Victor Villaseñor

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Victor Villaseñor (born May 11, 1940) is a Mexican-American writer, best known for the New York Times Best Seller list novel Rain of Gold.


  • I'm showing people that indigenous people weren't stupid…At one time, we were all indigenous: the Irish, the English. We built a false premise that we're superior to the indigenous people. We've got to … show that we're in harmony with this planet.
  • We're trained to become parrots. We're trained to learn information and give it back at test time. But we're not taught to think. We're not taught how to access the genius.
  • And I realized: I've got to write the story about our people to anchor us to creation. And then no matter how much we get abused, we'll still feel special and we'll still feel good.

Burro Genius: A Memoir (2004)[edit]

ISBN 0060526122
  • I began to get up at two or three in the morning and work for twelve to fifteen hours a day. I’d get so emotionally drained by the writing, that I’d feel sick at the end of the day. My family became worried about me and they invited a friend, who was a writer in Los Angeles, to see me. He told me that he’d heard how serious I was about my writing, so he was willing to take a little time off of his busy schedule to glance at my work. I gave him the latest version of my manuscript. He took it home and came back to see me the following week. His face was long. He told me that he was sorry to say this but, as a family friend, he had the obligation to be truthful, so he’d tell me straight out that I had no talent. The book was terrible. And also, I was trying to write way beyond my mental capabilities.
  • Then I was almost thirty years old when I wrote Macho!, and finally got published after 265 rejections. Immediately, I returned to this book you’re reading, thinking I could now pull it off, but I was wrong.
  • All I knew was that I’d flunked the third grade twice because I couldn’t learn to read, had a terrible time all through grammar school and high school. Then after ten years of writing, I was finally able to sell my first book to a leading mass-market paperback publisher in New York .
  • I was TORTURED by teachers! You hear me, TORTURED!” I yelled, jerking the whole podium off the floor. “Hell, I flunked the third grade twice because—BECAUSE—” I was crying so hard that I had to wipe the tears out of my eyes with the back of my hand, but this wasn’t going to stop me. I was all guts up front now. I was in that smooth-feeling, all-true place that I got into when I’d go to my room and start writing each morning before daybreak…with all my heart and soul.
  • “My grandmother—God bless her soul—a Yaqui Indian from northern Mexico, was the greatest teacher I’d ever had! And do you know what she taught me, she taught me that each and every day is un milagro given to us by God, and that work, that planting corn and squash with our two hands is holy. She taught me all this with kindness and invitation. Not with ridicule and looking down her nose at me and making me feel like less than human when I didn’t get it at first.”
  • A whole bunch of people towards the back of the room were now getting up to leave. But these teachers were not going to intimidate me. I wasn’t my father’s and mother’s son for nada-nothing. I wasn’t my two indigenous grandmothers’ grandson for nada-nothing either. I came from a long line of people…who’d lived through starvation, revolutions, and massacre. “AND YOU!” I yelled into the microphone. “Over there in the back…who are getting up to leave…I’M GLAD THAT YOU’RE LEAVING!
  • It was truly a good thing that I’d found writing as my outlet or I was sure I would have become a mass murderer, killing all those heartless, racist teachers who’d beat us Mexican kids down since kindergarten
  • the Indians, were like the weeds. That roses you had to water and give fertilizer or they’d die. But weeds, indigenous plants, you gave them nada-nothing; hell, you even poisoned them and put concrete over them, and those weeds would still break the concrete, reaching for the sunlight of God. “That’s the power of our people,” my father would tell me, “we’re the weeds, LAS YERBAS DE TODO EL MUNDO!”
  • I still wanted to tell our teacher about how the Indian people who’d worked on the ranch for us had explained to me that Shep, who’d always loved my brother more than life itself, had disappeared, because he’d run off to the highest hilltop to intercept my brother’s soul so he could lead my brother’s soul back to heaven.
  • Dog, cats, horses, all animals could do this at will much easier than us humans, Rosa and her husband Emilio, had explained to me, because animals were much closer to God than we humans were.
  • It was still very hard for me to sometimes know where my Catholic–Christian upbringing stopped and my grandmother’s Indian teachings began. For me it was all like one big river running together with all these different waters.
  • No, teaching could be done as fast as a lightning bolt. He’d cut across the valleys of my deepest doubts, giving light to the darkest crevices of my beaten-down, inhibited mind, accessing a natural storytelling ability within me that was utterly profound!
  • So, keep your powder dry and dig in for a long, fruitful life of being a writer, that storyteller around the campfire of your people and your generation. Your trade is as old as time, and your main job is to uplift the human heart so that then we can go on with dignity and fair play. That’s it
  • Because the most important thing any man can do in all his life is pick the right woman to breed with—I mean, marry first, then breed, because from the woman comes the—” “—comes the instinct to survive,” I said, having heard this for as long as I could remember. “Good,” said mi papa,
  • Lo cortés no quita lo valiante, y lo valiante no quita lo cortés.” This I’d also heard for as long as I could remember, and it was one of our oldest Mexican dichos, sayings, and what it said was that manners didn’t take away bravery, and that bravery didn’t diminish manners.
