Chicano culture, art, and politics
Book Reviews by Gina Ruiz [back
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essays by modern writers on the Virgen de Guadalupe
are incredible. It is so wonderful to read these
writers’ thoughts and feelings on the much beloved
Guadalupe, patron saint of Mexico. Since La Lupita
is such a cultural icon both here in the US and
in Mexico, I feel this is an important book. La
Lupita permeates the consciousness of the Mexican
and Chicano people. Ana Castillo gives the reader,
not a glimpse but a full sense of that consciousness.
This book is an education and a joy to have. The
poems and stories contained within are a glimpse
into the personal journeys and thoughts of important
writes and how Tonantzin or Guadalupe plays her
magical role in their lives.
will find private and personal reflections by Ana Castillo
and Sandra Cisneros (Caramelo); there is a wonderful essay
by the very talented writer and documentarian of gang
life in L.A., Luis Rodriguez; a brilliant essay by Richard
Rodriguez (Hunger of Memory) as well as contributions
by writers like my personal favorite Elena Poniatowska,
Pat Mora, the beloved Octavio Paz and many others. You
will read it over and over again.
Queen of the South is a fast-paced thriller
with the most unlikely of heroines, Teresa Mendoza,
the girlfriend of a drug runner and pilot, Guero
Davila in Sinaloa, Mexico. The book starts with
Teresa’s special phone ringing, the phone that is
the indication her lover is dead and they are coming
for her. With the ringing of the phone, we are thrust
into Teresa’s world, one of drug trafikkers, killers
and mafiosos. Teresa has to think fast, run fast
and outwit the people coming to kill her simply
because she was Davila’s woman. Riverte takes us
on a wild chase with this daring and soon to be
dangerous woman. We explore the underbelly of Mexico,
Spain and Morocco as Teresa’s life changes and she
becomes a woman to be reckoned with – The Queen
of the South. At times frightening and always thrilling
the book spans 12 years and follows Teresa and a
host of characters. There is the frantic escape
from Culiacan, the deadly boat race from the law
while running drugs with her new lover, a boat ride
that lands her in prison and many other fascinating
bits of her life.
who unabashedly emulates Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo
creates the most amazing Edmund Dantes in Teresa. The
Chateau D’If is the prison El Puerto de Santa Maria, where
Teresa meets her spoiled drug addicted partner Patty who
will eventually lead her to a fortune. Teresa, however
becomes the leader and dominates the world in which Patty
taught her to live in. The Queen of the South is a fascinating
look in the world of the underbelly of the world we live
in. Teresa is not your typical character and honestly,
I didn’t like her, but you don’t have to like her to be
caught up in her world, to be swept away before you know
it. Arturo Perez-Riverte has written yet another captivating
and interesting novel with fast-paced narrative, elaborate
story and scary characters.
me there is no greater woman journalist than Mexico’s
beloved Elena Poniatowska. Every book I read of
hers touches me in so many ways. This book in particular
haunts my days and nights. Nothing, Nobody
is the chronicle of the earthquake in September
of 1985 that devastated Mexico City. It is the story
of the search for bodies amongst the rubble and
the Mexican government’s failure to respond. There
is such poignancy in the writing, the post-earthquake
testimonies from survivors, from aid workers and
most of all, from the people who never did find
their loved ones. It is a story of the heroism that
exists in even the most insignificant of us. There
is courage in the face of disaster, hope and hopelessness.
As if the testimonies and the stories in this book
weren’t enough to touch the heart, to outrage the
mind, there are photos of the devastation, of the
faces of the people, of the tears.
Poniatowska weaves together each story with her usual
mastery. She is able to put a face on the side of Mexico
that gets shoved under the carpet – the poor Mexican.
This book was written pre-Zapatista uprising and I feel
that by reading Elena Poniatowska’s fascinating chronicles
of important events in the years leading up to it, we
can all better understand why the Zapatista movement had
to happen. There are many books about it and many opinions
on why – but I think that all we need to do is read books
like this to see the face of the forgotten, to feel their
pain and frustration, to know them intimately. Once we
do that, there is no need to suppose or wonder about the
worthiness of the fight against oblivion – we just know.
