"Chicano writers from El Paso are the most progressive, open-minded, far-reaching, and inclusive writers of them all."

Octavio Romano

Friday, June 11, 2010

Retro Book Review Friday: Our House on Hueco by Carlos N. Flores reviewed by Carlos Morton

Life Living 'Under' Gringos
Author describes growing up in the 
Five Point Neighborhood of El Paso

 by Carlos Morton

Think Our House on Hueco (Texas Tech University Press, 2006) by Carlos Flores as a Chicano “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Vato.” 

The only part I didn’t like about this book was the title. No, Flores wasn’t trying to “imitate” Sandra Cisneros. The editors at Texas Tech University Press changed what used to be called “The Mulberry Tree,” a much better title about growing up in El Paso in the 1950’s. 

The seed for this grew out of a conversation the author had with his wife Dora who suggested he write “an inspiring and uplifting book” for young readers. This Flores has done in a moving and extremely well crafted way.

It’s a marked departure from Flores’ earlier work where the main character, Americo, is ever present. Told from the first person, Our House on Hueco looks at the world through the eyes of a precocious ten year old boy. 

Junior and his family have just escaped from the El Segundo Barrio with its tirilongos, violence, and poverty, to a house near Five Points -- in the Anglo part of town. 

But they are so poor, the father, a displaced U.S. Veteran of Puerto Rican descent, has the family of four living in a one room subterráneo, or basement, with a makeshift kitchen and no bathroom. They rent out the top part of the house to an Anglo serviceman and his family in order to pay the mortgage. 

Junior’s mother, a humble woman from Cd. Juárez, feels humiliated because they have to ask permission from their gringo tenants to use the bathroom. Mom, by the way, is deeply suspicious of any gringos although we never learn why.

However, Junior and his little brother Rafa make friends with the gringitos playing “pirates,” with the whites acting like English, and the Mexicans playing Spanish pirates. 

Mom makes extra money ironing the Sergeant’s uniforms. One day during an argument with Pop over his alleged womanizing, she burns a uniform which causes Sarge to make some disparaging remarks about Mexicans in general, and Mom in particular. Junior overhears this, feeling the pain and rage (a la Ricardo Sanchez) of growing up Mexican. 

Meanwhile Pop gets beaten up by some Mexican co-workers who are jealous of his seeming prosperity and even burn part of the house on Hueco Street down.

This is a real growing up on the border story, with its interplay of Latino and Anglo, a world that Flores, based in Laredo, Texas, has experienced all his life. It echoes the humor of Tony Burciaga as when Mom tells Junior: “Dile al gringo que no soy una zanahoria,” because Sarge keeps calling her “sanoria” instead of señora

It’s about la mera chicanada, not some pretty tale about so called Hispanics who happen to live on a street named after an exotic tropical fruit.

Chicano Literature's most prolific playwright, Carlos Morton is a professor of drama at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Originally published in Pluma Fronteriza, Spring 2007 


Check out interview with Carlos Flores in How to be a Writer: Some Tips from Authors

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