Cockroach - Afterword

When my editor suggested that I write an afterword to this reprinting of my father s books, I was at first somewhat surprised. I had never considered the idea and was not quite sure what I would say, but then it occurred to me that I do have some thoughts about my dad that I would like to express. I hope that what I discuss here will give readers an understanding of what it was that prompted me to try to get back into print these two very important works of Mexican-American literature and of 1960s counterculture.

I have the good fortune to have parents who have always been a source of strength and inspiration to me. And the older I get, the more I appreciate, respect and understand them. My mother is alive and well and happily remarried, and I continue to enjoy a very special relationship, with her. As for my father: I was fourteen when he disappeared from Mazatldn, Mexico, via a friend's sailing boat, in June of 1974. 1 was the last person, as far as I know, to speak with him. Literally moments before he got on the boat that he was planning to ride back to the States, I told him I hoped he knew what he was doing by going back on such a small boat. He said he hoped I knew what I was doing with my life. In the following years there were rumors that he was shot by one of the "thugs" he was hanging around with in Mexico, or that he was spotted somewhere off the coast of Hawaii or Florida. The bottom line, however, is that no one, to my knowledge, knows for sure what happened, including the FBI and the US Coast Guard - or so they say.

The fifteen years since my father's death have been a time of soul-searching, sadness and seemingly endless philosophizing about my own mortality. One result, perhaps inevitably; of all this has been a desire to "resurrect" Zeta, as it were, and to somehow increase the public's awareness and understanding of his life, work and what he stood for. My first project was to reprint his books, The Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo and The Revolt of the Cockroach People, which have been out of print since the early 1970s. I have been told, incidentally, that those first editions are now collector's items. The current Vintage edition is the culmination of a five-year effort, and I hope it reaches all who remember my father, especially the East L.A. Chicanos and all the other close friends and relatives who were part of that turbulent period in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Even for those who did not know him at all, reading the Autobiography will, I think, provide humor and instruction in the struggle for self-definition, something we all deal with at some point. Both books, taken together, will be helpful for those seeking a history and understanding of the events during the sixties and seventies concerning the fight against racism, poverty and oppression, particularly as it pertained to the Chicano community.

There are two additional projects that I hope will shed light on my father's work as well as preserve it for future generations. One is the establishment of the Oscar Zeta Acosta Collection in the Chicano studies collection of the University of California at Santa Barbara. This will include papers, letters, files and videos and will be accessible to the public. In view of the recent development of scholarly interest in Zeta and his books, this will be a significant additional resource. The other project is a motion picture based on one or both of the books, which is currently being negotiated. I am taking extra care to ensure that the film will be an accurate and genuine portrayal of his life and times.

My father used to ask me rhetorically, especially when we were on top of a beautiful mountain in Colorado or by the sea in Mexico, "Today would be a great day to die, wouldn't it?" As a child, this dying business seemed a bit scary, something I didn't want to think about. But now I know what he was trying to tell me: "You've got to live one day at a time, and you must live each day as if it would be your last " And this is exactly how he lived his life. Sure, he planned some things, such as preparing his trial briefs for an accused Mexican youth who also happened to be suffering deep down from the effects of so-called Manifest Destiny. But, basically, my dad was one of those rare people who could become totally absorbed in the present.

Every century a few individuals are born who are destined to lead the weak, to hold unpopular beliefs and, most important, who are willing to die for their cause. My father's whole life was given to the fight for "the people:' as he used to say. Unfortunately, we don't have the benefit of whatever wonderful things he might have done with the rest of his life (barring the fantastic possibility that he's alive on some island planning the next revolution). But in the years that he did give to the struggle against racism and oppression in America he was a fearless and committed fighter. He was often followed by the law during these violent times in Los Angeles in the early seventies; friends of unpopular ideas are always held in suspicion. He used to warn me, knowing that such violence surrounded his life, to be prepared for the possibility that he might be gunned down by his adversaries. Even his own people betrayed him on occasion. Of course, all this was deeply disturbing to me. But the riots, the violence, the arguing, never seemed to bother him. He knew it was the price you had to pay for waging an unpopular war.

The search for truth and justice consumed my father's life and is an important part of both his books. Zeta was never more angry and savage than when he felt he was being lied to. The unfortunate fact is that this search is probably what, oddly enough, led to his ruin. Things just seemed to have become too intense for him in those "final days" with riots of escalating ferocity, enemies constantly following him, the drugs, the confusion over his destiny. Despite the madness in his books, is it possible to garner some sense of hope and redemption from reading them, to see that women and men can elevate their humanity by overcoming all that resists them? I think it is, that is my father's ultimate legacy to me.

I'd like to thank my editor, Robin Desser, for her encouragement and advice in getting the books back into print. My mom, Betty Acosta Dowd, deserves acknowledgment not only for being awonderful mother but for putting up with my dad and giving him inspiration in those early years. Thanks to Ann Henry and family and to the late "Owl" (my dad's best friends) for all those late-night talks about the Buffalo and the universe; to Irwin for giving my dad medicine when he was sick and for preserving the Buffalo on video; to Susan Warshauer for her endless enthusiasm, advice, encouragement and love in helping to make my dad's "resurrection" a reality; to Hunter Thompson for immortalizing Zeta into the legendary Samoan attorney and, of course, for the intro herein; to my grandparents, Ed and Ruth Daves and Juana and Manuel Acosta, for teaching me and my dad faith, hope and charity; to my dad's sisters, Anita, Marta and Sally, and his brothers, Roberto and Al, who had to live with the Buffalo; to my aunt Gina who always spoke to my dad face-to-face and consequently was someone he respected. Finally, I must acknowledge the impressive writings of the professors of Chicano literature and other scholars who have contributed greatly to an increased understanding of Zeta and his work. To all others too numerous to name, I give my sincere thanks.

Marco Federico Manuel Acosta
January l989
San Francisco, California