‘SORROWS AND ALL’ Telling Their Human Story ‘GOOD RIDDANCE’ The Past Dismantled THE CHILDREN OF SAN-CHEZ, by Oscar Lewis. Random House, 1961. 500 pages. $7.50. AUSTIN The author of this book is plainly delighted with what he has done here, and he has reason to he. Thanks to that nifty little invention, the tape recorder, he has been able to take down the autobiographies of all five members of a family living in a oneroom home in a Mexico City tenement, as told by each person in his own words. Of course, the stories were given a direction, and have been edited, by the author, and they have lost the lilt of spontaneity in translation. But whatever the limitations of the method, the result is still a unique set of human documents, pulsing with life. The author, in his pride of paternity, is inclined to claim for his offspring a place in the temple of art, as well as a job in the laboratory of science. “IN PREPARING the interviews for publication, I have eliminated my questions and have selected, arranged and organized their materials into coherent life stories. If one agrees with Henry James that life is all inclusion and confusion while art is all discrimination and selection, then these li!Te histories have something of both art and life. I believe this in no way reduces the authenticity of the data or their usefulness for science.” Well, is it art or science? In my judgment, neither one. It is autobiography, with a direction: “In the course of our interviews I asked hundreds of questions of Manuel, Roberto, Consuelo, Marta, and Jesus Sanchez. Naturally, my training as an anthropologist, my years of familiarity with Mexican culture, my own values, and my personality influenced tb s final outcome of this study. While I used a. directive approach in the interviews, I encouraged free association, and I was a good listener. I attempted to cover systematically a wide range of subjects: their earliest memories, their dreams, their hopes, fears, joys and sufferings; their jobs: their relationship with friends, relatives, employers; their sex life; their concepts of justice, religion and politics; their knowledge of geography and history; in short, their total view of the world.” If art is conscious expression THE TEXAS OBSERVER Page 6 June 23, 1962 Big Savings On BUSINESS CARDS Absolutely the lowest prices in America on beautiful highquality business cards! Raised letters look and feel like real engraving! Ideal for businessmen, professional people, salesmen or just plain folks who know and value the prestige that a fine business card gives you. Simply jot down what you want printed on your cards and rush to us for amazing 48-hour postpaid service. Include your remittance of only $3.89 per thousand one-color cards, or $4.89 per thousand two-color cards. \(Colors are black, blue, No C.O.D.’s, please. Accuracy and satisfaction fully guaranteed Order now from NEW STUDIOS, INC. P.O. Box 472-E Brownwood, TIXlif4 steering of the narratives along a desired course by the interviewer, and his subsequent trimming of them, with an eye to “their usefulness to science”that is, their acceptability to his orthodox colleagues of the academic world would keep them from having the form that the personality of the narrator would suggest, if he were a conscious artist. AND YET, in Manuel, “by far the most fluent and dramatic storyteller in the family,” we do have a conscious artist, and “his story reflects much of its original structure.” The Manuel story “perhaps more than the others, however, loses a great deal in transcription and translation because he is a born actor with a great gift for nuance, timing, and intonation. A single question would often elicit an uninterrupted monologue of forty minutes.” Manuel’s rich feeling for language is amazing, when you consider that he is not only “the least inhibited in using typical slum slang, with its profanity and strong sexual metaphor,” but also has “a flair for intellectuality,” and uses such sophisticated terms as “subconscious,” “luminaries,” “portentous opulence.” And his narrative rises, at the end, to a wail of eloquence: “Looking back over my life, I see that it was based on a chain of errors. I have treated it frivolously. I have been content to vegetate, to survive in a gray twilight, without effort and without glory. I waited for a stroke of luck . . for a million pesos, so I could help my father, my children, try friends in need. I couldn’t do things on a big scale, so I did ncthing at all . “It sounds laughable, but if I could find the appropriate words, I would like to write poetry some day. I have always tried to see beauty, even among the evils I have experienced, so that I wouldn’t be completely disillusioned by life. I would like to sing the poetry of life . . . great emotions, sublime love, to express the lowest passions in the most beautiful way. Men who can write of these things make the world more habitable; they raise life to a different level.” IT IS NOT ONLY Manuel who attains heights of eloquence; so do the others, at moments. His brother Roberto is one of the two relatively simple-minded children of Jesus Sanchez, but he burst out with this: “I always wanted to be something in life, to do whatever I felt like and not have to take orders from anyone. I wanted to make a kite of my life and fly it in any field.” In these and in other, similar passages we find the substance of literature; Manuel’s story as a MARTIN ELFANT Sun Life of Canada Houston, Texas CA 4-0686 whole approaches the form of art. But, whatever we decide to label the genre, these are studies in understanding, and need no further justification. The author, however, insists that he has done something “useful for science.” He believes that he has discovered a universal way of life that he calls “the culture of poverty.” This culture \(defining “culture” as a design for living which is passed down from claims, exists in the lower-class settlements of cities so distant, and so different, from one another as London, Paris, Harlem and Mexico City. He goes on to list a number of traits as characteristic of this culture, and, sure enough, they are traits that have been common to poor people since the world began. What is passed down from generation to generation by the lower classes, it appears, is lack of money. THIS ELABORATION of the obvious has come to be characteristic of the social sciences in our day. Perhaps, someday when we are a little less naive, some anthropologist will do a study on the culture of the social scientist in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Among the traits he may list as being handed down from generation to generation of social scientists are the obsession that all human ills are caused by unequal distribution of wealth the conviction that all ills are likr problems in engineering, and car be solved by application of th , right. principles, an unhealthy re spect