A Spanglish blog dedicated to the works, ruminations, and mongrel pyrotechnics of Yago S. Cura, an Argentine-American poet, translator, publisher & futbol cretin. Yago publishes Hinchas de Poesia, an online literary journal, & is the sole proprietor of Hinchas Press.
Friday, March 22, 2013
"GRINGOS AT THE GATE" BY ARROYO SECO FILMS & WHALEN FILMS, DIR BY PABLO MORALES, MICHAEL WHALEN, AND ROBERTO DONATI
Gringos at the Gate, Arroyo Seco Films & Whalen Films, 2013
Written, Produced, and Directed by Pablo Miralles, Michael Whalen, and Roberto Donati
Despite a robust youth soccer apparatus, fútbol in the U.S. has always been relegated to an activity solely conducted by immigrants, derelicts, and contrarians. The U.S. sports pantheon doesn't have room on the mantle for another sport that's not basketball, baseball, or football (and sometimes hockey), especially one as flamboyant as soccer, which allows its players to writhe on the ground like injured seals, and bark for red or yellow cards from doting referees.
U.S children play soccer as a form of physical development, but once they move past the threshold of adolescence, fútbol loses steam as a worthwhile athletic endeavor. Of course, this puts the U.S. at a huge disadvantage since fútbol is the world's most popular sport, and most populous state of Play. But, that is slowly changing, and the fútbol sea change that was destined to hit the U.S. is finally roiling with the sustained intent of Major League Soccer, and our promising display in the last two World Cups.
It is no secret the U.S. has zero World Cup titles; in fact, even the idea of the U.S. winning the World Cup seems primitively outlandish. In 2012, for example, "NBC Sports Network’s first MLS telecast, a game between FC Dallas and the New York Red Bulls…drew a whopping '0.07 national household rating...That’s equivalent to about 82,000 viewers." ("NBC Sports...") In Contrast, the final of the Champions League between Bayern Munich and London's Chelsea drew a viewership of 10.6 million. ("Champions League...") In terms of numbers, there really is no comparison between Europe's predilections for fútbol, and our tepid viewership. The difference is clearly one of ordinance: the U.S. tabulates their viewership to be in the thousands; viewership in Europe is typically in the millions, and generates that in kind through advertising.
In short, the U.S. just hasn't yet earned the right to brag, boast, or speak in a particularly bombast way when it compares itself to European teams, but might it have enough mojo to make the Mexican national team anxious? Moreover, what political, linguistic, and historical overtures can we infer from the history of wins and losses each team notches into their belt—given their long history of wars, surreptitious treaties, and outright land theft. What compromises in allegiance might have to be made by U.S. Latinos who become fast fútbol fans or seek to unravel the gauze of that relationship?
Gringos at the Gate (Arroyo Seco Films, 2013) is a complex, multi-layered optical exposition that asks several uncomfortable questions about U.S/Mexico fútbol relations. That relationship has always been dominated by Mexico, but on June 17, 2002, in a final of the World Cup in South Korea, the U.S. defeated Mexico, 2-0, and managed to mindfuck millions of Mexico fans. Also, in 2011, Mexico and the United States played at the Rose Bowl for the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Mexico came out victorious, 4-2, which is not an anomaly, but it did not escape unscathed. The game was telecast in Spanish, even though it was played on American soil (where supposedly the official language is English). Everyone seemed to be on board with the program except for Tim Howard, U.S. goalie, who was quoted in The Sporting News as saying, "You can bet your ass if we were in Mexico City it wouldn’t be all in English."
Howard's comment might have emanated from a place of deep annoyance at having been spanked, yet again, by the Mexican National Team, but it also underscores an interesting phenomenon: U.S.-born Latinos rooting for the country of their parent's heritage instead of for their national team. But, can you really blame U.S.-born Latinos when the U.S. has never dominated any international fútbol competitions. Moreover, aside from clearly not understanding the demographic that drives ticket sales in Los Angeles, might Howard have a point? Do Latinos of Mexican heritage get it all wrong when they booster for la Tri instead of yawping for the Stars and Stripes? Soccer is proving to be a litmus of loyalty for Mexican-Americans, but loving fútbol anchors them to family in Mexico. For example, if you were born in the states and your parents were born in Mexico, do you booster Mexico? Do you booster the U.S.? In this sense Gringos at the Gate is more than just a documentary on the history of interaction, fútbolistically, in many ways it is also an ethnographic dialogue, a suggestive prompt from which to proceed, and a digital vignette on the rivalry that spills over from the global promontory of geopolitical decisions.
