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Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa


Heartbreaking, poetic, and intensely personal, Butterfly Boy is a unique coming out and coming-of-age story of a first-generation Chicano who trades one life for another, only to discover that history and memory are not exchangeable or forgettable.


Publishers Weekly: This moving memoir of a young Chicano boy's maturing into a self-accepting gay adult is a beautifully executed portrait of the experience of being gay, Chicano, and poor in the United States. A visiting associate professor of English and Latino studies at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, González writes in a poetic yet straightforward style that heightens the power of his story (mariposa is Spanish for "faggot" as well as butterfly).


Rigoberto González is the author of So Often the Pitcher Goes to Water Until It Breaks, a selection of the National Poetry Series, and of Other Fugitives And Other Strangers. A recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships and of several international artist residencies, he has also written two children's picture books, a literary biography, and an award-winning novel, Crossing Vines: A Novel (Chicana & Chicano Visions of the Americas, V. 2). He is on the Advisory Circle of Con Tinta -- a coalition of Chicano/Latino activist writers. He lives in New York City.


When I phoned Mr. González at his home in New York, he had just returned, the day before, from a west coast tour to promote Butterfly Boy. In a couple of months he will head out again to promote his new poetry collection, Other Fugitives And Other Strangers. "In what ways are the lives of migratory people romanticized by the rest of American culture?"

"People like the idea; they think that it's sexy or romantic. For them, movement means progress, volition, or activity. But, sometimes movement is repetition. Movement is lack of stability and the inability to make long-term commitments.

"I like moving around, but there's also a lot of loneliness attached to it. You're always leaving people behind. You're always leaving places behind. You meet somebody and understand that this is all the exchange and interaction you are going to have, and then you move on.

"Still, you carry your emotional and personal baggage with you. That's why the big discovery in the book for me was about my father. You can try to reinvent yourself, but in the end you slip back to old habits."

"Is your father still living?"

"No. My father passed away a couple of months ago. The book was an attempt to recognize and come to understand what happened between us, but it's also a kind of love letter. Through language, I'm trying to understand who he is and who I am and why we don't get along. The sad thing now is that there's no longer a conversation. It's all in memory, and it's all mental.

"Many of us have problems with our families. We can all identify with parent-child conflict, and we're all looking for solutions. The other common denominator is that no matter how difficult the relationship is, we do love each other. It is love. We wish it was a different, more positive kind of love, but we just can't help it."

"It has been said that, in order to move from poverty to the middle class, one must give up, for a time, relationships for achievement. Was that true for you?"

"Absolutely. I learned that very early. In order to achieve a kind of economic stability, my family had to be unstable. It wasn't because we loved it or we were fulfilling a dream to be migrant people. It was economic necessity."

Throughout González's childhood, his family moved between their home in Zacapu, Mexico, and work in Southern California, living in Thermal and Indio.

"That became my paradigm as I moved forward with my own life and identity. The educated person has to leave home in order to go to college. The trip from camp in Indio to college in Riverside was only 70 miles, but it was a world away. All of a sudden, I was being exposed to other people and other ways of thinking. The more I absorbed this new knowledge, the more I realized how different I was becoming from my own family. Although you never forget where you come from, you realize that you now occupy other spaces."

"What does your family make of your success these days?"

"It's funny because there are only a very few people in my family that can actually read English. My brother is one of them. In his own way, he's been very proud. I discovered when I went home one day that he had a scrapbook of all the stuff I was sending him. I was touched by that. We didn't put it into words, but the action said everything."

"What most surprised you about college life?"

"For all of us, every single thing was such a learning experience, and we had to learn immediately. What got me through was that there were so many people in the same boat. One of the things I remember was having to open up a bank account. There were five of us whose parents had never had a bank account. We had no idea what to do, so we all went to the bank together.

"The other thing was the diversity of the college campus and the expectations there. We were learning to be adults and learning to be students and learning to be Americans in this institution that demanded so much.

"Many of us didn't make it and went back home. Every year, in the fall, there was a sea of brown faces on campus, and by the spring it had dwindled down. The expectations, the level of writing and the level of knowledge were very different. The pulp mysteries I had read in high school just didn't do me any good when I took a course in 19th-century British Literature.

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