Growing up in a little dirt street barrio in Tijuana and reading books by Mark Twain, Ray Bradbury and Rodolfo Anaya inspired award-winning author, poet and essayist Luis Alberto Urrea, who addressed students March 23 at The University of Texas-Pan American.
Urrea was the fourth speaker in the 2009-2010 Distinguished Speaker Series at the university. He is a 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist for non-fiction and a member of the Latino Literature Hall of Fame. The critically acclaimed author of 11 books spoke to students at a dinner before his presentation "Cross Cultural Experiences in Literature and Life."
"Keep writing and reading man," is the message that Urrea gave students.
"Literacy changed my life," Urrea said. "I don't even think I would be in this world today if it wasn't for literacy. I definitely wouldn't be speaking at UTPA."
Approximately 36 UTPA student leaders were invited to the dinner with Urrea, where they had the opportunity of personally speaking with him and to ask questions. He shared his life experiences, challenges, inspirations and his thoughts on the importance of literacy.
"Reading a book is an enjoyment that has faded out," Urrea said. "It's such an exciting and special thing; we have to preserve the stories of our ancestors."
Urrea said he wants to help students realize that the Mexican-American culture is important and has stories of heritage, ancestors and families that are precious jewels often left untold.
"Those of us who have the opportunity of an education are given a sacred trust," Urrea said. "We have to remember people are only here for so long so we must tell their stories to give them eternal life."
Karla Cantu, a junior political science major, was inspired by what Urrea had to say and felt she could relate to him.
"As he spoke about his family I could see that mine was similar to his with all the aunts, uncles and cousins," Cantu said. "Plus, he inspired me to talk to my grandma about her past. She's 93 years old and I am sure she has many stories that I can someday, not write a book about, but at least tell my children."
Cantu said that although she's not an aspiring writer, she still found inspiration from what he had to say and was touched by his book "The Devil's Highway," an account of a group of Mexican immigrants lost in the Arizona desert. Cantu said she believed Urrea's testimonies served as a good motivation for young writers so that they may strive for more.
Urrea urged students, especially aspiring writers, to find mentors whom they can trust and go to for advice.
"One of the first writers to take me under his wing was Rodolfo Anaya from Mexico. He was eye opening to me," Urrea said. "I find inspirations everywhere, so students should find mentors, wear them down, trust in their own stories and one day wake to find that all their dreams are coming true."
Following dinner with the students, Urrea addressed the public at the UTPA Fine Arts Auditorium. He was the final presenter in this year's Distinguished Speakers Series.