Wednesday, July 29, 2009

“What Happened to the Vatos sin Fronteras”

Up front and center disclaimer: It’s not that I object to folks of all shades and walks of life making knowledge. Knowledge is for the taking—by all and for all. It’s just that for some doggone reason, when it comes to things Brown, we’re stepped over. A case in point: Viking’s recent publication of Willie T. Vollmann’s 1,300 page tome, Imperial—and his follow up power-House publication of photographs.

This forest of paper follows Willie’s odyssey as he moves back and forth along the California/Baja border. He thrills voyeuristically while peeking through its rusted gloryholes.
He waxes lyrical on Brown Buffalos on both sides of the iron wall struggling to survive. Drips that pale-skin guilt all over those uncountable souls who grab and claw across hell with the promise of stinking greenbacks. Snap shoots away at the life that the rotten-to-the core capitalism lays to waste; those with arms wrenched backward forced out of dire economic need to unclutch from loved ones only to end up buried in a field of clotted dirt and with a cross: “No Identificado”.
Aesthetics aside—I mean the guy’s not exactly getting contracts for his looks—this is no fault to the author here.
It seems he’s done his homework. During the 12 years it took him to experience and write (oh, and photograph) the Brown borderlands, he seems to have left no stone unturned: he’s licked toxic salt-water lakes and irrigation ditches; Brown-faced to infiltrate maquiladoras.
Maybe he’s in the limelight because people can pronounce Vollmann better than, I don’t know, Rodriguez, Grijalva, or Urrea. Say with me: "Oo-Ray-ah"—how hard can it be?

Think back to when Luis Alberto Urrea published his first-hand research of living in the dumps in Tijuana .
Across the Wire picked up the “New York Times Notable Book” but do you think he made a full spread in the New York Times? Not. Spread across today’s Arts section: “William T. Vollmann: An Author Without Borders.” Where do we sign up for his passport?
I mention Urrea ("Oo-Ray-ah") but he’s hit the mainstream media jackpot relatively speaking. Think of all that research by Brown scholars that serve up knowledge our history, politics, culture. Wouldn’t it be nice to see names cranking out on mainstream media ticker-tapes such as:
“ARTURO ALDAMA” (Disrupting Savagism)
“RICHARD T. RODRIGUEZ” (Next of Kin)


“PANCHO MCFARLAND” (Chicano Rap),


“Guisela Latorre” (Walls of Empowerment)






“Marcial Gonzalez” (Chicano Novels)

Vollmann’s not the only one willing to go that extra mile for knowledge about our world. We’re curious as all hell and a few of us, even, are able to spend the necessary time to research and write to get the word out. While those border-patrollers on the payroll of Bertelsmann Inc. like the Vollmanns of the world, we seem forever doomed to mark the earth: no-identificados.

1 comment:

  1. mliebtag@gmail.comNovember 6, 2009 at 7:54 PM

    I'm a bit confused as to your ultimate point here: that there are plenty of Latino authors covering the same general ground, so why all the adulation for the ugly white guy? Leaving aside, for the moment, the fact that Vollmann is a master prose stylist with a voluminous body of work the primary concern of which has been the plight of the poor and the politically dispossessed, what kind of bona fides would a lily white tourist have to exhibit in order to prove his or her ability to write meaningfully about what's happening on the border? The buzz around "Imperial" is not a product of the literary world's concern with or for the lot of immigrants; there would be just as much fanfare if Vollmann had directed his attentions to Detroit or the Basque region or (as he's done in the past) Afghanistan. The fanfare is because it's _Vollmann_, and because he's an important writer with an established following. While the other works you've mentioned are, I do not doubt, stellar in their research and presentation, they weren't written by literary superstars and thus weren't heralded as watershed publishing events. Simple as that.

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