||First Texas Publishers
Strawberry Fields authored by Jesus Chuy Ramirez is set in South Texas primarily. The reader follows the main character and his migrant family through an emotional, physical, and psychological journey. The reader comes to discover the main character's complex relationship with his father who is a complicated character in his own right, which is carefully crafted by the author. The reader uncovers many underlying themes: one which centers on the conflict between being Mexican and American. An important sub-theme focuses on the rift between a father and a son. In addition, the female reader can also identify with the depiction of the main character's mother. Throughout the story she fulfills her need to have a family and pass on a piece of immortality to her children. Her perseverance and strength is undoubtedly a topic worth discussing. Strawberry Fields is a thought-provoking story that delivers an introspective view of difficult times endured by many Americans during a period of change and the identity struggle coming from two different worlds. But, it offers more than a common Mexican-American tale; it is a collection of stories that spans many generations and men and women alike. Ramirez develops a piece of literature filled with intrigue, history, and compassion. More importantly, Strawberry Fields, depicts the complicated threads, which challenge every family. The reader can sense the author's genuine experiences....
By Mirta Espinola
Icarus Canal/LaSanta Chinuiza-From Strawberry Fields, A Book of Short Stories, By: Chuy Ramirez
Benacio was a tall man. Punishments were dramas in which everyone played a role. In acting out a chinguiza, Benancio's preferred mode was to swing the belt like a whip. There was non of this "bend over" business that Joaquin was subjected to at the Mexican school. ....his father's hand measured the stirking distance, and then the final swing, the belt snapping into a whip action.
Dr. John Hart's Review
Review: John Hart
In his song “Strawberry Fields” (1967), John Lennon immortalizes the name of a Salvation Army children’s home located near his childhood home in Liverpool. He remembers happy family gatherings, and the local band playing on holidays. Lennon sings, too, about his insecurity as he wonders about his music’s connectivity to a broad public. His memories of that time are a sweet recollection of happy family events, which he recalls with the fondness of retrospection years later.
In his novel Strawberry Fields (2009), Jesus Ramirez weaves a series of social and cultural vignettes about a Chicano migrant family’s life into a compelling story that provides a psychological and historical study of Joaquín, the protagonist whose personal history mirrors in some ways Ramirez’s own childhood as a migrant farmworker. In the narrative, Joaquín, who has become a successful and respected attorney, initially glosses over his past and idealizes it or blocks out its most painful aspects; his memory of harvest time in the strawberry fields of Michigan is more nostalgic than accurate. Periodically, however, he is brought back to reality by the contrasting memories of his brother, Bennie, who serves as something of a Sancho to Joaquín's Quixote. Throughout the novel, present and past are juxtaposed when current events in Joaquín’s life are interrupted by flashes of memories past, framed as flashbacks.
As the story unfolds, the reader is reminded of the racism, poor working conditions, and economic exploitation that migrant workers endure—not only by the agriculturalists who pay their workers and provide substandard living quarters, but also by members of their own ethnic community who serve as labor contractors. The overall and most severe economic oppression suffered by migrant Chicano workers and their families while they harvested the crops was committed by members of the dominant Euro-American culture, who refused to acknowledge the migrants’ role in providing needed food and a livelihood for these Anglo farm owners and their families, and nutritional sustenance for the broader community. Ramirez paints a picture of migrant life that is shaded and shadowed by an ever-present consciousness of powerlessness, ethnic identity loss, poverty, and…hope, courage, and a sense of cultural integrity and endurance despite all of this.
Lennon was able to romanticize his past when he wrote his “Strawberry Fields”: he had gained notoriety as a writer, singer, and leader in the Beatles band, and had acquired substantial economic security. Joaquín (and Chuy Ramirez) had no such luxury: decades after the events portrayed in the novel, Joaquín is still haunted by an unsolved and unresolved mystery about the fields, and victimized by the ideologies not only of a past era but also of the present moment. Even as a successful attorney, he experiences, and advocates for clients who experience, similar events and attitudes.
