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Volume 33, Issue 6
INSIDE ON CAMPUS
Writer exlores obsession at Paisano Ranch
Dobie Paisano fellow Vicente Lozano makes a home out of the J. Frank Dobie Paisano Ranch, where he is spending six months writing his first novel.
Photo: Marsha Miller
The obsession began nearly three decades ago when Vicente Lozano and his family moved to the south Texas town of Banquete, and nearly that long for the writer to come to grips with his family’s past.
Lozano’s family is the focus of his first novel, tentatively titled “The Free Floating Broadcast,” which centers on his father’s side of the family in Corpus Christi from 1880-2000 intertwined with thoughts on race and identity.
The author is spending the next six months expanding and refining his 120-page rough draft, holed up at the Paisano Ranch after being chosen from 86 applicants as one of two Dobie Paisano Fellows for 2006-07. The program is part of the Graduate School and the Texas Institute of Letters.
The cool breezes of the ranch haven’t given way yet to the summer heat or the scorpions and snakes that past fellows are so familiar with, but the pests are a small price to pay for the once in a lifetime opportunity to live at the writers’ retreat, 14 miles southwest of Austin.
Lozano, a systems analyst for the university’s undergraduate writing center, arrived March 4 and quickly made the ranch his home, filling it with framed family photos and hearts of all shapes and sizes that have become an annual gift from his wife, Alyssa.
He has finally fallen into an easy routine after three weeks of restlessness and feelings of anxiety about having to get his book done right away.
He writes from 9 a.m.-noon and again in the afternoon from 3-6 p.m. with hiking, cooking and exploring the 254-acre ranch filling his free time.
Late author J. Frank Dobie's desk in the Paisano Ranch house. Dobie was an acclaimed writer and folklorist who was known thoughout the world. He and his wife bought the ranch in 1959 and named it Paisano - a word that means roadrunner in the southwest.
His work space is set up at a long wooden desk, settled in the living room with a view of the front porch.
“The last couple days I have changed the outline significantly,” Lozano said. “The fact that this happened means I felt some breathing room.”
Lozano’s novel dives into the reasons why part of his father’s siblings felt the need to get out of Corpus Christi due to both family issues and the atmosphere of the city, while the other half was content to stay.
The obsession with his family began when Lozano’s father retired from the Air Force and moved the family of seven to Banquete, Texas when Lozano was 13. Prior to that Lozano had been born and raised primarily in the Midwest.
“(The novel) is about being Mexican in Corpus Christi and the see saw of what it means,” Lozano said.
“The Free Floating Broadcast stands for what I think of as free floating paranoia about who you are and where you fit, whether you are American enough,” Lozano said. “It is about the racial, class and identity static floating around everybody and the general uneasiness it caused.”
The book also focuses on Lozano’s grandfather, who was a paranoid schizophrenic.
“I think a lot about my grandfather and whether or not he picked up on these things,” Lozano said.
Through interviews with family and reading books, Lozano discovered that his father’s side of the family struggled a lot with being “good” Americans in the early years in Corpus Christi.
“Sometimes they were legitimate and sometimes foreign and suspect. Its about the way that played out in my family,” Lozano said of his book.
“It deals with the tension between what you keep in your culture and what you choose to give up in order to assimilate,” he said.
“They did all the things that families do when they realize that they have to assimilate.”
Lozano said his family was well connected politically in the early years on the gulf coast and often worked to get the Mexican vote for politicians. “They were part of the culture of backroom politics,” he said. “There were a lot of unspoken gentleman’s agreements.”
Family history and feelings carried down through the generations. As soon as Lozano moved back to where his ancestors were from he noticed that history played a big part in his present family dynamics.
“I was always obsessed with what had happened once we got back and why it felt so different,” he said.
“My parents were afraid of the poverty they saw in this small lower-class town and were afraid of their children being trapped there,” Lozano said. “I got the message early on that I had to get out and spent my whole undergraduate experience believing that.”
Seeing the feelings his parents had, Lozano spent eight years off and on researching his family history and getting to the point he is at today with his novel.
“I am responding to the claustrophobia my parents felt. I had to find out how much of it was the place or them,” he said.
“The gift this book has given me is learning that South Texas is home to many people and is a place like no other. I go back now. It no longer has the weight it once had.”
Lozano said his family knows what he is writing about and although their reactions cause him some concern, he feels he must finish the book.
“It makes me feel like it’s a true obsession because I can’t keep my mouth shut about it,” he said. “I hope it isn’t the only version of the story that will come out. I hope others will counter.”
He also hopes others outside of his family will learn something as well.
“I really want people to look at identity in a more comprehensive way,” he said. “We all get conflicting messages about how to be a woman, man, American, Chicano. Everyone is trying to be as true to themselves as they can.”