I FIRST MET RUBÉN MARTÍNEZ three years ago on the campus of Cal State Los Angeles, which hosted the Latino Book & Family Festival that year. I moderated a panel called “Latino LA: The City of Angels Through Fiction, Poetry and Journalism” that included Rubén as well as Héctor Tobar, Julio Martínez, Marisela Norte and Gustavo Arellano. A dream panel, without a doubt: lively, hilarious, and often poignant. What I remember most about Rubén was his intense desire to engage and provoke the audience with both humor and detailed exegesis. It was clear that Rubén not only loved the written word, but he embraced his audience with his entire being.
That day, I also watched Rubén openly wrestle with the complexities and contradictions engendered by his mixed cultural identity: someone of this country, but not quite. He is, in fact, a native Angeleno. But Rubén is also the son and grandson of immigrants from Mexico and El Salvador. As an award-winning author, he has written much on the immigrant experience as well as the political penumbra cast by that volatile subject, including The Other Side: Notes from the New L.A., Mexico City and Beyond, Crossing Over: A Mexican Family on the Migrant Trail, and The New Americans. His heart, mind and soul thrive and struggle in the borderlands.
His latest book, Desert America: Boom and Bust in the New Old West, published by Metropolitan Books, brings us to the next stage of the Martínez journey for truth and meaning. This book will challenge every idea you may have formed about life and death in our western deserts, and it will make you question whether we, as sentient beings, have the ability to truly belong to any community other than that within which we were born and raised. It is a compelling and daring book, one filled with equal parts confession, history, and politics. Despite a busy travel schedule to promote his latest literary offering, Rubén kindly agreed to an online interview to discuss Desert America.
DANIEL OLIVAS: Your new book is quite a balancing act: to use your own words, “it's a book of reportage, memoir and criticism, an interweaving of radically different narratives: high-end art colonies, and deadly migrant trails, the boutique desert and the desert of addiction and poverty.” Did you constantly remind yourself that you were writing in three genres so that the book didn’t drift too far in one direction or another?
RUBÉN MARTÍNEZ: The book developed over a very long period of time. I first thought of writing about the desert probably within a year of arriving in Twentynine Palms, around 1998. My original visio...read more