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iQuien es Rolando Hinojosa? RITES AND WITNESSES By Rolando Hinojosa Houston: Arte Publico Press, 1982, 122 pp., $7.50 Dallas JAM TALKING to my mother on the phone. “Your uncle has a new book com ing out.” Or “Your .uncle just won a prize for the best Spanish-American novel of the year.” I try to keep up with the literary scene. I read The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, Harper’s, The Texas Observer. But if I want the latest news about Rolando Hinojosa, I have to go to his sister, my mother. The back cover of his latest book tells me he “is considered the foremost Chicano novelist,” but when I searched Larry McMurtry’s notorious Observer article on “the failure of Texas literature” Madison Cooper along with Humphrey, Graves and Lea, but no Hinojosa. And A. C. Greene’s list of 50 favorite Texas books \(Texas Monthly, doesn’t happen to contain any of Hinojosa’s. Hinojosa is a Texan, lives in Texas, writes about Texans, but he does not even get to be a footnote to the “failure” of Texas literature. Who, then, is Rolando Hinojosa and and A. C. Greene know anything about him? When I asked Hinojosa about McMurtry’s article, he referred me to McMurtry’s In a Narrow Grave: “He doesn’t know anything about the Valley. He doesn’t know Mexicans.” Certainly McMurtry’s drive through the Valley doesn’t suggest a thorough knowledge of that part of Texas and one Ed Garcia teaches English and journalism at Cedar Valley College in Dallas. By Ed Garcia description of Mexicans he remembers encountering as a boy is unfortunate “four greasy and mirthful Mexican cowboys.” But the simple reason for Hinojosa’s being ignored is that until recently he has written primarily in Spanish. His latest book, however, is written in English Rites and Witnesses \(Arte Mi Querido Rafa, was about two-thirds Spanish and one-third English, and a current project is a re-creation in English of his best known work, Klail City y Sus Alrededores. So it is now increasingly possible to get a first-hand experience of his art. Rolando Hinojosa is not unknown he professes like crazy all over the Americas from his base as a UT-Austin Professor of English: papers, speeches, workshops, readings, “oonsultantships.” He has published six books, several articles, a couple of dozen short prose pieces and poems. He is the only MexicanAmerican to win the Casa de las Americas Prize for the best Spanishis listed in Manfred Brauneck’s WeltLiteratur im 20 Jahrhundert. \(“H. reprasentiert mit sienem OEuvre eine Besonderheit innerhalb der ChicanoKlail City has been translated into French and published in a volume called Anthologie de la Nouvelle Hispano-Americaine, along with Garcia Marquez among others. \(And yet Larry McMurtry . . . Oh, Like most of Hinojosa’s work, Rites and Witnesses is a collection of short pieces vignettes and interviews about life in the Rio Grande Valley town of Klail City in the county of Belken, a few miles up the river from Jonesville. It is hard to say that this thin volume \(112 together with the other volumes of the “Klail City Death Trip” series it is certainly part of one. The series also includes Estampas del Valle Klail City y Sus Alrededores Korean Love Song \(a narrative poem in Mi Querido Rafa \(in More than anything else, these books record the voices of the people of the Valley: the earlier works concentrated on the Mexicans of Belken/Hidalgo County. In Rites and Witnesses Hinojosa turns his attention to Anglos, primarily those whose decisions run the economic and political life of the Valley. In Hinojosa’s said to be obsessed with ethnicity, but no one ever forgets who is Anglo and who is Mexican. That seems to me an accurate reflection of the place and the time; but the distinctions are even finer: no one forgets whether an Anglo is from a new family or an old one, whether a Mexican is from this family or that. Hinojosa’s mixture of Spanish and English records the language pattern of the Valley, expecially twenty years ago and earlier, when his novels take place. The older Mexicans certainly know English even though they may be loath to use it. Anglos who have been in the Valley for years know Spanish and are likely to work it into their conversations. And the “younger” generation of Belken tend to shift back and forth depending on the situation and the subject. In the epistolary parts of Mi Querido Rafa, Jehu Malacara writes to his hospitalized friend Rafa Buenrostro in a typical mixture: Te acabo de llamar, and as always, nada, and so I’ll write. \(Te llame anoche, despues de la cena, pero sin resultado. What the hell kind of a hospital are they It’s a good thing I’ve got a private office at the bank, and one more thing: a little Christian charity, cousin. Escucha: si sigues riendote, burlandote asi, a carcajadas, se to va a caer al parche del ojo, y luego, L que vas a hacer? Anyway, thanks for the call this morning. So far Hinojosa has taken his saga up through around 1960, which is about the time he finally left the Valley for graduate school. As he moves toward the present, his writing has become in a sense more political and more English because 26 MARCH 11, 1983