Mi Amor

Jan 31, 2016

Mi-Amor_Vibiana-Aparacio-ChamberlinIf stories can transport us, then I’ve just spent several days in the 1940’s in sunny City Terrace, East Los Angeles.

In her memoir, Mi Amor, Vibiana Aparicio-Chamberlin evokes her childhood neighborhood in stories and poems of varying lengths and complexities. Some are profound declarations of love both romantic and familial. Some are funny, some sad. Together they create a clear picture of a kind of life I’ve never lived. I don’t know about you, but visiting other lives is one of the reasons I love to read.

Another reason is learning. While reading, I had to look up a few words:

panza – belly
nalgas – her bottom
paliza – a beating
pachuco – gangster

The book is divided into two parts, “Today” and “Yesterday.” Each story or poem is introduced with a title page and an original illustration by Aparicio-Chamberlin. Meticulous details create atmosphere, character, and a loving picture of the generations. In Telenovela, for example, an adult Vibiana (in the “Today” section) speaks of her elderly mother:

She places the steamy cup of café con leche with its fragrant cinnamon stick, next to the Super Mercado discount coupons and a plaster statue of Saint Anthony: patron of desperate lovers.


The “Yesterday” stories are particularly interesting. The child Vibiana is a dangerous combination of naiveté and bravery in an neighborhood where that’s a bad idea. It’s the barrio, gang territory. The family yard is fenced in, but no one can keep Vibiana from “escaping” to explore:

Another place we never went was down the hill on Hazard Avenue to the alley behind Dan’s Barbershop on Hammel Street. Mike said he didn’t want me to see the bodies lying there from gang fights and cop shootings.


The fence is a regular topic of conversation between Vibiana’s parents when they have the rare opportunity to discuss such things. Their circumstances make it necessary for them to work long hours and Pa is often away from home on the job. Alone with five children, Ma tries to make an island of safety in a sea of daytime adventures and nighttime dangers.


Ma Isabel Luna by Vibiana Aparicio-Chamberlin

Ma Isabel Luna by Vibiana Aparicio-Chamberlin


In the story, Love and War in the Barrio, Ma begs her husband for a new fence to help keep Vibiana out of trouble. But before the fence can be built, a gang war breaks out on the street one night while Pa is away at work. Ma huddles with her five kids at the back of the house, praying in Spanish (though her prayers turn to curses and Vibiana learns new and useful words). Vibiana, not surprisingly, sneaks out to the front room to watch the battle through the Venetian blinds. In the simple language she might have used as a child, she gives us what she saw and felt:

Some guys punched each other. Others used sticks, metal pipes and chains. The sounds of crashing and skidding cars, and dozens of running feet put me in an excited state of horror and thrilled curiosity. None of us kids cried. In the house there was deathly stillness.


That night, little Vibiana has nightmares about the fight. The next day the family finds their fence trampled and the yard ruined. Ma demands a stronger fence from Pa. She eventually gets it, but they dream of a better life in a safe place. La Puente, maybe. Too bad there’s only “one Mexican family per block” and “You can’t see your neighbors over the fence or talk to them like you’re used to.”

I don’t know Aparicio-Chamberlin well, but I’ve met her and heard her read before an audience, where she excels. Not all writers write in their own voice, and not everyone cares to. But Aparicio-Chamberlin does it well, especially the voice of her youth. She is very much herself on the page.

Mi Amor evokes a personal Los Angeles Mexican heritage, Ma and her cooking, Catholicism in the barrio, and walking the poverty line without stumbling over it. Aparicio-Chamberlin’s stories are not neatly tied up. Some of them even feel incomplete. They are glimpses. The phrase “slice of life” is a cliché, but taken together these slices make up the whole picture of a childhood filled with love, danger, and reality.




For Aparicio-Chamberlin’s art, poetry, and literary works, visit

Find Mi Amor locally at Flintridge Bookstore & CoffeehouseVroman’s, Barnes & Noble, and


Author and artist Vibiana Aparicio-Chamberlin

Author and artist Vibiana Aparicio-Chamberlin






Petrea Burchard is a Pasadena photographer, blogger, voice-over talent and author. Her story “Portraits” is included in Literary Pasadena (Prospect Park Books, 2013). She contributes book reviews to Hometown Pasadena, for which we and our readers are very grateful. Find more Petrea doings, writings, and photography at and LivingVicuriously.

Petrea’s novel, Camelot & Vine, may be bought locally at the Pasadena Museum of History, Hoopla! in Altadena and the Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeehouse. The ebook version is available on

Petrea’s new release Act As If is available from Amazon (Kindle and paperback), and locally at Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeehouse, as well as at Hoopla! in Altadena.




Read Hometown Pasadena’s review of Camelot & Vine.




Other pieces in Hometown Pasadena by Petrea Burchard…

Resolve to Write Your Story” through Petrea’s Story Kitchen series.

Short stories:
Belinda’s Birthday,” a short story in Hometown Pasadena’s Write Here category.
Primal Scene” from Act As If by Petrea Burchard.

Book reviews in “What We’re Reading”:
The Buddha in the Attic

I Capture the Castle
Classic Ray Bradbury
Orphan Train
The Grand Duchess of Nowhere
Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas
The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells
Out Stealing Horses
The Bell Jar
The Safety Godmothers
The Amado Women
The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Without a Net
Parnucklian for Chocolate
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Honeymoon with My Brother
Gone Girl
Dandelion Wine
Singled Out
On Writing by Steven King
What Do You Want to Do Before You Die?
Oliver Kittridge
Black Water Rising
Running with Scissors
Royalist Rebel
Human Cargo
The Map of Lost Memories
The Goddess Lounge



2 Responses for “Mi Amor”

  1. Peter says:

    I have not read the book but the description of a time gone by, the simpler times intrigues me and will be sure to purchase a copy to quench my thirst of Barrio life. Reflections of life in the Barrio is something I really appreciate. Thank you for your review on Mi Amor by Vibiana Aparicio Chamberlin

  2. It’s my pleasure. I hope you enjoy the book.



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