New Mexican Letters: “I am the manatee”

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In Memoriam Elena Natividad Chávez

For. Ah-Muán Iruegas

Mexican literature seems to be expressing itself through new voices. An example of this is the story entitled I am the manatee, written by Ruth Miraceti Rojas, which we will discuss in the following paragraphs. The story was awarded by the Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla in a recent contest.

The text speaks of a girl and her misfortunes, of which the successive memories of her own brief childhood past tell us. The girl claims to be “like the manatee,” which was previously described as slow, big, and fat. Their misfortunes are related to the sufferings of those who have eating problems or obesity.

The narrative covers various moments in the life of the little girl and gives greater density, realism and richness –although not many moments of happiness- to the always idealized life of children.

The text of this young writer (33 years old) deals with some “new topics” such as the childhood obesity. Which was a concern practically absent in other generations of Mexican writers, perhaps because there was no childhood obesity problem in Mexico.

The author considers herself a writer of fantastic stories. The most fantastic thing about this story would be, in my opinion, the title itself: I am the manatee. And then the girl turns into a manatee at times and watches “herself” from the other side of the glass of the fish tank.

However, the protagonist then relativizes the “fantastic beginning”, since the first thing she says is “I am LIKE the manatee” (capital letters added).

Now the very Julio Cortazar he went on to say: “I don’t differentiate between the real and the fantastic. For me, the fantastic always comes from the everyday “. In our text, it would be less the fantastic and more “the everyday”. But that does not detract from the story in any way.

The beginning of the story is reasonably well accomplished, as the author manages to present the main theme in just ten lines, reveal the identity of the narrator, and give voice to some characters. It uses as an initial narrative resource a “scientific” description, typical of an aquarium, about the manatee or sea cow.

This animal is in a giant fish tank (which could be a kind of microcosm) and it swims from here to there and then towards a “deep and dark background”, which seems to characterize various moments in the existence of the main character.

For its part, There are subtopics to which this short story relates, such as the problem of discrimination.

From a rather mundane, nourishing matter, typical not of the Quixotes but of the Sanchos Panza of this world, the author alludes (without naming them) to issues of a greater caliber.

The somewhat obsessive suffering of this girl, who cannot eat what she wants due to family and medical prescriptions, leads the central character of the play to reach moments almost of drama, which can make more than one feel intense regret for the luck of this poor “minor”.

Without being those of the character, minor concerns. Well, with agility in the narration, core themes such as stereotypes and an even greater one are embodied in the history of the “infanta”, which we will address below.

The little character indirectly raises, with his troubles, a facet of the problem of freedom – even if it is the freedom to eat whatever one pleases. Freedom denied to a little girl, who expresses with her little sorrows the problems of any person.

With her story, the girl embodies those yearning for freedom. And it is not difficult for the average reader, following reading of I am the manatee, begin to meditate on the limits of your own freedom.

Thus, with simple scenes and childhood concerns, the commented text borders on the artistic boundaries based on the universality of the sorrows of this little character.

It is not known in the end -although this is already a simple interpretation- if the manatee is the only one that inhabits the big fish tank, or the girl is imprisoned “in another fish tank” because of her entourage, or if we all actually spend our lives in “a great fishbowl” that contains us or imprisons us.

The richness of the text contrasts with the brevity of the narration. Time management is interesting, as there are several time jumps, despite the limited length of the work. Which indicates a special ability on the part of the author.

The text presents echoes of other writers. Certain aspects are reminiscent of Cortázar in the story entitled “Axolotl.” The similarity is so great that the title of the story reviewed is almost identical to a sentence from the first paragraph of Cortázar’s story: Now i’m an axolotl (i.e. an axolotl).

The author herself recognizes – at the question of the author of this review – influences in her work of both Cortázar and Borges, Bioy Casares and Rubem Fonseca. In addition to many lesser-known authors who are not part of what is known as the “canon of literature.”

Cortázar could also resort to scientific-technical explanations, (also present, for example, in the style of “Instructions to climb a ladder”), because as said, I am the manatee It begins with a scientific or biological description of the mammal.

We are not facing a classic-style story, like children’s stories, since the text does not have a chronological development, but rather presents a kind of “loops”, or jumps and regressions due to the short life of the central character.

In I am the manatee We are presented not with a detailed portrait but rather a sketch, a drawing of a suffering girl.

The depths of the character, I think the manatee in the story manages to “glimpse with his nose”. They are the depths of the soul of the oppressed girl, who yearns or dreams of being a good-natured manatee, to be free at the end of eating as God commands.

The central character is extremely simple: It is about the girl who suffers because they do not let her satisfy her hunger. But being before such an uncomplicated character, it is possible to appreciate with relative precision in a short story.

A complex character could not be seen in such a short text, such as the one we are dealing with now. In fact, the central character of such a text is so simple … as if it had been devised by a girl.

Which could be taken for an additional merit of the story.

A somewhat weak element of the story, paradoxically, is the choice of the main theme. Well, even if the point of arrival of the story is discrimination or freedom, the starting point of the story may be hunger or appetite … but it can also be simple gluttony. Sinful affair that cannot, without difficulties, present itself as the banner of a little heroine.

At other times, the girl does not speak as such, saying “I look good. I feel good”. But that’s not how the girls I’ve heard lately speak; that’s how they talk, it seems to me, ladies or ladies …

However, the effectiveness of the narration, the tone, the child’s voice and the character that the author manages to present us, are greater virtues than the small defects of the story that we refer here. It could even be said, in one sentence, that the text is like “a strange child cry for freedom.”

I warn readers of Arsenal Diary Digital, that this brief review has almost the same length as the analyzed text, of only two and a half pages. Which seems to be a good sign, as it at least proves that… there is a lot to say about this tale.

The author has published five stories in a plaquette published by the Government of the State of Puebla entitled “The fantastic and grotesque story of Virginia Montemayor”, as well as the story “Cerillita”, included in the Fourth Anthology of Mexican Writers.

In short, the text shows a talented storyteller. However, we are clearly before a work of youth and not a work of maturity. Perhaps all that has been shown in this brief review.

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