Sunday, January 13, 2008

La Perdida - The Lost One

After seeing the first few pages of Jessica Abel's "La Perdida" at a comics art exhibition in Chicago a few years back, I have been looking forward to reading it. It took a few years, but I finally read issue #1. Luckily, I just received the collected book as a gift and was able to read the entire story. In one sitting. Yep, it's that good.

And it's relevant to the examination of how fantasy worlds and the real world mix that I try to explore here. "La Perdida" is the story of Carla, an American girl who grows up without any understanding of the culture of her Mexican father. As she gets older, she becomes interested and makes her way, by means of some subtle subterfuge, to Mexico. She attempts to learn what she has been missing.

I would call Carla's expectations and hopes for what Mexico can mean to her the fantasy world. She has little knowledge of Mexico and does not speak the language. The story plays off the differences between her relationships with American expatriates and those she creates with various natives. With little knowledge of what to expect, she is unable to see that her Mexican friends, whose attributes come to be her embodiment of what it means to be Mexican, may not be the nicest people to hang out with. She judges everyone else against them, but does not always see that their lack of respect toward others may also be directed at her. Eventually events take place which show her that she was seeing the world only from one direction, unable to get beyond what her own hopes were.

It is hard to fault her for wanting her reality to conform to her thoughts, but easy to realize that she needed to be more discerning to get what she really wanted out of her cultural exploration. Abel's genius is that she made me feel sad for Carla at missed opportunities. Looking back, when her co-worker Luisa moves in with her, Carla could have gotten a healthier view of her new world. Instead of opening to a new voice, she pulls Luisa toward her circle of friends.

Though this is not really a work of the Fantastic, I feel that when culture meets culture, we are at a place where reality begins to push the boundaries into something new. That being said, I have to mention the revelation of the last page of this work. Carla is from Chicago originally, as am I. Abel draws various Chicago locations and uses the city for certain plot details in the framing sequences. The last page of the work depicts a street in Chicago with Asians walking in front of Asian restaurants. This colored my entire experience of the story before it. The search is universal. Carla may have been exploring her Mexican roots, but everywhere, everyday, there are people whose roots are behind them. They try to make sense of the traditions and cultures that led to their present. As well there are people who have moved away from their backgrounds, trying to make sense of new cultures and traditions.

When respect is given to all cultures, and when substance and meaning, instead of popularity and fleeting sensation, become the basis for new cultural traditions, I think we'll all be better off. Unlike Carla in "La Perdida", we should get to know a few different people before we make any judgements.

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