Luis Urrea

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A conversation with the author of “The Hummingbird’s Daughter,” an epic, mystical novel that tells the story of Urrea’s ancestor, Teresita, who ultimately became “The Saint of Cabora” in 19th-century Mexico.

Jose Cardenas:
Good evening. I'm Jose Cardenas. Welcome to Horizonte. The deportation case against the " wilson four" has been thrown out. I'll talk to their attorney and one of the students held while crossing the Canadian border. a conversation with the prize winning author of "the hummingbird's daughter" about the success of his book and the impact on him and his readers, and we'll tell you about a local adaptation of a centuries old play, "la pastorela." that's next on Horizonte.

Jose Cardenas:
In June of 2002, four students from the Wilson charter school were detained by immigration officials as they were near the Canadian border in response to their teacher's inquiry whether they could cross to the other side. A federal immigration appeals board ruled a judge was correct in throwing out their order based on the fact they were held because of their Hispanic appearance. Here to tell us about the latest ruling is Judy Flanagan, the lawyer for the Wilson four. Also joining me is Luis Nava, one of the students slated for deportation. Judy, explain the grounds that were the basis for the federal court's ruling.

Judy Flanagan:
The court basically has decided that the motion to suppress that we filed was proper, that the judge properly suppressed the evidence of their alienage and any statements they made because there were due process violations, violation of the Fifth Amendment to the constitution based on racial profiling as well as coercion

Jose Cardenas:
You had an initial determination by an immigration judge that was appealed by the government. This was a ruling by a three-judge panel?

Judy Flanagan:
That's correct.

Jose Cardenas:
was it a unanimous decision?

Judy Flanagan:
Yes, it was.

Jose Cardenas:
What does this mean in terms of the current legal status of the Wilson four?

Judy Flanagan:
It doesn't change their immigration status. It ends the deportation or removal proceedings. The government still has a chance to ask for reconsideration of the decision, and we're waiting to see if they are going to do that.

Jose Cardenas:
How much time do they have?

Judy Flanagan:
30 days from the date of the decision.

Jose Cardenas:

After that is it over with?

Judy Flanagan:
It should be, yes.

Jose Cardenas:
Luis, what are your feelings about this ruling?

Luis Nava:
Nothing has really changed. I'm still currently undocumented, so I'm not able to work. I'm about to graduate, and I can't go look for a job.

Jose Cardenas:
You're about to graduate from A.S.U.?

Luis Nava:
Yes.

Jose Cardenas:
In what?

Luis Nava:
Political science. I plan to go to law school. I'm taking my tests in February.

Jose Cardenas:
Luis, you have been in this country since you were, what, two years old?

Luis Nava:
Yes.

Luis Nava:
What does this mean in terms of your future in the absence of any federal legislation? It will remain the same. This has been happening for four years and nothing has really changed only I'm not in immediate threat of deportation. There are still big challenges. I'm not able to work. If I want to go to law school, prop 300 will make it more expensive for me to go to law school. I'm not going to be able to go to law school because of prop 300.

Jose Cardenas:
That's the initiative passed in the last election that requires, what, out of state tuition for anyone not a citizen of the United States ?

Luis Nava:
Yes, even though I have been in Arizona for more than ten years, I'm not considered a resident because I'm undocumented. I would have to pay out of state tuition, about three times more than in-state tuition.

Jose Cardenas:
Judy, if as you anticipate there will be no further proceedings or after the motion for reconsideration, assuming that's tonight, what's the legal status of the Wilson four? They still got problems, don't they?

Judy Flanagan:
Essentially they are in the same position they were in 2002.

Jose Cardenas:
Before they made that trip.

Judy Flanagan :
Right. This decision is a decision to end their removal proceedings. The evidence that the government submitted was suppressed. But we didn't have any affirmative application for relief from removal.

Jose Cardenas:
Does it have any impact for other students who may be in similar circumstances?

Judy Flanagan :
Well, it's not a precedent decision by the board of immigration appeals. I think certainly the constitutional principles that underlie the case have enormous impact and I think if these issues are raised on a more frequent basis we would see more exclusion orders and terminations, but it doesn't necessarily -- it's really a fact-based situation. Here we had egregious behavior by immigration agents that stopped them because of the way they looked, the remarks they made were pretty incredible. The judge thought that was the case, and it was reemphasized in the board's decision that it was outrageous behavior. So those are the reasons. In this particular case because of that it was denied.

Jose Cardenas:
In terms of the scope of the legal ruling, as I understand it, those comments that were made by the agents, inappropriate comments, certainly were outrageous. They colored the analysis by the judges, perhaps, but the specific basis was that the court concluded that the students were stopped because of their appearance alone is that right?

