Burro Genius – by Victor Villaseñor (2004)

Burro Genius

This is a masterful book in which the author describes his life as a young boy growing up in Oceanside, California with his parents. His father was a man with a fiery temper and a reputation of being a gangster, but also with an undying loyalty to his family and his heritage. His mother was beautiful and loving, and always teaching her children about Jesus and the saints. His father bought a ranch when Victor was very young, and that is where the book takes place.

Victor thought going to school would be fun when he started kindergarten. Instead, the first thing he learned in school was that he was considered inferior and stupid because of his Mexican ancestry.  Both the teacher and the other students made life miserable for him. He was teased, bullied, slapped around and beaten up, and no one seemed to care. To make matters worse, he was having a terrible time learning the alphabet and simple words.

Things were just as bad when he got to first grade, second grade, and third grade. He was forced to endure the humiliation of repeating third grade because he still was unable to read. His parents tried several different schools, but it was the same wherever he went. No reading, but a lot of bullying. It was not until Victor was an adult with children of his own that he was diagnosed with the most severe form of dyslexia.

It was hard to read of such blatant racism and prejudice. I wanted to ask what on earth was wrong with those teachers and principals, that they tolerated the abuse Victor was suffering. No child should ever have to go through what Victor went through. There was a fair amount of anger and swearing in this book, but it would have been difficult to give an accurate portrayal of Victor’s family life without the language.  There were also tender moments, when Victor’s father shared some very profound thoughts about forgiveness. Although it was a rough story with raw emotion, it was a camera into the soul of a person who has battled the devil of prejudice and racism, and won.



Shared Reading

2018-04-28 sunshine coffee Burro Genius

It’s the perfect Saturday morning. Having had a full night of sleep, I awoke to bright sunshine streaming into the kitchen. What better way to start off the day than with a steaming mug of coffee, sunshine bouncing off orange walls, and a book in the hand! As my husband and son wandered past and saw what I was reading, it set off a discussion about the story. It was a biography, but some of it seemed exaggerated, I said. Did these things really happen? Was the father a mobster, or did he just embellish certain things? As my husband and my son told me what they remembered from reading the book (as well as one of the author’s other books), the thought struck me: we are an unusual family.

Yes, we are unusualmaybe even what some people would call a little weird. The three of us have actually all read the same book. In fact, one other son has read the book too. So that makes four people in our family who have picked up “Burro Genius” and read it. What are the chances of that?

It occurred to me that part of the joy of reading is being able to talk about what you’ve read with other readers of the same book – sharing what you liked or disliked, what struck you as odd, and what part of the book mirrored your own life or someone else’s. No wonder I love reading aloud to my grandson about Ralph the mouse and his motorcycle, or co-reading “Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer” with my granddaughter. Some things are just better when shared with someone else.