- When ECHO asked me to review
the new Mike Davis book, I thought that this flashy, but solidly
grounded author would have something neat to say. I was wrong.
The book is a quickly-written small-format manual on the demographics,
low standing, and bad treatment of America's largest minority
group. Primarily portrayed as victims, Latinos seem not to possess
the dynamism that is so much a part of their communities. Davis's
chapter titles are depressing enough: "Falling Down," "The Puerto
Rican Tragedy," "Broken Rainbows"not much "magic" here.
- So there is little to review, especially
since Davis completely overlooks music as a key component of local
identity and transnational bonding in cities nationwide. The sparse
references occur out of any cultural context: we hear a complaint
that the LAPD busts banda, not heavy metal, for noise,
but since most readers will not know what banda is, the
reference is meaningless.
Another throwaway citation comes in
a description of the "notorious drug barons who...brazenly lounge
at Caliente racetrack or boogie the night away in trendy discos"
(37). A chapter title like "Buscando America" shows just how flip
this enterprise is, especially since there's no more reference
to Spanish than there is to music. This neglect is striking, considering
that we have just seen the first multilingual broadcast on a major
It's shocking to find an appreciation for the way Latinos "have
a genius for transforming dead urban spaces into convivial social
places" (55) that lists shopping possibilities and artsy bohemias
as the main triumphs of local spirit, skipping dance and music.
- This kind of supposedly sympathetic
writing by a "progressive" media star like Davis represents yet
another disappointment along the path to full recognition of expressive
culture as a shaper and mover of ethnic consciousness. Davis also
sidesteps one of the main ways the US has discovered Latinos:
to serve as what one article calls "low-hanging fruit" for marketers.
Here music stands out prominently. Some dialectic between marketing
and an internal esthetic might have been in place, but then Davis
would have been an ethnomusicologist. As it is, he can't even
be bothered to cite the important work that people like Steven
Loza have done. The most curious fact about Magical Urbanism
is not its completely unsupported title, but the "Foreword" by
Roman de la Campa, a Latino apparently brought in to validate
the book, who closes, quite accurately, by telling us that "the
study of Latinos can only begin by charting unsuspected encounters,"
and that these "demand an ear for artistic flows." Too bad Mike
Davis is tone deaf.