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Michelle Newby is contributing editor at Lone Star Literary Life, reviewer for Kirkus, freelance writer, member of the National Book Critics Circle, blogger at www.TexasBookLover.com, and a moderator at the 20th annual Texas Book Festival. Her reviews appear in Pleiades Magazine, Rain Taxi, World Literature Today, High Country News, South85 Journal, The Review Review, Concho River Review, Monkeybicycle, Mosaic Literary Magazine, Atticus Review, and The Collagist.
A native of El Paso, Texas, Robert L. Selter earned a journalism degree from the University of Texas at El Paso. He has worked for newspapers such as the Houston Chronicle, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the San Antonio Express-News, where he is currently the public editor. He has won state and national awards for his news, feature, and sports reporting.
Robert L. Seltzer, with introduction by Naomi Shihab Nye
Texas Christian University Press
Paperback, 978-0-87565-636-6, 224 pgs., $22.95
September 16, 2016
Robert Seltzer’s father was the journalist and short story writer Chester Seltzer, who wrote under the pseudonym Amado Muro. Most readers never knew he was Anglo. Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Chester was afflicted, or blessed, with a powerful case of wanderlust. During his wanderings, he fell in love with Mexico. Later he married a Mexican woman, Amada Muro, whose family fled the Mexican Revolution for the safety of El Paso.
A man born to money and privilege, Chester was an iconoclast who rejected these values, finding his compatriots in society’s alienated. “[My father] did not just write his short stories,” Robert writes, “he lived them. . . . A kind of latter-day Jack London . . . he rode the rails throughout the Southwest, writing about men who never saw the good times that followed the Great Depression.”
In Amado Muro and Me: A Tale of Honesty and Deception, Robert writes achingly of a father he did not fully comprehend until after his death. Chester spent much time writing, and much time away from home. “His stories were heartfelt and lyrical,” his son writes, “but they exhibited a compassion toward others that should have been directed toward his family.” This memoir is Robert’s nuanced, subtly beautiful, belated appreciation.
In 1964, the family moved from El Paso to Bakersfield, California, where Robert was the only Latino in his new school, and the fifth-grade bully informed him that he was a “beaner.” Robert uses this single year of his life, when he was ten years old and first encountered racism, to show us the character of his father and to explore their relationship. As it turned out, Robert’s father (who, as his abuela explained to him, had chosen to be Mexican) was the perfect person to guide him through.
The narrative is steady and engaging, treating us to a couple of Chester’s short stories when they serve to illuminate a point. The photographs, especially one of Robert’s grandmother before the Mexican Revolution, are historical companions to the text. Robert’s writing viscerally conveys the homesickness, heartbreak, and confusion of the child he once was.
But there is humor here, as well. When Robert tells his mother that he was called a beaner, she advises him to call the bully a hamburger or a hot dog because those are American foods. When his father takes him along to deliver food to a “hobo” camp, Robert describes himself as “a little Margaret Mead among the Samoans.” And there is sweetness in his vocabulary lessons with his father, a thinking man who believed in the closely examined life and gifted his son with words.
A few critics have objected to an Anglo adopting a Hispanic pen name, as if he had perpetrated a fraud or did not have the requisite experiences to qualify him to write from a particular point of view. Naomi Shihab Nye addresses these concerns in the introduction to Amado Muro and Me in which she claims the right of imagination for all artists, disputing the recent hot-button topic of cultural appropriation, asking “What if we could only write as ourselves?”. We would all be poorer for that.
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