Author Luis Alberto Urrea Visits the Dove Library

By Taylor Gates, Staff Writer

A Mariachi band made up of women played as a flood of 80-year-olds quickly filled up the first five rows of the Carlsbad Dove Library auditorium last Saturday. All of them seemed to know each other, and discussed their favorite characters form “Into the Beautiful North” as they anxiously waited to see the author, Luis Alberto Urrea.

A librarian introduced Urrea for his highly acclaimed works such as “The Hummingbird’s Daughter” and “The Devil’s Highway,” which was a finalist of the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction. However, the night’s topic revolved around the stories behind “Into the Beautiful North,” a book published in 2009 about 19-year-old Nayeli who lives in a Mexican village made up of women since all the men had left to find work up north. The librarian said his work is most known for his “humanizing portraits of immigrants.”

Urrea emerged from the audience, which had not recognized him until he got up. He explained that though the book’s topic is serious, but it’s tone is funny. “It is nearly impossible to truly laugh with someone then turn around and call them trash,” he said.”

The book was mostly influenced by his family. The first stroke of inspiration came from his aunt, a professional bowler who died while bowling and “did what she loved literally until the end.” She was a strong woman who brought about the idea of a society without men. Once he got that down he could see the story unfold in his head. He said, “A lot of being a writer is looking up at the ceiling sipping coffee, and watching the story unspool.”

His other aunt, whom his family called “tía flaca,” always stirred up nonsense arguments with the other aunt, the bowler, which inspired how he captured the humor of a female society. For example, both aunts fought about whether a Hollywood Star was Mexican since the one aunt, the bowler, believed he was due to his perfect Spanish on TV. But, the other argued that he wasn’t and rebutted, “Idiot! It was dubbed.”

Many other characters came from random people like a busboy he knew with many satanic tattoos. However, he wasn’t into drugs or anything of that nature; he just liked satan. He had given up his dream to become a musician so he could send money back home to his family. At one point, some of the businessmen that got to know him at the diner found out he had throat cancer, and paid for his surgery. Also, they got him a bike since he used to walk six miles to work every day.

The fan favorite character Tacho was based on a gay man who was very prominent in his town. All the girls had loved him even though he insulted all their outfits. And, most of the jokes in the book were direct quotes from him. As soon as the actual Tacho read the book he became inseparable from his copy. Urrea said he still shows people and says, “I told you I was famous!”

Overall, Urrea’s main goal is to “show the Mexican reader things they may not know about the US, and American readers things they don’t know about Mexico.” In an interview with “National Endowment for the Arts” he said, “The border is a metaphor for what separates us from each other. Every audience I speak to is torn apart by fences. They just can’t see them. My job is to throw love notes over the fence and see who finds them.”