An Interview with Max Plata

Sorcerer of the Hummingbird Group: Myth

We’ve been documenting the work of Grupo Colibri and Maximiliano Plata for thirteen years now, and it’s taken that long for them to allow us to publish all that we‘ve witnessed.

If we weren’t distant relatives of the Platas, Max reminds us, he’d never have allowed us to “ride along.” Maximiliano Plata, Jr. is the Curandero you met in “Dead People in Cyberspace.”  He chides us saying we could have started with something more exciting than that story, but says he’ll trust what he calls our “too-much-academics approach.”

On a recent visit, we got “too much academic” again and asked Max about the power of myth on the sorcerer’s path.

Max says, “It’s not a subject, Mikey, it’s a craft.”

Following that good start comes the uncomfortable silence that almost always begins when you ask Max anything. He says he wants to answer us fully, chew it up in his head, first. And that sounds great in theory, but doesn’t always work out for the asker.  

“Cedar yourself,” he says, passing the smoke over himself before sliding the smoker in my direction.

I cup the smoke and pass it over heart and will. Then I slide the smoker to the middle of the long altar, the Group’s Altar.

“’Myth’ was one of the first school words that earned me approval from Mrs. Springer, 3rd grade, circa 1959. Being of Mexican descent, I’d been placed in 3B, ‘the slow group,’ aka the ‘beaners.’ Soon after those years, they called us ‘Spanish Surnamed.’ Now we have all kinds of new names.”

What sort of approval did you get, and are you talking about words like Chicano, Hispanic, Latino?

He slides the smoker back to the center of the Altar, “Every one of those words represents a myth, you know.”

I wait, then say, “You didn’t answer the teacher that way, did you?”

He laughs, says, “All I did was repeat what she said, ‘All of us love myths.’

And I only did it because the smartest kid in class, Catalina, sitting behind me, had just whispered, ‘Like the Llorona, Max, a myth, legend.’”

Max steps up to what must be a microphone on a stage that we can’t see. He spreads his arms and smiles up at the invisible camera and the audience beyond it.

He announces, “Hey Readers, if you aren’t aware of the very Mexican tale of the Wailing Woman, La Llorona, I suggest you write to the publisher of this blog and demand their version of this classic. Gracias.

Then he spreads his arms again and bows his head. He turns and steps off the stage, and looks back at me. I swear it’s his height. He uses it to do sleight of hand or something along those lines.   

“The Llorona wasn’t a real flesh and blood thing, a few of us 3rd graders had already reasoned by then, yet at the sametime, each of us privately, knew her to be quite real, especially in certain moments: like when you’re doing something you’re not supposed to, for instance. Or when you’re alone, walking home, at the precise corner where the local Llorona is said to appear.”

His eyes narrow at me. We’d argued over the Llorona more than once. Thankfully, he continues.

“So that’s ‘myth,’ thought my third-grade self. I answered clear as I could, ‘All of us love myths,’ then mumbled something about the Llorona.”

“Then? Max?”

“I was transformed into a class genius, like Catalina, of course!” he proclaims, smiling like a 3rd grader in discovery and wonder.

Then he surprises me, as always, going “too-much-academics” on me – from a poetry slam style monologue, no less.

“That ‘learning moment,’ as you call it, means plenty for me since it eventually led to some level of success in the school system – in spite of all its racist, control-freak shortfalls. Specifically, it was reading that opened options other than poverty, jail or death – as in, by the police or Vietnam.”

“Reading saved my ass more than once… oh, the things you could do just knowing how to read! You get answers on your own,fix things on your own and even make money, on your own. Survival reading, right?”

Max sprinkles a little more Cedar into the smoker and waits the seconds it takes for the Cedar to rise as smoke.

“The Myth ‘incident’ gave me a real hard-on for reading, Mikey. I read every comic from “The Classic Series” ever published by the age of 13 – history, legend, myth, and literature in living color pictures and dialogue boxes! I found so many stories that were just like our oral histories and stories; no kidding really, you could change the names and skin colors and plug in the same storyline!”

Why? What gave you a ‘hard -on?’

“Max whispers now, ‘During myth reading time the words created images that gave me an escape from tough surroundings and, when it really got good, those words allowed me to,” now loudly for an audience that isn’t there, actually create another reality, at least for a few moments at a time.”

Then Max stands, Cedars himself, and without a glance at me, walks out of the house.

Nothing new. Doesn’t even offend us anymore. I gather my stuff and walk out to find Max opening my car door and motioning for me to scoot.

“Go do your homework and come back, Mikey. Magic is afoot tonight.”

“But Max, the myth.” Having no choice in the matter, I got in the car and cranked it while Max shut the door. “When do we finish with myth, Max? C’mon.”

Then Max lays out one of his damn formulas, “Imagination provides freedom, myth provides structure. Go,” and points to his driveway.

We’ll see more of Max and the Hummingbird Group, we promise. Meanwhile,

MAKE ART

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