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Full Text to Scholarly Book: Latino Fiction & the Modernist Imagination

Latino Boom Chapter 4
The Lost Worlds:
Once Upon a Latin Moon


Recommended Films:
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  The Motorcycle Diaries

 

The Maldonado Miracle: by first-time director, Salma Hayek
El Norte

Fiction

Rudolfo Anaya: “In Search of Epifano” 
While modern-day technology vis-à-vis the Internet has made it easier to find information about family trees, this search is much more complicated.  As is the case for immigrants with ancestors in other countries such as Mexico, the main character, who is almost eighty years old, has to travel far in order to find out about ancestors.  She yearns for something more than information and hopes to rediscover part of herself, for she has never stopped thinking about her past and her roots.  Her journey ultimately leads her to an epiphany. 
  1. What does the color white symbolize?

  2. What objects remind the main character of her past?

  3. What qualities does she associate with Indians?

  4. Does the old woman have the type of qualities that you might expect from someone her age?  Why or why not?

Links:
American Book Award Winner:  
Books by Rudolfo Anaya
Genealogy Resources for Hispanic Americans on The National Archives Site
 
Daniel Chacón: “Biggest City in the World”
Professor Rogstart, as a professor and scholar of Mexican history, knows more about Mexico and its people than Harvey Gomez, the main character in the story.  Throughout his stay, Harvey demonstrates his unease at being in Mexico’s unfamiliar environment.  In many ways, the story revisits the question of whether one can return to a country of ancestry and still be considered part of that country.  For many Latinos in the U.S., this question is a familiar one as they find themselves as strangers in places where they expect to be welcomed.   
  1. Why is Professor Rogstart so standoffish with Harvey?

  2. Which of the two characters appears to know more about the struggles of Mexicans?

  3. Why does the driver make that statement at the end of the story?

  4. According to the U.S. Department of State, some estimates of a population of 18 million would make Mexico City “the largest concentration of population in the Western Hemisphere.”  The title of the story refers in part to population, but what else?

Links:
PowerPoint Presentation of Images of Sites Mentioned in the Story
Books by Daniel Chacón
U.S. Department of State Profile of Mexico


Sandra Cisneros: “One Holy Night”

Not many authors are able to go inside the minds of characters as well as Cisneros.  In this story, a young fifteen-year old girl tries to make sense of what she is told by the people around her—mainly her grandmother and Boy Baby.  As readers, we know that she has a seemingly simple way of viewing the world.  Notice, for example, how she uses terms such as “bad” or good” and how her definitions of adulthood are at a very basic level.  Yet, throughout the story the influence of the Mayan beliefs lies at the forefront, in part guiding her choices and the way she views the world.  The man who calls himself Chaq Uxmal Paloquin is easily able to manipulate her, though the girl does not realize this until it is too late.  Without a doubt, he knows the power of Mayan myths in Mexican culture and is very likely familiar with the ways that parents introduce them to young girls in order to help shape their behavior.   

  1.  Do you think that in the end the narrator realizes how fortunate she is that the situation could have been much worse?

  2. What is your reaction to the name, Boy Baby?  Why?

  3. In what ways does the narrator believe that she is wiser than other girls?

  4. How much of the girl’s behavior to you attribute to her age and how much do you attribute to culture?

  5. Compare and contrast the narrator of "One Holy Night" with the narrator in "Summer of Nene" (see link below).

Links:
Books by Sandra Cisneros
Sandra Cisneros Site

PBS Web Site on “Lost King of the Maya”

Short Story "Summer of Nene" by Ivelisse Rodriguez
NPR: "Stylized Fairy Tales Inspired Sandra Cisneros' Cross-Cultural Voice"

Antonio Farias: “Red Serpent Ceviche
As noted in Latino Boom, “ceviche” refers to a Latin American coastal dish consisting of mixed seafood “cooked” with lemon.  Likewise, this story offers a complex mixture.  In this story, the foods, the drinks, and the people in the story are themselves a mixture, as are the jobs they hold as farmers and shamans.  The main character, Simon, does not quite know what to make of this mixture of people, who are embodied by the train/serpent.  Yet, he understands that upon leaving them, to being part of them again may not be so easy. 

  1. What is Simon’s impression of the Quechua language?

  2. In what regards is the landscape of the story unique?

  3. Make a list of the ways that Farias’ description of Ecuador appeals to the senses.  How is this connected to the title?

