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

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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