Where Mexico and Texas meet—la Frontera—at the Rio Grande is not simply a river nor a border. No, it is an intersection of two cultures and two worlds. Author Norma Elia Cantu grew up in both. She tells the stories of this mid-twentieth century world in snapshots—photographs that linger in her family archives—and in short tales, no longer than a snapshot. Some of the stories, she stresses in her introduction, are direct memories of her own family, while others are strictly fictional. In either case, she has captured both a single life and a particular culture. In her introduction she declares her genre to be "fictional autobioethnography." That covers all the bases.
I grew up during the same time and in the same state as Cantu, but we lived in mostly different worlds. I relish learning about her world as I compare it to mine. But the worlds were not entirely different. These two little girls shared the experience of gathering the family around the radio to listen to Dr. IQ with his puzzling questions—that she listened in Spanish and I in English matters not at all. We also both remember and relish memories of our grandparents fiftieth anniversaries and long summer afternoons at the library.
It isn't surprising that some of Cantu's snapshots are remarkably like many of those in the box tucked under my desk. She suggests that "the stories mirror how we live life in our memories, with our past and our present juxtaposed and bleeding, seeping back and forth, one to the other in a recurring dance."
Norma Elia Cantu lived the childhood she describes in her fictionalized memoir. She was born in Mexico in the border city of Nuevo Laredo, but soon moved to the Texas border town of Laredo where she grew up. From childhood she embraced the culture and the family on both sides of the Rio Grande. She taught Chicano/a and Latina/o Literature & Film, Folklore and Women's Studies at University of Texas-San Antonio where is Professor Emerita. Never one to retire, she now is Professor of Latina/Latino Studies and English at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
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