Hello, C. Zampa here.
If you know me at all, you know I am enamored by all things Mexico. Of course, there is my infamous obsession with Hispanic men. But, beneath all the obvious—the dreamy perception Americans like myself have of the mysterious, wildly beautiful romance of the quintessential Latino male—there is a serious fascination with the country, its people, its culture, the very flavor of Mexico.
But my blog today is not about me and my fascination for Mexico. I’m only reminding you about my love affair with Mexico so that you’ll understand why I’m ecstatic to have—as my VERY first blog guest ever—author Erik Orrantia.
I chose Erik because my radar immediately picked up his signal when I read about the release of his first book, Normal Miguel. I was intrigued by the
premise of the story, the cover, everything. Orrantia had become a quiet, very interesting presence in the literary world. Then he announced his second book, The Equinox Convergence—which promises to be a compelling read—and I was excited. I knew this author was going to bloom into a powerhouse writing voice, and it thrills me to have front row tickets to witness his journey.
Erik lives in Tijuana, Baja California with his partner of seven years. He has traveled extensively throughout Mexico and hopes to share part of his experience through novels.
I’ve begun reading The Equinox Convergence, and I’m already hooked. Below Orrantia shares descriptions of this book and Normal Miguel.
He has also included information and buy links below as well as a link to his blog. And I insist you visit his blog, as his latest post is about…sigh…Mexico. A beautiful essay about the contrast between the country’s infamous corruption and crime and its true, breathtaking and simple beauty.
So, Erik, welcome to Casa de Zampa! The floor is yours….
Mexico, the Unreported Side (by Erik Orrantia)
Just short of 500 years ago, the great Aztec emperor, Moctemuza II, respectfully received Hernán Cortés and his entourage whose shiny armor protected pale skin and whose forged helmets offset their strange beards. The visitor might have been the god-king Queztalcóatl returning to reclaim his throne—the Aztecs couldn’t be too careful. Instead, the invaders executed the emperor, brought disease and slavery to his people, and set off Mexico’s modern history rank with revolutionary and civil war, corruption and pillage, oppression and classism, and economic and natural disaster.
Though today Mexico has enjoyed nearly a century absent of major political strife, its continued reputation as a third-world, Central American country has been further tarnished by its ongoing War on Drugs as it attempts to eradicate drug cartels from its premises. Because their combined income reaches as much as $50 billion per annum, they represent a formidable adversary to a country whose entire defense budget is barely $6 billion per year. As Mexico applies pressure to the cartels centered around urban and border centers like Acapulco and Tijuana, the entire trade is spreading into the rural areas the way clay squeezes between the fingers of a clenching fist. Gory photos on the front pages of daily newspapers announce the on-going presence of the cartels between the streets of everyday life…and their growing desperation—rival members tortured and beheaded, police and military personnel kidnapped and slaughtered, and politicians assassinated in front of the public eye. The War on Drugs has claimed over 40,000 people since its inception less than a decade ago.
There is another side of the story. Take it from a person who has lived in Mexico for the past fourteen years. Life continues to flourish, culture develops, and a new consciousness of conservation and humanity is not whispered but boldly spoken among the people, the vast majority of whom are honest, hard-working, amicable folks with strong ethical values and respect for others. For every Mexican laborer seeking work in distant lands, even more foreigners follow the 20,000 gray whales, and millions of monarch butterflies and tree swallows who enter Mexico to partake in its abundance of natural resources, cultural offerings, and serene beauty.
Though only a quarter the area of its northern neighbor, the length Mexico’s coastline equals that of the contiguous United States. Its peaks reach to heights of nearly 10,000 feet, its canyons boast depths greater than their Arizona counterpart, and its enviable latitudinal position provide ecosystems the gamut of ecosystems from expansive deserts in the north and lush rainforests south of the Tropic of Cancer. Though the ancient times of the Aztecs and Maya are over, Mexico still recognizes over 60 indigenous languages in a population of 10 million indigenous people, many of whose tribal ways of life have endured. Like the awesome sea turtle once hunted to near-extinction, the value of the indigenous cultures has been formally recognized, and legal protections have been instilled to protect them.
Let’s put away the statistics and the big picture for a moment and stand on a small town street corner, or walk inside a typical home, attend a quinceañera or a wedding, or chat with a señora or a muchacha. They will instantly disarm us—not literally, of course; we will quickly forget what our friends back home told us about keeping our wallets in our front pockets or hiding our necklaces beneath our blouses. They’ll offer us their humble homes and meticulously prepared food. They’ll practice the Golden Rule. They will remind us about the importance of education in both its formal, academic sense, and its second meaning—good old-fashioned manners. They will show respect for elderly and for teachers. They will make us wonder about, and maybe even embarrass us inside for, all the preconceived and largely incorrect notions we had about the country we were (hesitantly) about to visit. Hopefully, we’ll apply that same doubt to all the other preconceived notions we had about everything else in the world. Well, one step into foreign territory at a time.
The point is that, despite the lingering distrust many commonly feel toward Mexicans or about Mexico in general, and despite the real and bloody war against the powerful drug mafia, the greater truth is that most of the world misjudges and, consequently, misses out. True, one has to be as vigilant in Mexico as in any unknown place, or even in the streets of many familiar but potentially dangerous places. And true, there are people out there, including Mexico, who take advantage of others, especially rich tourists. Also true, one’s life expectancy is automatically and seriously reduced when he decides to directly participate in either side of the War on Drugs. But life is full of risks, isn’t it? And we take risks that Bilbo Baggins via J.R.R. Tolkien summed up better than I ever could: “It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might be swept off to.” Take an adventure in Mexico. Its bad side is not nearly as bad as one might think, and its good side is probably far better than one might imagine.
Now, in case you haven’t read either of my books to date, and might prefer to take a virtual trip before you get your plane flight to Mexico, I have tried to capture many of the nuances, splendor, and reality of the culture that I have so far discovered. Normal Miguel, a Lambda Literary Award winner, tells the story of a gay student teacher as he completes his year of student teaching in the rural hills of Puebla. He discovers many tricks of his trade as he gets to know his students and those with whom he works, but he also confronts obstacles as he develops a relationship with the local candy store owner. The Equinox Convergence is another genre altogether. This is the harrowing story of a young shaman girl in Guerrero who crosses paths with Bennie, a young drug runner. He aspires to quick wealth but finds himself stuck in the drug trade where his only choice is to follow directions, even when demanded to go beyond any moral limits. But like the equinox, light and darkness balance out. I hope you’ll consider them, or at least stop by my website, http://erikorrantia.com/, to check out my posts and carry on the conversation. Thank you, C. Zampa, for the chance to share.