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Press literature, Octavio Paz and Juan Rulfo and the Latin American boom writers. I loved James Baldwin and Langston Hughes, but Richard Wright, he was God. Chicano literature had just begun, and I knew it only through the plays of Luis Valdez, his Teatro Campesino, and the pachangas at Casa de la Raza in Santa Barbara. Those were days when to me Chicano meant someone who was involved with the United Farm Workers and Cesar Chavez, and I had come from the city, from Los Angeles, where adults I knew drove beer and delivery trucks, were butchers, office and shipping and sales clerks, plumbers, firemen, repairmen, secretaries, assemblers, mechanics, taxi drivers. I myself had worked so many jobs alreadyindustrial ones, in factories, both union and not from early in high school on. Unlike all my big city friends, I liked to eat tomatoes and spinach, but I didn’t really have a clue about what it meant to work in the fields, and so that was yet another reason I felt separated from el movimiento that surrounded me, the one who was reading books about philosophy and religion. If Valdez was creating a Califas of and lowriders, pachucos y las rucas, characters I enjoyed but didn’t feel were like me and my more conflicted, and ordinary American experience, what I found in Hinojosa’s work bled a vein: He was writing about the common people who were cops or menial bank workers, employed at drugstores or who sold cars, went to little league baseball games and told stories of a living Mexico and the smallest cositas of a local community, like death and birth, who married who inside the community and out, much of it related as gossip and through simple conversation in dialogue. It was, in other words, what I recognized, and so, like much else that suddenly changed in my life from that point on, I began to understand the world I was in too, where I was not only as a working man, but as a writer I wanted to be. The writer I am now who is still on such a wonderous, surprising journeymysterious both in psychic and real spacetoday I am driving in a car, three decades later, with that book’s very Rolando Hinojosa, who I now think of as a friend even, and we are on the road to visit the grave of one of the other legends of Chicano literature, Tomas Rivera. Which is to say, there is such a tombstone now of our first, Chicano generation of writer, and it is, justly, in Crystal City, Texas, in the Benito Juarez Cemetery, where, sure, a few wooden crosses have fallen, but where many stand tagged with tattered blue ribbons or torn, miniature American flags, but where everywhere are cement Virgins, vases awaiting or full of fresh pink roses, petals of paper flowers that are purple and red. NamesRosalva, Estanislado, Euluteria, or Mariana, Ignacio, Juan, Pedro, Beatriz. Rivera’s gravestone is pink granite, probably the same quarry rock that makes the Texas Capitol so admired, RIVERA engraved above the inscriptions, Florencio M, Nov. 7, 1903 to Dec. 5, 1959, his father, and then his, Dr. Tomas H, Dec. 22, 1935 to May 16, 1984. There is no ghost in that Crystal City cemetery. That is no haunting we feel. Only pride. Only respect. Look at the impossibly long distance Tomas Rivera traveled before he came to rest in the town where he was born: From a family who migrated from their native home, yearly, to pick crops from the fertile American plains to the north, the poorest of the working poor, he became the writer we know, a teacher, and a university president. A great American story. A great Texas story. A great Mexican American story. It may take a ride to a cemetery once in a while to remember, a ritual of respect for an important loss to hush that ghost. It may take a song. It may take a painting. A poem. A fiction. Or maybe a book with them all. here is so much misunderstanding about who we are here, where we are from. The extreme Republican right sees us as complicit conspirators with undocumented immigrants who take jobs away from Americans, and as part of the subsequent criminal activity, which begins with an “illegal” border crossing to find work \(forget acknowledgnal children who overuse the American system of education and health care. The same people and their children, coincidentally, whomuch less raging rhetoric on this!are so valuable for a low-wage, poverty-income workforce which also becomes a rich reservoir for military recruitment, the same people who, despite supporting the American flag by wearing an American uniform, can be accused of disloyalty for equally supporting family with a Mexican flag as wellas if dos patrias is unique only to the people of the border, as if Americans who are Irish and Italian and Jewish, for example, don’t exist. But even on the tanned Democratic left there seems to be little more than phrase book insight gotten out of dealing with the maid, nanny, or gardener: After President George W. Bush’s last State of the Union address, the Democratic Party offered its formal reply through one of its Easterners, but also asked Antonio Villaraigosa, the rising star mayor of Los Angeles, to represent the West. His reply was in Spanish. That the Democratic Party put him in a position to speak Spanish to a national audience perpetuates an irritating misconception that Mexican Americans are still and forever immigrants, that our English language skills, like our relationship to this country, are for most weak and secondary. The truth is that Latino voters are either bilingual, as is the mayor, or are monolingual English speakers, while those who struggle with their ing/es see him as a son or brother speaking it as well as they aspire to themselves, and are proud, thrilled, because he is an American, because he is a Mexican American. Texas was the frontline of the historic battle that separated Mexico and the Texas Republic, what became the United States, and the attitude which came of that fight was represented by the treatment of its new Mexican American citizens by a special law enforcement agency known as the Rangers \(documented most beautifully by Americo Paredes in his classic If that violence is the past, the attitudes that remain are patronizing at best. Even in Texas, Mexican Americans are still considered more continued on page 17 JANUARY 12, 2007 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7