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Mexican History and Culture: Two Perspectives

By Carole Schor and Susan Page

The Literary Sala invites you to an evening of thought-provoking discussion as an historian and a novelist present aspects of Mexican culture and history, Thursday, November 14, 5pm, at the Aldea Hotel, Ancha de San Antonio 15. Admission is 70 pesos, 50 pesos for Literary Sala members.

San Miguel Literary Sala Presents
Geoff Hargreaves’s Seventy Times Seven
Gregory Orfalea’s
Journey to the Sun: Junipero Serra’s Dream and the Founding of California
Thu, Nov 14, 5-7pm
Hotel Posada del Aldea
Ancha de San Antonio 15
70 pesos (50 pesos for Literary Sala members)
Complimentary wine reception

Geoff Hargreaves, Translator

An engaging novel that vividly characterizes the differences between American and Mexican cultures, Seventy Times Seven takes place between 1880 and 1920. While one sister remains in rural Mexico, her two brothers migrate to what will become urban Texas. The siblings remain connected, but their cultures begin to separate them in ways they could never have anticipated. Through triumph and tragedy, laughter and tears, births and deaths, love and hate, they and their families must either adapt to or resist the challenges of their widely separated environments. The families in Texas earn more money, but they are far from the values that nurtured them and miss a sense of community. They reluctantly break with tradition, lose touch even with their own children, who themselves are caught between two cultures. The families who stay in Mexico have more limited opportunities, but they are happily connected to each other and to tradition. They know who they are and where they belong, and their lives are satisfying. The questions this novel evokes are relevant today.

Long-time San Miguel resident Geoffrey Hargreaves translated the novel into English and will present it at the Literary Sala event on Thursday, November 14, 5pm at the Aldea Hotel. “The book is beautifully written,” according to Hargreaves, “in a simple style appropriate for this novel.” Hargreaves learned Spanish while teaching in Madrid in the ‘60s but perfected it here in San Miguel where he married his Mexican wife, Guillermina, and where he has lived for 25 years. He has translated numerous Spanish writers into English, including the much-beloved Juan Villoro, a featured writer at the San Miguel Writers’ Conference this past February.

The author of Seventy Times Seven (a Biblical reference to the number of times Jesus says one should forgive) is the historian and novelist Ricardo Elizondo, who died of cancer just this past August at the age of 63. In addition to his writing, Elizondo administered the State Archives in Nuevo León and was head librarian at Monterrey Institute of Technology. He was a member of UNESCO’s Memory of the World Committee.

Although Hargreaves never met Elizondo face to face, he greatly enjoyed working with him. The translation and publication of Seventy Times Seven into English was a major breakthrough in Elizondo’s career, because the Mexican government’s cultural wing, CONACULTA, offers substantial grants to writers who are published internationally.

In his presentation at the Literary Sala, Hargreaves will talk about Ricardo Elizondo, tell us how the two of them met, talk about the novel and the process of translation, and read some excerpts from Seventy Times Seven.

Gregory Orfalea

Gregory Orfalea grew up among Mexicans in Los Angeles, working side by side with them in his father’s factory. Orfalea, an Arab-American, has been mistaken many times for Mexican and welcomes the misidentification. He loves the life and soul of Mexican culture, here in this country and back in Los Angeles.

Orfalea’s new book, Journey to the Sun: Junipero Serra’s Dream and the Founding of California, from which he’ll be reading at the Literary Sala, gave him the opportunity to delve deep into Mexican and Spanish history, uncovering the faith and strength of the Mexican people, and the generosity he finds so similar to that of his own Arab family.

Journey to the Sun is the story of the remarkable life of Junípero Serra, the valiant priest who led Spain and the Catholic Church into California. Father Junípero Serra is well known in California for founding the missions at San Diego, San Jose, San Juan Capistrano, Santa Clara and San Francisco. Serra paved the way to opening California and the making of the great American West. But many Californians, until they move to or travel in Mexico, do not know that Serra also founded important missions in Mexico’s Sierra Gorda. Why are Serra’s Mexican missions graced with elaborate Baroque façades, while the missions in California are simple and plain? Perhaps Orfalea will be able to shed light on this mystery.

Gregory Orfalea is traveling to San Miguel from Los Angeles to present his new book on the missions to us at the Literary Sala. He is a prolific writer and is the director of the Center for Writing at Pitzer College in Los Angeles, where he teaches creative nonfiction and the short story.

His writing spans a wide variety of subjects from this study of Father Junípero Serra and the founding of the missions, to a collection of Los Angeles essays entitled Angeleno Days: An Arab American Writer on Family, Place, and Politics; and even to Obama’s First 150 Days: Perspectives from An Arab American Writer. His highly acclaimed book, The Man Who Guarded the Bomb, gives the reader elegantly written stories alive with heart-warming and complex characters.

In Why Write? one of the essays in Angeleno Days (2009), Gregory says, “There is no writer worth his or her salt who doesn’t yearn for it, pray for it, let blood and position for it, hunt it, dice it, and serve it raw to readers.” Writing, he says, “ . . . keeps me going when all else fails: I love it! I love it because short of lovemaking itself, writing is one of the few human activities that can add more life to this sorry life that we have.”

To the aspiring writers of San Miguel, Gregory Orfalea gives this advice: “Work like the devil and think like an angel.” Join us at the Literary Sala for a lively evening, November 14, 5pm.


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