Stories about breaking the family curse

Rubén Degollado’s new book, ‘The Family Izquierdo,’ is filled with the rich complexities of Latino culture.

 

Rubén Degollado’s linked stories, The Family Izquierdo, reveals family troubles and secrets that span generations. He explores the conflicting dualities of Catholicism and curanderismo, what it means to be Mexican on both sides of the border, and the rich complexity of the Spanish language, both pure and pocho. 

There’s also a brujos curse! When Papa Tavo falls ill, his family immediately blames their neighbor, Brujo Contreras. According to Contreras, “Izquierdo means from the left or left-handed. … In Latin, the word for on the left-hand side is ad sinistrum, which in Spanish is siniestro. That is another word for evil. It is the same in English. So that is a curse in at least three languages.” With this proclamation, the brujo denies any role in the Izquierdo familys ongoing struggles. The Izquierdos, however, continue to believe that Contreras is at the root of all their problems.

Each part of novel begins by situating Papa Tavo and Abuelita in crucial situations, including their 1958 migration to the U.S. side of the border and their 35th wedding anniversary party. There is both tenderness and tension. The stories that follow de-center the patriarch and matriarch, allowing each family member to examine his or her actions more closely and share the truths they believe in. Only then can they begin to understand the source of the family curse. In “Turroco,” Little Gonzalo hints at the family history of mental illness, something that could not be prevented by innumerable rosaries or speaking in tongues. At a young age, he watched his father and a curandero dig up a photo of Gonzalo and Papa Tavo with Xs through their torsos, set it on fire, and recite maldiciones toward Brujo Contreras. But their efforts could not undo the damage that had already been done.

Rubén Degollado’s novel, The Family Izquierdo, reveals family troubles and secrets that span generations.
Saraí Mendoza

The author experiments with point of view throughout this novel. The stories about Papa Tavo and Abuelita that open each part are told in the third person, for example, but the cousins’ generation is represented through first-person plural. In “Our Story Frays,” the cousins have to decide if they believe devoutly Catholic Abuelitas version of Brujo Contrerass death, or if what charismatic Tía Victoria told them is closer to the truth. Or do they believe their own version of the story? One that gives them power over Contreras descendants. One that they can tell “over beers in the backyard” while someone “strums corridos on an out-of-tune guitar.” By using this multiple-voice perspective, the author captures the way people in all families have different versions of the same tale. How we sit around sharing cuentos, whispering chisme, and keeping family histories alive — even if that history is sometimes embellished.

By using this multiple-voice perspective, the author captures the way people in all families have different versions of the same tale. 

The epistolary story, “La Milagrosa Selena,” hints at the struggles of the oldest daughter, Marisol. It’s told by Marisol’s friend, Lourdes, who exposes Marisol’s eating disorder and her susto. Lourdes swears that both illnesses were cured at a Selena concert. She writes to the Bishop requesting canonization for Selena, even though Selena was a Jehovahs Witness, not a Roman Catholic. Clearly, Selena is part of the familia, too.

“In Seven Songs,” the younger daughter, Dina, speaks directly to her religious daughters, Teresa, Dianira and Yesenia, explaining her own self-imposed isolation and calling them her poderosas — her powerful ones — because she believes them strong enough to overcome the “bad Izquierdo blood.” 

The most surprising character is the rebellious daughter-in-law, Victoria, who wields more power in the family than expected. She is married to the oldest son, Gonzalo, an alcoholic. When he accuses her of being too friendly with his nephew, she leaves him to prove she doesnt need his financial support. Only when Gonzalo curbs his bad habits does she return home, where she can host a peaceful meal for the Izquierdo family on the eve of Mothers Day. But the family’s presence in her home reminds her of the emotional turmoil she felt after she gave birth to Little Gonzalo, the suicidal ideations that she never shared because she didnt want to face any criticism from her husbands family. She is able to enjoy the party only when her sisters-in-law pull her into the circle of family on the makeshift dance floor for some washing-machine movidas, Tejano style. Once again, Selena helps to alleviate the curse. Even though Victoria is not Catholic, she is the person Abuelita relies on when Papa Tavos cirrhosis progresses. Victoria is the one who calms Gonzalo when he cant handle his fathers death and continues the Lords Prayer when Abuelita cannot go on.

By offering such varied points of view, Degollado illuminates the conflicts between faith and family common in Latinx culture without making any judgment, allowing readers to formulate their own conclusions about guilt and innocence.

Chicana Feminist and former rodeo queen, Tisha Marie Reichle-Aguilera (she/her) writes so the desert landscape of her childhood can be heard as loudly as the urban chaos of her adulthood. Her stories have been anthologized in Made in L.A. Volume 4, Ramblings & Reflections: SouthWest Writers Winning Words Anthology, and Puro Chicanx Writers of the 21st Century. Her flash fiction has been included in Best Small Fictions 2022. You can read her published stories and essays at http://tishareichle.com/

We welcome reader letters. Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor. See our letters to the editor policy.

Note: This article was updated to reflect that the book is a novel, not a collection.

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