Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15 – October 15, celebrates the histories, cultures, and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. In honor of this monthlong celebration, I would like to highlight two contemporary Hispanic fiction novels: Angie Cruz’s "How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water," and Jaime Cortez’s "Gordo.”
While both books narrate aspects of the immigrant’s journey, these stories are vastly different, challenging our assumptions of the “American Dream,” and forcing readers to consider what is worth fighting for.
“My name is Cara Romero, and I came to this country because my husband wanted to kill me.” This is the opening line of Dominicana author Angie Cruz’s fourth novel, “How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water.”
Cara Romero has been in the United States for 27 years, working contentedly at the “factory of little lamps,” until she loses her job in New York’s Great Recession and is thrown, once again, into the job market.
The predominant quality that sets this novel apart from others is its unique and inventive structure. Cara Romero is set up with a job counselor and, throughout the course of 12 sessions together, she begins to narrate her life story— how she came to New York with no more than $10 and her son on her hip, the fallout of multiple strained relationships, and a handful of tempestuous love affairs.
This book surprised me! The structure grew on me, and somewhere around the halfway point I realized how deeply invested into the character of Cara Romero I was. I laughed with her, grieved with her, and celebrated with her. Cara Romero is proof that it’s never too late to change, heal, and become a better version of ourselves.
Moving on to the second book: Chicano author Jaime Cortez paints a gruesome yet hypnotic glimpse into a 1970’s California migrant workers’ camp in his latest book, “Gordo.” This collection of 11 short stories chronicles the day-to-day life of a Mexican family working in the garlic fields.
Told largely from the perspective of a bookish fourth-grade boy, “Gordo,” these stories portray the complexities of migrant life. We see a little boy who wants to cry but is repeatedly told not to, a little boy who wants to jump rope and sing but is made to put on a wrestler’s mask and fight instead, a community where violence reigns, danger is imminent, and a bottle of Mexican Tequila is better than gold.
Cortez’s “Gordo” is a marvel, a highly compulsive read that is reminiscent of Morgan Talty’s “Night of the Living Rez.” I couldn’t put this one down.
Next on my reading list for Hispanic Heritage Month is “The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros, a modern classic of Chicano literature. What about you? What are you reading for Hispanic Heritage Month? Drop by the library for some inspiration and pick up a book from our Hispanic Heritage Month display. Happy reading!