Chola Salvation

Estella Gonzalez. Arte Público, $18.95 (200p) ISBN 978-1-558-85914-2
Gonzalez’s debut collection delivers a layered portrait of Mexican American life rooted in 1980s East Los Angeles. In “How to Tell a True East LA Story,” the narrator claims East L.A. cannot be captured only by representations of gangs or cops, but by “little old ladies... trying to dig out the latest gossip” and “Mexicans who work at anything,” a sentiment Gonzalez honors in many of the stories, which blend mystical elements and realism. In the busy title story, the teenage narrator escapes from her abusive parents with the help of Frida Kahlo and a “chola” Virgen de Guadalupe, who lead her to El Paso where she apprentices with a tattoo artist aunt. The characters in “I Hate My Name” and “Peroxide” yearn for whiter features, contrasted by the Chicano pride featured in “Boulevard Saints.” While some of the stories feel slight, the most resonant explore the heartache that stems from prideful silence and isolation within families, as in “Little Soldiers,” about a Vietnam vet who tries to connect with his estranged daughter and grandson by giving him a haircut ahead of his confirmation, and “No Such Thing,” about a gay bookstore owner ashamed to ask his family for money to help his failing business, both of which are highlights. Ultimately, Gonzalez catches her stride to create an inviting tapestry. (Apr.)
Reviewed on : 01/27/2021
Release date: 04/01/2021
Genre: Fiction
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