Annie and Alice, ages 3 and 5, respectively, 1961.
Annie and Alice in New Orleans, Sum '99.
Clay Hills and Mud Pies is a collection of stories recounting a Mexican American family's one hundred year history in the United States. Three memoirs in one, this International Latino Book Awards winner is rich with Mexican folklore and Americana.
In Book One the author describes her father's life growing up motherless in Las Cruces, New Mexico. It includes early memories of sleeping in abandoned houses, supporting himself by selling newspapers and shining shoes, working for his aunt, who was a bootlegger, riding the rails as a youth, serving in World War II, and finally, marrying her mother in February of 1946. Filled with tales of how he survived, Santiago Perez comes to life in the first third of this family history.
Book Two describes her mother's life growing up on a dairy farm in Mesilla, New Mexico during the Depression. It includes early memories of picking cotton as a child and the first of a series of prophetic dreams. It also includes stories of her grandmother's encounter with the Twelve Apostles and her grandfather finding buried treasure. It concludes with the first years of her parents' union—a match not made in heaven. Filled with metaphors on life and learning, the second book segues nicely into the author's own memoirs.
Book Three is the story of the author's life beginning with her childhood. It includes early memories of domestic violence, her parents' divorce, growing up in a Los Angeles barrio on welfare, working her way through college, taking care of her mother in her declining years, and ultimately, dealing with the loss of her parents and laying them to rest.
The book concludes with her father's philosophies on youth and life.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS IN THEIR ENTIRETY, INCLUDING TWO NOT INCLUDED IN BOOK
1. In chapter 1, Santiago sees the ghost of his mother. Do you believe in ghosts? Why or why not?
2. Santiago's mother died when he was just five years old. How much of an impact do you think this had on his life? How much of an impact do you think this had on the person he was to become?
3. The Civilian Conservation Corps and the Work Projects Administration were both part of Roosevelt's New Deal. Can you name any others?
4. In chapter 23, the author describes Catarina's encounter with the Twelve Apostles. Do you believe the men who came to her backdoor that night were the Twelve Apostles? How much of this story do you think is real and how much is Mexcian folklore?
5. Both Mary and Santiago grew up during the Great Depression. It seems city dwellers did not fare as well as those who lived in rural areas. Can you say why?
6. Throughout her life Mary had prophetic dreams forewarning her of an impending death. Do you believe in prophetic dreams? Why or why not?
7. Santiago and Mary were opposites. What did they have in common?
8. In chapter 28, the author mentions Highlights, an educational magazine for children. How did reading shape the lives of the Perez sisters?
9. In chapter 43, Santiago is visited by a woman claiming to be his wife. Do you believe Santiago was visited by Mary's ghost? How would you explain his claim?
10. In chapter 23, the author expresses her sentiment that if Santiago had had the opportunity to go to college, who knows what he would have become. How much of a role do you think education plays in a person's success? Can a person be successful without a college education? How do you define success?
11. Ghost stories, prophetic dreams, urban legends are all part of Clay Hills and Mud Pies. Which tale did you find the most compelling? What Mexican folklore do you know?
12. Of all the characters in Clay Hills and Mud Pies, which did you find the most memorable, and why?