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And the Shadows Took Him

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In the barrio of Fresno, California, the Molina family is living out the Chicano version of the American Dream. Father William works on an assembly line while his wife, the well-bred beauty Rachel, stays at home to care for their three children—and to keep them off the streets. But when William is offered an opportunity to enter the ranks of the middle class, he quits his job, packs up the Ford Maverick, and transports the Molinas to a brand-new world: the small town of Medford, Oregon.
So begins the dramatic transformation of youngest son and aspiring actor Joey, who assumes the role of a vato loco gang member in order to win the respect and fear of his gringo classmates. While Joey tries to make himself popular with tall tales of guns and glory, his father embarks on a bitter struggle to develop his career and combat age-old cultural stereotypes. How William's extraordinary efforts and deepening despair affect the lives of his loved ones is at the heart of this haunting and incandescent novel—one destined to become a classic in Chicano-American literature.

ISBN-13: 9780743466394

Media Type: Paperback(Reprint)

Publisher: Washington Square Press

Publication Date: 04-19-2005

Pages: 352

Product Dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.00(d)

Daniel Chacón, author of Chicano Chicanery, has been published in many journals and anthologies. He currently teaches graduate fiction writing at the University of Texas, El Paso.

Read an Excerpt

From Part One

Their father never took them to restaurants, because he thought it a waste of money when they could open up a can of beans, sprinkle on Tabasco sauce, stuff their bellies, and it would all shit out the same way anyway. When the kids cried and whined to go to McDonald's for cheeseburgers, he stood over them and growled like a bear that they only wanted to go there because it was so expensive. They wanted life to be like The Brady Bunch, but they were poor Mexicans, not rich movie stars, and they better eat whatever the hell he put on the table, whatever it was, even if it was food they hated.

Like steak.

For them, steak was a cheap strip of meat that their mom fried in lard until it was hard and charred and tasted like burnt wood.

And if the kids didn't want to eat the meat -- if they pushed it around their plate with a rolled-up tortilla, as if that strip of steak were the very thing in life that they found distasteful -- they saw the shadow of their father's hand rise up the white wall of the kitchen. "Don't make me do it," he'd say. On his fist's fingers, his hitting fist, were tattooed letters that spelled "L.O.V.E."

The kids didn't know that a steak could be thick and juicy and explode with flavor, because they had never been to a steak house. On the rare occasions that they went to the drive-in movies, the father pulled the car into a grocery store parking lot, and while they waited in the hot backseat, he went inside for a big bag of salted pigskins and two six-packs of warm generic sodas. Then he drove across town by the factories and the stinky lumberyards and bought them a bag of burgers at Munchies. Theburgers were ten cents. They held the warm bags on their laps until they got back across town to the drive-in movies and ate in the car during the first feature. Munchies burgers tasted like liver meat, so they balanced burgers on their knees and smothered them in ketchup and mustard. Billy, the older son, said he had heard that they were so cheap because they used old horsemeat instead of beef, but Joey, the youngest, liked them anyway.

Joey liked food.

On days that the mother went for groceries, he was so distracted while she was gone, imagining the good things she would bring home, that he couldn't concentrate on playing with his best friend Ricky Jones or doing his homework or whatever. Once while his mother was gone buying groceries, he was supposed to be helping his father fix the Ford. The father lay on his back, under the car, his torso and legs visible, with the smell of grease rising from the heat of the asphalt. He cursed the car.

"Give me a three-quarter wrench," the father yelled to Joey, who watched for his mom's car to turn the corner and handed him a crescent wrench instead.

"You worthless piece of shit, go get your brother!"

While the father, William Molina, and his older son, Billy, fixed the car, Joey sat on the curb in front of the house and waited for her '63 Chevrolet to turn the corner, slow and heavy, the music beating from down the block, Rachel's head bopping up and down, black sunglasses and strawberry-blond hair. He reverently stood up before she pulled in the driveway, as if greeting an important relative he was in awe of but had never seen.

It was the boys' job to unload the bags. Billy carried two or three bags at a time, grasping them in his muscular arms like a dockworker, but Joey only carried one, hugging it to his chest, the itchy brown paper against his forearms. He placed the bag on the counter or the table, but before going back to get another one, he looked inside the bag for something good, a bag of chips, cheesy crackers, or a box of sugary cereal.

After the mom and Vero, the oldest child and only daughter, put the groceries away, he took out bologna and American cheese and tortillas and mustard and made himself a couple of burritos -- he used three slices of bologna per tortilla -- and tore open a bag of corn chips. Afterward, even though his stomach felt bloated, he opened the refrigerator door and looked at all the food and tried to decide what he would have for breakfast the next morning. He liked fried eggs and wieners, which he cut in half. He liked fried bologna, which puffed up in the sizzling lard like a Chinese hat and filled the kitchen with that wonderful fried, salty smell. He'd warm up three fat flour tortillas.

One evening William Molina came home, stood above Joey, and told him to get his ass off the couch and turn off the TV. Joey, who was enjoying a rerun sitcom about a 1960s middle-class family, asked, "Why?" The father said that he was taking them all out to dinner, and he wanted Joey to tell everyone to get ready.

"No way!" Joey said.

Billy was lifting weights when Joey ran into their bedroom with the news. He was doing curls with barbells and wearing no shirt -- his fourteen-year-old muscles glistening with sweat. "You mean, like at a restaurant?" His long black hair was in a ponytail, and every time he lifted the barbells toward his chest, the ponytail seemed to want to crawl up his back.

"Yeah, a restaurant," Joey said. "So hurry. Get ready."

Joey pulled off his shoe while still standing, hopping and losing balance, exaggerating the comic movements a bit, and after he got one off, he did the other. "Hurry, before Dad changes his mind!"

"You're a liar. Dad ain't taking us to no restaurant."

Vero, the oldest at fifteen, sometimes let her boyfriend, Paul, a Chicano in a low rider, come by the house when the parents weren't home. They would stand at the curb outside and listen to music under the shade of the fruitless mulberry tree that covered the yard. If Joey came anywhere near them, Vero told him to go away, although he didn't know why she didn't want him there. She and Paul never hugged or kissed in front of the house; they leaned against the car as if it were the coolest thing in the world that teenagers could do. She was an urban Chicana, dressing in baggy pants and oversized T-shirts with raza images like the mustached Lowrider man or a brown fist proclaiming "Chicano Power." She would listen to acid rock or oldies in her bedroom with the door locked. She never let Joey see inside her room, as if she didn't want him to look too closely at her. For Joey, her room was a place of mystery and imagination. Whenever he was near her door, he would imagine noises, mysterious sounds -- a lion's roar? A shovel scraping on cement? Noises that he didn't know he was imagining. When she came out or went into the room, he would peek in, but she'd push him away and slam the door. Glimpses inside were all he ever got, a poster of Jimi Hendrix, a candle, a turntable with a record spinning.

When he knocked on her door and told her in a singsong voice to get ready because Dad was taking them to dinner at a restaurant, she didn't respond, just turned up the music.

Oh oh no no

don't want you to go