Sunday, June 14, 2015

Myriam Gurba: How Some Abuelitas Keep Their Chicana Granddaughters Still While Painting Their Portraits in Winter

Olga García Echeverría
"Abuelita carried our food home in plastic mesh bags with plaid designs. Waddling along the cemetery murals, she looked how a Mexican grandmother should, like a tropical babushka. Four feet, eleven inches of old lady. Rolls of diabetic weight held in place by a handmade dress. Silver hair cropped short by her own scissors. A yarn shawl flapping like a cape...No man would guess seeing her walk up the street that Abuelita was an artist, and no man would guess that my sister and I were subjects worthy of art. Abuelita thought we were. She turned us into creations."

The motif, el hilo, that runs through Myriam Gurba's latest collection of stories is death, and when it comes to writing about death, Gurba knows how to kill it. Yes, la muerte es triste (that's why La Llorona can't stop crying), but Gurba's stories remind us that from the mulch of the dead bloom flowers.

Ghosts colonize the pages of this book. Some of the ghosts are vain and smell of chorizo, like the misogynist abuelo who envies Juan Rulfo. There’s la abuela, the Mexican Scheherazade, who spins gruesome stories to keep her two Chicana granddaughters captivated and sitting still so that she can paint their portraits. There's 16 year old Andrew from East LA, who got his brains scrambled on concrete. There are, of course, Las Lloronas, the old school and the modern ones who undo their own motherhood. There's Nacho, a much-loved dog who was turned into a little pelt rug posthumously. There are hummingbird huevos that never hatch, and if you stare into a keyhole in one of the stories, you'll see a woman pacing, howling as she carries a little coffin in her hands. The hilo tugs and makes you read on.

If it sounds gory and dark, though, it's not. This is, after all, Death a La Queer Chicana, which is gay instead of morbid, which asks not only such important philosophical questions like "What is death?" but also "Who gives birds dyke haircuts?"
Although Pedro Páramo lurks in the pages of these cuentos, this isn't Juan Rulfo's Comala, where the dead are so alive that their constant “murmurings” suffocate the living. In Gurba's collection, despite the constant presence of death, the living live. It may be Guadalajara, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Mesoamerica. It may be preconquest Mexico, the 60's, 70's, 80's, 90's, 2012. It doesn't matter—the living do their thing. They get perms and ice-skate inside pyramid-shaped shopping malls. They touch their own sex and sniff, enthralled. They ditch school and eat spiced mangos on sticks. They bust their father having an affair with his secretary. They fall in love and suck on the nectar of ruins. They Facebook in the kitchen table late at night. They talk to ghosts. They photograph the dead and everything around them. They long so badly to touch Andrew's bashed-up brains. They do the Lambada at funerals with Mariachis. They embrace life/death like there's no tomorrow because there isn't; there's only right now and yesterday, yesterday, yesterday...echoing ghosts, memories that never die.

These stories, with their constant attention to fantastic and queer details, mesmerize and pull. Like those granddaughters who sat for their abuelita in winter, when the last story in the collection came to an end, all I could do was say, “Another.” Otra, Myriam. Otra.
To purchase How Some Abuelitas Keep Their Chicana Granddaughters Still While Painting Their Portraits in Winter:

A native Californian, Myriam Gurba earned a BA with honors from UC Berkeley. Her first book, Dahlia Season, won the Publishing Triangle's Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction and was a Lambda Literary Award finalist. She is also the author of Wish You Were Me (Future Tense), menudo & Herb (self-published), and A White Girl Named Shaquanda (self-published). She blogs at lesbrain and often for The Rumpus and Radar Productions.

To view other blogas on Myriam the Great:


msedano said...

thanks for the link. glad learning that one of my favorite literary characters, manny di presso, has gone into publishing.

Anonymous said...

Your review made that book alluring. I can't wait to get a chance to read it. Thank you Olga. I look forward to reading your Sunday blogs.