And some of them are gay.
Muñoz was born into a family of farm workers who still live in the Central Valley town of Dinuba where he was born, a place he describes in an interview with the Harvard Review as “a forgotten place—or a place that’s never thought of to begin with” which nevertheless remains “a reservoir of creativity for me."
When Muñoz visits his family he explores his hometown, taking notes and gathering ideas for characters and story plots. ‘The place was so formative,” he explains, “because I was trying to escape it for so long. It took moving away to make me yearn for my town.”
Mother-son and father-son relationships are the focus of many of these stories. In “Lindo y Querido,” a mother cares for her dying son after his involvement in a motorcycle accident. Only after his death does she find letters hidden under his mattress indicating Isidro had a romantic relationship with the driver. Although she cannot save her son, through letters written in English that she cannot read (“The closing Love, Carlos, says more than anything else”) the mother comes to understand and accept his sexual orientation. (p. 19)
In “Bring Brang Brung” Martin suddenly finds himself a single father after his partner’s unexpected death. Ironically, the death occurs at the same time that Martin was beginning to feel isolated and in need of freedom. But moving back to the Valley from San Francisco, he will reconnect with his sister, also a single parent with a troubled adolescent son, and accept his new role. The father in the title story lovingly cares for his son who is injured on the job in a fork-lift accident while the father’s lack of compassion in “When You Come into Your Kingdom” indirectly contributes to his son’s suicide.
Among the many issues that challenge Muñoz’s characters is sexual orientation, but it is never center stage. Homosexuality quietly rests in the background, often unspoken and not acknowledged, but always present as a defining trait of several characters.
My Favorite Story
Standing in the doorway, Santiago views the world as his son saw it for the last time and feels a similar draw to that felt by his son:
"Santiago stands there and sees how he is not capable of forgiving himself, but at least he accepts his own fear. His son was a lonely child. Santiago accepts that he is lonely, too, and always has been. Loneliness is greater than any anger, any shame he has ever felt. Greater, in fact, than love. He can see how his son saw, and he knows what it is to be him and prove incapable of resisting his own body, how his hands and feet could move forward as if on their own." (pp. 102-103)
Although reliving the tragedy is agonizing for Santiago, this introspective experience allows him an opportunity to explore his grief and better understand his son, even if it is too late to restore a relationship with him.
About Manuel Muñoz
Muñoz is currently serving as a professor at the University of Arizona-Tucson teaching writing. He is the author of one novel and two short story collections as well as the recipient of several literary awards.