Books: The Mexicans by Phillip Oster and Rain of Gold by Victor Villaseñor
Many years ago when I thought it was necessary for me to understand Mexico, I read two books. Both gave me new insight, but they did not lead to understanding. For that, I would need to learn to the Spanish language and perhaps even live there. At Least travel there more frequently. But even people who were born in Mexico and lived there all their lives profess not to understand Mexico. At least not in a way that allow them to explain the country to her northern neighbor. Nowhere in the world are there two countries with such sharp differences–in economics, in customs, in assumptions–that share a common border. The more I live near the border, and the more I read, the more confusing it becomes.
The book The Mexicans, A Personal Portrait of a People (1989/2002) by Phillip Oster, tells the stories of twenty Mexicans from various part of Mexican society. Oster gives glimpses of everything from the survivors who live off of garbage dumps, to a doctor trying to help the poor. The very fragmentation of looking at the country through so many different people’s lives, points out the difficulty of understanding the whole picture. However, through direct quotations and his description of these lives, we are drawn to a personal understanding of at least pieces of the puzzle. The book allows you to meet people you might not meet in your travels.
In some ways the myths and legends woven into Rain of Gold (1989) by Victor Villaseñor reveals more truth than factual dissertations on Mexico. Rain of Gold is the first in a trilogy about his family, and some day I will get around to reading his other two memoirs, Thirteen Senses and Burro Genius. Rain of Gold is a hefty book, and not always told with smooth, literary flair. Don’t let those facts put you off. It has stuck with me like few books do. I liked its emotionality, the way it shimmered between real scenes and imaginary happenings, past and present. The personality of the author comes through. If you want to see his compelling personality, take a look at some of the videos of him you can find on YouTube.
5 thoughts on “Finding Mexico in Books”
Thanks for the comments and suggestions, Jessie and Kerry. Boy, Kerry, you’ll keep us learning about new music, won’t you!
I’d agree with Jessie that reading can only take you so far in understanding a place. architecture, food, art, music, history, faith — and those are only parts as well.
as far as music goes, for the US Mexico borderlands, Tish Hinojosa’s albums Frontejas and Aquella Noche are two I’d suggest, and the people at Arhoolie Records have a good collection of reissues of all sorts of early music of the border, and of other parts of Mexico also.
i am not sure that anything we read can contribute enough to truly understand a place.
that said, i am enjoying an article in the new yorker abt slim carlos, an international financier who is now part owner of the NYT. he’s an incredible force for mexican finance. it is very interesting.
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