by Chanel Ward
Critically Acclaimed writer of numerous books, recipient of numerous awards and named by National Public Radio, “a literary badass” Luís Alberto Urrea visited the Auraria Campus on October 25th. Metropolitan State University (MSU) of Denver hosted its 21st Richard T. Castro Distinguished Visiting Professorship, where Urrea was the honored keynote speaker and professorship recipient.
Virginia Castro, the widow of Richard T. Castro, introduced Urrea to the packed St. Cajetan’s church to both college and high school students who were eager to hear from the man whose book, The Devil’s Highway: A True Story, which they are currently reading in their classes, give a glimpse into his life, successes and writing the best-selling book.
Urrea was born in Tijuana México to a Mexican father and American mother. Urrea said about his hometown, “Everybody I loved, everybody I worshiped, everybody that was magical to me, everything that was magical to me was in Tijuana!”
He continued, “We’re sacred. Mexicano’s especially, are sacred. I learned this in funny ways, man.”
His best work also came about in unexpected ways.
The Devil’s Highway was a work of hesitation when Urrea was first approached by a big publication, “The Devil’s Highway came about in May of 2001, when this [The Yuma 14] was the single largest death event on the modern border and I already wrote several border books,” said Urrea. “You could argue that all of my poetry and all of my books are border related, or ‘us’ related,” he added. “The responsibility of all those deaths is very great and I don’t want to deal with the border patrol. I’m from Tijuana man, we don’t hang out with border patrol agents.” Urrea told the publisher whose one question changed his mind, “Do you trust anyone else to write that story?” To which he answered, “No!”
The crowd was immediately engaged and Urrea spoke intimate and candidly from the very beginning to the time he left the campus. He used humor to relate to the varying age groups, genders and races; satire is what he is known for executing so well in his writing and was matched in his speaking.
“I go out for the National Endowment for the Arts and talk to communities, especially high school kids now. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands, of our kids, who are sad and scared and embarrassed and afraid and ashamed, and they didn’t earn any of it.” Urrea expressed, while adding, “I have to go spread love to kids who have been beat up. They get beat up every time they turn on the TV.”
In his closing remarks, Urrea offered words of inspiration: “It’s beautiful, whatever your dream is, don’t let it go. Life will try to take it away from you. People will try to take it away from you. They try to take away your selfhood… If you want to change the world, elect women, women of color. Testosterone poisoning is destroying everything.”
During the answer and question segment, a student at MSU asked about Urrea’s thoughts on the current migrant caravan to, which he responded, “Well, I think migrant caravan is propaganda, that’s not what it is at all. It’s a group of people fleeing death, and pain and destruction. The original group came out of Honduras – and just to put it in personal perspective, I’ll give you a little anecdote – I have cousins in Honduras, the Urrea’s all around the world are related,” said Urrea, while detailing a heart wrenching story on the exact destruction that they are fleeing from.
Urrea was the 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist for nonfiction work with The Devils Highway. His books are available at bookstores near you; you can also download the digital version of The Devils Highway, or get the audiobook narrated by Urrea. For more about Urrea: luisurrea.com.
Chanel Ward is an Independent Reporter for The Weekly Issue/El Semanario.
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