Author Archives: pamela salome chavez calapaqui

Lost Children Archive II: Really?

First of all, it makes me sad that this blog is the last one that I will write for this class. It has been good to share my thoughts with all of you guys, and tell you my perspectives about the different books we have read and discussed during this term. I will miss to have the liberty of writing about anything I decide, and don’t feel the pressure to think that anyone will judge me for what I posted in my blogs. So, thank you for the work we all have done during this term.

With respect to the book, once again, I don’t know where is that I should begin. I have to recognize that in no way did I imagine that when the title of the book makes reference to the ‘archive of lost children’, it would include both: 1) the children migrants who get lost in the desert  trying to cross to the US; and 2) the couple’s own children who get lost trying to get to the Echo Canyon. Once I get to this part of the book, it was very difficult to stop because I was interested to know what will happen at the end.

I remembered that last week, some of us agree that the story lacked some drama and suspense, not meaning this that it was less interesting, but perhaps different from the other books we read. However, after reading the second part of the book, I can affirm that this book has indeed a lot of suspense. This is also a sad story. There are different parts of the book that make me feel bad. For instance, the condition of the migrant children, who are left to their fate in the desert. As well as the fact that many of them do not reach the finish line, as was the case of Manuela’s children. I don’t like either that at the end, the couple couldn’t reconcile their differences and the two sibling (Memphis and Pluma Ligera) had to be separated. 

The relationship between these two children is something that makes me feel overly tender. It is so nice and cute the way in which Pluma Ligera takes care of his sister. The part of the book that is my favorite, is when he leaves his recording so that Memphis could remember him and everything that happened, all the adventures that both of them overcome. I realized that the parts I like the most is when he tells from his own perspective, how is that the trip was developing. I like his own reflections about the world. He is a very mature boy, who understands very well what is occurring at that moment. He is aware of the problems that his parents are facing; he sees how worried and sad his mother is due to the circumstances of the lost children; he even understands the complex social issue behind those children’s  lives.

Somehow, when he tells the story, everything is simpler, fresher, more realistic, purer, and with more love.

Lost Children Archive I: What should I say about this book? It has so many things …

I am really enjoying reading this book. I find it very interesting, and the story captured me since the beginning. However, while I like the book and the story it tells, I have not decided what to write about in this blog. There are so many topics inside this book, that I don’t really know how to organize them into a coherent blogpost.

One obvious topic that the book mentions is the political environment of the US and the terribly sad stories of the thousands of children who try to cross the Mexico-US border illegally. These stories are well-known for many of us. Yet, the perception that the book offers, is maybe, more humane than the political commercialized version we are used to see at the TV. The wife, who is the one that tells the story, has herself a particular concern on how to document the realities of these forgotten children who are in search of a refuge in the US. She does not want to use these children’s testimonies as a political flag or a commodity to sell in the media in order to create the audience’s pity.

Other topic I found recurrent is the problems that the marriage faces during their travel from New York to Arizona. It is kind of curious how the wife found different circumstances and events in order to compare what is happening to her and to her marriage. For instance, we found her making connections between her marital crisis and the sentences she reads in her strange books. She compares her marriage with songs, dance choreographies, and I would even say with landscapes. It’s interesting but also sad how the story changes from being a ‘happy’ couple to a more ‘frustrated marriage’. She is lost, captive in his husband’s project, and while she ended fighting for her own project, she is still complying with her husband in the decision to travel with him. She is really in love, I would say, but she is also very encabronada about the situation. I like her character. She is both, strong and weak. I like the way she tells her own story, how she manages for going from very sophisticated literature ideas to simple and random events about her children. I like her prose.

Other fascinating topic of this book is childhood, and the particular way in which the mother represents this stage of life for her own children. I felt bad for myself, at the beginning, when I saw that these two siblings have more adventurous lives that I had when I was a child. There a variety of books that these children have read, or maybe know about. They seem to have a very interesting and unique musical taste. Their comments and arguments are sometimes more accurate or compelling of what I admit thinking in my head. Are these children real? I mean, are there really children that can express their ideas, dreams and opinions in the way these children can?  Anyway, I really admire these two little characters and I think this is something that caught my attention because of the way in which childhood is represented here in comparison with the childhood of Antonio in Bless Me, Ultima; or of Esperanza in The House on Mango Streets; even of Piri in Down These Mean Streets. I don’t know, maybe the difference relies in the fact that, in this book, we are told about the children since their mother’s perspective; while the other stories are told by the children themselves.