  • I nodded. This was something that I really liked a lot about my mother and father. They were always thinking ahead so we didn’t make the same mistake twice.
  • No, my dad had well explained to me that a real man didn’t get offended if other men ridiculed him for staying close to the women of his familia. That a real hombre was proud of being close and loving with the women of his life.
Women were the foundation of any home or tribe or nation, my dad always told me
  • Seeing my mother’s red shoes disappear, I almost leaped up screaming again, but then, the boy next to me said, “Calmate,” in Spanish, “we’re going to be okay, mano.” I turned and looked at this boy. My God, his Spanish sounded so soft and comforting, and he was the most darkly handsome boy that I’d ever seen. His eyes were as large and beautiful as a goat’s eyes. Looking at him, I stopped crying.
The darkly handsome boy’s name was Ramón
Ramón went right on talking in Spanish in a calm tone of voice, saying, “They’re not our parents. They have no right to be yelling at us, especially when we’re out here by ourselves.” “I told you, NO SPANISH!” yelled the teacher, grabbing Ramón by his shoulders and shaking him. “OYE! YOU’RE NOT MY MOTHER!” shouted Ramón at the huge teacher. “Let go of me! You have no right to be grabbing me!” But she didn’t let go. No, she now grabbed him by his hair, shaking him all the more.
And she slapped him across the face, once, twice, three times, but still Ramón continued speaking in Spanish, telling us not to fear, that we were Mexicanos, and that we weren’t their slaves! I quit crying, just like that. My God, I couldn’t believe it, this boy Ramón had to be the bravest human being I’d ever seen. And the huge teacher, she just kept right on slapping him until his face was covered with blood.
And my God, Ramón was just a little five-year-old kid like the rest of us.
And each day, things at school got meaner and more terrifying than the day before. They were crucifying Ramón. They were really hitting him and hitting him, because he was the only kid among us who wouldn’t break.
  • His name was Howard, but by the way he said it, none of us were able to figure out what his name was for the first few days. Still, I liked him, so one day I tackled him out on the playground and we started wrestling on the grass.
  • The truth was that we still spoke Spanish every chance we got. And why, because, simply, it felt good to hear in the sound of the language with which our mothers had rocked us to sleep when we’d been little.
  • I liked him. He seemed a lot more animal to me than human, which was good, of course, because my grandmother, Doña Guadalupe, had always explained to me that all humans were born with an animal-spirit to help guide them through life, and so the humans who realized this would always seem more animal than human, and this was wonderful. It kept us closer to God.
  • “Look,” said Jake, “last night, after you went to bed, we told your dad how we’d come across you running away from home.” “You did?” I said. “Yes, we did. It was the honest thing to do, son. And you should’ve seen the hurt look on your dad’s face, because, you see, Mexican kids don’t run away from home. White kids, gringo kids, like me and Luke, we’re the ones who run from home, but Mexicans, they ain’t never do that.
  • I began to realize that my parents were going to build the biggest damn house in the whole town! I was shocked! “Are we rich?” I asked my brother. “Yes,” he said. “We are? Then why do I always wear dirty, old work clothes?” I asked. “Because we’re ranchers,” said my brother. “We’re not city people.” “Oh,” I said, “then it’s okay for us to be dirty?” “We aren’t dirty,” he said, laughing. “To be dirty means you never wash. We wash our clothes and take baths all the time. It’s just that people that live on a ranch get dirt on themselves.” My eyes went big. I’d never thought of this. My brother was really smart.
my brother Joseph, who was eight years older than me, could talk to the different workers on the construction site in English and in Spanish as easy as you please. He seemed to understand everything they were doing. He actually ended up helping the surveyors do some of their work. And one afternoon, I heard one of the surveyors tell the other surveyor, when my brother wasn’t around, that Joseph was a real fast learner for being a Mexican. I don’t know why, but suddenly my heart was pounding. It was like, well, I was back at school, and once more, we, los Mexicanos, were being considered dumb, stupid, slow learners.
  • Later, I heard my brother ask our father why he’d been so generous. “A man can never be too generous,” said our dad, “when he’s generous to a good, hardworking honest hombre, because that man will then break his back to do all he can for you. But…you be generous to a relative or a lazy, no-good worker, and they then think you’re a fool, lose respect for you, and start thinking you owe them something.
Generosity is a good investment when you know who to be generous with, and also, who not to be generous with.
  • It was from this day on that I began to notice a real difference between our vaqueros on the ranch from Mexico and the gringo cowboys. The American cowboys always seemed so ready to act rough and tough, wanting to “break” the horse, cow, or goat or anything else. Where, on the other hand, our vaqueros—who used the word “amanzar,” meaning to make “tame,” for dealing with horses—had a whole different attitude towards everything. To “break” a horse, for the cowboys, actually, really meant to take a green, untrained horse and rope him, knock him down, saddle him while he fought to get loose, then mount him as he got up on all four legs, and ride the living hell out of the horse until you tired him out, taught him who was boss, and “broke” his spirit. To “amanzar” a horse, on the other hand, was a whole other approach that took weeks of grooming, petting, and leading the green horse around in the afternoon with a couple of well-trained horses. Then, after about a month, you began to put a saddle on the horse and tie him up in shade in the afternoon for a couple of hours until, finally, the saddle felt like just a natural part of him. Then, and only then, did a person finally mount the horse, petting and sweet-talking him the whole time, and once more the green horse was taken on a walk between two well-trained horses.
