author: Luis Alberto Urrea
photographer: José Galvez
Cinco Puntos Press, 2001
When I was first asked to review this book, being seriously feminist I thought: Men, men, men, why do I want to spend time on a book of photos of men? Especially the notoriously super-macho young types called “vatos” (street slang for dude, guy, pal)? Then I opened Vatos, glanced at just a few pages, and it was a matter of “Wow! Wow!! Wow!!!” all the way through.
The photographs offer a marvelous variety of humanness, a range of age and lifestyle, an unending combination of playfulness and seriousness. Many photos contain several moods and dimensions in a single image. These are more than pictures of people, they are pictures of relationships. They give us a world many of us never know; once known, through this book, it is haunting. Luis Alberto Urrea’s “hymn to vatos who will never be in a poem” is the perfect verbal accompaniment to Jose Galvez’s imagery. How can a few words simultaneously evoke such sadness and celebration? But they do, and every line is a snapshot in itself. For those who know little of Chicano urban street life, an education awaits you.
The mix of poverty, racism, despair, courage, absurdity and beauty, arrogance and self-mockery can be found in many cultures of the oppressed. But people of Mexican origin grown in the United States seem to have a claim to collective uniqueness that has usually been romanticized or ignored. This book commits neither sin. It is simply rich and powerful in the reality it presents.
Galvez’s 30 years of photographic experience, and the composition genius he developed, have made that possible. He was lead photographer of a Los Angeles Times team that received a Pulitzer Prize for their portrayal of Latinos in Southern California. They were the first Chicanos to receive a Pulitzer. Goes with the book, doesn't it? Just another bunch of vatos the Anglo world finally noticed. Gracias, Jose, your book is a gift to us all. Highly recommended.
—Elizabeth (Betita) Martinez
This review first appeared in A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children, edited by Doris Seale and Beverly Slapin (AltaMira Press, 2005). We thank the publisher for permission.