Review by Laura Galindo
Victor Villaseñor lived a life divided by two distinct worlds in Burro Genius: A Memoir. His life was divided as closely as the gate entering his family’s property. On one side he found love, culture, tradition and strength and on the other he found himself beaten down, hated, and misunderstood by those he should have been able to trust. Through the experiences of growing up as a “vaquero” (cowboy) in an affluent family living on a ranch in California, he began to transfer his rugged lifestyle of dealing with animals on the family ranch; To his outside world of dealing with people who treated him as if he were worse than an animal. Victor tells his gripping story of learning to grasp inner and outer peace. (Villaseñor, 2004)
Growing up in a Hispanic family, Victor was groomed with love, spirituality, “macho” strength, and tradition. Expecting more of the same when he started his first year as a student in kindergarten his heart was quickly torn to shreds by teachers, bullying peers, and administrators. There are two ways our broken heart can be viewed. One way is to see our heart broken into pieces and the other is seeing our heart broken into new capacity. (Palmer, 2004) It took Victor years to realize this concept. Set in the complex culture of the 1940’s, Victor’s educational experience was taunted by racist teachers in hate filled schools. In a process that not many would be able to withstand, he overcomes by persevering year after year holding onto hope that a better day would come, expressing Palmer’s theory “In particular, we must learn to hold the tension between the reality of the movement and the possibility that something better might emerge.” (A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward An Undivided Life., 2004)
I was reminded how Borgmann describes nature “Of course you can and in many cases should respect what you have to care for.” (Borgmann, 2006) This idea can be applied to our natural selves in that we have to take care of ourselves with the same respect. As for teachers, or those who have been entrusted with youth, this should ring even more strongly for them as Jesus Himself stated in Mark 9:34-37, “whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” (Hayford, 1991) Victor received little to no respect from any of his educators minus one substitute teacher he had for three days. The one teacher that prompted him to write a story from his heart and for the first time in his life he realized the freedom in telling the world of his experiences. These experiences he told of were from the depths of his soul which no one could take away despite how hard they tried. (Villaseñor, 2004)
Throughout the process of overcoming the pressures of a racist society, he began realizing his spirituality with mentions of God, Catholicism, his deceased brother and grandmothers. Watching his parents fall apart and come back together again through trials helps him overcome a deep-set hatred that almost turned into a murderous rage. His memoir ends with a wonderful finale, as he witnesses a triumphant event in his father’s character when he gives up his own hatred for a life of forgiveness and peace. This was a defining moment in which he releases his own anger and rage in turn for tranquility, setting him ultimately on a new road toward victory. (Villaseñor, 2004) Burro Genius had its raw moments of storytelling but time and time again I found myself relating to all of his life experiences. I highly recommend this good read!
Borgmann, A. (2006). Real American ethics: Taking responsibility for our country. Chicago, IL: University Chicago Press.
Hayford, J. W. (Ed.). (1991). Spirit Filled Life Bible: New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
Palmer, P. (2004). A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward An Undivided Life. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Villaseñor, V. (2004). Burro Genius. New York: Harper Collins.