A searching memoir by an essayist and literature professor finally “proud of being Mexican and Puerto Rican” and “gay and femme and fat.”
Gonsalez begins with his childhood as the son of working-class immigrants in what had been a New Jersey farming town on its way to becoming “a middle-class haven of housing developments.” There, living in two languages and what his classmates considered to be “the Mexican ghetto,” “a no-man’s-land of savages,” he came to understand his essential differences: different because he cried easily, different because he was ordered not to speak his native language in school, different because he was always made to feel the outsider. “It’s just procedure for little brown kids to be treated as a problem,” he writes. “For our ways of speaking to be policed at every turn. For us to be corrected by a world that would rather we not exist." Gonsalez got little help along the way: His father was not always present, and his mother was detached. White children, it seemed to him, were treated as something almost sacred, but, he asks, “what of the little queer and fat and feminine and neurodivergent child of color?” Such a person, he answers, is never allowed to have a childhood. When the author’s young brother died in a car accident, he was scarcely allowed to grieve. Instead, Gonsalez takes up the cause of all the “Pedros” in the world around him, a name he borrows from the Mexican immigrant and aspiring American Pedro of the film Napoleon Dynamite but who has counterparts everywhere, including the gay Cuban American TV personality Pedro Zamora. Like the first Pedro, Gonsalez writes, he overcame “peak pobrecitoness”; unlike him, he adds, he refuses to “identify with the false meritocracy this settler colonial country likes to imagine itself being.”
A subtle, expertly written repudiation of the American dream in favor of something more inclusive and more realistic.