Random fact: I found that the title of the book is Lost Children Archive in the English version. However, in the Spanish version, the title is Desierto Sonoro. Why would you think that the author decided to change the title for the two versions? What does the title mean for each version?  Is this a kink?

The House on Mango Streets: Don’t forget who you are … and remember to come back!

It has been difficult to find what’s my favorite book until now. To be honest, I was not really happy when reading the first two books. But since Down These Mean Streets until now, it is very difficult to choose one that I have liked the most, because all of them were really good. The last three books have surprised me and helped me analyze some social issues and topics trough different perspectives.

However, when it comes to The House on Mango Streets, I feel this book touched a very sensitive point inside me. One part that really makes me identify with Esperanza is when she fights so fiercely for going out from Mango Street. She wants to go away and have a nice house of her own. But, she is not only dreaming about that, as her mother used to do. Esperanza does not leave anything by chance,  she is persevering and determined to achieve that; and eventually it is nice that at end of the book she achieves this dream.

Yet, another common message that this book outlines, is  that Esperanza should not forget who she is and where she comes from. Almost at the end of the book, we can read this: “You will always be Esperanza. You will always be Mango Street. You can’t erase what you know. You can’t forget who you are. […] You must remember to come back. For the ones who cannot leave as easily as you” (p. 105). This part of the book is kind of repetitive. Esperanza is always expected to come back to her origins and don’t ever forget that. It is as if she has, in a sense, “the duty” to help the ones that are still in Mango Street, the ones that do not born with the same destiny of Esperanza, and who sadly have to live hard moments in that special but also difficult neighborhood that characterizes Mango Street.

This message is kind of intriguing because I’ve also had the need to come back to my country and help those people who did not have the opportunity to go abroad and study in a University like UBC. However, in the case of Esperanza it is difficult to know for sure if this is a personal duty she imposed for herself, or if it is more like a duty that society expects her to meet.

One final though I have in my mind is that it is confusing to know for sure if Esperanza  is the one that achieves his goal, meaning that she has the agency to carve her own destiny, or if it is luck that plays on her favor and permits her to go out of Mango Street because “she is special”, as one of the three  old women  told her.

I think it is needed more blogs to talk about this book. I have focused more on Esperanza and on the topics mentioned before. But, there are many stories more in this book that are also valuable to analyze. Esperanza’s neighbors have also very interesting, and (some even sad) lives. Sally is one of the characters that really caught my attention in this book, as well as Ruthie.

I really enjoyed this book, hope you also enjoyed it ????

Bless me, Ultima II: The past as a tool for change

In this second part of the book, I am glad that Antonio has had the strength of being in charge of his own destiny. The conflict between the different interests of his maternal and paternal side, finds a coherent and nice conclusion at the end of the book. Antonio decides to go with the Luna’s family and try to understand their way of live. Gabriel, his father, finally comes to terms with the sweeping changes that are destroying the vaquero way of life, and accepts that Antonio should live the life that he aims to, not what him or his wife wish for him. The most valuable life suggestion that Gabriel gives to Antonio, is to learn that a man builds something new from his past echoes. Ultima also helps Antonio to get to this conclusive decision. She recommends Antonio to make change a part of his strength.

However, Antonio’s final decision was not so easily taken either. Before he has come to this realization, major changes had to occurred in Antonio’s life. Through this part of the book, we can see how the conflict between Antonio’s maternal and paternal heritages ceases to be the major preoccupation. The main conflict now becomes Antonio’s struggle to find a coherent way to understand his past experiences. Antonio no longer finds answers either in Catholicism or in the teachings of Ultima for his evolving doubts regarding death, eternity or the forgiving/punishment of sins. In other words,  Antonio struggles to understand why there is evil in the world.

Yet, once he decides to not fight more for complicated and maybe impossible answers, he understands that change, and distance from his past experiences, is what he really needs. This helps him to affirm both, his Luna and Márez heritages. He feels at peace with his identity, once he understands that his maternal and paternal heritages can be compatible. I see this, as if Antonio finally understands that his life, his culture and his family represents a syncretism between the Spanish and the indigenous traditions. He is a mix of languages, cultures, beliefs, and ways of seeing life. His religion is only one manifestation of how complex, but also how rich, his identity is. More than being always incompatible, he reflects syncretism. Finally, it is nice to see how once he has accepted the complexity of his identity, he is able to recognize that change also brings wisdom and a deeper understanding.

