"An often richly drawn portrait of immigration, acculturation, and family loyalty."– Kirkus Reviews
A collection speaks in part to the poet’s Mexican-American heritage.
In these multifaceted poems, Mexico-born, Houston-raised Salazar (Of Dreams and Thorns, 2017) explores general human themes like love and war in addition to specific experiences as a person of color. The book begins with a sensual meditation on desire, featuring luscious descriptions of a lover, from lips “moist like youth” to the body’s “softest velvet” slopes. The poems shift to odes to cultural icons like the Tejano star Selena and Mexican-German painter Frida Kahlo as well as occasion pieces honoring his brother’s 40th birthday and a friend’s mother’s memorial service. The author hits his stride when he delves into identity. In “I Am Not Brown,” he contemplates the societal implications of skin tone and his inability to fit into the rigid category of Caucasian or Latino. “For white and black and brown alike / Are slaves to history’s brush strokes,” he writes. “Grateful for the Work,” perhaps Salazar’s loveliest poem, catalogs the day of a laborer, starting with an early morning awakening and following him as he toils in 100-degree heat, enjoys tacos from his lunch pail, buys beverages from a child’s lemonade stand, and returns home to an equally hard-working wife. The author then makes an abrupt turn toward Syria in a series of poems that condemn that country’s president, Bashar Hafez al-Assad. They serve as a rallying cry for Syrians and grieve for the murdered masses. Salazar’s closing poem, “Sons of Bitches,” is a clunky rant about a 20-year-old immigrant shot in the head by a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent. The gratuitous violence and political theologizing are ill at ease with the intimate, personal experiences that preceded them, such as the fablelike “A Mexican is Made of This,” in which Salazar beautifully describes the “rainbows, bronze, backbone, butterflies” that his people embody.
A volume of poetry that shines when focused on the author’s experiences of race and culture.
Salazar’s debut novel presents a Mexican-American family’s saga from the 1950s to the ’90s.
The story follows the members of the Ocañas clan from a rural farming village near Monterrey, Mexico, where patriarch Ramiro’s roots run deep, through moves to Chicago, Houston, and Orange Cove, California, as his children establish roots in the United States. The book opens with Ramiro’s arrival in the frigid Windy City in 1950, where he’s followed an acquaintance in the hope of getting factory work and providing for his family. He faces challenges as he learns the ways of a new country; he also ends up having an affair with his much older landlady, despite his professed devotion to his wife, Eliza, back in the village of Naranjales. Ramiro returns to Mexico after becoming financially stable, but after a family tragedy, he returns to the United States for good, bringing his wife and kids with him to settle in Houston. The children face their own challenges as they struggle to bridge the divide between the rural lives of their parents and the urban world they now call their own. Salazar does an excellent job of depicting Ramiro’s transitions, particularly during his time in Chicago as a young man; a scene of his first visit to a supermarket is particularly vivid. The book also effectively shows the commonalities and the subtle differences between Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. On the whole, the writing is strong, although Salazar’s tendency to provide a word-for-word translation of Spanish dialogue grows repetitive: “ ‘Compa, que gusto de verte. Ya me ansiaba oir esa risa contagiosa tuya,’ ‘So great to see you, buddy. I couldn’t wait to hear that infectious laugh of yours again.’ ”
An often richly drawn portrait of immigration, acculturation, and family loyalty.