Showing 1 - 5 of 5 annotations associated with Soto, Gary
In these "narrative recollections" poet Gary Soto reflects on his Mexican American childhood in the ethnically mixed laboring-class neighborhoods of Fresno, California. His was a life lived at the margins--economic margins and cultural margins. In these recollections of family relationships, youthful mischief-making, farm and factory jobs, adolescent rebellion, and the transition to professional writing Soto subtly and humorously draws our attention to the discontinuities between the lived lives of Chicanos and Anglos.
"The Beauty Contest" describes how young Gary entered his younger half-brother in a playground beauty contest. "Strong build, a chipped tooth, half Mexican and half white--he might win, I thought." (43) Gary knows that only a lighter complexioned child could meet the Anglo standards of beauty that prevail. In fact, he has internalized those standards himself: " . . . we were awed by the blond and fair skinned kids in good clothes. They looked beautiful, I thought." We are led to infer that the Anglo contestants come from a world of comfort and parental attentiveness whereas Gary has been left on his own to tend to his brother while his parents are away at their work of manual labor.
In "Looking for Work" Gary wanted to imitate the Anglo families of the television programs that he continually watched. He tried to convince his siblings to wear shoes to dinner and improve their appearance so that "[w]hite people would like us more." (26) In "1,2,3," Soto reconstructs the shocking vindictiveness of an Anglo father after his young daughter falls off of a swing that is being pushed by Gary's Chicana friend, Rosie. Soto ends this piece, "I wanted to . . . explain that it was a mistake; that we also fell from the swings and the bars and got hurt . . . ." (15)
Soto foregrounds violence as an integral part of his childhood. The lead-off sketch, "Being Mean," recounts childhood pranks involving the setting of fires and abuse of pets. But this violence also included and was a response to verbal violence from others, such as being called "dirty Mexicans." (3) "Bloodworth" chronicles the evolution from fisticuffs--"all through elementary and junior high school, it was bob and weave, jab and stick" (95)--to the more controlled violence of the high school wrestling team.
Soto tells of his back-breaking farm laboring and factory jobs in "One Last Time" and "Black Hair." There is no romance in these episodes, "no grace" (124) in the miserable conditions, and no comfort. Rather, there is always the fear that he will forever have to "work Mexican hours, and in the end die a Mexican death, broke and in despair." (123)
Chicano poet Gary Soto explores his own uncertain status in relation to his family, and to the larger society. Detailing the "evolution" of his siblings and cousins, who "were no longer Mexican rednecks," but "held down jobs" and "stopped jamming parking meters for free time," the poet describes how his family nevertheless feels uncomfortable about him: "My family feared that I had evolved too far."
Drunken Christmas horseplay with his brothers reveals their distaste and distrust of his intellectualism and sophisticated clothes. "They tore my book in half, / and stripped me of my Italian belt." Only when they have succeeded in making him sick-drunk do they accept him (at least temporarily) back into the family fold.
Soto describes an incident that occurred when he was a factory worker in a plant that employed Mexican illegals. When the border patrol raided the plant, the boss assumed that Soto--a brown skinned Mexican-American--was also an illegal. Soto "shouted that I was American" but the boss didn't believe him, and Soto was forced to run away along with the others.
"I ran from that industrial road to the soft / Houses where people paled at the turn of an autumn sky." The "amazed crowds" watched as these aliens ran through their neighborhood--"jogged" in the parlance of the well-to-do for whom running means leisure activity. As Soto runs past the white suburbanites, he salutes them, embracing the symbols of America --"baseball, milkshakes"--and comments wryly on the sociologists for whom he is another statistic in the assimilation process.
The speaker remembers his childhood in which "[w]e were sentenced to watch / The rich on TV --." While the sitcom characters (the Donna Reed Show, Ozzie and Harriet) played golf, ate steak, and dressed fashionably, the speaker and his friends tried to relate the television lives to their own. The disparity between what they saw on television and what they saw every day at home was enormous, required a different dictionary: "While he swung, we hoed / Fields flagged with cotton . . . . "
The poet returns to the present. For many life is relatively luxurious--" Piano lessons for this child, / Braces for that one . . . . " But watch out--when there's a power failure and the lights go off " . . . in this town, / a storefront might / Be smashed, . . . And if someone steps out / With a black and white TV, / its because we love you Donna, / we miss you Ozzie."
The narrator find himself in the kitchen where "the faucet drips" and "The magnets on the refrigerator crawl down / with the gravity of expired coupons and doctor bills." He looks into the refrigerator, trying to remember whether he has seen any of its contents before. He is preoccupied with his body, which is aging. His mind wanders. Suddenly, he is alert again, oriented to the present and ready to take charge--of his diet and of his life. "I'm full of hope. / I open the refrigerator. / I've seen this stuff before."