Judy Flanagan:
It was that and in addition because of coercion. The board decided as well that certain things that happened such as Luis, for example, asked four times for an attorney and was refused each time. Juliana asked to speak to her mother, which is allowed under the immigration regulations. That was denied. They were interrogated for nine hours. The officers were angryall of these are points that were raised in the board's decision. They looked at the totality of the circumstances and determined that the admissions they made were not freely given. They were coerced and rightfully suppressed under the Fifth Amendment.

Jose Cardenas:
There's been a lot of discussion about sheriff arpaio's procedures in detaining people the new head of the agency thinks are here illegally. County attorneys prosecuting them under smuggling statutes. Do you think this would have any impact in terms of defense that might be raised?

Judy Flanagan:
Well, the constitutional principles that underlie the decision are certainly principles that have been used in criminal defense proceedings for years. Generally in immigration proceedings the exclusion rule where the judge can suppress evidence is not applicable except where you have egregious circumstances. Here that's exactly what we had.

Jose Cardenas:
Let's talk quickly about a possible solution. Tell us about the likelihood that that will pass in the near future.

Judy Flanagan:
The dream act is federal legislation pending in the senate. It has a companion bill. The student adjustment act in the House of Representatives. It would allow students that have been in the country for five years, who entered prior to turning age 16, to become permanent residents of the United States . Once they have completed two years of college they would be able to become permanent residents.

Jose Cardenas:
Luis, we have talked about your situation and where this leaves you. What's going on with the other three members of the Wilson four?

Luis Nava:
I am not really sure what's going on with them. I don't really keep in touch with them.

Jose Cardenas:
Are they still in town?

Luis Nava:
Yes, I think so.

Jose Cardenas:
Judy, your understanding of their situation?

Judy Flanagan:
Well, as for all of them, none of them -- none of their immigration statuses have changed. They are continuing with their lives here. One student also has a petition pending through his u.s. Citizen wife. That's just taking a long time.

Jose Cardenas:
To become a legal resident?

Judy Flanagan:
Exactly.

Jose Cardenas:
We'll leave it there. Looks like the story of the Wilson four is over for now.

Judy Flanagan:
Hopefully.

Jose Cardenas:
Thank you for joining us.

Judy Flanagan:
Thank you.

Jose Cardenas: Luis Alberto Urrea's last book has been described as the mystical journey of a young woman in late 19th century Mexico . The prize winning author was in Tempe and spoke with Larry Lemons and the impact it's made on his life.

Larry Lemons:
Like to talk about the hummingbird's daughter. It's been described as magic realism I know that term has been made more popular with movies like, like water for chocolate. What is that drew you?

Luis Urrea:
What's ironic about that is it's a book, a historical novel based on my my great aunt, and what's really funny about that, all of the miracles are actually documented. You can go down to the Arizona historical society to find them. My editor was cutting out this and that, all the miracles. I said, this is great, but you're going to have a novel that's completely not as historical record. So to me that's kind of the definition of magic realism in that if you have a certain kind of a mind set -- for example, Arizona is a more magic realist place than Chicago . Chicago we got the bears. We got the red hot hot dogs. bratwurst. It's a very pragmatic area. Here there's a certain mysticism in the daily life, just the astonishing landscape and the plants, the cultures mixing. so magic realism, there was a guy who was famous for healing cows from tape worms, and this guy went to watch him and the guy would order the tape worms out and they would come out. I'll talk to their attorney and one of the students held while crossing the Canadian border.they said, if you see something like that what's so hard about believing in magic? It was a way I think to reflect my own upbringing but oddly enough it's kind of the reverse because in the novel the real fictional stuff is what did they have for breakfast? What kind of pants did they wear? The miracles are documented.

Larry Lemmons:
How did the previous work you did, border son, prepare you to write hummingbird's daughter?

Luis Urrea:
I have been working on hummingbird's daughter for 20 years, so my entire life has been a distraction from this one. I went down to Tucson for about a year and a half, and I wanted to be closer to the people and closer to the historical society. I began sort of studying with shamans and medicine people.

Larry Lemmons:
Like a Carlos castanedas --

Luis Urrea :
I hope not. I didn't take any drugs if that's what you're inferring.

Larry Lemmons:
I'm not inferring anything! You say it took you 20 years to write. Were you distracted with other work? Was there something that needed to come out and it took that amount of time?

Luis Urrea:
It was such an immense part of research, partially, but also trying to understand things. I had to research Mexican history, tribal history, and various aspects of religion. Then I realized, she was a midwife, so I have to find some mid wives and learn from them. Then birthing coaches, then herbalists, and it never ended. As well as trying to find her story and resurrect it.

