San Diego native Raul “Paul” Ramirez penned the book “El Patron & The Bootlegger” in 2011, which I had the pleasure to read recently. The book follows the life of “a trustworthy Mexican immigrant…befriended by a corrupt yet philanthropic Anglo Don from South Texas where both men find the American Dream and friendship has a price after the Don fakes his own death, leaving behind the secrets of a political and criminal dynasty that gave a predominant senator the presidency.”
The story is written as fiction, and Ramirez points out “any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.” While that may be the author’s position, anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of Duval County history can easily match the fictitious characters with real persons that shaped the story of the county’s recent past.
Marciano Campos, the Mexican immigrant bootlegger, arrives in the United States and as is quickly ensnared into the illicit liquor trade during prohibition. He brings to life the conditions of Mexican immigrants during the 1930s. A time of course that predates considerably, not only in time but also in circumstance, the immigrant story of today. But, Marciano’s story is not atypical of what many men in the area experienced at that time.
The story also captures important aspects of the county and area’s history, including the prohibition era when Duval County served as a transit point for tequileros who came across the Rio Grande and rumrunners up north. This is a period of Duval’s history that has never been told, and while El Patron & The Bootlegger is a fictitious account it nonetheless presents an interesting accounting of this time.
The tale also presents a good account of the political patronage that the Parr machine developed to perfection. The Parr story of course is well known so there is little new or surprising even in a fictional account. There are many names and references that a Duval County reader will easily connect to real people, places or events. “George” Weston is the political boss or EL Patron of De Valle County and is married to a woman named “Thelma.” Later “George” marries “Eva” Garcia. Later, the Freedmen Party organizes to do battle with EL Patron.
Perhaps it is a Freudian slip, but the chapter title that introduces the Freedmen Party is labeled “The Freedom Party,” which of course was the real challenger to the Parr Party. There are also some references that are historically misplaced. For example, at one point an IRS agent “informs George of his rights.” The incident occurred in the 1930s and the requirement to read a person his rights did not come about until 1966 when the “Miranda rights” was made law following the Supreme Court’s decision in Miranda v. Arizona.
The book was adapted from a screenplay of the same name that Ramirez wrote first. That is one thing this reader found somewhat distracting. A screenplay basically “directs” or tells actors and others what they are to say, and in what setting. That approach is somewhat distracting in a novel where the reader hopes to discover these things for himself from the narrative and the dialogue.