Monday, November 7, 2011

The Holiday Season is here! ~BUY NOW~ Strawberry Fields for any book lover

Immediate Release
November 7th, 2011

Strawberry Fields, A book of short stories

(McAllen, TEXAS) –This holiday season make a smart buy. Pick up a Strawberry Fields for a loved one or a friend. 
A perfect gift for a book lover this holiday season Strawberry Fields is available in paperback or on kindle.

Strawberry Fields, A book of short stories tells a tale of three generations of a Mexican family as they make their way from Northern Mexico to South Texas,” says Ramirez. The book is written like a novel but readers can read chapters as independent vignettes.  The book is also a murder mystery. Most of the focus, though, is on that period in the 1960s when the “baby boomers” begin to come of age. Strawberry Fields is symbolic of both the strawberry fields in Michigan at which farm workers labored to improve their lot, as well as an abstract place that represents the dreams and ambitions of a young Joaquin, the protagonist.

Ramirez grew up in the Rio Grande Valley, attended Pan American University in Edinburg, Texas and is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin School of Law. He practices law in McAllen and Strawberry Fields is his first fictional work.

For reviews of the book and more information on the author visit or The book is available for purchase at Barnes and Noble for order and in Kindle format and paperback at

The Examiner's Karen Tanguma reviews Strawberry Fields

Karen Tanguma of  San Antonio Literature Examiner, writes, “The intriguing novel, “Strawberry Fields,” features the migrant journeys, experiences, and memories of Joaquin (attorney), as an adolescent farm worker from South Texas. Similar to the migrant stories of Tomas Rivera, Chuy Ramirez entwines different aspects of Mexican American migrant history with a variety of fictional elements in the telling of his story. For instance, the author attempts to unravel the mystery of the strawberry fields’ murder by meticulously building suspense in the novel with a series of short stories.

The jingle “Grandfather tree, grandfather tree, why don’t you tell your secrets to me” foreshadows the mystery behind the murder of Joaquin’s first intimate acquaintance (a blond migrant girl) and Joaquin’s upcoming self-reflective journey toward transformation into mainstream society and enlightenment about his own identity. Through a hero’s quests, Joaquin (attorney) accepts the challenge to depart from his familiar surroundings of the courtroom and revisit (comes to terms with) the trials and tribulations of his past.

The author, Chuy Ramirez, ignites Joaquin’s passion to revisit his past and embrace his own heritage through his childhood memories, while creatively featuring them independently throughout the novel’s chapters. The novel opens with Joaquin nostalgically reflecting on his past (unsolved murder) and upcoming vacation (road trip) to Michigan and Indiana. In its entirety, the novel reveals pivotal moments of Joaquin’s life in short stories, such as his first communion, his experiences salvaging and riding a tricycle, and his non chalaunt attitude (unresolved issues) toward burying his estranged father. In closing, the novel maintains suspense with the unsolved murder mystery. So, stay tune for a possible sequel!

Like Tomas Rivera, Chuy Ramirez uses his experiences (field laborer) and his talents to honor the cultural heritage of Mexican American migrants and the American Dream with “Strawberry Fields.”
The author of “Strawberry Fields” Chuy Ramirez grew up in the city of San Juan in South Texas and is presently an attorney in McAllen Texas. He attended Pan American University in Edinburg Texas and the University Texas Law School, before settling in as a partner in the law firm of Ramirez & Guerrero.
ISBN: 978-0-615-32672-6

Susana De La Pena reviews Strawberry Fields, A book of short stories

I just finished reading Chuy Ramirez' Strawberry Fields. As a native Texan from the Rio Grande Valley,I can relate to much of what Ramirez remembers about this place and its past. I felt as if I, too--along with Ramirez' protagonist, Joaquin--had gone on a nostalgic, and ambiguous, journey back in time, and back in place.

I am so happy to find a book like this--written by someone of my own generation--that is written so well (even poetically at times), so tellingly, and with such accurate attention to detail and cultural truth, about this unique place and its own cosmos of humanity. Strawberry Fields is a delight to read because Ramirez grasps, and conveys, a masterful "ear" for the authentic, unique, and rich language of the people of this place; only a native South Texan, like Ramirez, who has long listened to the inhabitants of this place could have written this. Moreover, although my family did not migrate to the Midwest from South Texas as the family in Strawberry Fields does, reading this book took me on a journey, along with the main character (Joaquin) through the geographical and psychological/emotional terrain that can be said to be South Texas. Additionally, although I live in Southern California, now, Joaquin's journey took me back, personally, and I, too, as I read this, was reminded of much of my own growing up in the Rio Grande Valley, with the great spirit and sense of humor that people from here have.

The first couple of chapters, only, seemed a bit slow for me (but that could very well be my own fault/not that of the book). I didn't immediately care for the characters introduced (again, I may have been distracted while reading in the beginning)--but I stayed with it, and am glad that I did. Very soon the pace picks up and then it's hard to put the book down. His fascinating, recurring nightmare, and the haunting image of the "blonde girl" from his (Joaquin's) past, seduces one to the very end--to those very last pages when we discover the truth. Or think we do. There is much ambiguity in this novel-in-stories that is not only intriguing, but which also makes for such a rich story about a most complex time in our American histories (U.S. and Mexico). Ambiguity and ambivalence are key to the text, as we are led through some rather surreal dreams and scenes that would be a field day for any Jungian depth psychologist--leading us, together with the protagonist, to critically examine that which is true, imagined, or dreamt (both in the text, and perhaps even in our own memories ). The non-linear, circular structure of the narrative supports the weavings in and out of dream and reality, of past and present, that occur within Joaquin's consciousness and in this novel-in-stories.

