An Inverview with Alfredo Vea

Posted Mar 19 2006

Award-winning author discusses his views on Chicano literature, violence in our society, and the Vietnam War. (Mi Gente, March 2000)

What if Hollywood were to create a character, who lived the transitory life of a migrant as a youth, earned college degrees in physics, English and law, in spite of no formal elementary school education, and currently works as a novelist and criminal defense lawyer? What if this character was also a veteran of the Vietnam War and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize? What if this character also spoke English, Spanish , French and Tagalog? Without a doubt, this character would be axed for being unrealistic. Yet, that description is just a small glimpse of author Alfredo V?a. His latest work, "God's Go Begging," is a wrenching novel about war, desire, gender, race, class and history that takes readers from the steaming jungles of south Vietnam, to the urban backdrop of a San Francisco ghetto. The award-winning book has been described as the first major novel to examine the Vietnam War from a Latino perspective and Vea himself has been called "a blend between Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Raymond Chandler." Although he's of Yaqui and Mexican heritage, his work moves beyond the confines of "ethnic literature" and provides a complex, and often uncomfortable, view of our society. Refusing to take the moral high ground, Vea reminds us that right and wrong aren't always clear cut and that oppression knows no color.

What is your motivation for your work as a writer and lawyer?

My motivation for being a lawyer and writer are the same: to find the truth of things; to bring the truth to the jury, the prosecutor and to the defendant. In a culture built on mythologies, a literary and cultural canon that is, and always has been racially selective, it is not difficult to long for more. I want Brown and Black defendant to look at their lawyer and see someone who looks like them. I want to drag "Chicano literature" out of the politically correct, folk art doldrums in which it languishes. Latino literature in America can and should be what Irish literature has been to English; what Black writing has been to American Literature. It's time for us to see where the artistic bar is set (Faulkner, Nabokov, O¡¦Neill, Williams), and leap with every intention of going over it.

You've often said that you'd rather be categorized as an author who is Chicano rather than a Chicano author. Could you elaborate?

"Chicano author" or "author who is Chicano." The first is the past, the second is the future. That is not to say that the first is bad. It is and was a laudable thing that a culture within a "dominant" culture seeks to protect and embrace its own art, especially when the larger culture does not. But there comes a point when that embrace can become a strangle hold--favoring politically correct art. Remember that this battle was fought eighty years ago in Harlem. The great Harlem Renaissance was riddled with strife over the issue of art for the sake of politics or art for the sake of art. Luckily the latter won and the latter proved that art is political, and any effort to force it in that direction is contrary to the ideal of art. Art will go that way. That period in Harlem was the greatest flourish of art in the history of this country. Much of Chicano art in the last decade or so has not been very good, and this is a direct result of its protected status and the necessity that it be of a political nature. Peru, Argentina, Chile and Mexico have no problem generating writers that perform on the world stage (Fuentes, Llosa, Marquez); they have no problem developing an intelligensia. We have had that problem. I believe it is time for Latino American writers to compete on the world stage.


1. Johanna said at February 22, 2009 3:21 pm:

I just found "Gods go begging" and it's a very good book. I am not a literary person who can comments eloquently and say boring intellectual stuff about a book. I just opened the book, started reading and said wow - this guy is a great writer and this book is amazing. ...end of story...

2. Pat Corbett said at September 19, 2009 12:41 pm:

I heard nearly 10 years ago that you were spied working on a new book, while sipping coffee in a SF cafe near Mission St. Where is it and what's it called? I've read all your books so far, and la Maravilla twice.

3. Pat Corbett said at September 19, 2009 12:42 pm:

I heard nearly 10 years ago that you were spied working on a new book, while sipping coffee in a SF cafe near Mission St. Where is it and what's it called? I've read all your books so far, and la Maravilla twice.

4. Ken Stofft said at February 15, 2017 12:41 pm:

This interview is superb. Vea is one of the most unique novelists of our times in my estimation. His insights shatter the status quo. Ken

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