Letter to My Readers
San Miguel de Allende,
March 6, 2017
A Caramelo Apple
Let us all attempt to be more humane and more generous in these unkind times. As part of my efforts to do just that, I realized a Manhattan book group was discussing my novel Caramelo under the theme of immigration. No, not that Manhattan. Manhattan, Kansas, known affectionately as the "Little Apple.”
Rhonna Hargett, the Adult Services Manager of the Manhattan Public Library, kindly allowed me to call in and speak to the book group on the night of their discussion. And so on Thursday, February 23 rd , 2017, I met with the Caramelo readers led by facilitator Nicolas Shump, (History and online instructor at the Barstow School in Kansas City) and we created a bridge from Manhattan, Kansas, to my home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, with our dialogue soaring above Guanajuato’s desert and Kansas’ fields and plains.
On my end, I found the evening a real treat. I rarely get to talk at length about Caramelo, my personal favorite, which I finished a few weeks after the tragic collapse of the Twin Towers. To have the opportunity to chat with folks in Kansas was especially relevant to me. My ancestors emigrated to the States during the diaspora of the Mexican Revolution, crossing the border at El Paso and relocating several times since they were migrant farmworkers at first, and later worked on the railroad. El Paso; Flagstaff; Rocky Ford, Colorado; Kansas (The state or city? Not sure, though probably both.); finally ending up in Chicago. (For a more in-depth look, see Finding Your Roots, the PBS show hosted by Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., where I was lucky enough to be featured.) Perhaps my grandparents meandered near Manhattan, Kansas. Who knows? Maybe my grandfather who worked on the Kansas railroad knew Nicolas Shump’s grandfather, who also worked on the railroad. Nic and I talked about our antepasados, and how the railroad lines became routes of migration for many groups, including the freed slaves after the Civil War. Nic’s family is from Topeka, home to a longstanding Mexican-American community, he tells me. While an undergrad at the University of Kansas, he was involved organizing marathon readings of Latino and Chicano literature. And I reminded him I know fellow Macondo member, poet Linda Rodríguez, who rallied a wonderful group of Native/Latino artists and writers when I visited neighboring Kansas City, Missouri, way back when. I remember my visit there fondly.
But back to the Little Apple. The day after the book club discussion, Rhonna, the librarian, wrote and reported:
The group was glowing last night after our conversation. It was a bit about being star-struck, but it was more about having the opportunity to see more of the context of your work, inspired to learn more about the story of your family and others with similar journeys, and just the joy of having a fascinating discussion. I also heard a lot of comments about how engaging and funny you are. You have given our library and our patrons such a gift. Thank you so much for taking time out from your busy life to give us a window into your story.
Thank you also for the suggestion about the PBS special. I never quite feel content with a story until I’ve mapped it out.You’ve also made me curious about Mexican immigrants in this area. My husband is from Newton, KS, a big railroad town, and I know there are Mexican-American families that have been there for generations.
Thank you for the work you’ve created and for the outstanding generosity you demonstrated in sharing your experiences with us.
Warmest Regards from the Little Apple,
Hablando se entiende la gente, which translates as “Talking with one another we understand one another.”
Art, to me, is a way to create that bridge, and though I am not naïve and am well aware of the outbursts of violence happening in Kansas and in other parts of the States, I want to remember too that there are libraries, and books, and brave folks willing to open their hearts and minds. But first we have to ask ourselves, are we willing to open our own?
Thanks and applause to Rhonna Hargett, Nicolas Shump, and Dr. Michaeline Chance-Reay, who nominated my book for this Manhattan community project. Gracias mil.
Book club members please take at look at my latest book A House of My Own and read the chapter “Natural Daughter” for more insight into the real family secret behind my novel Caramelo.
In the meantime, I send warm regards back from San Miguel to Manhattan, Kansas, my heart fluttering like the laundry on my rooftop clothesline.
abrazos, luz, paz,