The conceptualization of sexual, religious, and gendered borders has served to write the human standard of living and the societal roles that we have incorporated into our culture to accept as the social norm. These unspoken laws are the architecture to our socio-cultural environment. These laws represent the cement that has carefully bonded the male-female heteronormative gender role, the pre-inclined human morality given by religion, and sexual identity to be something that is easily definable by the masses. Arturo Islas in The Rain God defines Mexican culture by creating characters that exemplify and embody the stereotypes and the figurative borders of sexuality, religion, and gender.
Throughout The Rain God Arturo Islas tells the story of the Angel family- a family made up of strong characters such as Miguel Grande and Mama Chona. Both Miguel Grande and Mama Chona strongly embody the female-male gender role while personifying the cultural borders that Miguel Chico encounters as he develops into an adult. Miguel Grande illustrates machismo as he is described as the traditional patriarch of the Angel Family. Mama Chona takes on the matriarch role that holds the Angel Family together all the while as she is conflicted to accept the Indigenous and Chicano identities that make her whole. Maria- the nursemaid is a symbol for the religious freedom Miguel Chico grows up searching for. She herself strays off Roman Catholicism and becomes a Seventh Day Adventist. Maria’s influences of another form of thinking impacts Miguel Chico as he furthers into interpreting the reality encircling his childhood.
Arturo Islas carefully constructs the matriarch role in Hispanic culture as Mama Chona. Her character is a clear example of the generational struggle faced by Mother Chonas alike of other Mexican Families living in the Southwest Texas/ Mexico border seeking out lead their kin out of the “bad” life. Miguel Chico reminiscing over a family picture in his desk area describes, “Mama Chona is wearing a black ankle-length dress with a white lace collar and he is in a short-sleeved light colored summer suit with short pants…the camera has captured them in flight from one world to the next.” (Islas, 3-4). This quote expatiates the generational gap faced between the Angel family and Miguel Chico. Narratively, it also serves as foreshadowing for Miguel Chico straining off the “correct” path, that is not staying and submitting to the very literal and figurative geographical borders of religion, sex, and gender found in the Southwest.
Miguel Chico does this by earning his acceptance to a prestigious University, moving to San Fransisco, and becoming the free thinking individual that he is by heart. With traditional catholic point of views and a ridged sense of what sexuality is Miguel Grande refuses to accept any other form of raising his child, other than the one he’s been conditioned to accept throughout his lifetime. “‘Apologize to your father for playing with dolls,’ Juanita said to Miguel Chico. He did not understand why he needed to say he was sorry. When his father was not there, his mother permitted him to play with them.” (Islas, 16) Miguel Chico is the queer child who questions religion and the male role that is placed on him by his social environment. Arturo Islas crafts these polar identities to express the very literal border of culture and sexuality that Miguel Chico encounters and battles with as he matures into an adult.
Whilst growing up nursemaid Maria attempts to instill the morals and allegories of a religious context into Miguel Chico. Although, Miguel Chico receives the religious barrage from both ends of the spectrum- the mother and the nursemaid, Miguel Chico questions the validity of the information he waveringly accepts at the time. “Miguel Chico learned that when he asked Maria a difficult question she would remain silent, then choose a biblical passage that illustrated the terrible power of God the Father’s wrath.” (Islas, 17). Moreover, Maria explores another branch of Christianity by being a Seventh Day Adventist, her influences of denying another religion impacts Miguel Chico and in the end lends to his rejection of religion over all, as he sees the influence of another interpretation of “truth”.
Furthermore, as Miguel Chico walks through the journey of adulthood he becomes more aware of the social and personal constraints the borders of religion, sex, and gender present to his growth as an individual though throughout this time he accepts that he is a determinable extension of them both, Maria- the nursemaid and Mother Chona the Angel Family’s Matriarch. “…the way a seed continues to be part of a plant after it has assumed its own form which does not at all resemble it’s origin, but which nevertheless, is determined by it. He had survived severe pruning and wondered if human beings, unlike plants can water themselves.” (Islas, 25-26). Throughout the passage Miguel Chico asserts his independence from all the borders introduced by his family, the border that his persona has been forced to fit in in consequence of a socially accepted mold.
Later in The Rain God it is learned that Mama Chona becomes ill. At this time Miguel Chico visits and is confronted with questions concerning his sexuality and relationship status, more significantly by his cousins. It is strange to them that he is neither married, nor in a stable relationship with a woman. Despite the suspicion behind his sexuality he verifies the value he has for knowledge. He conjures up the idea that perhaps he had survived the plucking of his personal growth to tell the stories of people similar to Maria and Mother Chona.
Conclusively, Miguel Chico ascertains that he in fact does have a long way to go throughout his journey of self-discovery, along the way he pieces together the identity that makes him whole. These pieces all influenced by the characters in his life, significantly, Mother Chona and Maria. He accepts the fact he alike Mother Chona prefers to disregard facts to assume motives, although unlike Maria, Miguel Chico longed to look at persons and their motives separately from an “earthly, rather than otherworldly, point of view” (Islas, 28).
Miguel Chico’s future is undetermined at this point and he is okay with that reality but he now is comfortable with the concept that he does not have to live in the haziness of the garden he has been rooted to be part of. Miguel Chico can stray off the pre-determined path given to him and still be his own after appreciating the soil that nurtured him into the free thinking individual that he is.
Islas, Arturo. The Rain God: A Desert Tale. Palo Alto: Alexandrian, 1984. Print.
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