A Review of Strawberry Fields, A Book of Short Stories
By: Pancho Velasquez
The unity of the stories in Strawberry Fields is in both the physical journey of one generation of Mexicans from Northern Mexico to South Texas and their gradual integration into American culture. The stories depict the history of a people. With the advent of the railroad and agricultural land developers in the Rio Grande Valley at the turn of the century, the need for cheap labor and the Revolution of 1910 in Mexico hasten that migration.
But it is the lives of the baby-boomer generation, Joaquín’s generation, and that generation’s inevitable divided loyalties that arise from familial and cultural demands to help earn a living and yet to move on in a majority culture which demands and purports to reward individualism that are the center of Strawberry Fields. The tensions that arise in that dynamic transition, the tensions in adolescence, the tensions between father and son, husband and wife, the myths that ethnic groups perpetuate, all fuel these vignettes.
So much in the stories is about the internal experience of the character. The stories both reveal and conceal a negative self-image held by the principal characters, Benáncio and Joaquín, father and son (Joaquín calls it the “affliction”) which fuels Joaquín’s own journey to the Strawberry Fields. Benáncio cannot forget his own history. Should Joaquín forget his? Joaquín’s self-reflexive journey back to the Strawberry Fields parallels a similar journey that his own generation has taken to get to where they are today. In so doing, Joaquín revisits a time, often painful, now often forgotten, which many of that generation will be reminded of. Will the journey repair him? Can he cast off the haunting images of his dreams? Chuy Ramirez immerses us in Benáncio’s and Joaquín’s world.
We are invited to decipher Joaquín’s encoded dreams and to make psychoanalytic inquiries. Yet, the stories are satirical, comical, and often heart-wrenching, as they chronicle in entertaining fashion Joaquín’s early years during the journey of rediscovery he has embarked upon. The stories can be enjoyed independently, but the more ambitious reader may find approaching the stories as chapters in a novel more rewarding.