Saturday, March 16, 2013

Red-Inked Retablos by Rigoberto González

Red-Inked Retablos by Rigoberto González
Cover Illustration:
The Song that Traverses a Tenebrous World
(oil on wood 10" x 16", 2008)
by Tino Rodriguez
In the Mexican Catholic tradition, retablos are ornamental structures made of carved wood framing an oil painting of a devotional image, usually a patron saint. Acclaimed author and essayist Rigoberto González commemorates the passion and the pain of these carvings in his new volume Red-Inked Retablos, a moving memoir of human experience and thought.

This frank new collection masterfully combines accounts from González’s personal life with reflections that offer an in-depth meditation of the develop of Chicano literature, gay Chicano literature and the responsibilities that being a Gay Chicana/o writer carries.

Widely acclaimed for giving a voice to the Chicano GLBT community, González’s writing spans a wide range of genres: poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and bilingual books for children and young adults. Introduced by Women’s Studies professor Maythee Rojas, Retablos collects thirteen pieces that together provide a narrative of González’s life from his childhood through his career as a writer, critic, and mentor.

In Red-Inked Retablos, González continues to expand his oeuvre on mariposa (literally, “butterfly”) memory, a genre he pioneered in which Chicano/a writers openly address [non-traditional] sexuality. For González, mariposa memory is important testimony not only about reconfiguring personal identity in relation to masculinity, culture, and religion. It’s also about highlighting values like education, shaping a sex-positive discourse, and exercising agency through a public voice. It’s about making the queer experience a Chicano experience and the Chicano experience a queer one.
The thirteen essays included in this collection are presented as retablos that frame different periods of González's life and where his passions and beliefs are conveyed through prose. Red-Inked Retablos by Rigoberto González is a creative nonfiction piece that draws the reader with its honest narrative style.

In his introduction, González states: "My purpose is not to claim Truth, but to provide perspective -- mine -- and invite a response to that flawed, imperfect point of view. In the end, that is what nonfiction writing, like a cherished retablo, does best: inspire contemplation." Throughout the book, González struggles with, and confronts that imperfect point of view and flawed memory, and through his own observations and experiences invites the reader to his/her own contemplations.

González begins the first section of the collection, "Self-Portraits," with five essays based on intimate family and personal details that formed the man, organically moving on to those that formed the poet and writer in "Studies," and in "Speeches" we meet the defined gay Chicano activist and educator. The excellent conclusion to the collection, "Trinity," is an homage to the mariposa memory genre -- its past, present, and hopeful future. This section only contains one essay, "Toward a Mariposa Consciousness," divided into three parts, Butterfly (A)jar, Mariposa Lit, and Mariposa Prayer.

As a Latina who grew up as part of an immigrant family, I found myself connecting with Mr. González's experiences and thinking deeply about the "bi" of all things -- the duality that comes along with 'the bilingual and bicultural' for a young immigrant -- and the sense of not belonging here nor there. The long search for a place to belong to a place where the self feels grounded and not as if it were the eternal foreigner or passing tourist standing on the outside looking in, trying but unable to find the heart of a place instead of the superficiality that feeds a tourist's disorientation. Searching for understanding and connection through study.

It was easy then for me to understand and/or connect González's immigrant experience (and my own search for personal identity) with his passion for expanding the mariposa memory, as well as his passion for promoting education and responsibility among the Chicano/Latino and LGBTQ Latina/o communities of writers and educators to continue to use their voices. "For González, mariposa memory is important testimony not only about reconfiguring personal identity in relation to masculinity, culture, and religion. It’s also about highlighting values like education, shaping a sex-positive discourse, and exercising agency through a public voice. It’s about making the queer experience a Chicano experience and the Chicano experience a queer one."

There is little else that can be said about Red-Inked Retablos and Rigoberto González that hasn't already been said in the extremely accurate and detailed summary quoted above. I can tell you that in his collection of retablos, González's journey is written in such an honest, 'tell-it-like-it-is' style that it inspires the reader to both action and contemplation.

Category: Literary/Creative Nonfiction
Series: Camino del Sol: A Latina and Latino Literary Series
Publisher/Release Date: UA Press, March 14, 2013
Source: ARC from UA Press
Grade: B+

Visit Rigoberto González here.
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To give you an idea of a few books within the mariposa memory genre category so passionately promoted by Rigoberto González, you can find my reviews and/or impressions of 4 books listed in his essay "Toward a Mariposa Consciousness", Part II. Mariposa Lit. (Click on titles to read posts)

From Macho to Mariposa: New Gay Latino Fiction ed. by Charles Rice-González & Charlie Vázquez
Chulito by Charles Rice-González
We the Animals by Justin Torres
Slow Lightning by Edward C. Corral

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