Despite its growing negative connotations, Globalization has also ensured that a player like Hérculez Gómez fields the pitch. Gómez is an American-born fútbol player whose parents are Mexican immigrants to the U.S.; he plays for the American National Team when it comes time to play the World Cup, but he plays for one of the biggest clubs in Mexico, Santos, to make rent and bring home the bacon. Gómez has a vantage point that very few people could share, but it is exactly that space that titillates the documentarians, and it is exactly that genetics of adjacent allegiances that is addressed and brought to the forefront. The documentarians do a keen job of keeping the concepts roiling and churning, revealing themselves as they stir up nationalistic and emotive sediment (from Mexico and the U.S.).
The film makers toggle between jingoistic fútbol fans (from both the U.S. and Mexico), ex-players and coaches, like Steve Sampson, USA National Coach, 1995-1998, to cultural critics, like Gustavo Arellano, journalists/fiction-writers, like Hector Tobar, and historians, like Juliette Levy. The film makers use a lean, investigative narration style reminiscent of a mixture of “Frontline,” and the hand-held camerawork so in vogue with war correspondents, and Vice Magazine. The film makers explicate a huge chunk of Mexican fútbol lore, spieling about Pachuca and taking the viewers to a museum where the first fútbol game in Mexico was played. In this respect, Gringos at the Gate is comprehensive and didactic in the best possible way—that is, unobtrusively.
This title is highly recommended for any programs or curriculum that center on U.S./ Mexico relations or Latin American History; however, this title would be equally as useful at an institute, center, or museum with a high Latino demographic. I imagine that a documentary of this nature would go over well even in the student lounge of the International Relations Department, or movie-night at the local branch of your public library system. Moreover, the trio that have written, produced, and directed Gringos are mavens in their own right, and so that verve and complicity is faithfully displayed as well.
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Poems are tied to the land in instances where the language used in those poems speaks to the land in the people. These poems of place should be issued passports; their words establish an embassy of sorts, in the mind. Darwish's poems are the first that come to mind, but also those of Nazim Hikmet, although his land and home are the poems he writes to sustain himself throughout his years of incarceration.
In the poem "Flying Parallel" from Tim Z. Hernandez's Natural Takeover of Small Things, the author freeze-dries a moment of lower-order struggle, and relates it with animal fidelity. In that poem, a hawk has caught "a baby squirrel" in its "talons" and is deterred from scarfing on the baby squirrel by "another bird, smaller in size...pecking the head/ and back of the hawk, parallel to my window" (54). The poet captures "Three lives/mid-flight, each of them arguing about their differences," each of them on "parallel" lifelines. Maybe a state of constant struggle might lay the groundwork for an aesthetic infrastructure predicated on the thereness of place-permanence?
Hernandez adroitly enhances the ecology of the scene the Universe has gifted by pushing a place-based (Fresno, Ca.: the city) but equal parts dog-eat-dog (Fresno: the Darwinian chopping block) and ethnographically accurate (Fresno's cultural admixture, etc.) canvassing of Fresno. This does not an Ecopoet make per se, but all four animals (three plus speaker) seem equally tenacious about not being "prepared to let go," (54). That same tenacity pervades the poems in Hernandez's book, and provides a legend for the ensuing dread, debauchery, and auto-extirpation vis-a-vis Fresno.
According to the Poetry Foundation, Ecopoetics is "human activity—-specifically the making of poems—-and the environment that produces it" ("Ecopoetics," 2013). Even though it grew out of the ethos of Ecologists (not just scientists) of the late 70's, it has become an Inter-Disciplinary View Master. Jack Skinner, the editor of Ecopoetics, and Ecopoetic's most prominent booster says that Ecopoetics publishes work that explores "creative-critical edges between making and writing" ("Ecopoetics," 2013). I am not saying that Hernandez is an Ecopoet, but I am saying that it might prove useful to explore his new book utilizing that intersection between place and poem.
