Poetry. Latinx Studies. California Interest. As Faulkner famously wrote, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." This is the theme running through Robert Eastwood's CANTATA ANGELENO, a composition of many voices all telling of Los Angeles' tragic racial past and present, of how events long ago still reverberate today. In the first section, set in the 1940s, he writes of the racism confronting all non-whites at the time: the Japanese, of course, and Blacks, but especially young Mexican-Americans. The sentiment of the time is chillingly familiar: "Keep them in ghettos / if not camps. Build a wall. Build a camp somewhere far. // Ship them home. Don't let more in. / They bring drugs, disease, rape, & murder! // Beat them down, cage them in, save us / from likes of traitorous THEM!" The central story recounts the injustice of the Sleepy Lagoon murder trial of Mexican-American men accused of killing José Díaz, tried before a notoriously racist Judge Charles Fricke, defended by celebrities like Orson Welles, convicted, jailed, ultimately acquitted, but never the same after. Eastwood also writes of the "Zoot-Suit Riots," of rampaging US Navy sailors attacking young Mexican-American men known for their distinctive, defiant style of dress; and of the everyday violence inflicted by police.
In the second section, Eastwood imagines descendants of the victims of these injustices, portraying how the consequences of the past shape present lives. Lupe, a niece of one of the Sleepy Lagoon accused, is inspired by learning that he had written poems while imprisoned, "in isolation & unfairness / meant I could write poems, weak & brown / as I am, a person of no consequence, imprisoned / with feelings, & it changed how I saw myself." More tragically, in the closing poem the son of another of the accused is himself murdered, senselessly, a coda expressing an intergenerational legacy of violence. Earlier in the book, there is a poem in which the murder victim José Díaz appears, saying "I'm dead & being dead / I reach for words with no tongue, / I vibrate with ghosts." Robert Eastwood's cantata vibrates with the voices of all of these ghosts, and he gives them, at last, words and a tongue with which they may speak them to us, imploring us to learn from the past, to make a better future.
Robert Eastwood has evolved, not just in the biological sense, but in the evolving of his heart and mind. He began a career in business, and although he was relatively successful for thirty-four years, he knew he wanted something else. He dabbled with art, but it was something to do with books. He became a teacher, he taught high- schoolers writing, but found it was the writing itself he wanted to do. At 60, when his four children were out of college, and away, making their own futures, he began to write and publish poems and short stories. Now, after 22 years, when he sees a not too distant horizon, he has published four books of poetry with reputable publishers, he has won prizes and recognition, and enjoys friendships with like-minded poets and writers. His works include CANTATA ANGELENO (Broadstone Books, 2021) and SNARE (Broadstone Books, 2016). Maybe evolution, as Alfred North Whitehead and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin suggested, is ineluctably upward. We are collaborators in creation.Author City: SAN RAMON, CA USA