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[Below, Ferrer reviews Ulibarrí's Al cielo se sube a pie, focusing on his use of imagery and the emergence of a personal poetic voice in the collection.]
Fifty poems in search of heaven make up this book [Al cielo se sube a pie] of heterogeneous style and tone. Unity is achieved through the recurrence of themes.
Static poetry—this might be the definition of Sabine Ulibarrí's production. Quietude intensifies the relevance of a moment. For Ulibarrí it is the transference of a mood through lyric adjectivation. And this is so necessary to his poetry that even in the use of nouns, we feel that they have become void of essence and that it is only quality that exists and subsists. Thus, in the first poem, concerned with the snowclad night, by means of the combination "soft-marble" the noun has come to lose its density and consequently, one of its basic qualities and is left only with its unuttered whiteness, which is in keeping with the reiterative sequence of the concept of white in each line. Thus, the noun has been deprived of its substantivity, remaining with a merely adjectival purport.
Another circumstance of Sabine Ulibarrí's still, at times, motionless poetry dwells in the lack of verbal forms. Absence of action contributes effectively to concentration on a state of feeling, and this is what matters. The adjective carries out the greatest poetical function in Ulibarrí's poetry.
Sabine Ulibarrí is skillful in tracing a decorative representation of the outer world, which is genuine. He may use words borrowed from woman's environment of arts and toils and blends them beautifully with his description. Coloration is also true and personal. Were he to stop there, the poem would be perfectly achieved ("Crepúsculo," for example). However, a certain purposefulness, a self-imposed language and a will to bring in visceral images, divert the poem from its real meaning and its original beauty. Probably less self-conscious motivation would free it of what is actually alien to it, since breach of harmony does not necessarily bring about poetical impact.
Some short compositions are written almost in the traditional "copla" form. They are acute, graceful and abundant in the natural and wise poetical figures that have been used in Spanish folklore. The four line poem dedicated to Mima contains simple beauty and intricate systems of correlations, parallelisms, antitheses, and designs the symmetrical pattern of a strange solitaire. In this very short poem appears one of the fundamental themes of this book. Its first inspiration may have been, whether conscious or unconscious, that suggestive sentence by our very modern, seventeenth century poet, Luis de Góngora, "pisando la dudosa luz del día," "treading the doubtful light of day," but it is never said by Ulibarrí the way it had been said. Half of this book may well be an echo of this verse. This may be the justification for the cover's design, the contents of the volume, and the reason, as well, for the title, To Heaven One Climbs On Foot.
We referred before to some kind of visceral transference. These anatomical allusions to blood, veins, bones, flesh, toes, appear often in the author's poems, however, without opening widely the door into surrealistic imagery.
Some poems, and especially "Mujer imagen," "Vértigo," have a dual and a tertiary rhythm that is extremely satisfying. These poems, like some other ones, enclose an internal consonance and contain stanzas of an elaborate structure of correlations, perhaps not apparent at first sight, but very gratifying.
The play upon words of similar sound, dissimilar meaning, yields casual and curious effects that are agreeable.
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The play upon words of similar sound, dissimilar meaning, yields casual and curious effects that are agreeable.
The metaphor is very unusual in this book, almost absent. There is one which has the role of a definition of the cloud: "nube, fragante quimera del aire."
Poem XLIX, "Dios carcelero," is one of the best of the book. It could be the last and closing poem. Sabine Ulibarrí ascertains with this poem his authentic selfness. It links him with an important line of Spanish poets. It definitely has a "popular" inspiration, and is successful. In his wanderings along the paths, searching for heaven, this is certainly the vein that may take the poet, light-hearted and bold, to its very threshold, and he remains very much himself, which is, I am certain, for Sabine Ulibarrí the best way: to be, to peregrinate, to progress.
Olga Prjevalinsky Ferrer, in a review of "Al cielo se sube a pie," in New Mexico Quarterly, Vol. XXXII, Nos. 1 & 2, Spring & Summer, 1962, pp. 238-39.
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[In the following excerpt from her introduction to Tierra Amarilla, Nason briefly describes the historical and social context of the work.]
Tierra Amarilla. Yellow Land. The adjective evokes an erroneous concept of the small Spanish-American village whose name provides the title for [Ulibarrí's] book. Green, not yellow, is the predominant color, for the town lies in a valley cradled in the pine-haired arms of New Mexico's high northern mountains. Equally deceptive is its appearance. Somnolent, unchanging, grown shabby with the years, it impresses the casual visitor as a relic from the past, a sanctuary from modern turbulence. Yet Tierra Amarilla recently exploded into national headlines with an armed raid on the county courthouse. There are indications, too, that this glare of publicity was not merely a transient flash, that the spotlight will focus again and again on this adobe village in its stream-stitched valley.
Tierra Amarilla has never been a peaceful place. The county seat of Río Arriba County whose crowding mountains and high plateaus are snow blocked in winter and isolated in summer, it developed stalwart individualists, proud men of action who lived by struggle. Its history is interwoven with the murky complex of legal and local battles over Spanish and Mexican land grants which, since 1854, have engendered in its people a sense of injustice, envy, and sometimes hatred.
The descendants of the first colonists, who still inhabit the area, are more Spanish than American. Part of the paradox of New Mexico is the fact that the Hispanic heritage becomes more ingrown and more intense the farther it is removed from its colonial source, the "New Spain" or Mexico of three centuries ago. Spanish is the universal speech; in many mountain villages, English is seldom heard. Isolated from the normal development of the mother tongue, this speech is replete with sixteenth-century forms now obsolete in other parts of the world. Like their progenitors, the people are profoundly Catholic. Catholicism, in the words of the author of [Tierra Amarilla] is a religion which may be worn either as a silken cloak or as a hair shirt. Many mountain people have chosen the latter garb, with the result that religious fanaticism is characteristic of the area. It is no accident that in these mountains lies the epicenter of the mystic Penitente brotherhood whose sanguinary rituals come to light only in the observances of Holy Week. Neither is it accidental or irrelevant that barn burnings, fence cuttings, and occasional murders practiced by secret organizations preceded for many years the open violence of the Tierra Amarilla courthouse raid of June 1967.
This land and its people provide the background for both the stories in Tierra Amarilla and their author, Sabine Reyes Ulibarrí….
Perhaps because it was so different from his adult world, the Tierra Amarilla of his childhood always remained a vibrant reality in the mind of Sabine Ulibarrí. He fascinated his friends with its stories, like that of the legendary white stallion that roamed the mountains or the good and simple priest who kept the townspeople in helpless and agonized laughter during his stay among them. Some of his listeners insisted that he write these stories for two reasons. In the first place, they focus on a facet of American life that is passing with no hope of return. Also, it was felt that the profound Hispanicity of this part of the country should be represented by some literary work in the language. Since the stories were written, the light of recent events has revealed a third reason—the need for developing by every means possible an understanding of the region and its problems.
Most of the stories in this small collection are golden with the light of youth. They depict customs and traditions of a bygone day. They portray foibles, injustices, and individuals from a boy's view. But underneath all of them runs a current of understanding, of empathy with the character of these strong, kindly, often violent inhabitants of the mountains of New Mexico….
