Allison's Book Bag

Interview with Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Posted on: February 28, 2014

I love writing about Mexican-Americans because we have strong roots and strong points of view, but we also have the same fears, the same dreams, the same universal struggles as all other cultures, and I want to bring our humanity to the forefront, depict us as human beings without detracting from our culture, our uniqueness.

–Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Fictionalizing a Life Story with Guadalupe Garcia McCall

GuadalupeMcCallCulture. If readers take away just one thing from her verse novel, Under the Mesquite, Guadalupe Garcia McCall would like for it to be a sense of their voice and heritage.  McCall loves to write about Mexican-American characters, because this is part of who she is. But she’s also more that her culture. In my interview, I ask her about Mexico, acclimating to the United States, and other aspects of her life such as family, friends, and pets. In Under the Mesquite, which was named a William C. Morris Debut YA Award Finalist, she writes in fictionalized form about moving to America but also about the death of her mother to cancer. I’ll post a review tomorrow of Under the Mesquite. Save the date: March 1!

ALLISON: What are your memories of Mexico?

GUADALUPE: I remember the patio, or quad, where I played with the neighborhood children. Our house was catty cornered to my guelita’s house, so I was able to play with my best friend, Santa, in the quad all day. My Tio Juanito spent his days with us, riding his bike to get us candy and sodas from the store and watching us so we didn’t get out of the yard and into the street. There was a giant mulberry tree in the center of the quad, and he would climb up there and catch “chicharras” or cicadas for us. We ran through the sunflower fields and watched our mothers wash clothes on aluminum washboards and hang them up on the “tendereros,” their clotheslines. At night, we’d wander into the sunflower field and let the lightning bugs crawl all over our arms, get lost in our hair and just watch each other glow in the dark. It was a magical, carefree time, full of love, nature, and happiness.

Another thing I remember is all the weekends we spent in San Vicente, a small municipality where my father’s primo had a rancho. We visited often, helped with chores, herded goats, rode horses, swam in the Rio Grande, and just enjoyed life.

ALLISON: Have you visited your homeland as an adult? What was it like?

GUADALUPE: When I was a young mother, I felt the pull of Mexico, the desire to have my children experience what I had experienced. My husband and I took them to my grandmother’s house several times, and we went to the rancho in San Vicente. They enjoyed it. It was a good experience for them. The boys are grown now, and life for them is full of activity and movement, so we haven’t been back there since they were small.

ALLISON: You were good in theatre and fashion, why did you choose to be a writer?

GUADALUPE: As a young lady, I had many passions. I loved drawing, singing (although I’m not very good at it), acting, fashion design, and reading / writing. I don’t think I chose writing as much as writing chose me. I started writing when I was very young and always loved the feel of that pencil in my hand. Now, I love the feel of those keys beneath my fingers. I have a lot going on inside my head and I love exploring those characters, those stories, playing with words. When I write, I feel like I’m taking a vacation. I get to be in my own little world with the people I love, the characters I create.

ALLISON: What appeals to you about country life?

GUADALUPE: I love nature. I feel the spirit of the creator in everything in nature. There is nothing more beautiful than seeing things go through the cycle of life. We can learn so much from plants and trees and animals. There is something so organic, so peaceful and comforting, in watching life unfold, curl up, breathe, and experience everything mother earth has to offer.

ALLISON: If you had to pick somewhere else to live other than Texas, where would you live? Why?

GUADALUPE: There is no one answer to that question. I know that this is going to sound weird, but I want to live everywhere. My only regret in life is that I only have one life to live…I don’t know who said that, but that is exactly how I feel. I want to live multiple lives. I want to experience EVERYTHING. I want to love, live, and experience different relationships, in different settings, in different times.

ALLISON: What pets do you have?

GUADALUPE: We have several pets. First, there is Baxter; he is a pitbull mix. He is the best house dog I’ve ever seen. He is a loving, sweet boy who loves to eat french fries. Who am I kidding, he just likes to eat. Then there is Blanca, she is a long-haired white Chihuahua. She owns our hearts. She is the doll of the house, and dances for her food. She loves it when I sing her song, “Tengo una muneca vestida de azul.” Last, but not least, we have a Luna. Luna is a white/gray short-haired feline with gorgeous, huge brown eyes. She spends her days resting her chin on the edge of the couch with her eyes closed, listening to everything and reacting to nothing.

ALLISON: Who were your role models growing up?

GUADALUPE: My role models were my teachers. I loved them. They were nurturers. They were mentors. They were loving and kind. But they had great expectations for us, and I always wanted to deliver for them. My mother was also a role model for me. From her, I learned to be both gentle and tough. I learned to love and laugh with all my heart, and to give my family only the best of me, to love them above all else. But I also learned to be strong, to be courageous, to be ready for anything life threw at me.

ALLISON: Why a verse novel?

GUADALUPE: The verse novel was a suggestion from my editor, Emily Hazel, at Lee & Low Books. She saw the potential for it in the collection of poems I had submitted to them. When she asked if I was willing to work with her on the creation of a novel-in-verse, I immediately accepted. And I am so glad I did. She was absolutely right about the format.

ALLISON: You wrote: “I didn’t address my mother’s illness in the original manuscript (the collection of poetry) because it is a difficult thing to talk about.” How many versions did you undergo before you could tackle the difficult subjects in your novel?

GUADALUPE: I think we went through about three revisions before Emily saw the direction the manuscript was taking and addressed it with me. I think I was always writing that story, but I was being so subtle, so careful, so quiet about it, that it took us both a while to see what the story was really about.

ALLISON: As a young immigrant from Mexico, how did you adjust to life in the US? What of these experiences did you incorporate into Mesquite?

GUADALUPE: I adjusted very well. I was a very communicative child. Even though I was very shy at first, once I was placed in a bilingual classroom, I blossomed. That is why bilingual education is so important in our schools. It provides a safe, familiar bridge for young people to travel back and forth from English to Spanish as they acclimate to the new language in a new world.

ALLISON: I incorporated some of the earlier struggles with language acquisition and then my desire to speak without an accent so that I could have a chance to win in oral interpretation competitions across the state. I think it’s important for young people to see that there is nothing wrong with learning and becoming proficient in a new language. To keep their accent or modify it, there’s nothing wrong with either decision. It’s up to them. They have that choice and it’s all okay. They have to do what is right for them.

ALLISON: How important is your culture to you? What advice would you offer to young people who are now immigrants themselves?

GUADALUPE: Culture is very, very important to me. Culture is part of who I am at my core. It colors big parts of my world, my life. However, it doesn’t define me. I am still an individual, with a unique perspective, a unique personality. I think what I said earlier answers this question. Young people, regardless of their gender, social group, or ethnicity, have to do what is right for them as individuals. We all belong in this world. Every corner of it, every nook, every cranny holds possibilities for us as inhabitants of earth. We have to be open to it all.

2 Responses to "Interview with Guadalupe Garcia McCall"

Great interview! I love learning about new to me authors!

Thanks! Same here, when it comes to new authors. 🙂

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