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The Republic of East L.A. (Luis J Rodriguez)

April 23, 2010

I read three stories from this collection: “My Ride, My Revolution,” “Mechanics,” and “Chain-Link Lover.” All three focused on male protagonists who were struggling to succeed in some aspect of their lives — mostly in love. Rodriguez’s stories (at least, these three) took a closer look at the pressures and stressing factors at work on romantic relationships for these men; while this theme was fairly central to these stories, other ideas were at play as well.

“My Ride, My Revolution” dealt heavily with the idea of purpose — the main character constantly questioned his purpose, his goals, the work he might do with his life instead of ending up beaten by the system and forced into low-paying dead-end jobs as he has been doing for his entire adult life. Compared to Chacon’s stories in which the drive to break out of societal constraints and move life in a direction that’s actually desired (oftentimes with the added element of anger), Rodriguez’s stories feel much more trapped, cornered, and not-quite-but-nearly defeated. I’m not saying that he’s presenting a hopeless portrayal of Chican@ life in the US; nope, I’m saying that his characters are struggling to stay afloat in a much more desperate way than Chacon’s because, for the most part, they’ve lost their anger.

In “Chain-Link Lover” we see a counter-example for this trend. When the main character is confronted by a road-raging white truck driver threatening him with a tire iron, he remembers the mentally handicapped girl who loves him unconditionally and begins to feel real anger toward the man. He thinks of all the injustices or frustrations he’s faced at the hands of others and draws them together to form a sort of fighting rage. However, while he is able to talk back to the driver and give him the “You want me? Come get me!” line, he also knows (and admits quite openly to the reader) that if the man decides to go through with his violence, it’s a lost cause. In his big moment of bravery/bravado, this is how the narrative runs:

“‘You want me? Come get me!’ I prodded again, much braver now since I figured he didn’t have the huevos. I knew most people didn’t. It was something I counted on (but the day will come when I meet the vato who has what it takes to do exactly what he intends to do).” (157)

In other words, he is able to put on a brave face and make a hollow stand, but he’s also very aware that he cannot follow through on his threats. I feel that there’s a deeper political significance here, but I haven’t figured out exactly where to go with that yet.

Finally, “Mechanics” presents a strangely optimistic/pessimistic outlook on love. The protagonist’s entire life revolves around his wife and children until the day his wife leaves him. Then what? Well, then he realizes (over time) that her departure has actually freed him…but that he still loves his children immensely. I have no idea where to go with this, but it felt almost utterly hopeless.

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