Febuary 21, 1988-San Antonio Express-News
WRITING UNDER FALSE PRETENSES
The intrigues and crass manipulations that plague the world of Chicano literature are part and parcel of the lifestyles of some critics, poets and writers.
Fueled be, hungers of all sorts, some poets and writers will do almost anything to acquire fame, while some critics and professors will look the other way, sometimes for economic reasons having to do with jobs, or for fear of stating that the emperor does not have on "real" clothes.
Some poets miraculously transform themselves overnight into other races, ethnicities, nationalities or trendy beings in order to publish.
Sometimes the writer is merely using a pseudonym for privacy and personal reasons.
Such was the case with Charles Seltzer, who wrote under the pen name of Amado Muro, a takeoff on his wife's maiden name, Amada Muro.
Seltzer never once pretended to be Mexicano or Chicano. He was a very private person who married a Mexicana, and he celebrated an adopted culture without denying his own, equally meaningful cultural and racial origins.
TREATISES OF PRAISE
It was those strange ex-Latin-now-turned Chicanos in academia who wrote treatises extolling Amado Muro as the finest of all Chicano prose writers.
Some of us Chicano poets chortled when academicians like Philip Derraugh Ortego, Dr. Juan Bruce Novoa, John Rodriguez, Thomás Rivera, Roland H. Smith and others within ivory-towered enclaves proceeded to laud Muro as the salvation of Chicano prose.
No one was willing to acknowledge John Rechy for that dubious distinction.
Rechy, a brillant powerful writer - read City of Night" for openers- just happened to be gay, and the pretended machismo of academe was not (and is not yet) ready to admit that Rechy is still the most creative fiction writer in the Chicano world.
No, they waxed poetically and critically about Muro - and I respect his work! - but he was not what the "experts" were stating that he was.
Muro was a good writer, structurally skilled, but he was not truly knowledgeably about Chicano culture, and his major fault spoke to his "not" being a bona fide Chicano with an insider's experiential knowledge.
Marriage could not make him Mexican or Chicano. Muro was basically Seltzer, a sensitive Anglo writer with an Anglo way of knowing and defining the world.
Capacity for love He had a strong human capacity for love, but he was not Chicano, and that was something that academicians would not buv. They sometimes have to be hit over the head with a board - like mules? - in order to understand that their pet theories are but notions, not reality.
It was the small and innocuous things that gave Muro away, not big, glaring errors, but the experts were too busy seeking ways to back up their assertions to pay any real attention to the language and the everyday cultural elements about which Muro worte.
Little things really gave him away, such as referring to eating mondonge for breadfast in "La Chihuahuaita" barrio in El Paso.
Some of us knew or felt that Muro had meant menudo, for such a mistake can easily be picked up by any Chicano in the land. Menudo is very Mexican, while mondongo, a stew, is a very African-sounding word suggesting Cuba, Puerto Rico or some such land and culture.
La Chihuahuita is an impoverished barrio where mondongo is unknown, but the food can easily be found in Puerto Rico and Spanish Harlem and other Caribbean enclaves. Those academic treatises simply did not make much sense.
Language is more than just sounds; it is also nuance - and those basic, tiny flaws gave both Muro and the experts away. He continued just being himself.
SET IN ARCANE JARGON
Unfortunately, once a professor or literary critic creates a construct it becomes set in arcane jargon, and seldom will that professor admit to having been wrong.
I recall conferences where pedants would rave about Mruo, the wonderful Chicano writer, and a few poets would laugh and even speadk out, but the academicicans who wanted to prove that they were ÒtrulyÓ Chicanos continued - until Seltzer died and his obituary proved them wrong. Jíjola! The board hit dead center!
What a saddening thing, yet it is part of the games played by literary mafias that control academia.
Now some of those same Chicano experts are touting another Anglo-turned-Chicano, Jim Sagei, and he is busily pretending to be Chicano.
ItÕs amazing how people can pretend to be chameleons and expect everyone to swallow the posing.
No need to deny one's origins, for our cultural, racial and ethnic identities are not cheap garments - they are the sum of a peopleÕs struggles and accomplishiments through their participation in history.
Sagei can no more be Chicano than I can be Etruscan, but we can pretend and project our stereotypic notions onto how others will see the people we mimic. Better yet, we can be ourselves as best we can.
Sagei is a talented and skilled writer - a good technician.
Posing as a Chicano in order to live off another peopleÕs culture is cynical, especially when involves grants, awards and publication in the August 1987 special issue dedicated to Chicano culture of Plural, a Mexican magazine in which Sagei is projected as a Chicano poet along with Tino Villanueva, Alurista, Francisco X. Alarcón, Sergio D. Elizondo, Bruce-Novoa and Ricardo Aguilar Melantzón.
Sagei might not know better - and I question that - but those heavyweight poets, academicians and writers do know better. And so should Plural and Casa de las Américas if both are truly interested in Chicano culture and arts.
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