Book Review: Thirty an’ Seen a Lot – Evangelina Vigil

Evangelina Vigil was one of the first writers to offer an intimate perspective of daily life in a Chicano barrio/neighborhood. This unique viewpoint is seen in her poetic series of barrio snapshots, Thirty an’ Seen a Lot. First of all, I love the title and picture of Vigil on the cover. It says it all. She is a confident Chicana decolonizing Hispanic women formerly seen as passive wives and girlfriends. The neon sign reads “Ladies Welcome,” inviting Vigil’s audience to join her and break free of patriarchal social constraints.

Thirty an’ Seen a Lot, published in 1982 by Arte Público Press, is a collection of bilingual poetry written during the years she lived in Houston, San Antonio, and Galveston. Subsequently, it demonstrates her growth and evolution as a poet. The principle themes of the work include daily life in the barrio, criticism of machismo, and the culture of the working class.

Notably, Vigil, as a poet, occupies a place formerly dominated by her male counterparts during the height of the Chicano Movement of the 1960s and 70s. Through her poetry, she is able to impose herself on Chicano Culture and take over a space typically reserved for men. She inverts stereotypical gender roles by embodying an aggressive persona. She acts, demands, orders, speaks, and decides; she is active.

One of my favorite poems from the collection is por la calle Zarzamora. This poem is well representative of Vigil’s active and aggressive style of poetry; she fully occupies the domain typically closed-off to Chicana women.

                entro a una cantina

                y como ciega busco mi lugar

                eso es muy importante

                luego ordeno una cerveza

                y me acomodo

After ordering her beer, she goes on to describe her fellow bar-goers: “los batos y señores.” Her presence here is completely normal and accepted by the male majority.

                y de rato a mi presencia se acostumbran

                y siguen con su onda natural

While Vigil breaks traditional feminine stereotypes, thus forcing her audience to question traditional Chicana femininity itself, the poem includes two other women who seem to typify a more stereotypical version of Hispanic women. Nevertheless, it appears that Vigil is celebrating who these women embody. She writes:

                entran por la puerta dos mujeres

                muy arregladas –

                o como decían más antes, bien ‘jitis’

                con olores de perfume

                y de aqua net hairspray:

                pues, se ven bien

Rather than relegate these women to second-tier status behind her own confidence existence, Vigil presents these women as strong ones. In fact, when a man hits on these women and offers them a drink, they kindly decline his offer. Similarly to ¡es todo!, Vigil is able to create a snapshot through her poetic language. In 30 or so lines of poetry, she paints a complete portrait of this particular aspect of life in the barrio while breaking down gendered stereotypes about who a Chicana woman is and can become.

Evangelina Vigil represents one of the many Chicana voices that emerged during the 1980s in a movement to include women in the greater Chicano Movement. Women such as Vigil, Gloria Anzaldúa, Cherríe Moraga, Norma Alarcón, Sandra Cisneros, Carla Trujillo, etc. revolutionized the way we looked at the Chicano Nation. No longer was this a male dominated, exclusive patriarchy. While there still remains issues of sexism and inequality to this day, these women paved the way for other Chicanas to have agency and voice. This is a history that is still being written today. Writers Gwendolyn Zepeda, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, and Josefina López, among others, are still working on decolonizing Chicana women and including “her” story in “his” story (history).

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