- The Accidental Archives of the Royal Chicano Air Force by Stephanie Sauer
The Accidental Archives of the Royal Chicano Air Force condenses the work of two collectives: The Royal Chicano Air Force (RCAF) and Con Sapos Archaeological Collective.1 The former is also sometimes cited as "César Chávez's Air Force" for the close work they did organizing and generating images on behalf of the United Farm Workers. An "Index Note" from author Stephanie Sauer describes RCAF as the "Best Unknown World-Renowned Local Artists."2 Con Sapos' mission is to document "history in the Americas as it happens."3 They use techniques "indigenous to this continent, as well as those introduced by European archivists."4 Quetzalcoatl serves as head of their advisory board, it is drily stated. Yes, Quetzalcoatl, the Mesoamerican feathered-serpent deity associated with Aztec culture, an early sign of what's in store as the book unfolds. RCAF generates spoken cuentos, material castoffs, casual and conflicting chismes and heavy images. Con Sapos gathers and orders these materials. What constitutes "order" here is likely at odds with most readers' assumptions. For instance, I dare readers to discern which pieces of material evidence presented in the book are actually from sites of RCAF activity, and which are fabricated by Con Sapos in their practice of tlacuiloismo, the approach to history pioneered by Quetzalcoatl, we are told. Tlacuiloismo takes its name from the Nahuatl word, tlacuilo, translating roughly to "sage," the seer and crafter of knowledge. The shift from recording to crafting history is key. As a curator for the largest institutional archive for primary source documents related to American art, I had to relinquish some deeply held notions of order to keep turning the page. As a thirty-something Chicanx, I felt utterly at home in this art history.
I wish the Afterword were the Introduction. I suggest future readers flip to page 108 and read the Afterword first (this would honor the playful non-linear spirit of the book). In three brief paragraphs, author Stephanie Sauer's ("La Stef") position is most salient.5 It is an uneasy one about which she is frank. She speaks from una herida abierta, though her motives are not wholly determined by her wounds.6 A maker of the highest order—we are told
in the introduction by a different author—her creativity shines much brighter than her traumas, which is perhaps why this one of her many voices receives the least real estate. In the Afterword, La Stef reveals that she is "suspect among" some stakeholders in the book. But she is not explicit about the reasons. Is it because she is a gringa, una bolilla? Is she even? This is never stated outright, but the implication is pointed. The Afterword disdainfully speaks of the act of disavowing someone on the premise of their perceived identity. "The lines between you and I […] are not so hardened as those who do not like me on principle would like them to be."7 And if she is a gringa, she is one with a binational, bilingual education and, more significantly than nationality or linguistic fluency, a fractured consciousness expressed in the unexpected shifts in format, prose and image-making encountered from page to page. To those who refused to cooperate with the author on the sheer premise of essentializing yours and her ethnicity-based identity: vergüenza on y'all. In La'Kech, the notion que tú eres mi otro yo, must apply to all, or it is a failure. ¿Ya sabes? So, La Stef, this Tejano Chicanito addresses you first, not as a brown insider offering vindication to a "deserving" gringa, but because I agree with your skepticism of identity per se: "This is the United States of America and we are messy."8 Y ya. Now to the business of this gorgeous object you have brought forth, more mural and codex and cartography than book (you already know this). Gorgeous...