Assumption and Other Stories
Daniel A. Olivas' short story anthology portrays an evolving code of masculinity
Hyun Joo Chung
Assumption means ?something taken for granted? and ?the bodily taking up into the heaven of the Virgin Mary? according to the Random House Dictionary.
Published on LatinoLA: November 10, 2003
"Assumption and other Short Stories" by Los Angeles lawyer Daniel A. Olivas, a Stanford University graduate who majored in English literature and author of "The Courtship of Maria Rivera Pe?a: A Novella", presents a funny collection of light stories to show Chicano Catholicism is not just a religion, but a state of mind.
"Methuselah" - The narrator is an introspective macho facing his macho ways. The macho ponders ?to live so long? is ?a hell of a curse? especially for a person like himself, whose past included patronizing ?good escort services? and getting ?borracho.? But, that?s okay, because he owns a ?plastic replica of the Virgen de Guadalupe.? The four-foot tall statue, the insurance for all his sins, conveniently sits in his backyard near the fig tree and the Jacuzzi because ?No Mexican can get through life without the Virgen.? The macho?s prayer to the Virgen makes good reading.
"Weatherman" - This story, well worth the price of the whole anthology, features Jos?/Joe Castro, a dark-skinned Mexican weather reporter who has a Westwood condo "to get a UCLA female and to fill to egotistic dreams of living with the whites."
Too bad, because, Jose ends up refusing ?those white chicks who threw themselves at him at Acapulco?s happy hour. Nothing was going to destroy his little piece of American success.?
Jos?, insecure of his ?so-so? Spanish, is petrified of ?beautiful, smart Chicanas.? However, Jose possesses a ?beautiful accent? that could fool you into thinking he?s fluent.
Jose pronounces Montebello, in superb Spanish pronunciation, not the Anglo version. Because of Jos??s Spanish pronunciation of Spanish names, ?The Latino viewers ate it up and the Anglo folks and everyone else suddenly realized ?Santa Barbara? and ?Montebello? were Spanish names.?
Brett is the white rival of Jos? at their television station doing the weather reports. ?Brett was actually hired as the co-anchor with this gorgeous Asian chick, Debra?.The networks like?Pairing an ethnic woman with a white guy.?
When white Brett mocks Jos??s superior pronunciation, Jos? goes back to pronouncing Spanish names with the Anglo pronunciation.
The setups are excellent: Will Jose pronounce Spanish names as Spanish again? Will Jos? fight the bratty Brett? Will white Brett go brown?
"Los Angeles,1970" - The story is the tale of boys? initiation when they discover a used condom. Conflict begins when the stuttering Brother Howard shows extra attention to Claudio which his friends tease him about.
Like in most of his stories, Olivas seeps his political ideology within disarming, seductive humor. In this case, it takes on urban education. Young adults Claudio and Carlos attend a high school hailed as ?one of the best college preparatory schools in Los Angeles?even though it sat in a ?bad? part of town?Tuition was steep and very few of the Mexican children from the neighborhood ever tried to get in.?
Again, the writer?s talent for sensory details consistently shows, even when describing Claudio?s black Converse sneakers: ?Water seeped into them whenever he hit a puddle, which was quite often because the school and playground yards held the winter rain like large, filthy sponges.?
"Quack" - The epithet Quack refers to the retired millionaire engineer Constance Barbosa given by her husband Rudy, the ?handsome in a darker, exotic sort of way? chef, whose specialties include chicken enchiladas. The story is of a successful woman?s identity crisis after retirement and facing a secret from her past.
Imagery is superb when describing Rudy?s enchiladas: ?The melted cheese and red sauce still bubbled, making the sliced black olives look like so many sacrificial virgins thrown into the midst of a voracious like volcano.?
"Third Person Ominiscent" - Owen Socrates Par?dez enrolls in a community college creative writing course. How the protagonist got his first two names, ?Owen? and ?Socrates? from the father Alfonso are good stories themselves; one having to do with his favorite deceased dog. Lesson: Don?t name your children after pets.
"Summertime" - Summertime uses playful imagery like when Jon?s hurt toes is described as ?wrapped in a neon red, blue, and green Band Aid?like two rows of psychedelic enchiladas with Neosporin ointment substituting for the red and melted cheese.?
Among the weaknesses, excessive profanity slows down the flow and the description of the groin, which I could do without, only induces vomiting. Daniel A. Olivas is not a Pablo Neruda or Laura Esquivel yet and should stay away from R-rated visuals for now.
The storyteller?s weakness in villain portrayal is glaring. When Olivas attempts to get into the mind of the villain, that?s when the story fails dismally. Of course, you hate him not because the character is believable but because Clem is one ugly, fat, and hormonal bastard. Olivas knows nothing about the intentions of a white supremacist and it shows.
However, instead of entertaining or being psychologically believable, the intention of "Summertime" is to be socially conscious. The story is reminiscent of the incident at the North Valley Jewish Community Center, Los Angeles in 1999.
Ultimately "Summertime" reminds Angelenos to not forget the past tragedies that have occurred in our city.
The majority of the stories being of young men demonstrate how masculinity is evolving. "Methuselah" demonstrates that being a borracho does not mean you are a man. The code of machismo, which dictates chasing after many women and getting drunk, just seems silly and the author does nothing but be frank.
Titleing the anthology "Assumption" reflects recognizing the theme of maternal authority. The theme is tied to the evolving code of masculinity to be in accord with the maternal culture. What innovation this Chicano author offers is the syncretic harmony of Chicano Catholicism and Judaism.
While most Chicano writers choose to feature extreme solidarity, only naming Chicano characters, only in Latin America or a barrio, as if to imply that Chicanos live in their own island or a vacuum, Olivas is truthful of the reality of Chicanos in LA living with non-Chicanos.
After reading "Weatherman", Los Angeles is no longer ?Los An-jul-us? but the Spanish pronunciation as Los Angeles.
Assumption and Other Stories by Daniel A. Olivas
Bilingual Review/Press (July 2003)
Publisher?s site: http://www.asu.edu/brp
Daniel Olivas?s site: http://www.danielolivas.com/
Author will be reading and signing at the Book Fair San Pedro Regional Branch Library. Saturday, December 13, noon to 4:00 p.m., 931 S. Gaffey St., San Pedro.
Library's telephone: 310-548-7779