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True Tales from Another Mexico by Sam…

True Tales from Another Mexico (2001)

by Sam Quinones

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I was assigned this book as part of a course at Michigan State University, but I loved every minute I spent reading it. It will provide anyone studying Mexico and Mexican culture with a full, true perspective. ( )
  russelllindsey | Sep 3, 2008 |
The face of Mexico and its government throughout the middle to late twentieth century is often overwhelmingly portrayed as that of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional – largely the result of that parties successful attempts to become the master of nearly all social, cultural, and political clout within the country. When Sam Quinones began writing his book, True Tales From Another Mexico, he knew deeply of the notions most people automatically associated with Mexico. As he states; “Certainly the press, other governments, and tourists are most aware of the official, elite, corrupt Mexico; the Mexico that won't allow a poor man a chance; the Mexico behind the sunglasses.” What Quinones attempts to present then is an alternative view point of Mexican society and individual Mexicans themselves that defies the standard assumptions that plague our cultural consciousness. He does so with a series of articles that are strongly indicative of his journalistic background, and manage to weave a story of many disparate groups and places that were at the time, and probably still are, considered on the fringe of Mexican society.

As Quinones states upfront, this is a book that can sometimes be called “too exotic, too much about the fringes of Mexican society.” For some chapters to a great degree that is true, especially those on the Jotos of La Fogata and the Raza Unida basketball team. While these chapters are important and thought inspiring on their own, they in many ways describe something almost too exotic and stand apart from much of the book for while they have their important messages – Jotos and the role of homosexuality and Mexican views on that sexual orientation, for example – they lack the wider scope and issues that most of the other chapters give, and lend them an air of triviality that the author or an editor might well have removed without harming the overall tone and composition of the book.

The remaining chapters on the otherhand all offer, to varying degrees, insightful looks at turn of the century Mexican culture, motivations, and beliefs on the poorer or otherwise forgotten about fringe outside of the traditional PRI scope. Perhaps most important of these so-called fringe groups are the large body of immigrant Mexicans who travel north into the United States in search of work or excitement. Deeply ingrained that segment of population as well is the issue of narcotics trafficking and gives air to some of the best chapters in the book – most notably the ones on Chalino Sánchez and the West Side Kansas Street gang. Both of these stories are deeply entwined in the notion of drug usage. With Chalino the issue serves as an important basis of his corrido's, especially as they relate to drug trafficking, murder, and the lower-class emphasis that unfortunately goes along with these issues. In many of the same way the West Side Kansas Street gang also emphasizes the same points, but goes further to document the problems drug usage and the lives of unproductive gang members grip much of the young Mexican underclass. In both cases as Quinones suggests drug trafficking has become a major part of personnel identity on the fringes of traditional Mexican society.

To a major degree, as some of the articles in the book suggest this is also deeply connected with the underdeveloped or otherwise unfair economic system in Mexico. Quinones this perhaps best in the story of the West Side Kansas Street gang of Zamora in Michoacan. While the issue of drugs and immigration are perhaps the highlight of that particular article it also shows a deep undercurrent of economic poverty that has gripped many rural regions of Mexico so that areas of former prosperity have become barren of activity or prospects. The transition of the economy towards the border and urban areas has, as can be seen at least from several of the articles, led not only too the increase of a drug culture but also one in which cities such as Juárez have become flashpoints of tension in Mexican society. As Quinones notes of Juárez;

"The city couldn't provide basic municipal services for everyone maquiladoras pulled from the interior. Urban planning was an impossibility. And on a maquiladora salary, no worker could afford much rent. So shantytowns leaped into the desert. There were without drinking water, sewers, parks, lighting, or paved streets. An apocalyptic folk craft - shack building – developed, using plastic tarp and barrels, wood pallets, cardboard, wide cord – anything that was maquiladora detritus."

While these conditions described are just part of the issue of explosive urban growth and are only of the city of Juárez, they could just have easily been written of Mexico City – and as Quinones suggests the more expansive view of Mexican society lies through examining the populations of these areas, especially considering their heightened ties towards drug trafficking and other elements generally considered part of the fringe of Mexican society.

Important besides these points is also the notion of the PRI in Mexican society during the era when these articles were written. The organization as an everyday facet of life makes its way into just about every article in the book – often as a monolithic organization that somehow manages to sap the strength of various movements, or is otherwise derided by the masses as uncaring, or otherwise unwilling to help fix the problems that are begging for grassroots solutions. About the only other items that pop into the story at such regular intervals are the vast soft drink corporations – Pepsi-Cola and Coca-Cola – which are mentioned throughout and often in the same tones as the PRI – an element of background that is simply there, seemingly unable to be changed. Both these two groups are shown to have succeeded as they dominate their surroundings – the two soft drinks by taking control of the market, and the PRI by removing the opposition by bribery or otherwise managing to instill a sense of apathy in the population.

There is really nothing ordinary about many of the stories that Sam Quinones tells in True Tales, but as the book is about the fringes this is to be expected. Thankfully many of the issues that may have significantly harmed the book – such as the overly journalistic, articles crammed together into a book feel – are otherwise lessened by the overall quality of the writing and subject matter. Other problems, such as the rather off beat tone of a few of the chapters, are so minor as to render the subject without the need for much criticism. The one large criticism I might point at the book is the seemingly dated aspect of it. When dealing with social factors and movements, especially in a contemporary form, the passage of even a decade – such as is the case with True Tales at the moment renders it somewhat antiquated, despite the tacked on follow-up section at the end of the book. In sum then, despite these problems, True Tales, gives a well reasoned and insightful look at the the so-called fringes of society, lending them a stage that explains their importance to Mexican society and culture that is often lost in the discussion of larger events, cultural stereotypes, and current events that are often highlighted from Canadian or American dominated sources. ( )
  CSL | Mar 25, 2008 |
Sam Quinones is so intelligent and wry, so valiant and savvy in his researches, that I think this is my favorite book of all on Mexico. He's also generous-spirited, which is again apparent in the chapter guide he provides on his own site. http://www.samquinones.com/ ( )
  lulaa | Jan 13, 2007 |
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To my father and my mother
—Ricardo and Laurel—
who gave me
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0826322964, Paperback)

Chalino Sanchez was a migrant worker who became a underground singer of narcocorridos -- ballads about drug smugglers - until his murder, which remains unsolved. Then he became a legend.

Two traveling salesmen plied their wares in a sweltering small town. The next day they were hanging from the town's bandstand lynched by a mob, a thousand strong.

Hailed as a cult classic, True Tales From Another Mexico  takes us to a colony of drag queens -- jotos -- preparing for Mexico's oldest gay beauty contest.

We see how a bunch of humble rancheros invented the Michoacana popsicle, and a business model that poor people used to grow rich.

We follow a Oaxacan Indian basketball team in Los Angeles as its coach fights to restore the purity of his sport, besmirched in America.

Aristeo Prado was a gunfighter and robber -- a valiente trying to escape his past -- when he was ambushed on a noontime street and died going for his gun.

Telenovelas, once a propaganda vehicle of Mexico's one-party state, flourished with political change and touched topics -- corruption, drug trafficking and poverty -- that once were prohibited.

In Nueva Jerusalen, a theocratic village run by an excommunicated Catholic priest, residents receive voting instructions from the Virgin of Guadalupe.

We enter the Bronx - the rude boys in the PRI wing of Mexico's Congress -- as they struggle with the meaning of rebellion.

Some of these stories are strange and exotic. More often, though, they are from mainstream though ignored parts of Mexican life.

True Tales from Another Mexico are the stories of people whose stories never get told.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:19 -0400)

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