The Wetback and Other Stories by Ron Arias (Peru)

The Wetback and Other Stories, by Ron Arias
ISBN 978-1-55885-834-3
Publication date: September 30, 2016
Trade paperback, Arte Publico Press, University of Houston, $17.95

I felt reading these wonderful stories that I was admitted to an adjacent neighborhood, a rich culture that is another world—call it Amexica—both mysterious and magical, that is persuasive through its tenderness. My hope is that Ron Arias continues to write short stories that tell us who we are.                                                                              – Paul Theroux (Malawi 1963-65)

This collection brings together the short fiction of an acclaimed journalist and Chicano literature pioneer. 

jacket Rob's Book

In the title story, Mrs. Rentería shouts, “David is mine!” as she and her neighbors gather about the dead but handsome young man found in the dry riverbed next to their homes in a Los Angeles barrio. “Since when is his name David?” someone asks, and soon everyone is arguing about the mysterious corpse’s name, throwing out suggestions: Luis, Roberto, Antonio, Henry, Enrique, Miguel, Roy, Rafael.

Many of the pieces in this collection take place in a Los Angeles neighborhood that used to be called Frog Town, now known as Elysian Valley. Ron Arias reveals the lives of his Mexican-American community: there’s Eddie Vera, who goes from school yard enforcer to jail bird and finally commando fighting in Central America; a boy named Tom, who chews his nails so incessantly that it leads to painful jalapeño chili treatments, banishment from the neighborhood school and ultimately incarceration in a school for emotionally disturbed kids; and Luisa, a young girl who can’t resist an illicit visit to Don Noriega, an old man the kids call El Mago, a curandero.

Most of the 14 stories included in this volume were originally published in journals that no longer exist, including El Grito: A Journal of Contemporary Mexican-American Thought, Caracol and Revista Chicano-Riqueña.  The author of an important novel—The Road to Tamazunchale—published during the Chicano literary movement of the 1970s, Arias was one of the first to use magic realism and connect U.S. Hispanic literature to its more popular, Latin American cousin.   

Praise for the work of Ron Arias:

The Road to Tamazunchale is one of the first achieved works of Chicano consciousness and spirit.”— Library Journal

“In terms of craftsmanship and artistry no Chicano novel before The Road to Tamazunchale has tapped the artistic resources of the modern and contemporary novel (and the arts) in a comparable way, deliberately and intuitively … daring and commendable.”—Latin American Literary Review

“Arias, who reported the story in People magazine, here interviews virtually everybody involved in this affair, and reconstructs the agony of the families waiting at home as well as the desperation of the fishermen. The account of their adjustment to their plight is as interesting as the fact of their survival.”—Publishers Weekly on Five Against the Sea

RON ARIAS (Peru 1963-64), who worked for People magazine for 22 years, is the author of four non-fiction books, including

Ron Arias

Ron Arias

Five Against the Sea  (Dutton, 1989), Healing from the Heart with Dr. Mehmet Oz (Dutton, 1998), Moving Target: A Memoir of Pursuit (Bilingual Review Press, 2003), White’s Rules: Saving Our Youth One Kid at a Time with Paul D. White (Random House, 2007), and My Life As A Pencil (2015) Red Bird Chapbooks. He is the author of a foundational Chicano novel, The Road to Tamazunchale (Bilingual Review Press, 1975). He lives with his wife in Hermosa Beach, California.

3 Comments

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  • Seminal writer, bold brushwork, glass of grace — Arias lifts the level, to me, the way Saroyan swept the national aspirations in our daily wacky bunglings and prayerful hopes so many decades earlier with smiles, nods, and understanding nudges.

  • Always a great story teller…even as a little boy (age not height), a student of our Mama Julia and her sisters that brought the world Mejicana to us. Proud of my brother. We were the first brothers to serve in the Peace Corps at the same time!
    Bob

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