Before I became a college student, the world around me was, for the most part, covered by rose colored glasses. I knew that social injustice – issues that regarded race, gender, economic class, social class, disabilities, etc. – existed. But what about the consequences it could have on communities and individuals alike?
When I started my college career, specifically when I transferred to UCLA, I began to really explore and contemplate the same issues I formerly did not know much about. I became aware, sensitive. I researched more about race relations, gender inequalities, undeserved communities, and more. I took a dialogue class that covered topics of race and gender. And now in my final year at UCLA, I’m currently taking a class, called “Studies in Chicana/Chicano and/or Latina/Latino Literature: Queering Latino Literature: from Machismo to Feminism and Beyond.”
I don’t know everything there is to social justice issues; I’m still learning and developing. However, the book that our class recently covered, Their Dogs Came with Them, by Helena Maria Viramontes would have blown the younger me away.
The novel’s P.O.V, third person multiple, is through the eyes of various characters who live in East LA during the 1960s. We see the life of these characters during the beginning of the construction of the East LA Interchange and a fictional quarantine of the city – a result of a rabies outbreak. While the novel sets itself up to be a story about how these characters live their lives, it is packed with social issues: sex, gender, economic status, mental health, and East LA as an undeserved area.
Reading the 325 page novel, everything seems so . . . chaotic. The novel jumps from past tense to present tense. Its language – gritty, jumbled, forced me to read certain passages twice before I was sure what was happening. Sometimes, I didn’t even know what was happening. Some events are intentionally left ambiguous – especially the ending.
But I think that is the point of the work itself: the inequalities Mexican Americans face in an area that is systematically set up for poverty is complex, raw, and hard to point out unless you’re put in their shoes.
Their Dogs Came with Them makes so much sense when you’re able to connect the dots. I actually think the purpose of the novel is to make you think: to identify and ponder upon the symbolism, the space, the motifs, even the title of the work, and how it all ties back together to create East LA. An area forgotten yet powerful; soiled yet meaningful. How can justice can be achieved in an area void of it – and can it can ever be achieved?
While I can’t say I’m an expert in knowing everything there is issues regarding social injustice, I can say that Viramontes’ novel is a wonderful novel in getting you to think deep about such issues.