By LANCE ARMSTRONG, Valley Community Newspapers writer
The setting for the lecture is quite fitting, considering that Avendaño retired from the university last August after 37 years of teaching literature and language at this local institution of higher learning.
People who are most familiar with Avendaño know that although he is a person who was very serious about his role as an educator at the university, he is also a person who has been very dedicated to his writing.
In pondering his retirement, Avendaño, who during his teaching career has taught Hispanic, Portuguese and Brazilian literature and Spanish, Portuguese and French languages, said, “I’ve always been writing, but now I have more time to write.”
“Santa Maria,” which is mainly set in the 1850s through the 1870s, is a historical novel, which presents the story of the cultural struggles and various interactions between the Prescotts, an Anglo-American family from Virginia who relocates to California, and the Uribes, an established Mexican-American family living in California.
When asked why he desired to write “Santa Maria,” Avendaño said that he has been interested in bringing more attention to early day Mexican-Americans since the days of his youth.
“When I was growing up in Southern California, of course I would go see the films and there were a lot of westerns at the time,” Avendaño said. “In the westerns, you always saw the Anglo-American hero and even if the actors were not Anglo-American themselves, the heroes that were depicted were Anglo-Americans. Even as a young boy, I read a lot of history, so I knew my history. I said, ‘Where are the Mexican-Americans? I know they were here. Where are they?’
“The only thing that once in a while came up was stereotypes. Usually the heavies were Mexican-Americans and sometimes these Mexican-Americans who appeared were not even Mexican. They were some other ethnicity dressed up in a stereotypical way. That was part of my motivation, because I wanted to open up the West and the Southwest to the story of Mexican-Americans from the 1800s, because it’s missing.”
The well-known expression, “Write what you know,” does well to describe Avendaño’s approach to “Santa Maria.”
As a notable Mexican-American historical writer, who writes books in both English and Spanish, Avendaño, in creating his most recent book, combined his long established knowledge in early California history with his additional research of California history and his well-seasoned background as a fictional storyteller.
Many readers of “Santa Maria” will find that Avendaño has done his homework when it comes to American and Mexican culture during the 1850s and such topics as the Mexican War and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
In addition to “Santa Maria,” Avendaño has also written the following books:
“El Corrido de California” (“The Ballad of California”): Unlike Avendaño’s other books, “El Corrido de California,” which was published in 1979, is unique in that it was written as a historical play.
“Los Terricolas” (“The Earthlings”): Published in 1986, this book is a collection of various short stories, some of which have appeared in journals in the United States and Mexico.
“El Sueño de Siempre y Otros Cuentos” (“The Recurrent Dream and Other Stories”): This book, which was published in 1996, features a variety of both fantasy and realistic stories with mostly Mexican-American characters. These stories have settings in California and in the American Southwest.
Salazar’s Gold: An award-wining, semi-historical novel, which highlights the Mexican population that remained in California after the territories were enacted. The book, which was published in 2002, presents the conflicts related to Mexican families losing their properties, essentially in Northern California.
“El Corrido de California” and “El Sueño de Siempre y Otros Cuentos,” which are Spanish language books, and “Salazar’s Gold,” which is written in English, are available to be read online at no cost to readers.
Avendaño, who has resided in the Pocket area since 1977, explained that his lecture today allows him the opportunity to present his book, which he said carries a very important message.
“The main thing I want people to understand about the book is that Mexican-Americans have a story to tell during the 1850s and that they were not absent and were here all along and that it was a very difficult time for them,” Avendaño said. “The book should (be of interest to) anybody who is interested in an entertaining read and to those who (desire) to learn something at the same time about their beloved California. And another thing is people should know about history, because history matters, and much of what we see today is the direct result of historical facts. So, even today, whatever we do today will create reality in the future.”
Although Avendaño will be available to sign copies of his new book at today’s event, the book can also be purchased by mail. Checks or money orders in the amount of $14 ($12 for the book and $2 for shipping and handling) can be mailed to Spanish Press, P.O. Box 255284, Sacramento, CA 95825.
Books can also be ordered through the Hornet Bookstore or through the Web site www.amazon.com.
For additional information about Avendaño’s latest book or to read the first chapter of the book at no cost, visit the Web site www.spanishpress.com.