The Underground Heart: A Return to a Hidden Landscape

The Underground Heart: A Return to a Hidden Landscape

by Ray Gonzalez
     
 

View All Available Formats & Editions

Returning home after a long absence is not always easy. For Ray Gonzalez, it is more than a visit; it is a journey to the underground heart. He has lived in other parts of the country for more than twenty years, but this award-winning poet now returns to the desert Southwest—a native son playing tourist—in order to unearth the hidden landscapes of

Overview

Returning home after a long absence is not always easy. For Ray Gonzalez, it is more than a visit; it is a journey to the underground heart. He has lived in other parts of the country for more than twenty years, but this award-winning poet now returns to the desert Southwest—a native son playing tourist—in order to unearth the hidden landscapes of family and race.

As Gonzalez drives the highways of New Mexico and west Texas, he shows us a border culture rejuvenated by tourist and trade dollars, one that will surprise readers for whom the border means only illegal immigration, NAFTA, and the drug trade. Played out against a soundtrack of the Allman Brothers and The Doors, The Underground Heart takes readers on a trip through a seemingly barren landscape that teems with life and stories. Gonzalez witnesses Minnesotans experiencing culture shock while attending a college football game in El Paso; he finds a proliferation of Pancho Villa death masks housed at different museums; he revisits Carlsbad Caverns, discovering unsuspected beauty beneath the desert's desolation; and he takes us shopping at El Mercado—where tourists can buy everything from black velvet paintings of Elvis (or Jesus, or JFK) to Mexican flag underwear.

From "nuclear tourism" in New Mexico to "heritage tourism" in the restored missions of San Antonio, Gonzalez goes behind the slogans of The Land of Enchantment and The Lone Star State to uncover a totally different Southwest. Here are tourist centers that give a distorted view of southwestern life to outsiders, who leave their dollars in museum gift shops and go home weighed down with pounds of Indian jewelry around their necks. Here border history is the story of one culture overlaid on another, re-forming itself into a whole new civilization on the banks of the Rio Grande.

The Underground Heart is a book brimming with subtle ironies and insights both quiet and complex—one which recognizes that sometimes one must go away and grow older to finally recognize home as a life-giving, spiritually sustaining place. As Gonzalez rediscovers the land of his past, he comes to understand the hyper, bilingual atmosphere of its future. And in the Southwest he describes, readers may catch a glimpse of their own hidden landscapes of home.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Returning to the U.S.-Mexico border area of his childhood, Gonzalez (Turtle Pictures), a poet and University of Minnesota English professor, presents 15 essays on coming back to the underground heart of his own identity: "Just as Duane [Allman] on his motorcycle didn't stop in 1971, I don't want to stop." In the twilit Spanglish zone of "The Border Is Open," Gonzalez wryly listens in as a hassled El Paso cashier tells her co-worker to answer the phone by the cash register "estan blinkiando." In the title piece, a trip to Carlsbad Caverns is the occasion to admit a visceral urge to snap off some stalagmites and hurl himself into an apparently bottomless pit, though Gonzalez manages to report his letdown when the nightly takeoff of a couple of hundred thousand bats fails to happen. Gonzalez doesn't buttonhole the reader so much as argue by means of concatenated original observations: one of the essays brings together a qualified appreciation of Jim Morrison, a news item about two El Paso boys' hallucinogenic death by jimsonweed poisoning, a brief history of ethnic Barbie dolls, an account of the author's grandmother's funeral, a pr cis of Lorca's duende and New Mexico's invitation to tourists to visit the birthplace of the bomb. It's a formula that works well in these pieces, which reveal a restless mind committed to elucidating a complex culture. (Sept.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Expatriate southwesterner Gonzalez (Literature/Univ. of Minnesota) returns to his stomping grounds to expatiate with passion and wisdom on rattlers, nuclear weapons, poverty, Chicano culture, cave drawings, the Alamo, and scorpions. Each of these 15 eclectic essays (some previously published) deals in some fashion with the author's beloved native turf, especially the far-west tip of Texas and New Mexico close to his boyhood home of El Paso. Better known as a poet (Turtle Pictures, 2000, etc.), Gonzalez begins with a stunning description of a drive into New Mexico in a pounding rainstorm (high wind, hail, the works) and ends with a meditation on scorpions occasioned by his mother's battle to keep the critters out of her home (duct tape triumphs!). In between, he explores a variety of topics in a variety of formats, though his principal vehicle is the adroitly employed present tense and his principal concerns are grinding poverty, the use of the desert for dumping toxic and nuclear waste, the effects of NAFTA, and the "history" of the area viewed through the lenses of the conquerors. In several pieces, Gonzalez tells of visits to regional museums, recording with devastating clarity the misrepresentations and misapprehensions of those who fashioned the displays. He enjoys the role of the anonymous observer, nowhere more noticeably than in a long essay about a van tour to the site of a 1916 raid by Pancho Villa. Columbus, New Mexico, is a miserably impoverished town, but it has a Villa museum whose displays, asserts Gonzalez, reveal deep biases and even deeper ignorance. At various times, the author finds himself afraid of his own turf: afraid of desert trails; of chained dogs in Chamberino,New Mexico; of surly teens and edgy illegals. And at times he cannot resist telling us what his details have already shown us, but more often he points our heads and makes us notice. Powerful, poetic, troubling.
From the Publisher
The Border Regional Library Association honors Ray Gonzalez for lifetime contributions to literature of the Southwest

Winner, Carr P. Collins Award, Texas Institute of Letters

One of ten "Best Southwest Books of the Year,"Southwest Books of the Year, a project sponsored by the Tucson-Pima Public Library

One of the Best Non-fiction Books of the Year, Rocky Mountain News

"Expatriate southwesterner Gonzalez returns to his stomping grounds to expatiate with passion and wisdom on rattlers, nuclear weapons, poverty, Chicano culture, cave drawings, the Alamo, and scorpions. . . . Powerful, poetic, troubling." —Kirkus Reviews

"Gonzalez finds catharsis in meticulously detailed descriptions, a quietly evocative approach that slowly and devastatingly reveals the paradoxical strangeness of what has become our everyday world." —Speakeasy

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780816520329
Publisher:
University of Arizona Press
Publication date:
08/01/2002
Series:
Camino del Sol
Pages:
186
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)

Meet the Author

Ray Gonzalez is a professor of literature at the University of Minnesota, he is the author of 14 books and has also edited more than a dozen anthologies of poetry and fiction and is the recipient of the Carr P. Collins/Texas Institute of Letters Award, the PEN/Oakland Josephine Miles Book Award, the Western Heritage Award, the Latino Heritage Award, and the Minnesota Book Award.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >