Plaza Voices: Luis Alberto Urrea

Our regular contributor Lisa M. writes:

“What if the message came across as...I understand.  Build bridges, even imaginary ones.”

“Keep true; you know who you are.  You win sooner or later.  Dreams, don’t let them go.  Life and people take it away.  Just keep going.  Remember what kind of people are in our hearts.”  

“Thank you for suffering to feed us, cleaning toilets, bowling alleys; also working graveyard shifts.”  

These emotional and inspirational statements are from Luis Alberto Urrea, the 2018 Richard T. Castro Distinguished Visiting Professor of Metropolitan State University of Denver, where he presented late October.  He instantly related to high school students, college students and members of the community who were immediately immersed in his vibrant, humorous stories, complete with valuable information and ceaseless motivation.

Urrea was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2005 for the book The Devil’s Highway: A True Story, which chronicles the struggles of immigrants attempting to cross the Arizona desert. He us the author of many books, including fiction, nonfiction, memoir, and poetry. Urrea is included in the Latino Literature Hall of Fame, and has been awarded the Edgar Award, a 2016 PEN-Faulkner Award, an American Academy of Arts and Letters Fiction Award and much more.

He was born in Tijuana to a Mexican father and American mother.  His family crossed over to San Diego, California so often that borders were completely seamless to him.

Urrea heard a variety of cuentos (stories) growing up.  His family created stories in order to take charge of the household (and to keep him in line).  Then when his father passed away, he began writing, and continued writing his own stories as a method of processing his father's death.

Urrea was the first in his family to attend college.  He graduated from the University of California at San Diego and then received a graduate degree in writing from the University of Colorado at Boulder.  Urrea is currently a professor of creative writing at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

For those struggling with cultural identity, he advised finding people who understand and continuing to tell your story. “Don’t give up hope.  Have zero shame for who you are.”

Plazas are an open community space where people from all over the world connect with people, information, and resources, building Denver’s global community. Come to practice a language, prepare for citizenship, pursue your goals, and create your future. Whatever you’re doing, we can help! Please see our web page for more information.

Written by Plaza Voices on November 9, 2018