Manuel Luis Martinez's new website was forwarded to me today. On was a link to an interview with him that appeared in Acentos Review:
Migration, Democracy, and a Few Words
“But still the crossroads does have a certain dangerous potency; dangerous because a man might perish there wrestling with multi-headed spirits, but also he might be lucky and return to his people with the boon of prophetic voices.” —Chinua Achebe
Manuel Luis Martinez has lived perpetually on various crossroads. Having grown up in San Antonio, where Mexico is as much a part of the United States as the States is a part of Mexico, Martinez went on to become a Stanford-educated critic and a novelist. I had a chance to ask him about both his scholarship and his fiction, published and forthcoming, as well as the role of the writer given the impending historical presidential administration.
Patrick Rosal: A couple years ago, I heard you give a dope-ass lecture on Jack Kerouac. Say a little bit about geographic and class mobility. What does a migrant perspective bring to those American ideas?
Manuel Luis Martinez: First, thanks for the kind words on the lecture. I started thinking about the importance of mobility in the American imagination, right around the time that I read Kerouac's On the Road and Ernesto Galarza's Barrio Boy. Everyone's heard of Kerouac, not so much Galarza, and reading these two books back to back, made me realize that the theme of the American Road, what I called "movement discourse," was incomplete without taking the migrant experience into account. Kerouac and his boys wanted to explore their individualism via the prerogative of "mobility." But what they never quite got was that this was a privilege of whiteness and of class.
Now, I never argued that this made them hypocrites, but … [they have] a romanticized vision of "movement" as ultimately liberating. Taking off on that journey across the American landscape brings Kerouac all sorts of "eyeball kicks," where he can observe the black jazz musicians in San Francisco and Denver, where he can tag along with the "Mexican Girl" and work as a migrant laborer for a couple of weeks, without ever understanding how his philosophy of libertarian individualism allows all sorts of systemic oppression. The people he observes aren't able to get out on the road. They are marked by skin color, class status, nationality, citizenship status, etc., and they can't leave it behind the way an educated, middleclass, white Kerouac can do.
…[R]eading the migrant writers, such as Tomás Rivera, Ernesto Galarza, and Américo Paredes (to name just three), opens up our understanding of America in the postwar period. These writers are also on the road, but not for individualist self-expression; they're on the road because they have to survive. They'd much prefer to create stable communities, to live where they can raise a family, connect with each other in meaningful ways. In essence, they want to be citizens. But their "mobility" is a forced thing, which ironically keeps them stuck in the same class and political positions. Mobility, when it comes to the migrant, is a curse of fixedness.