Jaime Cortez - Artist & Writer

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By John Killacky in the Gay and Lesbian Review
Kirkus Review

August 17, 2021 at 6:00pm
City Lights Books
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September 16, 2021 at 6:00pm
Asian Art Museum
San Francisco, CA
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Shedding profound natural light on the inner lives of migrant workers, Jaime Cortez’s humorous, heart-warming, and heartbreaking debut story collection, based on his own real life experiences, gives voice to a community of migrant farm workers in the West, and in the process broadens the scope of American literature.

The semi-autobiographical stories in Gordo are set in farm worker camps and farm towns near Watsonville, California in the 1970s.

In this hardscrabble environment, a young and probably gay boy called Gordo grows up. In one story, he dons 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. As he comes of age, Gordo learns about sex, watches the drunken brawls of his father and his friends, and discovers the distinctions between documented and undocumented immigrants.

Other distinct and memorable characters populate Gordo’s world. There is Fat Cookie, a high schooler and resident artist of the farm worker camp, who uses tiny library pencils to draw florid graffiti with Chicano Power slogans on the walls of the camp. She steals her mother’s portable radio to provide a soundtrack for a harsh, all-kids dance competition of her devising. She is definitely the coolest, fiercest kid in the camp, until her troubled relationship with her mom and lecherous stepfather goes terribly wrong.

And then there are Los Tigres, the teenaged, almost identical green-eyed indio brothers, Benito and Manuel. The brothers are mysterious, showing up at the camp every harvest season without parents or family. Champion drinkers, the boys end up battering each other in a drunken brawl, until one of them is rushed to the emergency room, slumped in an upholstered chair in 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? Written with balance and poise, Cortez braids together elegant and inviting stories about life on a California farm worker camp, in essence redefining what all-American means.

Gordo is a work of semi-autobiographical fiction that is appropriate for adult and young adult readers aged 14 and up.

To learn more about Gordo, you may visit the Grove Atlantic website: