Gonzalez, Rigoberto. “Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa”, University of Wisconsin Press, 2006.
Angry, Passionate. And Ironic
I have finally gotten around to reading Rigoberto Gonzalez’s “Butterfly Boy”. It is one of the most moving books I have ever read. We follow a young Chicano as he matures into accepting himself as a gay male and Gonzalez writes about in eloquent beautiful language and with candor. It is enough for one to be gay; homosexuality automatically comes with minority status but to be gay and poor and Chicano is another story altogether. This is not an easy subject to write about but to write about in such exquisite prose makes this book very special. Subtitled “Memories of a Chicano Mariposa”, we learn that “mariposa” not only means butterfly but also “faggot”. Like other gay coming of age stories, Gonzalez describes the trials of being an effeminate kid with a high voice who enjoys putting on girl’s clothing. We also read about how he found homosexual themes in classic literature and his feelings of validation when he read E.M.Forster and Herman Melville. With that rapture also comes sadness when he discovers that he is different from others and the emotions of tears and smiles and anger and acceptance face each other off all through the memoirs. Gonzalez tells this story is prose that is poetic and the story is intense and heartfelt. Gonzalez compromises nothing and he tells it like it is. It is very difficult to write about the sexual orientation of a young person because it is so personal that it is hard to convey. Gonzalez manages to do so with beautiful tenderness.
Gonzales not only faced the issue of being gay—he also had to face near-poverty, illiteracy, and abuse. Above these there was love; he loved himself and who he was. The Chicano culture puts great emphasis on machismo and this made self-acceptance that more difficult. Feeling alone in the world, the only sense of connection that Gonzalez had came from a violent relationship with an older man. His mother died when he was twelve and his father had abandoned the family. When Gonzalez found his voice as a writer and also attempted to reconcile with his father, he was finally able to accept himself, claim his identity and bring together the issues of sexuality, race and class. This is a must read and should be on everyone’s list. I don’t understand why it took me so long to read it.