Monday, February 08, 2016

On Writing About Mexico: Secrets and Surprises (UTEP Centennial Lecture)

From the transcript of  my lecture "Writing About Mexico: Secrets and Surprises" University of Texas El Paso, Centennial Lecture, October 7, 2015. 

(Podcast coming soon).

My husband, who is Mexican, likes to joke that I missed being born Mexican by five miles. You might guess that means that I was born right here in El Paso—this "City of Surprises," as writer and editor Marcia Hatfield Daudistel calls it. My dad was an artillery officer stationed at Fort Bliss—and I understand that he took some engineering classes here at UT El Paso. So it is a very special honor for me, as a native El Pasoan, to have been invited to speak to you today.

I can't say it's like coming home, because my parents are from Chicago and New York, and when I was still a baby, my dad decided on a career in business, and he took the family out to California—to the part of the San Francisco Bay Area now known as Silicon Valley. Culturally speaking, I'm a Californian.

But back to El Paso—to quote Marcia Hatfield Daudistel again— this "dark-eyed stranger abducted into Texas by the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848."

For me, to be here in El Paso is like coming home in another, deeply meaningful sense. This is a border city. I am a border person. Where others might be... let's say, a little nervous... we border people go back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico with ease, we are oftentimes bilingual, bicultural— or at least we don't blink at some of the more exotic juxtapositions, whether culinary or musical, and the mixed up lingo. I too, have been known to speak my gringa-chilanga version Spanglish—or, I might throw clumps of español—para que me entiendes bien— into my English.

I don't live on the border geographically, but culturally. I mean to say, when I got married 29 years ago, my husband and I moved to Mexico City—his home town, Chilangolandia—and now I have lived in Mexico City for more years than I have lived anywhere else, including California. And I should mention, I don't live in Mexico as a typical expat, coccooned among my fellow Americans and Canadian snowbirds. I am enconsed in a Mexican family, living in a Mexican neighborhood, and I have many very dear Mexican friends and colleagues.

Long story short, over the last three decades of my life, although I remain a U.S. citizen, Mexico has become my world. This is why my books are all about Mexico.

I hope my books might be both beautiful and useful—I write them with as much courtesy for the reader as I can muster. But the truth is, the reason I write them is because I want to delve in and explore the complexity around me, and then, having gained a new level of understanding, tell the story my way. Living in Mexico, very quickly, I learned to distrust the easy assumptions and much of the narrative about Mexico spooned out for us, whether on this side of the border or the other, whether in tourist guides, newspapers, television, paperback novels, movies. And sometimes... even in textbooks.

In Mexico, it is often said that nothing is as it seems. If you halt the show and question— sincerely and energetically question— read the bibliography, and read beyond the bibliography; take the time to interview people, really listen, with both an open mind and an open-heart; go to places and stand there and look around for yourself; roll up your sleeves and dig into the archives... it has consistently been my experience that you will uncover secrets and surprises.

Of course, that could be said about the whole world, from Azerbaijan to Zambia. And El Paso, Texas, itself. But Mexico is what my books are about. I won't stretch your patience to go on about all the books. I'm going to give you but three examples. [CONTINUE READING]

> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.