Art, Memories, and Poetry: La Bolsa–The Purse

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture
I’ve recently been lucky enough to pore over a gorgeous book filled with art, memories, and poetry. La Bolsa–The Purse was written and illustrated by one of our featured artists, Sonya Gonzalez. Of all the beautiful, bilingual poems and paintings, my favorite is Pasteles con amor-Pies made with love. It’s gorgeous, loving, and delicious.
la bolsa. From Art, Memories, and Poetry: La Bolsa–The Purse, by Sonya Gonzalez
la bolsa
Tell us about your Book, La Bolsa-The Purse…
La Bolsa-The Purse is a book of memories, dedicated to my mother (Mi Madre), and based on an exhibition of my art by the same title, in May 2000 for Mother’s Day. The cover of the book is the same painting used on the exhibit announcement. Just as a purse (bolsa) has a potpourri of items, this book has a variety of illustrative, colorful paintings with poems in Spanish and English.
What inspired you to write this book?
My parents raised us in the traditions of Mexico. Spanish was the only language spoken in our household until my sister and I entered school and only English was permitted. My father made a rule that only English would be spoken at home, but my sister and I would secretly hide, sometimes under an umbrella, so we couldn’t be heard, and whisper to each other in Spanish. The transition to English was challenging. A pleasant memory I have of my childhood is when my older sister and I would memorize and recite poetry in Spanish to our parents and grandparents, especially on special occasions. Recalling those times is what led me to create this book.
tirante suelto. From Art, Memories, and Poetry: La Bolsa–The Purse, by Sonya Gonzalez
tirante suelto
In pairing poetry with the art, which comes first in the process, your writing or art?
A thought, emotion, or feeling is expressed through a sketch initially on tan mat board or on the backs of a legal pad. Images, faces and figures become visible for me on semi-dark surfaces. I don't realize it at the time why I am drawing the figures. It becomes apparent to me after I have completed the sketch.
Some of the sketches and poems were done several years ago, left unfinished, waiting. Other paintings were created for this book with a poem in mind, like La Casa al Otro Lado (The House across the Way). I had a concern that I needed to express. The poem came first and the drawing/painting afterwards. It is basically about how uncomfortable it is to find the right things to say when you know someone is hurting. Reading Marcy Heidish’s book “Who Cares” helped me compose this poem and painting. Even though some of the paintings do not have poems, they are so illustrative that they could all use a cuento (story) or poem (poema).
La Casa al Otro Lado (The House across the Way). From Art, Memories, and Poetry: La Bolsa–The Purse, by Sonya Gonzalez
History and family and memories—they are powerful things to read from your book. Can you please tell us more?
Marina la Gallina, La Falda, Pajaritos, En la Banqueta, Memorias de Mama, La Casa Colorosa, and Los Novios are about my mother or a family member. 
There is a chronological order to the poetry, beginning with La Casa Color Rosa The Pink House, which is about my first memories in childhood. I must have been around a year old, recalling that I was unsteady on my feet. La Falda The Skirt, which is about a crocheted skirt I made for my mother, follows. I have often wondered what became of that crocheted skirt. Where did it end up? Who is in possession of it now? It was a lovely and striking skirt. Los Novios The Sweethearts are the teenage years, which shows an overprotective parent. A challenging time for my parents, contending with the values they grew up with and that of the U.S. 
The poems that follow are En la Banqueta On the Curbside, and Pajaritos Little Birds. This was a time when my mother was elderly and in Special Care.
En La Banqueta, On the Curbside, has statements made by my mother and our housekeeper from Mexico. The housekeeper became independent after we had grown up and my parents no longer needed her help. The housekeeper always mentioned how grateful she was to my mother for teaching her everything she knew. 
One day after visiting my mother at the special care facility, we walked to the door together. As I was leaving, she glanced out at the cars whizzing by. Then she made the statement of wishing to get in one of those cars and go away. 
The housekeeper made the other statement. She was still working at the age of 94 and had her own apartment. The last time I saw her, we talked about how active and busy she always was. Then she sighed, looking down and stated that the time to do things had passed. 
Both of these statements made by my mother and the housekeeper were the feelings that motivated me to paint this picture many years ago. It sat waiting until I was ready to express those feelings. 
