On reading ¡Ándale, Prieta!

Almost equal parts laugh-out-loud funny and deeply sentimental, Yasmín Ramírez’s ¡Ándale, Prieta! tells the story of her family, childhood, and success in El Chuco, the locals-only nickname for El Paso, Texas. The focal figure in all of her experiences is her grandmother, her Ita, whose impact and influence inform every chapter of the memoir. Even when Ramírez describes her years away from El Paso, working merciless retail hours in the white-washed outskirts of Dallas, Ita hovers behind each episode and event, never far from her thoughts. Her grandmother’s larger than life personality and life story–early on, Ramírez relates nights spent in Downtown El Paso bars with her grandmother as she sold her own ad hoc raffle tickets before singing the night away with regulars and bar owners alike–radiate throughout, making it clear why Ita is such a center of gravity for Ramírez. But even when she shifts to the second half of the book and steps out of those childhood years when her Ita was a daily presence, Ramírez’s voice is consistently compelling and engaging as she navigates Reality Bites-esque (once upon a time, she tells us, her favorite movie) challenges of a Gen-X adulthood and moves toward her destiny as a professor and writer. One thing that keeps the book fresh and compelling are the flourishes that Ramírez weaves in, differentiating some chapters with diagonal sentences crossing the page when dialogue is being yelled up and down a flight of stairs or structuring another around an inventory of her grandmother’s different scars and the stories each evokes. Ramírez proves herself a master craftsman as she moves across the decades of her life, with careful dances back in time and other sashays into dreams, but what really makes ¡Ándale, Prieta! work so well is the copious humor and the radiant warmth of it all.

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