Strawberry Fields is a mystery story. It is also indeed a journey on many levels--of both the internal and external landscapes. It is a psychological thriller, as well as a memoir (or autobiographical fiction) and bildungsroman/coming of age story. And it is both a nostalgic--and starkly illuminating--return to a way of life that is at once "the way it was, back then" and the way it very well is, still, for many. (Just like our memories, and our own demons, when finally faced head on/dealt with--by us, in our present--in other words....) The dramatic changes that do occur--especially within the protagonist--also reveal a truly American story. As we witness Joaquin's amazing rise from migrant worker to professional lawyer, we become aware of an America, and an American story, all too often relegated to the margins. Thank goodness that Chuy Ramirez gives voice to (and raises many questions about) this oftentimes inspiring, as well as problematic, American story.

One finds both the specific and the universal in Strawberry Fields--both the mythic, universal themes of father/son conflict, for example, as perceived through the lens of specificity that is the Rio Grande Valley, with its own particular cultural codes of conduct and manhood. It is a hero's quest, and a people's pilgrimage; it is the story of one individual's consciousness and journey towards awareness, as well as a collective migrants', and Mexican-American/Chicanos', tale. In this regard it reminds me of a sequel to, a more recent continuation of, the classic Tomas Rivera's And the Earth Did Not Devour Him/y no se lo trago la tierra (Rivera being another South Texan).

The journey upon which Chuy Ramirez takes his readers is well worth it. In the process of the reading, one might even discover one's self along the way. Enjoy the ride.

Susana de la Peña, Ph.D.

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Picture in Pictures: Chuy Ramirez's Literary Portrait of Life in The Valley

A Picture in Pictures: Chuy Ramirez's Literary Portrait of Life in The Valley
Andres Aceves Reviews "Strawberry Fields"

The Texas Rio Grande Valley has long been a reservoir of cultural and artistic fertility. Caught in a limbo between two separate realities, The Valley embraces an identity of cultural sovereignty reflected in the region's language, music, food, and literature. A Valley resident and native son, Chuy Ramirez adds to the region's literary overture a book of impassioned scope: Strawberry Fields.

Technically labeled a book of short stories, the individual chapters of Strawberry Fields read more like vignettes (few exceed five pages) and the final product leaves the reader with a narrative cohesiveness more akin to the novel than the story collection. Though the stories span generations and meander along different points of view, the collection, in its entirety, assembles a mosaic of images that paint the very believable portrait of a family, region, and way of life. Indeed the narrative invites suspicions of "semi-autobiographical" writing, not because the protagonist, Joaquin, practices law like Ramirez, nor because of the migrant-living-on-the-border lifestyle shared between author and characters; rather, such suspicions arise from the tactile authenticity Ramirez infuses into his characters and settings.

One might say that mystery drives the narrative; the tension that keeps the reader engaged comes from a desire to figure out the unknowns Ramirez seamlessly introduces in the early stories. Joaquin is presented as a character anxious to accept--or, at the very least, to understand--his past, an anxiety his siblings don't seem to share. Thus, it is unclear to his siblings, as it is to the reader, precisely what he wishes to discover on the trip to Michigan upon which he seems so eager to embark. Through a disjointed and unsequential series of vividly rendered moments from Joaquin's history, the mysteries unfold and harmonize for the reader as they do for the character.

Some vignettes take place before Joaquin's birth, and they stagger in time and place (in one, the character buries his mother and learns of his estranged father's death, and in the next, a much younger Joaquin shares a breakfast with mom, dad, and siblings) but it seems the author intends this to be a statement that every person's story is inextricably linked to history, and that his or her identity is formed not by a series of causes and effects, but by a collection of moments. Ramirez's structure, then, is not simply an attempt to let every chapter exist as a self-contained short story. It is a reflection of the process through which we all make sense of our storied and chaotic personal histories.

-Andres Aceves

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Review of “Juana Macho” from The Heavens Weep For Us and Other Stories

Juana Macho is one of my favorites of Thelma T. Reyna’s collection of short stories.  The title immediately drew me back to East First Street in San Juan, Texas. It was the early 50s and I was still not in school when mother referred to a woman walking down the street as Juana Gallo.   I was familiar with the name Juanita.  The diminutive (“ito” for the male; “ita” for the female) which Chicanos added at the end of a word, signified a softening.  Sounds of words—the inflection—mattered.  I had never heard of the name Juana.  “Juana”    sounded hard.  And to my young mind, when combined with the masculine “Gallo,” and then properly inflected, the name had implied all kinds of nefarious and detestable character traits.      A gallo is after all a rooster, and a metaphor for fighter or macho.  Mom was showing her disdain for the woman by calling the woman a pachuca and a toughie or roughie.   Her use of this code word to personify Juana has been imbedded deep in my sensibilities.

Thelma‘s use of the character’s name as figurative speech is creative, and its use as a code word is an especially useful literary device  for her older Chicano audience .  For us, she effectively sets a historical time and place with the use of the name.    Her technique is to use a uniquely Chicano artifact to set up the environment for her story.  As a chicano and bilingual reader, I appreciate the depth of her work.  For not only am I generally entertained by her story, I also feel a special affinity with the setting which makes the reading experience much more enjoyable—more of my senses seem to be involved.                                             

 Those who attempt to write short stories can tell you how we dread the art.  Juana Macho is an excellent specimen of a short story.  It opens with action, moves through to the climax (and will make you weep, I assure you) and on to resolution.  The story has none of the clutter or background noise that interferes with the reader’s desire to become one with the story and simply experience it as it proceeds.  

Thelma T. Reyna initially misdirects the reader both with the use of her title in settling up the introductory scene.  Her Juana Macho becomes the mirror image of my Juana Gallo.  At first blush, Juana Macho confirms my ancestrally-coded disdain: this is the pachuca of East First Street.  With creative brevity and compactness, Thelma quickly slaps us out of our fallible perceptions and preconceptions.  How horrible we are to have judged this woman: this woman whose scars are not from hand-to-hand combat in beer joints with big, bullying lesbians.   We have a need to apologize to this poor victim of a gas heater explosion who has been branded for life. The accident during her early adolescence left scars on her face and arms and tore away her breasts. Juana Gallo’s appearance has become her survival mask.  She covers her femininity and internal “softness” with her façade.
Thelma, you make us weep!

