Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Shame The Stars by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Shame the Stars is the story of two families set in Texas in 1915 during the Mexican revolution. The prologue sets the context for the story with the events that occurred at Easter, 1913 between the two families.

Don Avecedo and Dona Jovita del Toro and their sixteen-year-old son Joaquin are hosting their good friends, Don Rodrigo and Dona Serafina Villa and their sixteen-year-old daughter, Dulcena at Las Moras. Las Moras is a 600 acre ranch that has been in the del Toro family since 1775, before Tejas became Texas. Joaquin and Dulcena's childhood friendship is blossoming into love which they hide from their parents.

Meanwhile on the back porch, Don Acevedo reads a poem, Tejano that was published in Don Rodrigo's newspaper, El Sureno. The poem challenges the tejanos for ignoring what's happening around them, how the Anglo immigrants are taking their land- their heritage, their birthright. Don Acevedo is critical of Don Rodrigo's decision to publish the poem, concerned that he might cause trouble between the people of Morado County and the Texan Rangers.  However, Dona Jovita feels that most people in the town of Monteseco know how the tejanos (Mexican-Americans) are being treated. And Don Rodrigo believes that as a journalist he must speak out against the prejudices towards the tejanos. But Don Acevedo is so outraged he tells Don Rodrigo that if their friendship is to continue he wants never to see one of his newspapers in his home again. The two part on bad terms, with Don Rodrigo hopeful that one day his friend Don Acevedo will understand.

The novel then fast-foward ahead two years to 1915. Joaquin will be heading off to Michigan Agricultural College in the fall, as his parents attempt to break his attachment to Dulcena Villa while Dulcena has been pulled out of school and is being tutored privately by Madame Josette from Paris. Don Rodrigo was forced to pull her from school because of constant threats and acts of vandalism to his print shop. Joaquin feels he cannot leave his home at this dangerous time when Texas Mexicans who have been here long before it became part of the United States, are fighting to keep their homes. These tejano rebels have been attacking the ranches of the Anglo immigrants and in retaliation the Texas Rangers have been "accosting and killing innocent tejanos".

In the morning, before Don Acevedo and Joaquin are finished their desayuno, ranch hand Manuel arrives to tell them that Captain Elliot Munro has come to talk to one of the ranch workers, nineteen-year-old Gerardo Gutierrez. Munro believes Gerardo was part of a group of tejano rebels who met up with a group of Mexican revolutionaries who crossed into Texas to burn the sugar mill. Don Acevedo is skeptical of Gerardo's involvement but Munro states he was overheard talking about the mill and also La Estrella, the local heroine of the rebels. Munro arrests Gerardo, leading him away on his horse, handcuffed.

That night Joaquin attends Lupita's quinceanera at the dance hall in the town square. It is a themed party with a masque ball, perfect for Joaquin and Dulcena to be together without their identities being discovered. After telling his parents about the party, Joaquin rides into Monteseco with Mateo and Fito. At the party Joaquin is able to dance with Dulcena only once as her parents are in attendance. Dulcena insists that Joaquin meet her at their secret spot near the Arroyo Morado at midnight. Little do they know this clandestine meeting will create much trouble for their families.

Dulcena reveals to Joaquin that she has learned that several of his father's workers are conspiring with the rebels, something Joaquin does not believe. When he reassures Dulcena that they have the protection of Munro, Dulcena tells Joaquin that Munro has no friends. Their rendezvous is interrupted by a group of rebels led by Carlos who lets them go when he discovers Joaquin's identity. However on their way home they encounter more trouble when two Morado County sheriff's deputies accost them and one, Slate attacks Dulcena with the intention of raping and murdering her. Although Joaquin and Dulcena fight back, it is Tomas and their friends Mateo and Fito who arrive in time. Tomas lets Slater and Davis go telling Joaquin they have no authority over them and that they will have to talk to Munro and hope he acts. At Las Moras later that night, the parents of Joaquin and Dulcena along with Tomas and Captain Munro meet in the del Toro's sala (living room). Munro refuses to punish Slater and Davis, telling the del Toro and Villa families that it will ruin Dulcena's reputation. This only serves to enrage both families. Munro wants Sheriff Nolan to deal with Slater and Davis which means that nothing will be done. Tomas believes not punishing them will only further embolden them. The meeting ends unresolved with both sides angry.

On Saturday morning when Joaquin and his father attempt to bail out Gerardo Gutierrez, they learn there is no bail and no visitors allowed. While his father goes to speak with Munro, Joaquin gets into a fight with Slater when he hears him disparaging Dulcena's good name. That night Joaquin discovers the secrets his parents have been keeping and their involvement with the rebels. As tensions in the town continue to rise, the del Toro and Villa families both suffer reprisals that endanger their lives, threaten to tear Dulcena and Joaquin apart and ultimately lead to a deadly confrontation with Munro and his deputies.


This is another exceptional novel by Latina author, Guadalupe Garcia McCall. Shame the Stars has all the hallmarks of a great story: realistic, appealing characters, a unique setting, a blossoming forbidden romance and lots of action that leads to a thrilling climax.The events in the novel take place over the span of a month from August 20, 1915 to September 18, 1915, in the fictional town of Monteseco, Texas near the Mexican border during the Mexican revolution. Garcia McCall was inspired to write the novel after her son told her one night about a book written by Benjamin H. Johnson, Revolution in Texas: How a Forgotten Rebellion and Its Bloody Suppression Turned Mexicans into Americans. The book told the story of "tejanos (Mexican Americans) and Mexicans in Southern Texas in 1915 at the time of the Mexican Revolution." Garcia McCall was deeply moved about the murders of Mexican Americans during the rebellion of 1915 and awoke later that night with the story of Joaquin del Toro who lived at Rancho Las Moras forming in her mind. What began as a potential free verse project blossomed into a novel. Her research into this period and the writing of the novel took five years.

