The story of Puerto Rico through the eyes of my grandmother, mother, and aunt. How the inaction of both leading political parties is turning our countrymen into stone as we lose our identities. Nominated for a Lammie from the Lambda Literary Foundation. Floricanto Press 2007
Review by Tracy Baim Copyright by Windy City Times 2007-08-22
Chicagoan Carlos T. Mock is a political voyeur. He writes frequently on blogs and in newspaper columns about a wide range of gay and mainstream topics, and he has a special interest in Latino gay issues. He has written about his Puerto Rican identity in Borrowing Time: A Latino Sexual Odyssey, and published The Mosaic Virus, a novel about an AIDS-like virus and the Catholic Church.
Mock’s newest work, Papi Chulo, is similar to The Mosaic Virus in that it takes historical facts and massages them into a work of fiction, this time about the island of Puerto Rico and its fractured identity. Mock’s love of his native land is evident throughout Papi Chulo. His own hopes and dreams for his people ebb and flow with the tragic tides of history. He is cynical about political leaders and passionate about the people, some who are clearly modeled after inspiring heroes in his own life.
Mock’s background in medicine is also evident in Papi Chulo. One of the primary characters, María Rexach, becomes a pioneer in women’s health and the right to choose abortion. Born in 1900, we follow the path of both María’s own life and the life of her nation as it comes under control of the United States, and fights for its own life for more than a century.
We meet the real and imagined political leaders of the last century as they squabble and sometimes succeed in bringing rights to the island. We see how identity issues plague generations of people, as some move to the mainland and lose touch with their home, and as islanders dismiss them as not true Puerto Ricans. Puerto Ricans born on the mainland have an especially hard time with identity issues.
The novel is not a “gay novel” in the typical sense. However, it does include gay characters, and the sensitivities of the book are informed by an author who is both pro-choice and out.
There is a risk in creating an alternative universe, where some facts remain and others are altered to fit the vision of what the author wants to occur. The real people may be upset, but Mock clearly states at the beginning of the book that this is a work of fiction, even though some facts are real. Incidents of revolutionary violence ( to push for independence from the U.S. ) , political intrigue, funding of the Contras or even the Stonewall Riots of 1969 are used as backdrops for a multi-layered story about the potential of a people and the dreams of a nation.
Mock’s own antipathy for self-interested leaders is clear throughout the novel, but he uses the stories of individuals like María, her friend Clara Rodriguez, her children, her friends and others to show the pain through the eyes of people, making the history more accessible and the imagined reality all the more desired. As Mock would attest, if novelists ran the world, it would be a whole lot better place.
Book Review by Norman J. Eriksen
Assistant Division Manager Languages Literature and Fiction, Brooklyn Public Library 11.8.07
Carlos T Mock MD “Papi Chulo: a legend, a novel, and the Puerto Rican Identity
Floricanto Press 2007 230pgs paperback
The author has chosen to explore the history of Puerto Rico and what it means to be a Puerto Rican through the story of intertwined lives of Maria Rexach and Clara Rodriquez and the Maria’s daughter Ines Subira. Born of a wealthy family Maria becomes the guiding force field of women’s rights, medical services and the republican movement. Clara is the illegitimate daughter of the father of Maria’s future husband and becomes a key figure in the nationalist movement for independence. Ines Subira is the woman in which both of these women’s lives come together and their common goals for the future of Puerto Rico merge into the creation of an independent nation.
Ines and her brother Enrico move to the United States and find themselves in a place in which they are no longer part of the upper class society. Enrico must deal with the problem of having an Anglo lover, living in three different worlds, support himself as an airline steward and as a smuggler to support the nationalist movement. Both Enrico and Ines are observers of the Stonewall Riots and wonder what this will mean for the gay Puerto Rican community in New York.
The use of historical events such as the national and republican conflicts of independence versus statehood, the legal changes in the status of the government and the massive migration to New York in the 1950-1960’s help move the story along while at the same time examining the underlying question as what is it to be a Puerto Rican? Dr. Mock does not assume the person is fluent in the history of Puerto Rico and provides the background to certain events as part of the story. Spanish poems are intermingled in the text with English translations and each poem relates to the events within the chap -ter.
I found the book to be enjoyable, the characters to be realistic along with the settings in which they are placed. While reading the book I learned some about the history of Puerto Rico and the events that lead to the massive migration to New York in the 1950’ and 1960’s.
I would recommend purchase for most public libraries especially those with large Puerto Rican populations. University libraries with special collections that deal with the Puerto Rican community might consider this for their collections as well.