Coming Up: T.C. Boyle, Sex, and My Love for Mamá’s Shithole Country

This week I have a couple of special podcasts coming up. One is an interview with T.C. Boyle. The other is called El Testimonio.

A few years ago I had a radio show on KPFK, 90.7 fm, here in Los Angeles. It’s the local affiliate of Pacifica Radio, and about two miles left of NPR. If you’re looking for radical radio, KPFK is for you.

My show was called “Shelf Life.” It played on Wednesdays at noon. Writers came through town, selling their latest novel or collection of poetry or memoir. We sat in the booth, talked about the book, then got into conversations about literature, and what it was like to spend your days as a writer.

On Monday, I’ll begin playing these interviews on The Writing Bull Podcast, and will begin with T.C. Boyle, one of our own homegrown novelists of southern California. We’re talking about his novel The Inner Circle, which is, well, it’s all about sex.

After that, I’ve got Pico Iyer, Jane Smiley, George Plimpton, E.L. Doctorow, William Kennedy, and more.

On Tuesday—and this one really excites me—I will begin what in Central America we call El Testimonio. It will be in Spanish. A testimonio is akin to a memoir here in the States, but, it’s much more.

I find most gringo memoirs to be a bit navel-gazing. It’s about the writer and his relationship with his distant father, or a woman who suffered a horrible childhood. I’ve read a lot of these, have enjoyed them, been moved by them.

But there’s something missing: community. They are mostly about the writer himself, and the few people in his tight, closed-off world. This is no surprise. We’re raised in the rugged individualism, pull-yourself-up by-the-bootstraps myth. It’s no wonder our memoirs reflect such isolationism.

A Central American memoir is more communal. Rogoberta Menchu reflects the entire Mayan struggle against the Guatemalan military. Gioconda Belli’s El País bajo mi piel (“The Country Under My Skin”) is about her life as a member of a national movement: to liberate Nicaragua from the Somoza dictatorship.

Those are what the U.S. readership might call “political memoirs.” Of course; we have this need to pigeon-hole literature here, like we pigeon-hole everything else. But in Central America, those books are seen as life. Not just one person’s life, but many–sometimes an entire nation.

My testimonio is simple: A man born in a Latino world gets ripped out of it. He spends the rest of his life looking for his Salvadoran roots. He gets involved in struggles that are far greater than his own individual journey, movements that clarify what it really means to be of a Latino culture.

I do this because today, the U.S.-gringo world sees Latinos as rapists and murderers who come from shithole countries. I’m sick of this. We all are. So this is my little attempt to say jode a tu madre, pendejo to all the Latino-haters out there.

That said, I invite all to listen to El Testimonio. If you’re learning Spanish and need the practice, ¡bienvenidos! If you’re like me, half & half (Latino/gringo), and you’re looking for your roots, this is definitely the podcast for you.

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