The first leg of the book tour for All the Agents and Saints is now complete. In the last 15 days, I’ve held 13 events in San Antonio, Austin, San Marcos, Corpus Christi, Edinburg, and McAllen, Texas. The timing was intense: days before my arrival, my home state endured the worst natural disaster in its history. Due to the catastrophic flooding in Houston (where my tour was supposed to begin), my flight got re-routed to San Antonio. Gas lines wrapped around entire city blocks. I wound up postponing the Houston events, as it felt wrong to take up space and resources there. So many people had lost everything, while others feared for their safety after nearby industrial plants started exploding. It is a tragedy that Houstonians will be grappling with for generations. I have never known a city so resilient.
By the time I reached my hometown, Corpus Christi, power had mostly been restored, though many trees and fences were still down, including at my parent’s house. The much-loved communities of nearby Rockport and Port Aransas, meanwhile, were completely devastated. Words defy the suffering so many Texans have endured, or the valor with which they are rebuilding their homes and businesses, or the anxiety we all feel for Florida and the Caribbean.
Given the circumstances, I didn’t think anyone would have time for a book talk. Yet stories have a life force all their own. Crowds turned out, night after night. Tios, cousins, classmates, former teachers, loyal readers, curious onlookers, and friends I hadn’t seen in 10, 20, and even 30 years—including someone I met in baton twirling class when I was seven years old! What made this tour profound was how many of the people who appear in the book’s pages showed up in the audience as well. Some brought their families, who grinned as their stories were told. Here are Lionel and Juanita Lopez, whom you might remember from Chapter II: The Rebel. They took an afternoon off from their work with the colonias (which flooded severely during Harvey) to say hello at Barnes and Noble in Corpitos.
So did Sophie, the French restaurateur-turned-bail-bond-agent who is the star of Chapter V: The Bonder and the Dealer….
…. and Danny, the investigator whom I observed assisting with the recovery of a three-day dead undocumented woman from a desolate ranch in Brooks County (Chapter VIII: The Chokepoint).
The madrina of the book, artist/muralist Santa Barraza, attended my event at the Museum of Tejano Civil Rights. Here we are, standing by one of her incredible artworks.
Artist Celeste Deluna (Chapter VI: The Agents) showed up at what might be the coolest venue of my speaking career: the Historic Cine El Rey in McAllen. Back in the day, this theater was the only place where Mexican families could enjoy a night at the movies. It has since been bought and renovated by an awesome family who has turned it into a thriving arts-and-activism center. What an honor to share the history of the world’s border walls with a community fighting to fend off another 45 miles of walls in their midst.
I also spent a day dropping off books with those who couldn’t make an event, like Sister Maximina (featured in Chapter III: The Venerable). We are standing by Santa Barraza’s mural of Mother Julia in Kingsville in this photo.
Regrettably, I forgot to take a photo when I met up with Suzie Canales, the activist who works tirelessly on behalf of fenceline communities in Corpus. We were too busy celebrating her latest victory: she has relocated more than 20 families out of Dona Park, the community surrounded by toxic industrial plants that I feature in Chapter IV: The Activist and the Ordinance. One of the first families to move was Consuelo and Hipolito Gonzalez. When I visited their beautiful new home to gift a book, I was deeply sorry to learn that Hipolito lost his battle with congestive heart failure in April. Gone too is Estella Palacios Garcia, who opens the book with the invitation to visit her “Miracle Tree” in Chapter I. She died in August, at age 81.
Another major loss is Father Kelly Nemeck, the long-time director of Lebh Shomea, a silent retreat at the Kenedy Ranch in Sarita, Texas. We met at the height of my spiritual crisis a decade ago, and he guided me back to an appreciation of Catholicism. All the Agents and Saints was originally conceived as a book about silence, and its first pages were written there at Lebh Shomea. Father Kelly is the book’s padrino, and I am profoundly grateful to him.
This morning finds me back in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where I have 12 days to prepare for the next leg of the tour: New York. There, I’ll be speaking at St. Lawrence University—the university that enabled the research of the second half of the book—as well as at the Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne, which is the subject of Chapters XI through XX. Follow me on Instagram @SElizondoGriest for daily images, or return here for the next blog dispatch. If you’d like to catch an event, please visit my website for the schedule. Planning is underway for stops in New York City, Syracuse, San Diego, Chicago, Nashville, Fairfax, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, and Houston. Gratitude for your support, y nos vemos!