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Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa (Rigoberto González)

December 7, 2009

This memoir reads like a novel. I think part of that is the disjointed nature of time González writes through — some parts are strictly chronological, but they are interspersed with chapters that move back and forth in the author’s past or that bring the reader back to the narrative present (1990). It’s a dark book, full of family conflicts and an abusive relationship, but it’s not an oppressive read. In fact, it’s a compelling read that explores the effects of being homosexual in a family that doesn’t accept that aspect of a person, and in a social and cultural environment where homosexuality is shameful. In many ways, it’s a beautiful book that brings to light the internal struggles of a young boy as he grows into adulthood and embraces his sexuality. However, the family layer is also very important in this memoir. González spends a lot of time writing about his parents and his paternal grandfather, and the issues that he has with them are closely tied to his feelings about being gay. When he deals with his mother, he most often ends up wondering how she would react if she had lived long enough for him to admit to himself that he is gay. As for his grandfather, most of the issues there simply stem from his grandfather’s abusive relationship with his father, and the tyrannical way he runs his household. Most of the time, he’s focused on his relationship with his father. There are so many things going on in that relationship — alcoholism, abandonment, personality conflicts, and more — that it is obvious how much this relationship troubles González, and how much it continues to play out in his own relationships with his lover (and other men). This book takes on similar issues as those in Victor Villaseñor’s novel Macho! but instead of focusing on the social and political aspects of life as a Mexican American, González focuses on how his sexuality interacts with those social and political aspects of life, and how this plays out within the family. The abusive relationship he leaves at the beginning of the memoir returns throughout the text, and while it doesn’t take up a significant amount of space in the narrative, it is clearly one of the most significant aspects of the text. Because of the way this storyline is interwoven throughout the memoir, the connections between this relationship and the family story become apparent when I don’t think they would have otherwise.

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