Carmen Aguirre’s latest memoir plumbs the depths of life-changing violence

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      Mexican Hooker #1
      By Carmen Aguirre. Random House Canada, 280 pp, hardcover

      Based on title alone, you might imagine Carmen Aguirre’s second memoir—the follow-up to the best-selling, Canada Reads–picked memoir Something Fierce—to be funny and bold, maybe a little crass. And it is. But Mexican Hooker #1, which dives into Aguirre’s life both before and after her work as a Chilean revolutionary, is much more than that. A deep, soul-searching book that plumbs the depths of Aguirre’s existence, it reveals the guts it took for her to become a real artist—and to recover from her childhood rape by the infamous and psychotic Paper Bag Rapist, a serial offender who assaulted more than 140 women, girls, and boys in the Lower Mainland over a 10-year span in the 1970s and 1980s.

      Let’s back up for a minute before we return to that shock. It’s not necessary to have read Something Fierce to enjoy Mexican Hooker #1; Aguirre’s deft storytelling ensures you know enough about her years working for the MIR (Movement of the Revolutionary Left) to follow along as she darts between her innocent pre-Pinochet years in Chile, her struggles to belong as a newly minted “brown” girl in California, and, later, her wild early adulthood, when she dates a famous Argentine basketball player, attends theatre school in Vancouver, and travels to Los Angeles to immerse herself in the edgy Latino artist scene. Her writing is fluid, funny, and vibrantly alive. And along the way, in brief, measured flashbacks, she reveals both the terror wrought by the Chilean coup and the rape that changed her life.

      A real-life bogeyman who ambushed his victims in secluded areas and psychologically tortured them, the Paper Bag Rapist gained his nickname due to his m.o. of placing a paper bag over his victims’ heads so they couldn’t see him—and Aguirre’s slow revelation of her rape mirrors the way this traumatic event followed her throughout her life and ultimately shaped her creative path. The telling itself is a triumph of Aguirre’s artistic education and the skills she won via trying, and failing, to come to terms with her trauma in the theatre world. “I still had to learn how to talk about violence onstage without it being too personal or so offensive that it turned people off instead of simply engaging them,” she comments after a particularly daring performance. “It would be a lifelong search in my artistic journey, trying to find that balance, for I knew that the stories I wanted to explore would inevitably include violence.”

      And so Mexican Hooker #1 does—and damned if it isn’t engaging. And personal. By its conclusion, it may bring you to tears, as it did me.