*The Heavens Weep For Us and Other Short Stories,  by Thelma T. Reyna, Outskirts Press Inc., Denver, Colorado, Copyright, 2009

Review by: Chuy Ramirez, author of Strawberry Fields, A Book of Short Stories

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Writers Meet In Albuquerque

Writers Meet In Albuquerque

            What vistas an Albuquerque afternoon offers:  vertical layers of texture, depth and color!

We were there for the Ninth Annual  Latino/Hispano Writers Conference and felt right at home.  Thanks to the organizers and all of the presenters.  It is clear that they well understood and offered responses to the needs of fledging writers. In fact, the entire city welcomed us with open arms. The agents and publishers, in particular, held back nothing: getting published is next to impossible.  Making a living at it is, in fact, impossible.

Despite all the expert advice, it is clear that the participants were not discouraged.  They brought partial manuscripts, pitched ideas for publications, read excerpts and interviewed with agents.  Somewhere among them, I am certain, is a future Hemingway or Stephen King.  Writing is an art.  Therefore, not everyone can excel at it.  But we can all dream.  Can't we?

The second day was somewhat nostalgic for me. Poet, Alurista, read from his latest book of poems.  The first and only time I had heard him read his poetry was in Denver back in the 60s or 70s.  Can't quite recall.  Same guy.  Same unique poetry.  Sadly, unless one is bilingual (and, often, familiar with the historical and spiritual background of his poetry) it is difficult, if not impossible, to understand Alurista's poetry.  But there are several poems in this latest collection that will withstand time and will be universally admired.  Two of my favorites:  “Ran” and “Gazing”. 

Always humorous, Alurista read a tongue-in-cheek piece called "Orale!"  It is an excellent, creative portrayal of how Chicanos can take one word and depending on its inflection° express entirely different grammatical categories. A student of languages would have been amazed at this man’s insight into language and speech.

Congratulations to Aztlan Libre Press, San Antonio, Texas and to Juan Tejeda and Anisa Onofre on their inaugural publication, TunaLuna, Alurista’s Tenth Collection of Poetry.

° In grammar, inflection is the modification of a word to express different grammatical categories such as tense, grammatical mood, grammatical voice, aspect, person, number, gender and case.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Author Chuy Ramirez, UTPA Alumni

Chuy Ramirez, Author featured in Los Arcos, UTPA


Alumnus Chuy Ramirez speaks and donates to CHLSA, UT Austin

Chuy Ramirez donates to CHLSA



Yard of the Month/Pepito, the Blue-Grey Chihuahua

Chapter 22 ~Yard of the Month / Pepito, the Blue-Grey Chihuahua

As Manda exited the passenger side of the farmer’s 1959 Ford station wagon, she could already hear the Chihuahua barking excitedly from inside the home. Two tall ash trees along the driveway shaded the red brick home from the west. The Farmers had landscaped the flagstone sidewalk up to the front door entrance. Tiger lillies, a pair of firecrackers, and elephant ears framed the two steps up to the pair of walnut doors. A hummingbird flirted with one of the flowers on the firecrackers, its turquoise-blue breast glistening. A “Yard of the Month” poster was tacked to a stake in the yard near the front door.

The fall rains had washed away the desert dust from the plants. Rejuvenated, the Tiger lillies glowed greener, as if they were freshly waxed. I won’t be needing to wipe the rubber plants, Manda thought to herself. Poor Mr. Farmer is so naïve. He has no concept of the time required to clean a house properly. He makes it a point to remind me to please wipe the rubber plants once I finish my other work. As if there are actually enough hours in the day to finish with the farmer’s housework.

“Manda, the kids have practice this afternoon, and today’s our busy day at the bank. I’ll try to make it home by four-thirty to five.” Today, Manda would be at the back end of Mrs. Farmer’s schedule and would have to wait for her ride home until Mrs. Farmer was done. Mrs. Farmer clerked at the bank. On busy days, bank clerks were expected to stay around until the day’s transactions were all posted and balanced.

Back at home, Benancio and the kids would have to make do at dinner time by warming the food Manda had prepared. She smiled, for she had raised a good family. There were no complaints from the kids since that had been their practice from early memory. Her thoughts turned to Benancio, and she swallowed almost instinctively. Benancio was the breadwinner and he insisted on sitting at the kitchen table while Manda kept the supply of flour tortillas coming. He liked them right off the griddle.

She knew she would fail him again as she so often did, and again he would complain that all her work as a “maid” for the pinches gringos was all for naught. “It isn’t worth it,” Benancio growled, bottling up his anger until the point of eruption. At that point, he would grit his teeth and make a fist and strike the table at full force.

Mama would never disagree with him. “I’m looking elsewhere for a job, Viejo. I’ve been on the waiting list at the packing shed for a year now… you know that. Once I get that job, vas a ver (you’ll see), Viejo. I’ll be home by three, and I’ll cook great dinners for all of you.”
But Manda would never be called for the packing shed job.

“Up north” remained always in the back of her mind. If the children were ever going to make it through high school, there simply had to be more money.

Pepe was the Farmer’s two-year-old blue-gray male Chihuahua, and he must have known it was Manda that would soon be entering the front door. Otherwise, his bark would have taken on that frenzied tone. But it was Manda because it was Wednesday, and Wednesdays Manda spent her days at the Farmers. Tuesdays belonged to the Trents. Thursdays were for the Robinsons. Manda had always felt that Pepe somehow knew all of that.

