Bringing a Region to Life

El Paso del Norte: Stories on the Border

By Daniel A. Olivas
Published on LatinoLA: February 26, 2003

Bringing a Region to Life

A few years ago, I read the short story, "Lucero's Mkt.," in Bilingual Review. I didn't know the author but the story moved me with its powerful, poignant portrait of two lost souls: Mar?a del Valle, who has lost her mind (known in the neighborhood as "La Loquita") and Rafael, the lonely owner of the tiendita.

When I started to read Richard Ya?ez's debut collection, "El Paso del Norte: Stories on the Border" (University of Nevada Press, 2003), I was delighted when I came upon "Lucero's Mkt." It sat happily nestled among the other borderland stories in this slim, eloquent and vibrant collection.

Ya?ez has a gift: he can bring to life one region in Texas (near the Mexican border) but he doesn't write the same story over and over again. The characters range across the map of Latino experiences: undocumented immigrants, pochos, young, old, male, female, middle-class, indigent. Ya?ez never falls in the trap known as bathos.

In this passage from ?Lucero?s Mkt.,? Ya?ez expertly lets us see the sad hope the lonely Rafael has in Mar?a del Valle?s not-so-innocent flirting which is designed to seduce Rafael just enough so that he will illegally accept her food stamps for alcohol and cigarettes:

"He liked the way she?d smiled at him and brushed her hands on his. When she said his hands reminded her of a Mexican muralist?s, he agreed to accept her food stamps. She even invited him over for dinner. They had a good time ? eating, drinking, and listening to records: Cornelio Reyna, Jorge Negrete, Javier Sol?s. And when she kissed him good night and invited him back, he thought it might be the beginning of something good in his life as an unmarried man."

But all this ends in disappointment for Rafael as Mar?a del Valle falls deeper into her own mind. Ya?ez paints an honest picture of life on the border without pulling punches. But he also shows respect for the people he writes about even those who are riddled with imperfections.

This is a very fine, accomplished book. I highly recommend it.

About Daniel A. Olivas:
Daniel is a Chicano writer living in the San Fernando Valley. Visit his homepage at: http://www.homestead.com/DanielOlivas/olivas.html.

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