  • It was the greatest learning summer of my whole life, but then came the fall, and I was told that I’d have to go back to school again. “NO WAY, JOSÉ!” I screamed, because I now knew that at school they were trying to “break” us, not “amanzar” us.
  • Mexican kids were now speaking quite a bit of English. Even Ramón. But he was a changed kid. There was a darkness in his eyes like a horse that had just been beaten one too many times.
  • Then I saw it. Oh, my Lord God, Ramón, he was like our very own Jesus Christ. I could now see this so clearly as he walked across the school ground. He had a glowing light all about him, because he, just like Jesus, was willing to carry the cross of crucifixion for all the rest of us lesser kids.
  • Papa always explained to me that there is no such thing as a kids’ game. That there are only games with which kids are learning the facts of life, but it’s the parents that are so tapados—so blind and constipated that they can’t see what these games are really all about.
  • “Mundo, you start paying closer attention to our mama and papa. They didn’t get this far in life because their eyes are closed.” I nodded. I’d never had a conversation like this before with my brother Joseph
  • “Mama’s beautiful?” I asked. “Are you blind?” said my brother. “Don’t you see how men and women are always looking at our mother everywhere she goes. Our mother is more beautiful than any movie star you’ll ever see, and yet this isn’t why papa chose her. He chose her, he’s told us a thousand times, because when he first saw her, she was in line to go into the dance hall over in Carlos Malo with her brother and sister. And when a fight broke out, she didn’t get excited and enjoy it like her sister and the other women. No, she and her brother moved away, wanting no part of it, and so, by seeing this, papa knew that she was a woman of high intelligence, respect, and responsibility; a person that he could trust with his life. And trust, remember, is the foundation of all love, papa says.”
  • Suddenly, I wondered what the hell was going on. Ramón had been the smartest and most capable guy in our whole grade in “thinking” and “figuring” out things, and he’d been considered dumb, too. And now Gus, he was also the smartest guy of all of us during recess and he just said that he’d been flunked before. This didn’t make any damn—I mean, blessed—sense to me at all! The smartest kids I knew were all considered stupid.
  • “Listen to me good,” said my father the moment we were out the door. He was hot, I could tell. “Everybody has their own game, understand? Lawyers got theirs. Doctors got theirs. Business people got theirs. Every bum on the street has his, too. Got it? And every game has two sets of rules, the one set that they tell people that they play by, but—listen closely—behind their closed doors, these same people always got another set of rules that they really play their game with. The Church, she does this beautifully, having people pray to Cristo, oh, so sweetly. Then they get all those young nuns and priests to work for free for them all their lives, and yet from behind those closed doors, that goodhearted, all-loving Church steals the best lands of Mexico, and the whole world, if she could! “Education, mijo, is another racket. Another con game! Don’t let nobody fool you! School wants to get people thinking all the same way like trained mice. Don’t you ever fall for nobody’s racket, mijito. Think, here in your head, feel, here in your heart, and trust your tanates, here between your legs a lo chingón! This is life in all her power and glory! Got it?” he said, gently putting his huge thick hand on my shoulder. “I got it, papa,” I said, wiping the tears out of my eyes. And I really did get it. I loved my father con todo mi corazón. He made so much sense, just like Ramón, and even Gus. All these guys made sense and they took no shit from nobody!
  • “Promise me,” he said, “that you’ll say nothing, and if something happens to me, you’ll always honor our parents.” I swallowed. He was scaring me. “Look,” he continued, “I’ve met a lot of rich kids and their parents at the Academy, and I’ll tell you, there are no parents that I’m prouder to have as my father and mother than ours. They rose up with nothing, Mundo, except guts and faith and love. Do you understand?” I shook my head. “No, I don’t,” I said. He licked his lips. He seemed to be licking his lips all the time now. “You will,” he said. “You just pay close attention, and you will.”
  • Yes, amor and peace and prosperity are what we need here in this great nation of ours after that terrible Depression, and then this huge, long, awful World War Two. “But, I’d also like to add that I, personally, didn’t build this house just in honor of Joseph and Mary and Jesus. No, when we made plans to build this house, I immediately sent our architect to Hollywood to find how big Tom Mix’s house was. Because when I first come to this country from Mexico, we see these Tom Mix movies in Arizona, with the gringos on the right side of the theater and the Mexicans and Blacks on the left side. And we see that no-good, fake son-of-a-bitch Tom Mix knock down five Mexicanos with one punch! And one Sunday in Douglas, Arizona—I’ll never forget, I was just a kid—this big, handsome Mexicano from Los Altos de Jalisco got mad and jumped up on the stage in front of the movie and yelled, ‘Come on, you gringo bastards! See if one of you can knock me down with one punch! And I’ll give you the first punch free, a lo chingón!’ And he ripped his shirt open and pounded his chest! “And so—well, yes, of course, a fight got started. Two men were killed and ten more hospitalized. So I tell you, when we started to build this house, I told our architect, GO up to Hollywood and find out how big Tom Mix’s house is, so we could build OUR CASA BIGGER AND BETTER! So I now say to all of you that I didn’t have this house built just for peace and love, but to also tell every DAMN HUMAN BEING ON ALL THE EARTH that here in Oceanside, California, stands UN MEXICANO DE LOS BUENOS CON SUS TANATES IN HAND, free to work or fight with both hands, whichever way the DEVIL WANTS TO PAINT IT! And this is MY TOAST A LO CHINGÓN! SALUD!” SHOUTS ERUPTED!