Larry Lemmons:
Did you have family stories passed down about her.

Luis Urrea:
Absolutely.

Larry Lemmons:
Literally she was presumed dead, and then she rose. Could you describe that?

Luis Urrea:
Yes. There's pretty strong evidence that she was assaulted by a miner from named migan. Whatever happened to her, I have my suspicions, but the newspapers in the mid 1800s were fairly discrete about outrageous. The new head of the agency left her in a coma. She was brought back to the ranch, and when she was found by the cowboys, and they brought in American doctors from Arizona , then Mexican doctors from Sonora . They pronounced her dead. There was no pulse, no breath on a mirror, that was one of the tests they had back then, and there was no are e response whatsoever. They set up a wake for her and built a coffin. On the third day she awoke in the middle of all the people praying. You can imagine the scene of all the old Mexican ladies doing the rosary and she sits up and says, what's going on, they were jumping out windows and running like crazy. The report is her father ran in and she was looking at the coffin and she said, what is that? The new head of the agency said, it's your coffin. She said, I will not sleep there. So those kind of stories just mind-bending. I think part of the process for me was finding some way to make peace with her world. There's a whole lot of stuff that you assert in a book like that that's pretty strange. kind of art bell territory. rising from the dead, people floating. but my wife, who actually was a journalist in Tucson at the citizen, we met when we did an interview and ended up married, kind of a nice interview, but as many journalists, she is hard headed and pragmatic. She has persons experienced a lot of really weird stuff since we got together, not necessarily generated by me but by people around the story. We get an email from one of the descendants of the family who says she woke up left tating in midair. She's like, oh, well, cousin Bernie is left tating. Whatever! you have to get an accepting eye because so many weird things come at you.

Larry Lemmons:
You mentioned people from Chicago might be more realistic, not so much like the mystical Arizona . What was it like for you, then, as a writer to somehow blend these two realities together?

Luis Urrea:
That's why it took 20 years. I think there came a moment when I felt that I knew them, all the people I was writing about, in ways that you couldn't really research, but it's I had intent so many years with them and read their thoughts, been around them as presences, not here with us, wherever they are, long dead, but I just had a really strong sense of who they were, how they felt about things and how they responded. some of the main characters like there's a character named wela, who is the main teacher, there's though historical record of who she was or what she was like, but when I moved to Tucson I came into contact with the family of a medicine woman from her tribe of her personality, and I transposed what I learned of this teacher to wela, which gave that character life. Those are things you can do in fiction. You use your madge imagination to try to make it more real for the reader. I had in mind stuff like from when I was a little kid and read michner or when you read something like the stand by Stephen king and you find yourself in some other universe. lonesome dove. You don't want to come out of that universe. I thought, I could write a nonfiction book or try to make this hypnotic trance, and I think the only way you can do it is fiction. To make someone so into that world that they dream about it, it's got to be fiction.

Larry Lemmons:
What ultimately happened to her?

Luis Urrea:
She came here. She lived in tubac for a while, then they went to El Paso and she was pursued by thousands of followers and assassins and so forth, so her dad took her up above Safford. They had a little thing going on there for a while. She went to San Francisco and then st. Louis, then finally New York City . By the time she got to New York City she had learned American fashions, she became a Gibson girl. I have pictures of her in these beautiful dresses. Her friends in New York City dolled her up and entered her into a beauty contest, which she won. She went -- it's the American dream. She goes from a little bare-foot peasant Indian girl to queen of New York for a shining moment. It's impossible except in the United States , you know. So I'm working on the sequel now, which will be my immigrant novel. What happens to them coming here. Her dad is overwhelmed by America , and I don't think could adjust, but she found a kind of a hope and freedom here that people do find.

Larry Lemmons:
Both the devil's highway and hummingbird's daughter were so well received, I was just curious in closing, it took you 20 years to do hummingbird's daughter. How has it changed inside for you between struggling to finish that novel and ultimately doing it?

Luis Urrea:
Oh, you know, well, of course it's always nice to have money for the first time ever. It's amazing to have so many hundreds of people love her. You know what I mean? This is a woman that was kind of forgotten in a lot of ways. I get emails every day, and I have since 2004 is when the hard cover came out. I'll talk to their attorney and one of the students held while crossing the Canadian border. hundreds of them. I told you before we started taping, I was at the library last night, and I thought they would get 30, 40 people. They had 400 plus show up. I didn't know what to do. I was shocked. So those things are all -- the sort of physical things are great. I love all that. But on a personal level, the story was really ultimately about the everyday sacred. Not religious, just that this is sacred, what we have. Our moment together is holy because it's going to pass, and I'm trying to stay open to that, that, you know, I want to live sort of hummingbird style, getting all the nectar that I can before we fly away. when you get into a mindset like hers, if you see an old person shaking and struggling up the curb, they will make you start to cry, and I don't want to go there. I would rather watch wrestling and listen to heavy metal music, but you have to go there to write that stuff. It's that sense of in-dwelling, hope and spirit. That's been the greatest gift to me.

