Born in the barrio of Carlsbad, California in 1940, Victor Villaseñor was primarily raised by his Yaqui Indian grandmother alongside the alley behind his father’s poolhall until the age of four. Then Victor and his family moved to a ranch by the sea four miles north in South Oceanside.
Since his grandmother and parents were born and raised in Mexico, Victor spoke only Spanish when he started school and yet “only English” was the philosophy of American education at that time. And so Victor and his fellow Latinos were yelled at and slapped when they spoke Spanish, and Spanish was all they knew.
School was a nightmare for young Victor and he became a bedwetter, then after years of facing language and cultural barriers, heavy discrimination and a reading problem, later diagnosed as dyslexia, Victor dropped out of high school his junior year and moved to Mexico.
There, he discovered a wealth of Mexican art, literature, music, and to his utter shock, he found out Mexicans could become doctors and lawyers and architects and teachers, and weren’t just people who labored in the fields.
Returning to the U.S. at the age of 20, with a new understanding of the dignity and richness of his Indigenous Native American heritage, he began to immediately feel the old frustration and anger return to him as he once again witnessed the total disregard toward poor uneducated people and especially toward Mexicans and Native Americans.
And also now in quick little flashes, he began to remember how his old Yaqui Indian grandmother had raised him with such joyous LoveAmor to Know that we were all Walking Stars, and we’d come across the Universe with our very own Guardian Angel collecting Stardust from our different familia of Stars, so we could help Papito Dios, Little Daddy God, plant His ongoing Holy Garden with the Stardust we’d brought with us from the Heavens. Why? Because Little Daddy God couldn’t do it without us.
Oh, we were such special wonderful people. Papito Dios needed us as much as we need Him. And so this was why it was so important for us to plant with all our LoveAmor the Stardust we’d collected, helping Our Holy Creator plant His ongoing Happy Sacred Holy Garden of Heaven on Our Beloved Mother Earth.
This was why we saw all of Our Sister Flowers open every morning with such joy when Our Father Sun, the Right Eye of God, came up each morning, giving light and warmth to all of us. Birds chirping. Trees swaying. Rocks purring. And Our Beloved Mother Earth along with all her Holy Waters giving Life, la Vida, to all of Creation.
And at night Our Mother Moon, the Left Eye of God, along with all Our Familia de Estrellas giving us gentle Sacred Guidance and warm LoveAmor in our Sleep DreamVoyaging.
And all this had been ripped away from him with “English only” ever since he’d started kindergarten and he and the other Mexican kids had been slapped and ridiculed and punished for speaking Spanish. They’d only been little five-year-old kids and within a week they’d been made to feel ashamed of their brown skin and Mexican Indian heritage.
Feeling such rage of having been culturally raped as a child, Victor took his dad’s old 12 gauge Remington shotgun and a pistol out of their gun cabinet and drove down to Wisconsin Street to kill the old playground teacher who’d so much enjoyed slapping him and his Mexican friends until they were bloody.
Trembling with rage, he sat in the old ranch truck with shotgun in hand, listening to crashing waves of the ocean until daybreak. He was waiting for her to wake up and turn on her bathroom and kitchen lights as he’d seen her do other mornings. Oh, he’d been looking forward to killing her since kindergarden while she was sipping her first cup of coffee of the day. He wanted her to be fully awake and see him and his shotgun and big bowie knife with which he was going to cut out her no-good mean heart out of her body.
And there she now was, an old woman with trembling hands blowing into her too hot cup of coffee, when he suddenly realized that he was bleeding. He’d been gripping his big bowie knife too tightly.
Quickly, he wrapped his hand in the sleeve of his long-sleeve western shirt, started the motor of the truck and drove home. He’d failed. He’d failed. But then in the bathroom washing the blood off his hands and arms, he leaped back in terror. He didn’t know this person that was staring at him in the mirror. This was a wild-eyed crazyloco mad feral cat!
His heart was pounding and he burst into tears. What had he become? Oh, my God! My God! And so feeling totally crazyloco, he quickly packed rifles and pistols and a couple of hundred rounds of ammunition and got back in the old ranch truck and took off going east before he went back to Wisconsin Street and killed that old teacher along with his list of six other racist abusive teachers, because teaching was a sacred job, and so teachers should be kind and thoughtful and good hearted. THEY WERE TEACHERS, DAMNIT!