Welcome, then, to Tierra Amarilla. Here you will meet the descendants of men and women whose fields and houses dotted the banks of New Mexican streams before either Jamestown or Plymouth Colony was established.
Thelma Campbell Nason, in a foreword to Tierra Amarilla: Stories of New México/Cuentos de Nuevo México by Sabine R. Ulibarrí, translated by Thelma Campbell Nason, University of New Mexico Press, 1971, pp. vii-x.
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[In the following excerpt, Sackett commends the historical interest and poetic sensibility evident in Tierra Amarilla.]
The new bi-lingual edition of the prose of Dr. Sabine Reyes Ulibarrí, Professor of Spanish Literature at the University of New Mexico and one of the best known American writers in the Spanish language, is a truly important book. [Tierra Amarilla] will be treasured by all who can appreciate the beauties of an artistic re-creation of values and a way of life which today are in a process of rapid transformation and perhaps annihilation. Those familiar with Hispanic civilization will be enchanted by ulibarrí's work. In it they will see remembrances of life in a small village of northern New Mexico; an area which was the site of one of the earliest colonizations of what was to become these United States but which even after its forced inclusion in the Union has always managed to retain its own values and unique personality.
As Thelma Nason points out in her excellent introduction, what makes these works so unusual is the fact that Ulibarrí is above all a poet. His prose is filled with realistic details including aspects of the landscape and customs of Tierra Amarilla, but his vision is not that of a realist. Likewise, though all of the selections reflect the writer's early youth, they are written by an individual who at the time of their composition is a university student and later professor of Spanish literature. The language, form, ideas, and style of his prose spring from the rich and venerable literary tradition of Spain.
The book consists of five short stories and a novella. The only points of unity between these distinct art forms are the New Mexican locale and the poetic style. Besides the obvious difference in literary genre, the two kinds of literature presented here also mark distinct moments in the artistic life of the author. The stories reflect sentimental remembrances of Ulibarrí's youth in Tierra Amarilla and are fundamentally poetic in nature. The novella, philosophical and abstract, is the product of another side of the writer's personality, the professor and intellectual.
In conclusion, this collection of the prose writings of Sabine Ulibarrí is a unique and important literary landmark. He provides invaluable clues to the origin, identity and values of Spanish and Mexican Americans. But more important still, he does so through the eyes and with the materials of a poet. As a consequence, his writings go beyond the dimensions of the historian or the writer of fiction; they penetrate the soul of his people.
Theodore A. Sackett, in a review of "Tierra Amarilla: Stories of New Mexico-Cuentos de Nuevo México," in The Modern Language Journal, Vol. LVI, No. 8, December, 1972, pp. 515-16.
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[Anaya is a novelist, short story writer, and playwright who is considered one of the most influential authors of Chicano literature. In the following introduction to Ulibarrí's My Grandma Smoked Cigars, he commends the characterizations and imagery found in the stories and places them in an oral literary tradition.]
Those of us who enjoyed the stories in Tierra Amarilla have eagerly awaited this new collection by Sabine Ulibarrí. And the wait was worthwhile, for in many ways Mi Abuela Fumaba Puros is a continuation of the former. In this bilingual edition, Ulibarrí once again combines the artistry of our oral tradition (which he knows so well) with his personal approach to the idea of story. The transformation which occurs in Mi Abuela Fumaba Puros is strikingly original.
Utilizing the author/child point of view, he reveals the memorable experiences of the child to the reader. The child moves through a childhood filled with baroque characters, while the author casually comments on the rites of passage. The result is an interplay and a tension of time and memory, of child and man.
Ulibarrí is a talented story teller, an expert in a tradition which the people of the Southwest have honed to perfection. In Mi Abuela Fumaba Puros, he addresses his readers as intimate friends, and invites us to travel with him to the world of Rìo Arriba, wherein he sketches his characters and the landscape with clear and precise images. He skillfully manipulates time, moving back and forth from the world of the narrator to the world of child, drawing us deeper into that time and universe which he recreates.
Life in rural, mountainous New Mexico is revealed in Mi Abuela Fumaba Puros. We rediscover the strong sense of daily life and tradition of the hardy pioneers of the land of Tierra Amarilla; we share their joys and tragedies and beliefs. Those who are sensitive to the culture of the Native American and Hispanic Southwest will experience a mild shock of recognition in the stories of doña Matilde, the horseback ride with death, and the story of El Sanador.
These are stories we have heard before in one form or another, stories which provide intimations of a collective identity. In My Grandma Smoked Cigars the personal perspective of the author blends with the elements from that vast storehouse of our culture to produce the story.
Ulibarrí lays bare the emotions of the people, and yet, throughout there is a persistent vein of humor. La gente had an immense and ingenious repertoire of humorous stories to while away long winter evenings, and that sense of humor is reflected here. Some are ribald, paralleling the best of this form in world literature. Others are about playful jokes, given a New Mexico context. But throughout, there is the strength of love and sharing which characterizes the people of Ulibarrí's New Mexico.
His earlier book has already become a classic in its own right. Now, with its skillful characterization and artistry of story telling, Mi Abuela Fumaba Puros—My Grandma Smoked Cigars should join it as an equal partner.
Rudolfo A. Anaya, in an introduction to Mi Abuela Fumaba Puros y Otros Cuentos de Tierra Amarilla/My Grandma Smoked Cigars and Other Stories of Tierra Amarilla by Sabine R. Ulibarri, Quinto Sol Publications, Inc., 1977, pp. 8-9.
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[In the following review, Tatum praises My Grandma Smoked Cigars for its sensitive character portrayal and evocatively presented memories of childhood.]
To his published works of short stories about his native northern New Mexico, noted author and scholar Sabine Ulibarrí adds ten more sensitively rendered tales. In this attractive bilingual edition, [Mi abuela fumaba puros y otros cuentos de Tierra Amarilla/My Grandma Smoked Cigars and Other Stories from Tierra Amarilla], Ulibarrí presents a tapestry of childhood memories of life among the hardy and proud hispanos of Tierra Amarilla. His stories are a series of carefully drawn sketches of individuals—family, friends, acquaintances—who play an important role in a young boy's strides toward adulthood: the matriarchal grandmother, viewed with a combination of tenderness and fear; Uncle Cirilo, of whose size and mighty voice the child lives in awe; the legendary Negro Aguilar, whose feats as an indomitable vaquero and skilled horse-tamer are reputed in the farthest reaches of the county; the astute Elacio Sandoval, the biology teacher who talks himself out of marrying a woman he does not love; Roberto, who one day goes to town to buy nails and does not return for four years.
With obvious enthusiasm, Ulibarrí shares with us the wide range of the young boy's feelings and experiences: his terror upon finding himself face-to-face with la llorona herself; the profound sadness upon learning of his father's sudden death; the proud response to his much-admired childhood heroes when they deign to talk to him. The author draws on local legends and popular superstition and combines them with vivid details from his childhood to create a rich mixture of fact and fiction. His stories are tinged with hues of longing for a past that although he cannot relive, he has brought to life with deft and broad strokes of his pen. The book thus forms a composite of the memories of a writer sensitive to the child in him who looks back to a time of closeness and warmth among people who treated him with understanding and love.
