“Today I’m going to the grocery store,” begins this creative fusion of poetry, fiction and non-fiction. This is also the sentence Javier O. Huerta was given to write during his naturalization interview. Having lived in the U.S. for twenty years already, he was put off by the simplicity of the sentence. “I wanted to tell the INS agent that I could do things with the English language that she could never imagine,” he writes in the preface.
In this innovative work that uses grocery stores as a guiding motif, he deftly combines English and Spanish to explore his identity as an immigrant, naturalized citizen, son, brother, lover, graduate student. Visits to grocery stores in the U.S. and northern Mexico lead to questions about himself. “I often wonder if I would have grown up thin had my family stayed and bought groceries in Mexico. The day we crossed the river my seven-year-old body had not an ounce of fat on it,” he remembers.
But he looks beyond his own personal circumstances as he explores the abundance of experience found in going to the grocery store. Through poetry written in Spanish, a short play, non-fiction passages and even text messages, Huerta delves into subjects such as consumerism and health foods available only to a limited class of people. The diverse pieces and themes in American Copia pulsate with all that can be both communal and autonomous in everyday life. Men take advantage of women; people protest against practices that place corporate profits above a fair wage for farmworkers; and, sometimes, people commit acts of violence.
Though Huerta touches on serious subjects, many of these short vignettes are quirky and humorous. His is an original, evocative voice that articulates the immigrant perspective to create a thought-provoking look at the land of plenty. This is a must-read for anyone interested in experimental or Mexican-American literature.