Sandra Cisneros ("The House on Mango Street"), Ana Castillo, ("The Mixquiahuala Letters"), Alma Villanueva ("The Ultraviolet Sky", Denise Chavez ("The Last of the Menu Girls") and Cherrie Moraga ("Loving in the War Years") are a few of the outstanding Chicana writers of the 1980s whose short stories and novels represent the best of the current flourishing of women's narrative.
These writers have explored the psychological, social, political and personal implications of being a woman in a multicultural world and have given voice to the experience of otherness that has for too long been silenced by hegemonic cultural institutions.
They are accomplished artists who address real-life interactions of race, culture, gender and sexuality through in-depth reflection and controlled writing. Their works reveal a knowledge of American, European and Latin American literary traditions as well as the oral narrative traditions still flourishing in today's Chicano culture. Their texts transcend cultural boundaries and have been recognized nationally and internationally.
With her first book, "Taking Control," a collection of stories about women endeavoring to gain control of their lives, Mary Helen Ponce demonstrated the potential to join the cadre of top-flight Chicana writers. Unfortunately, her first novel, "The Wedding," fails to achieve that potential.
As described by its publisher, "The Wedding" is a "hilarious, heart-warming novel" about Mexican-American blue-collar subculture, with its predilection for low-riding cars and kitsch, as observed through the ironically rose-colored lenses of Blanca, a pregnant bride-to-be. The novel details social relationships, the physical and psychological preparations of Blanca's wedding and--cutting through layers of cultural tradition--the customs and mores that entrap women and hinder their intellectual development. Ponce's novel falls short of its billing.
Ponce tells the story of Blanca Munoz and Sammy (The Cricket) Lopez's courtship and wedding, but emphasizes only the negative aspects of their relationship. She divides her text into two parts and heads her chapters with simplistic titles--"The Batos" (wedding dress), "The Reception," "The Presents," "The Rumble"--that mitigate any desire to go on reading. Moreover, the chapters match their titles, presenting a naive, juvenile, narrow view of the Mexican-American experience. Ponce's vision is hardly "hilarious" or "heart-warming"; rather it is grotesque satire, naturalistic caricature that tends to bolster already damaging stereotypes of Mexican-Americans and Mexicans.
Although the events occur in a town identified as Taconos, located somewhere in the Los Angeles/San Fernando Valley area, Ponce fails to convey a geographical and cultural sense of place. The reader is lost in unrecognizable territory where predominantly negative characterizations are use to describe subjects and objects. Further disconcerting is the ambiguous perception of time in the text: It's not enough simply to name-drop the Zenda and Avadon Ballrooms, a '46 Chevy or Billy Eckstine. The places and people of Ponce's world consequently are dispossessed of history; worse, of their \o7 role\f7 in history.
Taconos is a historical vacuum where characters exist ignorant of any reason for or cause of their condition. This disregard for history negates any attempt Ponce may make to describe what might be positive mores and traditions, or to decry the negativity and oppression that hinder her characters' intellectual and social development. Consequently, what she creates are meaningless, even repulsive caricatures.
The characters in "The Wedding" simply are not believable. They are one-dimensional, abnormal puppets motivated by greed, lust, alcohol and belligerence--a devastating, debasing portrayal of the Chicano. Sammy (The Cricket) Lopez, Blanca's fiance--a \o7 pachuco\f7 and leader of the Taconos gang who "never regretted leaving Taconos Elementary School"--is infamous for his meanness. He is described as " . . . much too thin, with arms that dangled to his knees and legs that bent in the middle" and a penchant for kicking dogs.
A drunkard and user of marijuana, Cricket works to buy booze, tobacco and fine clothes, and lives to seduce women--the stereotypical macho, lecherous Chicano. Ponce's Cricket is not a psychological study of a victim of society but simply a bad artistic choice, without a single positive human quality. He is not funny; at best, he is offensive, as are most of Ponce's male characters: Cricket's father died a drunk; Blanca's Uncle Ernie is an ex-con who served time in San Quentin; Cricket's gang members do nothing but drink, talk dirty and cruise around town looking for a rival gang to fight.
The novel's women suffer similar fates; their sole concerns seem to be makeup, marriage and fighting. Blanca at least is a survivor, but more a victim of her creator than of social and cultural conditions. As for intellect, Blanca doesn't seem to know whether she has had a miscarriage, or even whether she is pregnant.
The characters all seem to be at the same, low linguistic level; after a few pages, their conversations become excruciatingly boring. Further, at times Ponce's text reads like a how-to manual--how to sponge-bath, put on makeup, scrub your armpits, choose a guy--all of which deadens what little plot the story generates.
"The Wedding" is not an uncommon story. It has been told too often. Ponce's version is sadly naive, contradictory and insulting. Her story ignores the positive contributions of Chicano blue-collar workers, takes away their dignity, pride and history. "The Wedding" is best left unread.