Charles M. Tatum, in a review of "Mi abuela fumaba puros y otros cuentos de Tierra Amarilla/My Grandma Smoked Cigars and Other Stories from Tierra Amarilla," in World Literature Today, Vol. 52, No. 3, Summer, 1978, p. 440.
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[In the following excerpt, Miller explores Ulibarrí's style and themes in First Encounters, commending especially his portrayal of relationships between different cultural groups.]
Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico, in which the nine short stories of Primeros Encuentros/First Encounters are set, is duly marked on any map of the USA, but it is a place which no longer exists, in the way that none of the places and times of our youth exist. Through the skill of the artist we can recover vanished places and peoples; such is the gift of Sabine Ulibarrí that we can know, and know intimately, a community which most of us have never visited or even imagined. The people of Tierra Amarilla are ranchers, sheep-raisers, Spanish-speaking; settlers whose heritage in this northwestern corner of New Mexico stretches back 400 years. The time of the stories is the early 20th century, a time of change, of first encounters.
Much is being written currently about the southwestern borders of the United States, about the intermingling of the cultures of hispanic and northamerican peoples. Demographers count heads, estimate "legal" and "illegal" migration patterns; public policy pundits project the political effect of an increasingly hispanic population; linguists talk about Spanglish; geographers claim that the area from 100 miles south of the United States-Mexican border to 100 miles north of it constitutes a distinct socio-economic unit, and should be recognized as such.
While not wishing to stem the flow of paperwork or of serious analysis of the border situation, I would suggest that Ulibarrí's modest work offers more enlightenment on the coming together of different culture than a statehouseful of government reports. Moreover, it is written with clarity, in a tone marked by humor and gentle irony.
Ulibarrí's style is spare and poetically evocative. He deftly conveys a sense of a character in a few lines: "Buck Armstrong was tall, strong, and robust. As taciturn as a pine log. It seemed that he went through life annoyed. He never spoke. And had he spoken, no one would have understood him." The inarticulate Buck, a pioneer Americano farmer, and his wife Abigail ("She had something of the wasp about her, something of the butterfly or the housefly."), at length win the admiration of the community for their agricultural skills:
I don't believe that any of [the family] had ever darkened the door of either school or church. They did not know how to read or write. Their English was almost unintelligible. Their Spanish was non-existent. But they sure knew how to communicate with the earth. Their tenderness, their eloquence, was all for her. The earth understood….
The quality of acceptance, which succeeds the initial scrutiny of the new arrivals, occurs throughout the book. Ulibarrí's narrators relate events as they experienced them in their youth, giving the tales an immediacy of experience, appreciated from the distance of maturity. Thus, when a stranger appears, we see him or her through young eyes which miss no detail, consumed by a curiosity far more potent than suspicion or fear. The possibility for hostility underlies the encounters, yet in most of these tales a key figure acts to deflect that potential, and to make a choice where friendship, or at least accommodation, may result. The choice is often to offer hospitality—a drink of well-water, a bed for the night, the use of a horse. The first story in the book, "El forastero gentil/The Gallant Stranger," tells of an encounter loaded with the potential for hostility or even violence. The narrator is Ulibarrí's father, who was perhaps seven or eight years old at the time of the incident. The boy is standing with his older, grown brothers, and his father and uncles and the hired hands, watching a stranger approach their ranch house. Ulibarrí writes,
As he approached on the hot and dusty road his figure became clearer. They saw he was a cowboy type … his high, white hat was tilted to one side, because of the sun, because of the heat. Jacket and trousers of blue wool, bleached by time and use. High-heel boots. Silver mounted spurs. The rowels left their little tracks and their clinking on the layer of dust on the road. On his right side, in its appropriate place, he wore a frightening six-gun. He was an Americano.
This classic manifestation of the gringo desperado, even without his horse, could have been viewed with fear and hate. However, the scene is subtly altered as the young boy observes, "Sometimes he stumbled. He would twist his ankle. Those boots with high heels were not made for walking. Cowhands were not born to walk. He would straighten up and continue his way doggedly." Certainly if John Wayne or Gary Cooper had tripped on their spurs, the scene would have been re-shot.
The entrance of the cowboy, and the coming of the Americano settlers into the community of Tierra Amarilla are but the most expected of the first encounters related. In the finely-crafted "Mónico", a young man, born and raised in Tierra Amarilla, has just returned from the university to take a teaching post in San Juan, an Indian town in northcentral New Mexico. He states, "I was the only non-Indian in the parish." "Mónico" tells us far more about initial meetings than the trials of the newly-minted teacher. The story is given an historical dimension through the legendary and recorded history of how the town was named. The pueblo had existed from times so ancient that no one could remember the Indian place name, but when the Spanish explorers came in 1598,
The owners of the lands were so friendly and generous that the Spaniards called their pueblo 'San Juan de los Caballeros.' The concept of brotherhood was established from the very beginning of the Spanish colony in New Mexico. The Spaniards called the Indians 'hermanos' and the Indians called the Spaniards 'hermanitos'. In time 'hermanito' became 'manito'. Even today Mexicans from Mexico perjoratively call New Mexicans 'manitos', not knowing that they honor us with the word.
Mónico, an elderly Indian, helps the teacher learn the ways of San Juan. Years before, Mónico had worked on the young man's grandmother's ranch. The teacher describes the way in which the Indians would come, in his grandmother's day to Tierra Amarilla to trade their agricultural products for the ranch goods of the manitos.
A caravan came from San Juan twice a-year. They were loaded with merchandise native to the Rio Grande and to the Indians: chile (red and green), corn meal (white and blue), clay pots, fabric, rugs, serapes, baskets, silver jewelry, fruit (fresh and dried). What I liked best were the bows and arrows, the moccasins, the chamois-skin vests embroidered with beads, the feather bonnets, the drums. All things not found in my neck of the woods.
Thus, Ulibarrí moves us over time and place and across generations, building layers of experience, of initial meetings between individuals and among groups, Indian and hispanic, gringo and nuevomexicano, Mexican and manito. And he does it all without ever saying "multiethnic" or multi-anything. Õle/Hooray!…
The stories are presented with the English text on the left hand page, the Spanish on the right, an arrangement which allows the reader to glance from one version to the other, comparing the texture of expression in each language. Ulibarrí does not resist bilingual plays on words; in one story, he writes of the proprietor of the general store, Don Tomás Vernes, that "he was known to his customers as 'Mr. Burns'." In another, a boy moves from the family ranch into town so that he can begin school. Though only eight, he was already able to read and write in Spanish, and through his father's reading aloud was familiar with the classics of Spanish literature. The language of the school, however, was English. One of his favorite out-of-school texts was the Denver Mail. In need of an English insult to hurl at his playground tormentors, he selected the phrase "Leggo, Rascal!" from the comic strip "Happy Hooligan", noting that Hooligan screamed this seeming threat at his enemies with good effect. In fact, the boy succeeded in making his version of the epithet (Rascaleggo!) sound so awful that he was reprimanded for blaspheming by one of the nuns.