  4. Is there a place that you feel you can’t return to?  At what point did you realize you couldn’t return?

Links:
U.S. Department of State Profile of Ecuador
 

Guy Garcia:  “La Promesa”
The first thing that stands out in this story is its Spanish title, which connotes that the promise is somehow related to culture.  Unlike some of the other characters in stories in “The Lost Worlds” chapter, Tom Cardona has returned to Mexico not because he has a nostalgic urging, but because he has to.  In fact, given the choice, he would rather be in the United States.  Raised in the suburbs (where according to the Pew Hispanic Center, 54 percent of all U.S. Latinos reside) and born in the U.S., Tom does not have much of a connection to Mexico and has no inner desire to learn about his ethnic origins.  His main motivation for going back to Mexico and find out whatever happened to his grandmother’s nanny, Blanca Morrell, is so that he can get the $30,000.00 willed to him if he solves the mystery of her fate.  While the story can be said about his search for Blanca, Tom actually makes quite a few discoveries about himself.
 

  1. In what ways is Tom’s resistance to his grandmother’s request justified?

  2. How do the people of Mexico react to Tom?  Are their impressions of him justified?

  3. In the end, what does Tom discover about himself?

  4. Have you ever had to follow up on a promise even though you didn’t want to?  Did you feel like Tom?

Links:
Books by Guy Garcia
Guy Garcia Site
Pew Hispanic Center Findings on Latino Populations in Suburbs
 

Ana Menéndez: “Confusing the Saints”
Just as the main character, Clarita, has to decipher fact from fiction in order to figure out what has happened to her husband, Orlandito, the reader has to distinguish the “fairytale-like” features of the story from the beliefs that are based on Santeria and Orisha.  “Santeria” refers to the religious system with African and Catholic roots, in which saints (or Orishas) are worshipped. Clarita prays to Santa Barbara and consults an herbal woman, and these acts illustrate not only her faith, but the belief and traditions that many modern-day Cuban Americans such as Clarita hold.  To many readers unfamiliar with her faith, her actions might appear to be based on superstition, but in reality, they are not dramatically different than the worshipping practices of those who are followers of other religions. 

  1. Contrast the manner in which the worshipping of Saints is portrayed in the story versus the way that it is portrayed in the media.

  2. Clarita’s desperation is obvious in the story, but in what ways is Orlandito’s desperation just as strong?

  3. Why does Menéndez begin and end “Confusing the Saints” with the story of the Orishas?

  4. How do others generally react to your religious faith?  Why?

Links:
Books by Ana Menéndez 
University of Miami Site on Santeria
 
Poetry

Jimmy Santiago Baca: “Roots”
The cottonwood tree can grow as high as 100 feet and is found near bodies of water.  This poem pays homage to its strength and to a certain degree, its determination.  The poet’s father, like the cottonwood, has withstood painful mistreatment, but at a price.  The father’s tears illustrate that although he has survived, that his journey has not been without sacrifice.  His land which came to him as part of a program in which Spain granted land to individuals was no longer valid, most likely as a result of the U.S. Government’s failure to protect his interest (and that of other Mexicans) after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.   

  1. In what ways does the end of the poem imply revenge?

  2. What is the significance of the visitor’s being “skinny”?

  3. In part of the poem, the tree is described as a nuisance.  What is the significance of this?

Links:
Pushcart Prize Award Winner:
Books by Jimmy Santiago Baca
Great Plains Nature Center Page on Cottonwoods
Jimmy Santiago Baca Site
 

Jimmy Santiago Baca: “Dust Bowl Memory”
The Dust Bowl refers to a period in the 1930s during which the U.S. was going through the Great Depression and during which a severe drought took place, resulting in dust storms that worsened the poor, dry agricultural conditions of the Southern Plains and parts of the Midwest. The neighbor in this poem arrived in the U.S. at just about the time that the Dust Bowl was beginning to take place.  What is striking about the poem is that he looks back on that period as a time when people were afraid of being robbed, yet among such sad memories is the contrasting image of Mexicans who sold the “finest” tomatoes and chile.   

  1. What else do you think the neighbor might talk about next?

  2. How do you think the neighbor views the fact that only Spanish was spoken in the valley at one time?  Why?

  3. What do the “two solitary mesquite trees” represent? 

Links:
Pushcart Prize Award Winner:
Books by Jimmy Santiago Baca
PBS Materials on the Dust Bowl

 Blood In, Blood Out: screenplay by Jimmy Santiago Baca
 
 

Victor Hernandez Cruz: “African Things”
As indicated in anthology, this author incorporates music into his poetry.  Notice how the rhythm of each line is almost like a drumbeat.  The author uses monosyllabic words as a way to move the “song” along.  The polysyllabic word, “African” changes the flow of the poem but also highlights the main theme of the poem.  Meanwhile the punctuation in the poem, or the lack thereof, reminds the reader that it is part of a wider, oral tradition.  It should be noted that Hernandez Cruz’s celebration of “African things” acknowledges the presence of African roots, and this is something that is not always found in Latino cultures.  The closing line pokes some fun at the idea, in a sense treating the African presence like it is kept secret: “I know you know” (16).

