Antonia Chavez, my grandmother, passed away thirty years ago. Recently I transcribed the tapes of an interview she gave my historian/professor brother, John R. Chavez. In an hour and half she described the first thirty or so years of her life, as a child in Mexico to a young mother in Pasadena, California. I learned previously unknown-to-me details of her life. She said she had a happy childhood, but her life became tougher when she married, at eighteen, and started bearing children. Without going into the painful details, I will say that she had a difficult marriage and lost two babies before her first child, my father, lived. With her family, when my father was just a young boy, she escaped war-torn Mexico to cross the border into the US, selling household items to afford the trip.
As I transcribed the tapes, I was riveted by her story and proud of her strength and resilience. I also had the thought, This is where good fiction originates. As a writer, I often pull memories from my head and contort, alter, mold them into vignettes for my novels. But I would never use my grandmother’s stories as fodder for my fiction. I respect her memories too much to use them as such.
My grandmother is a role model for me in many ways. She lived a life I could not have withstood. I might have crumbled to bits faced by such challenges. Her blood flows through my veins, and for that I am proud. Her life proves the point, truth is often more intriguing than any fiction can ever be.