Futuro Conjunto: Not Derivative

UPDATE: the creatives behind Futuro Conjunto have responded to the accusations of Fernando A. Flores in a detailed Medium article, with receipts.

In the Mexican American creative community of South Texas, a controversy erupted the morning of March 30, 2021.

Author Fernando A. Flores took to Instagram to accuse Charlie Vela and Jonathan Leal of stealing his idea of “fake bands” from the Río Grande Valley to create the sci-fi project Futuro Conjunto. Being a friend of Charlie and Jonathan and a long-time supporter of this project, I replied to Fernando’s post, pushing back against his claims, but he blocked me, refusing to engage.

But since he’s made this conflict public, I feel a responsibility to speak the truth what’s going on, especially as I provided feedback to Charlie and Jonathan on earlier versions of content in Futuro Conjunto.

A well reviewed multi-media collaboration, the centerpiece of Futuro Conjunto is speculative futurist music performed by actual RGV artists, released as an album with narrative filler about South Texas in the year 2130. There’s also an interactive website.

The cover of FUTURO CONJUNTO.

Fernando’s book Death to the Bullshit Artists of South Texas, on the other hand, is an avant-garde literary short-story collection about music culture in the recent past and present of the Valley.

The only similarity between the two projects is “bands” and “RGV.” As a result, Fernando’s claim is spurious and disingenuous. He cannot copyright an idea like “fictional bands from deep South Texas” any more than I can copyright “magical Chicanx teens grapple with Aztec gods” because of my book The Smoking Mirror. That’s plain foolish.

Fictional RGV bands are everywhere. I personally have some in a book of mine and in several short stories. Other writers, long before any of us, have explored this territory as well.

A musician and singer myself, I was part of the RGV rock scene in the late 80s and early 90s. Charlie and Jonathan grew up in our local punk milieu during the 90s and early 2000s. We know this area’s musical history inside and out. We don’t need to steal those ideas from anyone. They are a part of us, too.

I remember sitting in the audience at the book launch of Bullshit Artists in Austin. The writing was great, the author read in an engaging way. I was happy for his success. I could hear his influences in that prose, but I would never fault him for that. I wear mine on my literary sleeve as well.

And I think the accolades received by his second book (Tears of the Trufflepig, a sci-fi book set in the RGV published in 2019) are well deserved.

However, Chicanx creatives work in the same geographical area, drawing from our shared ethnicity, shared pop culture, similar genre interests, etc. No creative ideas that arise from the intersection of our lives can be made exclusive property of one creative, not legally or ethically. Instead, we ought to see ourselves as part of a single movement

Nevertheless, Fernando (IG @ f.a.flores)—after first being encouraging of Charlie and Jonathan (even reviewing Futuro Conjunto positively)—is now waging a war to damage their reputations and hurt the project (which, again, features many Mexican American musicians and singers).

Why, all of a sudden, has Fernando A. Flores changed his tune and attacked them in March 2021? One possibility is the greater national recognition Futuro Conjunto is getting from a recent interview of Charlie and Jonathan on Latino USA.

If that’s the case, it’s a disappointment. Fernando has garnered significant critical acclaim. There’s no reason for him to bristle at the praise received by people working in the same space as him.

Those of us familiar with both projects see Fernando’s post and his recently escalating unprofessional behavior around Futuro Conjunto as small-minded.

Rather than attack his peers, Fernando should celebrate their successes as the community’s successes. None of us gains any success alone. We are always lifted up by others. So we should stay humble.

Charlie and Jonathan are not alone. There are many of us who respect and care for them and who are standing in their corner.

Part of being a writer is realizing some hard truths about ideas and storytelling. Somebody else is going to write something similar to that idea you have. Because you know what? “Original” is a mirage.

There are no new ideas in storytelling. Voice. Innovation. Intersection. That’s what you bring to your work to make it unique. Ideas are everyone’s.

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A Mexican-American author and translator from deep South Texas, David Bowles teaches literature and Nahuatl at the University of Texas Río Grande Valley.

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