Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Because I Never

Villasenor garage at their Rancho Grande in Oceanside, CA

Snowgoose Festival
So, I am off to see Morrissey in less than a week's time and I am exceedingly excited about it. Yet, in all my excitement I still find time to enjoy other aspects of my life-you will be pleased to know (I hope).

We are out of school for a whole week and although I was happy to be out of school, I was looking forward with lazy anticipation to a field trip to Oceanside with some of my high school students and fellow teachers to the Villasenor home. Yes, I was invited. But this was not a small dinner party. No, it was a very big dinner party! I say "lazy" anticipation because although I looked forward to it, the idea of spending my vacation day with students on a rainy day just did not have a lot of appeal.I love my students, so I think I can safely say that they must have felt the same.

What is it?
"What the heck is the Snowgoose Festival?" You may ask. Let me tell you. (Sounds like a lead in to a song in a musical).It is a one day a year event where we the people come together to celebrate and practice World Peace and Harmony. This is based on the belief and understanding that there is just one race-the human race. This was also possible because the Villasenor Family opened their home and property up to everyone who wanted to come. They do this every year.

The Villasenors
Your next question might be, "Who are the Villasenors?" There is a long and a short answer to this but I will give you the short answer. To understand really who this amazing family is, you will need to read some books. If you love to read, you will love this task. If you do not love to read, give it a try anyway! The short answer: Victor Villasenor is the author of many books that you should read. The most celebrated, I think, is Rain of Gold. The reason for that is a miniseries for HBO is underway. This book is about Victor's parents and their struggles in Mexico during the Mexican Revolution. I confess, I have not read this book yet, but I look forward to it since my Great-grandmother came from the same state as Victor's mother in Chihuahua, Mexico. She came to this country in 1917. Around the same time period. She did not speak too much about it to us so this is a chance for me to learn what it must have been like. By the way, she is who I am named after-Andrea.

Burro Genius
The book my students are currently reading is Burro Genius. We are reading as a class. I had a thought provoking question while waiting for food at the potluck. A man in line asked me what I wanted my students to get out of that book. And I have to say I did not have a clear answer. Later, I was in line to have a book signed by the author and I heard him tell a young girl who was crying about how moved she was when she read this book, and Victor said, "Its about getting your ass kicked. Have you ever had your ass kicked? Did you learn a great deal? When you get your ass kicked you learn a lot." Most of my students have had their asses kicked in some way. Most of my students are Latino. So, the purpose for me is to show them that you can learn a lot from your bad experiences and its important to read books by Latino authors. They need to see that our people can write well and be successful. Yeah, I say our people because as you know, I look white but I am a half breed. So when people ask me which half is Mexican, I point to my heart.

I should also mention that Victor was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for his book Lion Eyes. I have not read this either. But it must be good!

Home Tour
We were able to tour the Villasenor home for $5-the donation goes to the Snowgoose Foundation. Maribel and Cheryl (both colleagues) and I were in line for food when they announced the tour. We eagerly bypassed the food and went to the tour. This was a great choice because there were only about eight people and the tour was conducted by Barbara Martinez, one of the script writers for the HBO miniseries. I did not take any pictures. I wish I had but I felt strange taking pictures of some body's house that is still being lived in. But if I had, I could have posted them here. All I can say is that Victor has a great room to write in and there are some amazing views from the home. It would have been better if the trailer park had not been there, but it was still nice. Barbara knew a lot-A LOT!! It was one of the most interesting features of the day. When we left the tour there were nearly 70 people lined up to see the home. As I said earlier, we made a good choice!

Some of the featured entertainment
There was a lot of great entertainment that I missed for the most part. I was either in line for food (that I did not eat) or on the house tour (which was why I did not eat). At one point while we were on the tour, we heard screaming and Barbara paused for a moment and said, "I was worried at the sound of screaming because I thought someone got hurt. But it's only Victor." Yes, by the way, he is not your typical reclusive writer personality. He's out there-totally. But the thing that makes him so cool is his awareness about perhaps seeming a bit metaphysical and "out there." You can't be crazy if you know you are crazy. Although I am not insinuating that he is crazy. Okay, crazy in the very best way possible. I'd rather describe him as passionate.