The cover of Primeros Encuentros/First Encounters would not have caught my attention in a bookstore: it is a slim soft-covered text, with a brown-on-brown design of two men, one a manito, the other a gringo, shaking hands in front of a giant sagauro cactus. But if you find it and read it, I predict two things: a) you will want to read it aloud with someone you love; and b) you will go look for Ulibarrí's previous collections of short stories, Tierra Amarilla and Mi Abuela Fumaba Puros/My Grandmother Smoked Cigars. This was my first encounter with Sabine Ulibarrí, and I am enlightened, delighted and enriched by it.
Francesca Miller, "About Latin America: 'Primeros Encuentros/First Encounters!'" in San Francisco Review of Books, Winter, 1983, p. 7.
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[Below, Tatum presents an overview of Ulibarrí's poetry and fiction, focusing on recurring themes and the author's portrayal of character.]
Poet, essayist, and prose writer, Sabine Ulibarrí holds an important place in contemporary Chicano literature. In addition to scholarly works, textbooks and thought-provoking essays, Sabine Ulibarrí has published two books of poetry, five collections of short stories, and he has edited another collection of his students' prose and poetry. All of his creative literature was originally written in Spanish although his short stories have also appeared in bilingual editions. When compared to other Chicano writers, his literary output is significant, particularly if one takes into account that he is one of a handful of contemporary Chicano writers who is completely comfortable with written literary Spanish. This fluency with written expression is a reflection of the writer's upbringing in a completely Spanish-speaking environment where Hispanics constituted the majority culture. In addition, literary Spanish was an important part of his childhood for his father would often read Spanish literature to his family. Ulibarrí's academic training and his rigorous study of the Spanish literary masters have undoubtedly reinforced his earlier language background and contributed significantly to his mastery of the language seen in his own creative works.
His two books of poetry, Al cielo se sube a pie and Amor y Eduador, were both published in 1966 and are similar in content, language, and poetic expression although the first is perhaps broader in its subject matter. In Al cielo se sube a pie, using a language the Spanish poet Angel González describes as "pausado y preciso," (deliberate and precise) Ulibarrí includes poetry that deals with love, the woman, his native Tierra Amarilla, uprootedness, solitude, the tragic consequences of progress, life as a transitory state, and several other themes. His poetry is filled with color, finely rendered images, and language carefully selected and appropriate to the content. Dominant in this collection is poetry dealing with various aspects of love: the elusiveness of authentic love; the transitory nature of passion; deceit and disillusionment in the love relationship. In general, the woman/lover is idealized and exists in a more real state in his imagination than in true life. This concept seems to be in keeping with his vision of the illusory nature of love, especially physical love. The poet/male depicts himself, as, on one hand, privileged by her attention, favor, and affection yet, on the other, victimized by her distance and abandonment of him. A related love theme is his belief in the easy conquest of woman. Her willing submission is doomed not to last; only love after sacrifice and intentional effort on the part of both parties will endure. His view of woman in her role as a lover in this collection of poetry is best characterized as distrustful. She is beautiful—as he aptly describes in his series of pie poems—but mindless, affectionate and undependable. Her world is a limited one and her view of herself and others is shortsighted. In her relationship to the male she is the source of much of his pain and agony.
Another dominant theme in Al cielo se sube a pie is the poet's sense of uprootedness in an alien world in which a premium is placed on success and achievement. In the poem, "Fuego fatuo," he laments having left his native rural Northern New Mexico, having paid the price of loneliness and a feeling of abandonment for less authentic and ultimately less tangible rewards. The poet describes himself as the only member of his family who has left the mountain in pursuit of an elusive star, and while he has tasted success he is still searching for the "cima errante" (wandering summit). Although he is resigned to his self-chosen fate, the poet is saddened when he lets himself remember what he has sacrificed. In "Patria de retorno", ("Native Land of My Return") he recognizes the impossibility of returning to the comfort and security of his childhood home. Although he may be welcomed back by friends and family, nonetheless, he is still a "forastero en mi casa ancestral" (stranger in my ancestral home).
The poet is thus destined to wander the earth on a constant search, waiting for death, filled with hunger for permanence, plagued and saddened by his loss of roots and family. Poetry is his consolation, his vehicle to give expression to life's pain. Artistic expression provides a kind of salve for the poet's wounds and at the same time allows him to eternalize his pain.
As the title indicates, Amor y Ecuador has two major themes: poetry focusing on the poet's impressions and memories of Ecuador and poetry devoted to love. In the first section of the book on Ecuador, Ulibarrí shares with us the meaningfulness of his visit to the South American country in 1963. Always the keen and thoughtful observer, he records his visit in a way that allows us to share with him its personal significance. From the first poem, he draws us into the experience of passing time in the Andean country that is geographically so different from his native New Mexico yet has so much in common with it. They share a common heritage and the poet sees Albuquerque and Quito as two poles of the same Hispanic world. Ecuador in general and Quito in particular represent a positive element for the poet, something he has been out of touch with back home. He arrives in the Ecuadorian capital filled with hope and anticipation. He descends from his plane to find himself still in a world of clouds and sky and mystery. In one poem Quito is described as God's work and in another, the first line of each of a six-stanza poem devoted to Ecuador, he repeats: "Aquí todo me humaniza" (Here everything humanizes me).
The expected wonder and awe of Ecuador's rich Spanish-Indian history and its geographical splendor constitute only one aspect of his Ecuadorian poetry. In addition to this sensorial and cognitive awareness of geography and history, the poet is in touch with something deeply human that touches a sensitive chord in him. Perhaps he is at home here as he has not been since leaving his beloved mountainous Tierra Amarilla. The poet lets himself be touched by the people he passes on the streets and by the warmth and welcoming from Ecuadorian friends. He feels rejuvenated, joyful, excited and yet, profoundly saddened and angered by the misery and exploitation that surrounds him. In a poem titled "Indosincrasia" the poet reveals these conflicting feelings. The Indian is a reserve of dignity and strength, and at the same time the poet recognizes in his eyes the long history of frustrated hopes and suffering. The poet identifies with this experience and asks his brother, the inhabitant of the high and lonely Andes, to look into his New Mexican eyes where he will see reflected the same suffering of centuries. The poem ends on a note of solidarity and hope; together they can overcome their shared tragic history.
The poetry of the second part of Amor y Ecuador seems to have taken on a decidedly more melancholy tone than the love poems of Al cielo se sube a pie—this poetry has a bittersweet quality arising from the poet's belief that he cannot have what he wants; love, to him, is elusive, momentary, and even frightening. His own love overpowers him and he warns the beloved to flee lest she be destroyed by it. Images of abandonment, disillusionment after love making, and bitter memories of unrequited love abound. In one poem, he visits the birthplace of a past lover and is filled with the sadness of her absence. For the first time, we see references to sin and guilt associated with the poet's relationships with lovers. Tragically, the poet sees himself as destined to carry with him for life the burden of his guilt; he has altogether given up hope in salvation.
