Education Law and Governance at UH. He has recently published No Undocumented Child Left Behind (NYU Press), In Defense of My People: Alonso S. Perales and the Development of Mexican-American Public Intellectuals, (Arte Público Press), and Suing Alma Mater (Johns Hopkins University Press) earlier this year. With this review, he reveals a remarkable knowledge of rock and roll and a shared crush on Linda. Simple Dreams is published by Simon and Schuster.