Authors, Book Review, Books, Boycotts, Cesar Chavez, Family, Latinos in film, Uncategorized

América and Anthony Quinn

America's Dream

Ever since I figured out how to use the Goodreads widget I’ve been posting reviews on books I’ve read.

Either the widget is dead, malfunctioning or my brain is on overdrive and I’ve forgotten how to use the darn thing, but the widget is not working. Hence, here are reviews on the two latest books I’ve enjoyed in the last month.

América by Esmeralda Santiago

América Gonzalez is a hotel maid at an island resort off the coast of Puerto Rico. She cleans up after wealthy foreigners who look past her as a non-entity. Her married boyfriend, Correa, beats her and their fourteen-year-old daughter thinks life would be better anywhere but with América. When a wealthy, too busy, family asks her to work for them in the United States, América plans her escape from Correa and her old life.

Domestic violence, family dynamics, fear, and choices are themes in this novel. The ongoing violence that América endures is sometimes difficult to read. One feels like yelling at her to drop the bastard and make better decisions, however the author illustrates that this is no easy task. 

Reading about a character who makes poor choices can often be a turn-off, however the author engages the reader by describing the protagonist and her backstory effectively.

Beautiful descriptive prose keeps you reading but the redundant descriptions on setting is sometimes too much and the eye wants to scan for the forward movement in the story.

I love the dialogue, the emotional reactions, and interplay between the maids. I loved how the author gave us the dialogue between the mother and protagonist. The villain in the story was well played.I learned some things about Puerto Rico, the culture and language which is a plus in my opinion.

I didn’t like the way the daughter’s character was written. She had the same extremes of reaction over the entire book.

These glitches may be because this is the author’s first novel (1996). I would definitely read Esmeralda Santiago’s other books.

one man tango

One Man Tango by Anthony Quinn and Daniel Paisner

Description from publisher:

“While bicycling near his villa in Ceccina, Italy, veteran actor Anthony Quinn begins a remarkable journey of self-discovery through a varied and colorful past–and delivers one of the most fascinating star biographies ever written. Resonating with Quinn’s own passionate voice, an infectious zest for living, and a wealth of juicy anecdotes, One Man Tango is by turns resilient and caustic, daring and profound. It is a memoir as bold as the man who wrote it. Includes a 16-page photo insert. HC: HarperCollins.”

Anthony Quinn was a hero of many Latino’s, being that he was a well known actor in the ’40-’70’s when few Latinos were on the big screen. Not only did he come from Mexico, but he grew up in East Los Angeles. He was associated with the Kennedy’s, Catholics, Cesar Chavez, laborers, and California politics which further endeared him to the Mexican American community.

I couldn’t help loving this book.When I read the memoir it was as if Anthony Quinn himself was in my family room recounting his memories. He lived as passionately as his many love affairs.

Remember Zorba the Greek? Well, Anthony Quinn had that enthusiasm for living. His early life was one of extreme poverty in Mexico, with his Mexican Irish father who fought in the Mexican Revolution, and his Mexican Indian mother. 

The memoir is as fast paced as his bicycle ride through the hills of Ceccina, giving the reader an insight into the hills and valleys of the actor’s life, which is fascinating. Besides being an actor he was a laborer, boxer, artist, vintner, writer and philanthropist.

His memory of the movie stars, producers, and directors that he worked with is fascinating, juicy and very entertaining. He worked with Marlon Brando, Laurence Olivier, Mickey Rooney, Carole Lombard, Maureen O’Hara, Rita Hayworth, and numerous other memorable actors. His memoir reads like a Who’s Who of Hollywood and the world, with all the side dishes that go along with these characters.

Particularly interesting was his experiences and conflicts with mobsters, politicians, and movie moguls, including his father-in-law, Cecil B. De Mille. Their family dynamics were extremely interesting.

Anthony Quinn often reminisces about his poor choices, the emotional turmoil he put his wife and family through, and looking back it seems he regrets some of his decisions. But what also comes through the memoir is that he loved his family like a ferocious lion.

This memoir is one of the most well-written, insightful, and candid story I’ve ever read. There are many beautifully written phrases and visuals that make you feel you are on that bicycle ride through the towns and cities of Mexico, East Los Angeles, Hollywood, and Italy.

as Eufemio Zapata with Marlon Brando's Emilian...
as Eufemio Zapata with Marlon Brando’s Emiliano Zapata in Viva Zapata! (1952) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Boycotts, Cesar Chavez, Chingonas, Faith, Family, Strong Women, Wisdom

Remembering Cesar Chavez and My Mom



I love this photo. The black Aztec eagle symbolizing la causa is so familiar. Every time I see it I not only think of Cesar Chavez, but also of  my mother. I was in grammar school the first time I heard of boycotts, farmworker rights, and la causa. My mom was in night school at Ventura College and went to community meetings at the CSO building. 

One weekend she packed her bags and took off to Delano with several of her younger classmates and community organizers to participate in a march. When she came back she talked with a fervor about Cesar Chavez and farmworker rights. “Did you know he lived in Oxnard? Right here in La Colonia.”  His speeches moved her, she could relate, she embraced his words of “Si se puede.”

Mom was a migrant worker from the time she was a toddler playing  under the sombra of the vineyards until she was fifteen and cutting her hands on the thorny brambles of the cotton bushes, moving from place to place first with her parents, then with her tios when they both died. She hated that her education was interrupted and for that she never wanted to work in the fields again.

Her participation in la causa and community meetings were fodder for several arguments with my uncles. “What the hell are you doing, going to these meetings, isn’t it bad enough you go to night school, you’re never with your kids…”

That rang true, but she wasn’t gone because she was in a bar or with some man, we kids knew that. No one talked stuff about our mom like they did about one of the moms down the street. But sometimes she crumpled under their barrage of words, other times she let loose on them. Whatever happened though, my uncles and their wives were there for us, lending Mom money, bringing us food, and taking care of us.

Years later, when I was in high school we had renewed arguments, this time both my mom and I harangued our relatives. “We’re boycotting Coors, switch beers,” we’d say whenever they visited. “We thought it was just grapes,” they’d yell and add, ‘que la chingada,‘ for emphasis. It took a year of confronting them every time they popped open a Coors, but they stopped buying the brand.

In college I remember boycotting Safeway, standing in picket lines in Santa Barbara, and waving that red flag. By this time my cousin was involved in the Brown Berets and my mom was busy marching for a community pool in La Colonia, addressing workplace issues, and working on her BA at a university. My uncles noted the photos of the Kennedy’s, Cesar Chavez, and the Pope on the walls of our home. ” Is this is why you go to college?”

When Cesar Chavez died Mom went to Delano and paid her respects with 50,000 other people and mourned the loss of the great man who inspired her and gave her the three words she often repeats whenever we get discouraged. 

“Si se puedes,” she says, yes you can. And when I see that iconic flag, I hear those words, remember those sacrifices, and think of Cesar Chavez and my mom.