Ulibarrí's prose can best be characterized as a kind of intrahistory, a chronicling and recording of the values, sentiments, relationships, and texture of the daily lives of his friends and family, the Hispanic inhabitants of his beloved Tierra Amarilla. The writer himself has commented that with his short stories he has tried to document the history of the Hispanics of northern New Mexico, the history not yet recorded by the scholars who have written otherwise excellent studies of the region. Ulibarrí believes that these historians do not understand at a deep level the Hispanic heritage that predates by hundreds of years the arrival of the Anglo soldier and businessman in the mid-nineteenth century. He recognizes that the Hispanic world that he knew as a child is fast disappearing under the attack of the aggressive Anglo culture. His stories, then, constitute an attempt to document the historia sentimental, the essence of that culture before it completely disappears. In addition to this missionary zeal, his stories are just as importantly his attempt, as a personal objective, to regain his childhood experiences. As reflected in much of the poetry discussed earlier, he feels as though he has been uprooted from his culture and his family and in documenting his memories of a childhood and adolescence in Tierra Amarilla he is trying to resurrect for himself a repository of humanizing experiences. In answering the questions about his people—how they were (are); what it meant to live in an environment where Spanish was the dominant language; the significance of living daily the values and traditions of America's oldest non-Indian culture—he ultimately answers the questions about himself: Who am I? Where do I come from? What have I lost? How much of it can I regain?
Ulibarrí's short stories are more personal than documentary or social history. One looks in vain for explicitly social themes although they may be buried under a rich surface of local color, language, and family and community ties. He explains that he is different from many Chicano writers in that he was raised in a majority Hispanic culture and does not have an ax to grind in creating the world of Tierra Amarilla. This is not to say, however, that he is not socially committed—this side of him is clearly evident in his essays and in his comments made before groups such as the 1967 Cabinet hearings in El Paso.
Most of his short narrations are about individual personalities: relatives and acquaintances, those he knew well and those around whom local legends had developed; those he loved and those he feared as a child. All seem to have affected him strongly and together they make up a whole community of Hispanos from Tierra Amarilla. It is apt to compare both of his collections of short stories to Spanish and Spanish American costumbrismo, the literary genre that is characterized by sketches of different regional customs, language, rituals, types, and values. Local color, legends, and personalities are the stuff of his stories as he methodically sets out to recreate this world for us. His stories are not sterile reproductions but rendered so that his poetic sensibility shows through and enhances the sense of excitement and mystery he associates with those memories.
The first story of the volume Tierra Amarilla is an excellent example of how the author brings to bear his poetic sense upon his childhood memories. "Mi caballo blanco" reminds the reader of another poet, Juan Ramón Jiménez, who immortalized a little grey donkey in his memorable prose poem Platero y yo. Ulibarrí describes the magical qualities of a legendary horse that filled his childhood with poetry and fantasy. The young adolescent narrator tells us of the wonder with which he had heard of the marvelous feats, some real, some fictitious, of this unusual animal who roamed the high plateaus with his harem of mares. The horse symbolizes for the adolescent a world of masculine strength and sexuality, a world he is about to enter himself. He dreams of capturing this magnificent creature and parading him around the town plaza observed by lovely and awe-struck young women. He does capture the horse and goes to sleep believing that because of his feat he has finally entered the world of adulthood, yet the child in him remains; the inner excitement and laughter he feels betrays the exterior calm that for him is the proper demeanor for a real man. And when the horse escapes, not only does his fantasy world come tumbling down, but he recognizes that he's still very much a child at heart. He gratefully accepts his father's comforting words and decides that the glorious animal is better left an illusion in its freedom than being forced to enter the real world—the adult world—in captivity. Ulibarrí thus sensitively and skillfully reconstructs a pivotal moment in an adolescent's life—perhaps his own—where the battle between childhood and adulthood is fiercely waged.
The next three narrations of Tierra Amarilla are humorous accounts of personalities and the many stories, legends, and half-truths that developed in the community of which they were a part. The first is about Father Benito, a chubby angelic Franciscan friar who was assigned to the local parish. Although well-intentioned and loved by the parishioners he is described as somewhat naive. In addition, he was handicapped by knowing little Spanish. It was his ignorance of the language that was the source of much humor and mischief at his expense. Ulibarrí recounts that Sunday Mass was veritable torture for the parishioners who, anticipating that their dear Padre Benito was going to make a huge blunder during his sermon—he inevitably did when he gave it in his stumbling Spanish—would spend the entire mass desperately trying to keep from rolling in the aisles with laughter.
The third story of the volume is told from the perspective of a fifteen-year-old narrator who recalls how the local town drunk, Juan P., and his two spinster sisters got their name Perrodas. It seems one day many years before, the two sisters were attending a very solemn rosary for a dear friend who had passed away when one of them let pass a substantial amount of air. She fainted. The author speculates that this occurred either from embarrassment or because of the sheer amount of energy needed to contain the air. Only the dead person was not shaken by the explosion. The scandalous event was never fully discussed publicly but soon after it happened Juan and his sisters began to be called Perroda, a play on pedorra meaning flatulent. A more serious side of this story is the apparent delight with which the community labeled the family, thus destroying their reputation, turning Juan into a drunk, and dooming his two sisters to spinsterhood. The adolescent narrator is cognizant of this somewhat vicious side of his beloved community. The story also contains another serious subtheme having to do with the narrator's conflict with his father who wanted him to abandon his books and his poetry to cultivate more virile and more worthwhile—in his father's view—pursuits. The narrator keenly feels this disapproval and goes to great lengths to please him by performing such manly activities as chopping wood.
"Sabélo" is a good illustration of how legends were created in Northern New Mexican communities. Once again, the story is presented by a young narrator—nine years old in this case—who filters reality through his child's imagination to give birth to another character endowed with fantastic powers. The story focuses on Don José Viejo, a sharp-tongued old man who was as ancient as hunger itself. After overcoming his fear of the old man, the young narrator develops a warm friendship with him and an almost religious respect. Don José is gifted with an innate talent for story telling, especially fantastic ones with himself as the central figure; for example, how he killed a huge bear after being badly scratched on the back. But the story that really captures the young boy's imagination has to do with Don José's ability to remove honey from a beehive without receiving so much as one sting. According to Don José, he is not bothered by the bees because, in fact, he is a bee or at least indirectly descended from bees. After swearing his young friend to secrecy, the old man tells him how this came about. His father was kind of a pied piper for bees who rescued them from captivity and liberated them in the forest. His mother was a queen bee who one day kissed her savior on the lips; he magically turned into a bee; they had a child—Don José—who was raised in the hive and then, inexplicably, took on a human form. Further, the scratches on his back are really bumblebee stripes and not wounds received at the hand of the fierce bear. The impressionable child concludes: "Yo me quedé temblando. Yo sabìa que don José Viejo no mentìa." ("I was left trembling. I knew that Don José Viego wasn't lying").