  • You just remember, mijito, whenever your wife comes screaming at you that she’s going to kill you because you forgot her birthday, that what she’s really saying is ‘I love you, I depend on you for my life and love, and so this is why I hate you and want to kill you!’ It’s always with our wife, our best friends, and our relatives that we end up having most of our troubles in life, mijito.
  • “Yes,” he said. “You see, I, too, have been seeing a lot of things, now that I’ve been spending so much time at the hospital.” He took a deep breath. “One night I got up and went down the hallway to see this woman who was crying. She was an elderly woman and the doctors didn’t know what to do for her. She was dying. I held her hand and stroked her forehead like she was a child. She immediately calmed down and was able to pass over in her sleep so peacefully. “The night nurse was furious, and the next morning she told the doctors what I’d done. They, too, became upset, telling me I didn’t have the authority to visit other patients. That poor nurse and the doctors, they just weren’t prepared to accept the simple truth that they aren’t in control. No one is in control, Mundo. We’re all just God’s guests for a short time.” I don’t know why, but I now asked, “Joseph, are you dying?” He looked at me straight in the eyes. “Yes, Mundo,” he said, “I’m dying.”
“Listen to me,” said my brother, “in the last few months of going back and forth to the hospital, I’ve learned a lot about life, and also about death. And what I’ve learned is simply this, that everything is already okay, Mundo, that qué será, será, con el favor de Dios.”
There are no ‘ifs,’ ‘shoulds,’ ‘tries,’ ‘buts,’ or ‘maybes’ in life. All these are weak words that cause us to remain doubtful and not live to our fullest. At Scripps, over the doctors’ protests, I was able to help a lot of people to calm down and gracefully accept their fate.”
  • “My dad, he didn’t even have the eyes to see me after all of his tall, blue-eyed sons were dead. He started bellowing from the hilltop to hilltop like a madman, saying that God had forsaken him, and he had nothing more to live for, because all his sons were gone!” Tears streamed down my dad’s face. “I was about nine or ten, the same ag
  • e as you, but he couldn’t see me, because I was dark and Indian-looking and didn’t have blue eyes like him. Your mother and me, we are not going to forget you and your sisters like my father forgot me. I swear it!”
  • No, I wasn’t very smart, this I knew, but I was beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, I was some kind of crazy-loco genius, burro genius. I mean, to have been able to hold on to my Spirit for this long had to mean something.
  • And no one would interfere with me because of the loaded gun in my hand. Also, a part of me didn’t give a shit anymore if I was caught or not. I could now see that my objective wasn’t just to kill Moses and all these other teachers who had abused us, but for everyone in all the whole world to know why. This wasn’t going to be a surprise attack. This had to be a cold, premeditated act, completely well planned, just as it had been premeditated and well thought out to torture and beat us Mexican kids, starting in kindergarten, so we’d be a people, a gente, with our heads bowed down to authority forever, thinking we were inferior and worthless. I now realized that this was how you enslaved a people. You didn’t just bring them over in chains from Africa. No, you convinced them that they were inferior, not evolved, subhuman, and then when you took off their shackles, so they could go to work, you’d still have them enslaved and shackled inside of their minds for hundreds of years. And this system of teaching was fine with most Anglo teachers, because in the act of convincing us, los Mexicanos and the Blacks, we were subhuman, they’d also convinced themselves that they were superior!
  • Someone finally understood all the “hell” that I’d been through since a child when I’d first tried to understand language. And yet in other forms of communications, like painting, sculpture, music, math, problem-solving, and chess, I’d been very good. In fact, in high school, once I learned how to play chess, I’d play lightning-fast, intuitively seeing all these different possibilities at the same time, and I’d won well over a hundred chess games without losing a single game. And that included beating some of our faculty members who thought that they were very good at chess.
  • I laughed. I could see her point completely, because in Spanish you’d never say, “I think I love you,” especially after four years. That would be an insult. You’d say, “I feel love for you so deeply that when I just think of you, I start to tremble and feel my heart flutter.” Why? Because Spanish is a feeling-based language that comes first from the heart, just as English is a thinking-based language that comes first from the head.

Crazy Loco Love: A Memoir (2008)[edit]

ISBN 1558853154
  • You are a man now, and to be un hombre, a man must not only know right from wrong, he must also know who he is and who he isn’t. Because if a man doesn’t know who he is and who he isn’t, then no matter how much he knows about right and wrong, he will always be like a fish out of water.
