Kelley C. Herrera
Barbara Renaud Gonzalez recently visited the campus of Texas A&M-San Antonio to discuss her book, Golondrina, Why Did You Leave Me? The book, which took over ten years to complete, is the first Chicana novel published by the University of Texas Press and was awarded First Fiction Finalist by the Texas Institute of Letters in March 2010.
Gonzalez, a nationally-known writer and journalist, tells a part-autobiographical story. In this book, we follow Amada García, a young Mexican woman in a difficult marriage. The book, Gonzalez said, was written in honor of her mother, whom she greatly revered.
During her visit, Gonzalez read passages of her work, pausing to explain how the narrative pertained to her life. “The swallow is a traveler,” she said, referring to the importance the golondrina, a small and undistinguished swallow. The bird tells the traveler’s tale and the Hispanic culture gives weight to the art of storytelling as one of the ways that wisdom is passed down from one generation to the next.
Gonzalez shared with the audience, myself among them, the experiences she had listening to her elders as they told stories on the porch of their home.
The visiting author answered several of the students’ questions during and after the reading. Many asked about her experiences as a writer, and how she got started. She was a journalist who was ousted from her position, she said, “because I was one of the first ones to speak out against the war in Iraq.” She realized that words had power, and she should use her power to write fiction.
“An artist’s greatest desire is to express themselves, to entertain others, and to share your story. A writer knows,” Gonzalez said, “that the story is great if while writing it you are laughing or crying.”
Having read the book, and then listening to the author, I realized that I had missed a few things as I read feverishly to keep up with the pace of my English course. Listening was an even better experience than reading. It made perfect sense to me that a book derived from terrific and terrible tall tales told around a campfire, or sitting on a porch with family and friends just after sunset, sounded better listening somebody tell it.
As we live, we venture from place to place, taking in the view and learning from our small experiences as we go. Life is an endless and tumultuous adventure in search of the realization of our childhood dreams, which would surely come to a dreary and monotonous calm, should we become content to let those dreams remain intangible. How woeful indeed a life must be without adventure, without dreams, and without adversity.
Hearing the author’s work read aloud is a reminder to fulfill an idea of who we should be, not to find ourselves content with what we should settle for. Our goal, at the end, is to look back on our own journey with pride.