On Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa
Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa (University of Wisconsin Press, 2006) by Rigoberto González
Butterflies, my lover calls it, the art he places on my back. He locks his lips on each shoulder blade and sucks the skin, leaving deep red, almost purple hickeys that he says resemble wings…I learn to bear, and even welcome, the pain of his mouth.
So begins Rigoberto González’s powerful memoir, Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa. The book, lyrical and non-linear in its unfolding, is about a journey in two senses of the word. First, it is a story about González’s long bus ride to the family’s ancestral home in Michoacán – land of the monarch butterflies, he points out – alongside the father with whom he has a troubled relationship. With the author’s crisp descriptions and impeccable metaphors, we understand his frustration when the bus breaks down on a parched desert highway; we see the Mexican countryside speed by; we feel the awkwardness between father and his gay son on this cramped bus hurtling toward central Mexico. Interestingly enough, though, the tensions between the two men seem to arise more from their differences in the way they see the world as opposed to their respective sexualities, though in some ways these cannot be extrapolated from the other. Using the archetypal idea of a journey in a fresh, new way, González permits us into the privacy of his experiences, allowing us to feel his discomfort, his thirst, and ultimately, his pain.
Butterfly Boy is also about a voyage into the soul. González uses his skills as a writer to move back and forth through narrative time, carefully relating important episodes from his childhood and adolescence spent as a farmworker in Southern California all the way to the doorsteps of UC Riverside, marking the author’s turn of fortune as he begins university studies. We learn about González’s emotional development by seeing his interactions with his long-deceased and compassionate mother, his overbearing grandfather, and his demure, but quietly-rebellious grandmother. We see the young González emerge into his identity as a gay Latino, and witness his same-sex interactions with other farm hands leading all the way to the unnamed “querido” that appears throughout the book. And at the crux of the book, at least for this reader, is the relationship between father and son that no doubt resonates with many other gay Latinos today: that clash between expectation and disappointment, the space between unconditional love and inexplicable abuse, the contradiction between constructed masculinity and unfamiliar intimacy. Ultimately, it is a book about bravely confronting one’s past in order to make room for one’s future, no matter how bleak the circumstances may have once been.
Rigoberto González’s book will always have a place in my library because of the unflinching honesty that he has displayed in its pages. As a gay Latino, he has inspired me to embrace my own tumultuous relationship with my father and to examine it sincerely. At turns poetic and at other times riveting for its emotional complexity, Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa should be required reading for every gay Latino out there, and for every man who’s ever looked into his father’s eyes and wondered what stories were there, waiting – aching – to be discovered.