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Book Review
By

Vincent Bosquez

[This review first appeared in

The San Antonio Express-News]

 


Book Review: 'Windows Into My World: Latino Youth Write Their Lives'
Edited by Sarah Cortez
      

Pick up any newspaper on any day of the week and you will undoubtedly find a story concerning Hispanics who are struggling to assimilate into U.S. culture, with varying degrees of success.

Research and statistics go a long way into supporting such an article's point of view, but if you look behind the numbers, you may be surprised to find individual stories of courage and heartaches of people trying to adapt to a culture in a land they call home.

"Windows into My World: Latino Youth Write Their Lives," edited by Sarah Cortez, was born out of a class that Cortez taught for the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Houston and a belief that Hispanic undergraduates could write compelling and complex literary memoirs based on their life experiences.

Thirty-six Latino voices are included in this collection of essays written by men and women from various Latino backgrounds (Mexican American, Puerto Rican, Dominican and Salvadoran) reflecting the diversity of the United States. The book is filled with hopes and dreams for a better future, while simultaneously revealing the tender emotions of past wounds still unhealed.

In "Becoming Latina," E. M. Rodriguez, who grew up being afraid she wasn't Latina enough with her blue eyes and light skin, recalls an incident in elementary school in which she had to fill out a standardized test form. She was stumped on whether she should check "Hispanic" or "White" and didn't get any assistance from the teacher's aide administering the test.

"I was left to sort out my ethnic identity on my own. My definition of what it meant to be Hispanic pretty much came from what I saw on television and in popular culture. According to those rules, I should have bronze skin and dark eyes and speak Spanish fluently. None of that applied to me, so I ended up checking the box marked 'White.'"

The essays that make up "Windows into My World" are written by authors who yearn to be embraced, soothed and reassured that tomorrow brings with it another opportunity for redemption. It captures perfectly what young eyes see and comprehend in the confusing world they call home.

Juan Macias, a native of Tampico, Mexico, entered the United States with his mother and younger sister in 1995. His essay centers on an event that occurred years earlier when his family was paradoxically torn apart to stay together.

"I never saw my father get on the bus," Macias recalls of the only time he ever saw his father cry. "I did, however, catch a glimpse of him pressing his face again the cold bus window... There he was, looking down at the family he was forced to leave in order to offer us a better chance in life. The tears that inundated his eyes suddenly fell from his face ... this image will remain with me forever."

Cortez's collection of essays evokes powerful images of a segment of society struggling to find its place despite language barriers, cultural differences and historical challenges. It should be a must-read book in every high school senior-level English class due to its thought-provoking subject matter such as friendships, death, sexuality and divorce written with grace and dignity by young Hispanics who are a microcosm of America's society.

 

Vincent Bosquez retired with the rank of captain from the U.S. Marine Corps after 23 years of service and is president of the Society of Latino and Hispanic Writers of San Antonio.


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Last Updated: July 06, 2009