"I see a mosaic pattern (Aztec-like) emerging, a weaving pattern, thin here, thick there . . . This almost finished product seems an assemblage, a montage...now appearing, now disappearing in a crazy dance. The whole thing has a mind of its own, escaping me and insisting on putting together the pieces of its own puzzle with minimal direction from my will." – Gloria Anzaldua.
English 380A, Winter 2011
Professor Deborah Miranda

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

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.

1 comment:

  1. I also found myself wondering while reading this novel what purpose the photographs serve. I think it's interesting how Norma Cantu mentions in the introduction that "the story is told through the photographs, and so what may appear to be autobiographical is not always so" (xi). I took this to mean that although the pictures aren't necessarily of her and her family, on a larger sense, they represent everything her family went through because the Chicano's experience of struggle and search for identity is so related. It reminded me of how, just like in Rivera's novel, one individual's story can be representative of an entire community.

    In the interview with Norma Cantu, she calls the photograph a "living time and space that in the present we go back to." She also talks about how these pictures aren't chronological, but yet there is an order to them that is relatable to memory. It's true that the way we remember things is often sporadic and doesn't follow a certain timeline, yet it makes sense to us because we are the ones who lived these memories. I think this is a main point Norma Cantu is trying to show through the photographs.