Science & Tech Editor
As a culmination of the 2017 UCSB Reads program, author Luis Alberto Urrea gave a talk at Campbell Hall last Monday, sharing the gripping fictional story of three immigrants to help the audience understand troubling aspects that surround immigration in this country.
The UCSB Reads program, in collaboration with Davidson Library, featured Urrea’s novel “Into the Beautiful North” for the 2016-17 school year in order to foster a community conversation about a relevant issue — immigration. Urrea’s book, a story about a young girl named Nayeli crossing U.S.-Mexican border to find her dad, was widely praised. Three thousand copies were distributed to students and faculty this year.
When giving the introduction for Urrea’s talk, Denise Stephens, UCSB librarian and administrator for UCSB Reads, said, “Into the Beautiful North demonstrates outstanding teaching and learning potential toward this relevant issue in contemporary America.”
Urrea started his presentation with a lively, engaging, and humorous story of how this novel came to fruition. He was working as a missionary in Tijuana when he met a young girl living off scraps in the city’s garbage dump.
“I dedicated this book to that little girl. Even used her real name, Nayeli,” Urrea said, “so I could make people see the life of the other and feel their struggle.”
He used the Tijuana dump, Nayeli’s home, as the setting for the novel. Located right next to the border fence, Urrea felt this location showed the immigration issue’s proximity.
“Anyone who wants to understand the immigration issue should go to that dump,” he said. “It has the most beautiful view of Coronado.”
The audience chuckled along with many other of Urrea’s jokes during his presentation. Especially so when he described encounters on book tours, when people approached him asking about the “Beautiful North” character Tacho, but repeatedly mispronouncing his name as “Taco.”
Urrea employs humor in both his speeches and “Into the Beautiful North” to approach sensitive subjects at a more personal level. He said it was his way of giving a memorable twist to a story.
When asked about this approach during the Q&A session following his talk, Urrea said, “Everywhere I’ve gone, people are funny. The border patrol. The people in the dump. Laughter is the common language across cultures.”
In writing acclaimed works on immigration, Urrea has found that “humor is the best teacher, because it is something intrinsic in both learning and in people.”
His talk continued to focus on how creating personal narratives among differing viewpoints can contextualize different issues. Urrea employed many events in his own life as connecting points to the readers of his novels. “My family comes from a town in Sinaloa where yellow castles, a dancing bear, and stale tortillas are commonplace.”
Urrea further explained that his hometown was the basis for part of the events in his novel. Characters in the novel, such as Aunt Irma and Atomiko, were based off people in Urrea’s life, making them instantly relatable and adding flare to the story.
Additionally, Urrea mentioned that the actual Nayeli, the girl he saw living in the Tijuana dump, will receive 10 percent of royalties from the TV series that is based off the book. Urrea said, “I made her the hero as an homage. Now she lives far away from the trash heap, and is having her own child.”
Along with a book signing, Urrea closed this year’s UCSB Reads program by thanking the community for being so supportive of his work, wishing continued success for the program next year.