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Ms. Magazine
Sunday, May 31st, 2009
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Golondrina, Why Did You Leave Me? (Chicana Matters)

by Barbara Renaud Gonzalez

Fly Away Home

A review by Mary Helen Ponce

Barbara Renaud Gonzalez's contribution to the works on Mexican immigration that in recent years have dominated Chicano literature could have been subtitled "Yearnings." Each of her characters longs for an elusive something, whether romance, a patrimony, a decent living or "home"; each is convinced the dream can be found across the border or across the state line.

Like the migratory swallow of the title, the golondrina, the childbride Amada Garcia flees Mexico to escape a brutal husband, abandoning her toddler Salome, and crosses the Rio Grande into Texas. There, barely across the border, she marries Lazaro Mistral, a Tejano who longs for the land his ancestors lost after the U.S.-Mexican War. The couple endure exploitation and racism and together build a large family, though Amada's lifetime of labor is undercut by her husband’s ancient rage. Sadly, Amada's story is as common as tacos: The Mexican immigrant experience is one of disappointment, injustice, lowpaying jobs and the threat of violence. As Amada's dream fades, her children seek their own place in the sun. Lucero, her eldest U.S.-born daughter, pines for an education; Salome, still in Mexico and now a mother of three, craves a reunion with her longlost mother.

Renaud Gonzalez's debut novel reads like a telenovela, minus the happy ending: Women suffer, pray to La Virgen de Guadalupe for perseverance and, like Amada, wait for a man (hopefully handsome) to lift them from poverty. Her details of the Texas panhandle's harsh beauty are lyrical, and her intimate acquaintance with the state's geography and its flora and fauna is most impressive, as is her vast knowledge of the local vernacular and cuss words. But because she often ignores the writer's obligation to show rather than tell, her book lacks an emotional tone. Also problematic is her overuse of Spanish. In early Chicano fiction it was common to sprinkle one's work with words en espanol as a sign of authenticity; here it detracts from the narrative flow, which could be frustrating to the non-Spanish speaker. Still, this native-born Tejana has written convincingly of the hardships Mexican American women faced in post-World War II Texas -- and of the need of the dispossessed to right old wrongs.

Mary Helen Ponce is the author of Hoyt Street: An Autobiography (University of New Mexico Press, 1993).

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