I first heard Isabel Allende had written a novel
about Zorro, I went crazy with excitement. Ms. Allende
is one of my favorite authors and Zorro, one of
my favorite and beloved characters. What a pairing!
I wasn’t disappointed. Allende’s Zorro is wonderful.
Told from the point of view of a close friend of
Zorro’s aka Don Diego de la Vega, the novel tells
of Zorro’s origins from his birth to his time in
Spain to his return to California. Diego is born
to Don Alejandro de la Vega and Regina, a mestizo
whose real name is Topurnia. The character of Regina
is fascinating, she is herself a warrior, chosen
by wolves and she meets Don Alejandro while storming
the very mission he is there to defend. She teaches
the young Diego the language of her people and takes
him without her husband knowing to the Indian village
where he learns of her people’s ways and traditions.
Allende’s storytelling leaves no detail unturned, we meet
Diego’s milk brother Bernardo and learn of their strong
bond of friendship, and we travel to Spain, a Spain during
the Napoleonic era. Diego is wonderfully complex in learning
to live with his duality both as Diego/Zorro and as a
Spanish hidalgo/indigenous man. His concept of honor is
developed early, his love for his mother’s people is deep,
and his horror at the way the Dons treat indigenous people
is captured perfectly by the author. We learn of his instruction
in swordsmanship by the famed Escalante, which eventually
leads to the joining of a secret society. There is intrigue,
travel, romance, and betrayal. We even get to meet the
famed pirate Jean Lafitte. Isabel Allende offers a fresh,
action-packed new dimension to her Zorro and he crackles
with his new life in this fantastic and swashbuckling
week ago, I finished Bitter Grounds by Sandra
Benitez for the second time in five years. The book
is an epic story spanning three generations of women
from two families, one rich and the other poor.
It is more than just the story of these two families,
it is the story of the brutal massacre of indigenous
people, the story of the conflict and bloody history
of El Salvador, the battles of rich and poor, of
tradition against so called progress. The women
in this story are strong, determined, vibrant survivors.
There is love here between mothers and daughters,
sisters and friends. There is betrayal and anguish,
the loss of children, loss of life, loss of a way
of life. Ms. Benitez speaks eloquently of El Salvador’s
beauty and the brutality against the indigenous.
I ached when I read of the massacre. I cried bitter
tears when the melodic language of the Pipil was
silenced and when I read that they had given up
their beautiful rainbows of color in their indigenous
dress so as not to attract the attention and brutality
of the Guardia.
times, this book was so brutal in its truth; the violence
and death were so senseless that I had to put it down
for a day or two just to get past it. I wanted to hate
the rich family that made their money on the backs of
indigenous workers picking their coffee, working their
fields but Ms. Benitez made them so human, so likeable
that it was hard to find a villain. I sympathized and
agonized with both. I wanted to stop things, make them
see the inevitable disaster and got so involved with
the story that I felt I was there. To be so involved
in a book is a blessing no matter how hard the subject
matter. Sandra Benitez is such a wonderful storyteller
that for the days I read this book and long after, it
absorbed me and changed me. It made me think. It made
me want more. It made me educate myself more about El
Salvador and its history.
many books can do that? How many books can you retain
so much of for such a long time? The second reading
was just as hard to digest. Brutality, violence, terror,
war and injustice aren’t meant to be easy. It is, after
all these years just as hauntingly beautiful as when
I first read it. Maybe more so now than before. I remain
torn between the families, torn by the violence and
injustice, want to work harder than ever for social
change, for promoting peace and tolerance, more motivated
than ever to protect my culture, my native language,
the costumes my family wears for our Aztec dances, our
traditions. I don’t know what else I can say about this
book other than to encourage everyone to read it. It’s
not some new buzz book – the publication date on my
old copy is 1998 but look it up, buy it, borrow it,
read it. Don’t leave it in the darkness of some old
library shelf. It deserves much better.
just finished reading the most remarkable book
by Luis Urrea called The Hummingbird’s daughter.
