Shedding profound natural light on the inner lives of migrant workers, Jaime Cortez's debut collection ushers in a new era of American literature that gives voice to a marginalized generation of migrant workers in the West. The first-ever collection of short stories by Jaime Cortez, Gordo is set in a migrant workers camp near Watsonville, California in the 1970s. A young, probably gay, boy named Gordo puts on a wrestler's mask and throws fists with a boy in the neighborhood, fighting his own tears as he tries to grow into the idea of manhood so imposed on him by his father. As he comes of age, Gordo learns about sex, watches his father's drunken fights, and discovers even his own documented Mexican-American parents are wary of illegal migrants. Fat Cookie, high schooler and resident artist, uses tiny library pencils to draw huge murals of graffiti flowers along the camp's blank walls, the words "CHICANO POWER" boldly lettered across, until she runs away from home one day with her mother's boyfriend, Manny, and steals her mother's Panasonic radio for a final dance competition among the camp kids before she disappears. And then there are Los Tigres, the perfect pair of twins so dark they look like indios, Pepito and Manuel, who show up at Gyrich Farms every season without fail. Los Tigres, champion drinkers, end up assaulting each other in a drunken brawl, until one of them is rushed to the emergency room still slumped in an upholstered chair tied to the back of a pick-up truck. These scenes from Steinbeck Country seen so intimately from within are full of humor, family drama, and a sweet frankness about serious matters - who belongs to America and how are they treated? How does one learn decency, when laborers, grown adults, must fear for their lives and livelihoods as they try to do everything to bring home a paycheck? Written with balance and poise, Cortez braids together elegant and inviting stories about life on a California camp, in essence redefining what all-American means.
“[The author]’s debut story collection, ... opens with “The Jesus Donut,” where a group of kids living in a fictional but all-too-real Gyrich Farms Worker Camp get a visit from a mobile doughnut vendor. …[The story] sets the tone for the collection’s waggish and tender look into this significantly ignored world of California migrant communities, here set around Watsonville in the 1970s — both documented and undocumented — mostly through young Gordo’s point of view and his local cast of characters. ...Cortez, a Bay Area author, masterfully navigates adverse conditions of migrant life while prioritizing in these stories the way people adapt to their circumstance — managing to find joy and amusement, love and triumph, that which makes us delightfully human — amid its challenge.”— Mia Jeffra, San Francisco Chronicle, August 16, 2021
Here are the questions discussed on Wednesday, April 27, 2022:
Icebreaker: How did you come to understand the labor that tends the food you eat?
What do you perceive the tenor of this book to be? Happy? Sad? Sweet? Bittersweet? All? Something else?
What is the author trying to tell the audience?
Who was your favorite character and why? Least favorite?
Which was your favorite story and why? Least favorite?
Are the stories believable, fables? fantasies? Why?
What did you think of the writing style? What are the strengths and/or weaknesses of his writing?
Did you see the landscape and feel the heat and other weather elements, etc.? Why? Why not?
Why do you think this became short stories, rather than a novel or a memoir?
Do you perceive the story as idyllic, hardscrabble, or something else? Why?
In some reviews he has been compared to John Steinbeck or David Sedaris. What do you think about these comparisons?
Does this seem like a first literary attempt? Why? Why not?
How are his approaches to “difficult subjects”, i.e. alcoholism, physical abuse, figuring out sexuality, death, etc.?
Any ambiguities we need to clear up?
Favorite line, image, or passage?