BY Amanda A. Taylor
Xavier Garza remembers the bedtime stories his mother would tell him before he drifted off to sleep as a child. Instead of traditional fairy tales filled with castles and magic, the stories were filled with lechuzas, la llorna and plenty of cucuys.
“I like to tell people cucuy stories because these were the stories that we loved as kids,” Garza said.
As an adult, Garza brings those traditional Rio Grande Valley folklore tales and personal accounts to life through illustrated picture books for children and novels for young adult.
He says he turns his memories into mini-adventures.
“I hope when kids read my stories, they’ll think of similar experiences and sit down and write their own stories someday,” he said.
Garza, a UTRGV legacy alumnus, is now an award-winning writer whose inspirations come from growing up in the Valley. He incorporates his own interests into his stories, such as his love for lucha libre (Mexican wrestling) and the creepy stories he heard growing up.
For example, his story, Juan and the Chupacabras, won the 2007-2008 Tejas Star Book Award; it was based on real experiences Garza had hunting for the ever-elusive chupacabras – a beast of urban legend known for killing livestock, especially goats, by sucking the blood from them – with his cousin.
“My cousin and I would actually go through the cornfields in the back of grandpa’s house and hunt for la chupacabra,” he said. “We never actually found a chupacabra, but it was exciting for us when we were little.”
Garza today is a professor of art at Northwest Vista College in San Antonio, and teaches art in a middle school. He earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) at UTPA in 1994, and went on to get a Master’s of Fine Arts (MFA) from UT-San Antonio, where he currently lives.
“When I was at Pan Am, one of my best mentors was Will Martin. He helped me push myself,” Garza said. “The experiences I had on campus were wonderful because my professors helped develop my abilities and ideas, instead of confining them.”
Almost 24 years later, Garza is the author of 14 books – most of which he illustrated himself. One of his most popular stories, Charro Claus and the Tejas Kid, was based on a childhood memory of Santa Claus and is always popular holiday reading.
In the story, Charro Claus –Santa’s cousin, named Pancho – helps Santa out by delivering presents to border towns on Christmas with his sidekick Vincent, also known as the “Tejas Kid.”
Garza said the story started off as a bedtime story for his son, Vincent, and was inspired by memories of “a Mexican Santa Claus” he took photos with as a child.
“My dad took me to Valley Mart in Rio Grande City to take pictures with Santa, and he was dressed as a charro,” Garza said. “My dad told me he was the Mexican Santa Claus, Pancho.”
Charro Claus (2010) won the 2009-2010 Tejas Star Book Award and was a finalist in the 2009 Writers League of Texas (WLT) Teddy Book Awards, and the 2011 Horace Mann Upstanders Book Awards.
Garza said he’s happy to be able to incorporate so many aspects of his culture and Valley childhood into his books in order to help keep those wonderful stories alive.
“Growing up in the Valley provided me a unique culture,” he said, “and there are things here you won’t see anywhere else.”