The most interesting aspect of two of the books that we have gone through so far is the incorporation of the role of memory in them. We see both in “With His Pistol in His Hand” and “Down These Mean Streets” the impact, of not just personal but also communal memory, holds.
We are taken back to different times as we are told about the lives of Gregorio Cortez and Piri Thomas. Paredes goes through the history and legacy that Gregorio Cortez has left behind in a community unique to the border of Mexico, having their own culture. His memory does not just die with him but lives on as people admired the way he lived his life. He has served and continues to serve as a hope to those people who are like him because it shows how ordinary people are able to stand for themselves. He symbolizes the hope that it can be done and anyone can do it. The corrido is passed on to commemorate him and to keep a sense of pride for the people who are like Gregorio Cortez.
Piri’s telling of his past and his story of “redemption” have had different effects on everyone in our class but I think that is another manifestation of the power of memory. Similar to what we have mentioned in class, our background and context affects the way we look at Piri’s life and the circumstances he had to endure. Both had committed crimes to defend themselves. Cortez might have been seen as a symbol of hope throughout his narratives but one can argue that Piri did not have that “role model” image for the most of this particular biography. However, it shows in a greater depth that anyone can redeem themselves through acceptance of others and themselves.
Even though we were not there, we are fortunate enough to have been transported back to the past through the power of words and the memories of the writer, may that be the person himself or countless witnesses to these stories. The way I would contrast these two is that Paredes’ account of Gregorio Cortez’s life has impacted generations of the “border culture” whereas Thomas’ biography has affected even us who are just in a classroom of students studying Latino/Chicano literature on a level that even we had to explain it to understand each other better. Some were sad, some were broken-hearted, and some were inspired. These books have been able to inspire simply just by recounting memories that are out of our present context and gives us a more in depth understanding of history and the “sad” reality of what people had to go through back then and even until now.