  • My mother, a woman, told me this, and I’ll tell you, mijo, that you will learn who you are and who you aren’t in the next four or five years, because not to learn who you are and who you aren’t in the next few years, my mother said, is to be missing the most important part of your whole life.
  • Sex and love were driving the whole world and me crazyloco! I just couldn’t stand it anymore! I was going to have to kill myself.
  • Suddenly, I don’t know how to explain it, the chess pieces seemed to come alive for me. It was like I could now see the chess pieces moving on the board on their own. I started beating everybody. I, the slowest of the slow, had now gone something like a hundred games without losing. I could do no wrong. It was magical how the pieces spoke to me, showing me where to move.
  • He knocked the chess set off his desk, screaming at me, “You’re not a stupid Mexican! You’re just lazy! I’m one of the best chess players in all Carlsbad and you treat me with no respect!” I was shocked. All my life I’d been called stupid because I was Mexican, not because I was lazy. This was really good.
“Do you really think you beat him?” he said, laughing at me. “The man is brilliant! He teaches upper-class calculus. He prepares students for MIT, not just for the military academies.” “What’s MIT?” “‘What’s MIT?’” he said, mimicking me. “You better watch your back from now on is all I’ve got to say. You’re not so hot. Remember, you’re nothing but a damn Mexican!"
  • I now began to collect pubic hair, which I figured was a much safer way to go. I’d look for pubic hair in every bathroom after the girls showered, and in my mind’s eye, I’d try to match up each hair with each girl, all the while imaging her beautiful, luscious, wet, hairy, good-feeling bush. I mean, this was the summer that our pool area just seemed to be full of girls all the time. I was quickly becoming a pubic hair expert
I began to worship pubic hair, to touch it, to smell it, to lick it. This was when I came to realize that pubic hair wasn’t at all like the hair we had on our heads. No, pubic hair was tougher, coarse, and sharp. You could cut your tongue on it if you licked it too hard. The hair on our heads wasn’t just finer but also round, and our pubic hair was thicker and flat, and so this was why it could cut you if you weren’t careful.
  • And here at my school, we were in a protected environment, and so, to be as tough as we were being taught to be wasn’t a virtue. It could also be just plain stupid. Like one cadet named Wellabussy. He was from La Jolla, and his family had a feeding pen for cattle in the Imperial Valley east of San Diego County. They were very wealthy, and he liked to tell the story about how he shot illegal Mexicans below their knees with his .22 rifle when they were returning home across the border after they’d worked all day on his dad’s ranch. When he told this story in English class, I was shocked. And after class when I asked him why he would do such a horrible thing, he smiled a sick-looking little grin. “Because it’s fun watching them scream,” he said, “and they’re illegal, so they can’t do shit about it.” He laughed, then said to me, “Grow up. We need to be tough and not give an inch or our whole country will go to hell, returning to the Indians who we already whipped.” I’ll never forget how he’d grinned at me as he said this, knowing well that I was Mexican and therefore part Indian.
  • Every year right after the Christmas holidays, our IQ scores were posted on the bulletin board at the Academy. We, the juniors and seniors, had taken our tests several weeks ago, and for the last few days we were all nervous wrecks waiting to see our results. Of course, we were all told that what was really crucial for us to get into the college of our choice was the grade point average of our last two years of high school, plus our SAT scores. But we knew that our IQ score could also make a big difference because our IQ, we’d been told, was what gave us a true measure of our intelligence. So if we hadn’t worked real hard in school or hadn’t tested well in our college entrance exams, then our IQ could make all the difference.
Then, I’ll never forget, I came closer to the board, carefully going down the list. There were sixty-some juniors and seniors in our two classes, and then there I was, the third name from the bottom.
But I’d tried! I really had. I was SHOCKED! Tears came to my eyes and I think Rochín and Hillam saw me, but I didn’t care. This was it. My life was over. I was done, finished. I had no future.
My IQ score was 101, and we’d been told that it took at least 105 or higher to complete high school.
The next day at school I gathered up all my strength and did one of the bravest things of my entire life. I got up the nerve to ask if I could take the test again.
Then the next morning Captain Moffet, my English teacher, gave me the test. I got such a headache, just trying to think carefully so I wouldn’t make any mistakes, that my test score dropped to 96. I couldn’t breathe. This meant that I was mentally slow, that I’d been lucky to even get into high school. My eyes filled with tears. I didn’t know what to do. I asked Captain Moffet if my parents needed to know this. I felt so ashamed. I should’ve been the one to die, not my brother, Joseph. He’d been smart, just like my little sister Linda, who at six years old could read better than me.
  • In the last three months I hadn’t lost one single game of chess. It was crazyloco, but sometimes I thought that I was so brilliant because I could see what other people couldn’t see or understand even after I’d explain it to them. Playing chess wasn’t about making single moves. It was about seeing patterns, then backing up inside your mind and seeing the last five and six moves of your opponent, then flashing forward real fast. And bingo, the whole chessboard became alive in living patterns.
