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George Washington, South of the Brazos BY RUPERTO GARCIA GEORGE WASHINGTON GOMEZ By Americo Paredes University of Houston: Arte Publico Press, 1990 302 pages, $8.50 IT IS A LITTLE bit surprising, for those of us who generally don’t read prefaces not written by a book’s author, to dis cover that Americo Paredes wrote George Washington Gomez when he was in his early 20s. He wrote it, on and off, from 1936 to 1940. Some 12 years later, in 1958, he wrote With His Pistol in His Hand, a scholarly work on the “Ballad of Gregorio Cortez,” which became the basis for a PBS movie by the same name. George Washington Gomez is set in a time of change. On the streets, Model Ts chug along beside pack wagons, and men moving a house to a new location can be heard, “lashing the curved backs of the mules,” doing the strenuous hauling. And inside their homes, Mexican families try to figure out how they will treat the ever-present and the newly arriving Anglo, who has come into Texas and now controls much of the land, mostly through the backing of the rinches the Texas Rangers. Many of the Mexican men have fought revolutions against leaders in Mexico and want to continue the fight against the encroachers in Texas. And when Mexican children are born, parents first waver about what to tell them, then watch to see what they will decide: whether to assimilate into the new culture or continue the fight. George Washington Gomez is one of the observed. It is a blessing, or a curse, depending on how you consider it; that George Washington Gomez is born into a time of such uncertainty, an uncertainty that itself creates in him a type of dual citizenship. His family, gives him two names and two separate, though perhaps not mutually exclusive, goals. “I would like my son,” says the mother, “… to have a great man’s name. Because he’s going to grow up to be a great man who will help his people.” “My son,” says the father, “… is going to be a great man among the Gringos. … A gringo name he shall have.” They settle, after discussing the “great North American Former Observer is a writer and attorney living in Austin. … general” who “fought the soldiers of the king crossed a river while it was freezing,” and “freed the slaves:” “Jorge Washington.” The grandmother thinks she hears “Gualinto,” and for many years the child is Gualinto. There, in a simple literary device, Americo Paredes expresses the cultural, social, and familial conflict at the core of the novel. FILE PHOTO Americo Paredes There is some evidence that a beginning writer has written this novel. Occasionally, a paragraph is laden with similes and metaphors the grass becomes a “carpet of little glass slivers,” the papaya plant stands “incrusted in a coat” and is expected to become a “brown corpse,” and the wind is “clear and keen like a shining blade” all within five or six sentences of each other. Just as quickly, though, Americo Paredes’s literary skill becomes evident, as when he describes the future of a then-young woman: Years hence, “she would be like her mother, who sat beside her, toothless and wrinkled like a prophecy.” The venting of anger in some passages, as when Mexicans run into someone they believe is a rinche spy, is overpowering: “He ran and got his horse and tried to make it trample the corpse, but the horse would not do it.” Adult anger is played out in the games of children, as when a child slashes with a wooden knife, face-high, toward a banana plant that serves as a make-believe rinche: He “pressed against him, driving the buried dagger deeper and deeper, working it around in the wound to make it more surely fatal.” The act is followed by the child’s realization of the damage he has done and the feeling that he has to hide his actions. The difference in points of view: “Their country? … Their filthy lies are all over you already. I was born here. My father was born here and so was my grandfather and his father before him. And then they come … and call it their own.” And George Washington Gomez, carried along by internal and external change and turmoil, is watched by everyone to see what he will do next. It is growth and change as a reflection of all that surrounds the protagonist that makes George Washington Gomez something to read. Besides, the conflicts addressed in George Washington Gomez are still with us. We have made advances: no longer do curved-back mules pull houses down local streets, and no longer do wagons compete with automobiles. But the primary issues addressed here remain with us. Hispanic children, like children of other minorities, are still observed by parents trying to determine just how much resistance they will give to the majority culture, and how much of the old ways particularly language they will maintain. But most of all, the Mexican still hasn’t completely figured out what to do with the White Man. And the White Man hasn’t come to terms with the Mexican. Whether the conflict is resolved in the manner that George Washington Gomez resolves it remains a concern. 0 ANDERSON & COMPANY co FEE TEA S1’ICES ‘MO JEFFERSON SWAM: AUSTIN, TEXAS 7S731 51.2 453-15’33 Send me your list. Name Street City Zip THE TEXAS OBSERVER 25