In Alburquerque, Anaya uses the old name for the city, arbitrarily changed, according to tradition, by a nineteenth century English-speaking train stationmaster in a move that Anaya sees as indicative of cultural intolerance. A former Golden Gloves boxing champion and now a first-year student at the University of New Mexico, Abrán González, is inexplicably summoned to the deathbed of renowned local painter Cynthia Johnson. She tells him that she, a wealthy Anglo, is in fact his biological mother. She dies, however, before revealing the name of González’s father, only that he was Mexican. González must suddenly confront radical questions of his mixed identity—in the barrios, he had always been proud of his Mexican heritage. With the help of his mother’s nurse, the saintly Lucinda, he resolves to track down his father.
To help in his efforts, González agrees to return to the ring in a glitzy promotional fight designed to promote the mayoral campaign of the wealthy and influential Frank Dominic, who cagily promises to use his considerable influence to help González find his father. Dominic quickly emerges as a shady politico without any authentic cultural identity and loyal only to soulless materialism and ruthless self-promotion. The defining issue in the upcoming vote centers on delicate negotiations with the Pueblo Indians for their land (and specifically their access to water) as part of Dominic’s grandiose plans for urban development. Inadvertently enmeshed in the divisive campaign, González comes under the spell of the current mayor (a sexually intriguing divorcée) and makes a single disastrous decision to spend the night with her. When González later agrees to visit Lucinda’s parents in the mountains north of the city, Dominic, furious that the boxer is reneging on their deal, informs Lucinda of that sexual liaison. Lucinda, in love with González, is crushed and leaves him.
When a friend of González notices that a figure in one of Cynthia Johnson’s paintings looks remarkably like one of his professors, he comes to discover that the professor, Ben Chávez, a successful teacher and writer, is in fact González’s father. Years earlier, the professor, a poor kid from the barrio, had fallen in love with Cynthia. Her father, a country-club aspirant, had forbidden the relationship and thus Chávez had never known about the birth of their son and how Cynthia had been compelled to put him up for adoption.
González’s friend and Lucinda, who has found her way to forgiveness, rush to the convention center the night of the exhibition fight to tell González about his father and thus prevent the big fight—they fear that Gonzàlez is far from his fighting prime. Indeed, when they arrive, González is taking a terrible beating. Inspired by finally meeting his father and by the generous forgiveness of Lucinda, however, he wins the fight. His new celebrity effectively ends Frank Dominic’s shallow vision of modernization and returns the city to a celebration of its cultural roots.
Clearly, Anaya investigates questions of cultural identity by exploring those who struggle to conceal their ethnic makeup, those who have lost touch with their cultural heritage, and those who find the narrowest ethnic identity sufficient. Using the political story of Albuquerque’s own identity crisis as an allegory for González’s struggle with the new dimensions of his ethnic identity, Anaya reveals how the future belongs, ironically, to those willing to connect with the vanishing past. Abrán González—part fighter, part painter, part teacher—whose cultural identity draws from the rich reservoirs of both Jewish and Mexican traditions, becomes a sort of inspirational prototype of the future, the embodiment (literally) of racial cooperation and harmony.
Alburquerque is Anaya’s exploration of the ethnically and culturally diverse world of New Mexico in the 1990’s. The book focuses on the conflict between the heritage of the past...
(The entire section is 1,807 words.)