July 31, 1998
By Daniel L. Muñoz
"nobody's son: notes from an american life"
By Luis Alberto Urrea
Published by the University of Arizona Press
190 PP, ISBN 0-8165-1865-3
Octavio Paz, brutally, made the young Chicanos, of the 60's and 70's, confront the reality that they were "Hijos de la Chingada Madre'... Neither accepted by the `gringos Del Norte' nor by the `Mejicanos Del Sur'... "No somos de aqui ni de alla". Neither accepted here (the USA), nor there (Mexico). Until Los Chicanos could face up to that reality, they would have difficulty in changing the nature of their existence.
In his initial writings, Luis Urrea seemed trapped in the eternal conflict perceived by Rudolfo Anaya in his Essay "An American Chicano in King Arthur's Court." Born in Tijuana, Mexico but in his formative years raised in San Diego, Ca., Urrea, like most of his contemporaries, was raised within two competing cultures; The one that he was acculturated into as a child born and raised in Tijuana and the culture he was confronted with in the U.S.A.
As a Mejicano, he was nurtured in a culture that was Hispanic and Catholic.
Flowing through his ancient indigenous past were the memories contained within the cultural worldview of his indigenous past. This past included the mythologies and thoughts of Indigenous Mexico. With the Spanish conquest, the indigenous people incorporated elements of the powerful Spaniards into their worldview. Elements of both have survived throughout their historical past.
"The Anglo-American upon their arrival on what is now the United States brought the archetypal time and memory of "King Arthur's Court" to America which became the force that defined the Anglo-American group. It is the archetype that is still very much alive," stated Anaya. "To the indigenous people of America, King Arthur's court was a `foreign' archetype that was not in their communal memories." The conflict within our communities has been the difficulty in assuming the worldview of King Arthur's Court with that of the communal memories of our Spanish-native culture of the Southwest United States.
Holding the major social, economic, and political power, AngloAmerica has attempted to force all other groups that made up our multi-cultural society to accept their world view and values. In the process, the majoritarian ruling group has had difficulty in sharing positive cultural values and instead chose to deal with the Spanish-Mexican-indigenous groups of early America with stereotypes which were negative. To a great extent this limited cultural sharing. Both groups, those we call Anglo Americans and Mexican American, Latino- and Hispanics were forced into fighting negative stereotypes of each other.
Luis Urrea in his first series of writings was caught in the box, trying to see Mexican life through the archetype of "King Arthur's Court" instead of seeing the reality through his brown eyes, brown history, and `cultura'. As a consequence some of his earlier writings such as his "Border Trilogies" rang shallow and resembled a weak effort by a Chicano trying to write like a gringo. As contemporary Chicanos would state."If I want to read what a Gringo writes, I'll read what a real White man writes. Why bother with a Xerox copy when the real thing is available.
When presented with the opportunity to review Luis Urrea's latest effort; "nobody's son; notes from an american life," I was hesitant to do so. I must admit I had not been too kind in my past reviews. Nevertheless I was persuaded.
To be truthful, this work, his latest, is a revelation. Luis Urrea has opened the doors to his Chicano past and has begun to write and speak with a truthfulness that was so lacking in the past. He has "found his way home" and has begun the path to accepting his mestizo past and merges it with his Anglo blood. "nobody's son" lays out his hurtful past and history, from deep within both banks of his cultural history. With a clarity and a sharp pen, Luis Urrea accepts the burden of both being the son of `La Malenchie and Cortez' as well as incorporating in his worldview that he is a son of the present who demands the right to see, write, and feel the world from both apexes. He has earned that right.
For all of those San Diegan's who had the opportunity to get to know Luis Urrea when he lived in Logan Heights, Shell Town or who perhaps studied with him when, he was an instructor at Mesa College, I suggest you read "nobody's son; notes from an american life". You will be surprised. To all our non-Hispanic members of society, "nobody' son; notes from an american life" is a choice plum that you should not fear to read. There is much to learn from this work.