Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo, The

by Oscar Zeta Acosta
   In this first of his two first-person Chicano memoirs, the persona assumed by oscar zeta acosta bows in with a suitably Beat gesture of selfexposure: “I stand naked before the mirror,” a body of “brown belly” and “extra flesh.” Evacuation becomes a bathroom opera of heave, color, the moilings of fast-food leftovers. Hallucinatory colloquies open with “Old Bogey,” James Cagney, and Edward G. Robinson. His “Jewish shrink,” Dr. Serbin, becomes the therapist as accuser, a Freudian gargoyle. Glut rules—“booze and Mexican food.” Abandoning his San Francisco legal aid work he plunges into traffic as though his own on-the-road luminary. He mocks City Lights bookshop as “a hangout for sniveling intellectuals,” throws in a reference to Herb Caen as the coiner of “beatnik,” thinks back on his marijuana and first LSD use, and offers himself as “another wild Indian gone amok.” Acosta so monitors “Acosta.” Despite his avowals otherwise, The Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo gives grounds, as it were, for thinking it a fusion of either Chicano Beat or Beat Chicano authorship.
   As his “brownskin” odyssey, in his own phrasing, unfolds, this same play of styles becomes even more emphatic. The Beatles’s “Help” spills its harmonies and plaintiveness on to Polk Street. His friend Ted Casey tempts him with mescaline. Heroin, or powdered mayonnaise, as he calls it, appears at a Mafia restaurant where he stops for food. Women, his exlover June MacAdoo, Alice, and her friend Mary all weave into his sexual fantasies even as he frets, with reason, at his own male prowess. The diorama is motleyed, as comic-cuts weave between illusion and fact.
   So it is, too, on July 1, 1967, that “Acosta” announces himself “the Samoan,” a brown hulk, the author as harlequin. “I’ve been mistaken for American Indian, Spanish, Filipino, Hawaiian, Samoan, and Arabian,” he witnesses, adding un-politically correct and ruefully, “No one has ever asked me if I’m a spic or greaser.” Is this not “Acosta” as human multitext, Latino lawyer yet Latino outrider, Chicano yet also Beat? Certainly, Chicano and Beat influences collude and compete throughout. On the one hand the narrator looks back to his Riverbank boyhood with its gang allegiance and fights against the Okies: “I grew up a fat, dark Mexican—a Brown Buffalo—and my enemies called me a nigger.” He heads into a “future” of the Pacific Northwest with the hitchhiker Karin Wilmington, a journey busy in allusion to timothy leary, Jerry Garcia, and The Grateful Dead, which takes him into the Hemingway country of Ketchum, Idaho. Both come together as he circles in memory back into his Panama years, his onetime Baptist–Pentecostal phase seeking to become a “Mexican Billy Graham.” As he then weaves his way back to Los Angeles the itinerary gives off all the eventfulness of a jack kerouac trajectory: characters like Scott (“a full time dope smuggler and a salesman for Scientology”) or the waitress Bobbi to whom he describes his family as “the last of the Aztecs”; the odd jobs, car crashes and blackouts in Colorado; the remembrance of detention in a Juarez Jail and of a border official telling him, “You don’t look like an American you know”; and, almost inevitably, the pathway back into California along the iconic Route 66. Chicano adventurer–author, it might be said, elides into Beat adventurer–author, Oscar Zeta Acosta as both chicanismo’s own vato loco and Beat’s own Chicano warrior.
■ 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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