As a novelist and screenwriter, Victor Villasenor has chronicled the difficult experiences of the millions of Mexicans who have immigrat¬ ed to the United States. He is a self-taught writer who has helped introduce Chicano literature into the American mainstream.
Born in Carlsbad, California, to Mexican immigrant parents, Villasenor struggled in school as a boy. He spoke Spanish as his pri¬ mary language, and his difficulties were com¬ pounded by dyslexia, a learning disability. He dropped out of high school and went to work in the fields on the ranch where his father worked.
Later, he earned his income as a con¬ struction worker. He tried college in San Diego, but again he had difficulty and dropped out of school altogether. Villasenor then took a trip to Mexico, where he discovered his her¬ itage as well as a love for literature.He returned to the United States with a newfound passion for reading and writing. He read constantly and taught himself to write fiction.
In his time off from construction work, he wrote a total of nine novels and sixty- five short stories over a period of ten years. Unfortunately, all of them were rejected for publication. Villasenor had received more than two hundred rejections when, in 1973, Bantam Books accepted his novel Macho! for publication. The novel, which received critical acclaim, tells the painful story of a young Mexican who enters the United States illegally to find work.
He returns to his native country with a changed attitude about traditional values, especially the ethic of machismo. In 1977, Villasenor turned to nonfiction. He published Jury: The People versus Juan Corona, which chronicled the life and trial of a serial killer. In 1983, he ventured into the world of film when he wrote a screenplay, The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez. It was made into a successful movie starring well-known Hispanic actor Edward James Olmos (see no. 81).
Villasenor then began researching his next book, Rain ofGold. Released in 1992, the book tells the multi-generational saga of Villasenor’s own family. It includes the family’s history in Mexico as well as in the United States. For the book, he conducted extensive interviews with family members, and he used traditional ele¬ ments of Mexican folktales and the oral tradi¬ tion to tell the story.
It was a national bestseller, and he followed it in 1996 with a sequel, Wild Steps of Heaven. In addition to writing, Villasenor is a popu¬ lar speaker on a variety of topics, including family, pride, and world peace—an issue he has adopted as his personal project. In 1992, he conducted his first annual “Snow Goose Global Thanksgiving for World-Wide Peace.’’