- Latinx Futurism
Wordcraft of Oregon
212 Pages; Print, $12.00
To read Ernest Hogan's Smoking Mirror Blues is to dive into a new vision of storytelling. The text is structured with various narrators, fragmented chapters, and illustrations that accentuate several of the chapters. The storyline is frayed through several characters, all with their own motivations and interests, becoming more, or sometime less, apparent as the narrative continues. Set in a futuristic Los Angeles, referred to as El Lay, a play on the dystopian landscape overrun by a droid police force called Olvidadoids, Hogan portrays his cast of characters as simultaneously trying to make the most out of living in ruins of what once was a prosperous city while finding others to share their feeling of displacement with. While the narrative's aesthetic represents a future with technological feats, such as consciousness swapping and a mediasphere, where all data ever shared online is constantly accessible, Hogan is creating a text that is more interested in its past than future. This is most present in the relationship between Beto, Hogan's protagonist, and Tezcatlipoca, an Aztec God looking for a body to occupy; as Tezcatlipoca moves through El Lay, it is made evident to both he and Beto where he wields no power. The conflicting power dynamics revealed as the text progresses is mostly between the futuristic, where people are now complacent in the changes to their surroundings, and the efforts in remembering the past, as artifacts like baseball caps and sneakers. The world Hogan creates is not one composed as an amalgam of the past and future, but a landscape where finding a relic from the past means there is some hope for connecting with something meaningful.
The characters, setting, and use of language all emphasize Hogan's futuristic world, very much like Afro-futurism: a kind of Latinx-futurism. The technological advancements have been internalized by the characters, and its representation of the future Hogan creates is the type that comments on the state of Latinx community. Like Afro-futurism, the past Hogan highlights, rooted in indigenous Mexican culture, is very visible, contributing both a history and a kind of presence to its setting. Where Hogan's Latinx-futurism differs is in the hope and optimism Afro-futurism embraces. Smoking Mirror Blues paints a futurism that embraces the presence of relics and language derived from indigenous cities, yet these relics are connected to the history that cannot escape the erasure it had to endure, operating through its presence in Chicanx communities. In one of the fragments from chapter two, as a reporter questions Malcom Jones, identified as "America's first Black President," he states, "I think it's a very American phenomenon—the creation of a new culture and new traditions out of those that are coming together in Southern California," only to be reminded about the onerous military presence. Smoking Mirror Blues reminds the reader that it is not possible for communities of color to progress when the history of public muting and having whole cultures abolished is ever-present, regardless of the opportunities technology has delivered. Excavation is a kind of theme that enforces how the past makes itself present, where remnants of the past are seen as statements that cannot be ignored, yet silent in their setting. As Tezcatlipoca transfers his conscious into Beto's body, Hogan reminds the reader of where exactly Beto's mind resides, writing, "Beto's mind was still there, buried, deep in the brain. Tezcatlipoca could access it to understand the bizarre world he found himself in."
Language is also a space where the past attempts to make itself present while also, like the relics of indigenous populations, resisting its own obliteration. Hogan includes words like Latio, sumato, and chingow, terms that are linguistic blends of both Spanish vocabulary and Chicano slang, allowing the past to permeate into the present. Tezcatlipoca's takeover of Beto's body soon becomes analogous to the shift of language, as Hogan states, "Artificial nervous systems were getting more and more like natural...