“La Voz de M.A.Y.O.: Tata Rambo”

By | November 26th, 2019
Posted in Reviews | % Comments

In the late 1960s, WWII veteran Ramon Jaurigue and others from the Mexican American Yaqui Organization (M.A.Y.O.), a group Ramon co-founded, took on the Tucson City Council in a bid to keep Yaqui land from being converted into a freeway as part of the Community Renewal Program. But the efforts to keep the city at bay weren’t without their costs for Ramon. As Ramon became increasingly more focused on protecting his community, the more distant he became within his own home.

Cover by J. Gonzo
Written by Henry Barajas
Illustrated and colored by J. Gonzo
Lettered by Bernardo Brice

Henry Barajas, with the help of artist J. Gonzo, tells the long lost story of Henry’s great-grandfather Ramon Jaurigue in this political story that is part biography, part memoir, and entirely fascinating. Readers are given insight into the everyday battles of not just one family or generation but of a whole community over the course of decades as they face continued marginalization and erasure by the government that is supposed to represent and protect them.

Although the graphic novel is named after Ramon Jaurigue, “La Voz de M.A.Y.O.” is really a multigenerational story that doesn’t just touch on either Ramon or the family it is centered around, but also on a larger community. Barajas’ story, comprised of three chapters and an epilogue, is told in a nonlinear fashion, with each chapter first providing a glimpse at Henry’s relationship with Ramon before he died, then jumping back to a time when Ramon was younger and leading up to his activist days or right in the midst of them.

Readers are treated to the thought process and conversations that Henry partook in as he geared up to and found reason to create this story centering his great-grandfather and the Pascua Yaqui nation who inhabit the land that is now southeastern Arizona. In this way, Barajas is framing the experience of individuals within the larger context of the community in which the individuals reside, both geographically and culturally.

Readers learn that not even fifty years ago, members of the Pascua Yaqui nation were not yet recognized by the US government, despite existing in the region for hundreds of years before that very government imposed themselves upon the Yaqui people and their land. This lack of recognition laid the groundwork for that nation to be repeatedly taken advantage of throughout history, or to be dismissed altogether as the Tucson city government made plans to develop the land for its white citizens.

In much the same way that the Pascua Yaqui were discounted by Arizona politicians, so too was Ramon by those who wrote the history surrounding the 1960s and 1970s political fight over the proposed development of Pascua Yaqui land. In efforts to give Ramon the recognition he deserved, Barajas also sheds a light on the Pascua Yaqui nation as a whole; a brief history is provided on pages 50 and 51. In a more modern context, the Pascua Yaqui are presented as the complex nation that they are, living largely in poverty and experiencing drug and alcohol issues, but also strong in community and culture.

In Ramon’s story specifically, readers are given access to a man who is both heroic and flawed. The military veteran who rises up against the Tucson City Council could have been portrayed by Barajas in a one dimensional, positive light. Instead, Barajas does not hold back on his shortcomings. We learn that Barajas’ great-grandfather Ramon was largely absent from his family and that he cheated on his wife, all while working tirelessly to make inroads on his fight with the City Council to provide the Yaqui with the health, school, and infrastructure resources they desperately needed.

Much of the artwork, whether from the recent or more distant past, is overlaid with a spotted texture that mimics the static found in television noise and adds a gritty, unpolished feel to the story. In this way, the art is reflecting the messy nature of Ramon’s life as he attempted, and ultimately failed, to juggle the needs of his family with the needs of the community.

J. Gonzo uses strong, smooth lines and ink black gutters in conjunction with a highly contrasting color palette that pays homage to the undeveloped desert southwest. The lively and vibrant colors of the story, neatly conveyed on page 54, capture the majestic beauty of a sandy beige desert dotted by shrubbery and succulents of various green hues, all awash in the light of a sunset in its gold and red-hued glory. These same colors, when used in monochromatic portraits, as seen on page 23, come to symbolize the fire and passion that lived inside the Indigenous protestors while standing up against the militant response of the Tucson police.

An insightful and far-reaching story, Barajas and Gonzo deliver a beautiful and complicated story of standing up and speaking truth to power, even when the costs are high.

A foreword by Frederick Luis Aldama opens the graphic novel while an interview with Congressman Raul Grijalva, La Voz de M.A.Y.O. newsletters, newspaper clippings, and a letter written by Ramon are included in the back matter.

//TAGS | Original Graphic Novel

Alea Perez

For ten years, Alea has been a librarian by day and a graphic novel reader by night. She is the current President-elect for the ALA GNCRT, has served on the American Library Association's YALSA Great Graphic Novels for Teens committee (as a member and chair), has moderated and paneled at SDCC, and generally advocates for graphic novels in library and school settings.


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