Assistant Professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, Tim Z. Hernandez is traveling the country for his latest book, All They Will Call You. It tells the story of 28 Mexican citizens killed in a plane crash in Los Gatos Canyon, as they were being deported and were never identified. The idea came to Hernandez in 2010, but took six years to finish with all the research.
He lives part-time in California and Texas, although he travels to many other places and has taken on a Kerouac-esque life. Hernandez began teaching at UTEP in 2014, and has been a large part of the Creative Writing Department.
He has published well-received books like Mañana Means Heaven and a book of poetry, Skin Tax.Hernandez is a large part of the one of the most prestigious and successful in the country, bilingual MFA program faculty, with his expertise and talent.
He emphasized the need he has for freedom to travel for his research and this online program allows him to do just that. Hernandez said it also helps “traverse all of these sort of terrains,” with students in Afghanistan, Puerto Rico, and other countries by mimicking the real world of professional writing and publication being online.
Initially studying the visual arts, he wanted to be a muralist, but when a close relative was killed Hernandez found a voice and solace in writing. “I stopped painting and decided to write, because I needed to say words. I wanted to speak after he was killed. I didn’t want to paint anymore I wanted to say stuff.”
From there he began to polish his writing, meeting and working under the now U.S. Poet Laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera. Hernandez writes about family and culture from El Paso and Las Cruces and where he came from to bring them to life as he sees them.
“Abstractions like the word immigrant, or illegal alien, or in the case of my book in 1948 they called them deportees. You know, those kind of abstractions, all they’re meant to do is strip the face of the human being we’re talking about,” Hernandez said.
And that is what this latest book is about; to externalize his life. This is more true during the current political climate where topics are discussed under blanket terms.
When he’s writing he surrounds himself by those he is writing about. He refers to it as a “big altar” in their honor. For instance for All They Will Call You, he put up photos of the people and the plane crash around his office.
“I love going up to Rim Road and just overlooking all of El Paso and overlooking Juarez. It is just one of my favorite places. And it’s one of my favorite places to think and to meditate and just to be present because when you go up to a place like that, you start to realize what’s really at stake here.”
On his free time he teaches his children to play baseball and to skateboard. If passersby get lucky, perhaps they’ll hear the music of Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Jose Alfredo Jimenez, or Violeta Parra coming from his house or office.
Currently it is Woody Guthrie who has inspired Hernandez the most. It is even a Woody Guthrie song where the title All They Will Call You came from.
This book has launched Hernandez further into literary prominence and it won’t be long before his friend’s joke of Michael Pena playing him in a biopic becomes reality.
– By Antonio Villaseñor-Baca