Interview with Author Xavier Garza

by Janine M. Schall, University of Texas-Pan Amercian, Edinburg, TX

This is the first of a four part interview with Xavier Garza, author of several children’s books, including Lucha Libre: The Man in the Silver Mask, 2005 América’s Award Honor Book. Xavier was born and raised in Rio Grande City, a small town on the Texas/Mexico border. His work draws upon the cultural and linguistic influences of life in the Rio Grande Valley. Xavier now lives in San Antonio with his wife and son. This interview was conducted electronically.

Janine: Thank you for taking the time to discuss your work. The teachers I work with were very excited when I told them that I would be interviewing you. Living in the Rio Grande Valley, your books resonate with them. You grew up in the border town of Rio Grande City. How does the place and culture of your childhood affect your writing?

Xavier: All my books are based in one way or another on childhood memories about growing up along the border in my hometown of Rio Grande City. Creepy Creatures and Other Cucuys is based on stories that I grew up hearing from my grandparents and parents. Lucha Libre is based on my fond memories of such greats as El Santo, Blue Demon and Mil Mascaras. Juan and the Chupacabras is based on some of the trouble my cousin Bobby and I would get into as kids. Charro Claus is based on a combining of memories from my childhood. Zulema and the Witch Owl is inspired by my grandmother’s stories about how Witch Owls would steal children away if they were bad. To sum it up you could say that I write about what I know. I don’t know much about life in Spain, or France, but can speak volumes of what it’s like to grow up along the border.

Janine: Do you think you will continue to base your writing on childhood memories? Can you see yourself ever writing other kinds of stories?

Xavier: The border and my childhood memories are very much a part of who I am, so I definitely picture this trend continuing for some time to come. I am always most comfortable writing about things that I see as being familiar to me. However, I can’t say that I will never venture into other styles or themes, as I believe in keeping all my options open at all times. I used to say that I had no interest in writing a novel, that I was perfectly content to do short stories and picture books. Yet today I am working on my first young adult novel, Adventures in Mexican Wrestling: A Lucha Libre Novela. So I guess never say never right?

Janine: There’s a debate within the field of children’s literature about cultural authenticity — who has the right to write what story? Some people believe that any author can write any story, even if it is outside their own culture. Others believe that authors need to be cultural insiders. Where do your ideas about writing and literature fall in this debate?

Xavier: I believe that individuals are free to write about whatever theme they want to write about; however they must develop thick skin and not be offended when people question the authenticity of their work when they venture outside of what they know. Don’t get mad when somebody tells you that they love your book, but think your depiction is unrealistic. Remember, you are writing about a world you have not lived in, but they have.

Next week Xavier will discuss the influence of Hispanic culture in his books and Janine will share children’s responses to his work.

Administrator’s Note
The following books can be found in the WOW catalog:

Zulema and the Witch Owl/Zulema y la bruja lechuza.. Arte Público/Piñata Books, 2009.
Charro Claus and the Tejas Kid. Cinco Puntos Press, 2008.
Juan and the Chupacabras/Juan y el chupacabras. Arte Público/Piñata Books, 2006.
Lucha Libre: The Man in the Silver Mask: A Bilingual Cuento. Cinco Puntos Press, 2005.
Creepy Creatures and Other Cucuys. Arte Público/Piñata Books, 2004.

Please visit wowlit.org to browse or search our growing database of books, to read one of our two on-line journals, or to learn more about our mission

18 thoughts on “Interview with Author Xavier Garza

  1. Nataly says:

    Would the Mexican Wrestling Novela be related to the Lucha Libre book, with same characters and setting, or would it have a different twist to it??

  2. Karen Renteria says:

    I agree that it is important to write about what we know, about our memories. Our memories are important and are something that we should pass on as well as our traditions. I have to say that living in the border has it’s own traditions, as I too reside on the border. We need to encourage our students to write about whatever they want to express, give them the freedom to express themselves.

  3. Anne Strong says:

    I believe that you should write what you know, or you should have enough knowledge about the subject before you begin writing. Even with knowledge, you will still get criticism from somebody no matter what!

  4. Maria Elena Guerra says:

    I really liked the question addressing the debate on who can write about cultures, if the author needs to have lived within the culture or not. It was interesting to see how Mr. Garza responded to this question. I really agree with what he says. An author can write about anything but they should be ready for any questions coming to them. I have read some books that keep me wondering if the author wrote through experience or from say-so and then some illustrations are way off.

  5. Alma Briones-Sarmiento says:

    I agree that it is easier to write about a topic we can easily relate to. I find Mr. Garza’s books a valuable source of literacy for many of us and also for our students. I admire Mr. Garza’s inspiration to enrich libraries with books about our culture. I am specially fond of Lucha Libre. His books bring back many great memories of my childhood.

  6. Angelina Hilton says:

    Xavier, would you ever share your experiences about discrimination as you grew up? If you experience it through you teen or college years.

  7. Andrea B. Garcia says:

    I also believe that writers should have the liberty to write about any culture, not just their own. However, these individuals should have extensive knowledge or personal experience on what they are writing about to avoid stereotyping.

  8. Maryela Garza says:

    I have thoroughly enjoyed reading Lucha Libre and I look forward to reading other books by this author. Mr. Garza certainly portrayed what many boy’s super hero’s are in Mexico and this side of the border.

  9. stacy shenefield says:

    I agree that authors should be able to write about any theme of their choosing. History is riddled with literature and media that highlight, celebrate, and expose different cultures and people. Not all of these works are “authentic” in the most literal sense of the term, but it’s important to consider that sometime’s the most genuine, unbiased perspective can come from the outsider. While it is imperative that the author have a clear understanding of those in which they choose to write about, it is also imperative that we, as an audience (both insiders and outsiders), find the value in understanding how others are perceived.