The folks over in the south side praised Manda. They liked her cleaning. They liked her ironing. They liked how she left a kitchen spotless and rearranged the innards of their refrigerators, removing all of the spoiled fruit and the crud. And mostly, they liked her because she was trustworthy. They told each other that and often wondered what would happen if she were to get sick or too old to work. She always showed up for work, never complained, never took anything that didn’t belong to her, and she always had a smile for them. They shared her, accommodated each other. If the Robinsons were going to host a party on Friday, Mrs. Trent would accommodate the Robinsons and lend Mama to the Robinsons so that their home could be ready by party time. Is Manda up to it? Yes, Manda was always up to it. That’s why they liked her so much, because Manda was always up to it. All they had to do was drive by the house and honk their horn and there she was at their beck and call. Benancio hated how Manda would leave whatever she was doing and run out to the car as soon she heard the honk. Even if she was eating or dying her hair, she’d drop whatever she was doing and get out there as soon as possible.

As Manda entered the Farmers’ living room, the Chihuahua circled anxiously and then jumped up on its hind legs, begging to be picked up.
“Okay, okay, my baby. I’m here,” Mama humored Pepe as she wiped her feet on the doormat and hung the umbrella on the wall tree. She pulled off the oversized men’s grey canvass overcoat and hung it up in the hallway closet. Pepe jumped up to her arms as she bent over to pick him up.

“How’s my Pepito?”
The fidgety pup continued its excited welcoming.

“Hay, mi’jo, those eyes of yours! If only you could talk, you would say you love me. Pos yo tambien te quiero mucho. (Well, I also love you very much).” Mama allowed the pup to lick her nose.

It would be four-thirty in the afternoon before Mrs. Farmer would return from her own job at the bank, so Manda began with the kitchen. The Farmers’ kids had probably rushed off to school this morning since they hadn’t finished their breakfasts. But they had at least left no milk in their glasses. Such a waste, Manda thought. She inserted the carton cap on the glass milk bottle and returned the milk and the butter to their proper cubby holes in the refrigerator. She gathered the dishes. As usual, Mr. Farmer had left his cigarette butts in the ashtray. After finishing the dishes, she headed for the bathroom.

Like a trained Arabian stallion, Pepito marched stoically by Manda’s side. But at the bathroom, she closed the door behind her. Pepito wailed and scratched at the door. Undoing her blouse, Manda stared at herself in the mirror. Peering back at her was a woman with a small frame and large hands. Gently feeling one hand with the other, she ran her fingers over her calluses. Grinning ironically, she recalled how she and Benancio had promised that someday, they would be able to afford wedding bands, but it had been so very long ago.

Looking back up at the mirror, the reflection returned a nervous smile at her. She undid her blouse slowly, revealing the left side of her chest.
The German nurse had translated for Doctor James. “Manda, the doctor says that they have to remove the breast.”

“All of it?”

“Yes. They’re hoping it hasn’t spread to other parts of the body.”

“Chinita! (Darn!)” Manda buttoned her lips tightly. That had been the extent of her complaint.

“How much does it cost?”

“Well, it’s expensive. You’re going to have to go to the city hospital. Dr. James will only assist. They will have to get a surgeon.”

“Do you think it will be more than $250? That’s all the savings I have.”

“Oh, Manda.” the German nurse hugged her, and they both wept.

Inside the Farmers’ bathroom, tears came. Manda swallowed. “Please, Lord, tell me it’s all been a bad dream.”

But it wasn’t a dream—only the ugly surgical scar remained on her flat chest. After placing the false sponge breast in the bra, she snipped the bra on. And then Manda wept openly and loudly, and then she screamed until her eyes puffed. Outside the bathroom, Pepito had not stirred. Inside, he could hear Manda’s cries and offered his own low wailing in support. Drained of her strength, she sat on the commode and got her breath back. It would be months before Benancio would even notice that Manda had lost a breast.

Lifting her chin, she walked out of the bathroom and then let Pepe proudly lead her into the master bedroom. Next year, for certain, she vowed, we’re going up north, before its too late.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Blurbs for Strawberry Fields

■-The stories are satirical and often heart-wrenching, Panch Velasquez, En Contacto

■-A very impressive and interesting first novel, Dr. Genaro Gonzalez, University of Texas at Pan American

■The short stories of Strawberry Fields are like beautiful and colorful blouses made of delicate chiffon------revealing, Jose Ramirez, Jr, author of Squint

■-The dramatic changes that do occur--especially within the protagonist--also reveal a truly American story, Susana de la Pena, Phd

■-Like Tomas Rivera, Chuy Ramirez uses his experiences (field laborer) and his talents to honor the cultural heritage of Mexican American migrants and the American Dream with “Strawberry Fields.”, Karen Tanguma, Phd

■-Strawberry Fields is a reflective reminiscence of Chicano life, providing a glimpse into Mexican-American—and Mexican—migrants interacting at home, in the fields, and along the roads that link them, Dr. John Hart, Boston University of Theology

■-A book to read, Strawberry Fields is candid in illustrating family dynamics in raw form., Mirta Espinola, MA

■-The author’s language in these final scenes and throughout the most critical scenes is poignantly vivid and sometimes heart-rending. Ramirez is deft with his descriptiveness, Dr. Thelma T. Reyna, author of The Heaven Weeps For Us

Monday, April 25, 2011

Michigan State University: From the Fields to the Academy

From Chuy Ramirez


East Lansing, Michigan.

What a pleasure it was to sit on the same panel as writer Elva Trevino-Hart and Poet, Tino Villanueva last week at Michigan State University.

Elva’s autobiography, Barefoot Heart, is about this Pearsall, Texas girl growing up in South Texas and as a migrant farm laborer in Wisconsin. A top student at Pearsall, she went on Stanford in the 70s where she obtained her bachelor’s degree in theoretical mathematics and a master’s degree in computer science/engineering. For her work, Elva was awarded the American Book Award, the American Library Association’s Alex Award and the Violet Crown.

Tino Villanueva is the author of six books of poetry. His Scenes from the Movie

Giant (1993) won a 1994 American Book Award. He has taught creative writing at the University of Texas, Austin and The College of William & May. He teaches in the Department of Romance Studies at Boston University.