  • A few months back Major Terry and his pet student, Drosen, had brought in a guy from San Diego to play chess with me. I’d had no idea that he was rated and was really good, so I’d beaten his ass real fast. He’d gotten all mad at Major Terry and Drosen for not telling him that I was as good as I was. He’d accused them of setting him up to publicly embarrass him. I’d had no idea what the big fuss was all about. I hadn’t even realized that there was such a thing as tournaments and championships for chess just like we had in wrestling. I’d quit playing chess at school after that incident. Now I only played at home with my dad’s older friends, Roberto and Salvador Montoya, who’d both been very good chess players in Mexico City. I beat Roberto almost all the time, but his older brother Salvador beat me pretty regularly. And I’d recently been told that Salvador had been so good that he’d once gone to Cuba to play and that he’d come in third among some of the best international players in the world.
  • My father’s mother, a pure-blooded Indian from Oaxaca, had been a gifted fifteen-year-old when Benito Juárez won Mexico’s independence from France. They’d taken her to the Academy of blah-blah-blah in Mexico City, and she’d astonished her European professors by learning French in six weeks.
  • For the very first time, I understood what mi papá had been telling me all these years about his very own father, the great Don Juan, straight from Spain, and how he’d only liked and loved his blue-eyed children, the ones like himself, and had never even recognized his dark Indian-looking children like my dad.
  • Oh, I loved Mr. Moffet! He was WONDERFUL! He’d given me hope! I felt fearless once again, and I could clearly see it had always been fear that had kept me dammed up all these years. Fear of sin, fear of hell, fear of what people might think of me, fear of … of … I didn’t quite know how to say or even think all these thoughts I was having, and yet… it was like I was now so excited with all these thoughts racing around inside my brain that I was on fire. Maybe I wasn’t really stupid after all. Maybe I’d just been misled all these years from the very beginning. OH, A FIRE FOR WANTING TO LEARN ALL I COULD LEARN WAS NOW BURNING INSIDE ME!
  • That night my parents told me what my cousin had suggested. I said no, absolutely not! I turned and walked away as fast as I could. My parents really had no idea how much it had hurt me all these years to go to school. I was done with all book learning.
And besides, now that I’d finished high school, all I wanted to do was to stay on the ranch and work with our workers from Mexico. These were my people. This was where I belonged and felt at home.
But I also knew that—oh, I just didn’t know how to explain it—school wasn’t teaching me anything. It was destroying me!
  • First of all,” said Dr. Nacozi to me, “I want you to know that I realize you have a brilliant mind.” “Me?” I said, feeling shocked. “Yes, you,” he said. “And maybe you haven’t done that well in school in the past, but this is all about to change very rapidly for you, because the further you go in university life, the more apt you are to find minds like your own. I never had many friends until I got into graduate school. Before that … well, I always felt confused and lost,” he said, laughing. “And not very capable with the girls and in my social life, either.
  • My God, it was really coming true. The higher and higher I climbed in education, the more I was finding people I could talk to.
  • “When my brother, Joseph, was sick and in the hospital, you got in bed with me when I was asleep and you kept trying to touch me! All these years I’d thought that maybe it was all a dream, but it wasn’t! You son of a bitch. I was eight years old, crazy with grief for my brother, Joseph, and you—how could you?!”
Then this priest, he became my friend… no, I will not talk about it!” A terrible fear came onto his face. “It was a priest, then, who showed you… you…” “Love,” he said, tears coming to his eyes. “What?” I said. “How can you call that love?” “Easy, because that’s what it was.”
“Yes! Just talk! Explain! Give me something so I can understand and not just be hating you,” I said. And so we talked, or precisely, I kept asking him questions, and little by little Victor began to open up. I soon had a picture of a lost little kid who’d been touched by some of the men who’d come to the house with his mother. Then he’d become an altar boy, and the priest had been so kind and thoughtful to him that his whole world had begun to go that way.
  • Suddenly I remembered Jeannie Windflow, who’d taught me how to kiss when we were kids. At the age of seventeen, she’d run off with a Mexican guy from Pozole Town who was nineteen years old, had a job, and was one of the handsomest guys I’d ever seen. He was a semi-professional boxer and real dark. She was a track star, a straight-A student, and real blonde.
She’d told her brother and me that for as long as she could remember, she’d just known that she was going to get herself a Mexican, marry him, have a bunch of kids, and wait for him every day
she’d always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom while her man went out into the world and worked his ass off to keep their kitchen full of frijoles, tortillas, and carne asada. And she’d looked so happy saying all this. Not the least bit confused or scared or ashamed of what people might think. Not even her parents, who’d refused to sign the papers so she could marry before she was eighteen because they wanted her to go to college—being so smart and beautiful—and marry a college graduate. I could now clearly see that Jeannie, with the strongest, most well-defined legs I’d ever seen, had known who she was and who she wasn’t at a very early age. And so she’d been able to take the bull of life by the horns and go for it full bore ahead!
