Calling yourself a Latino writer — a term which may conjure up Borgesian labyrinths of Euclidean collapse as well as Octavio Paz essays on the unseemliness of the Zoot Suit Riots — can be liberating; can, in fact, be a bibliophile’s blast. The informed Latino writer, witness to beautiful old men with enormous wings as well as handsome corpses along limbo shores, can say she’s eyed endangered Axolotl long enough to imagine her fate was never any friendlier than that of a fish bound to tap water and a glass bowl.
But announce yourself as a “Tejano writer” — a scribbler bound by the mirthless myth of John Wayne spectacles that never really occurred, and the codes and conceits of a Mexico that was never really your home — and you are in a special kind of trouble.
Tejano writers — such as the young adult novelist Diana Lopez and the poet Tammy Gomez — are a small but tenacious group with a lot to shoulder, being charged with baring exciting new work while assuming the aesthetic responsibility of responding to their precursors. If you are a Tex-Mex writer and you don’t deal with stylist masters like Rolando Hinojosa-Smith or sexual outlaws like John Rechy in your work, readers who know will know you’ve not done your homework.
Rene S. Perez II, a young writer who has a big time respect for all the Tejano literature that came before him, is a new guy with a new book who is doing something, well, kind of new. The dude, who gets his inspiration from metal bands as well as Tony Morrison, is a Tejano writer because he writes about Tejanos — tales about guys with nowhere jobs who don’t know where they came from are set in a terrain so familiar as to seem absolutely alien.
Of Along These Highways, Sandra Cisneros has said: “Perez shines a high beam on lives never in the spotlight. His stories abduct you, sweep you across an America you never knew existed, and in the end change you.”
Hey, even if you don’t care so much about being changed, check out this book, and check out the author himself as he reads this Friday (3/30) at Bookpeople. Show starts at 7 p.m.