Chick Lit on the Border: Unheard Voices in "Loving Pedro Infante"
Copyright (c) 2018 by Michael Rickard II
Editor's Note:The border is a hot topic right now thus my class in borderland literature provided some insight into authors' thoughts on living between two worlds. Here is an essay I wrote on Emma Pérez' Loving Pedro Infante.
As Emma Pérez explores how Chicanas’ voices have been silenced in the Chicano movement in her book The Decolonial Imagery, Denise Chavez gives voice to Chicanas in her novel Loving Pedro Infante, a tale of friendship, love, and life as a Chicana. Chavez uses the characters’ shared love for the films of Pedro Infante to explore their relationships and individual approaches to life. Pedro Infante’s films serve as an allegory for Pérez’ exploration of history and metahistory with Pedro’s films having distinct phases just as Pérez argues Chicano history traditionally “manifests four periods and four dominant modes of thinking” (8). However, just as Pérez argues Chicano history cannot easily be fit into four periods, Chavez shows how Pedro Infante’s films and personal life are not as easily categorized as thought. Chavez explores borderland themes such as culture, ethnicity, gender, and sexual identity in Loving Pedro Infante in a subtle, but effective way.
In her book, The Decolonial Imaginary: Writing Chicanas into History (Theories of Representation and Difference), Pérez comments on how Chicano studies failed to pay attention to Chicanas, instead focusing on Chicanos as a group or only men. As Pérez notes:
“Although the historians failed to raise gender, much less sexuality, as a category of analysis, the trend in early academic studies was to deliberate about women only when they were being depicted as exploited workers alongside men” (10).
Part of Loving Pedro Infante’s appeal is its exploration of life of Chicanas. Although the book focuses mainly on the characters’ identities as women, it does discuss life as Chicanas, giving voice to the voiceless. Chavez abandons the notion of leaving life as a Chicana as interstitial. Chicana life is a reach experience that cannot be limited to reading between the lines, which Loving Pedro Infante demonstrates through its story of two friends searching for love and happiness.
Chavez explores the friendship between Teresa and Irma, a friendship strengthened by their passion for the films of Pedro Infante. Their mutual love of Pedro is also a reflection of their idealized man—someone who looks and behaves like Pedro Infante. However, when Teresa thinks she finds such a man in Lucio, she eventually learns Lucio is selfish and misogynistic. She has no future with Lucio other than as his mistress, secondary to Lucio’s life with his wife and daughter. Likewise, Irma sets the relationship bar high, but eventually finds love with her Anglo employer Mr. Wesley. Irma and Wesley’s unconventional relationship mirrors the theme of borderland literature where social conventions are defied in order to find a certain measure of happiness and satisfaction.
Although there is no strict connection between the career of Pedro and the four tropes of Chicano history mentioned by Pérez, there are comparisons. Pedro’s life was divided into distinct periods represented by his marriages and affairs, as well as his films. These divisions are similar to how Pérez notes the four tropes of Chicano history. Each share parallels as while there is truth to be found in Pedro’s life, overgeneralizations cloud what actually happened just as strict definitions in history obscure the overall picture of Chicano history, limiting our understanding of it.
Teresa’s idealization of Pedro and the reality of Pedro’s life help her to discover the strength to leave Lucio. Teresa realizes Pedro was a man, but she also sees good in Pedro as more than a man, i.e., an ideal. When Teresa thinks, “For as long as there is breath in my body, I’ll always love him, just the way he was” (Chavez 317), she reaffirms her belief that there are ideals to strive for in a man, and although she has not found such a man yet, she knows what she is willing to accept.
Chavez incorporates many of the issues found in borderland literature As Gloria Anzaldúa discusses in Borderlands / La Frontera: The New Mestiza, there are many aspects to the borderland than geography. There are issues of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and economy. Loving Pedro Infante includes these whether it is borderland culture such as Pedro Infante’s films, the gender issues Teresa and Irma experience as women, sexual identity (both heterosexual and homosexual), and economy (Teresa’s marginal socioeconomic status compared to Lucio’s). These various issues are dealt with in the background for the most part, but they are nonetheless palpable.
Teresa also looks to a heroine for comparing her life, tying in with Pérez’ concept that Chicanas were overlooked in Chicano history unless they served some heroic purpose. Teresa compares her life to “my tocaya, La Santa Tere” (68). Teresa’s namesake St. Teresa is different than her, but as with all heroes and heroines, Teresa has something she can strive for.
Loving Pedro Infante uses a mix of English and Spanish words, much like many of the other borderland stories studied in class. This creates a sense of how the characters live in a hybrid of two worlds. For example, Teresa and Graciela argue about a man Graciela is dancing with, leading to Graciela asking Teresa if she is calling her (Graciela) a cabrana (32). Later in the conversation, Graciela asks, “Since when are you such a pendeja, Tere?” (32). Both words in Mexican-Spanish can be pejoratives and it adds to the novel’s borderland setting.
Loving Pedro Infante uses Teresa’s search for enduring and committed love as an allegory for how women can be exploited by men. Teresa is blind to the harmful effects of her relationship with married man Lucio, naively believing Lucio will leave his wife. This relationship hurts Teresa’s self-esteem and her relationship with her best friend Irma. Chavez explores Teresa’s struggle to free herself from the toxic relationship and to restore her friendship with Irma. Chavez shows how some relationships can be nurturing and some can be harmful, adding balance to the story with the positive bond between Irma and Wesley, and contrasting it with the toxic one between Teresa and Lucio.
Teresa and Irma’s stories allow for an exploration of friendship and the search for enduring love. It also allows for an exploration of Chicana life. It is wrong to say the book is an exploration of Chicana life primarily. Instead, Loving Pedro Infante explores the lives of two women, and there is a secondary exploration of their lives as Chicanas in the areas of culture, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, and economic status.
Chavez, Denise. Loving Pedro Infante. Washington Square Press, 2002.
Pérez, Emma. The Decolonial Imaginary: Writing Chicanas into History (Theories of Representation and Difference). Indiana University Press, 1999.