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All Together Now

AMERICANOS: Latino Life in the United States;\o7 Edited by Edward James Olmos, Lea Ybarra and Manuel Monterrey; (Little, Brown: 176 pp., $40)\f7

April 11, 1999|CARLOS FUENTES | Carlos Fuentes is the author of many books. His new novel, "Los an~os con Laura Diaz" has just been published by Alfaguara. An English translation will appear next year. His essay will appear as the introduction to "Americanos."

See them. Miralos. They are here. Estan aqui. They were always here. Siempre estuvieron aqui. They arrived before anyone else. Llegaron antes que nadie. Nadie les pidio pasaportes, visas, tarjetas verdes, sen~as de identidad. Nobody asked them for passports, visas, green cards, signs of identity. There were no border guards at Bering Strait when the first men, women and children crossed over from Asia 15,000 to 30,000 years ago. There were no green cards demanded of the Spanish conquerors, settlers and missionaries who came into the Southwest and Florida in the 16th century. Just as nobody was there to demand entry permits of the Pilgrims who landed on Plymouth rock in 1620--100 years after Cortes discovered California, Ponce de Leon la Florida, and Cabeza de Vaca was shipwrecked on the coast of Texas.

No habia nadie aqui. There was no one here. We all came from somewhere else. Todos llegamos de otra parte. Y nadie llego con las manos vacias. Nobody arrived empty-handed. The first migrations from Asia into North America brought the skills of hunting, fishing, building fires, baking adobes, raising families, planting corn, establishing townships, singing songs, dancing to the rhythm of the sun and the moon so that the Earth would not come to a halt.

Los indios were the first poets, they chanted clapping their hands both to praise and to enumerate the metaphors of the world: the woman as field, the father as seed, the child as plant, the young bride as flower, the young lover as river, the whole community as a god-like incarnation of the powers of love, communication, protection of the weak, rejection of the aggressor, compassion for those who suffer, the eternal mission of society to look after the sick, the insecure . . . los olvidados. All together now, keep your eyes open beyond yourselves, see the margins of the world, where those who are different from us are waiting to demonstrate that they are as human as we.

Recognize yourselves in he or she who is not like you or me.

This ancient mandate reverberates in the pictures assembled in this extraordinary book. The faces, the bodies, the movements of the men and women hark back to the great dawn of North America, but they are not only the great dreamers of the origin but also the grand memory of the past, they are descendants of Iberia as well as Aztlan and Borinquen and Cuba, first imagined as Cipango, the oriental island Japan. We descend from all the islands naming themselves twice or thrice, Indian and Spanish and African, in the waters of the Caribbees. We have come down from the mountains in the great backbone of the Americas, the vast ranges stretching from the Rockies to the Sierra Madre to the Andes to the Archipelagoes, falling off like cold, beautiful grapes at the foot of the continent, Chile, Argentina. . . .

Mestizos. Indios. Negros. Europeos. Indo-Afro-Euro Americanos. Latinos, Hispanics, call them what you will: They are the children of movement and encounter, meeting in love and suffering in slave ships and plantations, in mines and in chapels, in carnivals and in tool shops. How many hands in the Americas first met over a carpenter's bench or a silversmith's table, digging the treasures of Potosi or rowing the Magdalena or plowing the fields of Puerto Rico? How many friendships in the Americas did not begin in kitchens as perfumed as gardens, in the delicious blending of maize and chile, herbs and mushrooms, huachinango from the gulf, congrio from the Pacific. Smell the "sagrado olor de la panaderia," asked the Mexican poet Lopez Velarde, breads as varied as the conch names, sword names, ball names, powder names, conchas, banderillas, bolillos, polvorones. . . .

How many songs were sung to recall the history of the mestizo epic, from Murrieta in California to Pancho Villa in Chihuahua to Martin Fierro in the Pampas, dance bringing together all that makes the body beautiful, rhythmic, delighted to be of the world, in the world, the Indo-Afro-lberian world where the tango is Andalusian and African, the Mexican corrido a descendant of the Castilian romancero, the soulful bolero a child of the Arab love-call, the whole Caribbean a carnival of sounds and pleasures derived from all the traditions of the human voice and the human body, its passions, its pains, its longings, its rebellions.

These are the hands that took up arms with Bolivar and Marti and Zapata but also the hands that fashioned the perfect altar and the candy skull, the mural by Orozco and the anonymous graffiti in East L.A. These are the arms that plowed and cut and shaped and smoothed out the world as lovers smooth out each other's backs, and these are the hands that brought food and flowers into the world as they brought their children into their homes: to love and nourish and hope and protect. . . .

These hands have fought and worked. These mouths have sung and kissed. These ears have heard and feared. These eyes have seen and dreamed.

They are all here, from Alaska to Magellan.

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