Gonzalez, Rigoberto. “What Drowns the Flowers in Your Mouth: A Memoir of Brotherhood” (Living Out: Gay and Lesbian Autobiography), University of Wisconsin Press, 2018.
An Immigrant Story
I remember clearly reading Rigoberto Gonzalez for the first time and being stunned by the beauty of his language. He has already written two volumes of memoir so I felt that I knew a great deal about him so I was surprised when this new volume came out. This is the story of love between brothers as they deal with grief, trauma, and poverty.
The Gonzalez family were Mexican immigrants to California’s Coachella Valley, and they were poor, vulnerable and illiterate. Three generations of González men turned to vices or withdrew into depression. As brothers Rigoberto and Alex grew to manhood, they were haunted by the traumas of their mother’s early death, their loneliness, their father’s desertion, and their grandfather’s abuse. Rigoberto was able to escape. He went to college and became a writer. However he was unable to escape his struggles with alcohol and abusive relationships. His brother Alex faced difficult family relations, a marriage on the rocks and fatherhood.
The brothers’ beauty came out of dark emotions and the hope they found helping each other. The Latino idea of machismo and what masculinity means always hovered over the brothers’ lives and as readers we get a look at the private lives of men, and how they manage to build strength while dealing with grief, loss, and despair.
Surely his growing up the way he did invokes anger and regret but instead of emphasizing those feelings, we get a lot about hope. Gonzalez writes with great power and emotion and I found it difficult to remain dry-eyed as I read. We see that he was able to survive through his generosity of spirit. The last two pages reduced me to weeping reader but one who loved every word of what I read here.