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Ayoung man I will call Michael comes up to me. He wants to talk to me because he was in a class that read a short story he’d submitted which wasn’t received very well because it wasn’t very good. It was a ghost story. The setting was an old, wooden house. He’d created a faceless and colorless cast of characterstwo parents, an older boy, and two younger children who all spoke a bland, perfunctory English. The old wooden house was in San Antonio, and he knew it really well. And those characters who lived there were like him, like his family. In his mid-twenties, Michael lives in San Antonio and was born and raised on the westsidethat proverbial poorest and toughest and oldest part of town that all cities have. He is already a father and is raising a daughter by himself. He says he has always wanted to be a writer, but he doesn’t want his work to be Latino Hispanic Chicano Whatever. He remembers when he read a particular poet in high school, a San Antonio activista, and he thought, well, this wasn’t what he was or how he lived. For instance, he didn’t even have an exotic name. His is Michael, not Miguel. His Spanish is lousy, if lousy could mean so bad he’d never seriously use what little he might know because he’d fear he’d get most of it wrong. His parents speak English, he says, and only one grandparent really can’t. What does Michael look like? Este guy es rnuy moreno, he is very dark. His last name isn’t exactly a bland, everyman Smith or Jones either, not a Gonzalez, Hernandez, Rodriguez. It’s a name like Zamarripano vague descent attached to it. As to ghost stories, I point out to him that they are often set in New England, or Old England, and that’s usually because that’s where the writer’s from. Usually, I explain, writers write about where they are from. And so if he’s from San Antonio, and if the story is supposed to be set in San Antonio, and he’s Mexican \(for those not, that’s the internal vernacular for American, he insists. He watches American TV. He doesn’t like soccer, and down there, where he’s never been, they like soccer, and he likes football. He doesn’t know how to be exotic. But, I tell him, he’s from the westside. He looks at me like I’m making it complicated. So, I say again, don’t you see how that isn’t Montana or New York, it isn’t San Francisco or Dallas, Marseilles or Pamplona? His life isn’t exotic, he insists. So I ask him what kind of work he does. He’s a manager at a Pizza Hut. And his crew? Well, they’re all from, uh, San Antonio. I’m laughing now because what he doesn’t want to say is they are all brown people there too. He thinks that isn’t exotic! He doesn’t think he has a unique story to tell. That in the historic city of the Alamo, where the Republic of Texas began and the end of Mexico’s national sovereignty endedthis very dirt he who looks not like anyone on the winner’s side of that war, he an adult, responsible man who’s earning just above minimum wage as a manager at an “Italian” chain pizza joint with minimum-wage employees who have the same story and descent as him, he wants to tell a ghost story about Americans who are…like him. But consider the core of what Michael believes: that to reflect on his own life, the people he was born from and with and around, that bringing in his immediate landscape, his historical and family heritage, he’d be making “exotic” talk. That’s how faraway he is from himself and understanding how and why he became a manager at Pizza Hut. It’s almost as though he were a Chinese child adopted by a middle-class American family who never detected what others saw or heard what they said about him. That consciousness, political or personal, awareness of history and place would estrange him, transform him into someone who wasn’t Miguel enough, or too Miguel, or what is that, where does that come from? Or is it simply that he doesn’t know, he has never once thought about it before, or has never been told? Then what is this orphan’s deprivation? Where does that come from? Why would he defend a ghost story that isn’t about Mexican Americans who live in San Antonio in an old wooden house on the poor side of town? Would he be content to raise his daughter on a literature, like his ghost story, that would never be about where she lived, the land and culture she came from, the American stories of her face, her blood? Wouldn’t she be a little proud if her own father had published this American story she read? If he had a book of them? And if este loco from el hueso wrote ghost stories, any stories, set there and they were read by people in New England and Old England too? There is a haunting in Texas, and it is the ghost: a bisabuela gone prematurely, whose son was married to someone’s mother, whose abuelito’s daughter was married to a tia who was this other’s nieto. Hard to know which, how, when, why. But: a mournful voice in a song. Shy eyes in a painting. Joy from an avocado green bedroom and baby blue dining room. Respect wrapped in a black shawl, patience scratched into a wooden toy trinket, love in a piata or paper flower, work in polished boots and huge buckles, saddles or beaded carseat covers, hats of hard plastic or straw. Strength in simple mashed frijoles seasoned with oregano, ajo y cebolla, in a hot flour tortilla puffing up on a cast-iron comal. In the pico of fresh serrano chile spooned into a taco and gordita, from a shiver of sweet from a leche quemada candy, in the sigh that comes from the first sip of orchata or agua de jamaica. Though its descendants do survive in the poor neighborhoods of Texas \(also known on a larger scale as the cities of El Paso or San Antonio, as the regions known as the Rio Grande Valley or ed, or ignored by the more financially boastful, self-contained Anglo Texas culture, as though the flesh and blood cultural legacy of this Mexican ghost could be dismissed or replaced as though so much of it were like housing projects, transitional or residual, an era that was, not isor transformed into a market niche, pitched as an advertising campaign, a decorating style or motif. It’s the ghost who hoists up Mexican flags in the Rio Grande Valley. People don’t always understand that when they come down here. The voice I hear is Jaime Chahin’s, the Dean of the School of Applied Arts at Texas State University. He worked JANUARY 12, 2007 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5