Welcome to Erik Orrantia
Today I’ve got the honour of handing my blog over to Erik, author of The Equinox Convergence and the Lambda Award winning Normal Miguel. I was fortunate enough to read Normal Miguel when I did cover art for it – a gorgeous book, full of life and detail, and with a scene in it that made me weep tears of joy. (If you know me, you know it takes a special writer to do that to me.)
Erik’s novels so far have been set in the vibrant setting of small town Mexico. This being a blog read by people who are interested in history, I asked him to tell us some more about the history of that culture and what makes it so interesting to write about. Here is what he said:
From Province to Pages
Rumor has it that when Hernán Cortés demanded golden treasure from Moctezuma II in the early sixteenth century, the Aztec god-emperor brought him corn. I guess after crossing the Atlantic in his fleet of ships, Cortés didn’t have much of a sense of humor, though Moctezuma II wasn’t trying to be sarcastic—to the Aztecs, corn was a blessing from the gods. The Spaniards took him prisoner, burnt his feet, and about a year later killed him. The details of the preceding are still debated by historians, but whatever the case, an era of European colonization began, or perhaps more accurately European invasion, massacre, and plunder.
Cortés was followed shortly by a host of missionaries, pious and impious, including Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians, and Jesuits, purportedly to convert the millions of indigenous to Christianity—to save them. By about 1600, two thirds of the indigenous population were wiped out by disease such as smallpox, massacres, and forced labor. Not incidentally, gold and silver had been discovered, and the “modern” countries of Europe were in a sort of global competition of expansion. Hence, Spaniards poured into Mexico in large quantities at a rate proportional to the subsequent export from North America of gold, silver, and other precious minerals.
Six or seven hundred miles north of Mexico City where this story began, a Spanish conquistador by the name of Francisco de Ibarra settled a town 50 miles from the Pacific Ocean called El Fuerte, in the state of Sinaloa. At the time, however, it was known as the territory of the Tehueco and Zuaque indigenous tribes, fierce warriors who didn’t take kindly to squatters. For de Ibarra, the location presented an ideal location as the gateway to the vast territories of northern Mexico, California, and Arizona, and it sat at the foothills of the Sierra Madre west of what’s called the Copper Canyon. These days, it’s a popular tourist destination, but back then…well, let’s remember it wasn’t named the Copper Canyon simply for its yellow hue at sunset. In the canyon they met the slightly more docile people called the Tarahumara whom the Spaniards used as labor and eventually pushed off their lands and into the cliffs by the mid 17th century. (You can see some photos and greater discussion on the Tarahumara on my blog, Building Up the Equinox.)
In previous blogs (see link directly above), I wrote extensively on some indigenous tribes that inspired an important part of my latest release, The Equinox Convergence(Etopia Press, 2011). A part I haven’t discussed in detail is the small, “colonial” town. One of the main characters, Bennie, is a young man from a town such as El Fuerte which I named Carritza. I took the liberty of placing the town much farther south near Acapulco, but in reality small towns such as El Fuerte dot the Mexican map at 50 or 100 mile intervals. Most of the travelers simply pass by, or maybe stop briefly for a bite to eat or to get some gasoline. But for true fans of genuine culture, this is where the metaphoric gems lie (the real gems were taken centuries ago).
Saunter down the cobblestone road, and walk into a mercado where fruit vendors peddle fresh stacks of mangos and papayas beside butchers who weigh out fresh chicken feet and cow heads by the kilo. Roadside restaurants serve home-style food at bars with rickety stools and the apron-wearing matron waves at teenagers passing by on their way to the local hangout. In El Fuerte, that means they’re going to La Plazuela, the town square, where the young and young-at-heart stroll the romantic walkways between hedges and old-time lampposts. They stop for a cup of corn loaded with butter, lemon, and chile sauce, or a plantain big enough to share, topped with brown sugar and served on a ruffled paper doily. A band plays in the large gazebo in the middle of the square, children hold balloons, and police stand outside the city hall across the street in a small circle—an old-fashioned chat. Stores and homes, painted in the traditional colonial style of white above and red below, line the roads, their tall wooden doors boasting the grand knockers and other antique features forged by blacksmiths a hundred years or more ago. In many ways, especially for a metropolitan guy like me, being there is like time travel.
The other aspect of the town is the warmth of the people. Unlike living in Tijuana where neighbors, usually people from random parts of the republic, hit the garage door remote before their car’s completely inside or slam the gate before you might get a glimpse of them, people in the province still wave hello, invite you inside, and offer you coffee and gossip. They probably figure they already know you—everyone knows everyone—or if they don’t, they figure they want to. Granted, people are now becoming a bit more wary as the Drug War is pushing the business and its concomitant violence into the outskirts of the formerly safe hubs. Luckily, the people haven’t yet gotten over their friendly nature, so the small towns haven’t lost their charm.
Soon I hope to be in El Fuerte again and see those colonial buildings, remnants of a sometimes unpleasant, sometimes prosperous past. I have to recall that the root of “colonial” is colony, or in other words, invasion. I also consider the struggle of the peasants in the various revolutions throughout Mexican history, and the unfortunate, upsetting plight of the indigenous. “Lo pasado pasado,” people say, “The past passed.” Many indigenous tribes now thrive and many aspects of the country are improving. I guess we say, “It is what it is.” Anyhow, my partner Francisco and I will be making the trip to El Fuerte for Christmas to visit his family in his hometown. Who knows what they’ll surprise me with this time? I’ll keep a notepad handy for book ideas. In the meantime, I hope you’ll visit my website, http://erikorrantia.com, leave your fingerprint there, and maybe get a chance to check out The Equinox Convergence or my other book, Normal Miguel(Cheyenne Publishing, 2010).
Salud, felicidad, y suerte!