for the fixed ideas of th mediocrities who run the grew` Foundations and dish out th funds for the research project that are r”ally ‘enjoyable. and at overall Folemnity, derived from the Prussian professors Prig the New England missionaries of s recent era. Dr. Lewis is, obviously, far superior in human understanding to the run of sociologists and anthropologists. He knows Mexico thoroughly, and makes, in his introduction, as many acute observations on Mexican life as I have ever seen in such short space. Put he does not prove that anything is handed down by anybody. Some of the traits he lists as characteristic of the culture of poverty are also found among other classes in the Mexican nation, and have always been found among them all. He does not explain why the four children of Sanchez turn out to have entirely different personalities and foibles, when they have had exactly the same environment. MANUEL, who is intellectually gifted, lets his children go hungry; Roberto, perhaps the most lovable of the four, is an incorrigible thief, brawler and jailbird; Consuelo, who strives hardest to better herself, is neurotic, and becomes a sort of highclass prostitute against her will; Marta, who is straightforward and unassuming, lives with a man she does not love, simply because he takes care of her. When the author says they are “all badly damaged human beings,” with whom is he comparing them? The sociologist’s image of an ideal human being used to be, some time ago, and perhaps unconsciously, the New England farmer. Who is it now, I wonder? Where a re there any undamaged people? These a re, least, P\(‘0111\(1 who do not cringe or whine. They never lost their courage, nor, for long -, th eir gaiety. And it is plain they had a wonderful time telling 111\(’11’ SOIOWS :111\(1 :Ili. RAMSD14′.1.1, DALLAS If it is often said of the British that they have their idiosyncraises, it might be said of Texas and Texans that we have our absurdities. Idiosyncrasies are not big enough for Texas. I have in mind such things as mile-long bridges over dry creeks and the canalization of a river which must borrow water to float a barge. One such Texas absurdity was commented on by Edna Ferber in her novel, Giant. It struck her as quite ridiculous that we should, in the midst of such vast open spaces, find it necessary to build forty-story skyscrapers. in Texas. Why the congestion in our cities, and the mile upon empty mile of wasteland on all sides? Why the soaring property values downtownmillions of dollars per city blockand the abandoned farmhouses, the ghost towns all about which once were thriving communities? Why the appalling waste of tearing down homes, schools, churches, and office buildings after only some 25 to 40 years of Ise? WHY THE ABSURD competition between Dallas and Fort Worth, resulting in Dallas refus’ng to join Fort Worth in making \\mon Carter Field a join’ airhe investment of millions in Love Field when it is dangerously close to the teeming heart of downtown Dallas? How can Houston people be so short-sighted as to think that a canal to Dallas would hurt Houston? Did the river traffic on the Mississippi hurt New Orleans? Which is bigger, New Orleans or Memphis? Houston would serve as the juncture between river traffic and ocean traffic, becoming more important in shipping, trade, and manufacturing. Of the world’s cities, Dallas has as few taxicabs and as roor public transportation as any. Bus or cab, you wait at least a half hour. Even for an ambulance you sometimes wait forty minutes in Big D, a situation which recently attracted the scrutiny of the City Council and the press. If a man wants to catch a plane he drives to the airport. He parks his car for a day or a week or three weeks. He wouldn’t think of calling a cab; he’d miss the plane. Four thousand cars, count them, are parked at Love Field any time you go out there, except weekends, when daddies come home and the number drops to soms 2,500. I WAS LAMENTING the other I day that few buildings are left of the downtown Dallas of thirty years ago. “Good riddance,” one man retorted. “They can start in en Deep Ellum next. They’ve got my permission.” The pawn shops and vacant buildings on out. Elm Street, once a center of Dallas Negro life and thus popularly called “Deep Ellum,” are in truth something of an eyesore. They are talking about tearing down the massive old Dallas County Court House. The red sandstone and gray granite building looks out over the Triple Underpass, its eight round towers with rounded window panes topped by pencil-point spheres with lighting rods. Dragon gargoyles perch atop the main roof. At one time the Trinity River swung in its meandering course to the foot of the slope below the courthouse steps, and some of the more enraptured visitors to Texas likened this medieval fortress to the castles along the Gelman Rhine. Many have said it is ugly. Our city planners have said it has to go. The mortal sin, the most damning, evidence against it, came out in the testimony by the ail-conditioning engineer. He said it wag all but impossible to air-condition such a building. The low masonry arches, the domed hallways, the high ceilings in the courtroomstear it all down. How could he install ducts and outlets through walls two feet thick’? If he cut through an arch maybe the whole wall would collapse on him. There has been discussion in the papers about what a costly demolition job the Court House will be. This is not one of your modern buildings with brick veneer against a layer of clay tile and an inch of plaster. Like the State Capitol, this is solid chunks of native stone. Not thin marble panels, but massive marble blocks and pillars, gray granite walls up to head-high, then sandstone. And the foundations go deep. They’ll have a job carting off the rubble. Then one day the picture of the Dallas County Court House will join those others on the mezzanine of the Statler-Hilton, of early-day Dallas landmarks, the old opera house, the panorama of Oak Cliff, the early saloon and beer garden. ROME DAY DALLAS will come L/ of age, will begin to mature and mellow. We will recall fondly Dallas’ early days. We will look at our city, the monolithic aluminum towers, the pastel-panelled office buildings, the stainless steel and plate glass department stores. “Where is our past?” we will ask. “Have we no shrines, no monuments, no museums, no castle, no colonial cathedral? Was Dallas born full-grown in the midtwentieth century?” This old building would make a fine museum. It is a landmark in North Texas. It is one of the few splendid turn-of-the-century structures left standing in the city. It is a real, honest-to-God Texas county court house. A number of sentimental old fools, and some of us who are not so old, would like to see it spared for a few years. In the year 2012, just a half-cen
You May Also Like
The documentary in Falfurrias is sinister and spiritual.