Interview with Xavier Garza, Part 2

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

La Lechuza comes after naughty children, illustrated by Garza

La Lechuza comes after naughty children, illustrated by Garza

This is the second of a four part interview with author and illustrator Xavier Garza, 2005 América’s Award Honor Book winner. This interview was conducted electronically by Janine Schall.

Janine: A number of your books deal with traditional, folkloric aspects of Hispanic culture such as the Chupacabras and La Lechuza. Why do these characters keep recurring in your writing? Why do you think children enjoy these figures so much?

Xavier: We love our Cucuys. We love to be scared. I grew up an avid reader, feeding my head with books such as Stories that Must Not Die, by Juan Sauvageau. I remember a book critic asking me about the practice of using scary stories to frighten children, questioning its use. I told him that it isn’t any different from what happens in American mainstream culture. What we call the Cucuy, they call the Boogeyman. It’s the same thing, with a cultural twist. I was raised by storytellers. My dad and grandparents were storytellers. Eventually I decided to try and get my stories published, rather than just tell them. As a child the moment I was old enough to understand what was being told to me by my parents and grandparents were stories about La Llorona, La Lechuza, and other creepy stories. I didn’t realize when I was a kid, but these stories were the forming blocks that serve as the foundation for my work as a writer.

Janine: Last week several teachers I know were lamenting the fact that their students, all Latino, don’t know the traditional stories, nursery rhymes, and songs that they themselves grew up with. Do you think that this sort of cultural knowledge is being lost? Is it an inevitable part of Americanization, or it is something that we should be trying to prevent?

Xavier: I do think some aspects of our culture are being put in the back burner, but I don’t think that it is going away. If we keep telling these stories, they will keep hearing them. They will take root in the back of their heads, and always be there. My grandfather learned about La Llorona and told my father about it. He in turn told me, and I will tell my son. Americanization works both ways. Yes, American mainstream becomes part of our children’s culture, but our Mexican/Latino stories and culture also becomes a part of that mainstream. American culture is changing, and our Latino culture is at the forefront of those changes. I know that scares a lot of people who wish we were still living in the 50’s, but change is good if it makes mainstream America accept the fact that we are not a single-culture nation, I don’t think we ever were. We are a nation that is highly varied and diverse in its cultural make-up, and we are all the better for it.

In the third part of this interview Xavier will discuss language and bilingualism.

View drawings one fifth grade class made after listening to the book Charro Claus and the Tejas Kid read aloud in the slide show below. Many thanks to Karen Renteria from Roma Independent School District in Roma, Texas, for sharing her students’ work.

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24 thoughts on “Interview with Xavier Garza, Part 2

  1. Karen Renteria says:

    My students really enjoyed the read aloud that I conducted in my class on “Charro Claus and the Tejas Kid” by Xavier Garza. I think that our children need to be exposed to this type of literature so they can value their culture as well as our traditions.

  2. Nataly says:

    It’s interesting to see how children respond to literature in a variety of ways and know they can understand the literature.

  3. Ismael Perez says:

    The conversation of the author regarding Hispanic/Latino traditions is very practice here in the region of the Rio Grande Valley. It is important that we still continuing supporting our own culture by providing more literature like Xavier Garza and his experience that he brings with him in writing those amazing stories about adventure of his culture today.

  4. Alma Briones-Sarmiento says:

    I agree that many of our students are losing bits and pieces of their culture as they try to assimilate. I think that one major loss is in our language. Many of our younger generations are forgetting their language. I think it is our responsibility as parents to instill the love of culture and language that defines who we are. I agree that we our fortunate to speak English, but not at the cost of losing our language.

  5. Angelina Hilton says:

    Xavier, it is true if us as teachers continue inspiring and presenting the stories to our students, the influence and the likeness of the long lost stories will live again. We all need to be aware of our local authors and the amazing stories that are part of our growing up.

