The Observer Review: Huizache #4

In the fourth issue of Huizache we discover characters that would seem to go against the literary journal’s mission to “challenge ethnic, gender, or social stereotypes”: a teenaged Latino gangbanger; a young Hispanic woman losing her virginity before she is ready; an African American struggling to fit in to her college environment. But stereotypes or not, these characters do challenge readers, forcing us to look deeper and empathize with those on the fringe, those who, it turns out, have many of the same fears we do. These disoriented, flawed and very human characters permeate the magazine, published annually by CentroVictoria at the University of Houston-Victoria with offerings of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and artwork.

Steven Ramirez’s “Vatos on the Moon” tells the sad and sometimes funny story of 13-year-old Tury. Tury’s teachers dismiss the boy’s ambition of becoming a gangbanger, telling him that gang life is not a real aspiration, and that he must take the world seriously or else he won’t be taken seriously himself. But to Tury, his goal is serious, and far more realistic than those of many of his fellow students, including an aspiring astronaut Ramirez humorously describes as having “a fishbowl turned upside down his peanut head, talking about planting tomatoes on the moon.”

Ramirez gives us an honest glimpse into what it can feel like for a young, ostracized teen surrounded by ambitious and corrupting people who hold power over their neighborhoods. Tury realizes that the “world don’t care what the hell you do,” and so, rather than ever again be scared off the basketball court by the East Side Locos, he seeks safety in their numbers. Ramirez depicts, with unflinching brutality, Tury’s initiation into the gang, and he captures just as vividly Tury’s pride as he endures the beat-down:

And it was amazing, Tury thought, freaky even, how thin, how temporary, this pain could be—compared to other things, like boredom, and anger, a constant and bottomless hunger—because he wasn’t even feeling it anymore, swear to God, not the fists, not the knees, not the dozens of cholo ass vato boots smearing him like dog shit against the blackened earth. In fact, his mind had never felt more puro, his body never lighter, and if he wasn’t so out of breath, if his jaw hadn’t been yanked right off its hinges, he might’ve screamed for more.

“Lumberjack Mom,” by Carribean Fragoza, captures a similarly frantic energy. A group of siblings watch with shock as their single mother hacks down the unfruitful lime tree she and their father had planted in the backyard; what she’s really doing is tearing out roots that never took hold. Fragoza beautifully captures the
optimism the family once had when, as immigrants, they smuggled the tree seeds in their luggage from Mexico:

“Together, bound by complicity, we silently relished in our secret accomplishment, and held warmly in our hearts, the knowledge of those protected little seeds that were on their way to starting a new generation. Just like us.”

Fragoza’s story mirrors the hopes that many immigrant families have of establishing roots and flourishing in a new home, often only to learn that the soil isn’t as fertile as it appears.

Back south of the border—sort of—the poem “Smooth Talkin’ Dog” sensually captures the bipolar energy of Tijuana. Mexican poet Roberto Castillo Udiarte digs beyond the troubled, drug-ridden image of the border town known as TJ, while smoothly capturing the duality of the heavily American-influenced city:

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Bienvenidos to TJ,
where homies, surfers and punks,
narcos, cutthroats and detectives,
live the life they love and love the life they live;

where politicians and investors,
factory bosses and customs agents,
businessmen and money changers,
lottery-ticket hawkers and policemen,
are the true illegals

Udiarte brilliantly displays the complexity involved in loving a flawed yet beautiful city, offering up thanks “to the folks at home, the guys and gals who keep things real, / because in our veins blood and heart continue beating, / sowing a cluster of hope into the world’s darkness.”

For those living in Texas and other border states who want to understand neighbors who at first glance may appear to be different, Huizache, four years into its run, continues to provide a glimpse into the fault lines of identity, presenting people who struggle to find their way in the world but continue to fight, resilient in their own struggles. You may have a lot more in common with them than you think.

Freelance writer Ramiro G. Hinojosa lives in Austin. He served in Iraq from 2006 to 2007 with the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division.

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Published at 12:00 am CST