During a recent interview on the radio show “Latino USA”, Mexico City journalist Sam Quinones said that it is time for Americans to “stop relying on stereotypes” when it comes to Mexico. His new (and first) book, “True Tales from Another Mexico” is about combating stereotypes and presenting Americans with an entirely new and altered view of our neighbor to the South.
The books opens with a tale about the slightly cheesy looking man who graces the cover. He wears a cowboy hat and the gold from his watch, ring and gun is made glaringly obvious by clever lighting. This is Chalino Snchez, the man who, according to Quinones, reintroduced and modernized the traditional Mexican corrido (a ballad recounting the “exploits of men”, revolutionaries and bandits in the Mexican badlands) to Latino youth of Los Angeles. He was later murdered, but by the time he died, he had helped create a sort of cult following for the corrido. “After Chalino” says Quinones, “guys whose second language was an English-accented Spanish could pump the tuba- and accordion-based polkas out their car stereos at maximum volume and pretty girls would think they were cool.”
His book is also closely related to politics, particularly the effects that Mexico has been feeling from the recent election of Vicente Fox, the first Mexican president elected since 1929. The PRI, the force that ran Mexico for seven decades is on its way out and Quinones says that he sees Mexico as a population both apprehensive and optimistic about the changes. He also sees a more “self-reliant” Mexico emerging. This is encouraging, as one of his stories, “Lynching in Huejutla” describes what happens when the “people at the bottom” feel the need to represent their own justice and what happens when the masses feel that the odds are constantly stacked against them.
Quinones admits that some of his stories could be seen as representational, not of mainstream Mexcio, but of life at the very “fringes” of society. He also resolves that “much is considered exotica only because it is ignored.”
Quinones grew up in the United States, in Claremont, Calif. and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley. After working as a reporter for several years, he then moved to Mexico City in 1994 to work for Insight Magazine, where he has since remained. He became a freelance writer in 1995 and has had stories published in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and Ms. Magazine and was the 1998 winner of the Alicia Patterson Fellowship in print journalism. Quinones will be reading from his book this evening at Shaman Drum. It should be an enlightening experience for all of us who know relatively little about Mexico”s dynamic culture.