A New Anthology of Mexican-American Literature
I found the missing book in my library.
A fantastic new anthology of Mexican-American literature, “Nepantla Familias”, delves into the memories of writers who have experienced a culture that oscillates between cultures.
Not all writers are Texans, but it belongs to any up-to-date Texan library.
Sergio Troncoso, resident faculty member of the Yale Writers’ Workshop and president of the Texas Institute for Letters, edited this slim but essential volume of Texas State University’s Wittliff Collections in partnership with Texas A&M University Press.
I interviewed him recently.
American statesman: The Aztec “Nepantla” is a beautiful word. Tell us why you chose it for the topic of this anthology.
Sergio Troncoso: I wanted to create an anthology centered on the liminal existence so essential to the Mexican-American experience: living between worlds, languages, cultures and even psychologies. This “middle ground” of Nepantla deserves its own authenticity and recognition, and is a place that can unleash as much creativity as frustration when navigating and choosing your identity. Nepantla is also a universal experience, so this idea of common ground should appeal to readers even if they’re not Mexican-Americans.
Almost all of the stories – fiction, non-fiction, and poetry – are intensely personal and often told in the first person. Have you looked for this quality?
I asked these writers to write new works – 25 of the 30 works in this collection appear for the first time in the anthology – and to write about Nepantla as it happens in families. Because it is in these personal spaces that identity is negotiated, thwarted, created as you balance many different worlds, including the traditional values of parents and the new values you might embrace as an “American” .
Thus, the “intensely personal” nature of these narratives, whether non-fiction, poetry or fiction, is due to the subject. Writing about families is about as personal as it is to any writer.
Some of your contributors are familiar, but many are not. How did you find them?
I asked. Which means that I interviewed writers that I knew, and I told them about the anthology and my idea of finding new work on Nepantla but through families. I have asked writers to recommend other writers. I read writers I didn’t know. I wanted the best contributions on this complex and rich subject matter, as it is a subject that plays out in so many important ways, from tragedy to comedy and back again.
The book seems very current in terms of Mexican-American writing. What’s the best way for the general reader to stay on top of the best in the business?
“Nepantla Familias” is a very forward-looking anthology. I wanted to write not only for my generation, but for my children’s generation, and what they might experience in the future as Mexican Americans.
I think the best advice is to read widely. Mexican American writers publish in little magazines, the New Yorker, and everything. I meet writers at conferences, invite them to speak or teach at Yale, meet them online, and constantly ask for recommendations.
Who do I read now? We are all overworked, but I get a certain thrill every time I discover a great new voice in our community’s literature.
It reminds me of how much El Paso in particular is a literary center. Why do you think this is so?
The best writing in Texas, in my opinion, is from El Paso.
Firstly, I think El Paso has a long literary tradition, from Mariano Azuela who wrote his flagship work “Los de Abajo” to El Segundo Barrio in 1915, to Benjamin Alire Saenz who worked on “Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club “in the Sunset Heights Neighborhood in present-day literary times.
Second, El Paso has been a crossroads for how the United States approaches, interacts and even vilifies Latin America and its immigrants; the town is South Ellis Island. This place is rich in linguistic creativity, the contradictions and possibilities of immigration, and the liminal existence of Nepantla, living between worlds.
Third, living in Nepantla enables people in border areas to see the need to choose who you are, rather than taking an identity for granted. To live in Nepantla, as I have often said, is to live philosophically, to live with questions to be answered, to live with one’s identity as an immediate question to be answered.
Fourth – and I could go on, but I won’t – El Paso is where the West meets the South in the United States.
Some of the stories deal with difficult topics, such as gang rape. How do you prepare readers for this kind of topic?
There is a story, “The Hole in the House” by Sheryl Luna, which mentions a stepfather’s abuse of the author in the first sentence, and goes on to describe the author’s struggles as well as the resilience of the author. and his mother to overcome this problem. abuse.
So I don’t want to sensationalize or distort what’s in the book.
There are other essays, such as “Losing My Mother Tongue” by Reyna Grande, which explore linguistic discrimination against children to eliminate the use of Spanish in schools. Or “In (toxic) ated Masculinity” by Alex Espinoza, which focuses on alcohol abuse and sexuality.
All of these works are part of the Nepantla experience, as are humorous, thoughtful, tragic, or life-affirming works. Readers have to be adults, and if they want a book that will hold deep meaning for them, whether they are Mexican Americans or not, then they should choose “Nepantla Familias”.
Here in Austin, the Ransom Center and the Benson Latin American Library at the University of Texas both appear to be collecting Hispanic records at an increasing rate, while the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University in San Marcos do the same with a different set of authors. . What role can they play in promoting Mexican American writers, and what other Texas literary archives are doing a good job in this area?
The Wittliff Collections published “Nepantla Familias” in partnership with Texas A&M University Press. It is therefore a fundamental means for these archives to promote Mexican American writers. The Wittliff also created a long-standing “Nepantla Familias” exhibition, in which many of the anthology’s authors donated material about their families, including dozens of photos, music and other artifacts.
These archives, like the Wittliff, must take Mexican-American authors seriously, as the best of Texan literature, as the future of our state. For too long, the literary powers of Texas have given Mexican-American authors only a symbolic nod, or have ignored them altogether.
How long did it take for Mexican-American literature to be considered one of the richest veins of Texan literature at the University of Texas? I would say the Wittliff is leading the way in doing a good job focusing on Mexican American writers in Texas. I thank Steve Davis and David Coleman for this leadership.
You help lead two prestigious groups that promote writing: the Texas Institute of Letters and the Yale Writers’ Workshop. How can these groups encourage, train and promote fantastic writers like the ones portrayed in your book?
By paying attention to them. By reading their work. By promoting them and putting them in a position of power. It’s not that hard.
Many literary institutions in Texas and beyond have ignored or stereotyped Mexican-American writers. “Nepantla Familias” shows the literary talent we have in our community, talent that wins national and international awards and scholarships, that sells hundreds of thousands of books, that are published in places ranging from the New Yorker to Plowshares to the Yale Review.
In recent years, the Texas Institute of Letters has inducted more Mexican-American writers than ever before, and they’ve won our Lifetime Achievement Award, including Pat Mora, Sandra Cisneros, Benjamin Alire Saenz and John Rechy. But the reality is, these writers should have won the top prize years ago.
The Institute is therefore evolving, but it is catching up with today’s reality. That is to say: we have great Mexican American writers in this country. The literary institutions and publishers on the East Coast, especially in New York, are even further behind than the Institute, but suddenly there is more interest in Mexican American writers in New York as well. Hope this is a lifelong relationship, not a short term fling.
We will see.
Michael Barnes writes about the people, place, culture and history of Austin and Texas. He can be contacted at [email protected]