The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

SMU professor Susanne Scholz in the West Bank in 2018.
SMU professor to return to campus after being trapped in Gaza for 12 years
Sara Hummadi, Video Editor • May 18, 2024

Common reading author visits SMU

Luis Alberto Urrea never imagined he would write books about the U.S.-Mexican border.

“I thought I was going to be a rock star kind of writer,” he said.

Urrea was born in Tijuana, Mexico to an American mother and Mexican father. He was registered as a U.S. citizen living abroad, something Urrea says was very fortunate for him. He and his family moved to San Diego when he was young.

Urrea says his career as a writer began when his father was killed in Mexico during his senior year in college. He had traveled there to withdraw $1,000 as a graduation gift for Urrea.

His body was taken north in a box in the back of a station wagon to meet Urrea, who had crossed the border in order to pick it up. Police told Urrea that he was required to pay bail to get his father’s body. Urrea protested, asking them “how could you bail someone out who’s dead?”

Urrea eventually used some of his graduation gift to pay the bail. He then used the rest to pay for other expenses concerning his father’s death.

Urrea was troubled by this, and eventually started writing about it. One of his essays caught the attention of science fiction writer Ursula Le Guin. She published it in an anthology in 1980.

Urrea talked to SMU students and faculty in the Hughes-Trigg theater on Monday about his book, “The Devil’s Highway.” The book was used as the common reading for the Class of 2012.

The book tells the true story of 26 men who illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexican border into the U.S. For his book, Urrea researched the event and interviewed many who were involved, including the U.S. Border Patrol.

Urrea says that during his research, he had “all these people telling me secrets. Everyone except the Border Patrol.”

Urrea spent many months trying to talk to the Border Patrol about the events that happened, but was unsuccessful until he met a supervising agent named Kenny Smith.

Urrea says he still doesn’t know why Smith took pity on him, but it seemed that “he wanted someone to talk about it.” Smith told Urrea he wanted to him to “tell the truth about us [U.S. Border Patrol].”

This collaboration led to what Urra called a “moment of trust.” Until then, Urrea, a self-described liberal, had spent a lifetime hating the Border Patrol. Urrea began to see the agents as human beings as he fostered relationships with them.

“We can disagree,” he said of lessons learned while writing The Devil’s Highway, “but we all have a human connection.”

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