This novel was one of my favourite ones in the course. Though I said in my last post that I felt that the novel lacked some kind of suspense in it, I feel that I did find some suspense as I was reading. Even if it lacked those complicated and climactic storylines, I was still eager in wanting to know what would happen next. For example, when the son decided to leave with his sister or when he lost her, I found myself continuously flipping through the pages eagerly wanting to know how everything would unfold.
As the second half is largely narrated from the ten-year-old boy, he recounts parts of the road trip from his perspective. We encounter a boy who witnesses the disunity of the parents, being unsure of his family’s future and feeling as is he has been put to the sidelines as his parents seem too occupied with their distinct projects. The boy decides to become a lost child himself and he brings his sister along on this journey to also find Manuela’s lost children. As I was reading their journey as lost children, far away from their parents I noticed how these children who live a privileged lifestyle compared to the other children referred to in the novel, undergo some of the difficulties that the true lost children go through. Difficulties such as when the brother and sister get separated, the heat and the sun weighing them down, living through dehydration and starvation, and finally riding on the gondolas of a train as if it was like being on La Bestia, which is the death train for many of these children heading north. The brother and sister are the ones that are now responsible to tell the story of the lost children, but instead of telling the story it seems as if they are performing some difficulties that the real lost children face.
One idea that really stuck with me throughout the novel and which is touched on some more in the second part of the novel is that of forgetting and erasing history. Just as the tombstones of the Apache chiefs that were located in a distant area hidden behind a wall which made it seemed as if they were “locked up and removed and disappeared from the map”, it seems to me as if the same thing is still currently happening with the stories of these children aspiring to find a better life as they head north. Only when their stories seem to serve other purposes such as political interests, it appears as if these children and their emotional stories disappear and seem to be forgotten. Though they disappear these stories haven’t ended yet as they still very much happen today.
I’ve really enjoyed this novel so far. As I’ve been reading the first part, I have encountered myself noticing how the reader is not really presented with any kind of suspense. Instead we are simply following a family through their road trip through the United States. As we join them in this journey, we learn about their family interaction, the relationship between the mom and the dad, music, photography, literature and the political climate in relation to the immigration crisis at the southwestern border. All this is narrated through the eyes of the wife. I must say that when I first saw the title of the novel, I was expecting something that would focus on tackling the child migrant crisis but after reading this first part it seems that this is the backdrop of the story. It is a novel with immigration. It’s a backdrop of the family road trip where the family also observes the wide variety of Americans in the country, witnessing things such as the way they live and their political and social beliefs. As the family is witness of this immigration crisis through listening to the radio, they also have a crisis of their own. This crisis revolves around the marriage presented, which is slowly dissolving throughout the family road trip. Though physically they are together, emotionally and internally the mom and dad seem to be lost in the direction of their marriage.
Throughout the journey the mother also reflects on how she wants to work and present her project on the border situation. As the trip progresses, she realizes that she wants to document the stories about the missing migrant children, something that is brought to her attention after hearing of the disappearances of the two girls that are part of the legal case that she has become interested in. The mother wants her project to humanize these children, as she shares that she does not want her project to use the suffering and unjust treatment of these innocent beings for political intentions, sob stories or to follow a narrative of us vs them or how she states it “patriots versus illegal aliens”. The mother is in search to give a human face to these beings who are victims of a terrible situation. This crisis that is touched on in this book clearly reminds me of the situation that is still happening presently and is still greatly politicized today.
I must say that The House on Mango Street was one of the books that I was most looking forward to in this course. As I first started reading this book, I found myself a bit confused and wasn’t quite sure how to understand the structure in which the book is written. As I continued reading, I soon found myself quite interested in Esperanza and the way she shares the stories of the people that surround her and her own life on Mango Street. This book offers the reader a compilation of stories of different stages or different events and people in Esperanza’s life. What makes this book unique is that you don’t have to read the book from beginning to end to understand it, the reader can open any chapter and start reading. Each chapter offers us a distinct story.