Pamela Chavez

Bless me, Ultima Part I: Reconciling different identities

In the first half of Bless Me, Ultima; I found a very reiterative topic. This is the syncretism between Catholicism and the Indigenous spiritual practices that were referred as witchcraft, and that persisted in many cultural traditions of Mexicans, and of people in the Border. Antonio is a very interesting character that continually struggles in finding a way out between the strict Catholic rules that his mother aspires him to abide, and the more open and unknown experiences that Ultima offers to him. In a sense, this novel is a bildungsroman, who shows us the moral growth of Antonio, analyzing how afraid he is of losing his innocence, and of falling at the mercy of sin.

This bildungsroman is also influenced by the conflicted nature of his parents’ marriage. Essentially, Antonio is caught between two opposing cultures, each of which carries its own set of expectations and preconceived ways to see the world. The vaquero lifestyle favored by his father’s family highlights the values of independence, freedom, and mobility; which can be reflexed in the love that vaqueros have for el llano. In contrast, his mother’s family (The Luna family) lifestyle emphasizes stability, productivity; which can be manifested in his mother’s desire to fence the llano and build towns.  In this sense, Antonio’s life is hanging between these two competing alternatives. Moreover, I see the continuous and bizarre dreams that Antonio has, as manifestations of the anxiety that this pressure causes on him.

This novel is very creative in the way that it represents how Antonio’s maternal and paternal heritages result from conflict between Spanish and indigenous cultures. Therefore, this book is rich in showing us the syncretism of all the diverse cultures of New Mexico.

One more example that portrays how difficult it is to reconcile cultural differences in this book, can be seen when Antonio enters into school. There, he is faced with the conflict of not being able to speak English. Language plays a large role in his identity conflict at school, where he becomes alienated because of this language barrier. In this new environment, Antonio addresses the conflict between Anglo and Chicano cultures. These are a new set of identities for him to deal with, along with the Spanish vs. Indigenous  (Luna vs. Vaquero) identities.

Until now, this book is very interesting. I like the character of Ultima, and I am looking forward to see how the story continues in the second part of the book.

Pamela Chavez.

Practice for the midterm: Territory and the Law

In all the books we have read until now, the concept of territory appears more than once. In Ruiz de Burton’s The Squatter and the Don, as well as in Americo Paredes’ With his pistol in his hand, the common territory used for the stories where the Border between Mexico and the United States. This territory comes to be a place for disputes and legal problems. The territory itself was the center of the dispute for which different countries claim their rights and possession. Embedded within the concept of territory, there is also other concepts such as the law.

For instance, the law is present in the Squatter and the Don, when the families of the San Diego county should wait until the deliberation of the judge to see if their territory and properties will be declared as of their own, or will be automatically passed to the dominion of the squatters. Similarly, in With his pistol in his hand, Gregorio Cortez is pursued and arrested by the law. However, this was more a kind of persecution organized by the rangers, using the name of the law as a justification for the resentment they felt for Cortez. It is interesting in the story of this corrido, to see how as Cortez moves to different towns and different sides of the Border, more and more sheriffs and rangers from all these places join together in order to capture Gregorio Cortez,. It was as if “the law” was bigger than the division created by the border. In both cases, we see how the law operates against innocent people in both of the stories. In other words, we see the injustices of the law, failing  to guarantee the rights of  people; and how this was intrinsically related with the territory where these people lived.

When it comes to Piri Thomas’ Down These Mean Streets, the territory comes to be (depending on the situation) a safer or a dangerous place. For instance, El Barrio was for Piri his place of comfort and security. He felt at home living in the Spanish Harlem, that was his nest. Whenever he had to move to another side of Harlem, he felt uncomfortable and out of place. For example, when he moved to the Italian part, he was victim of a very serious accident with the other boys there. Even when he left in direction to the South, after his long trip, he came back immediately to his dear Spanish Harlem.  I find a similarity between how this Harlem neighborhood was divided, and how the borders of this mini-territory can be comparable to the border between nations that we see in the other two books. It does not mind where these borders are, the fact that they divide means that inevitably people who live in either side of the border will have different conditions and  contexts in relation to each other. In terms of the law,  I also see how it interferes negatively in Piri Thomas’ memoir. The law in this case comes to be present if we consider the extreme surveillance and policing  that these kind of neighborhoods have in New York. However, at the same time they are policed, the needs and real security of these people are forgotten and overlooked.