  • I took a deep breath, and the humming began behind my left ear. I now knew how I’d solved that math problem in Ashmore’s class. Everything, every thought that came to us came from heaven through our guardian angel, our genius, when we were at peace in our hearts and in balance in our brains. So yes, I was barking up the right tree with all these thoughts and words that were coming out of my mouth. And with such ease.
  • “You know, we’ve got to be careful about what we believe that this Church tells us,” said my dad. “Remember, she’s the one who stole all the best lands de México for herself and enslaved all the Indians that she didn’t kill off.
  • My dad loved using the word “ain’t.” He said it was the best damn slang word invented by the Americans.
  • Marina was about eight years older than my sister Tencha, so this made her about eighteen years older than me. She was presently a reporter for the New York Times. When she was in high school, she’d won the Underwood Typewriter typing contest, doing well over a hundred words a minute without a single mistake, setting a national record. She attributed her fast hands to her cotton-picking days as a young girl in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Marina toured the country for Underwood and was given a full scholarship to the University of California at Berkeley—the first Latina ever to have such a scholarship—and she’d graduated with honors.
  • “Marina,” I said, “I don’t know how to explain this, but … well, everything I say or do or even think just doesn’t seem to work out for me. Except when I’m totally alone.” I almost added, “Totally alone with God,” but I didn’t because I knew how crazyloco this might sound, especially since I wasn’t a priest or a monk.
  • I talked for hours, and for the first time in my life, I could see that I’d lived two very different lives ever since I’d started school. On the ranch I’d lived a life full of love and work and warm, good feelings. At school I’d been treated with so much … physical and mental abuse that I was still filled with so much rage; it was hard for me to even think about it.
  • My heart was beat, beat, beating. No one, except my mother, had ever looked at me or spoken to me like this. “You are the most sensitive and beautiful man I’ve ever met,” she said with tears coming to her eyes. I took a big, deep breath. This was just too much. I couldn’t believe it. I’d been called stupid and ugly for so long that this was really tough to hear. Once, I’ll never forget, two seniors at the Academy had stopped me and ordered me to attention, and I’d snapped to, as we underclassmen were supposed to do. They’d walked around me, carefully inspecting my uniform, and one of them then said, “Is this the cadet?” “Yes,” said the other one. “I agree with you; you’re right,” said the first one. “This is the ugliest cadet in the school!”
  • Here, a man and woman unite for life, but they include in their union all the loves they will live through in their lifetime. But over there, it’s all about changing wives and changing husbands, searching for that one perfect amor.
  • “Eve,” I said, “please stop for a minute. I think I finally get it. As you read to me aloud, the words become alive for me, and I can see pictures in my head. But when I try to read, all those little letters just confuse me. Because it’s the white of the page between the words that truly grab me. Do I make any sense? Reading, I do believe, is a very unnatural thing. But to listen to a story, like sitting around a campfire, is very natural.”
Maybe this will be your way of writing, too—to be the storyteller of all the stories your parents have told you.” I nodded. This, I could understand. My father, who could also hardly read, was a great storyteller, just as his mother had been a great storyteller.
  • “Papá,” I said, “on our first day of school, they screamed at us, ‘No Spanish! English only!’ Then they slapped Ramón in the face until he was all bloody because he wouldn’t stop talking Spanish. And all he was saying was ‘Don’t yell at me, you’re not my mother,’ and ‘Don’t be grabbing me! You have no right to do this.’ He was so smart, papá, and so brave and noble, and they kept slapping him, again and again, until his whole face was a bloody mess.”
“Don’t you see, papá? You had it easy compared to me. Sure, you had starvation and revolution, but here inside your head and heart, you’d also seen that our people, los mexicanos, were people of value and bravery, and so when you got to the U.S., they couldn’t brainwash you into thinking that you were a bad, inferior, no-good person. My God, papá, by sixteen I was so brainwashed into being ashamed of being un … un mexicano that I … that I … I …” I had to bite my fist to keep from screaming. “I tried to castrate myself so I wouldn’t bring anymore inferior people into this world.” “OH MY LORD GOD!” screamed my dad. “I never knew this! You never SAID ANYTHING!”
  • “Look at me closely, amigo,” said my dad. “Here is a hundred-dollar bill just to start with. Thirty dollars of this is for you to put in your own pocket right now. Capiche?” The bartender’s whole attitude changed. Suddenly he wasn’t tired anymore. “Yes, mi general, entiendo!” he said. “Good, and give another twenty to the chef in back and ten to the dishwasher. That leaves forty for my son and me to drink and eat a little something.” “But of course!” said the barkeeper. “The whole place is open for you! Which tequila would you like?” he added anxiously. “Herradura, and a couple of Modelo cervezas.” “I like Dos Equis,” I said. “The dark one.” “Okay,” said my dad, “one Modelo and one dark Dos Equis.” The bartender was flying, moving, truly enjoying the whole show. My dad winked at me. “Like I always say, to tip after the meal is stupid. Tip first and big, and the whole world changes.”
  • “YOU’VE GOT RAGE. THEN YOU RETURN TO THE STATES WITH THAT RAGE! YOU DON’T RUN AWAY! You saw bad, terrible things happen to you and other Mexican kids in school, then YOU DON’T CHICKENSHIT OUT! No, you go back, and you do something with that rage that will MAKE A DIFFERENCE for all those kids! That’s the beauty of the United States! Even the little guy can fight back!