In New York City, just past the West 72nd Street entrance to Central Park, along the crosstown road that weaves through the park across from the Dakota apartment where Lennon was gunned down in 1980, a path winds through a stretch of greenery that serves as a meditation area. It is labeled “Strawberry Fields” to honor John Lennon while it recalls one of his most notable songs. I discovered this peaceful place during a visit to New York shortly after finishing Ramirez’s novel. I did not know Lennon, but certainly know his music. By contrast, I do know Jesus Ramirez, now a successful attorney who has overcome to a great extent the kinds of prejudices and problems described in his novel—but who still, like his protagonist, does pro bono work for poor Chicanos who would otherwise have no good legal representation when they suffer from injustice in society or experience racism and classism in the judicial system. The novel provides, perhaps, a certain cathartic moment for its author, but not to the extent of finally setting a bad memory to rest: rather, it continues to stimulate dedication to preventing or overcoming the actuality or potentiality of similar moments in the present and future. While Lennon and his music are part of the fond cultural memory of people in the U.S. and abroad, and appropriately celebrated as such, the injustices suffered by Chicanos decades ago, and enduring even today, continue to be ignored and unresolved. This “strawberry fields” provides insights into cultural fortitude and resilience in the face of such prejudices and practices, and calls for a better life in this life on Earth (not just a better life in a believed in and hoped for heavenly home) that is, for many, yet to come.
Both works of literature, the sung poetry and the image-laden novel, provide insights into lives defined, to some extent, by strawberry fields. The comparison, to a certain extent, ends there; the contrasts remain. The poem expresses nostalgia for a bucolic life in Liverpool, England. The novel evidences the sometimes brutal memories of migrants on the road from the Texas-Mexico border to distant Michigan. The song is briefly tinged with sorrow as Lennon laments the loss of his joyful past and experiences insecurity as he considers the possibility of acceptance of his words and music. The novel’s subsurface sorrow is broken by its serenity: remembrance of trying family relationships and ethnic injustice are interspersed with joyful memories of friendship, and family love and bonds. Lennon wants his strawberry fields to be “forever” as a lingering moment of childhood innocence, joy, and peace. Ramirez wants his strawberry fields to help overcome the lingering uneasiness of harmful events—past but still present—that await social and personal resolution.
Jesus Ramirez’s novel, then, not only reminds us of past injustices. It reminds us, too, that racial discrimination and economic oppression continue today, even when unnoticed by the media; and, that the poor, particularly migrant workers, cry for liberation. Strawberry Fields is a reflective reminiscence of Chicano life, providing a glimpse into Mexican-American—and Mexican—migrants interacting at home, in the fields, and along the roads that link them. This well-written novel, with its realistic portrayal of life in the Rio Grande Valley and beyond, stimulates us to be aware of ongoing human rights issues in the U.S. It strives successfully to address these issues with passion, compassion, and a sense of justice, rather than just relegate them to a cold case file of unresolved and apparently unresolvable historical events.
Strawberry Fields is a beautifully written, well-told tale of remembrance, reflection, and renewal. Strawberry Fields is a very important book for its insightful portrayal of Chicano culture, values, and hardships, of lingering impacts of racism and economic deprivation, and of continuing efforts by Chicanos to be accorded respect and dignity in the twenty-first century…and beyond.
John Hart is Professor of Christian Ethics at Boston University School of Theology. He worked in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas in the late 1960s-early 1970s, including as an associate Catholic campus minister and Bible professor, and as a volunteer with the United Farm Workers Union. He was a candidate for the Texas legislature in La Raza Unida Party in 1972.
Dr. Genaro Gonzalez's Review
Upon reading the galley proofs for Strawberry Fields by Chuy Ramírez, I was immediately intrigued. My book about a South Texas family working in out-of-state strawberry fields for a summer had been published barely three months earlier. And, as in Ramírez’ work, two adolescent brothers also find themselves locking horns with a formidable father. The intersection of both novels’ themes, published around the same time, seemed an exciting coincidence, a sort of Jungian synchronicity suggesting that one’s ideas and interests aren’t simply fragmented, individual observations but perhaps part of a larger, organic whole.
Chuy Ramírez’ description of harvesting strawberries while living in a squalid labor camp is at once lyrical and sober. There is an adolescent’s sense of adventure on experiencing the world beyond his barrio, yet the wonder is tempered with a more mature portrayal of the hardships of camp life. He incorporates those experiences into the emotional crisis of Joaquín, now a successful attorney who senses that his spiritual tumult is somehow linked to that long-ago summer.