Note: I hope these ideas make sense. It was not easy to express the relationships I found between the different books and these concepts. There were some ideas I had in my mind, but I don’t know if I was able to express them correctly.

Pamela Chavez

Down these mean streets II: Important decisions to be taken

In this second part of the book, one can evidence again the difficulties Piri has to face while he is growing up and becoming an adult. The more he experiences the world, the more he finds key encounters that bring him to terrible circumstances in the future. In these “encounters”, Piri finds himself with difficult decisions he must take. For instance, when Piri is so focused on finding his identity and discovering if he is a real negro, he had to choose between going with Brew to the South, or staying at home with momma, poppa and his siblings. Needed is to say that if he would have stayed at home, he could have avoided all the arguments and fights he had with poppa and his brother Jose. Yet, Piri chose going with Brew to the South in order to discover his blackness. This decision is life changing for Piri, after all the trips he did, he sadly discovers that it does not mind the language you speak, or what your ethnicity might be, the only thing that counts is the color of your skin (your blackness).

Another important decision he had to take was when he was so immersed in the world of drugs, that he had to choose between getting detoxifying with the help of Wanuko, or actually continue ruining his life with H. Piri confessed that it is better to die than going through that horrible process of quitting from drugs. However, at the end, he decided to take a very painful decision, but one he knew will be more beneficial for him. Similarly, once Piri gets to know these two criminals, he gets face to face with the decision to accepting joining them, and together with Louie, commit various robberies in New York. The decision he took affected his future in many respects – he is imprisoned for this crime. When Piri is in jail,  he is once again presented with changeling encounters that need to be addressed by taking a decision. He must fight for obtaining his parole, and in order to do so, he must wisely decide which path to follow.

Lastly,  when Piri goes out from prison, he is again faced with the difficult decision of avoiding the same mistakes (or erroneous decisions) he made in the past. Fortunately this time,  even though he slips into his old habits; Piri is able to resist the temptations of drugs and crime through prayer and through seeing one of his old friends in the throes of a destructive heroin addiction.

Pamela Chavez

Down These Mean Streets I: A life in seek of recognition

This book has been the one I most enjoyed until now. Piri Thomas` memoir is deep and catchy. His live, far from being simple, is interesting and challenging to read. His childhood is full of hard experiences, that he faces with all the happiness and adventurous attitude he could have. Piri is always looking for recognition. For instance, he is continually seeking that through his dad’s approval (he wants his dad to recognize him as a grown man). Moreover, he wants his young fellows in the Spanish Harlem to respect and accept him in the group. He hates all the times he has to move out to another neighborhood because those transitions mean for him a disconnection for the ‘approval’ he has achieved on the Spanish Harlem. The fact of being a new boy on the Italian part of the neighborhood caused him to go to the hospital and almost get blind. However, Italians were not the only one who rejected him; once his family got a better social mobility and moved on to a nicer neighborhood, he also found rejection by white people in the high school he was at.

I think the fact that Piri was so focused on gaining approval by the rest of people was because he was not even sure of who he was. His world was constructed around El Barrio (the Spanish Harlem), and his identity was mixed with English and Spanish; Puerto Rico and New York; El Barrio and the rest of the city, etc. The only comfortable and secure place for Piri was El Barrio, and that’s why he comes back to this place even if he does not have where to live in, or what to eat. Piri’s rejection of staying at the new neighborhood with his mom and siblings is rooted in the issue that he is trying desperately to find his roots, his place of comfort, his home, the place where he can feel he belongs to; and that’s El Barrio for him. El Barrio has granted Piri the recognition and the belonging he needed so much.

