Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Matt de la Peña

Last Monday, Matt de la Peña gave the 2011 Multnomah County Library Teen Author Lecture. I didn't know there was such a thing, and was glad to see a link to the press release on the library website the day before. I would've been so sad to miss it.

But they publicized it somehow, because there were a lot of people there. There were a lot of students and a lot of teachers--it was an evening thing, though, so I was trying to figure that one out. They were older students--late teens--maybe part of a program like Portland Youth Builders...?

Anyway. It wasn't really a lecture. He talked about his books, and read a little bit from Mexican White Boy, and was clearly excited about the crowd and the demographics of the crowd (lots of Latino kids--holding his books!). He asked whose grandmas made tortillas, and lots of hands shot up. He said something along the lines of, "Well you know how grandma gives the first tortilla to the most important person, and then it goes down the ranks?" and he talked about how after he'd gone to college, he got the first tortilla, and he felt bad and like it should've gone to one of his uncles, but it was because he got an education. He also talked about being the first in his family to go to college--he said, "Who here will be the first in their family to go to college?" and lots of hands went up. He said, "Well I want to tell you guys something--" and he proceeded to talk about how much going to college alienated him from his family for a long time, how they treated him differently and related to him differently, but he said, "Eventually you'll figure out how to be a part of the family, and it'll be okay again. It'll be hard for a while, but then it will be okay again."

I'd never heard anyone say that to a group of students before, and it's so important. How many first-generation college students drop out for exactly the reasons he was talking about? It must be so scary to be in a community different from anything you've known, and then to also be alienated from everything you've ever known. But he was matter-of-fact about it, and I thought he was pretty cool before seeing him speak, but now--yeah.

He told a lot of stories. He talked about how reading The Color Purple his sophomore year of college was what turned him into a reader, but he wrote a letter to Alice Walker and she sent it back unopened because she doesn't read fan mail, so he doesn't really like her. I think he must've poured his heart into that letter.

Anyway. It was an evening well-spent. He and the audience were both excellent--though I wanted to yank headphones out of some ears. Oh, high school kids.

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