Magic and Struggle in Ultima’s World

Bless Me Ultima

Miriam Colón as Ultima in Bless Me Ultima. Courtesy: Arenas Entertainment

It isn’t the best movie ever made and it wasn’t the best book ever written, but there is something about “Bless Me, Ultima” that makes the story of a boy’s journey through the magical time of his youth a rich and compelling tale.

Underlying the dark and spiritual nature of this odyssey of the soul dwell the conflicting realities of good and evil, told against the somber background  that characterized the era of little Antonio Marez y Luna and the world of 1940 that was the period of his moral enlightenment.

I bought the novel by Rudolfo Anaya years ago not because of its ethnic nature or the interest it was stirring among America’s Chicano population but because it was published by the same company, TQS Publications, that produced a book of essays I wrote called “Ashes in the Rain.”

TQS, or Tonatiuh-Quinto Sol, a small Berkeley publishing house no longer in existence, specialized in Latino-named authors, and that linked me to Anaya.

I mentioned that often when I was hustling “Ashes” at libraries and book stores, shamelessly trading on Anaya’s burgeoning recognition to advance my own. It didn’t do me a lot of good.

But watching “Bless Me” Sunday evening at the Encino Laemmle Theater I came to realize that Anaya was telling his own story, and in a way it paralleled mine. Antonio’s home was in New Mexico during the darkness of World War II and mine was in East Oakland. My background is Basque, not Mexican, but you don’t have to be Chicano to share the inner conflicts of a young boy growing up bewildered by the uncertainties that accompany change.

There were witches in the forest in my world, as there were in Anaya’s story, and as there probably were in the forests of your own imagination. And there were spiritual guides, too, who protected us against malevolence. Antonio’s guide was Ultima, mine a teacher named Calla Monlux.

Older than summer and softer than rain, they spoke to us in many ways as our eyes opened to the existence of depravity and the dangers of temptation. And they allowed us glimpses into landscapes of magic that were also a part of our cultural heritage, both Latino and Anglo. Owls swooped down out of dark skies as they did in Antonio’s world. Cruelty existed in both worlds and so did vengeance and murder.

Thinking about the movie as I drove home, I began to understand the view Anaya had taken, a universal theme of humanity versus humanity, and the struggle of the soul to remain true and pure in a universe that never stays clean.

 Movie Trailer: “Bless Me, Ultima”

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Courtesy: Arenas Entertainment