  1. Listen to a salsa song and read this poem aloud.  In what ways does the poem match its rhythms?

  2. Why do you think the author chooses to use such a general word as “thing”?

  3. Who is “the wonder man” (1)?

Links:
Books by Victor Hernandez Cruz
Diálogo Magazine Essay: “Discrimination Within the Latino Community” by Carlos Flores

 

 


Diane de Anda: “Abuelas”

Commentary by the author:

"Abuelas"  (which means grandmothers) was written as a tribute to my grandmothers (Nacha and Concha) and great grandmothers (Mage and Jesucita), who were children and young women during the 1910 Mexican Revolution.  The first stanza refers to the stories of their experiences during the revolution that they shared with me over the years.  "Soldiers' boots" refers to the Federales (government soldiers) and "bandoleras" to the revolutionaries (both the followers of Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata) who wore bandoliers (criss-cross belts of ammunition across their chests).  Women, young girls in particular, knew to be wary of both sides.  The reference to "wailing grasp of girlhood ghosts" indicates that the stories were those of terror and death.  I remember two in particular.  As a child, my Grandmother, Nacha, witnessed the massacre of Chinese in a small town by the Federales for their supposed aid to the Villistas.   My grandmother described the blood soaked laundry carts where the soldiers bayoneted the hiding Chinese.  In retribution, the general's Chinese cooked poisoned him.

 The second story also haunted my grandmother, that of a pregnant woman stomped to death in her bed by a man on horseback.  The line "horse hooves of la Revolución” refers both to this incident and the sound of horse hooves that signaled an army approaching or entering the town.

 The second stanza relates to their impact on my life and that of my children, of how previous generations and the history of previous generations gets woven into the life of subsequent generations so it becomes part of their lives as well.  It took years before some of the secret memories could be shared, some so painful that they could only be whispered.  My great grandmother, Mage, had an immense store of dichos (wise folk sayings) that she used to teach three generations and just as I forged a strong bond with her as a child, my children and their generation developed a deep and special relationship with their great grandmother, Nacha. Despite the 75 to 80 year difference in their ages, the children were drawn to her and they spent hours enjoying each other's company. 

 The last stanza communicates my fear that despite the power that the abuelas were in my life and all the images they created for me about their life experiences, that as time passes I can recall only pieces of this legacy.  Moreover, it is not just that some events may be forgotten or hazy, but that I cannot communicate their lives to others with the same emotional and psychological power and intensity that they communicated to me.  The word, APAGADO, represents the finality of this situation with the death of my last grandmother, Nacha.  The impact of her death is indicated by the capital letters and by the use of the word which is often used to indicate that a light has been turned off or a flame, especially a candle flame, has been snuffed out.

  1. While in the Internet era, capitalization of words has come to imply yelling, why does the author use all capital letters in APAGADO?

  2. The author refers to the spinning of songs in trilling chords, but in what ways does this poem, itself, trill chords?

  3. Why are the “dark memories”(6)  to which the poet refers kept secret?

Links:
Books by Diane de Anda
The University of Texas at Austin Site on the Mexican Revolution
 

Carolina Hospital: “Finding Home”
The United States if often referred to as "the north" or "el norte," though in this poem, it also refers to the northern colder climates that are a stark contrast to the Caribbean, Central America, and parts of South America.  An important word in the poem is “again” (which is used twice in the poem) for it suggests a recurring migration not unlike geese’s.  To the poet, the grayness is an unwelcoming sign and the opposite of the colorful landscape and comfort she feels at home. 

  1. Who is the “you” in the poem?

  2. Do you think the “you” in the poem feels the same way about the north as the poet?

  3. What associations do you make with any location that is north of where you live?  Why?

Link: 
Book by Carolina Hospital:  Child of Exile: A Poetry Memoir
 

Magdalena Gómez: “Mami”
In this poem, as much as the daughter tries to deny the existence of the mother’s spirit, blaming it for such things as her need for caffeine and cigarettes, the mother’s spirit still reaches out to her.  The daughter copes with the effects of having a mother who pointed to her faults and a grandmother who was abusive.  Just as importantly, the uncontrollable rage the daughter feels about the difficult life her mother had brews within her. 

  1. To which slaying does the daughter refer at the end of the poem?

  2. Describe the type of relationship the daughter and mother may have had.

  3. Who do you think the “witch” is who raised the mother?

Links:
Magdalena Gómez Site
 

Pat Mora: “Curandera”
This poem pays homage to the curandera, a healer who in Latino cultures often plays a role similar to a pharmacist or doctor’s.  She is seen by people who have faith in the healing power of herbs and plants and who sometimes do not have the financial means to afford to see a doctor.  The poem’s descriptions of desert and nature reflect her spiritual connection with earth. 

