Knitting the Fog by Claudia D. Hernández
Title: Knitting the Fog
Author: Claudia D. Hernández
Genre: Memoir, Poetry
Topics: Migration, Assimilation, Mother-daughter relations
Triggers: Some violence and sexual language
Publisher: The Feminist Press
Publishing Year: 2019
Format Read: Paperback
My Rating: 5/5
Now more than ever before we are in need of own voices narratives of the experiences that migrants face when coming to the US in search of respite and opportunity. Hernández’s memoir of growing up in Guatemala, being left behind by her mother who traveled north to escape a volatile relationship with her father, then finally making the harrowing journey herself is deeply personal and urgent. This memoir is not only a testament to Hernández’s incredible talent as a writer but also to her resilience and strength as a person. It is a work that is as important as it is beautiful and is a must-read, particularly in today’s political climate.
Summary: Weaving together narrative essay and bilingual poetry, Claudia D. Hernández’s lyrical debut follows her tumultuous adolescence and fraught homecomings as she crisscrosses the American continent. Seven-year-old Claudia wakes up one day to find her mother gone, having left for the United States to flee domestic abuse and pursue economic prosperity. Claudia and her two older sisters are taken in by their great aunt and their grandmother, their father no longer in the picture. Three years later, her mother returns for her daughters, and the family begins the month-long journey to El Norte. But in Los Angeles, Claudia has trouble assimilating: she doesn’t speak English, and her Spanish sticks out as “weird” in their primarily Mexican neighborhood. When her family returns to Guatemala years later, she is startled to find she no longer belongs there either. A harrowing story told with the candid innocence of childhood, Hernández’s memoir depicts a complex self-portrait of the struggle and resilience inherent to immigration today.
I devoured Knitting the Fog in two sittings. After turning the last page, I had to sit down and digest it and I suspect this will be one of my rare re-reads in the future. Hernández manages to pack so much in less than 200 pages and does so seamlessly in a way that is astonishing and gratifying to experience, particularly as a bilingual reader. Throughout the memoir, Hernández slips seemingly effortlessly between poetry and prose, English and Spanish, creating an incredible whole that in a way mirrors her own composite childhood as she struggled to assimilate into different households in Guatemala and into various cultures in Los Angeles. The result is one of the most unique bilingual reading experiences I have had in a longtime.
Throughout the first half of the book Hernández recounts her childhood in Guatemala as she grows up witnessing her parent’s volatile and violent relationship which results in her mother leaving for El Norte and leaving her and her sisters in the care of her Aunt Soila who lives in Mayuelas and her Grandmother Mamatoya who lives in Tactic; two vastly different, towns and vastly different women who nonetheless are both integral figures in her childhood. About halfway through the book, Hernández’s tenuous peace with her mother’s abandonment is shaken when her mother returns after having settled in Los Angeles to take her three daughters with her back to the US. We then follow her long journey through Mexico and into the US finally settling in Los Angeles where the struggle to assimilate into a new life and culture and grapple with her identity.
As she recounts her story, Hernández does not shy away from the uncomfortable and complicated. Family relationships and struggles with identity are a constant source of tension: Her sister does not want to leave her friends and life in Guatemala, her Mexican neighborhood is often less than welcoming to a young Guatemalan immigrant with a “weird” accent and her mother is simultaneously a source of love and fear. At the same time, there are many genuinely funny, tender and triumphant moments. The result is a bittersweet, well balanced, and utterly absorbing narrative that had me laughing loudly one moment and reading con el corazón apachurrado the next.
There is much to love in this memoir but above all, I love that it centers women’s familial relationships; mothers and daughters, sisters, grandmothers, cousins and great aunts. Although Hernández is not the first Latina writer to explore these relationships in all their complicated glory, she does so with a particular sharp eye for how traumas are passed on, like inheritances from mother to daughter throughout the family. Each one of the women depicted in the story are a crucial part of Hernández’s life and are brought to life on the page. Their relationships, and personal journeys are not without pain, as they raise and care for each other. Hernández’s relationship with her mother in particular is one that is simultaneously a source of love and longing as well as outright fear. Throughout it all, Hernández does an excellent job of depicting this complicated and contradictory relationship with great tenderness, nuance, and hope showing us what it means to come from a strong matriarchal family in a patriarchal world.
Hernández’s words will stay with you long after you have turned the last page. She puts a human face on immigration from Central America; a topic that is often talked about in menacing and abstract terms and does so with a fresh and powerful voice that demands attention. I am very excited that this narrative is out in the world and highly recommend it especially if you are looking to gain a more nuanced understanding of migrant journeys from Central America. Hernández is definitely an author to watch and I can’t wait to see what she will share with us next.
Read if you like:
Own voices migrant narratives
Complicated mother/daughter relationships
Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of this review. All opinions are my own.