All over the color of their skin. She was white -- beautiful, privileged, growing up in a Victorian mansion once the home of slave owners. He was Latino, dark, and the grandson of a revolutionary who fought with Pancho Villa.
And an innocent waltz in a school skit became their racial divide – as well as a young writer’s motivation for success in pursuit of a life that he believed would ultimately win over his first love and quell any objections in a world where race, ethnicity, heritage, and religion were often the arbiters of that society.
|Patricia O'Neal, 1958, the author's first love|
Author Tony Castro recounts how, as a child, he overcame speech and learning disabilities and an inability to speak English to become an honor student with a penchant for literature, classics, and writing. And he remained discreetly close to the lovely teenage ballerina who had captured his heart as a youth.
All the while, he encountered ugly warnings of violence and harm – against the two of them – should they see each other and defy the ages-old prohibition in the Bible Belt South of inter-racial relationships. As a precocious teenager passing himself off as much older reporter on one of his hometown newspapers, he vowed that when he made it, he wouldn’t be just good or just brilliant but the best journalist there ever had been in America. If he were that, he believed, who could deny him the girl of his dreams, color of skin notwithstanding.
His quixotic quest, however, ends badly and almost tragically.
More importantly, he finds himself unable to make sense of the racial divide ruling his life. After college, the color of his skin and the heritage that made him persona non grata to the adults who forbid his relationship with the girl of his dreams made him highly sought-after in a highly competitive business in which Hispanic journalists at the time were rare.
But it is his talent that he wants – and demands – to be recognized for, and not for being a company token in a world where minority quotas and affirmative action programs have taken root.
Nevertheless, the driving force the author set in motion as a youth propels him to the top of his profession by his mid-twenties – reporting on American presidential campaigns, writing an acclaimed civil rights history, and winning a prestigious Nieman Fellowship to Harvard, emblematic of the best in his industry.
His first book, Chicano Power: The Emergence of Mexican-America (E.P. Dutton, 1974) is now viewed as a seminal work in the contemporary history of Latinos in the Southwest. The book also became required reading in many of the Ethnic Studies and Latino Studies programs that sprang up in the 1970s and 1980s at colleges and universities around the country. Castro himself emerged as one of the leading experts on the Chicano civil rights movements and a contemporary Mexican America historian. At Harvard, while on his Nieman Fellowship, Castro also developed a close relationship with Mexican diplomat and future Nobel laureate Octavio Paz under whom he studied during his year-long sabbatical.
His unbridled ambition and his longing for his first love, though, ruin a marriage and leave him with more questions than answers. We all make mistakes, he learns, and we all pay a price.
When he returns to Texas after his fellowship, his youth gone but with the rest of his life ahead, Castro comes to grips with the hard realities that face even the most diehard of romantics. In the age-old wisdom of Thomas Wolfe, the author like many before him learns that he can’t go home again. He must move on, from family and from Texas.
But you only fall in love for the first time once. And, if it’s real, it might last forever.
From the book's dust jacket copy.
From the book's dust jacket copy.