By AMANDA GRAY
THE GOSHEN NEWS
GOSHEN — Author Luis Urrea defines the American Dream.
Born in Tijuana, Urrea (pronounced oo-RAY-uh) has since grown to be a best-selling and national award-winning author, recently given the distinction of being the next National Endowment for the Arts “Big Read” with his book “Into the Beautiful North” — a distinction bestowed on big-name authors that include Zora Neale Hurston and Ray Bradbury, among many others.
“I come from a dirt street in Tijuana,” Urrea said. “I tell people that it’s only in America I can come from a place like that and be where I am now.”
Urrea will speak at Goshen College Monday, according to a press release from the college. He’ll begin at 10 a.m. in the Church-Chapel in a lecture called “The Border, Immigration and The Devil’s Highway: A Journey with the Author Luis Urrea.” The talk will focus on the content of Urrea’s book, “The Devil’s Highway,” a true story following 26 illegal immigrants as they try to cross the U.S. border.
Urrea called the book “raw,” saying some may find language or other situations offensive, but that he tries his best to tell the whole truth with his writing, as well as putting his faith in the work.
“I’m interested in doing literature of witness,” he said. “Everything I write is about religion, even in telling the truth. I’m honoring God by telling the truth.”
Before he was an author, Urrea served as a translator in Tijuana for Baptist missionaries, translating for them while they worked with the poor living in the city’s garbage dumps. He said his faith does shine through his work. He said he has had criticism saying his work isn’t religious or that it’s offensive because it’s religious — two opposites showing he’s been able to stay in the middle, he said.
“I don’t think I write for a religious audience,” he said. “I write for a secular audience, and I try to have my faith in the story.
Urrea comes from a mixed ethnic heritage, part Irish and part Mexican. This mixed heritage gives him a unique perspective, he said.
“I’m in an interesting position to talk to people ... It seems to be my job to remind people that we’re all a part of the same family,” Urrea said. “People are concerned about the world we live in. My own heritage reminds us we’re all immigrants.”
Urrea’s duty as an author is to show people where a story comes from, and to teach them about laughter and humanity, he said.
“I’ve really come to believe that there is no ‘them’ — only ‘us,’” Urrea said. “Maybe we’re in different departments or come from different backgrounds, but we all walking down the same road, and I see that as an eternal road. We can help each other along the way.”
For more information on Urrea, visit www.luisurrea.com.