I would say that one of the main takeaways for me after reading this book would be Esperanza’s desire to become her own self and not one of the many women found on Mango Street. The ones that sit by the window looking outside, the women who do not have a way out. Esperanza observes the women in her family and in her neighbourhood as her only role models, women who have been unable to break from the traditional roles imposed on them. These women are trapped in a culture that promotes and enforces patriarchal control and oppression. Esperanza is witness of this from a young age and she puts it on herself to not become one of these many women stuck in a life that denies them freedom in becoming their own self. These women are trapped either by their fathers, husbands, children or their regrets of not rejecting these traditional roles that keep them locked up, unable to escape. As Sandra Cisneros puts it at the beginning of the book: A las Mujeres, To the Women. I believe that this book is for those women that feel stuck and chained up to a life that has been unfair and that has seen them withstand mistreatment from traditional patriarchal roles. Esperanza sheds light on these women and on her culture that continuously disregards the independence of women and incessantly promotes their codependence on a male figure. Esperanza is determined to escape and aspires to be much more as she does not want to become just another woman sitting by the window.
This novel has been quite interesting in giving the reader an interesting view of the different issues a child may face as they are progressing through life be it related to identity, religion, or culture. One of the main ideas of Bless Me, Ultima, is witnessing the process of Antonio leaving his childhood behind and acquiring his own knowledge as he goes through the process of maturing. At first, the reader is witness of an innocent boy who is unaware of the dangers and difficulties that life has to offer. We accompany Antonio through this loss of innocence and his realization of the good and evil in the world. With this loss he acquires other qualities which can be seen as wisdom and maturity. Throughout the novel we see this transition in many experiences that Antonio witnesses or is involved in. An example of one of these experiences is witnessing the murder of Narciso. He sees how Narciso’s life is taken away by Tenorio, a villainous man who has an obsession with seeking revenge against Ultima. After witnessing Tenorio shoot and fleeing the crime scene, Antonio hears Narciso’s last confession. In order to give the dying man comfort in what he wants to share, we witness Antonio listening to the man’s last dying words which can be perceived as him taking the role of a priest. Another scene that touches on the loss of innocence is when Antonio witnesses his brother Andrew at Rosie’s house. We can view this scene as one that may relate to Antonio’s earlier dream, where Andrew tells Antonio that he would not enter the house until Antonio loses his innocence. If Andrew’s entrance to Rosie’s house relates to the past dream Antonio had, this means that he has lost his innocence, which is related to the naïve and childlike perspective he begins with in the novel. We also start noticing how Antonio begins to defend his beliefs and grows a sense of confidence about them. This can be seen with his conviction to defend Ultima against the mob who come to his house with Tenorio in seek of vengeance. He is willing to speak up and to partake in the defense of Ultima. As I read through the novel, I was able to witness a coming of age story through the perspective of a young boy and witness his growth and maturity into becoming a man.
When I first started reading this book one of the ideas that interested me was the idea of two distinct beliefs mixing together in a young boy’s life. In this book we find a young boy, Antonio trying to navigate the independence that is given to him to choose the path he wants to follow. Though his mother, the Luna side of the family has this hope of her son becoming a priest and creating a connection with the field and the surroundings and building a sense of community and family, Antonio also struggles with the option of following the identity that his father instilled in the other sons. The values of the Márez family, being a true hombre, an hombre of the llano with independence and freedom of mobility. Within Antonio he encounters two distinct lifestyles. He keeps on questioning his path and which to follow, we encounter a young boy maturing and growing. Thoughts and questions drive Antonio, his questioning and his curiosity sets a distinct tone to this book. One of the first questions that sets this kind of tone in the book is when Antonio asks his mother if Ultima was present at his birth. Through this question what Antonio really wants to understand and get an answer to is about his destiny of who he is to become. In his dream, Antonio sees his mother’s family and father’s family arguing over his future, and he believes that the woman who helped deliver him which seems to be Ultima, may be the only one who can help him know what lies ahead of him. With this sense of questioning to help fulfill his curiosity, we get a sense that this book is going to take us through the life of an innocent boy whose curiosity and willingness to know and learn leads him to another way of viewing his surroundings and life through his relationship with Ultima. I also want to briefly touch on one aspect that seemed to remind me to other texts that we have read so far in this semester, which is the concept of language. I have noticed how though this text is mostly written in English, the author has some sentences in Spanish. Young Antonio shares with us that he does not know how to speak English and he will learn it until he starts school. This shows the reader how language plays an important part in Antonio’s upbringing and identity.
