Political Resistance in Chupacabra Vengeance

(This piece was originally published at La Bloga on February 21, 2017.)

Latino speculative fiction quite often takes a subversive stance of resistance and critical response to longstanding power structures that marginalize and erase the experience of Latinx in the US. In Ink by Sabrina Vourvoulias, a near-future America monitors immigrants with biometric tattoos, and an underground network of gente protects refugees from government oppression. Ernest Hogan’s High Aztech pits a cabal of American Christians against followers of indigenous religion. Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older features young people openly opposing cultural appropriation and gentrification, using magical graffiti as one tool of resistance.

With the rise of neo-fascism in Trump’s America, this role we Latinx writers of spec-fic play — as creators of alternative or future worlds in which marginalization and erasure can be fought with magical or science-fictional tools —has become even more crucial. And it’s in our modern setting of immigration bans, border walls, public lists, and deportation squads that Broken River Books publishes this month my short story collection Chupacabra Vengeance with what I dare to hope is poignant timeliness.

Chupacabra Vengeance consists of fifteen stories that range from science fiction to fantasy, horror to weird, and various subgenres in between. The pieces are arranged as five interrelated triplets, but the book itself is woven together by Latino culture, characters, and aesthetics.

But more relevant for this discussion is the social and political resistance that threads through a good number of the stories. In “Aztlan Liberated,” for example, the US Southwest and part of Northern Mexico has been walled off by both governments, the remaining raza inside abandoned to deal as best they can with alien monsters trapped with them. When a US military mission to wipe out the chupacabras fails, a band of cholos decides finish what their oppressors started … but broadcasting their bravery live so it won’t be erased or appropriated.

Border brutality also shows up in the title story. Their father dead, the family goats slain by blood-sucking aliens, a brother and sister from Puebla risk their lives aboard the train known as The Beast in order to reach the US and search for the their mother. But when they arrive at the border, they encounter even greater horror at the hands of men and women who treat refugees with cruel inhumanity.

Small-town politics, even in Mexican-American communities, often requires resistance from la raza. “Barbie versus el Puma Negro” features a scheming right-wing politician who hires a brujo to ensure his electoral victory. When black magic brings a dead luchador back to life, however, a school teacher who moonlights as the Río Grande Valley’s spiritual protector will have to face zombies and past trauma to preserve her community.

One of the great things about science fiction is that it allows a writer to flip present sociopolitical realities on their head, and that’s what I sought to do in “Undocumented.” A few centuries from now, climate change has triggered a new ice age that plunges the US into turmoil. After most of his family succumbs to the environmental devastation, a young Mexican-American sets out on a trek to cross the border into Mexico — facing the dangerous sentinels put in place to keep gringos away — in hopes of securing a better future for himself.

Another sort of speculation I enjoy for its power of social critique is alternate history. I set “Flower War” in a world where the Nahuas (“Aztecs”) were never conquered. It’s the 1960s, and the scientists of Cemanahuac (“Mexico”) are engaged in a race to the moon with the Soviet Union. The major obstacle is a group of extreme religious terrorists who view the moon as sacred and will do anything they can to keep human boots off her surface.

I also take aim at Anglo/European patriarchy and oppression in two weird West tales. “Ancient Hunger, Silent Wings” centers on a teenage tlahuelpuchi or Mexican vampire in 19th-century Las Vegas, New Mexico. When her appetite for innocent blood begins leaving a trail, she tracked down by a pair of monster slayers. They try to bring her to heel, but she refuses to compromise her nature: “To hell with you and your threats. I’m done submitting. I will never relent!”

Set a few years later in the same universe, “Iron Horse, Mythic Horn” is narrated by an 18-year-old Chiricahua Apache. She is rescued from an abusive white adoptive father by Shaolin monks who have come to the US with the last ch’i-lin or unicorn, hoping to do something about the deaths and unceremonious burials of so many Chinese immigrants. Toward the end of a harrowing and tragic voyage by train, she deals with the grieving guilt of an Anglo “hero” in a way that brooks no compromise: “I didn’t want to comfort him. In that moment, I figured he just would have to bear the blame, even though he was never involved. His people done the crime, and he was the kind of man what would try to make amends. That, it seemed to me, was justice of a sort.”

This slippery justice, born of resistance from the shadows and margins, is of primal importance to me as an author and member of the Mexican-American community. Speculative fiction may seem an odd venue for exploring those themes, but sometimes seeing the monstrous injustice we face depicted as actual monsters helps clarify a vision for revolutionary reform.

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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