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FUTUM COMMUNICATIONS, INC. Data Processing Typesetting Printing Mailing 512-389-1500 FAX 512-389-0867 3019 Alvin DeVane, Suite 500 Austin, Texas 78741 1 4 BOOKS & THE CULTURE Literary Barrios BY DAGOBERTO GILB 5 INCE THE MID-1970S, fiction and poetry in this country have become polite occupations of the academe. The desire for comfort can’t be criticized. erated the “creative writing” degree program being the chosen means by which the writer/poet of this age is initiated and then deemed mature the tenure-track job at the mini-Iowa writers’ workshops, popping up like highrises in Houston and Dallas, has become a credentialing system of its own. A writer or poet not affiliated with one university or another does not exist as today’s literary bios affirm. Writers are, of course, paper oriented, but these days much of that paper is used for rsums and vitas. Writers, as teachers of writing, have obsessed themselves as much with positions in a buyeaucracy where their work is valued like impressive stationery, and where their art is reduced to being evaluated by hiring and promotion committees. Most who are reading this are educated and remember how not to influence one’s professor. Such is the plight of literature these days. Well, don’t look now, but not everyone’s being nice. Ricardo Sanchez, Chuco’s \(El published, Eagle-Visioned/Feathered Adobes, and it seems he doesn’t care who gets pissed off. I’m no poet or critic, so don’t ask me if, as poetry, the book is important. Nor do I offer ad hominem defense of or offense at Sanchez’s generous use of the ad hominem in the book, except to say that I don’t believe in it and couldn’t do it and somehow I doubt that Rudy Anaya is one of the bad guys. Neither am I convinced that the work Sanchez criticizes sells La Raza out as though to rich buyers of cultural trinkets in Santa Fe plaza. This is what I do say: As a literary-political rabblerouser, Sanchez has few peers. Long before I met him, I had heard of him. Mostly from people who shook their heads, offended, faulting Sanchez’s literary manners and upbringing. He has been, in my lifetime, the most unlovable, feared, provoking artist I’ve known of. His reputation as a newspaper columnist in San Antonio \(and earlier, in El Dagoberto Gilb, an El Paso writer who is a journeyman carpenter, has been a visiting writer at the University of Texas at Austin. an affront to conventional syntax and civility as it was a testament to his unguarded hubris. Sanchez, known as a pachuco from el Barrio del Diablo, the Devil’s Ward, was expected to leave this strut and neighborhood behind him when, in the early ’70s, success arrived in the form of a book published by a New York company. Instead, he widened the boundaries of his barrio. Sanchez’s scowl in Eagle-Visioned falls on what he’d call the inheritors of a Chicano protest movement who have turned activism into the academic and bureaucratic pursuit of middle-class acceptance, and by so doing, have made the Chicano a de-nativized businessperson, as spiritually and culturally rooted as a Taco Bell stand. The media usually perceive politically active ethnic “minorities” as one, a unit whose self-interest is progressive; Mexican-Americans, the Hispanic Southwest, vote the Democratic Party. But right here listen to some divisive groans. Hispanic? Mexican-American? Ricardo Sanchez claims neither of those conservative terms. He is, he will insist, a Chicano, and he takes offense at those too willing to accommodate the Spanish word or the hyphen. In Sanchez’s view, the barrio is too far away from the suburbs of the nouveau Chicano mainstream, , transforming what was a cause into like Santa Fe a costume dress-up for tourists. Whether or not his is an accurate or a too-embittered description of the Chicano literary scene, it does coincide with the dominant trend in literature these days. I recently read an article in Texas Monthly about a protest party by a group University of Texas minority English department faculty and students, angered that more minority faculty weren’t being hired \(which, I can say, was, how ironic, from the outside, the argument seemed, since minority and non-minority alike are fighting within the same circle of confirmation: that institution \(its suit-and-tie the institutional life. Sanchez’s barrio, to me, can be seen as a useful metaphor for the force of the noninstitutionalized, the not-acceptable, difficult, non-conformist, untrendy, for the notso-neat, without wholesome backgrounds with attitude. As a place for beer and tostadas, not wine and cheese; whiskey, not scotch; tequila straight and not whipped with sugar; where poverty is about rent and not tenure; for those without connections, influence, without much if any family money or support to carry them through the good, let alone bad, times. It is, undeniably, a volatile, wild, often unpleasant neighborhood. It’s not, in my opinion, that everyone has to live in this barrio to be “real” or honest. Teachers who are writers, and writers who are teachers are all writers, some of whom, are very good, and some of whom are very boring. Yet all are supported, financed, given unquestioned credibility and recognition. But the time has come for some of the attention to be paid to those who can’t, won’t, or don’t live in the wealth and comfort of a place like by Sanchez have to be encouraged, if, for no other reason, as evidence that there are still some hard and unrefinable chunks in the melting pot. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17