Larry Lemmons:
Thank you for visiting us.

Luis Urrea:
Good talking to you.

Jose Cardenas:
It's a story that was originally told as a passion play, but over the centuries, La Pastorela has become a vehicle for political satire and commentary. It's a story of a shepherd's journey to visit the baby Jesus. Here's James Garcia. Also joining us is marcelino quinonez. Mr. Devil tell us about the tradition of la pastorela, which dates back to medieval times, doesn't it?

James Garcia:
The use of plays like this by the church goes back to medieval times. It came to America with Cortez an the span yards and the mechanism by which the church used to convert.

Jose Cardenas:
How has it evolved over the centuries?

Jose Cardenas:
Rather than being an educational tool it's been a mechanism to provide social commentary on pop culture, politician of their era, the governments that run them.

Jose Cardenas:
These plays are done throughout Mexico , now I understand the United States.

James Garcia:
Yes. In Mexico every year still there are about 2500 performances a year. it's a tradition that's spread to the united states really it's been around for a couple, two, three decades in significant form. In the last decade it's started to pick up speed as more Latino theatre companies are formed, larger populations of Mexicans.

Jose Cardenas:
Partly because of a PBS film of the play --

James Garcia:
Perhaps the most famous rendition was by Luis Valdez, who wrote La Bamba, wrote and directed Zootsuit, the new head of the agency did one with Linda Ronstadt and other famous people.

Jose Cardenas:
We have some pictures. We'll use them to narrate what's going on. One of them we have a family. What is this?

James Garcia:
This is basically the shepherd's family. The story revolves around a family of goat she herds from Sonora and cross the sonoran desert headed to phoenix where they are going to catch the light-rail to Bethlehem . This is the core family, the person to the left of the viewer's screen is actually a mole for Satan and is trying to split the family apart.

Jose Cardenas:
While this is a Latin tradition I understand the play is mostly in English.

James Garcia:
This is written primarily in English, Spanglish thrown in. It's really primarily an English language play.

Jose Cardenas:
We have had another scene, looks like our troupe being greeted by --

James Garcia:
Here the she herds have run into monte and Harry, who happen to be in the desert. They are twin brothers. They are trying to sell them basically everything except what they need. They need water and batteries and food. These guys are selling piñatas. The logical question is why would we need them? The answer is that everybody needs one.

Jose Cardenas:
Of course. Finally there's one or picture before we get to our featured guest. This has to do with --

James Garcia:
This is bartolo, a healer.

Jose Cardenas:
In the Hispanic tradition.

James Garcia:
Exactly. The new head of the agency sees into the future. He's been given the command by god to go to the she herds and lead them to phoenix. The new head of the agency also speaks to god directly through his I-pod, which is a little bit of a modern twist.

Jose Cardenas:
Let's talk about your character

Marcellino Quinonez:
Well, it's my duty, my job to stop these she herds from getting to --

Jose Cardenas:
We have a picture as well.

Marcellino Quinonez:
To the railroads. I have to do my best. Whether that be consulting with senators or lawyers or -- just kidding. I have to do my best to stop them from getting to their destination.

Jose Cardenas:
The play has been performed for over a century, so it's no secret who wins. Is there anything surprising here?

Marcellino Quinonez:
Yes, there's a twist. I can't give it to you or else you won't go. Who wins is obviously known, but come and check it out. I'll talk to their attorney and one of the students held while crossing the Canadian border. You'll leave thinking, did that happen?

Jose Cardenas:
James, in this traditional telling of the battle between good and evil you have local celebrities.

James Garcia:
Yes, again, in terms of a commentary about politics and the cultural wars, we get to hear about Russell beard, Andrew Thomas --

Jose Cardenas:
They are not in it.

James Garcia:
No. We have references to Len munsel, governor Napolitano, Catherine Anaya --

Jose Cardenas:
It's at the mesa arts theatre?

James Garcia:
This Friday and Saturday night. Mesaartscenter.com to buy tickets.

Jose Cardenas:
Thank you for joining us. That's Horizonte for tonight. I'm Jose Cardenas. For everyone here at Horizonte, have a good evening.

Announcer:
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Luis Nava: One of the students slated for deportation;

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