Hernandez writes, "Fresno is the inexhaustible nerve/ in the twitching leg of a dog/ three hours after being smashed/ beneath the retread wheel," and begins to visualize the "dead heat" and "a packing house...raided/by the feds just days before the harvest." Fresno County leads the nation's counties in agricultural products sold; it is a very real place which grows over 200 crops ("Fresno," 2013). I imagine a city guided by work and industry will naturally understand our country's most pressing concerns regarding immigration, the privilege of being able to work (even writing poetry), and evolution of a people, and communities, much differently than a more affluent, less working-class city.
Hernandez's first poem, "Home," serves as astringent foothold to the dusky poems that follow. The city of Fresno becomes the largest narrative knot in which Hernandez has equity, literally, emotionally, figuratively. Fresno is undoubtedly Hernandez's home, but it is greater than or equal to that as well; maybe, Fresno is a humongous rest area without a security guard, and Hernandez is methodically rattling all the vending machines, "muttering lines from an old movie/ starring Steve McQueen." Fresno just might be that mythological place that you can always visit (through verse) but can never come home to.
Whereas the first section in is invested with Ecopoetics, the second section, "San Joaquin Sutra," is a sinuous poem, in sections, and invokes saints that bear on the San Joaquin Valley, a place of back-breaking toil, exploitation, and profit. The San Joaquin Valley is also a place where millions of dollars are made by produce growers, but also a place where "The farmers buy their vegetables in supermarkets, you know" (66). Indeed, the second section smashes the syntax of the sacred, "Erasmo!...Saint Gabriel" (33), with "escapularios blessed in DDT showers" and exclamations of "Internment everywhere!" (36). As an organic mechanism "San Joaquin Sutra," is a something that vibrates when read, and so begs to be read, implores to be unfurled like slow music.
"San Joaquin Sutra," threads its way through a visceral inventory of Fresno’s sense of "where." It's outlier high and low, "--everything here sacred, you see/ the ditch banks and mass choirs alike/ pious families and albino-eyed field mice/ snarling at the sky" (30). Even the word "sutra," which means "thread" in Sanskrit, is more than an "exposition of ritual procedures" employed by Buddhists ("Sutra," 2013); in Hernandez's hand, a sutra becomes a venerable cascade of toner to the "Valley of Saints;/where holy preachers and Night Train drunk vagrants/ hobble their limbs in Oval Park" (29). In "San Joaquin Sutra," Hernandez invokes the stark nihilism of Denis Johnson in The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly: Poems Collected and New (1995) and even Underground with the Oriole (1971) by Frank Lima.
Hernandez even invokes saints which are tied to the land. For example, Hernandez calls to Gabriel, "patron saint of discarded dreams, / hear the cry of new voices suffering/ in methamphetamine fields/ where crouch the stillborn" (34). There's a feeling that Hernandez can summon the image of "the campos where dirty-faced infants/ crawl among swept gravel and jump rope" and "the Southside Wives Club/ into misshaped injections and unnatural jawlines/ --noses in the china cabinet" (34). Fresno is a place to be tolerated, despite its primordial influence.
One thing is certain: Hernandez has got an eye for detail that is dingy, dirty, half-caked with lodo. In his collection, there are "campesinos," "undelivered postcards," "trailer parks," and "foreclosure blues." Natural Takeover of Small Things concerns itself with "spent condoms" (31) and quotidian things, things the fathers of Fresno typically don't care about but should because it somehow represents that limbo, that precarious habitat the working-class must make a perch from. These poems are part and parcel of the San Joaquin Valley, so that in the end, they also explicate how the sense of home in the person changes after they’ve expanded past the original parameters of place.
Ecopoetics. In Poetry Foundation's Learning Lab Glossary. Retrieved from
Glossary of People: Ra. In The Nazim Hikmet Ran Archive. Retrieved from
Phelps, R. (2013). Fresno. In World Book Student. Retrieved from