Raucous adobe hearts and urban violet mascara. Televised immigration games and ethnic sit-coms. Chile con karma served on a bed of race. In a startling melange of poetry, prose, journal entries, and even a screenplay, Zen Chicano desperado Juan Felipe Herrera fixes his gaze on his own life and times to craft his most personal work to date. Notebooks of a Chile Verde Smuggler is a river of faces and phrases, jottings and reflections—a personal pilgrimage and collective parade of love, mock-prophecy, and chiste. Tuning in voices from numerous time zones, languages, and minds, Herrera recalls his childhood and coming of age, his participation in the Chicano Movement, and the surreal aspects of postmodern America. He uses broad strokes to paint a historical, social, and familial portrait that moves from the twilight of the nineteenth century to the dawn of the twenty-first, then takes up a finer brush to etch the eternal tension between desire and frustration, hope and disillusionment, violence and tenderness. Here are transamerican sutras spanning metrocenters from Mexico City to San Francisco, or slinking across the border from Juárez to El Paso. Outrageous, rhythmic lists— “Foodstuffs They Never Told Us About,” “Things Religion Makes Me Do” —that fire the imagination. Celebrations of his Plutomobile that “runs on ham hawks & bird grease,” and of Chicano inventions such as cilantro aftershave and “the art of eating Vicks VapoRub with your dedos.” Pushing forms to the edge of possibility while forcing readers to rethink reality as well as language, Herrera invokes childhoods and neighborhoods, stand-up clowns and Movimiento gypsies, grandmothers of the buñuelo kitchen and tragicomic soliloquies of dizzy-headed outcasts of paradise. Notebooks of a Chile Verde Smuggler is a crucible of flavorful language meant to be rolled lazily on the mind’s tongue—and then swallowed whole to let its hot and savory sweetness fill your soul.
Juan Felipe Herrera traveled as a child with his parents through many small farming towns and cities in California, until finally settling in San Diego. Juan Felipe’s books are often inspired by his past as the only son of a pair of migrant farm workers along with his belief that language, culture and good-hearted laughter are key ingredients of his work. He has taught poetry from kindergarten to the university level and is the author of numerous poetry and children’s books, including Calling The Doves, which won the Ezra Jack Keats Award, and CrashBoomLove, which was prized with the Americas Award. He also wrote Upside Down Boy, which was adapted into a musical in New York City, and Laughing Out Loud, I Fly, winner of a Pura Belpré honor award. He holds the Tomás Rivera endowed chair in creative writing at the University of California, Riverside, where he is a professor in the Department of Creative Writing.