Throughout this course we have learned about various essential concepts that are demonstrated in the books that we have read. One of them being community. In Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas and With His Pistol In His Hand by Americo Paredes, we see this word and its meaning exemplified throughout both texts. A community is formed by those who have a sense of connection and belonging with each other. It is created through a sense of fellowship and people having commonalities with one another.
The first text that I will analyze will be the one by Paredes. In his text Paredes takes a corrido dedicated to Gregorio Cortez a Mexican American who shot a sheriff and defended and fought for his right with his pistol in his hand. This corrido dedicated to this hero brings a sense of identity and connection to the people of the Rio Grande. This sense of being able to relate to a figure such as Gregorio Cortez, as he has suffered and witnessed injustices and ill-treatments due to his race is a way of forming a community. These people are able to use a corrido which is sung throughout history to bring them together and remember figures that are known for their strength and perseverance and with which they are able to identify with. These corridos and the idols that make them, create a sense of community where people can come together and remember figures that represent something for them.
In Down These Mean Streets, we encounter Piri Thomas, who is in search of his community. Piri is looking for a place where he belongs. After moving to various areas such as the Italian neighbourhood in New York, Long Island, and the South Piri starts finding comfort with himself and identifies the place where he feels at home the most, which is Spanish Harlem. Throughout his moves to different areas in New York and in the country and later on in jail, we find a Piri who is always longing for his return to the place where he feels at home and comfortable. For Piri, his community is this neighbourhood. As it is explained in the book, he feels a sense of comfort and identification with the people, sights, smells, and sounds of Spanish Harlem. For Piri, the search for his identity and belonging somehow always brings him back to this neighbourhood, the place where he grew up in and from then on has always played a role in who he is.
I really enjoyed reading this book! I believe that Piri’s life story, the experiences he lives through and his sense of always wanting to find his true identity and belonging in the world is something that many people can relate to. One of the aspects that grasped my attention throughout the book is the use of language. Street language, Spanish language, southern language, language from New York’s Puerto Rican and black populations all come together in this book and evoke a feeling of an urban and multicultural environment. Piri Thomas gives the reader a glimpse of racial and cultural groups within the United States by the illustration of various different languages, phrases and slang that are being spoken. He has an ability to present the book as a work of a language mosaic where it comes alive in every page of the book. The use of language in this book is one of the reasons that makes this book quite interesting and unique.
In the first part of the book we encounter a young Piri who is starting to feel confused with his identity and his belonging in society. We encounter him getting mistreated and bullied in places such as the Italian neighbourhood and later on in the suburbs. In the second part we encounter a Piri who wants to find answers to who he who truly is, but he is not doing it for the sake of being accepted and wanted by the others, but he is doing it for himself. He wants to go through this journey of traveling across the country and heading south in order to truly accept who he is. The readers go through Piri’s journey of finding his self. He comes to accept the black identity that has been placed on him throughout his life and understands that blackness is not something that has to be in opposition with his Puerto Rican identity. Through his search of identity and in his search for a sense of self in a society that repeatedly questions and disrespects his worth, Piri finally embraces these two identities simultaneously. Through his journey of self-realization, Piri starts to understand that it is not about trying to change how people see him, if not it is about accepting and resolving how he feels about himself. This book is still a clear representation of a country that still fails to accept the multiple identities that are found in its people and culture.
I have really enjoyed this book so far. As I was reading the first part I found myself very attentive in learning more about Piri’s life with every page that passed. Two aspects of the book that stuck out for me were Piri’s sense of wanting to belong and the mother’s longing for Puerto Rico, the place that she is able to identify with the most.
