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Hart weaves a powerful story of fleeting moments with her mother, of her unfolding adoration of Oxnard’s Latino culture, and of the ways in which she’s molded by the polarity of her parents’ worldviews. Hart is faced with opposing ideals, caught between what she is “supposed” to want and what she actually desires. Gringa offers a touching, reflective look at one girl’s struggle with the dichotomies of class, culture, and sexuality.
Posted September 17, 2012
If you are a mother, straight or gay, you need to read Gringa: A Contradictory Girlhood.
Author Melissa Hart describes an unyieldingly strong mother-daughter bond that cannot be broken by time, distance, or the mean-spirited court ruling, prevalent in the 1970s, by which courts cast aside responsible, loving, nurturing lesbian mothers and granted custody of their children to often cruel and abusive fathers.
Chapter-by-chapter, the memoir Gringa shows how both the mother and initially ten-year-old daughter deal with being allowed to see each other only a few days a month, and how the daughter-- seeking a new identity for herself, and desperate for a new life-- absorbs the Latino culture in the city in which her mother takes refuge from the father’s continued threats.
We follow the daughter’s transition through her telling of the story, but also through her recipes as she learns to cook. Each authentic , replicable recipe helps portray each phase in the girl’s life through both its relevance to that life-stage, but also through her additional ingredients.
In her younger years:
Tortilla Flats: “Serve hot, garnished with a deep desire for someplace else.”
While making White Girl Cookies: “Ponder your sentence of a lifetime of despair.”
Indian Fry Bread: “Eat them under an oak tree with plenty of butter, honey, and rage.”
Then, when she’s older:
Chaulafan: “In your high-heeled fuchsia pumps, whisk four eggs in a bowl.”
Flan: “Daydream about the boy with soulful brown eyes, as you beat three whole eggs together . . . .”
Student Council Satay: “First, cut your hair in an asymmetrical New Wave bob. Put on your drill team skirt and sweater, and get out a shallow pan.”
Contrition Carrot Cake: “Chanel your frustration at rigid gender roles into beating three cups of grated carrots ....”
Christmas Tamales: “Crank up Santana on your sound system and tie an apron around your snow-flake patterned sweater.”
And finally, after a mother- adult daughter trip to Spain, the recipe for Spanish Hot Chocolate, which is to be served with “humility and a tiny silver spoon.”
Is this book relevant in these more “modern” times, when society has supposedly evolved from inflicting social and legal pain and humiliation on responsible, loving, nurturing mothers only because they are lesbians, or straight mothers who are single, poor, have to work two jobs to support the children for whom they would give their lives?
Look around. How many mothers today are forced to share custody, sending their children to bitter, abusive husbands half the week? Even today, how many mothers, lesbian or straight, lose total custody when revenge-seeking richer husbands hire pricy revenge-seeking lawyers to steel these mothers’ children away?
I wish there were more than five stars to award this book; The Gringas, both the book and the author, are a ten.
Posted August 21, 2011
Gringa: A Contradictory Girlhood
by Melissa Hart
Melissa Hart's Memoir from the Heart
A review by Katie Schneider
"What's best for the child."
The phrase gets bandied about a lot in divorce proceedings. For a young Melissa Hart, it was a judge's justification for taking her away from her mother, a loving, vibrant woman who happened to be a lesbian.
"I must consider what's best for the children," the judge said. "A woman living with another woman, on a dangerous street with volatile neighbors?"
The contrast between her father's sterile suburban lifestyle and her mother's warmth is at the center of Hart's new memoir, Gringa: A Contradictory Girlhood.
"There were no Latinos, Chicanos or Hispanics in our upper-class gated community. There were only people like us," Hart writes of her early childhood in the early 1970s in suburban Los Angeles. "My mother and I pretended allegiance to their Tupperware parties, to their Brownie troops, to their Sunday morning services at the Presbyterian Church."
But Hart's mother, Margaret, wasn't like the other suburban housewives. She wanted an altogether different life. First came the Spanish lessons, then the flirtation with a school bus driver named Patricia and arguments with Hart's father. When Margaret drove away, she took the children with her.
Instead of being horrified by Patricia's run-down ranch house, Hart was gripped by a strange excitement. "I went wild and barefoot, braided my hair like an Indian maiden, and planted a garden of sunflowers and corn next to a rickety chicken coop my mother stocked with Rhode Island Reds." It's where she began a lifelong infatuation with Latino food and culture, associating her mother's blue VW bus with freedom, tacos and the songs she heard driving around town.
It wouldn't last. Her father was awarded custody, and Hart and her siblings went back to the suburbs, away from the smells of lard and the influence of lesbians. With her father often working, the house felt quiet and cold. Hart's new stepmother tried hard to make the children feel at home, but they all lived for the every-other-weekend with their mother.
Hart, who teaches writing at the University of Oregon, has crafted a well-balanced tale that forgoes blame in favor of poignancy. She captures the child's core desire, simply to be with her beloved mother. She shows how the ramifications of the custody decision affected later relationships with friends and lovers and even her mother.
Gringa doesn't read like a polemic. Nevertheless, the message is clear. "What's best for the child" in her case would've been to do exactly the opposite of what the judge decided.
Not what I expected at all, she never seemed (contrary to what the discription claims) to take "confort in a latino community", she was always akward and uncofortable with anyone except a childhood baby sitter and one friend (Rosa) in High School (althought she is not comfortable around Rosas latin friends). Yes she gets a latin boyfriend but she is uncomfortable around his family. I joined this Barnes and Noble forum today just to let you know, not to waste your time or money on this book.
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