Serafina’s Stories and The Santero’s Miracle
By Rudolfo Anaya
University of New Mexico Press
New Mexico’s father of fiction, Rudolfo Anaya, continues to spin tales of Latino life in the Southwest with two new books released in September. Serafina’s Stories, likened to a southwestern version of Arabian Nights, is set in 17th century Santa Fe. Rudolfo translated 12 Nuevo Mexicano cuentos, interweaving them with the story of Serafina, a brave Puebloan woman who earns the release of her 11 comrades by impressing their Spanish captor with her storytelling.
”Serafina’s Stories deals with a lot of the history of the time and the relationship of the Spaniards and the American Indians,” says Rudolfo. His second new book, The Santero’s Miracle, is a bilingual children’s book that captures the tradition of New Mexico’s santeros, or carvers of saints. The story takes place at Christmas time, and portrays the magic of the season through the richness of Latino culture and traditions.
Rudolfo has spent his writing career breathing life into the culture and landscape of his native New Mexico. Growing up along the banks of the Pecos River in the small town of Santa Rosa, listening to the stories of his elders, he became immersed in the magical tales from his childhood.
He recalls, ”The sense of story telling that existed in my family and the people who visited was passed down to me. We didn’t have books at home, I didn’t see books until I went to school, and I didn’t speak English until I was in 1st grade.”
After earning a B.A. in Education from the University of New Mexico, Rudolfo went on to earn master’s degrees from UNM in English literature and guidance counseling. From 1974 to his retirement in 1993, he was a professor in the university’s Department of Language and Literature, and continues to be affiliated with the university as an emeritus professor.
His first book, Bless Me, Ultima, published in 1972, won the Premio Quinto Sol national Chicano literary award. Since then, Rudolfo has published numerous works of fiction, drama, poetry, and essays. His 1992 novel, Albuquerque, won the PEN Center West Award for Fiction. He continues to be a prolific writer.
Rudolfo says of his work, ”A writer is always writing. It’s not that you only write when you go sit down and write at the desk. I’m constantly thinking of characters, scenes, events, dialogues. Some are stronger than others and those are the ones that demand a story or full novel.”
A continuous theme in Rudolfo’s work is the cultural interplay endemic to the Southwest. ”There are two ways of looking at New Mexico culture,” he explains. ”One is that the cultures have to co-exist, and most of the time, we, the Hispanics, have to learn to survive in the American culture. At the same time, each culture has its own language, history, and customs.”
While his native New Mexico provides the setting, Rudolfo’s stories are inspired by his love of storytelling, his ear for dialogue, and his active imagination. He confides, ”Every experience in life, every dream, every relationship counts. They all go into the pot.” His Kellogg fellowship is among those valuable experiences. ”The fellowship was an education,” he says. ”It allowed me to travel to many different places and to meet people with different perspectives. It all goes into the pot.” His book, A Chicano in China, a travelogue, came from the experiences he encountered while traveling during his fellowship.
Rudolfo has received numerous honorary degrees and awards, including the New Mexico Endowment for the Humanities’ Lifetime Achievement in the Humanities Award, the Mexican Medal of Friendship, and recently, the Luis Leal Award for Distinction in Chicano/Latino Literature. In 2002, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts from President Bush for his ”exceptional contribution to contemporary American literature that has brought national recognition to the traditions of the Chicano people, and for his efforts to promote Hispanic writers.”
Says Rudolfo of the awards, ”They all have a special meaning. They are all special because of where they come from.” He admits, ”The most rewarding are from people who have read my work. That’s why I write, to communicate with other people. When someone out of the blue, say a bus driver or construction worker, says, ’I’ve read your book,’ that’s a reward in itself.”