Book Signing
So, after we exited the tour I high-tailed it to the food line which no longer existed and grabbed a few taquitos and some beans and inhaled it. I think it was good. I am not sure if I tasted it. Then I quickly bought a book called Walking Stars. I actually longed to buy Rain of Gold but they did not take credit cards and I only had $20 on me when the book cost $25. The book I purchased cost $10 and I already finished it. It was an enjoyable read and it made me want to read Rain of Gold even more.

So Maribel and I got in line to have our books signed and I had the opportunity to ask Victor a question. I asked him basically how he finds the time to write being so very busy because I am a teacher and I want to write but its hard to find time. He said, "Have you seen the movie Billy Elliot?" I said I had and he said, "He just danced. He didn't consider that he did not have time. Or August Rush. Have you seen that?" I said no this time. He said, "That's another good one. I wake up at 2 AM," I responded, "That's a good time." I was thinking of how quiet it is and how I used to wake up at that time to nurse Oliver.
Tarnishing the holiness of that thought, he asked, "How do you find time to go the bathroom?" I laughed and I said, "That's a good analogy." By this time I was beginning to walk away just because there was a line and I didn't want to make all the other eager people wait. He then said, "What happens if you don't use the bathroom?" I said, Something really horrible and embarrassing."  He and some of the other people laughed. I then shook his hand and thanked him for his time.

I felt kind of embarrassed to ask that question and when you think of it, for a real writer that's a ridiculous question. Nevertheless, its one I have struggled with. That's part of the reason I write this blog, albeit not as frequently as I would like. It also made me like and appreciate my cat a lot more. Bonnie infamously wakes me up at an ungodly hour. Perhaps she wants me to write.

I also have an idea for a book so I guess, sleep deprivation be damned! I will be waking up early from now on.

I regret that I did not get my picture with him. I took Maribel's picture with Victor but did not get my own. When she mentioned it, the next person was already talking to Victor so I did not want to interfere. Ah well, it lives in my memory. Next time I will get my picture.

Gregorio Nava
I then set my fanatic admiration upon Gregorio Nava who is working on the screenplay for the miniseries of Rain of Gold. He was also the MC for the Snowgoose event. Anyway, he directed one of my favorite movies El Norte, wrote the screenplay for Frida as well as some other amazing works. He also signed Walking Stars. He was incredibly sweet and just took time to say hello. I appreciated it in a big way.

It was getting nearly time for the bus to take us all back to Tustin and I had not introduced myself to Linda, Victor's sister. We had some long conversations last year when I was organizing a book signing event featuring Victor. She was awesome and she was so interested and concerned about the boys when they came to join our family. I felt like she was a friend so I wanted to greet her. I think she would have liked to have met Roland, Oliver, Enrique and Miguel but no one was available. Oliver and Miguel chose to spend time at Grandma's. Roland and Enrique were at an MUN (Model United Nations) conference. I am hoping to work more with Linda regarding a grant that is being written in hopes of bringing Victor back to Tustin High. Anyway, Linda was just as gracious in person as she had been on the phone and through email. She was wearing red boots and a red jacket so she was easy to find even though I did not know what she looked like. Linda also does some communication for Victor on Facebook since he does not "do" computers.

Go Tillers!
Before we left, Gregorio Nava had all of the kids from Tustin up on the stage. I joined them while Maribel and Cheryl did not. I probably looked like a dork but it would not be the first time! It was fun for the kids to be recognized. Gregorio asked what our mascot is for Tustin High and he did not understand what a Tiller is (we are the only school in the country with this mascot). When the students informed him that we are essentially farmers he recognized the value of our mascot. Much better than things lke cougars and falcons and centurians, etc. Just on a side note: we have more graduates in the NFL than any other high school in the nation. In addition to being recognized Mr. Nava encouraged our students to read Rain of Gold and said he would like to get their impessions once they have read it. He asked for my email in order to find out what they think of the book which I gave to him without question.

On the Bus
Once on the bus, we asked the kids if they'd had a good time. We certainly had no idea since we barely spent any time with them. Almost in unison the responded, "Yes!" They said they would do it again. We were so impressed. I think we had around 30 kids. This was on a Sunday of Thanksgiving week and we are on vacation. Only about three kids did not show up. And it was raining and cold.

Shake Your Booty
The students told me that while we were on the home tour, they had seen some entertainment they had never seen before and they loved it. Also, Victor grabbed them and made them go out and dance. This must have meant a lot to them.

I have a big thank you to the Villasenor Family for welcoming us and making us feel at home. Thank you. Gracias.