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G E R A L D H A S L A M California State College, Sonoma The Enigma of Amado Jesus Muro One of the Southwest’s finest contemporary writers died on October 3, 1971, and virtually no one knew his name. Not his real name, anyway. He was Amado Jesus Muro, called by John Womack, Jr., “the funniest, brightest, most moving, accomplished and prolific ‘Mexican-American’ . . . a veritable Isaac Babel of the Southwest. . . ,”1 Muro’s sketches of Southwestern life had appeared in Americas, New Mexico Quarterly, The Texas Observer, Arizona Quarterly, and other quality periodicals. He was widely anthologized. His tales generally dealt either with men on the bum along an axis extending from mid-Texas west on a gradually curving line to Bakersfield, the Southwest’s northernmost big outpost in California, or they detailed lives of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in Texas and Mexico. In both cases, he wrote with the powerful understatement of a skilled journalist, what is popularly called a “Hemingwayesque” style. His dialogue man­ aged to remain accurate and understated, capturing the essence of even the windiest of his characters. In “Hungry Men,” for example, he created the following: A one-armed hobo, bundled up in a horse-blanket overcoat and wearing a faded cap turned down in earmuffs, was boiling coffee in an open tin at the Kingsbury Run hobo jungle. W hen he saw me, he invited me to warm up. “It’s a great life if you don’t get the measles,” he observed pleasantly when I hurried up to the chunk fire. The one-armed hobo’s creased face was pinched small with cold and his eyes were red veined and deep in their sockets as if they had been pushed in. H e looked the way men come to look 'John Womack, Jr., “The Chicanos,” The New York Review of Books, Vol. XIX, No. 3 (August 31, 1972), 17. 4 Western American Literature when they eat at missions and sleep out in the cold, and he studied me while I dry-washed my hands over the slow fire.2 If he wrote well and with insight into the lives of the bindle stiffs who still follow the crops or their luck around the Southwest’s rails, he wrote with equal power of the Mexicans of the same area. It was as a Chicano spokesman that the wider literary world first took notice of his work, for during the late 1960’s when Chicanos became both interest­ ing and profitable, many anthologers began casting about for talented Mexican-American writers. Because he had been publishing in respected literary periodicals, and wrote with the power of a professional, Amado Muro was quickly singled out as an exceptional find. In The Chicano: From Stereotype to Self-Portrait, Edward Simmen observed that Muro “seems to have written more good short fiction than any other young Mexican-American.”3 Amado Jesus Muro had been publishing stories since the mid-1950’s mostly in regional periodicals, although Americas accepted a tale of his as early as 1955. He was uniquely qualified for discovery when finally Chicanos were in, for he had not only served a long apprenticeship at his craft, but had developed a less shrill, more humane presentation of the subjects about which he wrote. And, unlike so many young writers, he did not forget life’s comedy in recognizing its tragedy. After being shunned by the woman who fascinates him in “Cecilia Rosas,” Muro’s protagonist thinks not of slashing his wrists, but of . . . going to one of the “bad death” cantinas in Juarez where tequila starts fights and knives finish them — to one of the cantinas where the panders, whom Mexicans call burros, stand outside shouting “It’s just like Paris, only not so many people” was where I wanted to go. There I could forget her in Jaliscostate style with mariachis, tequila, and night-life women. Then I remembered I was so young that night-life women would shun me and cantineros wouldn’t serve me tequila.4 I must drop into the first person now, for I originally encountered Muro’s work when I read his powerful and comic “Mala...


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