Q&A: Steven Alvarez: The "Xicano Genome": What Is It? & Where It Comes From
Hispanics in Focus
Hispanic.com is excited to be speaking with Steven Paul Alvarez about his new book the Xicano Genome! This is the second book published out of a five book series. Steven is also an Assistant Professor of Writing, Rhetoric, and Digital Media at the University of Kentucky. He holds a PhD in English from The Graduate Center, City University of New York.
Q. Hi Steven, the title of your book is great! So tell us, is there a Xicano [Chicano] Genome?
A. I think there is. I started searching for what it means to be Chicano. The genome for me happened…well, I think I found it when I became inspired from it after visiting Teotihuacan in Mexico. I was standing overlooking the immense vista – and I really understood that “this is where Chicano begins”. That was the mythic beginning Chicanos imagine – the mythic origin.
Ever since then, I’ve been searching the lyrical traditions that come from Mexico. The lyrical reborn - those that come from the “Me Xicano”. The Xicano Genome is the second in a series. The Pocho Codex was the first book in the series. The Pocho Codex was about discovering where the origins/roots of the main character come from. It’s about a father who abandons his wife and moves north to the U.S., and the machismo associated with that, which is unbounded. My grandfather actually did something like this. And my family lost contact with that side of the family. In fact, one day in April of 2009, my father and I went to go visit the family we had lost contact with in Mexico, nearly a hundred years before. It was amazing to visit that family, and see our origins which were amongst dirt roads, barns, and cattle. That visit is when a lot of material started emerging for the Xicano Genome.
The Xicano Genome is a long experimental narrative/story about brothers: Ysrael, los Panchos and Ulysses. The book follows their adventures coming up north to the U.S. As they move North, into Arizona one of the brothers, Pancho, has a series of dreams – and starts to write The Pocho Codex. So The Xicano Genome focuses on getting to know the characters and how their character traits will repeat in the next three upcoming books.
Q. Who is the audience for The Xicano Genome?
A. The style is lyrical. I like to play language games. In fact one of my favorite authors is James Joyce who is a great language artist. He was a master of blending languages and registers, and I learned a great deal about the poetic potential for meshing languages and making puns. One of the great things about Chicanos is we speak Spanglish, and it can make for great poetic combinations in two languages, a real madrazo for playing language games. So that’s me! I use language to cohere into identity. This book is for anyone who likes Spanglish, and is looking for pleasure in reading poetic language, all while enjoying piecing together a story. Also, my writing is visual and I write with images and visual typography. I try to keep it visually stimulating. The book is about 100 pages and would probably be pretty good company for a plane flight!
Q. Tell us about your background and what inspires your writing.
A. My writing always has biographical elements and comes from living a bicultural life. I am originally from Safford in southeast Arizona. It’s located about 3 hours from the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. I come from a family of Mexican copper miners. In fact, my father’s family came from Sinaloa, Mexico – my grandfather actually left Sinaloa out of fear of Pancho Villa and the Mexican military. Either would have killed him he thought.
And for me – growing up in southeast Arizona, my parents’ first language was Spanish, but growing up –my siblings and I only spoke English. In a way this Anglicizing of language in my family was led by the discrimination that my dad experienced in Arizona when he was young. English in southern Arizona was and still is a powerful language.
To me I never thought much about discrimination. I became very interested in learning about Mexicans and my roots as I grew up. And while I didn’t learn Spanish from my mom and dad, I learned to speak Spanish at the University of Arizona. I was the first person in my family to go to college, and I decided I wanted to study English! And I went onto graduate school at CUNY, and I became involved with the local immigrant Mexican culture in NYC, which I wrote about for my PhD. I am currently writing my book manuscript about Mexican immigrant families in New York who had many problems navigating the after-school programs in the city, and how youth language brokers were called upon by parents to translate in different situations. I examine how the power relations between English and Spanish affect bicultural families and their views toward education.
Q. What is next for you?
A. I have more academic work on the horizon and also trying to get out these next three books in the cycle. I’ve already written them and some of the poems will appear shortly in Fence Magazine. My work in terms of research and teaching focuses on literacy and Hispanic communities. I work in the community trying to bring understanding and togetherness in the local Latino community. I live in Lexington, Kentucky. There is a barrio called “Mexington”. I’ve been involved with high school students in the community on coaching them and helping them put together poetry and fiction. Some of them are first-generation in the U.S., and I think it’s very important for me to be a mentor. In that way, I share all the things I’ve been through, yet can also serve as a guide and mentor to these future young Hispanic leaders as they move forwards in their lives and careers.
Hispanic.com: Thanks for chatting with us Steven!
To learn more about The Xicano Genome, The Pocho Codex, and Steven Paul Alvarez visit his website. The Xicano Genome and The Pocho Codex are available for purchase on Amazon.