American Copia: An Immigrant Epic
Javier O. Huerta. Houston, TX: Arte Publico Press, 2012. 128pp. $14.95. ISBN: 978-1-55885-748-3
Thursday, May 10, 2012
by: Elena Landry

Section: Adult Book Reviews

Reviewed by Elena Landry, Fairfax, George Mason University, VA

Author Huerta is a hungry man in many ways. He loves the new foods he discovers in the big American chain stores and the diversity of people he encounters.  His evident delight in the behavior of both newcomers and natives is insatiable. His voracious appetite for life makes for good storytelling.

The book’s chapters consist of poetry, dialog, a brief play, lists, short stories and even text messages. Huerta handles all these genres cleverly with a fine sense of humor and irony. In the chapter, “When I Step, Females Respond,” he exemplifies and pokes fun at the Latino macho stereotype. The author’s playfulness is engaging as he flirts, makes terrible puns (“arroz is arroz is arroz.”) and shamelessly tells ethnic jokes (“If your mother ever bought your tennis shoes from the same aisle she got the tortillas, you might be a mojado.”)  Another chapter features an imaginative anthropomorphic tale about grocery carts (“Meet Memo”). The piece “I’m Going to the Grocery Store” - about a game that can be played with children - is alone worth the purchase price.

Throughout the book, Huerta is fearless at scrutinizing himself along with everyone else, noting the racial prejudice as well as the acceptance and kindness he experiences as a mojado.  Huerta uses a lot of Spanish (also some Yiddish, Japanese, Amharic, etc.) which may send many a reader to the dictionary but his writing makes it an enjoyable opportunity to learn new words. A few passages are entirely in Spanish, with no explication via context offered.  This may be a deal breaker for some although it may inspire others to sign up for Spanish classes.

Highly recommended for public and academic libraries

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