Bless Me, Albuquerque II: Rudy Rules

luis

I first became aware of Rudolofo Anaya in 1978. I was working with the "relief crew" (Across the Wire, etc.) in Tijuana. To make some money--something I never had--I went to work for Cesar Gonzalez at San Diego Mesa College. I was his bilingual tutor and TA in Chicano Studies. This is when I heard of the legenday Bless Me, Ultima. But I was deeply into the world of Baptist missions folks, and didn't know if I could handle anything like curanderas. I had been raised among curanderas, mind you, but Baptists, at least these Baptists, and healers/indigenous magic/Catholicism, didn't mix very well. Perhaps I was having an identity crisis. But I did surrender to a book that changed my world: Rudy's Tortuga. Everyone should read it. Especially the gorgeous edition that has a turtle in place of the "o" in the title.

One day it came to pass that Rudy was coming to San Diego to attend events at the Centro Cultural de la Raza. Cesar sent my beloved Berthe Edington and me to collect Rudy and drive him around town. Well, I had never gotten a license--why get a license when you would never have enough money to buy a car? So Bertha drove, and I waxed poetic. Saint Rudy, in the house! We took him to lunch, feeling awe. I did not know he was devilish. When I asked him what he wanted to eat, he said, sincerely, "I think I'll order a bowl of fruit. I live in Albuquerque. You know, it's a desert. We don't have any fresh fruit there. I have only tasted fruit from a can." REALLY??? I breathed. Duh. It must have been hard for him not to laugh.

Later, Cesar took me out with Rudy. I was in the back seat. I had immersed myself in Heart of Aztlan as well as Tortuga. I owned Ultima, but had not yet ventured in. I asked Rudy what he said to Chicanos who, working the Marxist dialectic and the culture revolution, chided him for not being "political" enough in his work. Saint Rudy startled me by announcing, "I tell them to fuck off."

Gasp.

He said: "The personal IS political. When you have written about youer little grandmother, and you make the reader believe she is HIS little grandmother, then you have committed the most powerful political act."

Rudy became a generous mentor--though I didn't see him for years. In the late 80s I was touring around the US with my first wife. (Yes, I had the American practice marriage. I wasn't very good at it.) I had corresponded with Rudy over the years. I was editing a Chicano journal in Boston. (I wasn't very good at that, either. Though I can say the dry rot that wrecked the marriage wrecked my editing as well.) I called Rudsy in 'Burque and he took us out to eat. He ordered green chile--so I did too. He said, "Can you take it?" Wot? My good man--I happen to be from Tijuana. So they brought the bowls to us and I took a bite and steam blew out my ears and blood flowed from my eyes and I choked it down begging Jesus to cause it to rain in my mouth. Rudy chuckled, by the way. Sweat poured down my face. "Good," I croaked.

He wante dus to stay in his house. But I didn't want to cause a fuss. We were tenting in the KOA up near Santa Fe. He could not believe someone would choose to sleep in a tent. But I insisted. And off we went. Of course, that summer was the time that some sort of tornado made its way up the valley and blew apart a bunch of things, including the KOA. I was standing there in the dark staring at the ruins of our campsite. The manager came out and said, "There's a call for you in the office." What?

I went in and picked up the phone and Rudy said, "I TOLD you to stay in my house!" He ordered me to get my butt back down to 'Burque post-haste. Piled the wet, dirty stuff in the back of the car and drove back down. Rudy was waiting for us in his pajamas, in his car, hair standing on end. He was not amused, though later we have laughed about this night.

Later, Rudy came to the rescue of Across the Wire when nobody cared about it. He led a charge of blurbers like John Nichols. He also published the story that has done better than all my other stories, "Bid Farewell to Her Many Horses," in his Blue Mesa Review. You can still occasionally hear it on NPR's "Selected Shorts."

Like I said in Albuquerque: with no Ultima in my DNA, there would be no Hummingbird's Daughter. Without Rudy in the world, there would be no me.

Comments

Bobby Byrd (not verified)

Sr. Luis, always good to hear about Rudy. Delighted that he honored you with his presence. He did take care of us all in one way or another. His footprints are deep in the stone here in the Southwest. I even got to show up in one of the Sonny Baca novels when the vato showed up in El Paso on the trail of murder and mayhem. He's been good to me personally, and he's been good to Cinco Puntos. He was always surprised that a publishing company could make it in El Paso. And now we're here 25 years. Thanks to folks like Rudy, folks like you. Abrazos a todos.

el poquito (not verified)

"The personal IS the political."

You listened and learned that one well, eh?

Now we're listening to you.

I'm sure he's pleased how some of his fire got passed on to you. You honor him well, both in how you write about Saint Rudy - and in how you embody his teaching. Ya done him proud, I'm sure.

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Book club members have been some of my most enthusiastic and careful readers. I’m thrilled to share my work with you, answer your questions and tell you some of the stories behind the stories. This is our spot, just for us. Here, we can chat:  If I’m nearby, I’ll come and visit your club. Otherwise, we can Skype, talk over the phone or email. Sometimes, I’ll send surprises or hold contests.

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