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Dr. David Bowles, UTRGV Assistant Professor in Literatures & Cultural Studies, with his book "They Call Me G¸ero" on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019 at his office in the Liberal Arts Building South in Edinburg, Texas. UTRGV Photo by Paul Chouy

Featured: Dr. David Bowles, an associate professor in the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Department of Literatures and Cultural Studies, with his book, “They Call Me Güero”, a novel in verse filled with slice-of-life poems illustrating life as a border kid – something for which 430,000 children in the Valley can relate.

Photograph By PAUL CHOUY

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“They Call Me Güero”: Dr. David Bowles novel celebrates Mexican-American culture and youth

By PRISCILLA RAMÍREZ

Spanish-speakers often refer to a person with light hair, eyes and complexion as “güero” – a term of endearment free of cultural or racial overtones.

Dr. David Bowles, an associate professor in the UTRGV Department of Literatures and Cultural Studies, grew up “half-and-half” in the Rio Grande Valley with the nickname granted from his father’s Mexican-American heritage.

Now, he bestows it on the protagonist of his newest book, “They Call Me Güero,” a novel in verse filled with slice-of-life poems that illustrate life as a border kid – something for which 430,000 children in the Valley can relate.

“Young kids have to realize that we have wonderful things to celebrate and we should feel pride in it,” Bowles said. “We are worthy of being written about and our lives contain poetry. We need to look in the mirror and see we are beautiful.”

Children should be able to read a different perspective in lives like their own, he says. His book tackles the issue of single-faceted archetypes, especially machismo (exaggerated masculinity) forced onto Latino boys, and comes up often during his visits to schools across the Valley.

“I tell students it’s OK to be travieso (mischievous), it doesn’t make you a bad person,” he said. “I want to give boys permission to be as complex as they want to be. Güero is more of a soft boy – he’s not a fighter. His girlfriend does the fighting for him, and that’s OK, too. There’s nothing wrong with admiring strong women and seeing them as role models.”

In preparation for writing Güero’s voice, Bowles pulled from his family experiences growing up in the Valley and molded it with his son’s life. The result blends the English and Spanish languages with a blend of regional traditions and modern ideals.

The focus was not in teaching a moral lesson, but to paint a picture of everyday life in the Valley. Each poem is a vignette into the culture and acts as homage to the uniqueness of the Rio Grande Valley, especially the importance of family and friends.

“Bringing all these elements from my own family into tighter focus helped me to appreciate my love for my family,” Bowles said. “Once you get to a certain age, you lose people, and writing about a young boy helps me remember them and hear their voices more clearly. It was like revisiting my own childhood.”

Bowles believes that tackling an important issue like cultural identity is essential in today’s climate. His passion for positive recognition for the Valley and the expression of Hispanic culture were his love letter to South Texas.

“People on the outside look at Mexican-Americans and don’t understand us or our culture and are afraid of it,” he said. “I want a book about us to be in the hands of kids, so they understand what it’s like to be a Mexican-American kid and see how wonderful it is.”

“They Call Me Güero” recently was awarded a 2019 Tomas Rivera Book Award, but that’s not the first acknowledgment for the book. Bowles, and “Güero,” have earned multiple accolades recently for excellence in poetry:

• Pura Belpré Author Honor Book;
• 2019 Walter Dean Myers Awards for Outstanding Children’s Literature;
• School Library Journal 2018 Best Books List Honor, Middle Grade;
• National Council of Teachers of English Notable Verse Novel for Children 3-13;
• ALSC Notable Children’s Book, 2019; and
• Shelf Awareness 2018 Best Children’s & Teen Books of the Year, Middle Grade.

As a literature professor, Bowles believes that works for children can also be beneficial to adults, as a refresher to a more innocent way of thinking and encourages adults to enjoy younger readers.

“It’s nice to win awards, but what I really want is for people to read it and to understand, and to look up to Güero as someone who greets the world with open arms,” Bowles said. “We have misconceptions about what literature is and divorce ourselves from the wide-eyed and clear-headed way of looking at the world.”

On Tuesday, February 26, Bowles will serve as a presenter at UTRGV’s annual FESTIBA (Festival of International Books and Arts), where he will speak on “Güeros and Chupacabras: Helping Kids Celebrate the Border.”

His session begins at 2 p.m. on the Edinburg Campus, at the Health Affairs West Building, Room 2.212.

A remote viewing on the Brownsville Campus will be held at the Life and Health Sciences Building, Room 1.104.

FESTIVAL OF INTERNATIONAL BOOKS AND ARTS TO BE HOSTED BY UTRGV AT EDINBURG AND BROWNSVILLE CAMPUSES FROM FEBRUARY 25 THROUGH MARCH 3

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley will soon be kicking off its annual Festival of International Books & Arts (FESTIBA), designed to promote literacy and appreciation of reading for all ages.

FESTIBA will run from Monday, February 25, 2019 through Sunday, March 3, 2019, with events on the Brownsville and Edinburg campuses.

The FESTIBA theme this year is “Inspiring Communities and Celebrating Cultural Heroes,” and will recognize and honor the individuals and organizations who have significantly touched, enriched and affected lives in the Rio Grande Valley.

One of the more popular events during FESTIBA is the Texas Book Festival’s Reading Rock Stars. This program is a hands-on literacy initiative that inspires young readers with dynamic presentations and sends them home with the most empowering experience of all – owning their very own book. Authors will present their works and visit elementary schools from Feb. 28 to March 1 in Alton, Edinburg, Weslaco, Donna, La Joya and Mission.

