WRATH OF MOM
Scott Russell Duncan
The one time I can remember my mother doing something pleasant for me that didn't include beratement or martyrdom was when, on a whim, she took me to the theater in the early 80s to see Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
I didn't even know the movie was out, but I watched the TV show every chance I got and, because of the best yard sale ever, had nearly all the huge 8" Star Trek dolls--Kirk, Bones, Spock, Scotty, and Sulu. The only ones missing were Uhura and Chekov. At the theater, when I saw that the uniforms were not like the primary colors on the TV show or the pastels of the first movie, but Brit Redcoat red, I felt disappointed. The villain played by Mr. Roarke was scary, powerful, and I wondered if Khan was a Mexican name. Montalbán was famous for playing the Latin Lover stereotype: he danced and overpowered women in tropical resorts in all his movies. And Latin Lover is what the role of Khan called for in the original episode "Space Seed" where a female officer betrays the ship for his over-passionate jerky manipulation. With the Latin Lover typecasting and the Mexican actor and his accent in mind, Wrath of Khan can be seen through a Chicano lens...or rather through how the white consciousness views the "Chicano problem" in the terms of the Cold War empire. I can hear everyone saying, "Nah, no, way," and "How is this related to having one nice time with your Mom?" Think this word in Ricardo's voice: "Patience, my friend." And remember how Khan is a genetically engineered "superhuman?" An expression of the threat of Latin so-called hyper-masculinity and the "eugenics" of raza cosmica. Remember Khan's "banishment" after a defeat and the manner in which he says, "On Earth, two hundred years ago, I was a prince...." How more Chicano can you get! Every Chicano, even me, says we were lords of the land, all that ranchero stuff that puts Spanish words all over city names and street signs. And of course, the wrathful over-passionate Khan. Passion, the Latino stereotype's downfall. Mix in the latent Anglo fear of a "vengeful Latino" poised to strike and win Aztlán back, or at least the family ranch that's now subdivisions for yuppies. Chicanos, the evil that lurk in your backyard while you worry about the enemy on the other side of the world.
So it can be said the one nice time I remember with my mother was seeing this movie where we were the villains, the scary monsters. My mother, after all, gives me my connection to being Chicano and the "The Chicano Problem" of being the bandido, the gang-banger, in Anglos' nightmares.
Some of this was a bit in my head when I watched the show. I mean I was only a kid, but I knew that Puerto Rican on the cop show CHiPs and that was about it on heroes or big villains who vaguely looked like me in the mainstream. Even the white guy playing Zorro the Gay Blade (which, despite its problems, is awesome) didn't look like me at all and he was supposed to be the Ur Californio, my own Mexican ancestors. I'm not like Miklo the half-breed from Blood In, Blood Out, my skin doesn't take after my white father other than the curse of the Scottish ruddiness.
Unlike the rest of the family, Mom didn't even like science fiction or action movies, so I wouldn't expect her to watch anything of the sort with me, especially as she called all my boyhood TV shows and cartoons fucking stupid as she did me. My Dad and sister were off some place for the evening. We were about to go home where I expected a night of hiding from her insults and screams in my room and playing with toys to distance my fear of her coming in and rampaging my books, favorite toys, or me. Out of nowhere she asked, "Do you want to see that Star Track show, Scotty?" "What Star Trek show?" And then we were sitting with the slow space whale battles of Khan's vengeance and the Enterprise looming over us huge. And like George Costanza says, it's a hell of a thing when Spock dies. It was also a hell of a thing when charred-ass Khan dies. When his boyfriend says you have proved yourself superior: we have a starship we can go anywhere, do anything, Khan won't give up on revenge, "He tasks me and I will have him!" All that Latinos never forgive stuff. A more fitting, Chicano ending would be Khan saying, "No shit, ese, I'm not wasting laser power on that devious güero. I'm taking my raza cósmica gente and finding a chilo planet para fumar mota." It's Kirk's and the screen writer's bad conscience--the master's unease about the state of the empire.
And the movie is about fear of our indigenous ties. Khan calls those little mind-eating ear bugs the "last indigenous" creatures, which we are. Mom's and Khan's unhappiness with being blocked from power. Mom taking it out on a proto-emblem of patriarchy in her charge, unfortunately for me of both Anglo and Latino power structures. Khan looked to lead the sellout colonized agents by reminding them (or chew-minding via the ear bugs) of their indigenous ties, their otherness, and Mom wanted to punish me out of resentment. What did she have against me? A boy in her care she could let out her demons on for how men treated her? Who knows.