It was absolutely astounding and I would encourage
everyone to run out and buy a copy of it right
away. The book is based upon a relative, a distant
aunt or cousin who was something of a legend called
the Saint of Cabora – Teresita Urrea, a sixteen
year old illegimate daughter of Cayetana, an indigenous
woman called the Hummingbird and Don Tomas Urrea,
the powerful rancher. The book begins with Teresita’s
birth in the poorest of circumstances. Her mother
abandons her and leaves her with an aunt who mistreats
her and abuses her. Teresita is a strong and determined
child and overcomes much. She is determined and
driven and somehow finds her way to the ranch
where she meets Huila, a crusty and wonderful
old curandera. Huila finds something in Teresita,
a power to be reckoned with and begins to teach
her the indigenous ways of healing, of plants,
of power and dreaming.
Teresita grows to young womanhood, she learns more and
more. She demands to be taught to read, something even
the rich lady wife of Don Tomas isn’t allowed to do.
Teresita learns. She learns of the unrest in Mexico
as well, learns of the whispers of revolution and the
plight of the Yaqui Indians. She learns more of healing
from an apprenticeship with an old curandero at Cabora
and begins to feel her own power. There comes a day
when Teresita finds out that Don Tomas is her father
and he in turn realizes she is in fact his daughter.
He brings her to live in the ranch house and tries to
turn his wild daughter into a young lady. Teresita again
proves her strength and fights for her independence.
She will only concede so much. She continues to do her
healing, to work as a partera or midwife with Huila.
She and Tomas have long discussions, argue about politics
and novels. She begins to blossom.
day something terrible happens and Teresita lies in
a coma from which everyone believes she is dead. The
doctors can do no more for her and a coffin is made.
Imagine everyone’s surprise when she awakens! Now Teresita
is more powerful than ever and has the gift of prophecy.
Pilgrims flood Cabora and Teresita is worn out with
all the healing. She begins to be a threat to the Diaz
regime as well as the Catholic Church and insists on
writing political commentary and demands the land back
for the people who work it. This is an amazing book
and an equally amazing journey into a life before the
revolution. Mr. Urrea is a fantastic storyteller who
writes with conviction and amazing poetry. The language
of the book is stunning, intense and panoramic.
Tomas, Huila and the rest of the characters were so
real to me that I could see them. There is Aguirre,
an engineer turned revolutionary, Buenaventura, the
bastard son of Tomas who is hated as much as Teresita
is loved, Loreto, Tomas' wife, Gabriela, his mistress
and other rich characters. Each of the characters in
this amazing book crackle with life and energy. Two
decades were spent researching and writing this novel
that is based on old family stories about his aunt Teresita.
His descriptions are vivid, colorful and magical. The
Sonoran desert, the ranch, the corrupt political officials,
bandits and Rurales are all vividly portrayed. This
is truly a book to be treasured and read over and over.
It is simply remarkable.
you’re Mejicana or Mejicano and don’t know who
Pedro Infante is, you should be tied to a hot
stove with yucca rope and beaten with sharp dry
corn husks as you stand in a vat of soggy fideos”
- Denise Chavez (Loving Pedro Infante). Okay,
I just had to start my review off with that passage
because when I read it, I laughed aloud. It is
just such a typical Xicano, Mejicano curse that
I’m sure we’ve all heard something like it from
our abuelitos or our parents. Loving Pedro
Infante is the story of Teresina Avila and
her friend Irma “La Wirms” Granados who live in
Cabritoville and belong to the Pedro Infante Club
#256 along with other women in the small town.
women are Pedro crazy and I can understand that being
a big Pedro Infante fan myself. The story is also about
love and obsession. Tere is in love with an hijo de
la… named Lucio who is of course, married and a slimy
worm. That doesn’t stop Tere from loving him though
and from being obsessed. She sneaks off to meet him
in a motel, battles with her best friend over him, hides
and sneaks. She is ashamed of the relationship but that
doesn’t stop her from seeking him out. Why do some guys
do this to us? I think all of us women have had our
Lucio. Handsome devils, good at making us feel that
we are unworthy when all the time, the problem is their
own insecurities, bullshit and emotional issues.
book is great. I loved the characters, was at times
frustrated with Tere, liked her, thought she was an
idiot, wanted her to kick Lucio’s tight Mexican butt
all the way out of Cabritoville and cheered her on.
