Monday, February 22, 2010

Of Pollitos, Life, Swimming Holes & H.E.B.: The Echos of the Rio Grande Valley

The most important thing in any culture is stories, a history. Folklore that is passed from father to son across generations are essential. I don't know where I would be had it not been for the "camp fire" stories from my  grandfather, or those moralistic tales told by my grandmother. Valleysong is a collection of such stories, essays that remember the past of looking toward the future. 

And that is where my crux begins. How can both appreciate and frown upon a book? 

Both my grandparents and my mother taught me well. Let me start with the negative before I can sort out the positive.

Dr. Rob Johnson - English professor at the University of Texas, Pan American - once told us that several people were upset over a book he was an editor of - Fantasmas - because it set our culture back several decades, making us out to be naive and foolish. The collection of short stories revisited several folkloric tales that molded the thoughts of our parents and grandparents, which painted us in a manner of still believing the spooks that haunted our childhood. 

Off the bat, that is how I felt about Valleysong in the first few essays. Here we had outsiders looking inside our culture, describing us in a light that might be rather unflattering. Our way of life has altered so much over the generations that I felt the Mexican-Americans, los tejanos, the Hispanics, y Chicanos weren't represented well within the pages. I almost didn't get passed the first section. 

But the words of Emmy Perez - a creative writing professor at the University of Texas, Pan American - echoed in my head as I continued on: Who will tell our stories? 

With my grandfather's passing when I was just in third grade, the ghost stories came to an end. At least, for a couple of decades. When I started writing, I focused on the present. These days, I think about the past. Who was I? How did I come to this place?

I may not be a writer of the tortilla story. I may not be a writer who has lived in the age when the Valley was still young. And may never be able to write an authentic story of the yesteryear. What I am sure of is that the writers featured in Valleysong - my friends, my second family - are that voice.

So who will tell our stories? Who will record our histories? Pues, I'll tell you who: Siân Taylor Gonzalez, Ann Greenfield, Elizabeth Gearhart, Judith Bowen, Olga Valle-Herr, Audrey Engels, Euchay Ngozi Horsman, Richard Sanchez, James C.H. Evins, Virginia Villarreal Mann, Jan Seale, Barbara Barens Ertl, Anne Estevis, Peggy Snodgrass and B.J. Ewing

Valleysong, in the few days that I took to read it, has taught me more about the past of this melting pot than any history text. We are even better with it in our lives. Thank you.

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