A quote which resonated with me in the book was one where the mother remembers the people in Puerto Rico and her life over there. She says, “I like los Estados Unidos, but it’s sometimes a cold place to live-not because of the winter and the landlord not giving heat but because of the snow in the hearts of the people”. I feel that this is something that many immigrants can understand and often find themselves trying to become accustomed to in their new country and community. For many of these immigrants such as described by Piri’s mother, it is difficult to become used to a society that is cold, individualistic and has not much depth to it whatsoever. In places like Puerto Rico, and I would say the majority of Latin American countries, the feelings of warmth and camaraderie with each other are very much prevalent. Even if you find yourself in an unfavourable economic situation you still are able to find the good in life, that warmth in your heart that brings you joy. Though many live in difficult life circumstances they are still living life joyfully and are satisfied with life itself. Moving from one of these countries to a place like New York where one can probably find more advantages in growing, economic stability and success is a complete cultural and societal change. These Latin American societies have a general idea of maintaining close interpersonal relationships, enjoyment of life and having warm and close relationships with your friends, family and those who live in your community. For people moving away from these kinds of societies such as Piri’s mom it is tough to become used to how the people in their new country live such solitary and individualistic lives.
I look forward in continuing this book and reading about Piri’s life and the difficulty of looking for his belonging and approval within society. I believe that many can relate to this story of a boy trying to find who he is and with this constantly experiencing racism, prejudice and violence.
I have really enjoyed this book and have found it quite interesting. Through this text I was able to learn more about the history of the corrido which is an essential part in Mexico’s history, its people and its culture. Usually when the topic of corrido is brought up or when I am found studying on it I usually relate it to the Mexican Revolution and the heroes of this Revolution facing life and death struggles in the midst of combat and being idols for many and dedicating songs to their strength and perseverance. Not until I read this book was I really aware of the importance of the corrido in the Mexican American border history and to its people living in those areas. This musical form of work and its evolution in becoming a piece of music that people identify with and relate with has much of its beginnings connected to the U.S.-Mexico border and its people and the events that have occurred in that area.
As Paredes states, the biggest theme and the most important one found in the corrido is the one about the border conflict. This style of music is used to remember that one hero that fought for his right and one who is able to become and idol for many. One of these heroes being Gregorio Cortez. People of the Rio Grande are able to connect with Cortez and rally around him as he has probably suffered through or witnessed injustices or ill-treatments like many, yet he decides to take a stand against it and stand up for his right and ability to defend himself. He is a man that is able to endure the mistreatment of the Americans. He becomes a figure of importance to the people of the border because for them Cortez like many other figures represent someone who is willing to fight against an oppressive authority and its treatment and laws.
One interesting aspect of the corrido is though it is a simple form of music, meaning that it is mostly easy to understand and analyze I believe that Paredes wants to also make a point that it is still very much artistic and worthy of academic research. He uses much of the second part to analyze its roots, patterns and themes. The corrido though at first glance may seem very direct and effortless it has a vast cultural and musical significance for the border culture.
I have found myself really interested in this novel and its story. What I have really liked is the way that the story is being narrated. Rather than explaining a story using added words to describe situations, experiences and adventures being told, Paredes takes on a different approach as he presents the story in a very descriptive yet specific manner. This makes the story quite fast paced and enjoyable to read. I believe that this added to the effects of being able to fully submerse yourself and experience the kind of adrenaline rush that Gregorio Cortez probably has when running away from those who want to capture him, such as the rangers and the sheriffs.
One of the parts of the novel that really interested me was when the author first touches on the historical situation of the Lower Río Grande. He informs the reader of important information in regards to relationships between the Texans and the Mexicans and the communities near the border. It is quite interesting how this area that separates the United States and Mexico has been exposed to discrimination, ill-treatment and violence throughout history and it is still happening today in age. One of the areas that really caught my attention in this part of the novel was the way in which Mexicans were described by the Texans. It really surprised me how they were educated on their views of Mexicans not only through society and their discriminatory ideas but also within literature. The Anglo-Texan legend based on the attitudes and beliefs of the Mexicans were supported by literary works and articles. This so called legend was summarized in twelve points that expressed a completely racist, deplorable and superior status towards the Mexicans. One point that caught my attention was the one about Mexicans being of mixed race. Even though part of their race is of European descent the Texans still viewed it as inferior as they considered the Spanish race a second-rate type of European. Though it was a European race they probably had an inferior view to it because it was not associated to the Anglo race.
I look forward in continuing to read this novel and in learning more about a heroic figure and the study of his life and the legend that he represents. This figure and his confidence, escapes from capture and personality inspired Mexicans and brought them together in remembering him through corridos written in memory of him.