Gordoby Jaime Cortez
Shedding profound natural light on the inner lives of migrant workers, Jaime Cortez’s debut collection ushers in a new era of American literature that gives voice to a marginalized generation of migrant workers in the West
The first ever collection of short stories by Jaime Cortez, Gordo is set in a migrant workers camp near Watsonville, California in the 1970s. A young, probably gay, boy named Gordo puts on a wrestler’s mask and throws fists with a boy in the neighborhood, fighting his own tears as he tries to grow into the idea of manhood so imposed on him by his father. As he comes of age, Gordo learns about sex, watches his father’s drunken fights, and discovers even his own documented Mexican-American parents are wary of illegal migrants. Fat Cookie, high schooler and resident artist, uses tiny library pencils to draw huge murals of graffiti flowers along the camp’s blank walls, the words “CHICANO POWER” boldly lettered across, until she runs away from home one day with her mother’s boyfriend, Manny, and steals her mother’s Panasonic radio for a final dance competition among the camp kids before she disappears. And then there are Los Tigres, the perfect pair of twins so dark they look like indios, Pepito and Manuel, who show up at Gyrich Farms every season without fail. Los Tigres, champion drinkers, end up assaulting each other in a drunken brawl, until one of them is rushed to the emergency room still slumped in an upholstered chair tied to the back of a pick-up truck.
These scenes from Steinbeck Country seen so intimately from within are full of humor, family drama, and a sweet frankness about serious matters – who belongs to America and how are they treated? How does one learn decency, when laborers, grown adults, must fear for their lives and livelihoods as they try to do everything to bring home a paycheck? Written with balance and poise, Cortez braids together elegant and inviting stories about life on a California camp, in essence redefining what all-American means.
“Cortez’s dialogue, timing, and humor is quick, dark and hilarious and the voice of Gordo, singular and soaring, full of naivete and grit that wrangles humor and human complexity with serious high-stake themes… Gordo, like Winesburg, Ohio, is capable of changing not only what it means to be American today, but what American literature can be… Hands down, top debut of 2021.”—Kerri Arsenault, Literary Hub
“What if David Sedaris and Richard Rodriguez were the same person? What if it was possible to tell stories about farmworkers and Latinx rural people with hilarity, queerness, tenderness, and poetic precision? What if Jaime Cortez existed and had a book coming out and you were lucky enough to read it in a few months’ time?”—Rebecca Solnit
“Some people have to walk around with so many sad stories. They have to get up, brush their teeth, wash their face, go to work like everybody else, but they’re not like everyone else. Jaime Cortez is a wise guy with a wide heart, who sees what ‘no one else wants to see.’”—Sandra Cisneros
“What a voice, what a charming, idiosyncratic voice! Cortez tells the untold stories of California. Set what you know aside, lay your expectations on the couch next to you, put your feet up, pick up this book, and journey into a land as real and complex as the state itself.”—Rabih Alameddine