Page 19


Golondrina, why did you leave me? By Barbara Renaud Gonzalez University of Texas Press .176 pages, $24.95 The question is posed innocently enough: “.Como cruzaste, Mami?” “How did you cross the border, mommy?” Yet 6o-year-old Amada evades it, heating gorditas and swiveling her hips to a love tune. Why can’t her daughter, Lucero, probe her for chisme? She’d be happy to divulge the latest ‘scandalo of her four sisters, or of the neighbors across the street. But no. Lucero only wants to hear that story, the one Amada is afraid to tell. So she lays down her spatula and lights a cigarette. The story that slowly unfolds is the basis of San Antonio writer Barbara Renaud Gonzalez’s debut novel, Golondrina, why did you leave me? First, a definition is in order: Golondrina is Spanish for swallow, the tiny songbird with the mighty wings. According to Latin lore, God gave golondrinas the gift of migration because theyof all the birdstold the best stories when they returned to their nests after a worldly adventure. Amada tells her daughter, “The best story sometimes takes a lifetime to tell, that’s why you have to tell it over and over until you get it right.” No one knows that better than Gonzalez, who spent a decade writing this book. You wouldn’t guess the effort involved from her lyrical prose, which is as breathless as it is dreamy. But you can glimpse the labor in the book’s scope, which chronicles a family of Mexicanosturned-Tejanos from the 17005 to the present, with all the suffering and celebration along the way. The story opens during the early part of the tot’ century in post-revolution San Luis Potosi, Mexico. A young Amada tries to support her family by selling sweetbread in the plaza. At 15, she finds a faster road out of poverty: marrying wealth. On her wedding night, Amada’s mother informs her that a woman’s duty is to aguantar, to silently accept her plight. But Amada soon decides that no woman should aguantar like this. Night after night, her much-older husband Sapo, or Toad, violently rapes her, “thumping her body like masa for tortillas” and filling her with “toad juice:’ Three years later, she has had enough. Enlisting the help of Sapo’s handsome cousin Jorge, she makes a break for El Norte, leaving her baby girl behind. Much lovemaking ensues as the couple travels to the border at Matamoros. You can feel Amada’s disappointment when she gazes upon the promised landaka Brownsvillefor the first time. “The air here isn’t blue like San Luis … but taffy-sticky, smelling of burned peanuts, day-old pork … and the sweet-sour farts from the cars honking in line to cross the bridge:’ “What did you want, my beautiful refugee, the Statue of Liberty?” teases Jorge, a married man who must stay behind. “For a mexicana, you think those gringos are going to have a statue waiting for you?” With a toss of her waist-length mane, Amada teeters across the bridge, bats her eyelashes at the Customs official, and promptly meets a Tejano called Lazaro, “a man who looks like someone’s found and sculpted a cast-off log of mesquite, breathing some life into it:’ She marries him three weeks latera mistake they’ll both regret for the rest of their days. From the beginning, Golondrina is about the brutality of love. For years and years, you pine for “a shirt’s sweet unbuttoning after a long night of tequila.” Then it comes andbefore you know itis gone again, leaving you with a smashed heart, a swelling belly, or both. So you wait and wait some more, until one day you realize it’s too late. Your face is crinkling; your nalgas are prickling; your breasts, which used to be a “perfect 32A,” now resemble “a discounted mango:’ Only then does it crystallize that “your dream came true after all, you had your one romance, only nobody told you it’s not supposed to be forever:’ iAye! Pour me some mescal. The heart ain’t the only thing aching in this novel. According to her author’s note, Golondrina is a fictionalized version of Gonzalez’s own family history. “The events are completely real to Texas … a story so cruel and sublime that if I wrote the truth you wouldn’t believe it,” she states. Many of those truths involve the sacred vacas of Texas, including Richard King, founder of the King Ranch, the cattle concern that in its heyday was the largest the world had ever known. King generally gets the royal treatment in Texas letters, Departures & Arrivals BY STEPHANIE ELIZONDO GRIEST 16 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JULY 10, 2009