He drove east through Riverside, San Bernardino, Las Vegas, St. George, Utah, then turned north going through Salt Lake City and into Idaho and turned right. The whole way he kept crying and praying and asking for Papito Dios and his grandmothers to come to him, for he knew that we all came from the Stars with our very own Guardian Angel to Mother Earth to help Little Daddy God plant His Ongoing Sacred Garden. But how in hell could he help plant a Sacred Garden with all this rage and hate that was killing him deep inside?
Then in Wyoming out in the middle of nowhere, a herd of antelope ran across the road in front of him. He slammed on his brakes, got his model 70 Winchester 30/06 and strapped on his .357 Magnum Smith & Wesson revolver, and took off after the antelope to kill all of them.
He’d shoot one of the furthest away pronghorn antelope, so they’d think the shooting was being done from over there, and then as they’d come running towards him, he’d kill three more with his rifle, then switch to his .357 Magnum and knock down six more, then rush out to cut the throats of the wounded with his big bowie knife. He knew what he was doing. He’d been taught at military school “onward Christian soldiers to war” was the All-American Way, and he finally decided that he wanted to fit in.
But then in the early morning light, he saw the distant snow-capped Tetons and they were so beautiful and the antelope around him were also so beautiful that he dropped to his knees and screamed, “GOD, I NEED HELP! Can’t You see that I need to get all this hate and rage out of me, so I can once more see all of Your Beautiful Holy Creation as mi mamagrande taught me to see!”
And saying this was when he saw the Father Sun, the Right Eye of God, come up shooting beams of Bright Golden Light with such warmth and LoveAmor to all the world that the wildflowers instantly opened up with big happy smiles. And the birds began chirping. And the Tetons danced. And the three little just-spring-born antelope began coming towards him. No doubt never having seen a human before.
And the three antelope ShapeShifted into three little nine-year-old human girls with colorful Indian dresses and they were smiling.
He rubbed his eyes, thinking he’d gone crazyloco, but when he looked again he saw that the three little antelope were now young white girls with sunflower dresses.
He laughed, and now they were little Asian girls, then little African girls, then all the different little girls of the whole world, and they were all, all, all smiling as they kept coming closer and closer to him with such curiosity and trust and LoveAmor that he was overwhelmed with joy.
And this was when they turned into just-born little antelope again and his VISION BURST INTO FLASHES and he suddenly saw with his SoulEyes that God never chose the Jews to be His Chosen People.
No, we were all God’s Chosen People. Antelope People. Grassland People. Wildflower People. Breeze caressing People. Oh, we were all God’s Chosen People!
And the Jews had learned this when they’d taken their oral story and put it into written form, and this was why there’d been chaos before the word. The written word was Sacred. And so it was now for all us — Mexicans and Indians and Blacks and Asians and Whites — to put our own oral stories into written form, so we, too, could all then become the Chosen People of God.
And in that zenith of a moment, Victor realized that he had to become a writer. A great writer. And write about his familia. His own People. But then he remembered that he didn’t even know how to read, and he leaped to his feet and started screaming at God, “What are You, senile? Or so hard up and mean that You just love giving wonderful visions to people that you know they can’t do it?”
But then he suddenly remembered that God can do anything and so he said, “Look, God, I’ll make a deal with You, but not kneeling down! No, standing on my two feet, planted here on Our Beloved Mother Earth, I swear that if You stick with me and don’t chicken out, then I won’t chicken out either, and so I’ll write my Peoples’ story with all my Heart and Soul, so we, too, can be Your Chosen People!”
And so with this commitment and tears pouring down his face, Victor drove non-stop all the way home to Southern California, well-over 1,500 miles away, and he looked up his old high school English teacher at his old military high school in Carlsbad, and told him that he had to become a great writer.
Captain Moffat looked at Victor in his eyes, a student who’d done well-below a “D” level work in his English classes, but had also been the chess champion of their school, and he could now see in Victor’s eyes that same fire he’d had when he’d played chess, and so he said, “Yes, you’ll do it.” And he walked his former student across his classroom and pointed to a big poster he always kept on the wall by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and he read it to Victor.