Down these mean streets highlights important social issues by looking into the life of a real person, who is letting us know about the difficulty of poverty, race discrimination, dislocation, welfare dependence, homosexuality, love, unequal education, drug dependency, and a lot more in his own life. Yet, the thing I found most interesting and complex is the fact that even though Piri suffered from all these social issues at the Spanish Harlem, when he has the opportunity to leave all these behind; he still chooses to stay. He decides to stay in a place where the majority of people would prefer not to be…. why?

With his pistol in his hand II: A hero is a man who fights for his right

During the second part of the book, there was one phrase commonly repeated,  it was: ” the man fighting for his right with his pistol in his hand “.  This phrase contains the man idea behind the hero presented in the ballad of Gregorio Cortez. He is a man who fights for his right with his pistol in his hand. Gregorio Cortez is converted into a hero because he had the courage to stand up for his right. People of the Rio Grande felt identified with him in the sense that Cortez also suffers from the inequalities and discrimination of the rangers. However, he is distinct from the general population because he has rebelled against them, putting his right in the first place. The construction of the hero, Americo Paredes says, is one of the main components that forms the characteristic corrido or border ballad.

Another important component of the corrido is its thematic. The bigger theme is: the border conflict. The existence of Gregorio Cortez as a hero comes into being due to the complex circumstances around this geographical location. The ongoing confrontation between both of the communities at each side of the border creates this tension and subsequent quarrels. Mexicans suffer from the persecution of the rangers, and that`s how the man who rebels against this unjust persecution becomes a folk hero. Therefore, it is possible to assert that the creation of the ballad border has as their two main components: the thematic of the border conflict, and the figure of the hero (who is a man who fight for his right).

Aside of these components, the border ballad has remained in the Rio Grande region due to the fact that the communities at each side of the border, with their characteristic ways of life, and their oral traditions of transmitting the stories of their folk heroes,  have helped to maintain the corrido as an important element of their culture. The Gregorio Cortez legend has prevailed in the form of a ballad. However,  Cortez is not the only hero of this region. In the second part of the book, many names of different men appear. These men are other heroes who have had stories  similar to Cortez. They have shoot sheriffs for defending their rights;  they have been persecuted by hundreds of rangers without any success; they have gone to prison; they have been liberated by a beautiful women, etc.

The story of Gregorio Cortez is without doubt a good way to learn more about the corrido and the Chicano culture.

Note:

I enjoyed this reading since beyond the story of Gregorio Cortez, one can identify the historical, social and cultural factors around the construction of the character; and also about the creation of this border ballad.

With his pistol in his hand I: The legend of Gregorio Cortez

In this first part of the book, I have appreciated how there are specific aspects of the Tejano and the Mexican culture that shows the reader more than a story. It is possible to analyze the political and historical matters that were lived at the Rio Grande border. But, it is also possible to see the folklore and the vibrant music history of Mexicans and Tejanos. In a way, the corrido of Gregorio Cortez is a demonstration of the culture in this part of the border. The story itself contains many demonstrations of how specific aspects of culture interfere in the story. For example, the fact that the Gregorio Cortez`s story was transmitted orally by singing the corridors, let us see powerful dynamics of the legends and traditions of the populations who inhabited the counties near the Rio Grande border.

The story presents Gregorio Cortez as a hero and a  legend. In this way, the character of Gregorio Cortez is a rebel who tries to dignify the Mexicans, by imposing his craftiness and abilities to fight the rangers and Tejano sheriffs (who in turn represent all the injustices and discrimination that have affected the Mexicans in the Rio Grander border). Gregorio Cortez is also a hero that is able to do things impossible for a simple human being. He is able to always hit the target when shooting, to tame even the toughest mare,  to travel large distances leaving several sheriffs behind; he was able to obtain the empathy of many Mexicans, and he was even able to awaken the love of the daughter of a president of the United  States. One more thing that I found kind of funny in the story was that once he was incarcerated, it was not because of him murdering the sheriffs, but because he stole a mare.

All these unbelievable and ‘powerful’ abilities of Gregorio Cortez do not fit with how a ‘normal’ human being should behave. That’s why I think about Gregorio Cortez, as a kind of legend created and transmitted by the people of the Rio Grande in their ballads and corridos. The story of Gregorio Cortez, including all the marvelous things he overcomes, has many kinks to be considered.  Maybe in reality, Gregorio Cortex indeed existed, but much of the marvelous things he is able to do, could be part of the legend people have created about him.

Pamela Chavez