Books and Burdens: Irrational Man, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Always Running: La Vida Loca

Mi Padre, Eduardo, El Indio, un Hombre de Honor.

My Father, Eduardo, El Indio, an Old-school Man of Honor.

I do not really remember him. I just know that I automatically respected him. Once he died when I was nine, I imagined someone that shaped me to be who I am today. My imagination was truth and not truth, for he was simply a man, an Irrational Man. 

My mother would brag that at least he graduated from the sixth grade. He had no more formal education beyond that. He had been a tailor who constructed suits, but here in this country he was relegated to factory work and shots of firewater after hours. He cared about ideas, and that put me in awe of him. I remember Eduardo lying on a green cot reading this book Irrational Man. At sixteen years old, I found the book, opened it up, and did not understand even one sentence, just as I did not understand my father and his Indio ways, but he was emebedded in me.  I vowed that one day I would understand that book and him.

Yesterday I was cleaning out one of my bookshelves and set a few special books aside.

Ultimately I read Irrational Man and even included a line from it as the preface of my first novel, Barrio Bushido.

“Man’s existence is absurd in the midst of a cosmos that knows him not; the only meaning he can give himself is through the free project that he launches out of his own nothingness.”

That’s it, my story, my understanding of my father and of myself: We launch ourselves out of and into nothingness.

He is still with me.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X was the first book I ever taught as a teacher, at the same high school I had been kicked out of a dozen years earlier. Woodrow Wilson had changed its name to Philip Burton, but it was the same. I remember comparing and contrasting the book to scenes from one of the most irrational absurd blockbuster films of all time, Gone with the Wind. We used Malcolm’s text to deconstruct the entire farce of the genteel South setting. Note that back in 1999 that film was constantly shown on mainstream network television all of the time, and most people simply accepted it as truth.

By 2002 I was teaching Luis Rodriguez’s Always Running: La Vida Loca at City College of San Francisco. The students felt that book, passages like this: “In the barrio, the police are just another gang…shootings, assaults, and skirmishes between the barrios are direct results of police activity. Even drug dealing. I know this. Everybody knows this.” I remember that in 1987 sixteen year-old Dukie Dave, RIP, from the Holly Courts Projects would pay off cops, so he could become a superstar drug dealer. Irrational, but true.

I have tried to teach truth, what everyone should know but does not know.

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