  6. Mandy Salazar says:

    I loved the student responses to the book. I think this is a great way to get the students to express themselves besides just simply writing. I have tried student responses in my classroom and the kids love it.

  7. Yvonne Ayala says:

    I think xavier is right about making sure to tell our kids/student stories that will remain for them however. Sure we have libraries filled with books but word of mouth is so much better.

  8. Natalia Ibarra says:

    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?

  9. Natalia Ibarra says:

    I think you are an inspiration for every Latino writer and the illustrations in your books are very bright and colorful. Are you working on a new story right now?

  10. Karen Barrera says:

    I think that it’s great that there are authors out there that agree that our culture is important, and that also take the time to write about it.

  11. Anne Strong says:

    I remember a few stories being told to me as a child, but I heard them from my friends. The story of Bloody Mary and the man with the hook for a hand. My parents stories were always about family history, where we came from and how we got where we are today. I am caucasian, and I wonder if this has to do with what stories I was told. Growing up in the Rio Grande Valley, I did read the book, Stories That Must Not Die.

  12. Janine Schall says:

    When I moved to the Rio Grande Valley and saw the book Stories that Must Not Die for the first time I found it really interesting that the basic stories were the same that I had heard growing up in Indiana, but the place names and character names were reflecting the Valley. I wonder how these ghost stories are changed in different areas around the US and around the world?

  13. Angelina Hilton says:

    Dr. Schall, it’s so true what you say, the stories are the same and the meaning as well, it is just the actual names of the characters and the settings are different, one prime example is la llorona, she seeems to be in every area in which each reader lives.

  14. Angelina Hilton says:

    Another story that is very much like our own, the witch owl is the indians beliving in the bird-lady, they also believed that it would take the people that were bad and everyone is afaid of her. i saw this on a taks story, but it is intresting when thinking about the similairites from our area. Xavier, i would like to invite you to be a Mystery Reader in my class.

  15. Maria Elena Guerra says:

    I really like these books by Xavier Garza. These are the kind of books you always want to go back and read over and over again. Children need these kind of books where they can relate. When you relate to a book it is much more exciting. You know its a great book when you find a new meaning every time you read it again, I can see these books having that effect.

  16. Andrea B. Garcia says:

    When I was growing up, I remember my mom telling me many stories like La Llorona, La Lechuza, and El Cucuy, but I don’t remember being terribly frightened by them. I simply enjoyed listening to the stories again and again. I don’t think these stories ever get old. Even my older students,freshmen and sophomores, still like to listen to them. My students love to read book, Stories That Must Not Die. They are constantly asking me to borrow the book to take home and show it to their parents. I have also shared a couple of Mr. Garza’s books with my students, and they enjoyed them very much.

  17. Sonia says:

    My students loved this book! Some made connections to stories that their parents and grandparents tell them. It is important to expose our students to stories that are culturally relevant to them so they can keep part of their heritage and in turn tell them to their children.

  18. Claudia Peña says:

    I agree that we as parents have a responsibility in instilling the love of culture in our children. Being able to expose them to stories that we grew up with is a great way start!

  19. Yadira says:

    When I was growing up I was told many stories like La Llorona, El Cucuy, and El Hombre sin cabeza, just to mention a few. Many of which I heard in different versions, which made it interesting to hear and compare each one. Now, I share these stories with my students and thus they share their version with me. Yes, some of our kiddos are not familiar with these stories, but we should make them aware of them to boost their interest in such stories. They will, eventually, pass them on to others.

  20. Gracia T.Garcia says:

    Mr. Garza, I love the fact that you took in to consideration our ESL Population because not many authors do. I have to mention that as we read your books in class my students wore able not only enjoy the story but to make a connection whit the different titles.

  21. Sarah Alvarez says:

    This interview proves that books like yours are vital to our students today. A lot of the culture, folklore, and storytelling seems to be disappearing and by keeping them alive in colorful text that children enjoy reading seems like the perfect way to keep these stories alive.

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