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.
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.
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