Mi querido Rafa/Dear Rafe Summary
by Roland Hinojosa-Smith

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Mi querido Rafa/Dear Rafe Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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Dear Rafe consists of three parts. In the first section, Jehú Malacara, a well-known public figure and loan officer in Klail City, writes twenty-three letters to Rafe Buenrostro, his cousin, who is recovering from wounds received in the Korean War. Rafe is confined to the veteran’s hospital in William Barrett, Texas.

The second part of the book is composed of sketches in which twenty-three citizens of Klail City reflect upon Jehú, all from their unique perspectives. These two sections occupy forty-six and sixty-five pages, respectively. The third section, three pages long, consists of a penultimate note (designated as such) and a brief sketch, “Brass Tacks Are Best; They Last Longer.”

In his letters to Rafe, Jehú gossips about what is happening in Klail City, relating some of the intrigue associated with his boss, Noddy Perkins, who is manipulating the forthcoming elections. Through Jehú, Rafe (and readers) receive an inside view of how the monied class in Klail City exploits the Mexican American working class.

Jehú, still young enough to be principled, eventually oversteps the bounds that Noddy sets for him and is fired. Noddy relents and rehires Jehú, but this arrangement does not last long. Jehú’s conscience unmans him, and he resigns from a job with a future in order to attend college.

Jehú’s letters, although they lack the flair and the urgency of Pamela Andrews’s or Clarissa Harlowe’s incendiary missives in Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740) and Clarissa: Or, The History of a Young Lady (1747-1748), achieve similar ends: They highlight a moral dilemma and effect a resolution.

The second half of the book reports on the results of interviews conducted by P. Gallino, a Klail City writer who solicits comments from twenty-three local residents regarding their opinions about Jehú Malacara’s unexpected and unaccountable departure from Klail City, where his prospects seemed singularly promising. Gallino remains the objective reporter throughout his extensive interviews, through which the reader, in the style typical of Hinojosa, is made to see Jehú, Klail City, and its residents from multiple points of view.

As in much of Hinojosa’s writing, the author introduces a character—in this instance, Jehú Malacara—who is permitted to reveal in some detail salient elements of his own personality and value system. Jehú’s revelations accomplished, Hinojosa makes this character the subject of conjecture by a broad variety of other townspeople who know him in various contexts, thereby projecting a complex mosaic that simulates a balanced view of the character. This is Hinojosa’s first attempt to produce a bilingual book. Dear Rafe consists of an intermixture of English and Spanish, which, in itself, becomes at times a strident social statement.

Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Jussawalla, Feroza, and Reed Way Dasenbrock, eds. Interviews with Writers of the Post-Colonial World. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1992. Includes an informative interview with Rolando Hinojosa.

Lee, Joyce Glover. Rolando Hinojosa and the American Dream. Denton, Tex.: University of North Texas, 1997. Explores the cultural journey of Mexican Americans in search of a place of their own within the context of American life. Discusses several of Hinojosa’s works.

Passty, J. N. “Dear Rafe.” Choice 23 (January, 1986): 742. Passty emphasizes Jehu Malacara’s and Rafe Buenrostro’s roles in the Mexican American effort to restore “lost” lands to the descendants of the Mexican families that once owned them.

Salazar-Parr, Carmen. “La Chicana in Literature.” In Chicano Studies: A Multidisciplinary Approach, edited by Eugene E. Garcia, Francisco A. Lomelí, and Isidro D. Ortiz. New York: Teachers College Press, 1984. Useful in order to appreciate fully Hinojosa’s female characters. Salazar-Parr states that the reader must realize “that the mistresses and prostitutes do not necessarily symbolize bad’ women in Chicano literature.”

Saldívar, José David, ed. The Rolando Hinojosa Reader: Essays Historical and Critical. Houston: Arte Público Press, 1985. A helpful overview of Hinojosa’s career.

Tatum, Charles M. “Dear Rafe.” Hispania 69 (September, 1986): 560-561. Notes that the principal difference between Dear Rafe and Hinojosa’s prior novels is the focus on Anglo financial and political manipulations. Observes that the reader is given a bird’s-eye view of financial and political life in the Rio Grande Valley.

Tatum, Charles M. “Rolando Hinojosa-Smith.” In Chicano Writers, edited by Francisco A. Lomelí and Carl R. Shirley. Vol. 82 in Dictionary of Literary Biography, edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli. Detroit: Gale Research, 1989. Tatum analyzes six novels and one scholarly book by Hinojosa and also provides the reader with a biographical sketch. Notes that Hinojosa intends each of his works to form a part of a lifelong novel that he calls “Klail City Death Trip.” Dear Rafe is part of this fictional world.