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Merrimack Valley

August 23, 2013

Author tells students: Work hard and never give up

LAWRENCE — Mexican-American author Sergio Troncoso describes himself as “a fat kid who loved to read.”

When he was a boy growing up on the outskirts of El Paso, Texas, his love of books allowed him to journey in his mind to faraway places like Russia and China.

He also read grammar books to improve his English — his first language was Spanish.

“I was always pushing, reading and learning about things that were different from my neighborhood,” he said.

Born in 1961 in humble surroundings, Troncoso went on to attend Harvard University. Today he is the accomplished author of essays, short stories and novels and a resident faculty member at Yale University.

This week, Troncoso met with Lawrence students who are preparing to start classes at Northern Essex Community College by participating in the school’s two-week Bridge Program.

As part of the enrichment program, they read Troncoso’s novel “From This Wicked Patch of Dust.”

The book tells the story of the Martinez family, who begin life in a border shantytown and struggle to stay together despite cultural clashes and religious and political differences. Troncoso said he started writing because he didn’t see many Latinos or Mexicanos in the books he was reading.

“I wanted to write about my experience. I wanted to write the immigrant story,” Troncoso said.

Troncoso is the son of Mexican immigrants who moved to Ysleta, on the outskirts of El Paso. His parents built their own adobe home, dug their own outhouse and relied on kerosene lamps for light. They taught their children to stay focused, work hard and build better lives for themselves.

Troncoso told the students he spent his time reading while other kids were joining gangs, doing drugs and wasting time.

“It developed this muscle between my eyes,” he said.

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