The last story of Tierra Amarilla differs in length, form and content from the author's other fiction. Dealing with a number of philosophical themes such as life as a dream, the father-son relationship, the development of the individual personality, the story, which is divided into six short chapters, seems to focus on the struggle of the narrator, an author of thirty years, to free himself from his dead father's image and domination to become an autonomous individual. Alejandro the narrator has returned to his birthplace, a small Hispanic town, to celebrate the completion of his biography of his father. Shortly into the visit he begins to notice that his friends and especially the family members are behaving strangely towards him, but it is not until he sees a reflection of his father's face in a raised wine glass that he is able to explain their behavior. Finally, random remarks made earlier about his resemblance to his father fall into place; somehow he has assumed his father's personality to the extent that others mistakenly are reacting as though he were him. In addition, an inner voice from his subconscious suddenly speaks to him—Alejandro believes he is hearing his own father, especially when the voice tells him, "Desde tu edad más tierna, yo te absorbì, y vivì en ti" ("From your most tender years, I absorbed you and I lived in you"). Here the confusion between the two personalities is heightened. Are these voices real? Are they the result of the narrator's insecurity about his own identity? Is life a dream? Is he his father's dream? Is he not autonomous? What importance do his own life experiences have in defining and shaping his personality? All of these questions rush over Alejandro leaving him in a confused and vulnerable state. During the remainder of the story the narrator tries to answer these questions, all the while harrassed by what he believes to be his father's voice, which repeats that he wants to eternalize himself through his son. Alejandro falls into a troubled sleep and wakes up suffering from amnesia. He does not remember who he is or who the woman is who tenderly nurses and shows him affection. Although he does partially recover his memory, he remains at the end precariously balanced on the edge of confusion, not fully knowing who he is and not fully trusting that the woman who shows such love for him is really his wife.
With Mi abuela fumaba puros y otros cuentos de Tierra Amarilla, Ulibarrí adds to his published work about his native northern New Mexico ten more sensitively rendered tales. In this attractive bilingual edition, beautifully illustrated by artist Dennis Martínez, Ulibarrí presents a tapestry of childhood memories of life among the hardy and proud Hispanos of Tierra Amarilla. His stories are a series of carefully drawn sketches of individuals—family, friends, acquaintances—who play an important role in a young boy's strides towards adulthood: the matriarchal grandmother, viewed with a combination of tenderness and fear; Uncle Cirilo of whose size and mighty voice the child lives in awe; the legendary Negro Aguilar whose feats as an indomitable vaquero and skilled horse-tamer are reputed in the furthest reaches of the county; the astute Elacio Sandoval, the biology teacher who talks himself out of marrying the woman he does not love; Roberto, who one day goes to town to buy more nails and does not return for four years.
With obvious enthusiasm, Ulibarrí shares with us the wide range of the young boy's feelings and experiences: his terror upon finding himself face-to-face with la llorona herself; the profound sadness upon learning of his father's sudden death; the proud response to his much admired childhood heroes when they deign to talk to him. The author draws on local legends and popular superstition and combines them with vivid details from his childhood to create a rich mixture of fact and fiction. His stories are tinged with hues of longing for a past that although he cannot relive, he has brought to life with deft and broad strokes of his pen. The book thus forms a composite of the memories of a writer sensitive to the child in him, who looks back nostalgically to a time of closeness and warmth among people who treated him with understanding and love.
As Rudolfo Anaya points out in his introduction to this attractive volume, what emerges in all of the stories is a strong sense of daily life and tradition among the Hispanos of Northern New Mexico as well as the bonds of their loving and sharing. Another important element is humor which, while present in his earlier stories, here is more ribald.
The title story is a sensitively created and tender description of the author's grandmother, a kind of silent matriarch who sustained the family for many decades through difficult periods and tragic events. In the narrator's memory her relationship to her husband, although somewhat tumultuous, was characterized by an underlying feeling of mutual respect and fear, "somewhere between tenderness and toughness." The narrator affectionately recalls that after his grandfather died, the grandmother would absent herself to her bedroom after the evening chores were done to smoke a cigar, symbol to the child of his grandfather's power over his family and ranch business and also of his grandmother's longing for her husband. As so many of the characters of his stories, the grandmother seems to represent for the author a graphic and vital connection with his past: his Hispano community, his family, his language, and his cultural roots.
The second story, "Brujerías o tonterías" ("Sorcery or Foolishness") is a summary of local legends and characters (endowed with mysterious powers) who were prominent in Tierra Amarilla during the narrator's childhood: la Matilde de Ensenada who was reportedly a witch and go-between—Trotaconventos—between lovers; el sanador (the healer) another character whose knowledge of the supernatural properties of medicines and animals miraculously saves his uncle from certain death; and finally la llorona herself with whom the narrator has a terrifying encounter only to discover later that he had actually run into Atenencia, a mentally retarded woman who would relentlessly pursue her unfaithful husband and scare local inhabitants in the bargain.
The focus of the third story is the narrator's uncle by marriage, Cirilo, sheriff of Río Arriba County. He is described as big, fat, strong, and fearsome, especially from the point of view of the child who felt dwarfed in his presence. Not only did he capture and sometimes have to manhandle criminals, but he also kept the peace at the schoolhouse. On one occasion after the teacher could take no more harrassment from the young devils of students, Cirilo was called in. In a memorable scene, he quells the riot with merely his presence.
The next story is similar in that it also deals with another scandalously loved adventurer, who, most notably, wore no pants when he rode horseback and was punching cows. Other local characters central to other stories are: Elacio the astute biology teacher, who upon finding himself under pressure by her brothers to marry Erlinda Benavídez, arranges for his friend Jimmy Ortega to fall in love with her; Felix and Sally who found the restaurant La Casa KK—known locally as Casa CaCa—, prosper, and then split up; Mano Fashico, Don Cacahuate, Doña Cebolla, Pedro Urdemales, Bertoldo, all imaginary childhood friends from New Mexican folklore who in the words of the author "me endulzaron y enriquecieron la vida entonces y que ahora recuerdo con todo cariño" (They sweetened and enriched my life back then and I now remember them very tenderly).
In the final story of the collection, Ulibarrí describes the brotherhood of Penitentes, the secret religious organization of devout males of the community to whom, only in later years, he attributes their due and recognizes their importance in holding together the Hispano culture of northern New Mexico. It was they who filled the administrative religious and cultural vacuum of early New Mexico to give continuity and cohesiveness to the Hispano population. Ulibarrí cautions the reader not to believe all the exaggerated versions of the Penitentes' secret rituals—although in the story he does refer indirectly to some of their more extreme religious practices such as the ones that occurred during Lent.
As the title of Ulibarrí's third collection of short stories indicates, Primeros encuentros, First Encounters focuses on the author's early experiences with Anglos and Anglo culture. While at least one of the selections—"Don Nicomedes"—deals with dominant culture racism in northern New Mexico, most present a sympathetic view of the complex process of cultural melding. As in the two previous collections of short stories, the author draws heavily on his memories of growing up Hispano in Tierra Amarilla. Tinged with sadness due to the loss of childhood innocence, his young protagonists struggle to come to grips with their emergence into adulthood. Leaving the haven of the family, they venture forth to find their way in a different, but not necessarily hostile, environment.
"Un oso y un amor" ("A Bear and a Love") typifies this process. The narrator remembers tenderly the joyful and carefree times he spent as a teenager playing with his friends in the woods, his developing friendship with Shirley Cantel, an attractive Anglo girl, and then their separation as their paths divided as young adults.
Ulibarrí portrays Anglos not as flat sociological entities but as multi-dimensional characters with feelings as diverse as those of his Hispano characters. Because he remembers the two groups intermingling freely in Tierra Amarilla, their interrelationships—as in the above study—are portrayed as natural and without racial conflict. This is seen throughout the collection. In "Elforastero gentil," for example, an Anglo cowboy—a Texan—is welcomed by a Hispano ranch family. Knowing little about his past, but sensing that he has suffered some deep disillusionment, Don Prudencio, the father, offers him his home and his family's companionship. The author deftly contrasts the stranger's rough exterior to his gentle response to the children. The Texan and the Hispanos develop a deep mutual respect.
