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 Dagoberto Gilb

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Photo Credit: Frank Arnold, Book People

Your Questions   1 | 2 6 Questions

P.O.V.'s Borders visitors sent Dagoberto Gilb these questions in response to his work and his answers to P.O.V.'s initial 6 Questions. Read on!

Question: How and when did you decide to become a writer? What was the hardest part about "crossing over" into a world of letters versus a world of carpentry and construction? How do you begin a story and how faithful are you to events in your life? Do you start from a documentary place then move into fiction or do you just create from the beginning?

Dagoberto: Writing is a permanent flu — it hits you, you have no control of it. Its symptoms are: Light-headed, feverish daydreaming about writing while at a paying job that you get fired from; gut-wrenching dread of having a worthless, unemployable life while writing one paragraph in two hours for a piece that you may (or may not if it's lousy, which it often is), after you have lots and lots and lots of paragraphs, a hundred or two dollars; finally, and even worse, a hallucinogenic-like bloodrush when something you have written is accepted — this delusional exhilaration can affect personality for many troubled years, even when the only other person to have read it and believed in you and this work, momentarily, was your one and only love (not even your mom will have been impressed), the one you shouldn't have let get away, but she now dismisses you because you're such a financial loser.

I never crossed it, it crossed me. I was a carpenter who wrote. I read and loved stories and books. I loved getting to go to college — I loved learning what I didn't know — so much I didn't know! (Still don't, but you can't BELIEVE how much I didn't know before) (or maybe you can.)

I write fiction. Fiction is more "faithful" to "real" events than "reality." Fiction is like myth — more true. It is like poetry — focus on the small to describe the large. I write fiction to try to transcribe, descriptively, that which has no specific word or sound. Fiction is a form of sign language, and once you get used to it, you love signing with others who know it. It's also, therefore, very quiet, as you see, so nobody screams at you for getting carried away by it, like, eg, peoples who like, say, plays drums in a rock band.

Question: Mr. Gilb, as communities and cultures continue to merge and blend, what advice, strategies, thoughts do you have for bi-racial and intercultural youth trying to negotiate between the traditions of their family and those of their new home.

Dagoberto:There is no particular answer — if there were, there'd be a software you could load. This is an old, old story, the oldest story, the one played out in Mexico, in the Caribbean, in Central America, in all lands conquered by others, by those who surrendered and those who fought back. It has played out here in the United States: Immigrants. You know, Kentuckians of German descent who came to Tejas, which was Mexico, and loved it so much they decided to stay and take it and call it Texas.

Everyone of us is a country and a culture unto each other. It is the mark of American culture. Each of us has been negotiating this as soon as we notice consciousness. It's about power, class, and color ("Ay, ¡que chulo!"). We do know the game. It is played and played as much as a video game: You learn to play with your own skills. Are you a priest, a warrior, a businessman, a teacher, a muscian, an artist, a plumber, a writer, an engineer, a doctor...? The best weapon is to work harder, do more, be better. Be proud when the time comes. Be humble and be generous. But don't take any guff (no pedo).

Question: I was wondering if you could elaborate on your hatred of the gender slash (chicano/a). Do you not think this difference is important, or that it serves a purpose? Unity, solidarity and equality are noble goals, but do you honestly think that distinctions, such as gender, are always bad. Can't people cooperate while remaining on different sides of a border?

Dagoberto: It's that I hate freaking Stalinist bureacrat jargon, like being forced to join a political party (right or left?), so no me gusta the slash thing, even as I say (though I am not allowed to, probably) I understand the issue it underlies. So yeah, go ahead, whack me with it now. Whack me with that big stick. Smack smack. I'm cowering, taking my lashing. I will say, my back exposed, watching you, it sure looks like trouble to carry around, makes you look... well, it just ain't enough, is it? And don't it make into caricature what's, otherwise, a valuable subject? It's obviously about me, not as an individual, but about my hormones and genes, and what can I do about it now? But I hate to say it but it doesn't really hurt that much, I'm sorry. So go on, whack and smack. Isn't it hard to go to cool parties, meet someone you like, and — since it's always there at your side — I'm sure then you have to discuss it? What a drag it must be to carry it around when you step out to eat, having to check it at the door, not forget it like an umbrella. I forget those all the time! It just doesn't look very fun. I suppose probably I'm just too dumb, those juicy hormones of mine making me too burpy drunk. So sorry. But hey, I'm telling you, I give up, I surrender — I am a Chicana writer, I surrender my O, you win. Can't that be enough?? Just tell me what I gotta do.

Your Questions 1 | 2 >

Next > "I just crashed into my own border of intelligence!! A thick and high wall. I'm leaning here for now."

about Dagoberto Gilb


Dagoberto Gilb spent twelve years as a highrise carpenter with the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and is the author of The Magic of Blood, which won the 1994 PEN/Hemingway Award.


The Magic of Blood

Read an excerpt from
The Magic of Blood
Dagoberto Gilb