Photographs and Memories in Canicula
Throughout Canicula, Norma Cantu inserts photographs to serve as visual representations of the memories she wishes to convey. At times, the stories behind the photographs are straightforward. On page 21 of the text is a copy of the author’s United States immigration papers, with a photograph of her at one year old stapled to the documents. She writes, “In the photo stapled to my official U.S. immigration papers, I am a one year old baldy...,” an obvious enough assertion (21). However, she quickly jumps from the immigration represented by the picture to another immigration, one when she is twelve years old that “will allow [her] to travel into Mexico without [her] parents” (21). The same eyes stare back at her at ages one and twelve, as she traverses the boundary between the United States and Mexico, and suddenly her story is no longer about immigration, but about shared experiences of puberty and her maturation process. In another instance, Cantu uses photos of her brother, Tino, as a child, pointing his fingers like a gun as a sort of foreshadowing to his eventual death in Vietnam. Other times, Cantu writes as if in reference to some sort of photograph not actually in the text, one the reader must imagine herself.
This leads me to my main question: what purpose do these photographs serve? Cantu does not present them chronologically. Instead, it almost feels as if you (as the reader) are perched on her shoulder as she sorts through a disorganized drawer of old pictures, sometimes pausing to talk about the happier times before death, sometimes to remember the sensory memories a photo evokes, and sometimes just to talk about the specifics of a special garment lost in the wear and tear of time. The photos are interspersed throughout the text like memories appearing in the mind’s eye, often incomplete and wandering, but descriptive of times past and captured forever.