Revolt of the Cockroach People, The

Revolt of the Cockroach People, The
by Oscar Zeta Acosta
   This second volume of fact–fiction memoir continues all the high-wire verve of its predecessor The autoBioGrapHy of a Brown Buffalo (1972). The Chicano–Beat antic pose again holds, “Oscar” or “Zeta” as at once first- and third-person participant in the Chicano upheavals of the 1960s. oscar zeta acosta’s account, thus, overlappingly can be historic, confessional, self-monitoring, foulmouthed and, as it were, Beat-fantastical: “I stand and observe them all. I who have been running around with my head hanging for so long. I who have been lost in my own excesses, drowned in my own confusion. A faded beatnik, a flower vato, an aspiring writer, a thirty-three-year old kid full of buffalo chips is supposed to defend these bastards.” As the voice of The Revolt of the Cockroach People, he so positions himself in relation to the Chicano militants who are involved in the local school strikes of 1968. The lawyer–radical blends with the “faded beatnik,” the “aspiring writer” with the “flower vato.” Chicano or Beat, Chicano and Beat, this authorial self-pairing could not again be more striking.
   On the one hand and as autobiographycum-novel, the text yields an “actual” Acosta of Los Angeles courtrooms and barricades. This is Acosta as counsel in the “St. Basil’s Cathedral 21” and “Los Angeles 13” Chicano militant trials, the would-be exposer of the jail death of the youth Robert Fernandez and the police shooting of “Roland Zanzibar” (based on the award-winning Chicano radio and print journalist Reuben Salazar of station KMEX), the political cospirit of legendary leadership such as César Chávez and Denver’s “Corky” Gonzalez, and the independent La Raza Unida candidate for sheriff of Los Angeles County. On the other hand, this is the Acosta who relishes his own writer’s distance from the events at hand, a figure of mask, persona, and almost self-invention who sees his silhouette in the Aztec warrior–founder–god Huitzilopochtli, speaks of himself as “Vato Número Uno” and “singer of songs,” and uses the court to give a parallel history of chicanismo with due allusion to Quetzacoatl, Moctezuma, Córtes, and La Malinche through to 1848 and the Anglo appropriation of the Southwest and its latter-day aftermath. He thus recalls his part in the bombing by Chicano activists of a Safeway store and a Bank of America branch, and yet he stands back to monitor it, the participant– observer both as carnal (brother/dude) and yet edging into madness at the petty conspirators and fifth columnists within Chicano activism.
   Throughout, and in an address to the court that as much serves as an appeal to history as to the law, he again emphasizes his Chicano–Beat outsider status: “A hippie is like a cockroach. So are the beatniks. So are the Chicanos. We are all around, Judge. And Judges do not pick us to serve on Grand Juries.” The text, appropriately, becomes nearhallucinatory. The Chicano poor who protest Cardinal McIntyre’s high-tier cathedral in Los Angeles transpose into a “gang of cockroaches.” Placards read “YANKEES OUT OF AZTLAN,” “MENUDO EVERY DAY,” and “VIVA EL ZETA!” As the “religious war” erupts, “Oscar” envisions himself as both his own familiar and his own stranger: “ ‘Come on,’ our lawyer exhorts. I, strange fate, am this lawyer.” The trials, his own contempt-of-court imprisonments, and the political campaign for sheriff are assuredly real enough, but there is, throughout, more than a suggestion of Beat phantasmagoria, be it his ingestions of Quaalude–400s, would-be subpoena of the entire Californian judicial bench on grounds of racism, love trysts, or image of the arrest, self-hanging and autopsy of Robert Fernandez as if it were the abused larger body of chicanismo. It could not be more appropriate that questing, as he says, for “my Chicano soul,” he associates with “my beatnik days.”
■ Lee, A. Robert. “Chicanismo’s Beat Outrider?: The Texts and Contexts of Oscar Zeta Acosta.” The Beat Generation: Critical Essays, edited by Kostas Myrsiades, 259–280. New York: Peter Lang, 2002.
   A. Robert Lee

Encyclopedia of Beat Literature. . 2014.

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