Art on a Mission

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Everyone knows to make limeade whenever life hands them limes, but what about when a bitterly contested election foists on you a race-baiting, immigrant-hating, womanizing, polluting, lying, conniving, lizard-brained, bloated orange for a president? You run him through the juicer, of course — artistically.

And squeezing President Rump is precisely what Bad Hombres & Nasty Women looks to do. Published by The Raving Press out of Mission, Texas — and available soon on Kindle — the anthology offers readers a collection of poems, short stories and works of art which take aim at the current Commissar-in-Chief, each one dreamt up by the very same kinds of people whom the president notoriously denounced during his campaign.

The book is divided into three sections, and the first, titled Bad Poetry, boasts some inspired lines of verse. In “Bad Vato C/S Nasty Ruca,” for instance, a poem centering on “una chicana” and “un poeta,” Edward Vidaurre offers a stirring appeal for Latino-ness in love, telling his cherished chingona, “We can be brown together” — a line which begs the question: Are hapless solteros forced to be brown separately? Seres Jaime Magaña, in “The People United,” declares poetically, but we hope not too idyllically:

We will knock down the border
We will not climb it, we will not cross it
We will completely collapse it
And we will remind you what it means to love

“California without Mexico?” asks Bri Ianniello in “Neighborhood,” before giving a coy but firm response in the negative. Steven Ray Smith’s poem features “a new Stonewall Jackson” who, in trying to keep Mexicans on the southern side of the Rio Grande, “built a short inept fence/ that did nothing except block the view of the water.” (We mustn’t forget that the borderlands are actually one, majestic, single landscape, and a river runs through it.) The poem by PW Covington admittedly hit closer to home for me than the rest, specifically the stanza which reads:

Fuck me for not being
The kind of ‘honest, hard-working, man’
‘Feeds his family, any way that he can’
Through 80 hour weeks, and calloused hands
Fuck me for rejecting such scams
For making higher demands
And toiling for sunrise

In “Song for America XVII,” Fernando Esteban Flores identifies “bad hombres” as those who “Sweat in America’s factories/ Wait on America’s tables/ Fight in America’s wars/ Die in America’s wars.” Jose Sanchez’s poem “Poor Old Leandro” is highly unorthodox, written in the form of a comedic dialogue, clever and funnily surprising. And Ana M. Fores Tamayo’s “Refugee” — the longest of the poems, spanning five full pages, and then some — tells the story of a migrant mother crossing the border with her young son, as she recalls her grandmother’s cries:

run, girl, run,
It is you they want,
it is your sex,
your power as a woman,
your way of saying no.

Regrettably, the four artworks presented in the collection were mostly lost on me, and that’s okay. Art isn’t for everybody — not every work of art — not really. Like an inside joke shared publicly, all art, at bottom, is a knowing wink between lovers, and anyone else who knows. And just as with an inside joke, sometimes the punchline falls flat even when the other person should get it. Who’s to blame in such cases? I, for one, don’t have an answer. All I do know is that I didn’t “get” these four works of art, but I appreciate the artistic zeal burning behind each of them.

Most of the short stories, in the awkwardly titled section Deplorable Prose, are good. A couple of them are even Bradbury-esque, such as “Blunderland” by Joel and Valerie Reeves, which begins with a You-Know-Who-type president awakening after life-saving surgery to discover he’s been refaced. At a few paragraphs long, Bruce Harris’s “Numero Cuarenta Y Cinco” is the shortest short story of the bunch, but what it lacks in length and story development is made up for in imagination. My favorite story, however, belongs to Philip Bannowksy, who skillfully tells a story of a poultry worker named Jacobo and his evasion of immigration officers.

It’s difficult to judge a book taking shots at He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Reelected. I feel conflicted. On the one hand, these poets, authors and visual artists were forced to work with the limes they were given, squeezing as much juicy flavor out of them as they could, and some of them have succeeded in creating surprisingly sweet concoctions. Yet, on the other hand, a tang of sour bitterness runs through nearly all of them. I suspect any failures are due to an overreliance on politics as a framing device to covey meaning or tell a story. That isn’t to say political art is bad art, and, as I said, some of these works left their marks on me. But artists do run the risk of producing something “deplorable” whenever they look to politicize first and create second; to do the first is to breed propaganda, but to do the second is to make true art.

“Poetry and narrative,” writes poet-author Xánath Caraza in a stirring introduction, “as dialectic processes are a constant transmutation that like a wind or water vortex produces a linguistic synthesis in direct response, in most instances, to the political and contextual manifestation of our age.” The line between artistic propaganda and propagandistic art notwithstanding, it may be that, in special times and places, art is merely a giant middle finger raised against ugliness. Someone, I forget who, compared making art to laughing in the dark. The metaphor rings true, and the artists showcased in Bad Hombres & Nasty Women are not only hooting and hollering in these especially dark times, but singing, dancing, and making a few obscene gestures, too.

Bad Hombres & Nasty Women: Anthology

Edited by Gabriel H. Sanchez and Isaac Chavarria
The Raving Press: 84 pages

Hector is the editor and publisher of Enclave. A Chicago writer now floating on the edge of Las Vegas, he is also the former deputy editor for Latino Rebels, as well as the former managing editor for Gozamos, a Latino art-activism site based in his home town. He has contributed to RedEye, a Chicago daily geared toward millennials, and La Respuesta, a New York-based site for the Puerto Rican Diaspora, plus a number of publications, including The Huffington Post. He studied history (for some reason) at the University of Illinois-Chicago, where his focus was on ethnic relations in the United States.

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