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Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa (Writing in Latinidad) Paperback – September 1, 2011
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Top Customer Reviews
This seemingly simple question can elicit many complex answers and even more questions. Case in point: Rigoberto González's poetic and heartbreaking memoir, "Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa" (The University of Wisconsin Press, $24.95 hardcover).
González is an award-winning author of poetry, fiction and children's books. He is also a book critic contributing regularly to the El Paso Times.
How did González, the son of migrant farmworkers whose first language was Spanish, become González the writer? Answers begin to emerge from his painful assertion of himself as a gay man in a culture steeped in machismo.
González tells of his journey into adulthood and a life of literature in a nonlinear fashion, moving back and forth from childhood to adulthood, Mexico to the United States, self-loathing to self-revelatory empowerment.
The book begins in Riverside, Calif., in 1990. González, as a college student at the Riverside campus of the University of California, has fallen in love with an older man who, as symbolized by painful yet beautiful "butterfly" marks he places upon González, brings both tenderness and brutality to the relationship. The unnamed lover cheats on González and doesn't hesitate to beat him up to establish his superiority over his young man. At times, González believes he deserves such brutality.
Other times, he is grateful to have escaped the oppressiveness of his family and its legacy of dropping out of high school to work in the fields. The escape comes in the form of literature. A sometimes-callous, sometimes-tender teacher named Dolly lends the young González a poetry book and works with him to subjugate his accent. And the fire is lit: "I became a closet reader at first, taking my book with me to the back of the landlord's house or into my parents' room, where I would mouth the syllables softly, creating my own muted music."
González then suffers the death of his mother when he is only 12. Compounding this loss, he is shipped off to live with his tyrannical grandfather. His own father -- who abuses alcohol and carouses with women --eventually starts another family, further alienating González. Again, books prove to be González's salvation, eventually leading to his surreptitious and successful application to college.
González remains closeted in both his sexuality and intellect, realizing that neither facet of his identity would be understood or appreciated by his family.
In the midst of scenes from his college life in Riverside and his adolescent exploration of sex and literature, González recounts a long and agonizing bus trip with his father. He leaves Riverside and travels to Indio, where his father lives, so they can begin their journey "into México, into the state of Michoacán, into the town of Zacapu, where my father was born, where my mother was raised, and where I grew up." This passage home takes on a special aura because González will turn 20 while there. Throughout the trip, González longs for his lover while seething with an almost uncontrollable anger toward his father. Throughout, he wonders if this trip was a mistake or a necessary part of becoming an adult.
What makes a writer? Obviously, talent is a necessary ingredient. And in the case of González, add to the mix hard work and a burning desire to be heard. Ultimately, it is a mysterious alchemy.
In any case, "Butterfly Boy" is a potent and poetic coming-of-age story about one man's acceptance of himself. There's no mystery in that.
[This review first appeared in the El Paso Times.]
BUTTERFLY BOY: MEMORIES OF A CHICANO MARIPOSA speaks to us about cruelties we do not want to confront: physical and sexual abuse among gay men, child sexual abuse, continuing cycles of abuse, poverty among immigrant farmworkers, family abuse linked to socioeconomic conditions, and inequality in secondary and higher education. These are some of the issues most of us have lived, our "dirty little secrets," but very little of us admit to. I praise Rigoberto Gonzalez for his courage to bring this out to light.
Without a doubt, BUTTERFLY BOY is an example of taking risks with one's writing. Each scene is more heart-breaking than the last, and addictive. Addictive not in the sadistic sense, but because Gonzalez weaves a narrative that pulls you in, and its unsentimentality and your empathy that won't let you go. His prose is poetic and never dramatic. A read you won't be able to put down.
This book will become a classic in Chicano/a and ethnic literature. Worth the buy at any price.
Nothing can be more true than when Gonzalez said that he writes about a life no longer lived. He is an accomplished, award-winning writer and a leading figure in Chicano letters, movers and shakers. He is currently a professor in creative wrting at Queens College in New York. It's hard to believe he went through all the events he writes about, plus more I can't imagine, and still become as successful as he is now. Considering his up-bringing and where he's arrived, I hope this book falls into the hands of those who face similar adversities and have shrinking hope.
In this book the migrants travel back & forth between Mexico and the US so the two brothers, as well as other family members, are of different nationalities. Since I know nothing of Mexico I was unfamiliar with many words, phrases and place names but it didn't change my understanding of the story.
This is an excellent book about a culture I never thought about before and how difficult life is, especially when you stand out because you're educated, gay and motherless.