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Author Alex Espinoza speaking at American Book Review series Thursday

By Carolina Astrain
March 3, 2014 at 6:05 p.m.
Updated March 2, 2014 at 9:03 p.m.


IF YOU GO

• WHAT: Alex Espinoza, American Book Review Reading Series

• WHEN: Noon, Thursday

• WHERE: Alcorn Auditorium, University West, University of Houston-Victoria, 3007 N. Ben Wilson St.

EXCERPT

Here's an excerpt from Alex Espinoza's "The Five Acts of Diego Leon," 2013:

• The director sighed, folded his arms. "Just look at you." He stepped forward, grabbed Diego gently by the shoulders, and walked him over to the mirrored wall. He stared at his reflection - his hair, his olive skin, his dark eyes. Diego stood straight, pushed his shoulders back, and took a deep breath. "What's wrong with me?" he asked. "I tell you, what's wrong?" "Son," he finally said, letting go of his shoulder. "You're much too ethnic looking. This part is for an American soldier. American," he repeated. "Not Italian or Gypsy." He scratched his head again. "I'm sorry, kid. You're great. Handsome in that exotic way. A wonderful dancer. But you're not what we're looking for. Not right now. You don't have it. Not for us." It was the same thing at the next open audition. And the next one. He was exhausted, angry and impatient. He remained quiet on the trolley ride back, fiddling with the loose change in the pockets of his trousers, the last of the money he had. A man in a suit and black spats covering his shoes looked at him a few times and rolled his eyes. After a while, he rose and took a spot toward the rear of the car. Diego tried to get his mind off of things.

Alex Espinoza tells a tale of multiple identities within one human frame - Diego Leon.

"It was really difficult because I had to keep rewriting him," Espinoza, 42, said. "Every single time Diego was confronted with a new set of characters, a new group of people would emerge, wanting him to be something different."

In his latest book, "The Five Acts of Diego Leon," Espinoza tells the story of a young Mexican-born man and his attempts at reinvention in the U.S. between 1913 and 1936, during the Mexican Revolution and Cristero War.

The California State University, Fresno associate professor of English and Tijuana native is scheduled to give a reading at the University of Houston-Victoria's American Book Review Reading Series on Thursday afternoon.

"I'm excited about being in Texas again," Espinoza said. "I always joke with people and tell them I was a Texan in another life."

Espinoza's first book, "Still Water Saints," was set in a predominately Latino town on the outskirts of Los Angeles.

The author said with his latest book, he took a risk by choosing to write a period, history-laden piece.

"The research was important," Espinoza said. "I had to make sure everything was right."

During his research, Espinoza said he fell in love with a documentary called "The Bronze Screen: 100 Years of the Latino Image in American Cinema."

After the introduction of sound to cinema, production companies struggled to export their films to foreign markets, Espinoza said.

"What a lot of companies did was they recorded two versions of the film - one in English and one in Spanish," Espinoza said. "So during the day, the English crew would be on the set, and then at night, an entire Spanish-language crew would come in and use the same set."

Much of what is written in the book is reflected in history, Espinoza said.

Diego Leon, the protagonist of his latest novel, struggles to find his place in 1920s Hollywood as he is rejected at each audition he goes to.

"They would take an actor of color and refashion them into something else," Espinoza said.

Espinoza is now working on a book exploring the presence of masculinity in the Latino culture.

"It's primarily focused on three generations of men," Espinoza said. "... It's a contemporary book."

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