Author's photos from home familiar to Latinos

Carolina Astrain By Carolina Astrain

Nov. 8, 2012 at 5:08 a.m.
Updated Nov. 9, 2012 at 5:09 a.m.

A black-clothed figure, draped by a shiny green cloak, approached the lectern.

Norma Cantú brushed her hair back as she went through old family photos, detailing each memory.

The retired academic was at the University of Houston-Victoria's Alcorn Auditorium on Thursday afternoon to share bits of her writing to students and interested community members.

This was the fourth lecture in the American Book Review's fall reading series.

As part of her introduction, Cantú took the microphone and starting speaking in her family's native tongue.

"Primeramente, it is because of our ancestors that we are here," said the author.

The familiar hum from the heating projector, created a familiar tone in the room as Cantú read from her 1997 novel, "Canícula: Snapshots of a Girlhood en la Frontera."

"This place just really feels like home," Cantú said. "I've driven through Victoria many times."

From New Mexico, Nebraska to the nearby streets of San Antonio, Cantú said, she has driven on many highways.

The author alluded to Victoria's original Spanish settlers, who were pushed off their ranches by German and Polish immigrants.

"It has a legacy of racism," Cantú said. "But it is also like the borderlands, where the story is of my antepasado."

Photos from the 1940s and '50s flashed before the packed room.

A few slides into the presentation, Cantú showed a picture of herself as a toddler.

"There I am with my signature bracelets and earrings," said the author, whose humorous remark was met with laughter. "Photographs were always important in my family."

During her talk, Cantú spoke about what it was like growing up in a racially divided Laredo.

She was encouraged to speak Spanish at home with her family, but was punished if she spoke it in school, she answered.

"It was a constant back-and-forth between what would be done in public and private," Cantú said.

The intimate, regional tone in her writing struck a familiar cord with the audience.

"I'll probably need to get that 'Champú' book," freshman Jack Patton said.

Pete Muñoz, a fourth-generation Mexican-American, said, of all the ABR readings he's attended so far, Cantú was his favorite.

"I loved it," Muñoz said. "As she stated, it's important to hear stories that are like your own."



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