When author Tim Z. Hernandez set out to write about the 1948 plane crash in California that killed 32 passengers, he purposely stayed away from immigration policies and politics.
With his novel, “All They Will Call You,” he wanted to memorialize the three U.S. crew members along with the 28 Mexican immigrants who were killed in the crash.
“I wanted to elevate them all to the same level to show that we have more in common as human beings than we do differences,” Hernandez said during a 2019 interview at Chico State University. “That’s the goal of the book, to show that we’re all in this ship together, hurtling toward one common fate.”
El Paso Matters recently asked the University of Texas El Paso professor about his career and his book, which is the next selection of the El Paso Matters Book Club. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
El Paso Matters: For those who aren’t as familiar with you, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hernandez: I am an award-winning author, research scholar and performer. My work includes fiction, non-fiction, poetry and screenplays, and I’m the recipient of the American Book Award and the International Latino Book Award. My work has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, C-Span, NPR and many others. I was recently recognized for my research on locating the victims of the 1948 plane wreck at Los Gatos Canyon, which is chronicled in my book, “All They Will Call You.” I hold a master’s in writing and literature. I live in El Paso with my two teenage children.
El Paso Matters: What are some key themes you would like readers, particularly El Pasoans, to take away from your book?
Hernandez: Themes include dehumanization, hope, compassion, history, interconnection and the power of our stories.
El Paso Matters: What’s your favorite line in the book and why?
Hernandez: “El recordar es vivir (remembering is living),” a quote by Don Leovardo Ramirez, a family member of one of the victims of the crash. It opens up the whole book. I heard him say this while I was interviewing families in Mexico. I love this because it conveys the power of our individual and collective memory, and it’s at the very heart of why our stories matter.
El Paso Matters: Some of your books and writings deal with El Paso, immigrants, Hispanic culture and growing up in a binational region. What is the key to keeping readers that are not from the area interested in these topics?
Hernandez: The key is to focus on the human elements of the story – that is, to highlight the things we all have in common, regardless of race or background. To speak toward the common issues and concerns we all face; survival, health, love, money, etc. If I’m doing my job in this regard, then a reader from anywhere will (or should) be able to relate.
El Paso Matters: What is something unique about El Paso/Juárez or the border/Southwest region that inspired or is portrayed in your book?
Hernandez: El Paso/Juárez was one of the main ports of entry for many braceros who came to work in the era that my book takes place, 1948. Many of the passengers killed in the plane crash actually came through El Paso. This is also the region where my own relatives are from and their stories have also shaped much of this book.
El Paso Matters: As an author, what do you make of the current national debate regarding the censorship of books at school libraries?
Hernandez: I’m against banning or censoring books.
El Paso Matters: What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects or aspirations?
Hernandez: I finished writing the sequel to “All They Will Call You,” which I hope will come out within the next year. But I’m also working with producers on developing this story into a TV series, which has been very exciting.
El Paso Matters: Can you recommend three books by local authors for our readers?
Hernandez: “Ándale, Prieta” by Yasmín Ramírez, “Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” by Benjamin Alire Sáenz and “Kafka in a Skirt” by Daniel Chacón.