Death and the American Dream

The uncertainty of being a hyphenated American is a common thread linking many in our diversified state of California. For many, it may seem to present a decision between assimilation or cultural identity, with no option for middle ground. Last week's installment of the SMC Literary Series discussed this theme, specifically through the Chicano-American experience. Entitled "Calfiction--Live from the American Dream, via East Bay and West Los Angeles," the event was held on March 11 in HSS 165.

Co-sponsored by the SMC Associates, the SMC English department, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MeCHA) and Santa Monica Review, the event brought together students, faculty, and SMC affiliates for readings by two authors writing from a similar perspective. Dan Cano, who teaches at SMC, read from his novel, "Death and the American Dream" and Steve Gutierrez read from his collection of short stories, "Live From Fresno y Los."

Cano, who sees himself first as a teacher and then as a writer, described Califiction as California fiction, as its name suggests. However, Cano researches his themes extensively in order to truly represent the multicultural experience in a believable, relatable way.

"I am telling stories about home and also exploring what I am as an American," he said. "Because when you live so close to the border, identity can become confusing."

SMC English Professor Kevin Menton joked that before he read Cano's work he was expecting "Apocalypse Now, Chicano-style," but later said that he realized "it's about people, how history is made by people."

After Cano's reading, Jim Krusoe took to the stage to introduce Steve Guiterrez. Krusoe is the Founding Editor of The Santa Monica Review, a nationally distributed literary arts journal sponsored by SMC.

"Really great fiction tells the reader that we will lose, but that along the way there will be joy and wonder," Krusoe said. "Steve does this with immense grace and wit."

Gutierrez writes with multiple perspectives and voices in his prose, while focusing on nostalgia and feelings of loss. His short stories are marked by rhythm, repetition, humor, poetry and most vividly, a seamless mix of the Spanish and English languages.

Strikingly, Gutierrez also uses a literary device that makes the characters speak directly to the reader. It creates an uncanny familiarity and proximity, as if the reader could reach out and touch the characters telling their stories.

During the question and answer portion of the lecture, Erika Santizo, the Inter-Club Council Representative of MeCHA, said that she felt motivated by the speakers' accomplishments and was appreciative of their presence.

For Santizo, the topics hit very close to home. Born and raised in Guatemala until the age of 11, she witnessed how civil war gripped her home country. Once she immigrated to America, the pain continued when attending what she described as "a shaky start in a bad high school." However, with the direction offered by Nati Vazquez, an Extended Opportunity Programs and Services recruiter and advisor for MEChA, Santizo is now the first in her family to go to college.

"A lot of students get lost in the shuffle," said Jesse Rodriguez, President of MEChA's branch at SMC. "But student organizations and events like this can give students an anchor to their campus."