Saturday, November 22, 2008

Which character are you?

I didn't know what 'Chicano' meant before taking this course. Honestly. On the first day of class I sat down having really no idea what kind of literature we were going to read. In actual fact, I had to look up where the Río Grande was on a map! (she admits reluctantly)

Fortunately, much of the literature we read in class I was able to relate to, despite my initial ignorance of who these authors were and where they came from. I can not relate to their stories of immigration and I couldn't grasp their feelings of identity loss, seeing as in my life I'm still trying to locate my identity in the first place; but I could experience their sense of humanity. Many of these authors wrote their stories (fiction or not) with such vividness, and oftentimes such poetic verse, that I was drawn towards them. It wasn't a chore to read their tales of coming and going, loss and gain, crippling pains and small victories.

I'm not going to say which works I liked or didn't like. I'm not even going to mention them specifically. I think that they have each left a mark on me, with many of the characters leaving their footprints on my mind. And those footprints are important, especially when living in a city such as Vancouver where caucasian is seen as a minority now in our 'cultural mosaic'. Many people that live here are immigrants or the children of immigrants. It would be like having the first day of school everyday...not to mention in another language. I have never been racist or against immigration; although I now feel more enriched on the subject. I don't feel like I can understand their situation completely or truly empathize with them; however, I do ask different questions in my mind now when I look at people of another nationality: Where were you born? Why did you move? How are you treated? Does this country feel like home to you?

And sometimes: Which character are you?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

She says 'toque'...she's Canadian in my books!

A body to remember with, eh? This title made me think of the scar just below my knee where a piece of blue glass lodged itself, and the basketball that crippled my pinky finger because I didn't realize that tendons and ligaments tend to repair themselves in a mangled way. But as I read the book, its political background shifted my thinking: the struggle, the triumph, and the journey is written upon the bodies of these characters (presumably upon Carmen herself). It's what they can experience with their senses and what they can remember with their minds that makes them unable to forget their past.

Another recipe: To create and a body to remember with, take the frame and poetic phrasing of Woman Hollering Creek and stir in as much political disturbance as you can from How the García Girls Lost Their Accents. Add a tablespoon of immigration and a pinch of identity loss. Bake for 166 pages and cover with a toque to keep warm.

As you can see from the recipe, I found many similarities between and a body to remember with and some of the other books we have previously read in class. Although the characters and experiences are different, there are reoccuring themes of identity, immigration, political unrest, and remembrance. On a side note, I've always felt that language structure influences culture. For example, latinos have a language where they must remember what gender they are using so as to have agreement throughout the noun, the adjective, the article, etc..., this translates to these people having an amazing memory of their history. However, whether it's due to their language or not, it appears that they are not a culture that forgets.

I enjoyed reading these stories because I could relate to the Vancouver setting. I saw Stanley Park, 4th avenue, and UBC campus in my head, exactly as they exist and how Rodriguez experienced them. When she spoke of Chile it felt like a separate book, one which I could vaguely relate to. In the powerful chapter "3-D" on page 95, there are several cassettes of Chilean artists in the room. This struck me as intriguing for reasons that go deeper than simple 'outside observation'. Perhaps I could see my own room if I were in Santiago, Chile, with CDs of Shania Twain, Bryan Adams, and Alanis Morisette; trying to preserve my Canadian identity in a Chilean world. I felt strangely connected to a woman seeking a refuge from her torturer; a woman who I really have nothing in common with.

This collection of stories shocked me with its vigilante struggle and the emotional turbulance of forced immigration. I had no idea that all this had happened in Chile. I suppose that's why Rodriguez wrote this book, to show people like myself that there are governments out there that have to the power to wreck people's lives; and they do it, without a care. I wish I'd read this book before I visited Chile. I believe it would have brought me more insight into the culture. As it was, I could never have imagined such crimes happening there. I'm ignorant, I know that, and I think that a good majority of us Canadians take what we have for granted. And so, in true Canadian form, I say: "Welcome to Canada! Here's your toque."

Thursday, November 6, 2008

It takes an island to raise a child.

What struck me most about the second half of How the García Girls Lost Their Accents was the amount of people who actually contributed to the lives of these girls. It seemed to cement that old saying that "it takes a village to raise a child", although in this case perhaps the whole Dominican Republic was in on it!

In pondering the reverse chronological order of the book, apart from the chapters actually being published for the first time out of order (which could be another clue to their innovation), I would also like to think that this set-up is to give us a view of the girls' adult, 'developed' personalities, and then bring us back to the points in time that helped shape them into who they have become. I enjoyed this style, as the technique isn't all that common. It made me feel like a psychiatrist with each girl on my couch recounting their life stories and I had to be the one that decided which experience had affected them in which way. On this note, I found that many of the girls saw the world through the lens of their hobbies. Yoyo's chapters were founded by a much more poetic voice which showed how her entire life was governed by this talent for words which she has. Sandi, as the early artist in the family, speaks of the sky as a ''cloudy canvas'' (page 245). It was refreshing how the language the girls used in describing their lives stemmed from their varied talents.

In Sandi's chapter 'Floor Show', the truth of how a nice person can make all the difference to a foreigner shone through. Although due to Mrs. Fannings crazy antics this may not be what we are supposed to take away from this chapter, I still felt humbled by the presence of someone (Mr. Fanning) who would help this family enjoy a dinner out of the house while they were in dire straits. In my travels I have found the most memorable moments come from when a native of the country helps me out: a ride to the next town, extra money, directions, ANYTHING!!! Also, when I travelled in South America, one dollar could go a long way. So although I am not an immigrant as the Garcías are in the book, I feel their powerlessness when I return to a first-world country and a buck can't even get you a bus ticket. How terrible it would be to leave your home country as a well-off family to come to an unforgiving city where you have trouble making ends meet.

I really wish that Alvarez had written the speaking on the island IN SPANISH!! I found it hard to relate to Mamita when she yells, supposedly in Spanish, "Damn it!...You all say he pees holy water, well he's been peeing it all right!" I guess I just feel like such an outburst should be written in the mother tongue; but with the majority of the book being in English, it is more inviting to a larger English-speaking audience...which is perhaps whom Alvarez is trying to reach. Although I must say, I love the christmas carol on page 264 which goes: "A Santa Claus le gusta el vino, A Santa Claus le gusta el ron..." Those Dominican Santas sure know how to party! ;)