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Vatos, a handbook of images and a poem -- "Hymn To Vatos Who Will Never Be In A Poem" -- is a paean to Chicano malehood. Photographer José Galvez and poet, essayist, novelist, Luis Alberto Urrea, have drawn from themselves, from who they are as Mexican Americans and whom they're not now, to bring us a testament of male bonding in Mexican North America, this hybrid culture—indigenous, Hispanic—largely transplanted, that's now being reshuffled by assimilation. In contrast to the whole of Chicano culture which is struggling not to be subsumed by the Anglo order, Galvez and Urrea posit an aspect of that society, the street subculture, that remains unthreatened.

Described by Urrea as "Chicano street slang for dude, guy, pal, brother," the use of vatos approaches the way nigger is parried, intra-hood, amongst African Americans: "They were able to take the sting out of racism by calling themselves a bunch of names assimilated 'good Mexicans' didn't like," he tells us. (Thus, the ownership of slang becomes a sealant of male bonding, as do nicknames. Wino, Jefe, Gordo, and Flaco pepper and insulate "Hymn To Vatos...")

It is a curious exercise for a woman, this reviewer, to visit Vatos and intrude upon men within the inviolable realm of men, "...sleeping in the hillsides", "...down por vida homeboys", "...even the cabrones", where women appear as extensions of this curious bonding without intimacy, as do their mothers and children. We find ourselves on or in their arms, broad-butted, dolled-up, appendages for a Sunday afternoon stroll. Galvez especially has afforded us access to a macho culture (macho as distinct from machismo) that is, not only mythologized, but more salient than that of the embra.

At the same time, the timelessness of the male images shot in black and white, tinged nearly to sepia, still further removed by the sfumatura and the mantra-like lines of the poem, proscribe judgment. Too, there's a certain pathos evoked in us as women when we perceive the vulnerability beneath the bared chest ("Tattoos"), the longing to return to Mother's lap of the junior vatos looking for trouble ("Heading Out"), the father's regret he has so little to give his daughter ("Father and Daughter").

The pages strain at times to partner Galvez's already existing image with Urrea's independently conceived lyric, and sometimes I see the visuals as a public statement, a coming out, that betrays the privacy of Urrea's mantra— "all the vatos sure that no one loves them", "all the vatos never in a poem". Nevertheless, photos and text call me to pour over them, and over again, to peer through a window hole into a previously unpenetrated world.

Vatos were forged by the cities in which they "hang", preen, get busted, and make love. "El Super Chido", "Crying for a Friend", and "Walk on By" are powerful urban images. But, more for me are those of their precursors and rural counterparts, the braceros...
All the vatos sleeping in the hillsides
All the vatos say goodnight forever ("In the Avocado Groves")

...because there is no "goodday" in the avocado groves. The six migrant pickers are framed by the plastic tent under which they live, their tattered work clothes ill-fitting and too weighty for their frames. Their heavy, torn, work boots are as portentous as their grim, young, searching faces that appeal to the camera to memorialize their lot.

"Harvesting Asparagus", out of context as well, is for me the masterpiece of the book. The asparagus picker faces the camera alone, the field behind him a blur of time and place; he is a symbol of all farm workers in his isolation, and by extension, all Chicanos; his form is bent but not stooped, his face resiliently handsome, but universal. This is a Neorealist rendering of a Social Realist icon, a recalling of the idealization of the working man lost since early in the last century.

Galvez's earliest photograph for this book was taken in the late 1960's ("Uncle Geraldo"). It could have been shot today. I'd be curious, as time for all displaced groups in this country accelerates, to reopen my window hole on Vatos in ten years.
- Carol Amoruso, Contributing Writer, 

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