The little charro atop the fake horse—decked out in a sombrero and boots—is none other than me when I was just five years old. I’d come to Guadalajara with my mother and older brother. He was to wed a woman from a nearby village despite the fact that the two had never met. It was, in a sense, an arranged marriage, one that, I’m happy to say, is still going strong. What I remember from that first visit comes to me in fragments and shards now—getting fitted for a spiffy tux, an ornate church with fragrant candles burning besides fresh flowers, music, food, old Mexican women stroking my hair and calling me “guapo.”
Flash forward. Here I am again, much older, with less hair, back in the city where that very picture was taken. After a bumpy red eye from Fresno, I arrived in Guadalajara early in the morning, followed a throng of bleary-eyed passengers lugging suitcases, televisions, bags of used clothing, and Dora the Explorer blankets out into the bustling lobby of the Guadalajara International Airport. The memories came back, and I was five again, eager, inquisitive, peering into the faces in the crowd looking for someone to recognize—an uncle, an aunt, a distant cousin. Maite and Juan Carlos, two representatives from the Guadalajara International Book Festival greeted me, holding a sign with my name. We shook hands enthusiastically with one another, and though we had all just met, I was immediately at ease in their presence. It was a different Guadalajara, both Maite and Juan Carlos assured me after I told them about my horse picture yet, as we made our way towards the Victoria Express Hotel, I gazed out the car window and could see that it was just as lovely and exciting as I remembered as a kid long ago.
After a hot shower and a brief nap, I awoke, too excited to sit in my hotel room alone, checking email and Facebooking. I gathered my things, went down to the lobby, and was whisked away to the book festival. Sharing the ride with me was Veronique de Turenne who just so happened to be moderating the panel I planned on attending later in the afternoon. Veronique and I had a wonderful conversation about the striking similarities between Guadalajara and LA, the wonderful food, and all the great writers representing the city of LA, our shared home, the place we love so fiercely, so unconditionally. We admitted our love for television and griped about the lack of Latino/a faces in shows set in LA.
Veronique and I parted ways, and I spent the hours leading up to the panel strolling through the exhibition, admiring all the booths, all the brown faces with their noses buried in books. There were schoolgirls in flashy plaid skirts and glittery barrettes in their hair, boys in Abercrombie and Fitch t-shirts, sporting spiked hair and old school Converses, the same kind I was wearing. I was completely overtaken by the mass of people, the lights, the music, and the cherry low riders on display. How ironic, I found myself thinking, that I had to travel so far to really appreciate the city of Los Angeles. I felt proud to be representing, felt aglow, truly at home again.
Veronique moderated a panel titled, “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: LA Non-Fiction.” The panelists included D.J. Waldie, Jenny Price, and Héctor Tobar. Tobar answered all of his questions in Spanish, and he spoke with honesty and sincerity about his experiences as an Angelino, the racial segregation that still exists in one of the most ethnically diverse city in the country, about the all to often erroneous myths associated with the city of Los Angeles.
Afterwards, I strolled around some more, took in more of the sights and sounds of the book festival, was completely taken by the size and scope of the entire production. I ran into my good friend Dagoberto Gilb, and it was great to see his big, smiling face again, to reconnect with him, to hear him laugh. Dagoberto was accompanied by Héctor Tobar, and I had an opportunity to tell him just how much I enjoyed his discussion earlier.
I ended my day by attending the panel, “What Makes an LA Writer?” The panel was moderated by Laurie Ochoa and included Gary Phillips, D.J. Waldie—who was just as smart and knowledgeable as he’d been on the earlier panel I attended—Jonathan Gold, and my good friend Yxta Maya Murray. Always charming and witty, Yxta kept the audience laughing with her tales of growing up among the palm trees and perfect weather, sitting alone in her room, reading, and waiting for something big to happen. She said (I’m paraphrasing here) “Things were supposed to happen in LA. Exciting things. Big things. And there I was in my room, reading. I didn’t have many friends.”
The audience included Denise Hamilton and the talented Nina Revoyr. I ended the day with a small bite to eat in the hotel restaurant accompanied by Nina. We caught up, talked about our dogs, our writing lives, and how odd it is that we sometimes have to leave home to understand it better, how we find ourselves together, here, so far away, yet so connected.
Tomorrow finds me on two panels: “Chicanismo,” moderated by my former teacher and good friend Susan Straight, and “The Next Angelinos: Emerging LA Writers,” also moderated by Susan Straight. The rest of the day will find me sightseeing and taking in the local color. If I’m feeling photogenic, I just may try to find a man with a camera and a fake horse. From then to now, from here to there, I send my best.