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Matt Sedillo reviews"Yolqui, A Warrior Summoned from the Spirit World: Testimonios on Violence"


Pained and fragmented is the memory. Vivid is the bloodletting. “Yolqui, A Warrior Summoned From The Spirit World: Testimonios on Violence” (University of Arizona Press), by Roberto Cintli Rodríguez, begins almost against the author’s will. We are told as much in the introduction’s opening words, “Every time I begin to write about the topic of police abuse or law enforcement violence, I am subconsciously transported back to March 1979, to Whittier Boulevard in East L.A. This IS not my choice.”

Early on, we meet Roberto, as a young photographer, working for LowRider Magazine as he captures a night of cruising on Whittier Blvd. That night he photographed the brutal beating of a young man wearing a serape at the hands of the Los Angeles Sheriffs. He is then attacked by the Sheriffs himself. He will be handcuffed, first left in a pool of his own blood only to be left, still bleeding and delirious, shouting his name and story in fear of imminent death.

Rodríguez tells us he died that night. However, neither the legal system nor the broader society it served were through with him just yet. The Sheriffs lied. They said it was Roberto who tried to kill them, that the violence had begun with him. A lie as old as the “New World.” Cintli was set to die still more deaths under “the color of law.”

Eventually, the author would win his legal battles. But we are then left to question what is victory under these continued conditions? The author spends the rest of this book placing his own assault within centuries of bloodshed and genocidal doctrine.

Yolqui is a wide-ranging meditation on practice and denial of violence. It sheds light on some of the defining moments of oppression in urban settings of 2Oth century United States. It draws parallels between the state violence unleashed during the Chicano Moratorium and Zoot Suit Riots to the earliest days of European invasion. Rodríguez writes, “All my soul-searching on law enforcement abuse took place when I first learned of the pervasiveness of that brutality and the accompanying law enforcement culture of impunity. My tracking this violence to 1492 comes, not from idle speculation, but from a lifetime of studying and monitoring the issue.”

The book spends much of its pages also with an eye to the psychic and spiritual violence endured on this continent as well. This book is written against the lies and omission. It travels from the doctrines of discovery to high school and collegiate texts, then to the papal bulls, book bans, and blurred statistics.. Whether it be the incident of Rodríguez’s own assault or the past 500 years of the Western Hemisphere, Cintli makes this point abundantly clear, framing and denial are as important to maintaining colonial order as are the murder and mayhem.

The majority of intellectuals and authors in this country intentionally fail to state reality. Owing to these continued misrepresentations, many of this book’s most obvious basic truths read as revelations. The US is not a white country and the oppression of Brown people is a central pillar of US society.

These are urgent pages that call for action. These are urgent pages that left this particular reader with pressing questions. Who might we be if not for the violence we have endured? How many times can we die in place without even knowing? To what do we owe generations past and present as we, in turn, face the enduring onslaught of everyday genocide? From where shall we draw our strength?

Yolqui is at once a book of mourning and an insistence written against the great silencing, against misleading statistics, and against outright lies designed to keep centuries of genocide in place. This book was written for the white supremacist witching hour: an unholy ritual guided by racist doctrine, blood-drenched law, and police executions. This book is written against corruption and coverups, conquest and canon, the past five hundred years recurring every next day. This is a book written for a purpose. In both terror and resistance, Roberto Cintli Rodríguez lays out a present shaped by the many hands of the recent and not so recent past. It is the best kind of writing. The type that if taken up can shape the future. The tale of that fateful day when Cintli attempted to document this age-old violence only to be targeted by it and to then in turn shout out his own bloody chapter through the streets of East Los Angeles, is our own. It calls us to fight. As the author tells us “this is unfinished work.”

by Matt Sedillo

Matt Sedillo has been hailed as “the best political poet in America” by journalist Greg Palast and the “poet laureate of struggle” by historian Paul Ortiz. He is the author of “Mowing Leaves of Grass” and the literary director of the dA Center for the Arts in Pomona CA. Visit his website: 

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