Happiness: Secret of Paradise

RAIN OF GOLD author brings to Portland a message of love.

“Do you want to know the secret of paradise?,” asks Victor Villaseñor. The 51-year-old author, in Portland on a speaking tour Monday and Tuesday, reaches for RAIN OF GOLD, a book that many have described as an Hispanic “Roots,” but which Villaseñor, who wrote it, calls it “the spiritual roots of all humanity.”

He turns to Page 548, near the end of the saga of his family’s odyssey from Mexico to California. Slowly and intently, he begins reading aloud, an index finger underscoring the words, the way he, as a dyslexic, keeps sentences in line. He reads about his grandmother, who died two years to the day before he was born:

“My father told me that he saw her only days before her death, shuffling down a dirt road in Corona, California, with the sunlight coming down on her through the tree branches. She was almost ninety years old, and he saw her walking along, doing a little quick-footed dance, singing about how happy she was because she’d tricked a little dog and he hadn’t been able to bite her again. My father said that tears came to his eyes, seeing how his mother – a little bundle of dried-out Indian bones – could bring such joy, such happiness to her life over any little thing. `She was the richest human on earth, I tell you,’ said my father to me. `She knew the secret to living, and that secret is to be happy…happy no matter what, happy as the birds that sing in the treetops.”

Villaseñor circles the two paragraphs with his finger. Paradise, he says, is possessing a spirit that does not lash out at a dog-biting world, but celebrates an artful escape from a second encounter. His mother grew up near a gold mine in the mountains of Chihuahua, Mexico, and she taught him that rich is not gold. “Gold,” she said, “is only for people who are poor of heart.”

Born and raised on a farm in Southern California, Victor Villaseñor has come to Portland from Oceanside, Calif., to talk about his book and espouse that greeting life with warmth and bravery is the path to riches. He started his crusade in a classroom at Lincoln High School, in Mike Sweeney’s cultural diversity and history classes. He concludes it 7 p.m. Tuesday at Conant & Conant Booksellers, 1001 S.W. 10th Ave., discussing the research and background of RAIN OF GOLD, 16 years in the making (Arte Publico Press, 1991, $19.95.).

“We need to get rid of hate and have more respect and love for each other,” Villaseñor told the students. “By love I mean less fear.” He held their eyes as he told his story, with a mixture of elegance and earthiness, pacing the front of the room in his tan cowboy boots, a kerchief knotted at the throat of his flowered, pearl-buttoned shirt.

He then told them that the Latino world desperately needs a model of closeness and care-giving for all generations of the family, from birth to death. And el brazo and el cariño, affection for neighbor and self. “We hug each other,” he says, “we say good morning.” El abrazo and el cariño, in fact, are what he hopes readers take out of his book and into their lives.

“How many of you know your neighbors?” Villaseñor asks the class. How many of you don’t?” A quarter of the hands go up.

“Know them!” he bellows. “Say, `Hello, neighbor!'” And if some adults warn against such conduct, ignore them, he advises. They are losers, he says, and they dump their failure on others.

…After the class, eating a bowl of oatmeal laced with honey – a breakfast that’s kind to animals and his body, he notes – Villaseñor elaborates. The grim world of the news media presents a sliver of reality. People stand a better chance for a happy life if they approach each day as a miracle of beauty rather than a mess of doubts and stress.

Villaseñor, married and the father of two teen-age sons, rejuvenates that attitude each morning before dawn. After washing up, he walks outside and greets the sun and his Lord God. He repeats a ritual that cleans fear from his spirit and cloaks it with peace and the power of the universe. People, he says, don’t need more cars and computers. Instead, they need to breathe deeply, look their fellows in the eye and reintroduce human warmth to a society overridden with technology.

“Let’s have fun on Earth,” says Victor Villaseñor. “This is paradise. Now.”

By JANET FILIPS of The Oregonian staff