Strawberry Fields provides a subtle yet moving account of migrant farm work, but it is much more than that. Through a series of flashbacks, Joaquín first allows us to experience his world in San Felipe, the South Texas town where the decision to work in Michigan and Indiana is conceived. He recreates the barrio’s sights, sounds and mindset with an uncanny sensitivity. A writer with a myopic eye or with cultural blinders would likely have overlooked San Felipe as a stereotypical, sleepy border town, but for Ramírez it proves a treasure trove. He shows how such communities, although insulated by status and segregation, are seething with nuanced ambition and anxiety. Even minor characters possess memorable peculiarities, so that San Felipe is presented less as an abstraction than as a town made up of individuals with their idiosyncrasies.
A recurring theme in Strawberry Fields involves Joaquín’s conflictive relationship with his father, a Mexican immigrant married to a Chicana. The father sustains a somewhat schizoid relationship with his motherland, criticizing its corruption yet in the next breath defending it against American cultural influence. This ambivalence, which often characterizes expatriates, proves one of the more interesting elements in the book. He tries to transfer his nationalistic pride to his children through ritualistic trips across the border. Yet the perceptive Joaquín realizes that it’s ultimately an empty gesture, since the offspring’s native-born status virtually disqualifies them from ever being bona fide mexicanos in their father’s eyes.
The work’s secondary title, A Collection of Short Stories, leads one to expect a number of stories independent of the main plot, yet the short fiction seems more like embedded and interspersed vignettes than stand-alone material. These narrative islands throughout the book are interesting in their own right. However, once the dark mystery at the book’s center develops fully, it takes hold of one’s interest in the same way it consumes Joaquín’s energies and waking moments. The occasional dash of local color and the cameo studies of minor characters do add to the reader’s overall, imagined sense of San Felipe; a few of the more poignant episodes or anecdotes even stand out afterwards in one’s memory, like small gems. One gets the sense that the “stories” might have been better served in a future collection of short fiction or might have found their way into another novel. But in the end these minor criticisms—like the occasional unnecessary accents in the text--are minor quibbles over an impressive and very interesting first novel.
Genaro González’ first novel, Rainbow’s End, was nominated by Rudolfo Anaya for an American Book Award. This was followed by Only Sons, a collection of short fiction. His third book, The Quixote Cult, is an autobiographical account of his days as a Chicano activist in South Texas. His most recent book is A So-Called Vacation. Dr. González is currently a Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas-Pan American.
Jose Ramirez's Review
Mis comentarios son los siguientes: The short stories of Strawberry Fields are like beautiful and colorful blouses made of delicate chiffon------revealing. The stories reveal the compassion of a mother for her seven year old son who expresses anger for the family's poverty. The stories reveal the strengths and weaknesses of Joaquín's culture. The stories reveal the transformation of a young child becoming a man......a man appreciative of his raiz (roots). This is a book that crosses color and geographic boundaries. It is a book that will touch the soul of its reader.
I became part of the book as Mr. Ramirez described the unique things that many of us from South Texas can relate to, such as the use of talcum powder by our fathers after a shower, the reading of the Sunday paper in boxer shorts, the symphonic tunes of tortilla making, the discipline with a belt, the Saturday trips to Mexico, and the significance of going to "al norte" for married couples.
Thank you for allowing me to share my sentiments on this wonderful book. –Jose Ramirez Jr.
José Ramirez, Jr., a native of Laredo, Texas, was diagnosed with Hansen's disease, more commonly known as leprosy in 1968. He spent 7 years at the national leprosarium in Carville, Lousiana and was the first person allowed to attend LSU while still a patient at the facility. He is now a licensed social worker in Houston, Texas and has become an international advocate for persons affected by leprosy. The World Health Organization has utilized his expertise on stigma to develop guidelines addressing ways to lessen the discrimination so often directed at persons with disabilties. He has made hundreds of presentations on the topic of stigma, written many articles, featured in newspapers throughout the world, and published
Squint: My Journey with Leprosy.
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