Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Chola Salvation

By Estella Gonzalez

ISBN:  978-1-55885-914-2

Bind:  Trade Paperback

Pages:  200


Chicana writer’s debut story collection unveils the lives of her Mexican-American community.



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.







“González’s debut collection delivers a layered portrait of Mexican American life rooted in 1980s East Los Angeles. An inviting tapestry.” –Publishers Weekly


“In her first collection of stories set mostly in her hometown of East Los Angeles, González unfurls the preoccupations of Mexicans and Mexican Americans and conveys an array of emotions they feel stemming from their blue-collar jobs, cultural heritage, faith, and poverty. Her use of Mexican slang adds a distinctive flavor that enhances the atmospheric setting. Beneath the machismo and the matriarchal dominance that reverberate in González’s stories is a thriving Chicano/a pride that unites and rewards these flawed but resilient characters as they achieve bittersweet triumph over steep odds.” —Booklist


“What is most astonishing about Chola Salvation is Estella González’s skill in dropping the reader right into the action. Each story’s razor-sharp characterizations allow us to recognize the bravada these mujers live by, for better or for worse, or to root for queer love sought by hombres. With its bars, churches, hair salons, and its neighbors, this collection is East Los in its beautiful, aggrieved, celebratory finest.” —Helena María Viramontes, author of Their Dogs Came with Them and The Moths and Other Stories


“Smoldering stories that center the lives of Mexican Americans by complicating common tropes and conceptions. This debut collection of interlocking short stories turns an unflinching eye on the small tragedies, gut-wrenching betrayals, and enduring courage of working-class Latinx folks in East Los Angeles and the borderlands. Imagine Winesburg, Ohio featuring Chicanx of East Los Angeles with a touch of mystical realism.” —Kirkus Reviews

ESTELLA GONZALEZ’s work has appeared in Kweli Journal, The Acentos Review and Huizache and has been anthologized in Latinos in Lotusland: An Anthology of Contemporary Southern California Literature (Bilingual Press, 2014) and Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse (Lost Horse Press, 2017). She received a Pushcart Prize “Special Mention” and was selected a “Reading Notable” for The Best American Non-Required Reading. Her story, “Chola Salvation,” won first-place in the Pima Community College Martindale Literary Prize and she was a finalist for the Louise Meriwether Book Prize for a collection of short fiction. She received her BA in English from Northwestern University and her MFA in fiction from Cornell University. She lives in Tucson, Arizona.

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