Saturday, August 11, 2012

Guadalupe Garcia McCall's UNDER THE MESQUITE

I grew up at Nambe Pueblo in what is now called the state of New Mexico. Nambe is one of the over 500 federally recognized sovereign nations within the United States. Nambe is older than the United States (going by the US Declaration of Independence) by over 400 years, and older than New Mexico (statehood granted in 1912) by over 600 years.

The lines that were drawn, delineating what was U.S. and what was Mexico, are lines that nationally and politically divided Indigenous communities and peoples on the southwest, in some cases, quite literally. The Tohono O'Odham Nation is one example, as stated on their website:
Then, in 1853, through the Gadsden Purchase or Treaty of La Mesilla, O'odham land was divided almost in half, between the United States of America and Mexico.

As such, there are a lot of things that the Indigenous peoples of Mexico and the Indigenous Nations of New Mexico and Arizona have in common. That commonality is what endears me to Guadalupe Garcia McCall's Under the Mesquite. The glossary at the back? I didn't need it. All those words are familiar to me, and the ways she writes about family, extended family, and community... It all rang true.

Though Under the Mesquite is generally seen as Latino literature---it won, for example, the 2012 Pure Belpre Award---it is also correct to see it as an Indigenous text.

In this beautiful story, told in free verse, Lupita tells us about her Aztec ancestors. As I read Under the Mesquite I paused again and again to be--just be--with McCall's gorgeous phrases. Sitting on my couch, her words summoned from my memory so much... the way the southwest sun feels on your skin, the images of women caring for their gardens or preparing food for their families.

Her description of children looking for chicharras (cicadas) was priceless. She didn't tell us why anyone would look for them. I suspect too many American readers would freak out to learn that a lot of us Indigenous peoples gather and roast those chicarras!

I was captivated by Under the Mesquite. Published by Lee and Low, I highly recommend it.

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