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  • Echoing Words
  • A. J. Ortega (bio)
A Voice of My Own. Rolando Hinojosa-Smith. Arte Público Press. 140 pages; paper, $19.95.

Rolando Hinojosa is one of the Rio Grande Valley's most prolific authors. He is recognized for his Klail City Death Trip novels, of which there are 15 volumes and employ a Faulkner-esque fictional setting that resembles our very own southern tip of Texas. However, in Hinojosa's collection of essays and stories, A Voice of My Own, he mostly deviates from fiction and instead discusses several issues that are relevant to the world of Mexican-American literature through essays.

Of the 19 individual pieces in the collection, the first 15 are essays, with four of them being in Spanish. The final part of the book contains four short stories, two of them in Spanish. One of the stories, "Es el agua," is presented in both its original Spanish and the translated English version. The essays and stories were written as early as 1973 and as late as 2008. Now, given the various types of writing as well as dual languages, the book's composition, at least initially, seems incongruous. The short stories seem tacked on like a strange epilogue to a book of critical essays.

Hinojosa is a scholar and professor steeped in the world of academia, and it shows. Many of the essays have to do with the world of literature and university life through the eyes of a writer. Hinojosa is honest, and at times blunt, in his descriptions and discussion of writing, publishing, racism, ethnocentrism, immigration, and language. This is where the book truly shines.

The collection opens with an essay that explains Hinojosa's response to the Texas Library Association's request for him to write a piece about biculturalism. Not long into the essay, Hinojosa writes, very plainly, "I choose not to be anything else other than what I am." He goes on to say, "I write about what I assume other writers write about: that which they know." Lines like this, very early on in the book, set the tone for what Hinojosa, and his writing, truly stand for.

With that in mind, his essay "Living on the River" is a true testament to his emphasis on experience and place. He uses his own life to explicate and demonstrate the complexities of language and identity as a Texas Mexican. The essay becomes particularly interesting when he introduces the complex nature of racism that he witnessed. Not only does he explain that discrimination existed between Anglos, Mexicans, and Blacks, but he also mentions the less-discussed intra-racial prejudice within the Mexican culture.

Another noteworthy piece is "Crossing the Line: The Construction of a Poem." The essay, complete with the double entendre of crossing the border in the title, is at the heart of the book—right in the middle. This is placed well, insofar as it gives the reader insight into his writing process at the most opportune moment, the peak of the book, if you will. The selection even includes text of poem with editing marks. Readers get to see the "before and after" of the writing process. While the sentiment is truly admirable, there is an issue with the readability of the piece. The editing marks on the original text are made by modern day computer word processors and can be a little mechanical and confusing. It is a noble attempt in demonstrating this process, but the strikethroughs, inserts, and word replacements look too rigid, unfortunately. Perhaps a better solution would have been to include scanned versions of the manuscripts with Hinojosa's own handwritten edits. This would give the essay a more natural, organic appearance. Still, the essay has sage-like advice for writers. For instance, to avoid writer's block, Hinojosa says, "I then decided to do what I do best: read. I find that reading solves several problems for me." It is comforting to know that even Hinojosa, with his dozens of books, would struggle with his craft. Again, the experience and honesty come through in his very matter-of-fact language. Another gem of guidance arrives...


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