Dear Mexican: Can you recommend a solid, accessible history of California and Arizona so I can learn what really happened when the U.S. gobbled Aztlán? —La Chica Confundida
Dear Wabette: The holistic classic in this genre is Rodolfu Acuña’s Occupied America: A History of Chicanos. For California, I recommend Leonard Pitts’ The Decline of the Californios: A Social History of the Spanish- Speaking Californias, 1846-1890, which examines the tricks gabachos used to screw over California’s native Mexicans after the Mexican-American War; Hispanic Arizona, 1536-1856, by James E. Officer offers the same for Arizona. But as much as you and I would like to think otherwise, the rest of this Mexican-obsessed country doesn’t share the same fascination for Arizona, California, or the American Intervention. Really, the best book you can purchase to teach people about the Reconquista is: mine. Kidding… sort of. In all honesty, the only libro people interested in the Mexican Question should buy: Carey McWilliams’ majestic North from Mexico: The Spanish-Speaking People of the United States. Though it celebrated its 60th anniversary this year, McWilliams’ effort still beats any Pew Hispanic Center study, National Council on La Raza press release, or George Lopez monologue in explaining why Mexicans and their descendants en los Estados Unidos act the way they do, and why gabachos hate wabs so. Mixing little-known history with thoughtful analysis and wonderful prose, it impresses with every reading, and has spawned a thousand Chicano Studies monographs. McWilliams was the first gabacho who cared for Mexicans not for their tithes, cheap labor, fecund wombs or taco specials, but as actual members of the American fabric.
Dear Mexican: Which Mexican poets who aren’t writing in English would you recommend? I’m looking for translations, because I’m a lazy gabacho who doesn’t know Spanish. —No Good at Witty Names, Either
Dear Gabacho: I can give you but two poetas—one old, one timeless. Ramon López Velarde died young in 1921, but his abstract, postmodern poetry influenced generations of Mexican writers, and my fellow jerezano’s “La suave patria” (roughly, “The Sweet Motherland”) remains as hallowed an artistic celebration of Mexico as the films of Pedro Infante or the Mexican national anthem. The University of Texas released a translated López Velarde anthology a couple of years ago, but his clever rhyming schemes, puns, and references disappeared like decorum at a San Diego Minutemen meeting. Easier to appreciate is the work of Jose Alfredo Jimenez, Mexico’s greatest singer-songwriter. He understood the contradictory essence of the Mexican soul—the drunken prophet, the weeping macho, the embittered optimist, the jingoistic twerp—and captured it with somber yet stirring couplets. If you want to read his lyrics, buy Jose Alfredo Jimenez: Cancionero Completo (Complete Songbook), but your gabacho ass needs to comprender Spanish first. In the meanwhile, buy Jimenez’s albums (especially the one he recorded with Banda El Recodo), pour some Herradura, and let the holidays flow.