  1. Although she is a widow, in what ways is the curandera not alone?

  2. Describe what her life may have been like before her husband died.

  3. Who shot her husband?

Links:
Books by Pat Mora
Pat Mora Site
 

Judith Ortiz Cofer:  “The Latin Deli: An Ars Poetica”
The subtitle of the poem refers to the poetry of art, and in this poem, Ortiz Cofer shows  us the art that is present at the Latin deli.  The deli is a colorful place, full of charismatic characters, where even the items, from the dried codfish to the green plantains provide powerful images.  The poetry of the deli is everywhere, from the list that the old man reads to her to the labels of packages, which when read aloud have a poetic sound.   

  1. Beyond the items they purchase, what else do the customers desire?

  2.  "Ars Poetica" is the title of other famous poems, including one written by Horace.  Research the influence of Horace’s work and argue its connection to this poem.

  3. What disillusions does the poem refer to?

Links:
Books by Judith Ortiz Cofer
University of Georgia Site on Judith Ortiz Cofer

 

Ricardo Pau-Llosa: “Frutas”
While a growing number of communities in the U.S. are now offering products from Latin American and the Caribbean, part of Miami has been known for decades as a “Little Havana.”  The mamey fruit is colorful and is sometimes used as the subject of paintings or clay art.  The poem plays with the word itself and its similarity to Miami, as if to suggest that no matter what, Miami is not Cuba.  The poet’s perspective is different than his parents and grandmother’s, as evidenced by his description of the fruit as football-shaped.  Not knowing much about the fruit, he places it in the context of his U.S. background, while the grandmother, even if in jest, is able to tell much more about the fruit from just the taste.   

  1. It what ways are our taste buds affected by the setting in which we eat?  In what ways might a fruit, for example, taste differently in one country than in the other?

  2. At the end of the poem, why does the grandmother respond the way she does?

  3. How do the parents feel about the taste of the local mameys?

Links:
MameyPurdue University Site With Information on the Mamey Fruit
Books by Ricardo Pau-Llosa

 

Aleida Rodríguez “The First Woman”
In Latino cultures, views on sexuality and homosexuality are conservative, to say the least.  Here the poet’s desire for a woman causes her to be silenced and exiled.  Her desire originates in Sunday school and can be seen as an original sin in a number ways, such as the fact that it’s prohibited from a religious standpoint.  The reverse of Adan is “nada,” which means “nothing,” while the reverse of Eva, "ave"means “bird.”  The reversal of names is important because likewise, the poet reverses many roles.  She is the suitor, and she desires a woman.   

  1. What does “the invert twin” (12) mean?

  2. Is the girl or the teacher the first woman? 

  3. Why does the fact that the church is Presbyterian take away some of the child’s worry?

Links:
Books by Aleida Rodríguez

 

Gary Soto: “History”
Up to this final stanza in this poem, the reader is given the impression that the grandmother goes throughout her days without major worries.  However, we find in the final stanza that her health is poor, that one of her sons died from a fall and that not all is as well as it first seems.  What is most striking is that the grandson does not know why she cried at night, since that something provides her with the most pain.

  1. Compare and contrast the grandmother in this poem with the other matriarchs mentioned in the other poems in this section.

  2. What are the places in which “we all begin” (63)?

  3. Why does she shine at night? 

Links:
National Book Award Winner: Books by Gary Soto
Gary Soto Site
NPR All Things Considered: Gary Soto

Essay

Richard Rodriguez: “Go North, Young Man”
The notion of Manifest Destiny was in part predicated upon the idea that the U.S. could continue to expand westward and as a result, the areas of the West and Southwest which were Mexicans and Spaniards lived, became prime real estate.  As Rodriguez argues, the motivation for expansion was built upon myth—to go West did not necessarily guarantee the enticing riches.  He further points out that this view can contrasted with the notion of “El Norte,” as Latin Americans view it.   

  1. Throughout this essay, Rodriguez uses sarcasm to highlight certain points.  Provide examples of this.

  2. Do you agree that it is more accurate to be described as American or North American?  Why?

  3. In what ways does Rodriguez’s use of examples based on personal experience enhance his argument?

Links:
Books by Richard Rodriguez
PBS: The Online NewsHour Links to Richard Rodriguez Essays
 

 

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Last Updated:
February 11, 2013
Copyright 2006 LatinoStories.com design and content by John S. Christie and Jose B. Gonzalez
Copyright 2006 Latino Boom: An Anthology of U.S. Latino Literature, Pearson Education, Inc.
Copyright 2006 Latino Fiction and the Modernist Imagination, John S. Christie