Critics mostly dismiss Victor Villasenor's 1991 Rain of Gold—the supposed biography of the author's father who enters the United States during the Prohibition era. Nevertheless, upon closer examination this narrative explores and erodes corroded human categories and racial reductions present in the Southwestern penal system. According to scholars in critical prison studies and critical race theory, the prison functions as a state-sanctioned method for prosecuting criminals and persecuting minority Americans. Juxtaposing Rain of Gold with these two areas of academic research, however, reveals that penitentiaries produce faulty and fallible notions of personhood that are, in part, responsible for the racialization and decimation that occur with incarceration. In resistance, Rain of Gold's protagonist challenges the carceral's ability to overdetermine identity by outmaneuvering criminal labels, redefining oppressive narratives and refusing to accept a dehumanized existence. As a thirteen-year-old in the Tombstone penitentiary, Juan Salvador Villasenor preserves his dream of a better future. While criminals, especially Mexican American criminals, have little room for redemption or rehabilitation under state law, Juan carefully contradicts social normalization by learning to read The Count of Monte Cristo, escaping several cells and trumped-up criminal charges, and practicing the techniques of a successful bootlegger. Juan, then, changes the material condition of his life, and the lives of his family members, as he turns prison's identity play inside out.
College and Department
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Guajardo, William Henry, "Rain of Gold's Prison Play: Identity Making and Maneuvering" (2018). Theses and Dissertations. 6787.
critical prison studies, Mexican American, social imaginary, Victor Villasenor