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Invasion of the Books/ de los Libros
Let's suppose you live in Hobe Sound, Grosse Pointe, Greenwich, Connecticut, or on Park Avenue, in Manhattan. Suppose also you're White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, a member of the Sons/ Daughters of the American Revolution, and are listed in the New York Social Register. Suppose further you are interested in culture—in particular the cultural heritage created by your Anglo-American ancestors. Now suppose you feel the urge to celebrate that culture publicly, and apply for local, state, and federal funding to underwrite the lavish celebration in Hobe Sound, Grosse Pointe, etc. Just what kind of reception do you imagine your application is likely to receive?
The prevailing attitude is that the Euro-American culture remains the majoritarian one in the United States and therefore has no moral standing to honor, promote, or even be conscious of itself. Let's accept that logic just for now, while taking a look at the relationship between dominant and minority cultures in the state of New Mexico….
The Land of Enchantment is an anomaly among the fifty states. Settled by the Spanish before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, New Mexico is, culturally speaking, neither Mexican nor American but something in between. The state's upper half, from Albuquerque north, is dominated by "Hispanics" who consider themselves descendants of the conquistadores and are scornful of Anglo-Americans and Mexicans alike; the lower one heavily populated by people of Mexican descent, many of them immigrants or the children of immigrants from Mexico, who are quietly resentful of los gringos. One way or another, New Mexico is not—and never has been—culturally Anglo.
Of course, this is only another way of saying that the Californians, Upper-Midwesterners, and Northeasterners who have immigrated in substantial numbers to the state over the past three decades or so are a minority group within New Mexico, not part of the dominant majority. If multiculturalism means anything, it means the Swedish, Norwegian, Polish, British, Danish, German—or, for that matter, just plain American—cultures of these immigrant peoples and their forebears should be studied and celebrated by the Hispanic majority, doesn't it?
Or does it?
You know the answer. During my two years in Las Cruces, New Mexico—less than forty miles from the Mexican border—I must have come across the word "multicultural" a thousand times in the Las Cruces Sun-News, nearly always in connection either with some "minority" (i.e. Latino) gripe about "discrimination" practiced by the "majoritarian" culture, or else attached to a four-color photo of a mariachi band performing on the plaza in Old Mesilla, dancers in traditional Mexican garb, or the annual Chili Festival. (Why didn't I think to round up a few scattered members of the Mayflower Society from the Picacho Hills Country Club so we could dress in buckle shoes and hats to eat codfish and baked beans on the steps of San Albino?)
By far the most deliberate of New Mexico's unicultural manifestations, though, is the Border Book Festival, which recently wrapped up its seventh annual spectacular in Las Cruces. Called by Publishers Weekly one of the top regional book festivals in the U.S., the BBF is the brain-child of Denise Chavez, a novelist who won a National Book Award several years ago and pops up from time to time in the events section of PW; its offices are housed in a donated stucco house in the city's slightly shabby downtown residential area. I visited there three years ago, and while it may all have been a function of my paranoid imagination/bad Anglo-male conscience, I can't say I was made to feel particularly welcome there.
This year, the theme of the festival (March 11-18) was "Ancestral Voices: A Living Legacy." It presented "the work of writers/artists/storytellers who are carriers of the word—the healthy transformative living spirit of the ancestors/los antepasados—not only human, but also those forces and spirits we call river, mountain, the countless forms and energies – whose lives resonate within us." (Do you suppose whoever composed that sentence could have learned English as his/her second language?)
The Festival's logo shows open books winging their way northward across the Rio Grande. While it might not be immediately apparent to the casual observer, the symbolism is dead-on. The Border Book Festival isn't about two cultures meeting, but about one culture (guess which) overrunning the other. Though a number of Anglos appeared on last month's program, their literary interests and subjects turned out almost exclusively to be cultures other than their own: Hispanic, Chicano, Indian. Whatever cultural interchange actually takes place every year at the Border Book Festival, it flows in one direction only.
For the BBF the multiculturalist motto is, Anything But Western Culture!— unless that culture has been heavily diluted by feminism, homosexualism, paganism, disableism, and other leftist manifestations.
