I often wonder if I would be any more or less successful as a writer had I stayed in Denver. When I was there, I struggled for relevancy. Out here, in Florida, I struggle for existence. I wasn’t groomed as a writer, it all happened by accident, nor was I trained as publisher – that happened out of necessity. Once I began though, it became a challenge to find an audience. It’s funny to me that all these years later, that challenge still exists, and in some ways it is greater than it used to be.
In Denver, my hometown, finding an audience was relatively easy – it was built in. For one thing, I was in college at the time and many of my friends were also writers, so there was always something going on. More than that though, I was among my own people and so relating to them in the flesh was much simpler, in fact it was automatic. You would often find me at coffee shops, house parties or just the street corner waxing poetic to whoever would listen, and more often than not, they looked like me.
But here, on the other side of the country, I may as well be publishing books on the moon, and waxing poetic to moon rocks, as far as relating to people here goes, especially in the flesh. You will not find me anywhere because the moon has no venues. There are no Chicanos on the moon. People here don’t even know what that word means; Chicano.
It’s no secret that most of my readership comes from the Southwest. It’s hilarious to me that I have a pretty good audience on the OTHER side of the damn country. Here? Well, like I said, here is like being on the moon. I am a stranger in a strange land, y que? And so I’ve spent years trying to break that mold and that stereotype…
For a time, one which I like to call the “golden age of social media,” the internet solved these issues. Things were new and shiny, and connecting to people from coast to coast was not only easy, it was fun. But the golden age of social media is dead and we are now witnessing the steady decline of western civilization, at least online. Digital Rome, as it were, is falling, with people gleefully tearing it down, tweet by tweet.
What does that mean for me as a writer? As a Chicano? It means I am stuck on the moon, struggling for relevancy, hurling words out into deep space, hoping they land somewhere, anywhere. The only problem is, in space, no one can hear you write.
I never know what to classify my work as. I am never just a “writer,” unless I am writing about something “mainstream,” but even then I struggle with it. We always get corralled into our own spaces, if not by ourselves then by others, but it is more idiotic when we do it ourselves. Even when I had a respectable byline in a straight lace newspaper, I was the “other.” These days? I still get hate mail but it comes from my own – the irony in that is thick.
If I dare to write about my own experience? Well, I only need to brace myself for the immediate segregation which that brings. This also holds true as a publisher. Why?
For whatever reason, the publishing industry, has set up the game to work as follows: If you’re Chicano and you write? You’re fucked. You don’t exist. But if you play the game and call yourself Hispanic or Latino, you might get a special little section in the bookstore…way in the back, but only if you play nice and shine a lot of shoes. I like to refer to this as ‘the back of the bus’ in the bookstore – you know, the section no one ever visits.
I’ve never played nice and I don’t shine fuckin’ shoes, which has garnered me some integrity and cost me an awful lot of readers in the process. I’m okay with that however. You won’t find any shoe polish on my fingers, only ink, but I digress.
Never mind the fact that it’s always the same six people in this section, and trust me, I’ve traveled the country and looked in tons of bookstores, it’s always the same five or six people and they’re always segregated from the other books.
And here’s the kicker: One thing I never see in bookstores is White or Black folks perusing the “Hispanic” section for books. That’s very telling. What to do?
The same can be said of being Chicano online. We are relegated to our own spaces. Dare to break out of those spaces and well, here’s some more moon dust for you.
There’s something to be said for Chicanos who exist in places sans Chicanos. There’s also something to be said for stepping outside of your comfort zone and trying to break ground where you’re not supposed to. I used to think that being Chicano in un-Chicano places was a revolutionary act. I still do but it’s a weird thing to do, no matter how I try to rationalize it. It’s also lonely.
It’s endlessly frustrating knowing that I could probably be doing book readings, have book signings and enjoy more press…if only I weren’t on the goddamn moon. But I am on the goddamn moon and trying to publish books from here isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination. It is, at times, futile.
Still, leaving “home” will forever haunt me as to whether it was a fatal mistake, or an unavoidable circumstance. I’ve written about it quite a bit over the years but still have not come to any conclusions other than it was inevitable.
No, about the only thing I know for sure is that the old adage about leaving home rings true, I know this because my hometown is unrecognizable to me. This is particularly interesting because of how ostracized I felt while living there, some 20 odd years ago. Even then, home didn’t feel like home. For this reason I’ve always carried the “stranger in a strange land” torch, even today, now.
While I no longer wander, in search of meaning, I am still a vagabond, at least in my heart; a man with no motherland, no fatherland, no mother tongue and a whole lot of ghosts and strangers trying to dictate to me who I am and what I have a right to write about.
It is difficult to explain these kinds of things to people who cannot relate to them. My only recourse is to try and tell people to imagine leaving home and going somewhere completely foreign, with no one like yourself there. What’s it like being Chicano on the moon? Solitary in a way that’s almost indescribable. It has given me tremendous perspective, but at what cost? Surely, nothing tangible but there is a hollowness inside that only I can understand.
Would I be famous had I stayed? I doubt it. Would my audience be bigger? I’m certain. But so what? The things I did accomplish from all the way over here seem that much greater in significance considering the obstacles, and I revel in those accomplishments because I achieved them from the freakin’ moon!
I made an expedition to the great unknown. It wasn’t planned that way but I’ve gone where no other Chicanos have gone before. I planted my flag, I brought my supplies and I made one small step for Chicano writers and one giant leap for Chicano publishers, but I am shipwrecked here and there is no way to get back home. My radio is dead and the last message from back home was nothing more than static.
And so I will spend the rest of my days here, pursuing some kind of revolutionary suicide, furiously racing against time to make my mark in a quickly changing world who has decided I am obsolete, cue Rod Serling.
I am typing up page after page, some of them only in my head, and tossing them out into the endless blackness of space, hoping they reach some one, some where in time, who will finally understand. Goddamn the innate desire of all writers to not only be read, but to be understood. It is a curse.
This is Santino J. Rivera, signing off from the moon.