I was pleasantly surprised that among the participants was former alma mater, PSJA high grad, Jose Simon Villa, a Ph D. in education now working in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Chuy Ramirez’ book, Strawberry Fields, is available on-line at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

"Igualada": Exploring The Gloria Anzaldua Link Between Powerlessness and Chicano/a Self-Expression

“Igualada”: Exploring The Gloria Anzaldua Link Between Powerlessness and Chicano/a Self-Expression*

Copyright 2011. Essay presented as part of panel discussion; 2009 National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies Tejas Regional Conference, South Texas College, McAllen, Texas Feb. 24-26, 2011

~Chuy Ramirez

Igualada (e gua la da), noun, F. (old-fash, Borderlands Spanish), refers to a woman esp. a Chicana who believes herself (or behaves as if she is) equal to all; typically used as a form of criticism; see afrentoza; atravesada, atravancada, chocante. If the chicana igualada is inquisitive or challenging in any way, she can also be a metiche. If she is articulate and navigates her way in English and among others, she might be a lambiache or lambiscona.

The Borderlands did not change much prior to 1968. But 1968 marks, for me, the beginning of major social, political and economic changes in the Borderlands. The national student movement, urged on by the Vietnam War, the Delano farmworker’s strike in California and a new, confident and bold generation of Chicano college students could not be overlooked by the people of the Borderlands. The Political Association of Spanish Speaking Organizations (“PASSO”), the American GI Form and the League of United Latin American Citizens (“LULAC”) had, for several decades, advocated on behalf of Chicanos, including, the poorest of the poor, who lived in the Borderlands. But life in the Borderlands centered on agriculture, what had first attracted the commercial land owners back in the 1920s as well as the thousands of Chicanos who provided cheap labor. Agriculture needed no educated Chicanos. Farmers wanted young healthy bodies who would work for starvation wages. That was the Borderland world that most of us grew up in.

By 1968, the number of Chicano lawyers, public accountants and doctors in the Borderlands could, collectively, be counted on one hand (for those of the younger generation, ask your parents or grandparents and they will confirm this). But now, Chicanos were graduating from the local college, Pan American College (“PAC”), and a few were heading on to laws schools and medical schools and graduate schools. A few years before, Pan American College had begun graduating hundreds of Chicano teachers. These were our new mentors who provided convincing proof that any one of us had the potential to go on to college. It was only a matter of time before this new class of youthful, educated Chicanos, would begin to search for an identity and to explore politics as a means of fueling the economic, educational and social development of the Borderlands.

When I heard about the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies Tejas Regional Conference to be held in McAllen, Texas on February 24 -26, 2011, I finally resolved to try harder to understand this Chicana of whom I had only read sporadically: Gloria Anzaldua. I knew she was queer (she had been telling the world forever); wrote principally for women (or should we say, women of color) and gays and was highly respected in certain multi-cultural groups. But I learned she also wrote poetry and interspersed her works with Spanish words and phrases. I had never seen that done; not effectively. On a whim, without having sufficient background, I drafted a 100 word prospectus and titled it “Igualada”: Exploring The Gloria Anzaldua Link Between Powerlessness and Chicano/a Self-Expression”. “Igualado” is a word that I have attempted to give meaning to. I used the word “igualado” in my novel-in-stories Strawberry Fields to characterize a Chicano character beset by an inferiority complex as a boy who, as an adult, continues to overcompensate. Anzaldua struck me as such a character. She was someone from my backyard. I could immediately get into her thoughts and understand her intellect. She had truly explored the multiplicity of cultures, forensically, one might argue, challenging her own original, deep-seated, cultural views. Setting temporarily aside her “Chicanismo,” she had instead focused inward on the self and had discovered a new spiritualism that allowed her intellectual growth. She learned that she must navigate all of these different ways of life, and in order to so successfully, she must have a confident sense of self. Said another way, I felt that in order to overcome her inferiority complex, she had to develop that extra-sensory perception: learn to dwell in and navigate within multiple cultures as an equal.

In the few materials I had read I found a woman willing to challenge our most sacred of Chicano totems. But, she did not do so out of spite. She was challenging us as Chicanos, each of us individually, demanding that we search inward, and grow intellectually.

I knew I had made the right choice in selecting Gloria Anzaldua the new “Igualada”. But the remainder of the title I continued to question. Should I credit her with being a link between powerlessness and Chicano/a self-expression? The more I read the more I saw her moving away from my own comfortable Chicano mind-set. But yes, I had to admit that I found the word “self-expression,” in particular, appealing. Sure, it is such an over-used cliché. But, after I read piece after piece of her works, her interviews and her poetry, I realized that it did make perfect sense. “Self-expression” represents to me, a fully-conscious, wide-awake expression. And that is rare for most of us. Intellectually I was attracted to Anzaldua’s take: “self expression” was an expression (an abstract thought) devoid of all of that cultural baggage that we have loaded onto our psyche apparatus. Imagine, by focusing on the self, on the creative self, on the spiritual self, Anzaldua rips apart all of our traditional reliance on tribal culture as our primary source of self-identity. Que huevos! I (we) can be somebody else? This is indeed exciting! Where does it all end? Finally, someone had thumbed her nose at our Chicanismo, questioned our very own construct. Sacrilegious! Why did it take so long?

Gloria Anzaldua and I grew up but a few miles away from each other in the Borderlands (South Texas along the Rio Grande). She was born in the year 1942; I, in the year 1951. As Chicanos (one of the several “tribes” which Anzaldua would undoubtedly cast herself into during her lifetime) she and I saw much of that Borderlands world from the same vantage point. Yet, she seems, at times, to have experienced that world much more vividly, more intensely and more internally than I did. Perhaps a ten year difference in age explains it. Or perhaps because as a woman—and certainly as a Chicana and a lesbian—she pained deeper and longer and saw sources of her pain which I, as a man, was blind to. Her wounds took longer to heal.

