Yesterday, I got a text message from Adam, the amazing editor, of my short story collection Down South where the Water Is Warm. I guess he must have needed an escape from our incoming political nightmare, but I won't say too much about that today. I want to talk about how people perceive our writing and stereotypes, the ones that make us mad.
I was sure surprised by his text. He read the first two stories, "Down South where the Water Is Warm" and "The Invitation", and he said first that he loved them (hurrah!), second that he was moved to tears.
Moved to tears?
You know how sometimes you write something, and people react to it differently than you imagined? That's happened to me before where people read my prose or poetry and thought the writing was sad. And cried. I guess, I didn't see my stories that way. To me, these are small windows of what life was, is, and could be like in the barrio.
In the second story, I thought was very important to include my neighbors, the Cocopahs. I purposely wrote it that way because for many years they were practically invisible. When I was growing up, their reservation was abandoned, and the people in my barrio never had contact with them. The misconceptions about them were absurd: alcoholic, pagans, lazy. At school, no one would talk to them, but in high school, I made it a point to befriend them.
They were nothing, absolutely nothing, like the stereotypes my father taught me.
Now, of course, life is very different for them. A few years back, they opened up a casino, and although I haven't been through the reservation in a long while, the shanty town of before has been replaced by proper houses. There is electricity at night.
The casino, supposedly gives money to scholarships, and more than that, it provides jobs. Now, Mexicans and whites alike have a lot of contact with the Cocopah, even if it is to lose their pay checks.
Below are some images of real indians.
I remember one time, while gambling, a senior citizen had a heart attack. I believe she had lost the last penny on her social security check. At least that's what all the Mexican laborers said. I have never forgotten that tale and think it should serve as a caution for those elderly people who are addicted to this place.
The Cocopah Casino, just happens to be in my barrio on the corner of Avenue B and County 15th. My Papa y Mama frequent the it often, especially on Wednesdays when they get a $5 credit. My mom just cashes hers, most of the time, and my dad spends a lot of time playing on the penny slots. In fact, yesterday, she went for her birthday meal, free birthday meal (Happy Birthday Mama!) and then went home. Papi of course dropped her off and went right back to his penny slots.
Last summer, I took my son to a new kiddie casino, but it sucked. The games were too much money, and the prizes were worse than the ones from Chuck E Cheese. However, in the summer, when it's brutally hot, the air conditioning and relatively reasonable food prices are worth the patronage.
What I think is funny is that people probably think Simona is a little Cocopah. She has the right features and skin tone, and hair. But, as soon as they see Aaron, they realize she is a mixed child. I wonder in life, if people will keep asking that fucked up question, "Are you Chinese? Indian? What are you?" We will have a proper response for all of that bullshit.
Writing helps to deal with this racism and unnecessary need to put everyone into a box.
Now, in regards to my current writing, this morning I got up to work on my novel, but instead, took another look at the short stories, the first two that Adam was praising. I caught some despicable typos and added a few bits here and there, but not much. I just enjoyed rediscovering the additions I made in the past. In fact, I had forgotten how "The Invitation" ended altogether, and upon re-reading it this morning, thought it ended well. Not everything in life has closure, and fiction shouldn't either, but this story ended with hope.
My novel, the next project, is what I'm going to work on until my daughter wakes up, so in a way, her waking me up at 2a.m. these last few days has been a blessing. (I actually thought I had woken up at 5a.m., but thought, "Shit, 4a.m. is much better.")
I decided this writing project will include two points of view. That is ambitious, even for me, but I have the complimentary pieces already written, and I think it will be great to have points of view from two genders. We will see. (I hope Adam keeps wanting to work with me! If he likes the short stories, he will love this one, I think.)
Here is to ambition and creativity and destroying all Indio stereotypes. And to the Cocopah Nation, may it continue to thrive in the years to come.
Dr. Jesú Estrada,