As I have mentioned before, I am not a big fan of reading. It still took me quite some time to read the novel but this is by far the easiest one to read out of all the ones that we have to read for the class. This novel hit close to home in so many different levels. I almost started crying as I read the first few pages of the book. I can recall so many experiences, not just mine, but also of people that I have encountered along the way, most especially those that I met when I lived in the Dominican Republic and when I went to El Salvador.
This story reminds me of a friend that I met in El Salvador. He was one of the interpreters that helped us when we were down there. When I was reading about Piri having a hard time at home and not getting along with the other kids, I see in my head what was going on and I can’t imagine myself going through something similar. Then I suddenly thought of Gabriel. He’s the first person that I’ve met who’s all tattooed up looking all macho but he cries so easily when he hears stories and testimonies of people. I remember a particular moment when I joked about him not looking like a Salvadorian but rather a Mexican and he got mad at me for doing so. Later on, he told me about his story. I found out that he was imprisoned in the States and that he was in jail for 20 years, after being released, he was deported back to El Salvador.
Gabriel told me that he hates being mistaken for a Mexican because he was locked up with Mexicans in the States. Even though he is Salvadorian by blood and he can speak Spanish because of his parents, he started sounding like a Mexican because he was surrounded by them. He told me that when he arrived in El Salvador, he couldn’t understand the accent and slang that the people had. He felt like a stranger to that country. He didn’t know where he belonged.
I believe belonging is somewhat a central theme in “Down These Mean Streets”. Piri struggles a lot with what other people think of him. When Piri says “my own is what I want. Nothing more”, he was having a “Gabriel moment.” He would be okay with how he looked if he wasn’t mistreated solely because of it. His appearance is a hindrance to his belonging, even in his own home. He is struggling with his own identity.