Wednesday, March 28, 2012

By The Lake Of Sleeping Children by Luis Alberto Urrea

       By the Lake of Sleeping Children is a follow-up to Luis Alberto Urrea's first book "Across the Wire: Life and Hard Times on the Mexican Border" which showed what life is really like for those living on the Mexican side of the border and what a difference their life is like compared to those living in nearby San Diego on the United States side of the border.
       We were lucky enough to get an interview with Luis Alberto Urrea and I originally wanted to ask him questions about his writing in general but as I read this book I had so many questions about what I was reading. 

       Luis, I'd first like to thank you for your time. I wanted to ask a few questions about the book and also post a few quotes that I found interesting and thought I should share with our readers.
Art: My first question is about the man who asked what you were writing in your journal. You told him you were writing about him and you were unsure how he was going to react.  How did he react and what did he say to you? 

 Luis: He was startled and, perhaps, a bit miffed. I'm not sure. But he gave me what was my God-calling moment. That epiphanic minute. He said: "Good. Godd. Write it down. I was born in the trash. I have spent my life picking the trash. And when I die, they'll bury me in the trash. You tell them I was here." Can you imagine? He set my agenda...forever. Right there. I never saw him again. In my feverish moments, I think he was an angel working undercover.

“My father raised me to be 100% Mexican. My mother raised me to be 100% American. If, as some have suggested lately, I am a “voice of the border” it is because the border runs down the middle of me" 

Yeah, one half of the apartment was Sinaloa and the other half was Long Island.

    Art: You wrote about a very tough woman (understatement?), “Negra” in your book and how you’d write her autobiography someday. How’s that coming along and can you tell us a story about her that didn’t make it into the book? 
     Luis: There are a million stories about her.  Here's the big one.  She told me why her daughters would never pick trash like she did.  She was working in the dompe one day and felt a rock in her shoe.  But she couldn't stop.  It was a busy day.  When she finally did get her shoe off to shake out the stone, what she shook out was a chopped off human finger.

      She has a cell phone now.  We text each other often.  She is running a small beauty shop in downtown Tijuana.  Trying to stay alive.  I still haven't gotten her book worked out.  Partially because of time and publisher constraints.  If some strong Chicana author wants to write that book, call me.  I'll give you Negra's number.

By the way--Nayeli in INTO THE BEAUTIFUL NORTH is based on Negra's daughter. Nayeli. As soon as the book clears its advance and starts to make money, I am sending them 10% of everything. Including movie money. They don't know this yet. So c'mon, everybody--keep buying it! Hahaha.

 “They come here to make their best efforts, to work – to work hard- to better themselves, to enjoy a better world, to get educated and to prosper. It’s the American dream writ large. They’re just writing it in Spanish.”

Luis: I just wrote an essay for ORION magazine about this. It's called "Manifest Density." Check it out in the next issue.

Art: When you first described your experiences and what you saw in the dumps in Tijuana I'm sure a lot of people thought they knew what to imagine, "trash and a bad smell". What is the one thing most people are surprised to hear when you describe what really goes on there?

 Luis: Love, man. Humanity. They find themselves crying about people they would reel from. Then they send money. It's a little secular miracle.

"They come across the wires in the dark. We walk through their gates on the same night. They dream of our beds, our cars,our clothing. We eat the fruits they pick for us - our salads are washed in their sweat, our strawberries and tomatoes and cotton are passed to us by their fingers. They stare at us through the fence and wonder what our problem is. We keep our doors locked to them and we let them feed us and when we're through with them we pay men in Jeeps to throw them out. We send our losers to their town to entertain themselves. We pass each other on the way, and we never look into each others eyes."

Art: I was reading the book thinking, "My kids need to read this." and especially when I came to the part of Eduardo's funeral. As a father, it's hard for me to read that and you're a father too. How hard was it for you write that part of his story?

Luis: I was callow.  I was a young buck with girlfriends and no kids. Now...hmm. I can only tell you how bad it was to write something like THE DEVIL'S HIGHWAY. I knew what it meant to lose my dad--that was what had driven me to the garbage dumps in the first place. But I could not have imagine that kind of pain. Writing DH tore me apart. Don't want to think about it now

I'll tell you as great story, though. There was a small indie bookstore in Tucson, since defunct. They were called Coyote's Voice. And rather than sell Self-Help books, they'd sell people Across the Wire instead. The owner would say,"You think you've got problems? You dont have problems. These people have problems". Seeing the current racist hard-hearts running Arizona right now, I can see that not enough people went to Coyote's Voice.

Art: I really enjoyed this book, Luis. It was an eye opener to say the least and I appreciate you taking the time to answer the questions I had. I'm moving on to "Into The Beautiful North" next. That is as soon as the copy I bought arrives. Thank you. 
Luis: You're welcome. 

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