Quill and Quire

REVIEWS

« Back to
Book Reviews

Mexican Hooker #1: And My Other Roles Since the Revolution

by Carmen Aguirre

There are few of us whose adult selves are not heavily influenced by our childhoods. All the embarrassing, sad, happy, or frightening personal actions and events we remember, retell, dismiss, or suppress, greatly determine the way we act and react for the rest of our lives. Carmen Aguirre’s latest book is a courageous recounting of a traumatic childhood in Chile and Canada. It is also a prequel to her CBC Canada Reads champ, the 2012 memoir Something Fierce.

ReviewsMay_Cover_Mexican-HookerAguirre is a Chilean-born, Vancouver-based theatre artist and author who has lived most of her 43 years in a state of post-traumatic stress. Her early life in Chile, as the daughter of a revolutionary, brought with it an acute, fearful knowledge of murder, torture, and the virulent power of the secret police. Particularly jarring is her account of the “mock firing squad” she and younger sister Ale experienced when little more than toddlers. Aguirre’s life in Canada brought growing pains, racial stereotyping, and rape. Together, these experiences led to a separation from self, in which she “left [her] body and unplugged [her] heart many times to survive traumatic moments.” Those moments stifled her ability to create healthy personal relationships, to express herself in her chosen field, and to be at peace. At the insistence of her theatre school instructors, she began therapy, which entailed a slow, painful examination of her past.

Mexican Hooker #1 is divided, basically, into two sections: the first is the tale of Aguirre’s early life in Canada, and the second is a recounting of, and reconciliation with, her rape as a 13-year-old at the hands of the notorious John Horace Oughton, dubbed by B.C. police the Paper Bag Rapist.

As an adult, Aguirre realizes that the only way to come to terms with what Oughton did to her is to confront him, which she does first by attending his biennial probation hearings and, finally, by facing the man himself. How she chooses to defy and transcend her past is in sharp contrast to Oughton, who seems unable to own up to the horror he has inflicted upon the lives of so many.

Aguirre’s memory is vivid, and her references to the clothes she wore (“my pumps, satin leggings, and butterfly belt buckle”) and the background music she enjoyed (“Seasons in the Sun,” “She Drives Me Crazy”) contextualize her recollections and make her experiences universal, especially to women who grew up in the same period.

Mexican Hooker #1 is open and raw, like Aguirre’s life. Once started, I could not put it down. Although I do not always agree with her politics, I admire her courage and vulnerability, and envy her ability to bring such overwhelming emotion and disquieting memories to the page.