Hey guys! After posting my first blog on Tuesday — which you should check out if for some reason you haven’t — I’m back again to share with you my first contribution to the New Classics series. I absolutely love that this series is meant to highlight more modern, contemporary works that challenge what we consider ‘classic’ literature.
The current Western literary canon doesn’t hold much room for works not written by old, white men — a la Shakespeare, John Steinbeck, and J.D. Salinger, among others that are mandatory in most grade school curriculums. What I aim to do moving forward is to continue presenting literature that pushes those boundaries and offers new perspectives on age-old experiences.
With that being said, this week I want to talk about Chicanx literature — specifically Angela Morales’ The Girls in My Town. As the coming-of-age trope is one of my favorites, I fell in love with this collection of essays.
In these 12 short essays, Morales paints a seamless portrait of her childhood, set in Los Angeles during the 1970s; reading each essay is like unlocking a door, behind which lies her parents appliance store, a bowling alley that provided solace, a memoir to all of the family dogs, morning bike rides that lead to dreamlike discoveries.
I’m a sucker for rich, visceral language, and Morales does nothing but deliver this with contemplative prose and undeniable wit. Each short glimpse into her early life produces a larger portrait of the honest realities of a working-class family. As stated in the book’s introduction, Morales describes the undeniable force that pushed her to write down these instances of her childhood.
“When I started writing these essays, each piece began with a single image that appeared distinctly in my mind… For the longest time, these images haunted me, until I had no choice but to sit down and write about them.”
Besides it centering around her Mexican-American heritage, each story also reflects the anything-but-straight-forward entrance into womanhood, a journey that involves tears and broken hearts but also laughter and joy.
In one essay, ‘The Burrito: A Brief History,’ Morales explores the cultural significance of the burrito and uses its American adaptation as a vessel to communicate the white-washing of something so integral to Mexican-Americans. Describing how her mother was once ashamed to eat a burrito in front of her school friends, Morales effectively takes back the burrito, both literally and figuratively, and reclaims it as a proud part of her heritage.
“My mother worked long days. Too tired to make dinner, she’d buy us burritos, which we ate in the car on our way home from school or on errands. Pedro’s Place made the best burritos — distinctive because of a fragrant tomatillo-pork green sauce made by the family’s grandma, who wore a pink checkered apron and could be seen through a little window always stirring the contents of a boiling vat or up to her elbows in a bowl of masa.”
Later, in ‘One Small Step,’ the influence of women’s rights activists Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan inspires 11-year-old Morales and her friend, Lara, to further the feminist agenda by fighting for a spot as the school dishwashers, a position that had been exclusively reserved for the boys.
There’s a certain appeal in the innocence of a young girl learning about the world’s social institutions, finding empowerment in small victories, and cultivating a voice that bears itself honestly and rawly. It stirs in me an echoing memory of my own girlhood, thoughts jumbled and fingers itching to find reason and logic.
Together, these stories braid together to form an intricate timeline, one that becomes almost cyclical towards its conclusion. Morales becomes pregnant with her daughter, a development that pushes her to reflect on the high rate of pregnancy in teen girls in her area. “Sometimes I see those girls exercising on the track — twenty or thirty of them — a whole herd of teenage girls walking around in circles, hands supporting their lower backs, bellies sticking out a mile.” Somewhat apprehensive, she wonders about the fate that lies ahead of her own daughter. Is she destined towards the same fateful journey into womanhood? Is there hope for the children born out of teen pregnancies?
My experience reading this book was like returning to a part of my past, one that I had allowed to collect dust and cobwebs in the darkened corners of my mind. I felt as though I was revisiting an old friend, catching up on all the years gone by. For all of its poignant reflections on the crude reality of growing up, the book ends on a hopeful note, one meant to linger in your mind hours after you’ve shut the cover and stuck it back on the shelf.
“As for our daughters, the fortune-teller might peer into her crystal ball or examine our girls’ palms and see a whole web of alternate realities. ‘Anything can happen,’ she might say. For all of us, the road is wide open.”
I’m Dana, a recent college grad from Sonoma State University and newly appointed Social Media Intern here at A+D here to chat with you every Tuesday and Friday. I’m excited to be a part of and witness the publishing process through the lens of a boutique agency. It’s so cool to be a part of a publishing movement specializing in artistic branding and helping contemporary writers craft their written work. Here, we’ll chat about the books that are changing and shaping our lives! So, here’s the place to explore them, to let them out. You can just think of me as your modern-day Bridget Jones – the bookish version!