September 17, 2004

Book Review

Burro Genius

By Katia Lopez-Hodoyan

At age 20 Victor Villaseñor made a promise to himself and to God. Forty-four years later that oath he took to become a published author is still going strong. His most recent book and Pulitzer prize nominee “Burro Genius” presents Villaseñor’s life as a Mexican American child confronted with constant discrimination in his local school system; a struggle he was able to endure with the support of his family and his spiritual connection with nature and God. This last published piece is a miracle, as he describes it. He wrote 19 drafts before it was published and began writing the piece before he was diagnosed with severe dyslexia later on in his life. Today at 64 years of age, Villaseñor tells of how he endured a total of 265 publisher rejections before finally getting the green light.

Born and raised in San Diego County, Villaseñor (who is mostly known for his success with “Rain of Gold”) describes several surrounding cities, as we would only see them in a history book today. Streets where cattle can be seen and roads that are apt for horse-ridding. Nonetheless his memories of his life during his early school years still remain untouched. Memories that bring forth the easy-going, fun spirit of a child, combined with the terror and fear instilled by classmates and instructors. The detailed description of racism in the book is sure to give chills to anyone: randomly being slapped multiple times by instructors, getting punched and kicked for simply being Mexican and being labeled as the stupidest child in his class day after day. His rage became so real and powerful that he even contemplated killing some of his teachers and classmates with a firearm. Ironically enough, this infuriating energy has now changed form. Villaseñor is a motivational speaker for teachers from all across the country. A monumental leap from a child who hated his teachers in both public and private schools because of their violent abuse and brainwashing tactics. After constantly being told by his teachers that Mexicans were dirty, ugly and no good stupid people, Villaseñor began to believe these characteristics and individually appoint them to his family members. His mother was ugly, his father was loud and dirty and he was stupid.

The constant love and support of his family, in particular his father and brother helped him to eradicate these false notions. Throughout the book though, his ongoing struggle with his culture is evident, as he seems simultaneously proud of his family and ashamed of being Mexican. It almost seems like a crime to his fellow classmates that his skin is brown.

The early death of Villaseñor’s older brother brings forth his already communicative bond with nature. Trees, stars, dogs, horses and the moon all come together to create a magical encounter between nature and humans. His belief in the supernatural and his intuition is strong. So strong that at times it feels as if a child’s imagination is taking over the book’s narration. Villaseñor still describes himself as a spiritual person, yet not religious, which mirrors his Navajo- like perspective on the natural cycle of life and being one with nature.

Burro Genius invites the reader to analyze on their own past and reflect on how one’s actions and words directly affect those one comes in contact with. Although the era of ruler- striking teachers is virtually non-existent in the United States…Villaseñor believes that racism in classrooms has merely changed form. “Now a days racism is organized in the school system”, he states: “ Now teachers are more concerned with how to separate students so that they don’t taint the school’s test scoring system.” Be it religion, school, culture or politics, Villaseñor has an opinion on it. And as long as he keeps on writing, his ideas will spur his readers’ minds. After asking Villaseñor if he still sees himself writing ten years from now he rapidly answers: “I will be writing until November 10, 2026.” After pausing I simply as ‘why that date?” Villaseñor replied, “Because my intuition says so and I follow what it tells me.” If that is the case, this award-wining author still has a lot of writing to do.

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