Northup, Solomon. Twelve Years a slave (New York: Penguin Books, 2012). (461)

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Villaseñor, Victor. Burro Genius. (New York: Harper Collins, 2004), 1-320. (320)

A keen mixture of circumstance, positionality and choice are the framework towards a reality of realization and, ultimately, the beginning of Victor Villaseñor’s memoir Burro Genius. Opening after the publishing of his first novel, Macho!, Villaseñor works to create an opening part of the text which highlights various necessary aspects which go into creating opinion and positionality in the world and, for himself at least, an identity which remains conscious in him throughout his journey to that main stage as a keynote speaker. Perhaps though, the most critical moment in the opening of his text comes at the hand of his first page in which Villaseñor frames the basis of the title, encompassing the two separate realms in which he has become a part of and, ultimately, the two separate identities in which, one can only expect, he continues to grapple with. The separation of the “burro” identity from the “genius” is one which can be expected to be confronted farther along in the text, but also is previewed as he gives his speech to the CATE audience in the opening book. Ultimately, Villaseñor’s recalling of his time working with English teachers in elementary school works towards a clear line of the creation of his identity through his class and race struggle, especially as he realizes that the audience he is confronting is one comprised primarily of upper-class white individuals226. This opening works to highlight Villaseñor’s unique reality even farther along in his life than one would expect from a memoir, as it does not open to a childhood or youthful reference. Overall Villaseñor’s first portion of his memoir resonates a reliability and, almost, contract with the reader, shaking their hand and promising a continuation in the exploration of identity and positionality.

Chapters four through fourteen of Villaseñor’s memoir highlight the weight and importance which his family held in his life, the varied stories which he was brought with, and the stories which he helped to create through his own life. Opening chapter four, Villaseñor explains the unique space within his family and his culture which women hold, most specifically the ideals of the female and her positionality within the family structure which his father instills in him.227 This creates a unique juxtaposition further on in the text when his father grants him an intricate knowledge of being a “man” in that men are to perfect their “maleness” through practice in handling women, guns, cars or trucks, and women need no practice of that kind.228 This comparison within the context of the patriarchal paradigm which Villaseñor is, then unknowingly, involved in highlights his intimacy with the system, as well as a strange resistance to it. Throughout the chapters, Villaseñor explores the various instances of his lifetime and the intricate natures in which several systems of dominance were playing a part in his life. But Villaseñor goes a step farther and references this inadequacies in his father’s mentality and questions his thought process, ultimately questioning the nature of the system. After being told that women don’t need to learn to shoot guns he asks id shooting a gun is really easier than knowing how to be with women.229 His simple gesture of, seemingly, childlike wonder and exploration acts as a highlighting of the patriarchal tendency to place a women on a pedestal and as an item to be achieved. Though these chapters Villaseñor not only highlights the impact of his family life on his own, but also the impact of the various systems on his family, and by association, on himself.

Villaseñor ends his piece, Burro Genius, continuing to focus on the relationship between him and his family, as well as his family and their revolving societal status. Though the Villaseñor family’s status throughout the book was constantly changing within their atmosphere, the final chapters details a more intricate nature of the relationships between the family members. After his parents return home there remains stagnancy within the growth of the family, specifically as his father’s drinking increases and his mother leaves without much warning.230 Though the family may have always held a specific spot in the world, between their shifting paradigms of a white culture and a Mexican one, the separation of the family signifies an interesting compromise of their normativity, or rather struggle with thus, and furthermore their relationship within the various spaces they occupy. The expansion of Villaseñor’s personal growth is rather poignant in these last chapters as well, as his realization post his ride home on the horse highlights the explorations of the self and his positionality within the white versus Mexican culture he was raised in.231

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