An Illinois congressman’s straight-shooting, spirited memoir about his transformation from Chicago barrio boy into dedicated champion for Latino civil rights.
Gutierrez grew up the son of two working-class Puerto Rican immigrants who came to the United States to escape poverty. But instead of settling permanently on the mainland, they left Chicago to return to Puerto Rico so that their children could live apart from American street violence and acquire traditional Puerto Rican values. Suddenly, Gutierrez went from being a Latino boy with an exotic last name to a brown-skinned “gringo” who could barely speak Spanish. By the time he was in college at the University of Puerto Rico, however, Gutierrez had not only become fluent in his second language, he had also become a radicalized supporter of island independence. He finished his studies at Northeastern Illinois University and was “ready to agitate for fairness for Latinos and independence for Puerto Ricans.” But before he could realize his dream, he took every kind of odd job imaginable to survive and became, among other things, a door-to-door spark plug salesman, an exterminator and a cab driver. It took getting fed up with Chicago “machine” politics to set him on the political path that would take him from city alderman and right-hand man of reformist mayor Harold Washington to congressional representative. Rather than try to “get along with people” and play the Washington power game, Gutierrez immediately made himself unpopular by calling for congressional pay freezes. He also began working on immigration reform, a cause for which he was cheerfully willing to get himself arrested. Gutierrez takes pride in his nearly 20 years of accomplishments and especially in his status as congressional gadfly. Unlike so many other political memoirists, however, he resists the temptation to use his book to memorialize his ego.
Funny, feisty and heartfelt.