Critical Mass

México, Mexico

By Rigoberto Gonzalez

Since this is Cinco de Mayo week at every Mexican and pseudo-Mexican restaurant in the city, it’s also the week I keep the blinders on. After all these years I haven’t been desensitized to the 2-4-1 tequila shots and half-priced buckets of beer. Oh, and let’s all partake, wearing our little Mexican sombreros and ponchos—keep it real. But instead on educating folks on the true significance of Cinco de Mayo, and how this is not really a huge holiday for Mexicans since it isn’t Independence Day (that would be September 16), I’d rather pick up on a thread I mentioned at last week’s PEN Critical Moment panel. I’d like to recommend five recent and not-so-recent titles that will give readers insights into one or more dimensions of my beloved homeland:

Best of Contemporary Mexican Fiction

Edited by Alvaro Uribe and Olivia E. Sears, this 450-page tome is hip and young, with works in translation that offer a startling range of subject matter that quickly dispels the stereotypes long-associated with the Mexican landscape and its people.

The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire

C.M. Mayo’s fictionalized account of Emperor Maximilian’s brief reign over Mexico during the mid-19th century is a testament to this author’s painstaking research and skilful storytelling. Maximilian’s flawed humanity is fully explored in this rich and satisfying portrait of a man who continues to be maligned even by those who don’t know his entire story.

Into the Beautiful North

Chicano writer, Luis Alberto Urrea’s newest novel is an excellent companion to his nonfiction book, The Devil’s Highway, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize a few years back, and which also dealt with the desperation that forces many Mexican people to seek out a better life by taking dangerous risks, first.

Reversible Monuments

Though this anthology of Mexican poetry, edited by Monica de la Torre and Michael Wiegers, is now seven years old, it’s still the best representative collection of contemporary Mexican poetry in translation. Kudos to the editors for seeking and including works written by indigenous poets.

The Border Film Project

This was a fascinating and touching experiment: give cameras to undocumented bordercrossers and to the Minutemen