The year of Speedy Gonzales | In 2006 Texas final, Brownsville’s Cowboys produced outsider’s art

Soccer players in south Texas, ca. 1924. In addition to such images of daily life, border photographer Robert Runyon (1881–1968) documented the development of cities and towns in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and the revolution in northeastern Mexico. He maintained a portrait studio in Brownsville. (Robert Runyon Photograph Collection, The Center for American History and General Libraries, University of Texas at Austin)

In the end, the star of the Porter team, striker Jorge Briones—who would have to work two weeks washing cars to earn money for a most-valuable-player ring—scored twice in the overtime periods. He scored first from 15 yards then, following a run out of midfield, fired from the top of Coppell’s 18-yard box. “A defender deflected the shot,” writes Hinojosa in his game account, “and the change in trajectory caught Coppell goalkeeper Aaron Francis flat-footed. …”

Casares’s vignettes of Briones—who recently signed a letter of intent to play for the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA)—working at a used-car dealership and the team as a whole helping to open a new Wal-Mart Supercenter contribute to the author’s intent of normalizing the picture of Brownsville and the border land. In an interview following publication of his 2003 short-story collection, Brownsville (Little, Brown & Co.), Casares acknowledges a debt to an earlier writer of the region, Américo Paredes (1915–99).

Casares, too, works toward educating readers about the region and culture of which Richard Rodriguez, in Brown: The Last Discovery of America (Viking, 2002), writes, “Apart from the stool sample, there is no browner smear in the American imagination than the Rio Grande.” “[M]y form of activism,” Casares says, “is that by showing Mexican Americans involved in ordinary things as I have always seen them, by normalizing them, what I’m doing is sort of showing the humanity of the group” (Michael Schaub, “An Interview with Oscar Casares,” bookslut.com, Aug 03). Thus, in Brownsville, he emphasizes the everyday ambitions of the city’s residents and, while integrating regional particulars, makes these ambitions recognizable to Americans at large. In one case, an 11-year-old boy, Diego, starting his first job at a fireworks stand rides to his first day of work with his proud father.

They cracked the windows open at the top to let in the cool air. The sky was ash gray, as it had been for the past week. On the way to the stands they passed the cafés along International Boulevard, the panaderí­a and its glorious scent of fresh sweet bread, the restaurant that sold barbacoa on Sunday mornings, the service station where the father had worked as a young man. (“Mr. Z,” 7)

One can imagine Briones experiencing such sights and smells while riding to his job. Casares even takes pride in knowing that, on his insistence, his book ended up being positioned next to cash registers at HEB grocery stores in south Texas—exceedingly rare for a work of literary fiction. The book became a “working person’s icon,” according to a profile in the Daily Texan (Rachel Pearson, “Author Brings Border Experience to His Stories,” 18 Apr 05). Brownsville residents wanted to purchase their copies from the working man’s HEB.

Thus, it seems appropriate that Casares and freshly minted Brownsville hero Briones end up tethered to the same phone connection at the conclusion of Casares’s account of the Porter High School soccer team. Briones asks to speak to Casares in Spanish. Casares passes on his congratulations, but the music at the Wal-Mart opening makes conversation impossible. Both men listen to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Casares via transmission by mobile phone.

Update

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