From page one to the final sentence of any piece of literature, a theme is present. One or many themes in a text can be hidden or obvious, but they are always there, laid out by the author to convey a meaning or belief, an underlying message or even purpose for the story. The themes found in Crossing Borders mirror the values that make Sergio Troncoso who he is today; heritage, family, hard work, and of course, the manner in which one crosses the many borders in life.
Sergio Troncoso, award-winning author of Nature of Truth, From This Wicked Patch of Dust, and Crossing Borders, accepted an invitation from HCC to be the subject of this year’s One Book One College Event on Thursday, March 30. The annual event allows students and faculty to study a piece of literature and then interact with the writer in a series of talks and Q&A sessions, in three different settings, over the course of one day.
The first event took place early in a Beacon Hall classroom. Troncoso motioned for the students and staff in attendance to fill the empty seats in front, closest to him. Just because they were sitting far away did not make them safe, he said, and he can always spot the students trying to hide. He wanted people to engage, to ask questions, and hopefully relate in some way to the stories he would share with them.
“The color brown is the most complex color in the spectrum, it needs every other color to create it,” Troncoso said, referring to the color of everyone’s skin who lived in Isleta, the rough neighborhood in El Paso, Texas, where he was raised.
Instead of high school football games, gang rumbles, (not unlike the one depicted in The Outsiders, Troncoso’s favorite book) complete with chains and knives occurred outside his window every Friday night. His “tough as nails” abuelita killed two men who attempted to assault her. These were the dangerous surroundings that a self-described “fat kid” who liked to read would eventually trade for the pristinely kept campuses of the Ivy League.
“The biggest border I crossed was arriving at Harvard. It was like if I took you and I put you on Mars. I didn’t even know where to eat, I just followed the other kids,” Troncoso said.
Fifteen hour days in the library, and always working harder than the person next to him earned him two graduate degrees from Yale, then he would embark on his career as an author.
The stories of his schooling, his Mexican heritage, his complicated relationship with his father, his mother’s unwavering faith, and his wife’s fight with cancer are all explored in his collection of essays, Crossing Borders.
“When I was writing this book I wanted to translate those immigrant values that were good for me at Harvard. I started writing stories with moral questions and philosophical questions that combined these worlds,” Troncoso said.
HCC journalism student Kathleen Chaves read Crossing Borders and said she was fascinated with Troncoso’s story.
“I loved hearing about how much he loved his wife in his letters to his sons. He literally did everything he could for her. Read the last paragraph on pg.55, you’ll get what I mean,” she said.
The afternoon talk, held in the Events Center of Beacon Hall, was crowded and would be followed by a book signing. Though this portion was more formal than the morning session, Troncoso still encouraged the audience to join in. It gave the feeling of being in a conversation rather than listening a lecture.
The most consistent theme throughout the afternoon talk was giving back. Troncoso stressed that whatever knowledge one gains in life it is his or her responsibility to impart that knowledge in a manner that helps someone.
“The knowledge and the power you get you spread to your community. When you cross a border you don’t leave people behind, you help those people who are still back there,” said Troncoso.
The Q&A portion of the One Book One College afternoon event was regrettably cut short to allow enough time for the book signing. Many raised hands belonged to students who would not get to ask their questions to Troncoso, who was so eager to hear from them that he asked the organizers for more time. He then encouraged students to meet him at the book signing table where he would speak to anyone who wanted to share their thoughts, even if they didn’t have a copy in hand.