This same respect is a characteristic found in other stories such as "La güera," "Adolfo Miller," "Don Nicomedes," "Don Tomás Vernes," and "Mónico." Anglos, like Hispanos, are depicted as both good and bad, energetic and lazy, brutal and gentle. Although somewhat idealized, life in Tierra Amarilla is always interesting and varied as characters from the two cultures learn more about each other.
Pupurupú, Ulibarrí's latest collection of short stories, shows two clear tendencies: a return to the nostalgic, memory-laden stories of Tierra Amarilla and Mi abuela fumaba puros and an incursion into fantasy. Purpurupú also contains stories that cannot neatly be classified as either predominantly nostalgic or fantastic, such as "El juez, mi rehén," and "Palomas negras."
Stories similar to these in Ulibarrí's first two collections need only be listed here, for they are of lesser interest than those that represent the author's experimentation with fantasy. They are: "Adios carnero," and "La niña que murió de amor."
Readers who have come to expect the simply told tales of growing up in and around Tierra Amarilla will be pleasantly surprised to find that Ulibarrí is equally comfortable exploring other literary veins. These stories are rich in tonality and psychological insight.
In "El gobernador Glu Glu," the author creates a mythical land ruled by a buffoonish character, Antonio Zonto Glu Glu, who has risen to his position of power thanks to one remarkable trait: he can not utter a single word against women without biting his tongue and saying "Glu glu." These absurd syllables are somehow irresistible to women who come to adore this nondescript little man. Coached by his wife, Antonio launches his political career as a defender of women's rights, finally winning the gubernatorial election. Soon after, he dies a fulfilled and happy man. The author gently parodies the foibles of politicians and their tendency to seize upon current issues, using them for their own political gain.
"Monte Niko" is the finest example in Pupurupú of Ulibarrí's fantastic stories. He imbues the story's ambiance with qualities not found elsewhere in his writing. A fictitious people, the Nikoni, live harmoniously in the valley of Nikon blessed by nature and isolated from others' strife. They worship Talaniko, the god of love and peace, who has rewarded their loyalty and devotion by granting them fertile fields, spiritual tranquility, and leisure time to devote to the pursuit of art and philosophy. Niko, a young man of extraordinary sensitivity and intelligence, is chosen king to lead them. He defeats Peri Yodo, a terrible beast who is the incarnation of evil, gives his people commandments to live by, and dies soon after.
"El conejo pionero" and "Mamá guantes" are other stories in Ulibarrí's most recent collection that reflect the same mode as "Monte Niko." The first is a playful treatment of a man's friendship with a rabbit, the second is a somber consideration of interpersonal relationships.
As we have seen from the virtuosity and variety of his writings, Sabine Ulibarrí is a salient figure on the Chicano literary scene. In terms of New Mexico, he has spent a lifetime putting into words the essence of Hispano life as he lived and remembers it in Tierra Amarilla.
Charles Tatum, "Sabine Ulibarrí: Another Look at a Literary Master," in Pasó por Aquí: Critical Essays on the New Mexican Literary Tradition, 1542–1988, edited by Erlinda Gonzales-Berry, University of New Mexico Press, 1989, pp. 231-41.
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[Bruce-Novoa is a distinguished Hispanic poet and critic. In the excerpt below, he offers a mixed review of El cóndor, and Other Stories, maintaining that Ulibarrí's blending of oral folktale elements with the techniques of magical realism is not entirely successful.]
Ulibarrí, a native New Mexican, is no novice. When Chicano political activism was surfacing in the mid 1960s, but before any major piece of literature associated with it had been published, two books of Ulibarrí's poetry appeared, Al cielo se sube a pie and Amor y Ecuador, in Madrid in 1966. Thus, some classify him as a precursor, one of a few established writers—including José Antonio Villarreal, John Rechy, and Fray Angélico Chávez—formed before the political activism of the sixties and never associated with the activities or the ideological stance of younger Chicanos. If his poetry supported the image of aloof author in its standard Spanish, personal instead of communal topics, and somewhat international flavor, his short fiction displayed his knowledge of and concern for the communal existence of Chicanos—he would probably call them Hispanos—in his native New Mexico. Tierra Amarilla: Stories of New Mexico/Tierra Amarilla: Cuentos de Nuevo Mexico (1971), Mi abuela fumaba puros y otros cuentos de Tierra Amarilla/My Grandmother Smoked Cigars and Other Stories of Tierra Amarilla (1977), Primeros encuentros/First Encounters (1982) all feature regional and ethnic specificity that belie charges of cultural alienation. In those stories Ulibarrí spoke of and for the Hispano people of his region, often assuming the tone and spirit of the community "cuentero" or teller of folktales.
The new stories are a peculiar mixture of Ulibarrí's personal antecedents—a peculiar and somewhat uneasy mixture. Here, the author has selected non-ethnic topics—for example, a Russian opera singer's reincarnation for ideal love, or a German scientists' creation of a beneficent vegetable Frankenstein, or a Greek goddess-turned-statue, and others. The stories could happen anywhere, but Ulibarrí places them in New Mexico, a detail both superfluous and distracting. The New Mexican setting adds nothing to their development. Even in the story of the Greek statue, where the magical revival of the goddess through the blood of her ardent rescuer recalls the romantic bent of traditional New Mexican folktales, the story's interior logic does not incorporate the local as a necessary ingredient. The same is true of several of the stories. The result is the impression that the author tries too hard to place his region into universal literature, but only achieves it at the simplest level, loudly proclaiming that interesting things can happen in New Mexico too, believe it or not. But to achieve his goal, the author must include information and plot twists that, since they are not necessary to the story, otherwise would be eliminated. The rule of the short story is to eliminate anything not directly related to the development. When Ulibarrí takes time and space to explain the here irrelevant fact of location, he breaks that rule.
His desire to place exotic characters in New Mexico forces this strategy on him. We can ask why it matters to Ulibarrí that a Russian opera singer decide to live in Albuquerque and that her son seek love in Paris? Why must a Greek statue end up in a New Mexican museum? Why must two students study at Harvard, when that detail adds nothing to the plot? Not that these things could not happen in real life—they do and are believable—but short stories are not life, rather literary creations with generic demands. Superfluous material flaws the works. The explanation is that Ulibarrí still functions more as an oral-tradition storyteller than a literary short-story writer, despite obvious literary pretensions. One strategy of the oral-tradition performer is to relate the tale to the audience, often by placing it in their geographic or genealogic spaces. This is legitimate on Ulibarrí's part, but the stories come off as forced, too blatantly manipulated. The most disturbing flaw in the book arises, then, from the uneasy marriage of two similar, yet distinct modes of narration.
When the plot and the setting blend naturally, as in "El cacique Cruzto," the story raises no such distractions. Mythical elements and strange coincidences are fully acceptable, here and in the other stories—readers are so used to what is loosely termed magical realism that Ulibarrí's fantastic plots will surprise no one at this point. When well blended, anything can go into the content; when awkwardly done, content matters little—the story rings false.
