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REVIEW by C.M. Mayo|
TRUE TALES FROM ANOTHER MEXICO:
The Lynch Mob, The Popsicle Kings, Chalino and the Bronx by Sam
University of New Mexico
Review originally published in The Wilson Quarterly, winter
"Poor Mexico," lamented the dictator
"so far from God and so close to the United States."
Most Americans writing on their neighboring country fall deep
into this well-worn groove of portraying a Mexico that is to
be pitied. And so True Tales from Another Mexico is a wonder
and a delight. In this beautifully written collection of essays,
Sam Quinones tells the stories of Mexicans as diverse as Queen
Abenamar I, a Mazatlán red-light district transvestite
and beauty queen, and Zeus García, bus boy by day, "high
priest" of Zapoteco basketball by night and weekend.
The book opens with the story of Chalino Sánchez, the
smoldering-eyed Sinoloan who created a new genre of popular music,
the corrido prohibido, or narco ballad. In the late 1980s, having
done time in a Tijuana prison, Chalino was in LA washing cars
when he began to write his ballads, singing them with his own
bark of a voice, and selling the cassettes at car washes and
swap-meets all over LA. Soon, though no radio DJ would play them,
Chalino's "rough sound ignited immigrant LA". Today
the royalties are worth millions.
Millions of dollars also crossed hands when Televisa, Mexico's
entertainment conglomerate, sold its soap opera called Los Ricos
También Lloran, (The Rich Also Cry) to, among other countries,
Spain, Italy, Yugoslavia, and Russia. Los Ricos was such a success
that when its star, Verónica Castro, arrived at the Moscow
airport, it had to be closed because of the thongs who had come
to greet her. Her presence at the Bolshoi Ballet caused a stampede;
her hotel room, at that time of Russia's severe economic crisis,
was filled with flowers from her fans, who, when they saw her
on the street would often burst into tears. "Wherever I'd
go," the bewildered Castro told Quinones.
Equally remarkable are "The Popsicle Kings of Tocumbo"
whose thousands of "La Michoacana" ice-cream shops
dot the republic from Tijuana down to Tapachula, hard by the
border with Guatemala. Owned by various families, friends and
neighbors, these little shops have proved so prosperous that
the entrepreneurs' tiny home town of Tocumbo, Michoacán
is filled with lavish houses, forests of satellite dishes, a
beautiful park with a swimming pool, a church designed by a world-class
architect, and a giant statute "big as a three story
house" of an ice-cream cone.
Not that all of the stories end happily. Chalino Sánchez,
for example, was kidnaped and shot in the back of the head. "Lynching
in Huehutla" was so gruesome I found it difficult to read;
another, "The Dead Women of Juárez," reports
on the hundreds of murders of young women in that hardscrabble
border town, most of which remain unsolved. Quinones also takes
an unblinking look at glue-sniffing gang wannabes, and Nuevo
Jerusalén, a cult-run town he had to visit three times
before he would be admitted on the day the adults were
all dressed as saints, their halos made of wire hangers and tin-foil.
These "true tales" are indeed of "another Mexico,"
mind-boggling in its complexity. Intimately tied to the US, it
is at times and in places "far from God," but, as Quinones
ends this splendid book, well on its way to being "robust
and part of the world."
Copyright (c) C.M. Mayo. All rights
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