La Jornada is a truly remarkable depiction of the 1950s and 1960s world of Mexican American farm workers, the setting for a novel which combines the coming of age for a young boy with a an intriguing mystery of a young blonde.
Chuy Ramirez has finished his first novel in Spanish. For those who are familiar with his book of short stories, Strawberry Fields, La Jornada de Joaquin dropsmany of the earlier vignettes and incorporates the trip to Michigan into a true novel. A “jornada” is a journey and this journey takes place for the protagonist, Joaquin, both at a physical as well as a psychological level.
Notably, Ramirez’ protagonist is depicted more unequivocally as the “igualado” earlier in the novel. Ramirez has refused to use the word “vendido” (sellout or turncoat, which was popularized during the 1960s by the Chicano movement). Hence, “igualado” remains ambiguously meaning a person from a lower station who seeks self-improvement. In the end, the reader decides whether Joaquin is a “vendido”. For example, query why Ramirez places a blonde girl in a farm worker camp? What underlies the relationship he wants us to perceive between Joaquin and the blonde? A first generation American, as the son of a Mexican farm worker, Joaquin has bought into the American dream, urged on in part by his mother. As an attorney who appears successful by any definition, he embarks on what he has convinced himself is a trip to revisit a period of his life when he and his brother, Bennie, were adolescents.
Ramirez uses that trip to take us through an original, geographic lesson, as the farm workers travel from the mythical town of “San Felipe” to Michigan by cargo truck and pick up trucks. There is a comical tongue-in-check diversion which the farm worker caravan camps out overnight and in the morning they realize that they have inadvertently camped out in a golf course. Parallel to that physical journey is Joaquin’s own trip by jet during when his subconscious reasons for wanting to return to Michigan are revealed. In part, his journey will tell of the tension between the inclinations of his father and his mother. The father insists his family remain Mexican in tradition and loyalty. The mother desperately wants her family to disregard the past and integrate into an American culture which she argues rewards education. Joaquin is caught in the middle of both views.
From the first chapter, the reader realizes there is a mystery underlying Joaquin’s motivation to return to Michigan. In due course, Joaquin recalls a jingle, “Grandfather tree, grandfather tree, show me what I can’t see”. That jingle will accompany his recollections. During his flight, Joaquin will have several partial recollections of a blonde adolescent. Increasingly, the mystery becomes more significant and as he gets closer to the Michigan farm worker camp of his adolescence, the mystery increases. Is there really a “grandfather tree” or a blonde girl as his memory recalls? What will he find at the Michigan farm worker’s camp? If you can’t read Spanish then you will have rely on Strawberry Fields. But both are available on Amazon.