Belonging Takes Place Beneath the Surface
A review of Karleen Pendleton-Jimenez’ The Street Belongs To Us (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2021)
By Derek Newman-Stille
America is a thin veneer over a much more complex world, and in 1984 when Muscatel Avenue is torn up there are new possibilities and potentials in the mud. In The Street Belongs to Us, Karleen Pendleton Jimenez explores a street in Los Angeles that is torn up to put in sidewalks and that kids decide to make their own, building trenches, playing in the mud, and ultimately finding themselves beneath the ground. The grandmother of the main character, Alex, tells the reader “The land wants to be adored and you kids know best how to do it”, and that is what The Street Belongs to Us does, it exposes a fundamental love for the land and its potential. While digging, Alex and her friend Wolf find the deed to Aztlan, a creation of the Chicano Movement around land stolen from Mexicans by Americans. It is a deed to a place that can’t be owned, a place of stories and tales of belonging. Like Aztlan, Alex holds the stories of her people and her grandmother’s stories even though she has a conflicted identity as a Mexican American. She observes “I feel kind of ashamed of the stories she’s telling. Even though I’m part Mexican, I’m also quite a bit American. It’s like one part of my body was mean to the other”. She feels the pain of American oppression of the Latinx community in her own body.
Though Nana also warns Alex that digging up the dirt also means exposing all of the things that lay buried and Pendleton Jimenez examines the complexities of childhood experience living alongside family secrets, ideas of belonging, and notions of gender and growing up. When the ground is disturbed, Alex and Wolf see new possibilities, examining their relationships with their parents and their relationships to their own bodies. Alex begins to develop breasts and has to explore questions of whether she is a boy or a girl and whether breasts mean that she is forced to become a woman or whether there are other possibilities for her body. The Street Belongs to Us is an exploration of belonging, whether that be to a community or to one’s own body and who gets to decide how we belong. Like the ground in the story, The Street Belongs to Us unsettles, digs up, and shuffles foundations.
To find out more about The Street Belongs to Us, visit https://arsenalpulp.com/Books/T/The-Street-Belongs-to-Us
To discover more about Karleen Pendleton Jimenez, visit https://www.trentu.ca/education/faculty-and-research/full-time-faculty/karleen-pendleton-jiménez