On a Thursday earlier this May, four Arts Midwest staff members joined NEA Big Read grantee ArtReach St. Croix in welcoming acclaimed Mexican-American writer Luís Alberto Urrea to the St. Croix Valley for a public conversation with Krista Tippett, host of the popular podcast “On Being”. In this four-part series, they each share their individual takeaways from that evening.
Joshua Feist, NEA Big Read Program Director
“When asked about his vision for the future of humanity, he offered Star Trek as a model for what it could look like to have humanity without prejudice.”
When Krista Tippett asked Luís Alberto Urrea to describe his ideal vision for humanity, I never expected he would answer with two words: “Star Trek.”
Urrea is an authority on the subject of the U.S./Mexico border. For all intents and purposes, The Border assumes the role of a main character in many of the books he has authored, including Into the Beautiful North, which the St. Croix Valley read collectively in the early months of 2018 for their series of NEA Big Read programs. For the final community event, Urrea spoke in conversation with Tippett on a variety of topics ranging from family, identity, religion, and The Border. Urrea captivated the audience as he recounted his experiences growing up in poverty, suffering ridicule for his Mexican identity, and working as a missionary with severely disadvantaged youth working in the Tijuana landfills.
Throughout the evening, the conversation repeatedly came back to the spirituality and compassion that he both acknowledges within himself and recognizes in others. He spoke of the rescuer persona of border patrol agents he met, the self-segregating students in his classroom that came together after a shared laugh, and his belief in the inherent ability of humans to love one another. With every sentence, it became clear that he had the biggest heart of anyone in the room.
When asked about his vision for the future of humanity, he offered Star Trek as a model for what it could look like to have humanity without prejudice. The answer resonated with me so deeply that I clapped vigorously, moved with moistened eyes, without realizing that only a handful of other participants matched my applause.
Full disclosure: Star Trek is practically religion for me. My wife’s family grew up with it, I married into it, and I’m proud to call myself a fan. While set in space with alien characters, the show is really about the journey of the human race and the values it has come to uphold in the 24th century; namely, upholding the dignity of life and the equality of all individuals. I think Urrea would agree with me on the following statement: I sincerely hope it doesn’t take us another three centuries for those values to come to fruition tangibly and universally. These are the values I carry with me on a daily basis, especially in the work I perform at Arts Midwest and for the NEA Big Read program.