"I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books."


Saturday, December 16, 2006

Ringside Seat to a Revolution

Title: Ringside Seat to a Revolution
Author: David Dorado Romo
Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press
ISBN: 03854253090-938317-91-1

Ringside Seat to a Revolution: An Underground Cultural History of El Paso and Juarez : 1983-1923 by David Dorado Romo

El Paso/Ciudad Juarez was a big deal in my family. It was where my great grandparents walked to from Abasolo, Guanajuato when they left Mexico trying to escape the Mexican Revolution. It is where my great grandmother Teresa waited, out of money for word from her husband, my Papa Tino (Florentino Gonzalez) who was then working in the orange fields of Piru, California. There are many family stories about Ciudad Juarez and I've often wondered what it was like back in that wild and crazy time. David Dorado Romo's incredible book takes me right there. I'm sitting in that bar, watching the revolution happen.

Ciudad Juarez was more than just my great-grandparents landing/waiting place. It was host to Pancho Villa, the Santa de Cabora, Teresita Urrea, photographers, spies, soldaderas, escapees, immigrants, the movie industry, journalists, bullfighters, feminists, military bands, deserters, armies, you name it – it was in Juarez. The author calls it "one of the most fascinating periods in the region's history." It's amazing. There are great stories like the one about El Paso's gringo mayor wearing silk underwear because he's afraid of Mexican lice. The book is replete with photos from the era. There are over 200 black and white photos that give this fascinating and a little surreal place surprising depth and humanity. There are newspaper clippings and timelines as well.

Pancho Villa is pervasive throughout the book, after all Juarez was his town. The author admits that it was hard to find a place that Pancho Villa hadn't been. The town was a favorite of Villa's wife Luz Corrales as well. There are photos of the most random and what I think are unthinkable things like white tourists posing as soldaderas for photos to send home to family back east. Weird. You don't think of a war that your family left home to get away from as entertainment. At least I don't. It's wild to me that so many people came to this town to just sit on grandstands and watch the war. It's crazy. I guess it's no more crazy than me sitting in front of my TV and watching a war movie or the nightly news, but still, reading this book is an eye opener.

Romo's writing is clear and profoundly descriptive. He brings to life the happenings and time so adeptly that you feel you are there. His writing draws you in and keeps you rapt. I loved it all, the pictures, the writing, the essay by John Reed. This book is an education. Some of the photos are hard to take, there are executions, a man dying alone in the street, some of the faces and expressions are so heart-wrenching that it hurts to look. The face of the Mexican Revolution is a weary, pained one that changed millions of lives and I for one, feel the pain of that time still. I'm a product of the change and upheaval it brought. I think we're still all so connected to our Mexican past, us Xicanos, connected and disconnected. We're a strange breed and this book helps fill the gaps we have, those disconnected little pieces and ties them to the connected parts. At least that's what it does for me. For those that aren't Xicano, it is still an amazing and educational book.

My favorite part of the book is the quote from Enrique Flores Magon that says, "We are aliens to no country, no are we aliens to any people on earth. The world is our country and all men are our countrymen. It is true that, by birth, we are Mexicans, but our minds are not so narrow, our vision not so pitifully small as to regard as aliend or enemies those who have been born under other skies."

About the Author:
David Dorado Romo, the son of Mexican immigrants, is an essayist, historian, musician and cultural activist. Ringside Seat to a Revolution is the result of his three-year exploration of archives detailing the cultural and political roots of the Mexican Revolution along la frontera. Romo received a degree in Judaic studies at Stanford University and has studied in Israel and Italy.

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