I loved her before the age of five. She was a nice mother, did things for me, and talked to me sweetly. For whatever reason, after five, she began shouting, acting crazy, and taking everything out on me. Calling me fucking stupid, as if it were my nickname. Breaking my toys or ripping my comics and throwing them at me when Dad wasn't around and calling me a goddamn liar when he came home from his business trips. I had always felt there was a family in my immediate family of four, but I wasn't a part of it, even more so when my father moved out. Mom's insane yelling, smashing, and insulting became so normalized when I was a teenager that I stopped trying to avoid it, because there was no avoiding it. Perhaps I make too big of a deal of seeing this movie with Mom, but it's odd that this is the only good memory I can think of her. She did things for me as other Moms did in the keeping up with Jones's manner, but those "nice" things and activities always came with belittling, souring my memory of them. Why did she hate me? Take things out on me? I don't know. Because she could.
Mom's wrath makes me think of the wrath of two other women, Malinche, Cortés's lover, and Señora Moreno, the mother in Ramona, a story. Malinche, called the fucked, La Chingada, she gives her name to any betrayer--Malinchista. Our Indian mother along with our Conquistador father Cortés. The reasons for her wrath were social and economic: she was exploited and controlled by patriarchy and exploited her own position in the new patriarchy of Cortés. Malinche was sold out first, they say. I can understand the source of her wrath. Yet, despite all the reclaiming of Malinche, she created a worse world for her mestizo son or any son with Indian blood to live in. While I love the newer imagery of a nice empowered Indian mother, the old imagery of betrayal and hate sticks, and is still part of the story. At least for me and my own mother. If Mom's and Malinche’s hate shared the same source, Mom’s wrath still should have been directed at someone other than her own child. In Ramona, a story, yet another Ur Californio tale, Señora Moreno hated Ramona because she was a half-breed, half-Indian, and wasn't her blood relative. My natural mother hated me for being male. Ramona also leaves her home after a big fight, and never speaks to her mother again, much like I tried to do.
After years of not speaking with her, I tried to reconcile due to the urging of my Dad's brother Billy Bob (yes, his real name, as I always have to say. I am half Texas redneck) who didn't want to hear my side and only considered my mother an eccentric. So I tried. Told her when we were alone, that though we had a bad relationship, we could be mother and son from now on. She lay on her bed, windows open letting the cold San Diego night in and blowing her black hair around. She didn't even look at me. She said, "Oh I don't care." Then, "You think you're so fucking smart." That took me aback, of course. I told her she was a crazy person, and from then on, I didn't have a mother and walked out. The next morning, with my sister there, she made us breakfast, which she never did in 17 years of having lived with her, and tried to act like a white 1950s TV Mom, as if fried eggs (which I hate) could make up for it being too late for reconciliation.
Kirk the great Anglo hero is an asshole living in fear of those conquered and colonized. Of those he has marginalized. And half-breeds like me are always suspect. His best bud has to die to prove himself a good house Vulcan, for his half-breed ass to finally be considered "human" or centered in this Anglo-centric space fantasy. I don't know what I could have done to make my mother act less crazy toward me. Probably only what I did, banishment to Dad and Texas, certainly the dark corners of the universe in the arrogant imagination of a Californian.
Mom and I watched all the movie, the drone of passing ships buzzed our seats via the giant speakers, and the sound of exploding ships crashed in our ears. The great white hero felt young again. We left, and Mom said it was okay, a bit silly, but okay. Then I hoped as I did many times that this would be a start of a nicer, less wrathful mother. Us doing things together other than her yelling at me, breaking my stuff, and embarrassing me with her temper and weird bag lady mien that caused my white friends to call her "The Squaw" instead of "Your mother" or "Mrs. Duncan." Yet even at seven, I knew the nice time wouldn't last. Whatever my mother had against me she never let it go and I was always subject to her wrath. And now after writing this, I know why she was nice that one time watching that one movie. Those who own society, no matter how much I read, accomplish, or speak like them, see me as a monster, something to be distrusted and conquered. And so Khan's wrath and Mom's wrath was to be my own.
These poems are from a verse play called Arcadia, Indiana. I began with a fantasy of reconciling the resources of traditional and avant-garde poetics. For instance, I wrote the sonnet in "Shudder (and lament)" by repeatedly translating Bertolt Brecht's "The Swamp" into Japanese using google translate, and then collating the fragments.