The Texas Book Festival funds and coordinates visits by nationally recognized authors in collaboration with FESTIBA. In turn, FESTIBA donates the books directly to the children, as well as a set of books to each school’s library. FESTIBA initiated the Reading Rock Stars program in 2008 in the Valley.

“Since 2008, more than 39,000 students have received a free book and experienced the author visits at schools across Hidalgo and Cameron counties,” said Dr. Dahlia Guerra, Assistant Vice president for Public Art, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. “We are proud to partner with the Texas Book Festival on this important initiative.”

FESTIBA opened with a pre-event on Wednesday, February 20, 2019 on the UTRGV Edinburg Campus, with the film debut of “Just a Ferry Ride to Freedom.”

The film, by Dr. Nick Taylor, Lecturer II of Broadcast Journalism, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, showcases stories about the Texas-Mexico border and its connection to the Underground Railroad.

Highlights for FESTIBA include:

EXHIBIT: WAR & PEACE ON THE RIO GRANDE: 1861-1867
Tuesday – Friday, February 26 – March 1
Location & Time: UTRGV Edinburg, Visitors Center; 3:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Highlighted in this exhibit are the multiple effects that the Civil War had on life along the US-Mexico border, including economic trade a cotton trails, U.S. Colored Troops, local Tejanos who fought for the Union and the Confederacy, regional military engagements, and Mexico’s Civil War. It will stand at the UTRGV Visitors Center through June 2019, after which, the exhibit will be showcased at several locations along the 200-mile trail that spans between Laredo to Port Isabel.

A CELEBRATION OF THE GOLDEN AGE OF MEXICAN CINEMA
Wednesday, February 27
Location: UTRGV Edinburg Campus / Student Union Theater

The Mexican Consulate, in collaboration with the UTRGV Film Studies Program, will present the documentary “Alberto,” an award-winning film. The creator/director of the film, Roberto Collado will be on hand for a Meet the Director event at 6 p.m., followed by the movie presentation at 6:45 p.m. in the Student Union Theater, UTRGV Edinburg Campus.

NEW NARRATIVES OF THE CHICANA MOVEMENT:
CHICANA MOVIDAS BOOK TALK
Thursday, February 28 in Edinburg and Friday, March 1 in Brownsville

Location & Time: Edinburg Campus / Student Union Theater 7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Location: & Time: Brownsville Campus / University Library 10 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.

Nationally acclaimed co-editoras María Cotera (University of Michigan), Dionne Espinoza (Cal State University Los Angeles), Maylei Blackwell (UCLA), essay contributor Brenda Sendejo (Southwestern University) and influential proponent of Chicana/women’s rights Martha Cotera will discuss their groundbreaking anthology, Chicana Movidas: New Narratives of Activism and Feminism in the Movement Era.

COMMUNITY FESTIVAL
Friday, March 1
Location & Time: Edinburg City Hall Grounds; 6-10 p.m.

The FESTIBA Community Festival will be the culmination of a week of cultural and educational exchange. The afternoon and evening feature an amazing list of family friendly events, including a variety of author presentations, book signings, musical performances, children’s activity tents, book displays, book distributions, local and international artists, and a variety of art and food vendors. Admission is free.

SOUTH TEXAS LITERACY SYMPOSIUM at FESTIBA
LIBRARIANS AND EDUCATORS DAY
Saturday, March 2
Location & Time: UTRGV Edinburg Campus / Ballroom; 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Librarians and Educators Day will collaborate with the South Texas Literacy Symposium and Literacy Texas to explore the effectiveness of implementing teaching approaches that empower students. More than 200 educators and librarians will take part in educational sessions on early childhood literacy. Community Heroes to be honored include:

MARIACHI FESTIVAL / GALA CONCERT
Location: & Time: Performing Arts Complex; UTRGV Edinburg
Competition: 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. ($5 admission)
Concert: 7 p.m. Performing Arts Complex; UTRGV Edinburg; $20 at patron.utrgv.edu

More than 600 students from all over the state will face off during the Middle School and High School Mariachi Competition, in the Performing Arts Complex on the Edinburg Campus. There will be a Grand Concert at 7 p.m. featuring winners of the competition, along with the internationally renowned Reyna de Los Angeles.

UTRGV DANCE ADJUDICATION FESTIVAL

UTRGV Dance program and UTRGV Ballet Folklórico invites you to the inaugural UTRGV Dance Adjudication Festival (DAF). The mission of the UTRGV dance program is to provide a broad cov­erage of dance training, including dance technique and performance skills, choreography, historical and cultural dimensions of dance, and principles of teaching. At the same time, this festival’s mission is to promote the arts through dance and to share healthy experiences among groups/individuals in our community.

Location & Time: Workshops and Adjudication, Saturday, March 1 Edinburg Campus / HPE II; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Location & Time: Gala Concert, Sunday March 2; Edinburg Campus / Performing Arts Complex; 3 p.m.; $5/$10

ABOUT FESTIBA

FESTIBA was created in 2006 to promote literacy and to foster a culture that appreciates and celebrates the cultural arts.

Please visit this page for information http://www.utrgv.edu/festiba/.

ABOUT UTRGV

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the Fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.

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For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories which affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).

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