Thursday, September 22, 2005

Prietita and The Ghost Woman

Title: Prietita & The Ghost Woman/Prietita y la Llorona
Author: Gloria E. Anzaldúa
Illustrator: Maya Christina Gonzalez
Publisher: Children’s Book Press
ISBN: 0892391367

Which of us Chicanos didn’t grow up afraid of La Llorono y el Cucui? I for one stayed up at night worrying that La Llorona was coming for me and remain slightly obsessed with her story. If I had had this lovely folktale by the late Gloria Anzaldúa, Xicana feminist poet, writer, teacher and activist I might have wanted to meet La Llorona instead of terrified she’d come and get me.

This is the story of Prietita, whose mother is gravely ill. The curandera has told Prietita that only ruda will cure her mother and so brave Prietita sets off in search of it to the dangerous King Ranch where they shoot trespassers. She encounters various creatures on her way and asks each, the salamander, the dove and the deer if they know where the plant grows but none know. La Llorona appears and guides Prietita to the plant and to safety.

The story is lovely. Prietita and the other women in the story are strong and brave Chicanas. The Aztec lore, our herbal healing traditions and love of family are depicted throughout the tale. There’s history here and culture. I loved it when the dove answered “cucurrucucu”. It immediately brought to mind the song Cucurrucucu Paloma and Lola Beltran’s voice singing it. Just one perfect word brings up a surge of memory, of Xicanidad, of casa y comal, of love and family. Each page, each paragraph does this, touches the heart, the very core of being Chicano. It’s astounding. The book would stand alone without the illustrations – Gloria Anzaldúa’s writing is so poetic, so evocative that you can see the people, the animals, La Llorona, feel the emotions, smell the night air, the ruda, the very earth.

However, the illustrations by Maya Chrisina Gonzalez are equally astounding. They’re gorgeous. The green of the nopal, the strong Chicana faces, the long black hair flowing, the colors, the light, the warmth! Looking at these illustrations makes me feel I’m in the Southwest, I can almost touch the life in them. What struck me most was the eyes of the women and Prietita. Ojitos Mexicanos que bonitos!

I love the idea too, of La Llorona being a helping spirit. It got me thinking. Maybe La Llorona is just another aspect of Tonantzin the Earth Mother, La Virgen de Guadalupe. Maybe the sound of her wailing is because we don’t listen, we’re forgetting our lore, our heirbas, our recetas, our language. Quien sabe? What I do know is this book made me think and think hard. It made me re-think. Children will love it and adults will too. I can see this book being great in a classroom. It invites discussion and I think everyone will love it as much as my granddaughter and I do.

Until next week.

Gina Marysol Ruiz

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