This year, a kickoff event was billed as "A reading from the Frontera Divina/Divine Frontier Oral History and Writing Group" (funded by a Lila Wallace Reader's Digest grant and directed by Ms. Chavez) whose purpose is to "explore the concepts of family, history and borders." (Whoever's spent any time on the U.S.-Mexico border knows "divine" is absolutely the last word any sane or honest person would use to describe the region.) "The workshop," the schedule continues, "explores, gathers, records and honors the border/frontera community and gives it the respect and recognition it deserves."
A few other samples from the busy eight-day program:
· "English and Spanish blend together as Greg Pedroza shares the experiences of growing up in a barrio in Texas with a large extended family with grandparents who spoke only Spanish and worked in the Texas fields."
· "Larry Littlebird is a master storyteller from Laguna/Santo Domingo Pueblo. Larry's life is dedicated to his vision of re-awakening people to the power of the spoken word, as experienced in Tribal American oral tradition."
· "Demetria Martínez is an author and border issues activist based in Tucson, Arizona. Her books include…Turning (Bilingual Press), part of an anthology of three Chicana poets….She is currently working on a book of essays for the University of Oklahoma Press, entitled Just What Exactly Is Olive Skin?"
· "Simone Swan, student and apprentice of Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy, will give a Plátic/Talk about her work with him and his continuing legacy with the Swan Group, a team of skilled workers who want to stay together to uphold the human right to decent housing." (Seems this event has nothing to say about books, everything to do with leftist politics.)
· "Haiku: The Tiniest Poem – Marian Olson…."Haiku, the briefest of all poetic forms, originated in Japan in the 17th century. Because the form is rooted in the human soul… [it is] truly multicultural and multigenerational."
· "Lee Merrill Byrd is the co-founder of Cinco Puntos Press, a small press that has received national recognition for its fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and children's bilingual literature from the American Southwest, the U.S./Mexico border region, and Mexico."
· " Luis Urrea['s]… book, Across the Wire, depicts life at the edges of the dumps in Tijuana…. [His book] Vatos is a tribute to Chicano men who are too often forgotten, ignored, and misrepresented by the larger culture…migrant workers toiling for a better life, homeboys in the barrio…activists on the streets…." ("The word Vatos," Urrea explains, "means dude, guy, pal, brother…One of OUR dudes. Ain't white. Ain't Cuban. Is a crazy dude…talks the talk, knows the walk, takes the proper stance. Remember that the Vato was once The Vato Loco. The ultimate in Pachuco cool….One of OUR BOYS."
· Describing the photographs he made for Vatos, José Galvez says, "[they] arise from my sense of responsibility to my family, my community, and my culture….This is my culture, a culture that I am deeply proud of."
That's nice for him, but where in all this is our culture? It used to be a property of a border/frontera that it had two sides to it, dividing something from something else. So where is the something else?
In the literary world today, it's who you are that counts, not whether what you write is any good or not. Nearly all of the "writers" involved in the Border Book Festival are amateurs or poseurs, read only by themselves and by each other, but that's not the point to be made here. What's important is, the deliberate use of multiculturalism and bilingualism as a publicly funded stealth weapon of cultural displacement designed to promote an aggressive uniculturalism infinitely more intolerant, restrictive, race-minded, and discriminatory than the culture it seeks to replace.
Who published N. Scott Momaday (a
participant in this year's festival) if not white
publishers at a Western state university built on the
plains where his Kiowa ancestors once roamed? The only Anglos to be included in the Border Book Festival,
on the other hand, are quislings of multiculturalism who
for some reason or another have chosen to exchange their
own mess of pottage for one belonging to someone else.
That seems like a pretty steep price to pay, even
for the privilege of living on la divina frontera.
According to its website, "…the Border Book Festival believes that literature and the arts can bridge the many boundaries—racial, ethnic, generational, cultural, socio-economic, and gender-based – that divide our community."
That's the liberal strategy at work: First, antagonize, alienate, and split people apart from one another through "consciousness-raising." Then bring them together again in the name of the false, self-serving unity called multiculturalism: a shell game in which every shell but one disappears.
Chilton Williamson Jr. is the author of The Immigration Mystique: America's False Conscience and an editor and columnist for Chronicles Magazine, where he writes the The Hundredth Meridian column about life in the Rocky Mountain West.
May 11, 2001