Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Publisher/Year: Books on Tape, 1993
Length: 5 hours, 56 minutes
Narrated by: Kate Reading
What it is: Set on a Mexican ranch at the turn of the century, Mama Elena keeps a tight leash on her daughters. Tita has it the worst; she is expected to spend the rest of her life cooking and caring for her cruel mother. When her chance at happiness arrives and she falls in love with a man named Pedro, her mother refuses to consent to their marriage, and instead arranges for another of her daughters to marry Pedro. As a skilled chef, Tita infuses magical realism into the story, pouring her emotions into the food she prepares, including the wedding food she is forced to prepare for her sister and Pedro.
Why I listened to it: It’s a classic, and I felt like the last person on the planet who had not read this book. This book was also banned in Tucson.
What I thought: I feel like a bad Mexican for saying this, and I know I’m in a very small minority, but I think I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t like Esquivel’s writing. At all. It started a couple of years ago when I read Malinche (which I deemed one of my worst reads of 2010), but since that was my only encounter with Esquivel, I chalked it up to the book. But no, it’s Esquivel. I can see why people like her epic-style storytelling; her writing has a sweeping grandness to it. And I wanted to like Esquivel for writing about some of the problematic gender expectations in Mexican culture. But I just could not get on board with the message. The rest of this part is one big spoiler, so highlight the text to read it: Tita pines away for Pedro for her entire adult life, even though he marries her sister and royally screws her over. When they finally get a chance to be together, he dies (from happiness. UGH, what a douche.)…at which point, her life is no longer worth living, so she goes out with a bang. Please no.
Chicano! the History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement by Francisco A. Rosales
Publisher/Year: Arte Publico Press, 1997
What it is: A history textbook published to accompany a 1996 PBS documentary of the same name. The book focuses on the history of the U.S. – Mexico border, especially the important moments for Mexican Americans in California, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The book then builds up to the activism of the Chicano movement in the 1960s through the mid-1970s.
Why I read it: This is one of the books that was banned in Tucson, Arizona, and I’m on a mission to read entire list of banned books.
What I thought: The book is very interesting, and I’d love to watch the documentary to see how the two complement each other. I already knew some of the things that Rosales covered, but there was a lot I didn’t know. I also loved getting to learn a little more about south Texas history, and think of some of the stories my grandfather used to tell me about his childhood and school experiences in the context of the book (like being punished for speaking Spanish).
After being blown away last year by Manuel Muñoz’s What You See in the Dark, I knew I’d be seeking him out again shortly. Then Tucson, AZ decided to shut down its Mexican American studies program and ban a bunch of books, and lo and behold, Muñoz’s first two books (both short story collections) were on that list.
The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue is Muñoz’s second book. It features ten loosely interconnected stories about Mexican Americans living in a neighborhood in central California. Most of the stories involve gay Mexican American men carrying their own private burdens, but the bigger theme here always comes back to family. As homosexuality is often at odds with traditional Mexican Catholic beliefs, Muñoz’s stories often explore the subtleties of familial relationships and love.
The book opens with the devastating “Lindo y Querido,” which begins with two teenagers who are in a motorcycle accident; one of the boys dies instantly, while the other lingers in fading health. The mother of the surviving boy futilely tends to him as best she can, but fully expects him to die soon. Things happen at the end of his life and in the days that immediately follow that will forever leave her guilt-ridden. Meanwhile, we learn a little bit about the other boy who died; he was a triplet, and one of his surviving brothers gets his own poignant short story (“Señor X”) later in the book. These were probably my two favorite stories in the collection.