In his new collection The Wetback and Other Stories, author Ron Arias takes us back to his boyhood Mexican-American neighborhood in the heart of Los Angeles called Frogtown. Situated between the hills of Elysian Park and the Los Angeles River, the peculiar geography of Frogtown is absorbed and integrated into the mindset of the city’s citizens.
Children discover a dead body (a surprisingly handsome young man) near the dry riverbed. Mrs. Renteria (not really a Mrs.) claims the body for her own – the lover, son, friend she never had.
Big, tough, orphaned Eddie Vera is a fighter but not a bully. In fact, his parentless status seems to motivate him to defend his weaker contemporaries. As an adult, Eddie channels his external gruffness and interior humanity into politics and military service. Even as a soldier, Eddie’s sense of justice prevails.
Gabriela is restless, tired of her dysfunctional family and ineffectual boyfriend. Fleeing to an isolated Central American village, she hopes a visit to the town’s legendary ancient ruins will revive her spirit and sense of identity. While the ruins may be inspiring, the people that Gabriela encounters are less so.
Book dealer Martin Medina wants answers. What about his indigenous ancestors? What about the Europeans who disrupted his ancestors’ ancient society? What about his Spanish language and Latino culture? How and why did all of this come to be? Exasperated by his new found curiosity, Medina’s wife and son recommend a trip to London for an antiquarian book sellers’ conference. Despite inconvenience, frustrating characters and even physical threat, Medina begins to find an answer.
Chavez needs to earn money in order to attend college. His job as a janitor at a sorority house on campus is tedious and demeaning. The treatment that Chavez receives from the women ranges from indifference to outright hostility. However, one of the ladies turns out to be an exception to the rule. Chavez’s fluency in Spanish enables him to find a job interviewing Latinos about their lives. Despite his attempts to be personable and friendly, Chavez discovers that not everyone is cooperative, respectful or even honest.
Houston Public Media’s Eric Ladau spoke with Ron Arias.
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