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Hispanic/Latino Literature


Soto, Gary. The Afterlife. Orlando, FL; Harcourt, Inc., 2003. ISBN: 0-15-204774-3.


The Afterlife is the story of life after death as experienced by Chuy, a 17 year old Mexican-American in Fresno, California.  Chuy encounters his death on a Friday night at the Club Estrella just when he was sure to get the chance to dance with Rachel, a girl he liked.  He was stabbed three times by a vato wearing yellow shoes.

With regrets Chuy soon realizes he is dead, but holds no emotions about it.  As a ghost he goes on a trip through Fresno visiting the people and places he cared for.  During this trip he meets Crystal, a 17 year old girl who committed suicide.  Crystal, like Chuy, is making her final trip through this world before disappearing forever. 

This trip gives Chuy the opportunity to give a closing to his life.  He is able to see and understand the people that surrounded him in life.  He is able to understand his own feelings about his parents, friends, relatives, and even his own killer.  On the fourth day, he is ready to disappear with Crystal to what he calls the afterlife. 

Soto portrays death as seen by Mexican-Americans.   It is true that we believe in ghosts, and that they have the power to roam the Earth for some time after their death.  If these ghosts are not let to rest in peace or if they have unfinished business, they will continue to roam the places important to him or her forever.   The fascination Mexican-Americans have towards death and the afterlife comes from our Mexican ancestors and from the teaching of the Catholic Church.  In Mexico, November 2 is a very important religious holiday.  It is the day to honor the death.  It is called Dia de los Muertos, Dia de Todos los Santos.  On this day we go to the graves of our deceased relatives to clean them and adorn them with flowers.  While we are there we share stories about the lives of these people; family stories that go from generation to generation.  However, the author does not make reference to this important holiday instead he makes reference to Halloween.  The story is set in October and Chuy mentions that he and his friends were planning on going Trick or Treating on Halloween night.  This is important because it shows how our youth have adopted the American traditions and ways of life.

Chuy is a realistic character that represents today’s Mexican-American youth.  He is an average guy, dresses like everyone else in the barrio with a shaved head and huango pants.  His main worries include fitting in with the crowd and getting the attention of girls.  He enjoys the same things as many teenagers in America; things like dances and sports.  In fact during his trip he goes to two different games, one a basketball game of his school and the other a football game of the Raiders.

Soto uses “ interlingual” vocabulary, some Spanish words mixed within the English text,  which gives the story a Hispanic flavor.  “When you’re an ordinary-looking guy, even feo, you got to suck it up and do your best.”(p.1)  The word feo used in the first sentence of the book makes a statement.  Automatically the reader realizes that the story is about a Spanish speaking character.  In some instances the author has to use Spanish words because the message he is trying to send does not relate the same in English. For example, he uses the word carnal when referring to Angel.  The word is a slang that means a true friend who is considered like a brother.

This novel can be used for Middle and High School students.  It depicts a good picture of the life of Mexican-American teenagers living in an urban setting.  Hispanic studnets will be proud to share this story with students from other cultures.  Students of different cultures will be able to identify with Chuy.  Even Hispanics who don’t live in urban places have many things to learn from him as he goes through his trip through Fresno. After reading the story students may share and compare their own beliefs about the afterlife and their experiences with death.