Sunday, June 24, 2012

A Place to Stand: The Making of a Poet by Jimmy Santiago Baca

"After being stripped of everything, all these kids had left was pride - a pride that was distorted, maimed, twisted, and turned against them, a defiant pride that did not allow them to admit that they were human beings and had been hurt." - Baca, p. 21 

It has taken me a while to write this review because the information in this memoir is so raw and disturbing that I had to remove myself from it in order to wrap my mind around what I thought. To be honest, I still don't know how to express in words how this book affected me. I'd heard of Jimmy Santiago Baca; I even used some of his poetry in my classes to engage relunctant readers by explaining that he was illiterate until he was 22 years old, taught himself how to read and write in prison, and look at him now! Wow, was I grossly superficial about this man. 

Jimmay Santiago Baca is lucky to be alive. This memoir tells a sad tale of a little boy abandoned by both parents when he was five. The circumstances behind this abandonment would haunt him throughout his entire life. 

His parents were poor hispanic teenagers who found themselves married and parents by time they were 16. During the next few years, they were plagued with alcoholism and domestic abuse. As a result, Jimmy's father went from job-to-job, drinking his paychecks away while his mother, who could pass for white, found a "reliable" white man, Richard, to take her in. The only condition was that she couldn't bring her "too Hispanic looking" children into the agreement. As a result, she readily dropped her children off with their grandparents and walked away without a backward glance. Heartbroken, Jimmy's father spent his time searching for his wife, and dulling the pain with alcohol until the day he died. 

Jimmy admits that he was no angel. Throughout the memoir, he accepts responsibility for his actions with stark honesty that is rarely offered. He tells of the night that the FBI raided the house during a narc drug deal, the brutal tactics that law officials used to obtain "confessions," the corruption of the FBI and judicial system, and the psychological and physical rape of mens' minds, bodies, and souls in prison. 

This is not an easy read, and I would suggest it be limited to mature readers. I don't say this because of the content. I say this because this book needs to be taken seriously, and I don't think someone who is immature can fully grasp its implications. 

I love this book. There were times that it became too emotional to read, but I think that that's a good thing. Jimmy Santiago Baca shows society that, despite the scars, he survived.

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