Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Texas Two-Step

I will be at the Texas Book Festival this Friday, to meet with friends (my real reason for flying to Austin), but also to read from and talk about new anthologies which include two of my stories: Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery, and Literary El Paso.

Hit List has one of my newer stories, “A New York Chicano,” about a transplanted Texan in New York who decides to do something about the biased news against Latinos he sees on TV every night. Literary El Paso has the first story I wrote at Yale as a graduate student in philosophy, when I was deciding how to bridge the gap between my love of literature and my interest in philosophy. “The Abuelita” was what I wrote one night in Sterling Library.

It’s always a wonder when you see yourself in print, and every book, even when you are just a small part of it, gives you memorable experiences. For Hit List, it was meeting wonderful writers like Richie Narvaez and Carlos Hernandez and reading with them in New York. At the Texas Book Festival, I’ll be reading with Rolando Hinojosa, Lucha Corpi, and Sarah Cortez (editor, with Liz Martínez, of the anthology). Lucha is the only one I don’t know, but I can’t wait to make another new literary friend.

Literary El Paso was published this month, and friends (some más, others menos) are in it like Dagoberto Gilb, David Romo, Ramon Rentería, Alicia Gaspar de Alba (she’s also in both anthologies), Denise Chávez (la querida Denise!), Ana Castillo (loved The Guardians), Christine Granados, Bobby and Lee Byrd, Lex Williford, Daniel Chacón (kudos on the American Book Award for the Burciaga book!), Rich Yañez, Sheryl Luna, Ben Saenz, Ray Gonzalez, and Carolina Monsivaís. Man, my fingers are sore from all the name-dropping typing, but note, El Paso has plenty of talent. Editor Marcia Hatfield Daudistel has done an admirable job and produced a gem for my bookshelf.

But for me the most interesting Literary El Paso experience (so far) has been making a YouTube video reading parts of “The Abuelita.” I received an email from the El Paso Media group, asking authors to make a short video reading excerpts of their stories or essays. I decided to play with my iMac, sit in front of it for intimacy (like an online chat), record the video, add music, and most importantly, add a picture of my abuelitos, Doña Dolores Rivero and Don José Rivero. You can take a look at my video here: “The Abuelita.”

I became a writer because of Doña Dolores. She was a force of nature, a survivor of the Mexican Revolution who had shot and killed two men attempting to rape her. (“Mi’jo, there was no police, nada, in the middle of the desert. In el rancho, you had to defend yourself, or die trying.”) When I wrote “The Abuelita,” I wanted people never to forget Doña Dolores. Not only was I writing about her, but I was writing for her. These people, the salt of the earth, deserve their stories be told, deserve their voices be heard.

I have met many accomplished, wealthy, and famous people in Harvard, Yale, the Hudson Valley Writers’ Center, and Manhattan, but no one has possessed half the character of my abuelita. Look into those eyes at the beginning of the video, and you will see what I mean. If you lied to her, she’d know before you finished the sentence and she wouldn’t let you get away with it. I miss her every single day. Maybe in Austin I can find a musician with an acordeón to play a corrido in her honor.