Shedding profound natural light on the inner lives of migrant workers, Jaime Cortez’s debut collection ushers in a new era of American literature that gives voice to a marginalized generation of migrant workers in the West.
The first-ever collection of short stories by Jaime Cortez, Gordo is set in a migrant workers camp near Watsonville, California in the 1970s. A young, probably gay, boy named Gordo puts on a wrestler’s mask and throws fists with a boy in the neighborhood, fighting his own tears as he tries to grow into the idea of manhood so imposed on him by his father. As he comes of age, Gordo learns about sex, watches his father’s drunken fights, and discovers even his own documented Mexican-American parents are wary of illegal migrants. Fat Cookie, high schooler and resident artist, uses tiny library pencils to draw huge murals of graffiti flowers along the camp’s blank walls, the words “CHICANO POWER” boldly lettered across, until she runs away from home one day with her mother’s boyfriend, Manny, and steals her mother’s Panasonic radio for a final dance competition among the camp kids before she disappears. And then there are Los Tigres, the perfect pair of twins so dark they look like indios, Pepito and Manuel, who show up at Gyrich Farms every season without fail. Los Tigres, champion drinkers, end up assaulting each other in a drunken brawl, until one of them is rushed to the emergency room still slumped in an upholstered chair tied to the back of a pick-up truck.
These scenes from Steinbeck Country seen so intimately from within are full of humor, family drama, and a sweet frankness about serious matters – who belongs to America and how are they treated? How does one learn decency, when laborers, grown adults, must fear for their lives and livelihoods as they try to do everything to bring home a paycheck? Written with balance and poise, Cortez braids together elegant and inviting stories about life on a California camp, in essence redefining what all-American means.
Artist and graphic novelist Cortez (Sexile) celebrates Chicano life in this exuberant collection. Stories such as "El Gordo" focus on the experiences of the title character, a child of migrant farm workers. Cortez then moves with ease from depictions of Gordo's family to the intersecting lives of the inhabitants of Watsonville, Calif., in the 1970s. In "The Jesus Donut," a heretical young girl becomes a hero after she shares a donut with other kids, offering bits of it as communion. In "Alex," Gordo's family helps out their injured butch lesbian neighbor, Alex, and the burgeoning friendship becomes a cover for Gordo's mother to help Alex's abused femme partner escape to safety. In "The Problem of Style," bullied sixth grader Raymundo gains confidence when he decides to grow his hair out and become "artistic." At their best, Cortez's stories highlight the community's functional and paradoxical stew of interpersonal relationships, brimming with threats as well as love. Cortez has a bright, clear voice that avoids stereotypes and navigates issues of identity with ease: "Raymundo tossed his hair, turned smartly on his heels, and crossed an unmarked border into a new country." Readers will be delighted.
A very original voice. I am not particularly fond of the short story format but Gordo was recommended by a dear friend whose literary credentials are impeccable and I wasn’t disappointed.
I enjoyed that the stories were based out of Watsonville and Salinas, San Juan Bautista , Hollister. I lived in and around the area so I am very familiar. However I think I felt a little lost when the story jumped to the young boy getting bullied to jumping into his adulthood.
The first part of the book really flowed but afterwards it was difficult for me to follow until the story returned to Gordo and his family.