These differences no doubt help explain her intensity. But, more importantly, Anzaldua appears to have moved away more quickly than most from the view that Chicano nationalism and Chicano political activism was our most effective change tool. Perhaps her views may come in part from her inability to philosophically reconcile the needs of her primary audience (who may not be principally Chicanos/Chicanas) with Chicano nationalism and Chicano political action. Or maybe, she is indeed Jung’s “Modern

Woman”, with superior, extra-sensory perception, who sees far and away ahead of the rest of us. I suspect there’s a little of both to explain her and I have no qualms conceding that or arguing that there is anything wrong with it.

You do not come across Anzaldua’s works by luck. You must search her out, for the audience that she has spoken to directly has been to Chicanas, Latinas, women of color, lesbians, dykes, queers (her words). Hence, Chicanos (men, that is) will not readily be attracted to her works.

As St. Paul would journey along the beaten Roman paths to deliver his letters to his small congregations, so too would this often self-assured/often self-loathing woman inscribe her memos to her legions. Her works could not have been meant to have commercial value or entertainment appeal (for one, they are hard reading and intellectual) for hers were often personal thoughts, spiritual endeavors and psyche explorations. Yet, she was so certain of their significance and their power to influence that she saved and copied every speech made, every interview given, every letter written. It was essential to her that her life story and her search into the self and the ego, be told in intimate and passionate detail.

No doubt, her exposure to the racism and economic oppression of the Borderlands must have initially compelled her Chicano activism. Like all humans, she must have been motivated by the pleasure principle (why was a little girl not allowed to be precocious and cute, and why was she forced to work the fields?).

Her journey of discovery must have begun like any ethnic activist of the 1960s. I would place her own beginnings at around 1968 when she still lived in the Borderlands and was a student at Pan American College (“PAC”). I met my wife that year at PAC during a voter registration drive in the Chicano east side. That was the year before Chicanas liberated La Lomita Mission from the Convention, ran us men out, and had their own closed-door session. At that point in her life, Anzaldua must have then been first and foremost Chicana. I use that word cautiously to describe a woman who, like the rest of the Chicanos at the time, was merely searching for a positive identity. We were then all just born-again, young hatchlings searching for an identity to replace that marginalized status assigned to us and our parents by the majority culture. Having precious little within the Borderlands to grasp onto, we, the Chicanos of the times, looked toward our immediate families and toward Mexico and her culture for an identity. For the first time in our lives, we truly sought to define ourselves in a positive mode. We wanted an identity, both for us individually, and as a group. It is at the intersection of this search for the “self” and the “group” identity where Anzaldua has departed ahead of most of us.

Not unlike the tribal member who sees too many faults and fissures in his tribal customs and culture, so too began Anzaldua’s quick departure from Chicano nationalism and Chicano politics. And her departure from that initial path took her on a journey that turns ever more intensely inward, toward the self, and toward resolution of the larger questions that beset the world and its peoples. Whether it has been a mask or her snake skin that Anzaldua wanted to shed, or her shadow she wanted to look at, she seems to have spent the better part of her adult life ridding herself of the tribal baggage that one begins to acquire beginning at birth.

Tribal and Individual Unconscious: The Point of Beginning

Tribal culture is a collective unconscious wherein language, symbols and myths produce a similar or unified response from its individual members. It is essential to tribal organization--indeed, essential to tribal survival-- that the individual’s responses to certain stimuli be both uniform and unconscious. Once an individual stops reacting unconsciously according to tribal custom and culture (includes tribal myths, and in more advanced groups, religious faith), she may be the thread which begins to unravel the tightly knitted, well-worn girth that encapsulates the tribe. Thus, the role of the individual in the tribe is to unconsciously advance the cultural interests of the tribe.

For tribal members, language induces the identical response from one member to another. A facial expression, an intonation or a certain bodily gesture is as good a communicative device as the verbal statement. The decibel level of a conversation, or whether more than one conversation are carried on among a group at the same time, may indicate total disarray to one tribe, but be an acceptable, and indeed organized, form of conversation to another.

Aesthetics, bodily adornments, our mannerisms, indeed our very gait and certain deference to persons on the basis of age or gender, are symbolic of the tribal culture. Deviation, depending on its degree, may be met with criticism, ostracism or outright banishment from the tribe.

The survival of tribal religion (myths, faith) is perhaps the most critical for survival of tribal culture and hence, perpetuity of the tribe. Tribal religion may arise and survive on rituals to gain admission to, and maintain active membership in, the tribe. Even in our modern Western religions, the symbols and rituals continue to play a major role in religious identity. They are both an outward expression of faith and a confirmation of identify. The most rigid of tribal identifiers, religion survives on its ability to survive not only generational and historical changes, but

scientific innovation and modernization. For religion to continue its force, for instance, it simply cannot allow the most advanced scientist to absolutely discard the essence of her tribe by replacing myth or faith with scientific fact. She must, at all cost, reconcile both, or find herself outside the tribe. Similarly, religion is at its best when it is defending its very essence against real or imagined threats. No doubt during times of prolonged and pitched war with outsiders, the tribe regresses in its faith more intensely (to the point of even readopting discarded views) and tends to shut out any views that may threaten tribal faith.

The Chicano Psyche

By her own account, Anzaldua had, from pre-adolescence shown an effect of preponderance for challenging her socially-defined status as a “Mexican” and as a female. I contend that both of these dimensions of her status were imposed principally by her Chicano culture (as opposed to the white culture). That is to say, that at such an early age, her young life, like the lives of most of us from the Borderlands, had been exposed only to close kinship. Therefore, all of her influences up to that point would have been her parents, siblings, and extended family, multigenerational in scope that would have lived nearby. In the Borderlands of those years, we attended segregated schools up through the sixth grade. Even for those Chicanos who were Protestant, separate, segregated congregations would have existed. Any contact with white society would have been limited to a teacher. Any exchange between Chicanos and the white world would have been rare and formalized. This historical background is important to consider for I rely on it to challenge Anzaldua that the Borderlands were a colonized area. But we will leave topic for another day.

