Monday, April 12, 2021

Julia Alvarez

Julia Alvarez is a poet and novelist who was born in New York City in 1950, but spent her early childhood in the Dominican Republic ― her parents’ native country. In 1960 her family fled to the United States because of her father’s involvement in a plot to overthrow the dictator, Trujillo.

Her poems often express the experience of an immigrant child in unwelcoming American schoolyards ― of being raised in a large, Hispanic, Catholic family ― and of her youthful desire to seamlessly fit in among peers. She portrays both her parents’ piety and inconsistency in their efforts to raise the family. At the Catholic Literary Imagination Conference, in 2015, she spoke of the importance of belonging in the community to which Christ calls ― particularly through family ― and she encouraged her hearers to find their calling.

Alvarez has written several novels, including How the García Girls Lost Their Accents (1991), and Afterlife (2020). She has also written non-fiction and children’s literature. Julia Alvarez has received many awards, including the National Medal of Arts from Barack Obama in 2013.

The following poem is from her collection The Woman I Kept To Myself (2011, Algonquin Books).

The Red Pickup

The wish I always made in childhood
before the blazing candles or when asked
what gift I wanted the Three Kings to bring
was a red pickup, which Mami vetoed
as inappropriate. And so I improvised,
trading in speed for a pair of cowboy boots,
bright red with rawhide tassels that would swing
when I swaggered into my fourth-grade class
asking for an exemption from homework
from my strict teacher, Mrs. Brown from Maine.
She called my mother weekly to complain
of my misbehaviors, among them
a tendency to daydream instead of
finding the common denominator.
(But what had I in common with fractions?
I wanted the bigger, undivided world!)
She was one more woman in a series
of dissuaders against that red pickup
in all its transformations, which at root
was a driving desire to be a part
of something bigger than a pretty girl,
the wild, exciting world reserved for boys:
guns that shot noisy hellos! in the air
and left crimson roses on clean, white shirts;
firecrackers with scarlet explosions
that made even my deaf grandfather jump.
I wanted what God wanted when He made
the world, to be a driving force, a creator.
And that red pickup was my only ride
out of the common denominator.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.