Atop the Windmill: I Could See Forever
A memoir by María Dolores Gonzales
Lithexcel (2020, 160 pp.)
In August 1945, a year before the author was born, a disaster occurred on the Gonzales family ranch in Bueyeros, in northeastern New Mexico. A torrential rainstorm ravaged much of the ranch, killing some animals and causing enormous loss.
The author's father, Canuto Gonzales, was a cowboy--"not a drugstore cowboy," writes the author, "but a real vaquero. He rode broncos in rodeos, herded cattle, hunted deer and butchered becerritos, borregos y cabritos. He taught me to respect La Tierra as he had learned from his father… Es sagrada, he would say."
In these interlinked cuentas, Gonzales, a bilingual teacher and sociolinguist, does not translate. That is the charm of her childhood tales rendered in Spanglish.
Her family has secured the homestead in Bueyeros from early land grants and intermarriages within families that had migrated together from Zacatecas, Mexico, with Juan de Oñate, in the mid-16th century.
"Gypsy souls" they settled in El Llano Estacado, as the author describes, "the largest mesa or tablelands on the North American continent."
These are hard times -- Canuto finds a job as a liaison for the U.S. government to help educate the southern border states on the eradication of foot and mouth disease, which had erupted in 1946. Canuto has to leave his family for a spell to work in Mexican villages, but then is able to bring the family to Guadalajara for a year -- five young daughters and a wife.
There they connect to their Mexican roots and language -- "No se les olvide que semos mexicanos," Canuto would tell them.
The author, known as Lolita, the second youngest, is just 5 when the family moves to Mexico and is immersed in Spanish, her mother tongue, which gives her a "sense of querencia," she writes.
This all changes when they move back with relatives to Roy, then to Rosebud, on La Llano Estacado, when her mother finds a job in the early 1950s as a schoolteacher to support the family - and only English is spoken.
Yet exploring the great outdoors is where Lolita and her four sisters find their true expression. From their farmhouse and barn next to the three-room schoolhouse they construct kites from scratch, swing from the rafters, hunt lizards and rabbits and tarantulas. The author climbs atop the windmill with her pink colcha, and dreams of faraway places, the Amazon River and the Indigenous peoples - "I felt as if their solitude was similar to mine."
The girls discover rock 'n' roll - in 1957 - when their mother gives them a portable record player and they begin collecting albums, beginning with Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel."
When the author is 12 the family moves to Albuquerque, looking for new opportunities.
But the desolate expanse of Los Llanos never leaves Gonzales - "like an unwelcomed guest that stayed for months, never vanishes from my soul."
Genderqueer: A Story from a Different Closet
A novel by Allan D. Hunter
Sunstone Press (2020, 214 pp.)
"Hey, not my fault that when I come out it's different from what everyone expected. Not straight. Not gay. Not transsexual, even. … What shall I call it? I'll think of something."
When Derek Hunter moves to Los Alamos from Valdosta, Georgia, in eighth grade, he is bullied mercilessly. A tall, thin boy with glasses, who likes to wear stovepipe pants and slicked-back hair instead of bell-bottoms and long tresses (this is 1974), he embraces nonconformism mostly because he has nothing in common with boys his age.
What he knows about boys is "ribald and crude" and a "constant undercurrent of threat." He favors the company of girls, who are more accepting and physically attractive. Boys he begins to think of as "them," as the enemy. And they return the favor in terms of verbal and physical bullying.
In this tortured litany of harassment mostly set in Northern New Mexico, author Hunter, who lived in New Mexico until the mid-1980s, before moving to New York to become an activist in gender theory, presents a coming-of-age novel of ambivalent identity that the protagonist ultimately figures out on his own.
There is no map to why Derek feels like a girl in his body and yet is attracted to girls and not boys and is not into gay sex. Although teachers in the Los Alamos schools are largely indifferent to his torments, his parents provide him a safe place, while his young sister, Jan, runs away at one point in school because he is a "freak," making it hard for her at school.
Derek gets booted out of the Boy Scouts because he makes cheese fondue for camping trips - "not appropriate" - and insists on pursuing his merit badges on his own rather than as a group activity.
Trying to "fix" Derek by getting him to smoke cigarettes and marijuana, hooked into rock 'n' roll and even drop acid, only goes so far--what Derek really wants is intimacy with a woman, yet the women attracted to him are sexually passive and won't reciprocate his advances.
Ultimately, people in the larger population feel threatened by Derek's scathingly honest soul-searching and ostracize him for it.
Hunter's memoir in chronological chapters is a cautionary cri de coeur: there is no single pattern to expressions of identity, no standard on the color spectrum. As Derek notes: "I had to figure out everything for myself and when I did, I swore that other people who were like me should not have to do that entirely on their own."
If I Were a Tree, What Would I Be?
By Margaret Cheasebro, illus. by Ayin Visitacion
Balboa/Hay House (2019, 21pp.)
"If I were a tree," Francisco, a young visitor to Grandfather Tree, tells his friend Katie, "I would know when you are sad and give you a hug with my branches."
The two are clambering on the huge cottonwood in the meadow together and contemplating the healing ways of nature.
"If I were a tree, I'd listen to your stories and laugh at the funny parts," Katie says.
Author Cheasebro, a reiki master and former elementary school counselor who lives in Farmington, imparts a simple, yet profound lesson, accompanied by bright, catchy illustrations: by observing, listening and empathizing, the ancient tree will "ground" one and provide safety.
Grandfather Tree is shown with a kindly, gnarled, wise face.
The children decide to visit the tree more often. "Can you feel that in your heart?" Francisco wonders. "The tree likes having us as friends."