Friday, May 05, 2006

More Hispanic novels about structural racism

University of California-Davis law professor Kevin Johnson wrote in to recommend a few more Hispanic works that might help us understand structural racism. One is a novel:

Danny Santiago, Famous All Over Town
And the other two are autobiographies:
Mona Ruiz, Two Badges: The Lives Of Mona Ruiz
Luis Rodriguez, Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A.
There is an interesting background story about Famous All Over Town, published in 1983. The author Danny Santiago was a secret nom de plume of Daniel James, a writer of Hollywood screenplays and Broadway plays and musicals who was blacklisted during the McCarthy era. Danny Santiago's picture did not appear on the dust jacket of Famous All Over Town, and he communicated with his agent and publisher only via post office box. When the book won a literary prize, he didn't show up at the ceremony to pick up his $5,000 check. Click here to read more about James/Santiago and his reasons for the deception.

David Quammen praised the book in the New York Times:
''Famous All Over Town'' is an honest, steady novel that presents some hard cultural realities while not for a paragraph failing to entertain. I am totally ignorant of the Chicano urban experience but I have to believe this book is, on that subject, a minor classic. And Danny Santiago is good news.
From the publisher of Two Badges: The Lives Of Mona Ruiz (co-authored by crime reporter Geoff Boucher):
This engrossing memoir charts Ruiz’s journey toward self-identity, tracing the tortuous path of her life—a life in which Ruiz assumed contradictory roles: gang chola, high school drop-out, disowned daughter, battered wife, welfare mother, student, and policewoman. At each step in the journey, Ruiz faced violence, ridicule, and skepticism. She nevertheless prevailed in exchanging her badge of social defiance for one of protecting her community.
Luis Rodriguez, author of Always Running: La Vida Loca, praised Two Badges:
Beneath the unique story of a gang-banger turned cop was the story that really grabbed my attention: how a young Chicana went beyond all the social pressures to fail—including physical abuse, racism, and sexism—and followed her own dreams. Geoff Boucher has helped transform this experience into a good read.
Rodriguez's Always Running is an international best seller which collected a Carl Sandburg Literary Award, a Chicago Sun-Times Book Award, and was designated a New York Times Notable Book. Written as a cautionary tale for Luis’ then 15-year-old son Ramiro—who had joined a Chicago gang—the memoir is popular among youth and teachers. From the publisher:

By age twelve, Luis Rodriguez was a veteran of East L.A. gang warfare. Lured by a seemingly invincible gang culture, he witnessed countless shootings, beatings, and arrests, then watched with increasing fear as drugs, murder, suicide, and senseless acts of street crime claimed friends and family members.

Before long, Rodriguez saw a way out of the barrio through education and the power of words and successfully broke free from years of violence and desperation. Achieving success as an award-winning Chicano poet, he was sure the streets would haunt him no more--until his son joined a gang. Rodriguez fought for his child by telling his own story in Always Running, a vivid memoir that explores the motivations of gang life and cautions against the death and destruction that inevitably claim its participants. At times heartbreakingly sad and brutal, Always Running is ultimately an uplifting true story, filled with hope, insight, and a hard-learned lesson for the next generation.

Click here to read an excerpt from Always Running. Click here to reach Rodriguez's blog. And click here to read his poem, "The Concrete River."

Thanks to Kevin Johnson for the recommendations.

Kevin R. Johnson is Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Mabie-Apallas Public Interest Professor of Law and Chicana/o Studies at the University of California at Davis. He has published extensively on immigration law and policy, racial identity, and civil rights in national and international journals. Professor Johnson's book How Did You Get to Be Mexican? A White/Brown Man's Search for Identity was published in 1999 and was nominated for the 2000 Robert F. Kennedy Book Award. He also has published Race, Civil Rights, and American Law: A Multiracial Approach and Mixed Race America and the Law: A Reader. Professor Johnson's latest book The "Huddled Masses" Myth: Immigration and Civil Rights was published in 2004. For a complete list of his publications, click here.

--Marshal Zeringue