by Ramón Del Castillo
The Chicana/o Studies Department at Metropolitan State University (MSU) Denver selected Luis Alberto Urrea as the 2018 Richard T. Castro Distinguished Visiting Professor: Love, Loss, Triumph: todos somos inmigrantes, scheduled for October 25th. The Devil’s Highway, the title of one of Urrea’s books now considered a classic, a name befit for a haunted house on Halloween night or while reminiscing about our lost loved ones during Día de los Muertos, is a place where Chicana/o ancestors traveled en route to Aztlán. The nationally known book will be one of the literary centerpieces discussed during a panel at St. Cajetan’s Event Center (on the Auraria Campus) scheduled at 11am.
Urrea is no stranger to the many dangers that asylum seekers, undocumented workers, and border crossers experience on their journeys into American society, full of intrigue, suspense, and agony, at times resulting in death. This space becomes surreal for the 26 men who have forsaken all of their worldly goods to seek out la vida buena across the border, without realizing that walking through a nightmare would be the price of admission. Readers take the harrowing excursion through the Sonoran Desert with these men who have become the hunted, not just by other men, but by basic human needs such as hunger, thirst, the lack of attachment and images of zopilotes surrounding cadavers already turned into dust. The tormenting psychological images of human smugglers and middle management louts, referred to as polleros, demonstrate the evil side of human nature as Urrea paints a grotesque picture of greed. With eerie feelings of potentially being vanished in a spilt second, the sojourners are on the brink of la locura as they seek solace within searching for survival skills often untapped under normal living conditions.
His publications, whether fact or fiction, strike at the soul of the Chicana/o community as he vividly describes the pain, sorrow, happiness and challenges of barrio life through written images.
Encountering the wicked forces of the bilingual coyote, who is transformed into a face of distorted obsession and a conniving negotiator whose hunger for money is really an appetite for the morbid while he lures in lost and desperate souls into his web of destruction. Gangs that have lost their collective consciousness, now turned to criminals and thieves, stalk those lost on midnight trails. Taking pennies from the poor has no boundaries. Gangs take from unemployed undocumented workers and mothers looking for safe havens often robbing them at gunpoint for a mere pittance.
Urrea stretches the White-Black paradigm of race relations and forces the reader to transform invisible brown folks, who have traversed this land for centuries, into a visible foray of tragedy, as they scour the desert, looking for the spiritual strength to survive. His intricate detail of how the body’s thirst for water can internally be malformed into dry cat gut and parched throats, revives the imagination of those fortunate souls who can turn on the faucet and drink of the cool waters of faucets in urban society.
His book hit the marketplace at an opportune time, a time when the lack of comprehensive immigration policy continues to tear the fabric of our nation into shreds while immigrants become the scapegoats for all of América’s ills and misfortunes. It comes at a time when Latin American immigrants have been subjected to the theft of their children and deprivation of due process of law has become the norm. This book has the power to penetrate the ironclad minds closed by the cataracts of the times and whose empathic skills are shut even tighter. Don’t miss this scholar whose work will soon be transformed into theatrical dimensions.
Another highpoint of this year’s event is a panel discussion on immigration at 9:30 am. Two of the panelists include Jeannette Vizguerra, a woman who sacrificed her freedom by taking sanctuary in a Denver church. She was touted in Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Often referred to as a “clarion voice” for the people, Vizguerra’s activism for the powerless continues. Another panelist, Hans Meyer, known for his razor-sharp tongue and legal scholarship, is a local attorney who has advocated for immigrant rights for several years. He confronted ICE Agents outside of Denver courts as they harassed immigrants, accusing agents of brutalizing and terrorizing the innocent sojourners as they entered courts of law. His belief is that ICE agents should not be meddling in areas that should constitutionally be governed by the feds.
Urrea’s well published works include creative works that now infiltrate American literature classes, offering perspectives left out of the Master narrative. During the afternoon session, students will have an opportunity to converse with Urrea regarding his other publications that include but are not limited to, “Humming Bird’s Daughter,” and “Vatos.” His publications, whether fact or fiction, strike at the soul of the Chicana/o community as he vividly describes the pain, sorrow, happiness and challenges of barrio life through written images. Prolific writer Rudolfo Anaya characterizes the Humming Bird’s Daughter with the following comments; “Immensely entertaining…An extraordinary novel… [breathing] life, populated with multiple, complex, and genuinely individual characters…He has created a world that stands on its own.”
The legacy of Richard T. Castro, whose motto, “Liberty and Justice for all, no Exceptions,” marches forward as the Chicana/o Studies Department introduces a nationally known writer and scholar to this community. The event begins at 9:30am and will end after a 5pm reception at St. Cajetan’s Event Center on the Auraria campus.
Everyone is welcome.
The schedule for the Oct. 25 event:
9:30 – 10:45am Panel Discussion with Immigration Experts and Community Members
11:00am – 12:15pm Keynote Address and Q&A
2:00-3:15pm Student Discussion Session
3:30-4:30pm Open House and Castro Exhibit at Casa Mayan
All events are free and open to the public. All portions of the event will be held in St. Cajetan’s Event Center on the Auraria Campus (Speer and Colfax in Denver).
Dr. Ramón Del Castillo is an Independent Journalist. © 10-15-2018 Ramón Del Castillo.
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