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Book Review
By

Vincent Bosquez

[This review first appeared in

The San Antonio Express-News]

 

Our House on Hueco
By Carlos Nicolas Flores Texas Tech University Press (2006)
ISBN:
978-0896725737

         To a 10-year-old Hispanic boy growing up poor in an El Paso barrio in the 1950s, life can seem idyllic: you come home from school and mom is always there, making tortillas for the evening meal; dad is the strongest man you know; and everything you could ever want in a best friend lives right next door. You seemingly have everything you need under your family's rented roof until the day your parents tell you you're moving out of the only place you've known as home for a "better" life in another part of town.

          Arriving in the new neighborhood, everything isn't really what it seems. Yes, the newly purchased beautiful house is there with its light brown brick walls, white wooden columns on a porch, and a swing hanging from two chains in the ceiling, but there's also an Anglo family living inside! Unbeknownst to everyone, "Pop" has made a deal to rent out the formal house to an Army family, and have his family live in the subterráneo (basement) while he strives to build an apartment in the backyard that will one day house the clan — all in the name of economics.
           Carlos Nicolas Flores has made this unique premise the foundation of his debut novel, "Our House on Hueco," a coming-of-age young adult fiction tale told through the voice of 10-year-old Junior, who must come to grips with a world he didn't know existed outside the closed confines of his barrio.
           Junior quickly learns that the move has not only brought about new living arrangements, but also a new way of looking at family members and friends, and causes him to ponder a belief system preached to him by his Puerto Rican father that the United States is the land of opportunity if one is willing to work hard and make sacrifices.
          Throughout the novel, Flores explores themes of racism, poverty, and the complexities of human nature in a family that is struggling to claim a part of the American dream while seemingly not wanting to let go of parental birthlands, customs and cultures, especially when mom, who hails from Mexico, comes into contact with "los gringos."
          Flores, a co-founding director of the South Texas Writing Project and a winner of the Chicano/Latino Literary Prize, boldly lays bare his perception regarding the nuances of Hispanic patriarchy by making his father figure macho beyond what most non-Hispanics would deem acceptable or even realistic. Then he carefully peels back the layers of Latin male stereotypical behavior to reveal a man who ultimately only wants to do what's best for his family.
         While "Our House on Hueco" is written for young adults, it tells a quintessential story that transcends generations and racial divides. It is gritty in substance, yet amusing and alluring when it needs to be, and nostalgically familiar to anyone who grew up in the '50s without losing readers who are living their teenage years in the 21st century. Flores has expertly woven a tale that deserves a wide audience and a permanent place on your bookshelf. 
 

 

Vincent Bosquez is president of the Society of Latino and Hispanic Writers of San Antonio