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Interview with Mexican writer Juan Villoro

By Jade Arroyo

Atención interviewed the Mexican writer and journalist Juan Villoro (born in Mexico City in 1956) during the San Miguel Writers’ Conference. His written work is varied and includes novels, short stories, essays, books for children and chronicles. He is considered one of the best contemporary writers in Mexico. Villoro talked to us about subjects of current interest.

Jade Arroyo: Being yourself a Mexican immigrant in Europe, what can you say about entering into new societies and cultural mixing?

Juan Villoro: I think we are now in a very curious planetary moment. There is a globalization of money and many migratory fluxes, many people looking for work or for family or other reasons. In a way, the borders have dissolved a little, but at the same time this has brought a resurgence of nationalism, an upsurge of the local within the global. Of course, I’m all for multiculturalism. Yhe secret of coexistence is in adding, not in deducting: the more religions, races and official languages a country has, the better its reality will be. A lot of people don’t want this, sure, above all in times of economic crisis, because foreigners are seen as invaders that are taking away the bread.

JA: What do you think about the cultural mix in San Miguel?

JV: I believe that cultural mixes are positive. I can’t really say because I’ve only been here for three hours, but I think the richness of many cities stems from their immigrants. Blending is what makes the culture. The races that are mixed are more resistant, in terms of ideas and cultures.

JA: What do you think about borders?

JV: The border should be unnecessary. We have in Mexico the most often-crossed border in the world, both legally and illegally. It is an absurd border, especially because the Mexicans are needed on the other side. More than an obstacle, that wall of shame announces that the Mexicans don’t have a right to go in: “We put up this wall. You can jump over it, but we put it here so you know that you are not welcome.” It’s a clear example of a very badly handled and very hypocritical border, because the United States hasn’t accepted regularizing the working force they need.

JA: How do you think the Mexican identity is represented?

JV: Fortunately, there isn’t one Mexican identity. I mean that for a long time we acted as if we were univocal beings. Octavio Paz said: “If we Mexicans recognized what we are, we’d be able to be contemporaries of all men,” that is, behind this is cosmopolitanism. The traditional idea of being Mexican is drinking tequila, being macho, sentimental and brave; well, there are Mexican like that, but many others. We are embracing more liquid identities, changing ones. Besides, you can be one way at a time of your life and then change, right?

JA: What do you think of the art and culture scene in Mexico?

JV: I believe it is very rich in all fields, and we have really good artists. The conflictive societies are usually producers of good and rich art. The corruption, intrigue and dungeons in Italy gave birth to the Renaissance. The art comes from the womb of a convulsing society, and we Mexicans don’t have another choice other than being Renaissance men.

JA: How can public interest in the arts be fostered?

JV: There are a lot of good artists but few people who appreciate art, who are aware of what’s happening and support it. The public should support art, not the government. The education levels in Mexico are so low, this is the reason.

JA: Are there independent platforms of thinking?

JV: There are few independent platforms. The social networks have helped a lot, an example would be the movement “Yo soy 132,” which was an independent movement articulated totally through the social networks. There are editorials like Sexto Piso and Almadía, and jams of rock or jazz bands. There are independent movements starting to happen, but we Mexicans have antibodies to independence—we do things in groups.

JA: What is the reason for art?

JV: It is to transcend pain and turn it to joy. The human being faces a mystery that is suffering; art is an antidote that allows us to face that. That is the great paradox of art. The goal of literature is the same.

JA: Do you have a favorite genre in writing?

JV: Every one of them is different and I change with each one: when I write about soccer maybe I’m more passionate; when I do critiques maybe I become more sharp; when writing for children I get more crazy. Oh well…

JA: How can the culture be democratized?

JV: Well, you first need to democratize the society. Mexican society has an imperfect and incipient democracy. We need a culture of tolerance and inclusion. There are many prejudices, many, about color, origin, race, sex, etc. We need a more inclusive society. It even has to do with modernity, like connectivity: if someone can’t have access to the internet, half of the reality is denied to him.

JA: How can reading be promoted?

JV: The best way to promote reading is by talking about it, bringing it into people’s everyday talk. I believe that you can’t teach a love of reading, but you can spread it. We need enthusiasm for reading. I don’t know anyone who says a book is wonderful without telling it to someone else.

JA: How do you see the current political panorama in Mexico?

JV: Well, not really encouraging. I believe all political parties are in crisis, and professional politicians are going through a serious discrediting. The politics need to involve the citizens. We are powerful on voting day, but the next day we can’t monitor the one who we picked. We need a more participative democracy. I’m afraid the “philanthropic ogre” (the PRI), as Octavio Paz called it, this monster that corrupts and grants favors at the same time, is back in power for a long time.


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