No one that I know of has described with such personal and intimate detail the psyche of the Border land Chicano as does Anzaldua. Sadly, she began her studies late in life and her works are works in progress. She admits that. In cases where she has reconsidered an earlier view, she finds no difficulty in admitting so and explaining a modification of her theories. Thankfully, there is so much that she has said about the Borderlands, so that academics can in the future more objectively evaluate and challenge her theories. For my part, her greatest contribution is to challenge the individual to look inward before looking to the group. No Chicano writer before her had done that. Initially, I wondered why a work like this had not come from a leader, someone who had made attempts at changing the Borderlands, organized the community. It is not so surprising if we understand that politics is to a large extent consistent of manipulating public thought, corralling groups on the basis of easy formulas. That was something Anzaldua was not prone to do.

The Inferiority Complex

The Borderland Chicano psyche has developed from the historical confluence of two distinct and often diametrical opposites:

(1) a “Mestizo culture and consciousness” distinguished from any philosophy or political thought; and (2) the racist and xenophobic culture of white America (and in particular, a historical element of Texas culture, set on marginalizing Mexicans and Mexican Americans).

The influential forces which these two cultures have brought to bear on Borderland Chicanos can be explained in large part by an unconscious inferiority complex. I propose that Anzaldua’s theories about ego development are relevant to address this inferiority complex among Chicanos. While Anzaldua does not use the term “inferiority complex” to describe the condition of her psyche and Chicano psyche in the Borderlands, I propose that her life-long struggle was indeed a struggle which began by attempting to over-compensate, over-achieve and overcome that debilitating complex.

This complex of inferiority, for those who have never experienced it, is not simple nervousness or shyness, or an incidental reaction to an event or a circumstance and which can be easily overcome. Inferiority is an unconscious personal identification with an externally defined status or role. As an example, a child who in the late 1940s or early 1950s contracted Polio may very well have been isolated from other children by the public schools. The child may have been placed in special classes where other children with learning disabilities were placed. Externally, society tended to lump the physically-disabled and the mentally-disabled and assured that both received a substandard education. There is no doubt that society viewed these groups as “inferior”. These children were entitled to only a mediocre education. Often, their parents may have been of limited means and could offer little advocacy for their children. A child at a very early age can feel the marginalization, particularly if the status assigned her is universal: from parents, siblings, adult society and the educational system. There is no doubt that the students who were segregated simply because of their physical disability internalized what others thought of them and could very naturally develop an inferiority complex. This low or substandard self-image and self-esteem follows the child through adulthood. Regardless of the child’s accomplishments or great success, even under the most challenging of circumstances, which could be exemplary for most, she will always carry that underlying sensation that somehow she does not (cannot) measure up.

But how does this “inferiority complex”, which we can readily understand exists in individuals, arise in an identifiable group composed of entirely and exclusively of gender or ethnicity. Is that possible? I believe that the Borderland Chicano (with the proviso that we understand that the Borderlands have been changing in dramatic ways since 1968) carries this affliction of inferiority. I believe that the inferiority complex is so ingrained in the Borderlands that it explains both the over-compensating and overachieving (as I have described in Anzaldua), as well as many of us from the Borderlands.

If it is the pre-Anzaldua Borderland Chicana psyche that we are evaluating and conclude that she has an inferiority complex, we mean that the woman identifies with her socially-defined status. Hence, she is submissive to the male, and she is submissive because that is her assigned role. She will not—in fact, she cannot for she believes herself “inferior”—seek to advance her education, her independence, indeed, cannot develop a complete personality independent of her role as “wife”, “mother” or “spouse”. This unconscious inheritance of a subordinate social role will undoubtedly continue until the individual can learn to resolve her condition.

Entire generations of Borderland Chicanos have identified with their externally-assigned roles such as peons, shiftless, stupid, uneducatable. Today, the remnants of that marginalization still exist. The result is a self-imposed glass ceiling that dramatically limits not only the individual’s development, but an entire community’s development.

The perceived lack of self-worth is an unconscious, collective tribal culture that persists because we fail to challenge our collective ancestral mindset. Research will show that the vast majority, save for a few, of our fathers and mothers were Mestizos from the lowest rungs of Mexico’s multi-class society. Most were the children of generations of the uneducated and subjugated rural poor who were landless and survived at meager subsistence levels. They understood the class system adopted from Spain, were accustomed to it and lived in the marginalized outer limits of that society. Coming to the Borderlands, they were hungry for food and for jobs (any kind of job). And in a foreign land, they were very much the outsiders who must have been amazed at the success of the white land developers and farmers. Growing up under those circumstances, we also understood we were powerless because our fathers were powerless. No man could bargain for a wage. He worked for whatever was paid him and he thanked God for that. As a boy or girl, we internalized what we observed. Anzaldua tells us “deconstruct that world”!


Anzaldua tears at the Chicano tribal collective unconscious. Hers is a process of deconstructing tribal behavior by deconstructing tribal culture. For her, there is a “before” and “after”. Before deconstruction, our behavior is consistent with our ancestral teachings. So, the roles of men, women and children have been traditionally defined, for better or for worse, consistent with the tribal needs and with the construct created for us by the majority of culture. There is a place for everyone and everyone in its place. There is no deviation from the normal beliefs and behavior. Deviation from the norm is characterized as “abnormal” or “deviant” behavior which is often initially explained as illness or a temporary lapse in judgment.

