By Lesley Téllez
I’m a freelance writer based in Mexico City, and I booked my first trip to the FIL—the Guadalajara International Book Fair—this year after a few friends gushed about how cool it was (read more about the fair in our lead article); plus, Los Angeles was the featured city. I grew up about 35 miles east of L.A. and still have family there.
Some of the FIL’s planned panels dealt with Chicano culture, which, as a third-generation Mexican-American, is a subject close to my heart. “Chicano” is a term for Americans of Mexican descent, and Chicano culture reflects all the various ways Mexican-Americans have left their footprint on Los Angeles—either through art, writing, dress, music, or a specific way of speaking. The thought of witnessing this hybrid culture unfold in Mexico, the Chicano ancestral home, seemed like too good of an opportunity to pass up.
I hopped on a seven-hour bus and arrived at the FIL just a few hours before Ray Bradbury was scheduled to appear via video conference. Once inside, the event’s sheer scope floored me. A large, makeshift bookstore had been set up in the center of the Expo Hall, filled with books on Los Angeles and Chicano culture. A neon-green lowrider sat nearby, its gold and chrome gleaming. Publishing companies had set up open, airy booths around the convention center, and people milled about, talking and reading.
The place teemed with this crackly, exciting energy—people who loved books, and ached to talk about books, had been brought together under one roof. Who would we meet? What would we learn?
Over the next three days, I caught an outdoor dance performance by Los Angeles avant-garde troupe Diavolo; I watched Ray Bradbury discuss the secret of his longevity (“do what you love, and love what you do”), and I listened to Pulitzer-Prize winning Los Angeles Weekly food critic Jonathan Gold talk about how he manages to eat so much. (His secret: The gym.)
I watched a Q&A with Cheech Marin, an actor now increasingly recognized for his growing Chicano art collection. And, perhaps most interesting of all to me, I listened to a group of Mexican-American writers discuss how they view Mexico.
Mexico City-based writer Daniel Hernandez, a friend of mine, used the word “diaspora” to describe the presence of Mexican-Americans in Mexico, and it hit me for the first time that that was me. I’m part of the diaspora.
Although I’d go back to the FIL again, there are a few things I’d change about the event. First, it was difficult to find the Los Angeles authors’ books for sale. I searched the L.A. book area, but saw only maybe two. Second, while I loved that the FIL offered a comprehensive Web site, once arriving at the event, it was difficult to get a full list of everything that was going on. One guide listed all the events at the Expo Center, but didn’t include all the movie showtimes, or dance performances. The best bet, it seemed, was to have a smart phone, and send a copy of your chosen agenda to your inbox.
Overall, I left the FIL feeling inspired and refreshed about my own writing career, and proud of my heritage. I can’t wait to see who they bring in next year.
READ: Lesley Téllez’s blog.