Book Review: They Call Me Güero

 

          They Call Me Güero, written by David Bowles, is a kid’s poetry book reflecting the lived experiences of a Mexican-American “border kid.” Güero, which is a term used to identify a person with pale skin, is the nickname of our 12-year-old protagonist who is leading the reader into his life as he narrates the story of his family, friends, and lived experiences starting in seventh grade. As a poetry book, They Call Me Güero offers the readers fragmented experiences of what is like to be a Mexican-American kid living on the border, and traveling from the U.S. to Mexico, while also highlighting the struggles, racial awareness, identity, and problems that come along with this. Each poem reflects aspects of Mexican, Mexican-American, Hispanic/Latino culture and how these are celebrated through the art of storytelling and representation of other cultures. 

          In an interview with the author, David Bowles, explains that Güero is just a normal kid who loves comics and games. He also has a big heart and has a strong sense of empathy for other kids who feel lonely or alienated in school because either they are not confident with their English, or because of the childhood trauma they are suffering because of the difficulties that come along with crossing the border. One important aspect that Bowles mentioned is that his cultural upbringing is deeply rooted towards his interactions with his family.

          It is also important to acknowledge stories that come from real-life childhood experiences because it is one of the few instances where the story is told from the perspective and voice of a child narrator. What is interesting about They Call Me Güero is that Bowles illustrates these problematic and real issues, as Güero creates awareness of the injustice happening with Mexican-Americans, all while also showing positive representation within the community, which includes Güero’s family, friends, and the school. For my review of specific parts of They Call Me Güero, I will focus on three themes that caught my attention, which are the power of storytelling, positive adult representation, and language & identity. 

          As part of this book review, I will be quoting some of the poetry in They Call Me Güero. For the purpose of the rest of this article, here is a short resource on how poetry is quoted. 

The Power of Storytelling

          Storytelling is one literacy, cultural, and social practice people have used to communicate with others. Often, storytelling was used to tell what was happening in the world, as a way of social communication to find out what events happen in the world's history, but also to find out that low-key gossip after a trip to the beauty salon or your neighbor's house. In the book, Güero describes how the stories his grandmother used to tell him were similar to “larvae in a chrysalis, / to unfold their paper wings / and take me flying into the future” (Bowles 20). Güero definitely sees the value of storytelling, and how this can help him grow and help others. One funny aspect of storytelling is how his grandmother uses this to teach Güero a life-lesson. The grandmother invented a type of folklore where the monster would take away bad children who steal cookies and do not say who ate them all. After hearing this story, Güero never again stole the cookies. This and more examples of the power of storytelling await in this fascinating book of poetry. 

Positive Adult Representation

          Within the Children's Literature scholarship, specifically studies on the characteristics of “Boyhood,” there is the idea that children of color are not presented with successful adult figures within their stories. However, this book shows nothing but great adult representation to Güero and all the other border kids in the story. Güero’s mom and dad always make sure that their children are healthy, educated, and together with their family. Their uncles, aunts, and grandparents share their life experiences and cultural history to the new generation while explaining the importance of not losing sight of your Mexican identity, which also brings us back to the importance of storytelling. Lastly, one of the adults that stood out to me the most was Ms. Wong, the Korean English Teacher who constantly uses multicultural literature in her classroom. This is particularly important because Ms. Wong intergreats cultural similarities between Korean and Mexican culture by presenting her students folklore, fairytales, texts on “Aztec and Maya myths with her, / then Chinese and Korean legends, too” (Bowles 32). Reading about these positive adult representations was definitely a breath of fresh air I, as a Hispanic/Latino person, needed to read. 

Language & Identity 

          I enjoyed Bowles' take on representing identity in his poetry book. First of all, this is not a book that the author had to choose to write in either English or Spanish. By using both languages, and providing a glossary where Bowles defined the meaning of certain Spanish words and phrases, it felt as if Bowles was also emerging from his own lived experiences and identity of belonging in two different cultures. When reading the glossary to understand words such as “cacahuatero” (someone who likes, eats, or sells peanuts) and “chachalaca” (a sort of noisy bird),  reminded me on how in our Puerto Rican culture, we also have words we usually use in our language. Words like “Jurutungo” (to refer to a location that is far away) and “Rebulu” (a huge mess or mixup) form part of our daily social and cultural practices and serve as an example of our Puerto Rican identity, the same way Bowles uses these words in They Call Me Güero to reflect his Mexican heritage. 

          All in all, I highly recommend They Call Me Güero because it is such an important book to read to understand the lived experiences and struggles of Hispanic/Latino people, specifically those who experience crossing the border and the racial injustice that follows along with this. In terms of its intended audience, people can argue that because of the topics of Intersectionality, colorism, crossing the border, immigration, and other issues presented in this poetry book, people can view this as Young Adult literature. However, this book has won the ALSC Notable Children’s Book  and the Tomas Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award in 2019. Since Güero is still a 12-year-old kid during the events of the poetry book and is still developing an awareness of the injustice and racism in his environment, this book of poetry can also be seen as part of the genre of Children’s Literature. I think this book of poetry is a good representation of the transition of a kid who is growing up and maturing from a kid into a teenager, while also learning from his different social communities.