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Also by Kate Gray:
Practicing a Gentle Art: Review of Bart Edelman's The Gentle Man | A Triumph of Chicanery: Review of Daniel Chacón's Chicano Chicanery

also see Daniel Chacón's work in CLR

A Triumph of Chicanery: Review of Daniel Chacón's Chicano Chicanery

Chicano Chicanery, by Daniel Chacón
Arte Publico Press: Houston, 2000
192 pages, $11.95
ISBN: 1-558852-80-8

Forget magical realism. In Daniel Chacón's collection, Chicano Chicanery, his short stories carry the harshness and humor of Mexican-American lives. He writes with a gritty and startling clarity about lust, betrayal, ambition, and triumph.

With compelling opening lines like "Juan's cousin wrote what he knew of the dead guy," Chacón quickly creates a world in which Chicanos search for their identities amidst the madness of border crossing in "Godoy Lives" and amidst the intersection of intellectual and actual education in "The Biggest City in the World." In both stories chicanery operates on simultaneous levels: a) the characters run coincidentally into people who recognize them, b) the characters try to be people they are not, and c) they end up realizing truths they had not sought.

In "Godoy Lives" (originally published in our Spring 2000 issue), the main character Juan leaves his wife Maria and two children and assumes the identity of a dead man named Godoy to cross the border into California to find work enough to provide a better life for his family. At the border crossing he is identified by Godoy's real life cousin who invites him to his house, sets him up with a job, and even a girlfriend, whom Juan falls for, with little regard for Maria and the children. He grows into the character of Miguel Valencia Godoy, the "clean-shaven, handsome, lean-bodied, confident" man Juan has never been. At the end of the story, only a trace ofJuan is left, which he recognizes just as he is about to carry off the greatest deception, pass as the son of a dying mother: "But then he glimpsed something that bothered him, a dull gleam in his eyes, something that didn't belong to him. Insecurity. It was Juan. He shook it off and went out into the living room to see his mother." And so the story ends with many questions.

In "The Biggest City in the World" Chacón delivers a different type of identity crisis. Harvey Gomez is a graduate student studying Mexico who travels for the first time to Mexico City. Had Gomez stayed more in touch with Mexican people instead of leaving them to study Mexico in a university, he might have spoken "smooth easy Spanish . . ., not slow deliberate words which fell like chunks;" the longer he stays, Gomez finds himself more and more terrified of the city. He runs into a professor he admires and tags along with him because ironically, the Anglo professor knows the ways of the city better than Gomez does. By the end, chicanery has struck, and Gomez falls prey to a pickpocket. With no money, he hails a cab, realizing that he will have to swindle the driver. But looking into the eyes of the driver, he sees his father and the depth of his Mexican heritage. Again, the story ends with uncertainty because the kinship is laced with betrayal.

Many of Chacón's stories explore loyalty and betrayal. Both "Slow and Good" and "Too White" take the voices of young Chicanos who struggle for identity in a racist culture and find kinship with boys of different races. In "Slow and Good" the main character betrays a Filipino kid who had once been a friend. In "Too White," ]oey, who is part of a group of Chicanos just forming a gang, betrays a white friend, named Kenny, but in the process saves the kid and is beaten for that act. Both stories illustrate the complexity of allegiances.

The writing in "Slow and Good" is tighter than that of the other stories, more choppy, more like walking quickly. Three gang members are sent on a mission to damage a Filipino boy, named Kurt, who had the audacity to speak to another gang member's girl. They walk to a bowling alley to tempt the boy outside. ]oey, one of the gang members, had met Kurt when he had first moved to that town in California: "Perhaps we were attracted to each other across the classroom because we were both brown, the only brown." Unfortunately, the information he learned from Kurt during that time, he uses to lure him outside where his two friends jump the boy and beat him mercilessly. ]oey does not participate and observes painfully, " Oh, how red and wet blood bubbles on the face of a brown boy." Despite the kinship he felt with the boy, he does his part for his new kin and violates any sense of loyalty:

"Kick him," Gilbert yells to me, knowing I haven't touched him.

But I've done my part.

There is no magic to save this character; there is only the harsh world of changing allegiances.

In "Too White" again the main character, ]oey, befriends someone from another race, a young boy, named Kenny. Chacón describes Kenny as "too dorky, too uncool. Too white," and goes on to add, "Damn it, I couldn't help it: I liked this kid." The two boys play together, all the while ]oey realizes that their friendship cannot last. The chicanery is the facade he paints, which later ends up revealing more than it hides. Later when the Chicano boys are talking about forming a gang and having to "get jumped in," Kenny rides up on his bike. The fiercest of the gang, Gilbert, wants to kill the white boy, but Joey steps in front of Gilbert and yells at Kenny: "'Get out of here, you wuss,' I told Kenny. In the tone of my voice I heard that I was warning him, protecting him, but that wasn't how it sounded to him." Kenny yells back a curse, but the story continues because Gilbert is offended that Joey denied him the pleasure of hurting the white boy. After a struggle, the gang turns on Joey, kicks him brutally, and he becomes the first member jumped into the gang.

Throughout his stories, Chacón challenges notions of loyalty and friendship. In his writing chicanery is not an excuse but a reality. Rules of friendship may not apply to men trying to find their way in a culture bent on crushing them, in the clash of many cultures. What is true throughout the stories is a sensitivity to the heart of the characters, a terrific sense of the construction of a story, and an ability to leave readers questioning what survives. In the end, there is no magic, but a chicanery that tortures and teaches.

Printed in the Spring/Summer 2001 issue of CLR

Kate Gray

Kate Gray earned an M.F.A. in poetry from the University of Washington in 1990, a literary fellowship from the Oregon Literary Arts in 1995, and a residency at Hedgebrook in 1999.

Her first chapbook won the Blue Light Poetry Prize and was published in February 2000. Her poems have appeared in The Seattle Review, Aethlon, Poetry Northwest and other magazines.

She rows as often as possible on the Willamette River.

You can find Kate Gray on the web at:
—  Clackamas Community College
—  Where She Goes
—  Amazon

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