Wednesday, February 06, 2013
Walking Home: Growing Up Hispanic in Houston by Sarah Cortez is a 76-page mixed-genre literary memoir. Using a stained glass window and its colors to frame her memories, the author looks back at three generations of her family, setting the foundation for her today. The cover of the book is the Annunciation Window found in the Villa de Matel Chapel.
I flipped to it often while reading the poetry in the first section. It’s the usual flat two-dimensional religious rendering of the Madonna accepting her destiny, but this window is not an exact metaphor for Cortez’ poetry. Rather, it is the radiant, albeit humbling, effect of this depiction on the prayerful masses to which I responded, and this made her family come alive for me. I’ve never experienced the pure essence of that spiritual belief, but appreciated that there is no judgment in her words, just pure acceptance and love.
Her mother’s hopes and aspirations also spoke to me. A mother’s wishes for her child’s future reveal a great deal about her own hopes and unfulfilled dreams. The dichotomy between the then in Sarah’s memoir and her now is what intrigued me the most, especially toward the end of the first section when she changes POV from female to male. Who of our generation and gender have not done so? For Cortez this meant going to war in “Blood-red” and “Vegetation.”
In the second section, Cortez’ family life and growing up in Houston is vivid and filled with scent, humid Texas nights, and gastronomic delight. Her father appears in most of the poem’s here, while her mother recedes, except in relation to her kindness to a dwarf in “The Gift”; her reaction to a handsome gutter salesman in “Joe Angel”; and, perhaps even to the milkman in “The Delivery”. These poems are lessons learned and depict the growing sexual consciousness of the young Cortez.
Sarah Cortez is a member of the Texas Institute of Letters. She has edited five anthologies of poetry, memoir, and crime fiction for both young adult and adult audiences for the publishing houses of Arte Publico Press and Akashic Books. Her work is widely anthologized in collections by Penguin, the Great Books Foundation, and other international publishers. She is the author of How to Undress a Cop, and edited Windows into My World: Latino Youth Write Their Lives (2007); Hit List:The Best of Latino Mystery (2009); Indian Country Noir (2010); and You Don’t Have a Clue: Latino Mystery Stories for Teens (2011). She lives and works in Houston, Texas.