Friday, November 7, 2008

Making El Sur Pacific...the inlayed woodcut

So I have been working on inlaying the woodcut that I printed for the 2nd year of the Stone Metal Press Steam Roller Print event that has been held for the past three years at the Blue Star Arts Complex parking lot. This inlayed woodcut will be part of an upcoming solo exhibit that I will have at the Institute of Texan Cultures(ITC) tentativly sheduled to go up at the end of this month.  The title of this piece is El Sur Pacific—1945. I created this piece based on one of the many stories that my father would tell us about his time spent in the south Pacific during WWII. My father served in the south Pacific theater during WWII. He was drafted when he was 33 and like many mexicanos he was probably segregated but never mentioned it to us in his stories. The only glimpse at the different ethnicities that he was surrounded by was his mention of a Polish cook, an Italian catholic priest, and a Phillipino native that were his friends...
He had met his Phillipino friend when he got to the Phillipines. My father would tell us cuentos about how his Phillipino friend had been orphaned and grown up in the wild then later was befriended and civilized by catholic missionaries...eventually when the war came around his friend became a scout for the U.S. Army. His friend was so agile and adept to the jungle that he could climb a palm tree as fast as a man could run on the ground.
My father, Horacio, was assigned night duty at an army hospital ward and would often see his Phillipino friend leaving the camp on night recon missions "encuerado!"—naked, with nothing but a loincloth and knife on him. The next day would arrive and his friend would be walking back into camp covered in blood from the night before—the
 recon missions were into the Japanese tunnels that were hidden all over the islands, my father would say, where some brutal hand-to-hand fighting would occur.

So after their tour of duty was finished they were shipped back to the United States.  The cuento goes—We were in this big hospital ship on our way back to San Francisco and we got caught in a storm. It was a typhoon that tossed and turned the enormous ship around like a little toy. "We were like abas en una cubetta(beans in a bucket), at the mercy of this typhoon." The chambers of the ship had been shut and locked for bouyancy.

They could feel their eardrums pop whenever the ship went underwater, overwhelmed by mountainous waves battering the hull, only to resurface because of the closed chambers...
Eventually the hospital ship lost power and steering , the storm was taking its toll. The ship could be cracked open at any moment by the terrible typhoon. its precious  cargo spinkled into the shark infested South Pacific. It was at this moment that Horacio's friend looked at him and asked, "Horacio, tienes miedo?—are you scared?—I can only imagine my father's response at that moment which in turn got some words of wisdom from his friend. "Horacio, don't be afraid, if this were to be our day to die, you and I could be drinking coffee together and we would still die. Go to sleep now, rest, tomorrow will be another day."

My father said that his friend then handed him a rope so that they could tie themselves down to the stanchions below deck and not be thrown around like beans in a bucket. The terrified looks that they got from their shipmates were piercing, "They must have thought we lost our minds—we would go down with the ship if it sank! But instead, we both went to sleep." I think the moment of clarity served to remind my father of the warrior spirit and way—not to live in fear of our eventual death, but instead, to embrace and accept it as part of or wonderful life.

The next day, so the cuento goes, the storm had passed and the hospital ship was adrift in the middle of the Pacific Ocean surrounded by friendlies—U.S. fighter aircraft above and U.S. destroyer escorts and submarines below. "The sunrise never felt so beautiful," but the looks that they got from their shipmates were another story, "se hacillan ah un lado para que pacaramos y nos miraban en silencio.—they stepped aside quietly and glared in disbelief as we walked by"....Was this grace under pressure, faith or loqura-a foolish bravado in the face of impending death?...You decide, but I think it was acceptance and a release of attachment to all matters of a worldly nature.
My brothers and I have heard that story countless times and it always evoked images in my mind as I listened to my father telling it. The hospital ship being tossed around, the feel of their eardrums popping as the ship was overwhelmed by waves and ocean, the shark infested waters of the South Pacific, the epiphany in the hull of a warship caught in a storm...

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