In Pajaritos Little Birds, it shows my mother in special care. She was an attractive, refined and cheerful woman; liked by everyone. Elegant in spite of her illness. There was a room outside her bedroom where she would sit and derived pleasure from watching the finches. 
no se cansan.
Cada día,
dan alegría,
a la señora,
en la silla.
de los momentos 
que están solos,
Little Birds
Little birds,
very tiny,
yellow beaks.
They jump
do not tire.
they give joy
to the woman
in her chair.
for the moments
they are alone and together.
Pajaritos Little Birds. From Art, Memories, and Poetry: La Bolsa–The Purse, by Sonya Gonzalez
Pajaritos Little Birds
On a lighter side: Marina la Gallina. My mother’s siblings called her gallina or “chicken”. It is uncertain why, but It was done in a loving manner—like a pet name. She was definitely queen of the kitchen. Her pastries were loved by all. Her published pastry cookbook is still available on amazon. Researching it recently, one of the books contained an article from Bon Appetit about her book. My mother came to the states from Mexico, was mostly comfortable speaking Spanish. She was written up in the newspaper, and still produced a book of her own creations, taught classes and held demonstrations on her pastries. She was a remarkable woman.
Su nombre es Marina. Her name is Marina
Cuando niña, When she was a child,
La llamaron gallina. They called her chicken.
Es fina, She is refined,
Quería ser bailarina. She wanted to be a ballerina.
Ahora, crecida, Today as an adult,
La llaman Madrina. They call her Godmother.
Cada día, Every day,
Toma vitamina. She takes a vitamin.
Manos llenas de harina, Hands full of flour,
Hace pasteles divina. She makes divine pastries.
Ya no es gallina, She is no longer a chicken,
Ni bailarina, Nor a ballerina,
Ni madrina. Nor a godmother.
Es reina, She is queen,
Reina de la cocina. Queen of the kitchen.
reina de cocina. From Art, Memories, and Poetry: La Bolsa–The Purse, by Sonya Gonzalez
reina de cocina
Memorias de Mama is a symbolic painting. The 6 images in the upper left corner are her children. At the center, my mother making one of her wonderful pies, and on the upper right corner the white bird symbolizes her passing.
memorias de mama. From Art, Memories, and Poetry: La Bolsa–The Purse, by Sonya Gonzalez
memorias de mama
Me acuerdo cuando vivimos con mis abuelos maternos. (I remember when we lived with our maternal grandparents.) 
La recámara con ventanas abiertas. (The bedroom with open windows.) 
Cortinas volando como alas en las brisas. (Curtains flowing like wings in the wind.)
El sol pasando el cuarto iluminando los pisos de madera. (The sun illuminating the hardwood floors as it passed through the room.) 
La colcha blanca como nieve. La falda de gaza ondulaba como olas del mar. (The snow-white blanket’s chiffon skirt rippling like the waves of the ocean.) 
Estas son mis primeras memorias de infancia, en la casa color rosa en la calle, Waverly. (These are my first childhood memories, in the pink house on Waverly St.)
LA CASA COLOR ROSA–THE PINK HOUSE. From Art, Memories, and Poetry: La Bolsa–The Purse, by Sonya Gonzalez
Some paintings were just for fun, like Tirante and Inspiracion. In Tirante, supposedly I am the voluptuous (ha, ha) dancer dancing exotically to my husband’s guitar playing. Inspiracion is another fun piece, showing inspiration comes from nature, my cats. Cats do have a way of making you think creatively.
Inspiracion. From Art, Memories, and Poetry: La Bolsa–The Purse, by Sonya Gonzalez
What’s up next for you?
I recently published a children’s poetry book, Ballerina Cat Gata Bailarina, which has cheerful and cute paintings that are accompanied with poems in Spanish and English. For his book I had completed a set of children’s paintings a couple of year’s ago. I thought this would be a good project to exercise my Spanish skills at a child’s level. It was a challenge, because I wanted the poems to reflect the activities of the paintings, but also contain a good message for children.
Anything else you would would like to share?
The first poem with the painting, in the book The Pink House, La Casa Color Rosa, was just published in the November 2018 issue of Voices de la Luna Quarterly Literature and Art Magazine.
My husband and I just completed this meditative art and music video...take a look!
How readers can find your book? 
All photos courtesy and copyright Sonya Gonzalez