Rain of Gold.
By Victor Villaseñor. Houston: Arte Publico Press and University of Houston, 1991. Genealogies. Photographs. Maps. 551 pages. $27.50. Buy this book from Amazon.com
Reviewed by Adelaida R. Del Castillo, Assistant Professor, Department of Mexican American Studies, San Diego State University. Editor of Between Borders: Essays on Mexicana/Chicana History, 1990 and author of Displacing Gender Identity: The Negotiation of Gendered Behavior in Mexico City’s Domestic Space, forthcoming.
In his forward to Rain of Gold, Villasenor insists on the authenticity of this work as family history based on the oral accounts and taped interviews of his parents and kin relations. What follows, however, is a novel of bardic dimensions complete with a story line, dialogue, action scenes, and first person accounts of great grandparents never interviewed. There is little indication of familiarity with oral history methodology and adequate attribution of his sources nor is this surprising since Villaseñor is not an oral historian, but an author of literature and screenplays.
The narrative tells of the life and trials of Villaseñor’s Mexican ancestors and their immigration to California during the early 1900s, evoking the farmworking background of his mother’s people and his father’s bootlegging activities in San Diego County during Prohibition. In the 1940s, the Villaseñors move from the barrios of Carlsbad to the estates of Oceanside settling in Rancho Villasenor.
The structure and form of the text is reminiscent of a homily with its recurrent motifs of God’s will, intervention, and gifts. The narrative is comprised of Five Books with chapter headings followed by an adage not infrequently referring to god’s miracles, the devil, the Holy Ghost, paradise, and the Garden of Eden, finally, the narrative ends with “Amen.” This structure may signify religiosity and the affirmation of ancestral ties to Los Altos de Jalisco, a stronghold of cristero revolts by armed partisans on behalf of the Catholic Church. In contrast, the content of the book itself is earthy and even scatological.
Importantly, Rain of Gold, raises questions about the invention and reinvention of social identity. The remaking of one’s own family history is a daunting task and may result in subjective truths which may or may not coincide with the objective data. Nonetheless, this narrative alerts us to what is compelling about memory in the telling of family history and the idealization of community as metaphor. Villaseñor’s reconstruction of family and community is, for example, one where family loyalty and the exaltation of the mother are canonical, where sweethearts are demure and their more assertive sisters wear red, where old crones are bawdy, and outlaw machos conduct themselves according to a code of honor. Certainly, the outsider is introduced to cultural platitudes associated with Mexican male-female gendered behavior as well as to mother-son relations described in the anthropological literature as the outcome of the uterine family.
If used in conjunction with other readings such as Manuel Gamio’s Mexican Immigration to the United States (published in 1930), Richard Griswold del Castillo’s La Familia: Chicano Families in the Urban Southwest, 1948 to the Present, and Carey McWilliams’ Factories in the Field, this book can be of selective use for undergraduate audiences in Chicano studies.
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