In the title story of this collection, Isabela is minding her family’s restaurant, drinking her dad’s beer, when Frida Kahlo and the Virgen de Guadalupe walk in. Even though they’re dressed like cholas, the girl immediately recognizes Frida’s uni-brow and La Virgen’s crown. They want to give her advice about the quinceañera her parents are forcing on her. In fact, their lecture (don’t get pregnant, go to school, be proud of your indigenous roots) helps Isabela to escape her parents’ physical and sexual abuse. But can she really run away from the self-hatred they’ve created?
These inter-related stories, mostly set in East Los Angeles, uncover the lives of a conflicted Mexican-American community. In “Sábado Gigante,” Bernardo drinks himself into a stupor every Saturday night. “Aquí no es mi tierra,” he cries, as he tries to ease the sorrow of a life lived far from home. Meanwhile, his son Gustavo struggles with his emerging gay identity and Maritza, the oldest daughter, is expected to cook and clean for her brother, even though they live in East LA, not Guadalajara or Chihuahua. In “Powder Puff,” Mireya spends hours every day applying her make-up, making sure to rub the foundation all the way down her neck so it looks like her natural color. But no matter how much she rubs and rubs, her skin is no lighter.
Estella Gonzalez vividly captures her native East LA in these affecting stories about a marginalized people dealing with racism, machismo and poverty. In painful and sometimes humorous scenes, young people try to escape the traditional expectations of their family. Other characters struggle with anger and resentment, often finding innovative ways to exact revenge for slights both real and imagined. Throughout, music—traditional and contemporary—accompanies them in the search for love and acceptance.