I have little to say about Oscar Zeta Acosta’s novel The Revolt of the Cockroach People. My understanding is that it is thinly-disguised autobiography, a reading encouraged by the back of the Vintage edition and Marco Acosta’s afterward. For those who do not know, Acosta was a Chicano lawyer defending protesters and dissidents during the (at times more, at times less) militant Chicano movement in Los Angeles. He is most famous now as the character Dr. Gonzo in Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; Johnny Depp plays him in the film version. Indeed, Revolt reads much like a New Journalist’s account of the 1960s Chicano struggle.
As that kind of journalism, the novel does decent work giving the mood of the moment. Nonetheless, I found it mostly unreadable and a failure in terms of the propaganda Acosta wants it to be. Acosta’s brand of Chicano nationalism leads him to fight a number of worthy battles, and I am more than willing to forgive a certain amount of over-the-top rhetoric that goes along with his work. Nonetheless, misogyny and homophobia overrun the narrative, echoing much of the work in the Black Arts Movement of the same decade (I’m thinking of Amiri Baraka especially, although Acosta perhaps goes even further in offense). Everyone opposing his cause is a fag—justifiable class resentment is conflated with unjustifiable homophobia at every moment. Every woman exists to be fucked (and, he lets us know, isn’t really a woman until she is fucked) and, of course, finds him irresistible. The only political posture Acosta and his allies know is machismo. The best thing about the point where Chicano politics meets literature these days is that such a stance has been left behind for the defter, because more open to difference and alliance, critiques of writers like Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherríe Moraga.