“We were starving when we got to the Texas border! And we thought that once we got across all our troubles were over. But we were wrong! A new kind of war started for us of racism and prejudice. They treated us Mexicans worse than dogs! In Douglas, Arizona, I stole six dollars worth of copper ore from the Copper Queen Mining Company to feed my starving mother and sisters, and they put me in the penitentiary. I was only thirteen years old! They wouldn’t have done that to a gringo kid, but they did this to a Mexican kid to teach an example!” Tears came to his eyes. “In prison those monsters tried to rape me, but I fought back so hard that they cut my stomach open from rib to rib,” he yelled, tearing his shirt open and showing me the huge scar that ran across his whole abdomen, going from his upper right side to his lower left side. “My intestines came out, and they left me for dead, but the guards found me and took me to the hospital. After a week I awoke, and, at the end of that month, I escaped with two Yaqui who’d gotten twenty years for eating an Army mule. Their familias had been starving! And they’d stolen the mule to feed them! “YOU’VE GOT NO RAGE COMPARED TO THAT, PENDEJO! There aren’t enough bullets for me to kill all the racist no-good sons of bitches I’ve met in the United States! But—and this is a big but— anybody can go around killing people! Any damn group of kids can get together and kill! That takes no guts! What takes guts is to have that rage, here inside,” he said, pounding his chest, “and decide to do something good with that rage. My revenge against this racist two-faced country of the United States is that I got rich and became a Republican! So now you come back to the United States, and you do something worthwhile, AND YOU DO IT RIGHT NOW, PENDEJO!
  • “DO YOU HEAR ME?” I now screamed to the heavens, driving this information into the deepest crevices of my mind. “I, VICTOR EDMUNDO VILLASEÑOR, TAKE THIS HOLY OATH BEFORE YOU, GOD ALMIGHTY, as your son, to write my people’s story WITH ALL MY HEART AND SOUL! I’ll write! I’ll do my part with all the power and intensity that I put into wrestling, hunting, trying to castrate myself, and chess!
What in the hell—I mean, in heaven—had I just done? This was crazyloco! I’d just made a deal with God to become as great a writer as Homer or better, and I didn’t even know how to read. This was totally, absolutely insane!
  • He stared at me. “You barely know how to read and you have decided to become a great writer?” he said to me in a voice full of shock and arrogance. I’d finally had enough of him. “Yes!” I bellowed, going into my wrestling stance. “I don’t know how to read, and I’ve decided to become a great writer—WHAT OF IT?”
He told me to start with fourth-grade books and work up to a seventh- or eighth-grade reading level before I started to write. I went to the Oceanside library as he suggested and checked out fourth-grade books for “my cousin from Mexico” who was visiting for the summer and wanted to learn English. Three months later, on September 16, 1960 at 6:00 AM, I began to write. I wrote about what I knew well. How to catch and calm down a nervous, dangerous stallion by keeping so quiet and calm that he finally trusted you. I wrote about how the local Indians hunted rabbits and skinned them and cooked them over an open fire with their guts still intact. They were all one-page stories. I’d work on one story all day, week after week.
The years passed, and sometimes just before I … I awoke, I’d hear music going on inside my head. I’d lie perfectly still, not moving, not waking, and the music would spread all through my body, just as it had done at the pyramids outside Mexico City. Finally I’d leap out of bed and start writing like a madman. Ten, twelve, fifteen hours a day. It was just pouring out of me. It was limitless!
My cousin Victor came to see me at the Presidio. He asked me if it was true that I’d completed a book. I guessed that my parents had talked to him. I said yes. He asked if he could see it. Reluctantly, I gave him the manuscript. It was eight hundred pages and was called Witness a Loco Pendejo. He came back the following week, and we took a walk down to Fisherman’s Wharf. He was really upset. “What is it?” I asked. “It’s your book!” he said angrily. “I couldn’t sleep! I read it three times!” I took a big breath, preparing for him to tear my book apart. But what came out of his mouth next truly shocked me. “It’s great!” he said. “It’s TREMENDOUS!
“You really mean it?” I said with tears coming to my eyes. “YES, DAMNIT!” he shouted. “The brutal honesty with which you write! The simple, direct sentences you use. I don’t know how you did it. You’re not educated! You’re not smart! I should be the writer of our family! NOT YOU! You’re a BARBARIAN! I’ve seen you castrate pigs and slaughter innocent cows! I’m going to tell your parents! They have nothing to worry about! You really are destined to… to be a great writer! But… but why, I’ll never know.” “You really mean it?” “Yes, damnit! AND I HATE YOU FOR IT! Congratulations!”
Month after month, I continued writing like a madman. The years passed, and I accumulated 265 rejects before I sold my first book in 1970 called A La Brava, which my New York publisher changed to Macho! It was published in 1973 and reviewed by the L.A. Times, which compared it to the best of John Steinbeck. I was finally on my way. And it had only taken me ten years.

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