  10. Chris Mayne says:

    Xavier,
    I am excited to hear about the young adult novel! Students can that have enjoyed your picture books stories can continue to appreciate your stories on a different level. You are a good role model for my students.

  11. Idalou Garza says:

    I really enjoy reading Mr. Garza’s books, they bring so much excitment not just for me but for my students. They really like his books and they can read them over and over again and share their experiences with their classmates again.

  12. Rosa E. Reyes says:

    I identify with Mr. J. Garza’s book, Lucha Libre: The Man in the Silver Mask. I grew up seeing movies about Santo, El Enmascarado de Plata fighting zombies, vampires, and wrestling against the rudos who wanted for him to lose his mask. He was always on the side of the law. When I read the book to my students they laguhed because I was making the movements of los luchadores and pretending to jump from el rin. I was shouting Santo, Santo, Santo!I also lived across a “Arena de Lucha Libre.” I assisted a couple of times. Your book brings me pleasant childhood memories. Keep up the good work!

  13. Sarah S. says:

    Mr. Garza came to our school three years ago for an author visit with Lucha Libre. We decorated the library as a wrestling ring and the students made their own masks. It was super neat! The librarians chose a class from each grade level to attend the visit and my class was one of the ones chosen. All the students in my class received a copy of Lucha Libre. They loved it (even though they were in 6th grade and it was a “kid” book)and they loved the visit. They all got their copies signed and were so excited to be part of the experience. I highly recommend asking Mr. Garza to come for a school visit especially if you are with a school in the Rio Grande Valley. The kids really enjoy meeting a successful author who writes about what they know.

  14. Ismael Perez Jr says:

    I have had the opportunity to read some of your books and came to our classroom about semester ago at UT- Pan American in Edinburg, Texas. I appreciate your writing you bring to our area in the Rio Grande Valley, I feel it is important to share those stories that you have heard as a kid and bring to the public to know about and explore. I would like to ask, “What do you think people in the Valley find it hard to write about their experience and way of life in the valley into a book?” I know the RGV has lots of wonderful experience to many in growing up near the border.

  15. Rogelio Rios says:

    Its very interesting to read about Xavier Garza’s stories when he was growing up. I also like the fact that with his stories he is carrying them to future readers.

  16. Xavier says:

    I would like to say thanks to all of you for both your kind words and support. All my stories I always say come from el Valle, so in a very real sense I owe who I am to the Rio Grande Valley. I also noticed some of you had questions. I will try to answer as many of them as I can over the next few days.

    Xavier Garza
    ps.
    Sarah S. Yes,I remeber the wrestling ring. It was a lot of fun to do my stories inside of a wrestling ring!

    1. Would the Mexican Wrestling Novela be related to the Lucha Libre book, with same characters and setting, or would it have a different twist to it??

    Adventures in Mexican Wrestling I am treating as a separate book from Lucha Libre – The Man in the Silver Mask, but they will share some similarities. It is a book composed of 14 chapters that tells us about a boy named Margarito who idolizes lucha libre. The story has a few twists and turns that make hopefully for a fun read for both kids and adults alike.

    2. Xavier, would you ever share your experiences about discrimination as you grew up? If you experience it through you teen or college years.

    I grew up in the valley, where most of the population is Hispanic, so didn’t face much discrimination at home. When my parents migrated to work in the fields out of state however, this was another matter. There were certain restaurants, convenience stores and parts of town where my grandmother would say we couldn’t go. “They don’t want us there,” is what my grandmother would say. I didn’t know it back then, but it was because they viewed us as being illegal’s even if we were born in America.

  17. Xavier says:

    3. In your research what aspects of a story make you decide this is the story I want to write? Have you ever thought about writing about Mexican greatest comedians and their adventures?

    My research method is pretty simple. If its something I can relate to, I write about it. I love scary stories, lucha libre and the like, so they are a very big part of what I write about. I grew up with characters like Cantinflas, Sarah Garcia, Capulina, El Chavo/Chapulin Colorado and Tin Tan. I have no plans to touch on them just yet, but never say never, I always say. Pedro Infante for example gets mentioned a couple of times in Adventures in Mexican Wrestling.

    4. Have you ever considered writing about current events that relate to our Mexican American culture and may have an impact on children or adolescent readers, such as the barrier that is being built along the border???

    I actually touch on the border wall in the story, “Border Watch,” which will be found in my upcoming book, Kid Cyclone Fights the Devil and other Stories. One of the two main characters learns that there are something’s that a wall cant, and wont keep out. I also touch on the wall in the story of Charro Claus and the Tejas Kid.

    5. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

    My advice would be to never give up. It took me years to get published, but it can and will happen. Prepare your manuscripts and send them out. Go to book festivals and share your stories. You never know who might be there. In 2002 I was reading in Houston at the Edward James Olmos book festival, an event sponsored then by Talento Bilingue de Houston which was spearheaded by Tony Diaz. Tony is an incredible author, and a wonderful human being who has helped lots of aspiring authors. While reading there, I met Dr. Kanellos. He is the president and founder of Arte Publico Press, which is the oldest and largest publisher of Hispanic literature. That meeting led to my first book, Creepy Creatures and other Cucuys being published in 2004. Then in San Antonio I met Bobby Byrd from Cinco Puntos Press at the Guadalupe Book festival, and that meeting led to Lucha Libre becoming my second book. My message is to get your work out there, and share it with others. Don’t ever give up, keep learning and getting better at your writing, and I am sure that you can and will be published.

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