“Whatever you can do or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic.”
Victor shouted, “THAT’S IT! THAT’S IT! That’s exactly what I’ve been hearing ever since I took my oath before God in Wyoming! For me to just go for it!”
And so with his old English teacher’s guidance, Victor put all his concentrated energy into confronting cultural and racial discrimination through literature. Getting up at 2 and 3 in the morning, Victor wrote with burning passion for 10 years producing 9 novels, 65 short stories, and receiving well-over 265 rejections, before he sold his first book, Macho!, which was immediately compared to the best of John Steinbeck by the LA Times.
Thusly Victor’s journey began that would eventually lead to the publication of his non-fiction National Bestseller Rain of Gold, used by thousands of teachers and school systems across the nation and abroad as required reading, and publishing 17 other books, including his most recent, Our First Lady Pope.
Victor and Dyslexia
About dyslexia, I want you to know that I’m still a little bit nervous when I talk about this. I was in my mid-40s when my wife Barbara told me that a teacher told her that our two sons, David and Joseph, should be evaluated for dyslexia.
I’d never heard the term “dyslexia” and Barbara told me that this teacher explained to her that the best place to take our sons was to Long Beach, that the woman who ran the place was considered the foremost expert on dyslexia in the nation.
Well, we drove up to Long Beach and the woman took each of our boys into the back room and Barbara and I stayed in the waiting room. Then after testing each boy, she told us that Joseph, the youngest, who was about 10 at this time, was an 8 on her charts that went from 1-20, so he would have some difficulty in reading, but not too much.
Then she told us that David who was two years older than Joseph, was a 12, so he was going to have to work twice as hard as other students to learn the same material, and yet, at his level he would still be able to finish high school and go to college and do a profession, but it was going to be difficult for him.
Well, for me all this sounded pretty good, and so I was ready for us to go. But then the woman told us that dyslexia was hereditary and she asked if Barbara or I had trouble reading. I laughed, telling her that Barbara had been reading since before kindergarten, and I, the writer, was the one who used to have trouble, but I didn’t have any trouble anymore, and so I got up for us to leave.
But the woman now said that she’d like to test me.
This is when I began to get upset, and so I said to her that there’d be no purpose in doing this because I now knew how to read.
“I understand,” she said, “but I’d like for you to please let me test you anyway.”
“Okay,” I finally said and followed her into the back room.
She had me look through a machine and follow a little light, and then to look to the left, and then to look to the right and see where I would see little spots of light.
And then she had me put some pads on my ears and listen to different sounds, some high, some low, and then she spoke words to me real fast and then real slow and asked me what I had understood and what I had heard.
Finally we were finished and I thought I’d done pretty well, because I figured I was no longer dyslexic so I went outside to the waiting room to wait with my family. But the woman didn’t come out for such a long time that I though maybe she’d left or something was wrong, so I knocked on the door and her assistant said that she was still studying my charts. And then when she came out a little while later she looked absolutely devastated and was crying. And I don’t know why, but I started crying, too.
“In all my years of testing people for dyslexia,” she said, “I’ve had a few people off the charts. The chart is 1-20, but I’ve never had somebody so off the charts as you. Literally, according to all I know it was impossible for you to learn to speak, because you don’t hear what other people hear. And it was even more impossible for you to learn how to read. You reverse things. You take the end of a word and put it in the front and then with great difficulty you work to straighten it out so you can read it.”
Now I was really crying. “That’s true,” I said, “that’s really true!”
“Do you see rivers between the words?” she asked.
“All the time,” I said. “I look at a page and I have to take a big breath to stop the rivers from coming down the page between the words from the left up high to the right down low. And you mean other people don’t see these rivers moving on the page?”
She shook her head, “No, they don’t. Oh, I’ve never had someone so far off the charts. It’s incredible, it’s a miracle that you ever learned to speak or read. And to write, to become a professional writer, is beyond my comprehension. How did you do it?”
I couldn’t talk anymore. Finally somebody understood what I’d gone through to become a writer.