The ANA Messenger - Spring Edition
What We Are Reading
La Maravilla, a fictional story set in the small town of Buckeye, Arizona, is the Administration for Native Americans’ Book Club suggested reading for April 2013. Set back in history before the town had paved roads or other modern-day amenities, Buckeye’s main occupants are mostly day-laborers, Mexicans, Native Americans, African Americans, and Anglo “Okies,” who each bring their own language, religion and perspectives on life to form a community that somehow seems to work.
One of the main characters is a Yaqui grandfather, Manuel, who holds on to his native heritage and strives to pass that identity down to his grandson, despites protests from his Hispanic and stridently-devout Catholic wife, Josephina. In his life, Manuel straddles three different cultures yet is secure in his sense of self and his ability to maintain his linguistic-cultural roots despite all obstacles he encounters:
“Yet for the old man neither Spanish nor English were enough when it came to speaking with his grandson. To say his family was poor would be accurate enough but not really true. In Spanish pobre would be true, but, in his mind, not very accurate. In Yaqui to be kia polove is to be without desire for “things.” There is no concept of “poor” for a noncomparative, communal society. A Yaqui is only poor when he deals with the whites or the Mexicans. When he is forced to pay taxes on land he has always lived on or when the laws of Arizona require that he buy a tombstone, then he is poor. Then he must reach outside his language for the word.”
In developing the relationship with his grandson, the old man provides for him a foundation from which the boy (and later, the grown man) can fully appreciate and draw from his Yaqui ancestry in order to successfully navigate life’s challenges – including the influences of competing cultures. Josephina also later comes to appreciate the indigenous culture, although in her earlier years, she valiantly tries to battle against it and shield her grandson from its influences.
One evening out in the desert, while initiating his grandson, Manuel asserts the validity of the Yaqui perspective, despite how other cultures might try to sway one:
“I will never tell you, boy, that there is only one way to believe. I will never tell you that there is only one way to know about things. But tonight, I will tell you that our way is better…. I’m proud to say it. I can show you much of who you are. I will give you a sight of your own blood so that someday years from now you will not be made anxious by wrong questions and you will not look for answers in the wrong place.”
La Maravilla artfully written by Alfredo Véa, Jr., does a wonderful job of interweaving cultures and characters, and providing thought-provoking answers for life’s questions we may not have yet contemplated!
Brian D.F. Richmond
La Maravilla by Alfredo Véa, Jr. © 1993. Plume Book/Penguin Books, New York. ISBN 0-4525-27160-6.