The Republic of East L.A. – Stories (2002) by Luis J. Rodriguez
I am invariably always surprised at the ease with which I can understand Chicano literature. I can see right throught it. I figure it must be the cultural baggage. I mean I understand every concept, image, and connotation implied in those letters. I, at times, can’t help but feel sorry for those who aren’t acquainted with the fine letters my people are churning out, much to my delight, I can sit on any given midnightsummer day and just let the evening run its course while my head roams the loving fields of Aztlán, well, in these case the streets of LA.
I, incredibly enough, along with the Cisneros Caramelo book, bought these books here in Sweden, Stockholm to be precise, yes folk, our literature is going international!
So yeah, this fine fine book maps out rather nicely some of the territories that the Xicano soul has traversed in its relatively young culture. Rodriguez stories handle despair, hope, misfortune, treks, confrontation with the now defunct migra (INS), the confrontation and disregard that gringo institutions have given us, blue collar worker lifestyle (gloomy) have given us and well, the list goes on. His characters all have this snappy survival attitude to them and one can easily relate to them.
He even touches upon the different sorts of chicano manifestations that arise from our unique culture such as chicanos who dislike mexicans and who feel cheated because according to them mexicans from proper México give a bad name to american (USA) chicanos.
There are 12 short stories in this book and I personally loved reading My Ride, My Revolution, Las Chicas Chuecas, Oiga, Miss East L.A and La Operación, this particular one touches upon the migrating patterns of some indigenous people who are forced out of their homes in the Sierra Madre mountains in Chihuahua by drug lords and then by the migra once in the US, in essence, how they live only to be repressed by their governments and discriminated by their fellow brethen both in México and the USA. Heck, there is even one story there about my hometown Tijuana, I liked that one rather much I must say.
Rodriguez is a master storyteller, no doubt, but he has some flops in there but be they flops they are ok regards the theme they present. He uses a lot of chicano language that arises particularly along the border, I can even go so far as to say that southwestern spanish is nearly absent but I won’t. I was certainly surprised to see many words in there that we appearently use all the way up to L.A. This is not just english sprinkled with spanish words, there are unique chicano/pachuco words like wino (although I dislike this spelling since I think that it does not render the full phonological essence of the word. I think it should be why-no, whine-o, or wayno, but since the book is intended for an english audience I suppose the editors thought that this was the best option), neta, qué hubo, (I didn’t like this either, it should be Qvo), cagando el palo, rifar, and the likes of zafada. It is this sprinkling of full phrases in spanish (mind you, surprise! no translation is offered except in one or two cases!) that add its pizzazz to the telling and at times a rather amusing touch to it all.
Oh, and did I forget? He wasn’t born in the USA.