The Madonnas of Echo Park Summary and Study Guide

Brando Skyhorse

The Madonnas of Echo Park

  • 58-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 8 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a college professor with an MFA in Creative Writing
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The Madonnas of Echo Park Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 58-page guide for “The Madonnas of Echo Park” by Brando Skyhorse includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 8 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Loss, Lies, and Culpability: The Complex Performance of Mexican-American Identity and The Changing Landscape of Home.

Plot Summary

Published in 2010, The Madonnas of Echo Park is the first novel by Mexican-American author Brando Skyhorse. Skyhorse wrote this book as an homage to Aurora Esperanza, a Mexican-American girl in his sixth-grade class. Drawing inspiration from Esperanza’s family, Skyhorse’s book follows the interconnected stories of eight Mexican-Americans living in Echo Park, an East Los Angeles neighborhood that has gone through major ethnic and socioeconomic transitions. In addition to sharing the same Echo Park locale, these stories orbit around a singular incident: a 1983 drive-by shooting at a mercado (a market)—El Guanaco—where local girls were reenacting Madonna’s “Borderline” music video. An 3-year-old girl named Alma Guerrero was killed in the crossfire, and headlines dubbed her the “Baby Madonna” of Echo Park.

The novel opens with an author’s note: a description of Skyhorse’s sixth grade connection to Aurora Esperanza. He explains that at this age, he did not realize he was Mexican because his family identified as Native American. Anxious about dancing with a girl at his class’s MTV dance party, young Skyhorse rejects Aurora Esperanza’s invitation to dance with him. Panicking, Skyhorse tells her that he cannot dance with her because she is Mexican. As an adult, Skyhorse reflects with regret on the cruelty of his statement, offering his book as an apology to Esperanza.

The first chapter is narrated from the perspective of Aurora’s father, Hector. Hector is an undocumented immigrant who works as a day laborer. He and another laborer, Diego, are picked up by a contractor. As he works, Hector reflects on the frustrations of immigrant life, which lead him to cheat on his wife, Felicia, with a local woman named Cristina. Later in the day, Hector witnesses the contractor’s son, Adam, killing Diego with a sledgehammer. That night, the contractor pays Hector to get rid of the sledgehammer. Hector is wracked by his conscience, knowing that if he reports the crime, he will likely be deported. When he is stopped by a policeman, he decides to confess what he saw, reflecting that he has both earned and lost everything in his life “by lying” (23).

The next chapter is told by Aurora’s mother, a cleaning woman named Felicia. In hopes of repairing her frayed relationship with her daughter, Felicia forces Aurora to go to a dance party in front of the Echo Park mercado featured in the Madonna music video “Borderline.” A drive-by shooter fires into the dancers just when Felicia is shoving Aurora, and Alma Guerrero is resultantly killed. Grieving neighbors blame Felicia and Aurora for Alma’s death. Felicia is then offered a cleaning job out of sympathy from a wealthy white family, the Calhouns. Over the course of her time cleaning for the Calhouns, Felicia forms an unexpected bond with Mrs. Calhoun, who is unhappily married to a closeted gay man. On her last day working for the family, Felicia receives a letter and a list of items passed on by Mrs. Calhoun, who has drowned herself in the swimming pool.

Chapter 3 is narrated by Beatriz, Aurora’s guilt-ridden grandmother. On the same day that Alma is shot, Beatriz sees a vision of Our Lady of Guadeloupe, the Mexican incarnation of the Virgin Mary. Beatriz thinks about being raised by her own grandmother, who made Beatriz strong and independent. These qualities helped Beatriz escape her uncle’s abuse, but they also cut off her sense of empathy, leading her to spitefully deny a home and financial support to her sisters, her mother, and her daughter, Felicia. Our Lady of Guadeloupe tells Beatriz that by denying her family—and forcing her mother to raise Felicia—Beatriz has put herself on a lonely path.

Chapter 4 is told by Efren Mendoza, a bus driver who briefly flirts with Felicia. Efren explains that by adhering to straight jobs, he has avoided the gang lifestyle of his father and brother. A rule follower, he dislikes illegal immigrants and speaks disdainfully about racial tensions between Mexican-Americans and African-Americans in different Los Angeles neighborhoods. One night on his bus, a racially-motivated fight breaks out between a young African-American man and a Mexican-American passenger. Efren kicks the African-American man off the bus, rationalizing that he is protecting his passengers from violence. When the light changes, Efren accidentally runs over the African-American man. A race-driven riot breaks out as a result, and angry locals drag an innocent Mexican-American man off the bus and beat him to death. Overwhelmed by the situation, Efren puts on his “Out of Service” sign, drops off his passengers, then drives through the night and stops in Echo Park. There, a strange passenger boards the bus and asks Efren to drive him somewhere, saying he will know where to stop when he gets there.

The fifth chapter is narrated by Efren’s brother, Manny Mendoza. Though Manny has been a gang member for his entire life, we learn that he has been cautious and conflict-avoidant. Manny’s “boring” approach to gang life stemmed from personal guilt after learning that his father shot Alma Guerrero. In the present moment, Manny has a final lunch with his son, Juan, who is leaving to join the army. Manny knows that he should protest Juan’s entry into the army on behalf of his deceased wife, Ofelia, but he still feels conflicted about many of Juan’s choices. He explains that Juan is marrying a local, Mexican-American girl name Angie, in part because his mother disapproved of interracial relationships. Manny recalls that he felt a connection with the family of Juan’s previous girlfriend, a Vietnamese woman named Tran.

Chapter 6 is told by a thief and hustler named Freddy, who grew up in Echo Park but has spent “nineteen of forty-two years” (105) in prison. Freddy wanders Echo Park in search of his mistress, Cristina (Hector’s former mistress and the mother of Angie, Juan’s wife). Freddy is overwhelmed by the gentrification his neighborhood has undergone while he’s been serving time. At a bar, Freddy attempts to con a man; the man beats him up in response. Freddy then boards an out-of-service bus (the bus driven by Efren Mendoza) and asks the driver to take him away.

The seventh chapter is told from Angie’s point of view. Unwilling to follow her best friend, Duchess, to work at a bank, she applies for a job at a clothing store in the affluent white neighborhood of Glendale. Angie spends a few years attending college and attempting to move beyond her old neighborhood, though she finds herself unable to get a permanent job. She approaches Duchess, who is still working at the bank, and attempts to mend the rift between them; however, she turns down Duchess’s generous offer to help her take a job as the supervisor of the bank. Angie lives with her mother, Cristina, who falls into a deep depression as she ages and gains weight. When Cristina dies, Angie sells their old house to pay off her student loans, and begins dating Juan. Shortly before Angie and Juan’s wedding, Duchess is stabbed and killed while attempting to intervene in a confrontation with a local woman at her bank. Two weeks after the wedding, Juan ships out for army training. Soon after that, a pregnant Angie learns that Juan has been killed in action.

Chapter 8 is from Aurora’s perspective. A now grown-up Aurora visits her mother, Felicia, to help her clean the house. Their relationship is still very tense, and the two women communicate in accusations and defensive statements. Aurora forgets to close the house gate and accidentally lets Felicia’s dog run away. Searching for the dog melts some of the tension and connects Aurora and Felicia, leading to an accidental encounter and reconnection with Beatriz.

The Madonnas of Echo Park explores themes of family, social inequality, gender roles and performance, immigrant displacement, and the complexities of Mexican-American legacy and identity. Framed by the shifting counters of Echo Park, Skyhorse’s book examines the changing climate of a neighborhood through numerous waves of gentrification.

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