The fan club was so much like all my abuela’s old friends
that swooned over Pedro Infante and loved their daughters
and families fiercely. Denise Chavez tells a hell of
a story. Denise Chavez’ Loving Pedro Infante is a book
that I started off loving and couldn’t put it down to
a book that I tossed behind my bed in a corner to collect
dust and accuse me until I picked it up again. Why did
I toss it? Because the character that Teresina Avila
is in love with – Lucio was so much like my own hijo
de la… ex boyfriend that it made me uncomfortable. We
were in yet another or our cycles where we were together
again after having been broken up and the book made
me see things in him that I didn’t want to see or wasn’t
ready to. No, mine wasn’t married but he was still an
hijo de la… all the same. He pulled his disappearing
acts like Lucio and he was just generally unavailable
and I was just as obsessed as Tere which is probably
why I was so darn mad at her for half of the book.
not often that a writer can look into the reader’s heart
and soul and pluck the strings so well that the reader
believes the book is about their own life. Denise Chavez
does this easily and while I was uncomfortable at times,
it was a damn good book and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I loved reading about Pedro Infante too. She gives lots
of great tidbits of his life and films, which were a
nice bonus for this Infante fan. Viva Pedro Infante
and Viva Denise Chavez! Oh, and to my Lucio (you know
who you are), go stand in the soggy fideos!
and the Word is a beautiful grade 1-3 picture
book which delivers a powerful message about the
issues of bigotry, race and difference. Benjamin
is on the playground playing when suddenly he
hears “the word”. The book doesn’t tell you which
word it was that hurt him so and bothered him
so much and this absence just makes it that much
more powerful. We don’t need to know the word
to know that words hurt and that children can
be cruel to each other. In the story Benjamin
is hurt and it shows. The word is eating at him
and his father sees that something is bothering
his child. He waits for Benjamin to tell him what
transpired and once hearing the word, he skillfully
teaches his son his own worth.
Olivas, who scared us with his Devil Talk, now takes us
on a journey through childhood and the playground. He
skillfully shows us how we learn racism and bigotry and
how it can be unlearned; how children can be educated
to be accepting and aware of the impact of their words.
Don Dyen, the illustrator has masterfully captured the
essence of this simple, yet powerful punch of a story
with soft watercolors that bring the quality of a dream
to this rich and colorful book. I encourage all parents
to buy this book for your children and to be honest, maybe
we all need to read it. It brought home some simple truths
to me and made me reconsider some things I would have
said without thought. Be careful of your words.
This has to have been the most weird, wild and
wonderful book I’ve read in the longest time.
The book begins with a boy who creates paper organs
to save his butchered cat and becomes the world’s
first origami surgeon. The book goes on to tell
of monks in secret factories, a woman of paper,
a little girl named Merced and her father who
cures himself of sadness by burning his flesh.
Merced and her father Fernando de la Fe leave
Mexico and wind up in El Monte, California picking
carnations. They encounter gangs, the woman of
paper, and a whole assortment of strange and unusual
characters. An unlikely war begins against the
planet Saturn and the gang members from Monte
Flores, led by Fernando.
People of Paper is violent and bloody, haunting
and strangely beautiful. A man’s tongue bleeds and bleeds
from paper cuts received while giving a woman of paper
cunnilingus, a wife leaves her husband because she is
fed up with sleeping in pools of piss, turtles become
armored tanks. It is unreal and real, fantastic and
sublime. The book is allegorical, beautifully written
and most surprising. There are paper tricks throughout
the book as well that normally would annoy me but in
this, they just fit so well with the story that I found
myself enjoying them hugely. What really surprises me
is that this is a debut novel. Salvador Plascencia was
born in Guadalajara, Mexico in 1976.
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Xispas Columnist Gina
"Mar y Sol" Ruiz is a Danzante Azteca, writer