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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Camino del Sol

This week a pleasant surprise was dropped into my mailbox: my contributor’s copy of the new anthology, Camino del Sol: Fifteen Years of Latina and Latino Writing, edited by Rigoberto González and published by the University of Arizona Press.  This is a masterful collection of contemporary writing, and I hope it will be used widely in schools.  I have two stories in this book, “Punching Chickens” and “The Snake.”

But what thrills me whenever I appear in an anthology is to read other writers I admire, or to discover new work I am not familiar with.  This collection includes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction published over fifteen years by the award-winning Camino del Sol series, which has been at the forefront of publishing quality American literature written by Latinos.

Virgil Suárez’s “Animalia,” the first poem in front of my eyes as I randomly opened the book, was nothing short of enthralling.  The animals, the casual violence of children against animals, humans killing, eating, pleading with animals- the words and images spurred my memory and arrested the present like a poetic cinema.  Diana Garcia’s “When living was a labor camp called Montgomery” took me back not to Califas, but to Socorro, Texas, to working on a chicken farm, to the dreams of workers amid an awful stench, to muscles that quivered in spasms with the sun, to the choices and accidents that led to an escape.

The personal essay “A Different Border” by Ray Gonzalez, the founder and first editor of the Camino del Sol series, brought me home to contemporary El Paso.  The sleepy, isolated town has a growing military presence, anti-immigrant groups like the Minutemen lurk along the Texas-New Mexico border, and young, educated Chicanos buy into an often vapid, ahistorical existence.  And still, this country uses, abuses, underpays, profits from, and then attempts to deport and even destroy human beings from Mexico.  Not human beings, really.  But ‘cheap labor.’  Or worse, ‘illegal aliens.’  It’s a borderlands’ movie epic: “Be Blind, Rewind.”

But the most intriguing work in Camino del Sol was the introductory essay by Rigoberto González.  If you want to know, in a short read, about the history of Latino publishing in the United States, the authors, trends, sub-trends, categories, and publishers, the obscure as well as the well-known, the distant past as well as the future, then this is the essay for you.  It is a survey in the best sense of the word, which is to say it records, examines, and appraises the state of American literature written by Latinos.  You get the sense of a movement, perhaps gaining speed as of late, a flourishing through hard times and obscurity, that will not be denied anymore, that has become its own validation.

I became a writer to tell stories I had not before heard.  I became a writer not to aggrandize myself or my family, nor to provide a false, perhaps romanticized version of Ysleta or El Paso.  I became a writer because these stories, from my community, deserved to be heard.  They deserved to be heard after I read stories in German in Vienna.  They deserved to be heard after I studied Faulkner, O’Connor, Hemingway, and Conrad at Widener Library.

The panoply of stories and poems from the Latino community still deserve to be heard, and read.  I suspect many, if not most, of the writers in this anthology began with a similar motivation: a sense of pride mixed with a sense of strangulation, a belief that I am someone, that we are the people, that time is short, that our voices are just as often clear as faint, that today is the time to release a world.

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