The Path of Conocimiento

Do not ask Anzaldua for answers to the macro-issues of the world you live in. Anzaldua is at her weakest when she attempts to summarize for us her perception of that world:

“At the crack of the change between millennia, you and the rest of humanity are undergoing profound transformations and shifts in perception. All, including the planet and every species, are caught between cultures and bleed-throughs among different worlds—each with its own version of reality. We are experiencing a personal, global identity crisis in a disintegrating social order that possesses little heart and functions to oppress people by organizing them in hierarchies of commerce and power—a collusion of government, transnational industry, business and the military all linked by pragmatic technology and science voracious for money and control”.

Her prose is cold and dialectic. The foregoing litany is a convoluted attempt at simplifying a world-order. It is confusing rhetoric even if you can explain what she means. I think I understand her and feel her discomfort with the subject. But, when she talks to you and to me, as human beings, with her poetry, her words are inviting and flow with such clarity. That is her realm. We are swept by her emotions. When the individual “l” is indeed left alone to “swallow air” and allow the “primal senses to flare open”, without any external force defining for him or her, a path of righteousness, then, Anzaldua is at her best. And so are we. That’s the Anzaldua that I would have loved to have met. For it is her “visual intuitive sense” that each humano can/must experience in order to “startle…[himself/herself] out of tunnel vision and habitual patterns of thought”. How much clearer can her poetry read? Tira a loco la vibora (discard Anazaldua’s snake imagery, if you wish), but note, “conocimiento” (or a flared-open consciousness,” your personal, unencumbered-by-unconscious cultural-baggage, conscious and psychic awakening) and imagine if you will: without the benefit of an expensive psychotherapist-- you, the individual you-- aided by nothing other than your “intellect of heart and gut”, after endless, perhaps hundreds of hours of thought, spiritual thought, can finally break out “of your mental and emotional prison”. You now understand (as a woman, as a Chicana/o, as any person whose status has been delegated to a marginalized role that you can “challenge official and conventional ways of looking at the world, ways set up by those benefiting from such constructions”.

You, the individual, can now “scrutinize and question (both) dominant and ethnic ideologies and the mind-sets their cultures induce in others. And, putting all the pieces together, you (can actually) re-envision (re-invent) the map of the known world, creating a new description of reality and scripting a new story (for yourself)”. Finally, at some point, you are jarred “out of the cultural trance and spell of collective mind-set”. Your inferiority complex is beginning to disappear.

There is no political mind-set which Anzaldua can advocate because to do so would be to advocate a collective mind-set. The success of her teachings in fact lies in the failure of any political system. For political power exists by virtue of the individual sacrificing the intellect for the collective (and often unconscious) goals of the party. Anzaldua’s multiple levels of conocimiento are reached and experienced by the individual at different times. True conocimiento contradicts the existence of a political movement.

Call it what you wish, Anzaldua urges the individual to discard the unconscious baggage that both Chicano culture and white culture have imposed on you. Wow! Is that not but the road to alienation? No, for she suggests that you discard the “baggage” only, not all that you are. Once you have released the baggage you make space for a new awareness. For us men, our baggage includes how we see our spouses and our daughters: do we continue to unconsciously marginalize them? How much do we live within that ancestral mindset? Anzaldua is someone you keep by your nightstand, like your Bible, to keep reminding you that there is a better you somewhere inside of you.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Chuy Ramirez to attend the National Latino Congreso ~ Austin, Texas

Chuy Ramirez will be attending the National Latino Congreso this Spring. We are urging many others to save the date and participate in an event that promotes awareness and offers a platform where important issues and concerns are voiced to the Latino community.

The Latino Congreso is to be held in Texas on March 25th thru 27th, 2011. The Congreso will be focusing on immigration reform, clean energy, criminal justice, redistricting, and the Latino vote in 2012 among other issues. This weekend event will take place at the Crowne Plaza, in Austin, Texas. Registration began in January 2011, but it is not to late to register. Early registration has been extended to the end of February.

For more information:


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Chuy Ramirez presents at the 2011 NACCS Tejas Regional Conference, McAllen Texas

Chuy will be participating in the NACCS conference this February. Please come out and support NACCS, local speakers and authors, South Texas College, and experience an amazing event!

Session 6: Building J 1-608, 3:15-4:30PM

Tapón y Gloria: Translating Experience into Poetry, Gender, and Life

Christopher Carmona, Texas A&M – College Station: “Practicing Palabras: Raúl Salinas, the Xicanindio Poet Redefines what it means to Beat”

Chuy Ramírez, Independent Scholar: “Igualada, An Essay: Exploring the Gloria Anzaldúa Link between Powerlessness and Chicana/o Self Expression”

Friday February 25th: 7:00 PM – McAllen Convention Center
Meet Authors and Book Signing: Begins at 9:00PM

Participating authors include: Maylei Blackwell, Norma E. Cantú, Margaret Dorsey, Laura Cortez García, María E. Cotera, Margaret Dorsey, Dionne Espinoza, Daniel Garcia Ordaz, Grisel Gómez Cano, Juan Antonio González, John Morán González, Katherine Hoerth, Thomas Kreneck, Ire‟ne Lara Silva, Lady Mariposa, Lara Medina, Manuel Medrano, Josie Méndez Negrete, Felicitas Núñez, Cynthia Orozco, Kamala Platt, Marco Portales, Catherine Ragland, Chuy Ramírez, Delia Rodríguez, Vicki Ruiz, Rhina Toruño Haensly, John J. Valadez, Javier Villarreal, and Emilio Zamora

Noche Cultural: Begins at 9:00PM, (Concurrent with Book signing session)

Welcome to the Chuy Ramirez Blog

Works of Fiction:

Strawberry Fields, A Book of Short Stories

Toy Soldiers-to be released

Joaquin's Journey-to be released


Altering the Policy of Neglect of Undocumented Immigration from South of the Border, Vol. 18 in 1983

Igualada: Exploring The Gloria Anzaldua Link Between Powerlessness and Chicano/a Self-Expression



Chuy Ramirez at STC Pecan Library Campus