On this last day of January when I’m writing this to you, I celebrate Chicana writer, Estela Portillo Trambley. She was born January 16, 1936 in El Paso, Texas. She died in 1998. In 1975, Portillo Trambley was the first Chicana to publish a book of short stories, entitled, Rain of Scorpions and Other Stories. The collection won The Premio Quinto Sol Award, which was another first because the award had never been given to a Chicana writer. Estela Portillo Trambley led the way for other Chicana writers to publish their work.
Although she was born in El Paso, she also grew up in Mexico—a true borderland mujer. She received her B.A. and M.A. in English Literature at The University of Texas in El Paso (UTEP). After graduation, she became a high school and community college teacher in El Paso. She was also active in radio and television and, in addition to short story writing, she is also known as a novelist and playwright.
Her novel, Trini, is groundbreaking in its depiction of a young Chicana seeking her own sense of self among the Tarahumara (Raramuri) people, and taking what she learns across the border into the U.S. It is a compelling "coming-of-age" novel. The Estela Portillo Trambley archive is housed at The University of Texas at Austin Benson Library (click here for more information regarding the archive).
In honor of Estela Portillo Trambley, I share with you two paragraphs from her story, “If It Weren’t for the Honeysuckle . . .” from her award winning collection Rain of Scorpions and other Stories. The character of Beatriz is strong and complex, as are many of her other female characters.
“If It Weren’t For The Honeysuckle . . .”
El Nido was one of the many little villages lost deep in barranca country along the Sierra Madres in northern Mexico. Along a cluster of desert mountains, every so often a green hill rose and sank among mountains thick with dry brush, strewn with red stone, nearby muddy streams, and grass-covered crags. The village of El Nido lay on the eastern slope of a hidden mountain. Houses, huts, stores, a placita, and one large, abandoned mansion dotted this desert side, going down, down, until they reached low ground. A long time ago flash floods from a river on the western slope had driven people to high ground. But now the river was gone, dried up. Signs of a river existing in the past were visible where water still narrowed to dry patches surrounded by mud and arbustos polvorosos. Close to the top of the eastern slope a huge white church towered high and was visible from the western slope. From an ancient grove of wild elms, a footpath led for three miles from one side of the mountain to the other. The old riverbed on the west was banked by huge cottonwood trees, deep-rooted weeds of a primitive life. They were staunch and demanded little else than feeding from a deep subterranean river, for the source of life.
The only house around on this side of the mountain had been built on the dry surface of the riverbed; it was cradled in a world of greenness. One wall of the house was invaded by profuse honeysuckle vines. The house belonged to Beatriz. It had been built by Beatriz, who was now digging in the garden. She was a slender, small woman with wisps of brown hair and watery blue eyes. Her mother had had seven children. Two of them had died at a very young age, so Beatriz did not have a memory of them. But she had grown up with four older brothers. There had been many “fathers,” so her mother claimed, but she remembered only one who had been a gachupín. She was the only fair—skinned child, so her mother had concluded that the wandering gachupín must have been Beatriz’s father, but she wasn’t sure. Beatriz, as a child, had been full of shame when her mother repeated the story as a joke, so she had run to her abuelita, who loved her and made her feel that she mattered in the world. But that had been many years before, in a distant village. Now she was a woman of thirty-nine. Past her youth, she had become part of the riverbed, the honeysuckle, and the giant trees. Together they were the music of a symbiotic breathing. Her desires and her dreams were like the intricate patterns of underground roots, a silent wildness.
If you’d like to read the rest of the story, check out Estela Portillo Trambley’s collection, Rain of Scorpions. Happy end of January and welcome the month of February!! Sending you many good reading energies!