Many will consider magical realism the collection's defining mark. Ulibarrí continually mixes fantastic and realistic elements, blurring the boundary between them, a technique characteristic of this type of writing. However, once in a while Ulibarrí underestimates the reader's familiarity with the technique and explains too much. When Damian Karanova reads a letter from his deceased mother in which she speaks of people and events she could not have known, Ulibarrí adds:
Damian remained pensive, strangely serene, thinking about the new perspectives now opening for him. What he had just read seemed perfectly logical, normal and natural to him. He did not wonder, for example, how his mother could have known twenty-five years before that there was going to be a famous singer by the name Amina Karavelha now and that she was going to give a performance on August 15th of this year. The coincidence in the names did not surprise him either.
A satire of magical realism would permit such a self-relative intervention, but nowhere does the author indicate that we are to read this as satire. The tactics of magical realism are seriously employed; no debunking is apparent, so explanation is uncalled-for and, thus, another distracting flaw.
In fact, "Amena Karanova" symbolizes the problems with the entire volume. Amena Karanova arrives in New Mexico by accident, decides to stay, chooses a New Mexican spouse to sire her child, and then dies, leaving the child to realize her failed dreams in a manner and in spaces that relegate the New Mexican elements to the periphery. Even the New Mexican father is a simple tool of the exotic beauty. She constructs a strange altar for her rituals, just as she builds a new room for her son to grow up in. And when the son reaches maturity, he is sent off to Europe to find a fit spouse. New Mexico is a mere setting; the New Mexican father is no more than a drone for the foreign Queen. That strangeness and estrangement permeate the text.
In the title story the contradictions of the good intentions of communal linkage and the misguided privileging of the foreign and exotic over the local come to a head. This utopian revindication of Native Americans by a non-Indian professor from the University of New Mexico could have been set in that state. Native Americans there share the necessary ingredients: an ancient tradition, the memory of independence and relative grandeur, and a condition of economic and cultural repression. Why then must Ulibarrí return to a topic of his earlier poetry, Ecuador, to find a setting? Why indulge the exoticist nostalgia for an Inca empire in South America? If readers are expected to accept the unrealistically simplistic details of a benevolent terrorism and the magical transformation of the New Mexican professor into a reincarnation of an Inca Emperor, could they not be asked to apply their imagination to a U.S. setting? Despite the apparently revolutionary plot, what is ultimately revealed here is the contradictory message of traditional U.S. mainstream imperialistic arrogance and paternalistic liberalism, both in the guise of a Latino superhero.
In "El Condor" the Ecuadorian underclasses, both mestizo and Native American, are pictured as unable to achieve their own liberation. Only a sensitive U.S. liberal, who has come to Ecuador for reasons far from political, can realize the extent of the oppression and create a revolution. It is he who will catalyze the native population by destroying the oppressor class, forcing a higher social consciousness among liberals, and eventually rediscovering and revitalizing native traditions. In the end, the U.S. savior becomes so steeped in the local myths and ethos that he becomes the new manifestation of a lost utopia. His physical features themselves metamorphose.
At the same time that the color and the texture of the hair was changing, other, more radical, changes were taking place. Again the alteration was so slow that no one noticed it for a long time. Subtle deformations in the features and in the bone structure of the skull of the man who had been Dr. Garibay were taking place. The result was that the face of the old professor became the face of the posters that Ottozamìn had one day sketched [to invent the icon of the Inca hero El Condor]. He was rejuvenated entirely. He now had an athletic and heroic look. Sofia went through similar changes. She took on the appearance of an Inca princess, like the ones etched in ancient gold jewelry or painted on the ceramics of olden times. She started calling her lover 'Altor,' which in Quechua means 'king'. He called her 'Altora.'
This is all too familiar to students of Hollywood film, because it repeats one of the standard stereotypical plots about Latin America. Since Aztec Treasure (1914), Hollywood has filmed and refilmed avatars of "El Condor" set all over Latin America. Liberal good intentions aside, the result is usually the same: the establishment of an enlightened dictatorship by foreigners who somehow reincarnate the paternalistic dominance of ancient elitism—the Incas invoked here, after all, subjugated many tribes to create their empire. El Condor, having achieved absolute power in Ecuador, moves to a mountain palace, where he holds populist court. "Every day at six in the evening Altor came out on the balcony. The plaza was always full of Indians. He spoke to them of love, brotherhood, democracy, compassion, honesty, self-respect. He spoke to them as if they were children, his children." Latin Americans as children in need of redemption, even after they have been liberated—this is an elitist and colonialistic concept, one that all conquerors of the area have indulged in even as they presented themselves as Christian saviors and champions of democracy.
Perhaps it is too much to ask Chicanos to act outside the mainstream traditions of their country, the United States. One is what he is, and literature, no matter how much one manipulates it for personal ends, betrays underlying truths. Certainly Ulibarrí takes this venture seriously—the story contains intercalated elements from his earlier life—and we must read and criticize it with equal seriousness, and not overlook the fundamental contradictions.
Sabine Ulibarrí has produced an interesting, if not altogether successful, synthesis of New Mexican oral tradition and mainstream magical realism. Perhaps we could call it magical regionalism.
Bruce-Novoa, "Magical Regionalism," in The Amerícan Book Review, Vol. 11, No. 6, January-February, 1990, p. 14.
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[Here, Johnston favorably reviews Ulibarrí's El cóndor, and Other Stories.]
Sabine Ulibarri has worked much in the realm of the folktale and the oral personal anecdote. While such works are effective, they sometimes feel unfinished; the very rough-and-hewn grace that pulls them together consigns them to a specific, limited genre. In [El Condor and Other Stories], however, Ulibarri manages, while preserving the freshness of the anecdotal, to take us to places entirely different from those explored in a book like My Grandmother Smoked Cigars. Working in the realm of cultural myth, Ulibarri introduces us to a world at once homely and exotic, familiar and fantastic.
Mixing the dominant mythology of our culture with the "myths" of cultural stereotypes, Ulibarri manages to open up both realms with gentle sarcasm. For example, in "Loripola," Ulibarri's send-up of Pygmalion, we find out that tacos, tamales, and burritos are actually the foods of the gods and that earthquakes, thunder, and lightning are the sounds of the gods throwing their "runny-nosed kids" around. "Cruzto, Indian Chief" satirizes the conversion of the Indians to Christianity, with its indigenous Christ and series of miracles, it ultimately links all creation back to art and the artist in a masterful way.
Ulibarri's assaults on stereotypes do not stop with Chicano culture. Amarta and Amarti, sister witches, go to graduate school, become MBAs, and open a dress emporium. In "The Man Who Didn't Eat Food," Helmut Heinz, a benevolent Dr. Frankenstein, makes his monster, complete with social grace and impressive sex organs, with only one glitch—this vegetal-matter man is in fact a walking, thinking potato.
I can't vouch for the Spanish renditions in this bilingual text, but the English versions of the stories offer a wry, dry, humorous mix of the folktale with high-tech kitsch. Through all its inane, insane, and mysterious elements, Ulibarri's El Condor offers some unusual reading.
Allan Johnston, in a review of "El Condor and Other Stories," in The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 11, No. 2, Summer, 1991, pp. 248-49.