The Wedding, Mary Helen Ponce, Arte Publico Press, 2008, 195 pp
A couple years ago I read Hoyt Street, Mary Helen Ponce's memoir of growing up as a Chicana in Los Angeles. As things go in the world of books, I later met Mary Helen through a mutual friend and we are now in a reading group together.
The Wedding also takes place in a Chicano community located on the edge of Los Angeles. It is early 1950s, a time of zoot suits, big hair and big cars. Life in the barrio is grim, jobs are hard to find and about all a girl can hope for is a big wedding which will impress the neighborhood.
The story follows Blanca Munoz, high school dropout, who finally gets a job cleaning turkeys, as well as a boyfriend named Cricket. The boyfriend, whom Blanca has known all her life, is a gang member and lives to rumble. In fact, The Wedding is the Mexican version of S E Hinton's The Outsiders, told from a female point of view.
We follow Blanca's trials and troubles as she prepares for the wedding: choosing the wedding party, the dress, the flowers, etc. Then comes the ceremony and a full day of festivities including a breakfast, pictures, a reception and a dance. The specter of a possible rumble haunts the day but most heartbreaking of all is that Blanca's prospects with her future husband are dim: just children, lack of money, lack of love; really no security or happiness is in store for this couple.
The title says it all. The wedding is going to be Blanca's one big day of happiness. She worked hard to get it and by the end of the day, she has even begun paying for it.
I have not had a Mexican friend until I met Mary Helen. She is highly educated, has taught literature at university level and is a published author, but she came from the barrio, she knows this world and her books put me in it. The writing is simple yet highly evocative of place, people and customs. Quite an accomplishment.
(Both The Wedding and The Outsiders are available on the shelf in the Young Adult section at Once Upon A Time Bookstore. However, both books make excellent reading for adults.)