To understand the period the novel is set in, it is instructive to go back to the middle of the 1800's. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 ended the Mexican-American War and made land in Upper California, New Mexico, Arizona, and parts of Colorado, Nevada and Utah. The Rio Grande became the boundary between Mexico and American territory in Texas. The area was Mexican culturally and it was populated predominantly by Mexicans who simply stayed in the area when it became part of America. There were some Anglo settlers who were also part of the cultural mix at this time, intermarrying and learning to speak Spanish. However at the turn of the 20th century, Anglo settlers considered the land near the Rio Grande as ideal for farming and ranching and they began moving into the area. Many Tejanos had been on their land for several generations but could not produce the paperwork to prove that they owned the land. This led to court challenges by the Anglo settlers who usually won and the Tejanos were displaced from their ancestral homes. Between 1900 and 1914, hundreds of thousands of acres of land was taken from Tejanos and given to Anglos in just two counties.

During this time political instability in Mexico fueled the problems in Texas. In 1910 the Mexican revolution began. The Rio Grande Valley was still predominantly populated by Mexican and Mexican-Americans, many of whom had family living in Mexico. At this time it was relatively easy to move between the two countries and as a result, Southern Texas saw many political refugees from Mexico arriving, bringing with them the political ideals of their homeland. But some were very radical and saw this time as ripe for returning parts of Texas and the southern United States back to Mexico. Plan de San Diego was crafted by radicals in Monterrey, Neuvo Leon and advocated a race war by Mexicans and blacks against the Anglo settlers with the aim of returning Texas land to Mexico. Raids occurred against some Anglo farmers and against railroad and telegraph lines. This and the publication of the Plan de San Diego in local newspapers made Anglo Texans anxious.  In response, the U. S. government sent in large numbers of Texas Rangers who enforced laws in favour of Anglo settlers and carried out many unlawful killings of Tejanos and Mexicans. Often the families were warned not to come collect the bodies of the dead meaning they were not given a proper burial and cause both suffering and further intimidation of surviving family.

The extensive research author Garcia McCall undertook is evident as her novel incorporates many of the injustices such as the forcing of tejanos off their land and extralegal killings - that is killings by law authorities without due process and outside of the law - into the story. For example, Joaquin's tio Carlos tells him how he lost his home. "I came home one night and found my wife crying because she didn't have the papers to prove we owned the land our house was built on in Hondo. They had been lost in a fire, years before, and her family had never replaced them. Without those documents, my wife and I had no way of proving the land was ours. No one would help us. Lawyers refused to take our case. County officials wanted United States paperwork, when the only paperwork we had before the fire was from Mexico, a hundred years ago when our ancestors were granted the land. And then the Rangers made sure my wife and I moved out...They hung my sixteen-year-old son in our backyard."

The novel is written from the point of view of a tejano, eighteen-year-old Joaquin de Toro whose father is "light-haired and fair-skinned like an Anglo" and whose mother is Mexican. To make the story more interesting, Garcia McCall incorporates some elements from the Romeo and Juliet story; a young couple in love whose family have a falling out resulting in them being forced apart, they secretly exchange letters through the hired help (some of which Garcia McCall includes in the novel), Joaquin climbs the jacaranda tree to her bedroom balcony and is passionately in love with her, and they attend a masque ball in order to meet up. All of this happens in the midst of intense conflict in their world. While Joaquin is passionate and somewhat hot-headed, he is growing into a man who acts on his beliefs. Dulcena, although sometimes appearing too modern for the period of the story, is shown to be an intelligent young woman who wants to be a reporter and travel the world. Shame the Stars is populated by realistic Mexican-American characters who are portrayed as intelligent and willing to fight the injustices being done to them.

The story follows the increasing conflict that affects both the del Toro and the Villa families both of whom are revealed to be heavily involved in supporting the cause of the tejano rebels. Eventually this leads to the climax of the story involving the confrontation between the del Toro's and Captain Munro that leads to a catastrophic loss for the del Toro family, but also results in a partial resolution of the situation in Morado County. Garcia-McCall includes a very helpful Cast of Characters at the front of the novel to help readers familiarize themselves quickly with the main characters and the many supporting characters in the novel.

Garcia McCall's novel was most timely considering the anti-Hispanic rhetoric of the American presidential campaign in 2016 when it was published.Shame the Starsinvites young readers to learn about a part of their country's history that is rarely taught and to understand the backstory to the prejudice that continues today in parts of the southern United States. To that end, she has included a detailed Author's Note at the back as well as a short booklist for teachers and mentors, and credits for the mostly nonfictional newspaper clippings that can be found throughout the novel.

The sequel to Shame the Stars is set in Monteseco sixteen years later and follows the repatriation of the del Toros back to Mexico. This is a novel I look forward to reading - I just hope I don't have to wait much longer!

Book Details:

Shame The Stars by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
New York: Tu Books, an imprint of Lee and Low Books, Inc.    2016
288 pp.

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