On September 29 in the Performing Arts Center, author Sergio Troncoso shared his story with the CA community in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. Troncoso grew up in Ysleta, in El Paso on the Texas-Mexican border, and his talk centered on the idea of crossing borders, geographic and psychological. 

He first thought of becoming a writer when he was a student at Ysleta High School and was the editor of the school newspaper. When he was choosing a university he had little understanding of their reputations or selectivity. He chose Harvard because his mother revered John F. Kennedy and knew he was an alum.

“I didn’t know that it snowed in Massachusetts,” he said. “I had no winter coat. … I wanted to leave this strange place where I felt like I didn’t belong.” 

Troncoso recounted his time at Harvard, feeling like an outsider, and his journey to Yale to learn German and philosophy. When he was feeling discouraged, he said, his abuela’s words gave him strength: “Show them who you are.”

“She knew how to survive in a hostile world,” Troncoso said. “She knew how to fight.” He also translated his parents’ incredible work ethic into mental stamina.

“You cross a border because you are searching,” he said. “[That crossing] questions the very idea of home. … I cross borders because I believe that is how you tell the truth and honor the authenticity of who you are.” 

To aspiring writers, he gave this advice: “If you’re writing something real, you’re going to get somebody mad at you. … Be self-critical. But don’t be self-destructive.”

Troncoso is the author of eight books, including Nobody’s Pilgrims, A Peculiar Kind of Immigrant’s Son, The Last Tortilla and Other Stories, Crossing Borders: Personal Essays, and others. His work explores the working-class immigrant experience from multiple perspectives.

He won a Fulbright, teaches fiction and nonfiction at the Yale Writers’ Workshop, and has won numerous literary awards, including the Kay Cattarulla Award for Best Short Story and the Premio Aztlan Literary Prize. A branch of the public library in El Paso is named in his honor.

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