Books: ‘Gringo’ by Chesa Boudin

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By all accounts, Chesa Boudin’s family life provided a great deal of experience. Well, technically, it was his family’s experience, but nonetheless, his life was shaped because of it.

His parents, Katherine Boudin and David Gilbert are involved parents, as involved as parents can be as inmates in the New York State prison system. As members of the 1970s radical group The Weathermen, they’ve been there since Chesa was 14 months old, having been incarcerated for for roles played in the 1981 Brink’s robbery in Rockland County.

Chesa went on to have a stable, middle-class life being raised by two other Weathermen leaders, Bill Ayers and Bernandine Dorhn in Chicago’s Hyde Park area. So needless to say, he had a different point of view when it came to life.

But they weren’t fully his experiences, not his lesson’s learned, but he’s telling them now in his book, “Gringo, A Coming of Age in Latin America.”

After graduating high school in 1999, Boudin’s first experience with Latin America was a short visit to Guatemala to study Spanish. This would be the start of an eight year journey that would take him throughout Latin America.

You could say that the life experience he took with him to Latin America was his ability to be comfortable moving through different worlds.

As he puts it, “Brought up with the privileges and opportunities the United States offers some, and a political line that condemned the very existence of an elite, I lived a contradiction.”

It’s a contradiction he knew how to articulate very well within the confines of English among familiar American landscapes, but on that first visit to Guatemala, the language barrier was too great to  explain to his San Andres host family.

“Their tight faces suggested fear, confusion, concern, maybe even fear,” Boudin explains. “I wanted them to see me as a friend, to articulate a self-portrait of a good gringo, an ally, but I wasn’t so sure who I was myself.”

This is a lot for a 19-year-old to explain, and under ‘normal’ circumstances, his family life is something Boudin says he’s never shied away from telling.

Now,  he’s a 28-year-old Rhodes Scholar with degrees from Oxford and Yale Universities his book tells his story and some history of Latin America as well. But it’s ultimately his experiences, and told in a surer voice than what his 19-year-old self would have said.

Gringo, Coming of Age in Latin America comes out in April and is published by Simon and Schuster.

Angela Maldonado

Senior Editor – Angela Maldonado hails from Selena Town, aka Corpus Christi, but has made Austin her home since 2002. Her background is in journalism and radio, formerly serving as a producer for NPR’s Latino USA. In her stint with the show, she interviewed some awesome bands and had a nice chat with Joan Jett. In her previous life as a media gypsy, Angela wrangled huge inflatables on radio remotes, ran live broadcasts, promoted books and worked as an editorial assistant at the Austin American-Statesman.

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