cover image Mayan Drifter: Chicano Poet in the Lowlands of America

Mayan Drifter: Chicano Poet in the Lowlands of America

Juan Felipe Herrera. Temple University Press, $80.5 (288pp) ISBN 978-1-56639-481-9

In this account of his return to his homeland of Chiapas, Mexico, Herrera has created something more than a memoir. It is, by his own account, a combination of literary project, spiritual quest and cultural investigation. In the early 1990s, Herrera, a poet (Night Train to Tuxtla) and associate professor of Chicano and Latin American Studies at California State University, Fresno, revisited the world of the Mexican selva (jungle), a place he first knew as a student in the 1970s. With poetry, drama, observation and memory, he re-creates his current life and his gypsy past as a migrant laborer. Although accessible, this is not a straightforward sociological report; and if language reflects its user, the reflection here is not the neat one of a mirror but rather one that glitters, pulses and flows like a likeness in a river. The Mayans he remembered have changed: some peasants have become workers with new trucks, indoor plumbing and big-screen televisions; the research center he remembers has become a resort hotel for sociologists staffed by Indians. Herrera also sees firsthand the political manifestations of Chiapas. This work is filled with ironies, and he constantly questions his own place as poet, lost son and possible cultural imperialist. ""At best this is an unfinished poem of desire; a return to America... one of the things I fear is the voice that says: `You never arrived.' Another says, `You never left.'"" Herrera's work is wistful, but it also has depth. This conflicted and rewarding read will undoubtedly become a classic of Chicano literature. Photos. (Feb.)