Interview: Denise Chávez, Author of Books such as 'A Taco Testimony'
Posted: Mar 22 2015
-By Barbara Alvarez
I am fortunate to live and work in the same community as Denise Chávez, author of “The Last of the Menu Girls,” “Face of an Angel,” “Loving Pedro Infante” and “A Taco Testimony: Meditations on Family, Food and Culture.” She has also written a children’s book, “La Mujer que Sabía el Idioma de Los Animales/The Woman Who Knew the Language of the Animals.”
These days, Chávez is hard at work on a new initiative that celebrates the Chicano history and culture: Museo de la Gente, located in the oldest part of Las Cruces. I visited Casa Camino Real and was greeted by a friendly, welcoming woman, a hot, steaming cup of Mexican café – and what looked like thousands of books, all sitting on tables or resting in old bookcases. Not only did Chávez have all of these books celebrating la herencia, she had videos and old LPs, all in mint condition.
In one room of the Casa, Chávez has grouped several books that are not meant for sale. Many of these books are first editions. She and her husband plan to keep the books so that visitors needing information about la cultura are able to find what they are looking for. Along with this information, they will receive a heartfelt welcome, that coffee or some tea and a wonderful visit with Chávez. I spent close to two hours, visiting and talking with her about her current projects: Casa Camino Real and the website where Chávez and her husband list the books, music albums and videos they have obtained. (Abebooks is an international book search engine upon which sellers and curators of books are able to list their books – Chávez and her husband have set up a virtual storefront.)
This website, abebooks.com, contains a listing of many of the books that Chávez has obtained. Anyone who is looking for a book about our culture or those of other cultures may be able to find what they are seeking. This website is by no means complete – she continues to add new titles to it every week as she works to make these beautiful books available to the public.
Chávez created the Border Book Festival, which became regionally and nationally known across the U.S. Before its office moved, the Book Festival was located in Mesilla, NM. From its original home, Chávez put on an annual book festival, attracting people to the historic town of Mesilla. Her intent in creating and hosting the Book Festival was to bring Hispanic and Chicano literature and storytelling to the Mesilla Valley, West Texas and even Northern México. Chávez had one other aim in holding the annual Book Festival: she wanted to increase literacy among the residents of this area so that people would be able to pick up a book that caught their interest, read and understand it.
Chávez has completed other books as well: El Inglés Tan Bonito, which is a book of cuentitos; Rio Grande Family, which covers the Sephardic Jewish roots of Chávez’ family, which originated in Delicias, Chihuahua, México; The King and Queen of Comezón, which is a mystery love story set along the U.S./México border.
Clearly, Chávez has made her mark in the literary and Chicano worlds. She has won several awards, including the Don Luis Leal award in Chicano Literature, which is given by the City of Santa Barbara, the University of California Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara Book Festival and the Santa Barbara City College. She has also won the New Mexico Governor’s Award in Literature, the American Book Award and the Hispanic Heritage Award in Literature.
It was a fortunate day for me when I stopped by Casa Camino Real. I was able to discuss books with Chávez, as well as gain new ideas and insights about how to market my own books and empower women of color.After the Border Book Festival moved its office from Mesilla, its visitorship dropped. Chávez has since dissolved the Border Book Festival and is hard at work, establishing Casa Camino Real as a new nonprofit – which is really located along the original Camino Real. This old road runs through Las Cruces, winding through the oldest part of this beautiful little city.