Interview, Pepe Caudillo with Chicano writer Sergio Troncoso
Discovery # 1: Borges (1899-1986) favored the short story. Discovery # 2: Sergio Troncoso (1961), born in El Paso, Texas, also leans for the short story.
Troncoso, author of, among other books, “The Last Tortilla and other stories,” has released his most recent work: “A Peculiar Kind of Immigrant’s Son.” This book is a conjunction of 13 short stories, full of everyday elements (Walmart and Playboy, for example) staged with their specific and relative weights with narrative, psychological and philosophical intentions.
Take this button as a sample. In “A Living Museum of Love,” one of the stories from the book of yore, the author asks the following question: “Are we the same person we were when we were young, or a collection of different versions of ourselves in new worlds, or something suspended restlessly between the past and the present? ”
“A Peculiar Kind of Immigrant’s Son,” is an interesting, latent, poignant, challenging succession of prints drawn from the lives that immigrants lead or suffer within the country that is named with three letters: USA. The fictions embodied in this book are verbal photographs of immigrant events but they are also attempts to resolve a central question that Troncoso raised, in the interview I had with him, via e-mail: “Can immigrants make the United States their home? ? ” or “Can these different immigrants, and others, find their home in the United States?”
Translation (Presentation) by Revista Latina NC
Pepe Caudillo: What is the goal of “A Peculiar Kind of Immigrant’s Son”? You are, of course, portraying aspects of the Chicano life style. Is there more? What is your readership going to find in the book?
Sergio Troncoso: A Peculiar Kind of Immigrant’s Son is a collection of short stories on immigration, particularly immigrants going deep into the U.S. and away from the border and trying to find their place in places like Connecticut, New York, even Iraq. So you have Ximena Garza who is a recent Guatemalan immigrant trying to communicate in Spanish with the New York police about her abusive husband. And David Calderon, a Mexican American who has “made it,” who is still treated like a spic by a local criminal from Connecticut who resents his success and attacks him. Can these different immigrants, and others, find their home in the United States? That’s a central question in the book.
Also, the stories are grouped in twos and threes in the table of contents, and I am exploring philosophical perspectivism (Nietzsche’s) in the storytelling. One character appears from one perspective in one story, only to reappear from another perspective in the next story. The stories go from realism to surrealism (and even magical realism) as the collection progresses. At a certain point, the reader herself is another perspective in a story, as the reader/narrator brings to life a character, Carmelita Torres, in one of the last stories. So the theme is immigration, but the craft aspect of the collection is about perspectivism.
PC: What is the one thing that you want every reader to get from this book?
ST: I want every reader to be curious about and conscious of their own perspective and prejudices, how these “bring to life” a story or character, or immediately undermine a story or character because the reader is already slanted or prejudiced, in a way. I want every reader to intensely look at immigrants as individuals, not in stereotypes, and to be curious about their individual lives and how much these immigrants hearken back to the Pilgrims and their values.
PC: How long did it take you to complete the stories for this book?
ST: Since I am always working on multiple projects at one time, that’s not an easy question to answer. But I would say roughly three or four years.
PC: There are many subjects, themes in your book. You mention Pedro Infante, las muertas de Juarez, Playboy, Thanksgiving Day. What are the subjects that are affecting immigrants and their families the most? What are the subjects that are always going to affect the immigrants?
ST: I don’t know exactly which subjects are affecting immigrants and their families the most, but I can guess. Perhaps the subject of alienation in the United States, not feeling part of this country, not feeling quite at home. Or sometimes feeling at home, and other times feeling like you don’t belong. The subject of displacement. Also the subject of creating your self by keeping some parts of the world of your ancestors, but also discarding some parts and adopting new values. The subject in that case might also be ‘a hybrid self.’ All of these subjects are part of A Peculiar Kind of Immigrant’s Son.
PC: Are you a Chicano writer? Are you OK with labels? Should we just refer to you as a writer?
ST: Yes, I am a Chicano writer. I’m okay with that label. I use it interchangeably with Mexican American writer. I think Chicano has a more political connotation. But I am both. I am also an American writer, because I’m writing about the American experience today. Chicanos are part of this country, aren’t they? I don’t think it matters to pigeonhole you as this or that writer. A better question might be: why do some white audiences not read Mexican American writers and consider them as essential to the ‘American stories’ that might speak to them and their questions? That’s always an issue with Mexican American writers, that we are not given the chance by a wider audience, that we are ignored without someone taking the time to read us. The minds of mainstream publishers and readers should be more open to, more curious about Mexican American writers.
PC: Can you tell us about you way of writing? What are your writing habits?
ST: I usually write first drafts, new work, in the morning when my mind is the freshest. I keep writing from when I wake up until lunchtime or afterward. In the afternoon I edit work that I wrote months ago. I never edit what I just wrote. I wait weeks, or months, and I always write something else in between to create an ‘editing distance’ between the work I am editing and me. It’s really a psychological trick to approach your work with ‘new eyes.’
At night, I am reading after dinner, and usually reading for a purpose: to understand what a particular writer did with a particular aspect of craft, to get ideas about my own work, to learn from another writer.
PC: Why do you think Latinos are not telling their stories? I might be wrong but, I feel like Latinos don’t talk or document much about themselves?
ST: In my book, Crossing Borders: Personal Essays, I have an essay entitled, “Why Should Latinos Write Their Own Stories?”
I think it’s changing, and over the years you have more Latino writers writing different works that challenge stereotypes, works that break open markets for Latino writers and readers. Especially for Mexican American writers, we need to get supported by large New York publishing houses and high-quality literary presses. I think the stories and great writing are there. Many more Latino writers are doing the work to get MFAs and PhDs and to learn the craft. But often publishers don’t make the effort to understand the changing Latino book market, the changing demographics. Publishers are really conservative in a way; I mean, they jump on a bandwagon after books or authors have been successful. But they try to repeat these successes, rarely questioning their own biases and prejudices of what they think a ‘Latino story’ might be. I think it’s important to always be encouraging the next generation of Latino writers to tell their stories, which might be very different from the stories of the current generation of Latino writers.
PC: Are you working on your next book? More short stories?
ST: I have two new books forthcoming in 2021. Nobody’s Pilgrims (Cinco Puntos Press), an adventure novel of three teenagers who steal a truck on the border and drive cross-country to escape evil men who are pursuing them. The book is about how the United States is falling into a dystopian society, and these teenagers are fighting for their place in this scary world, with grit, adaptability, and each other. Also, Nepantla Familias: An Anthology of Mexican American Literature on Families in between Worlds (Texas A&M Press); I’m the editor. A great collection of work that primarily has not been published by the greatest Mexican American writers today. They focus on ‘nepantla,’ or living in between many worlds: linguistic, cultural, national, and psychological.
A special thanks to the Writer Sergio Troncoso for accepting the interview, in the same way we thank Pepe Caudillo, Collaborator of Revista Latina NC for the realization of this interview.