AMIDST interviews author Chuy Renteria on his memoir of growing up in West Liberty, Iowa, We Heard It When We Were Young. We highly recommend listening to Alice Deejay's “Better Off Alone” in the background, the number one pick on Renteria’s Mix CD of Breaking Jams and Misc. Stuff (referenced in his book in Part Three: Lessons of B-boying).
Chuy Renteria has been a capital “A” artist since he was a toddler, drawing and illustrating free hand, almost to the point where it became an issue for him in school. Living in between two worlds and languages (English and Spanish), Renteria recalls in kindergarten his teachers were concerned that he may not be able to communicate.
In his memoir, We Heard It When We Young, Renteria takes us through an honest portrayal of identity, B-boying (breaking, commonly known as break dancing), his connection to a signature white-and-pink ‘52 Chevy Fleetline lowrider and small town parades, his Mexican-ness in small town Iowa, and the relationship, as a writer and we as readers, may have with the boy on the cover image of his book.
When Heard It When We
Part One: Welcome to West Liberty
Part Two: Fistfights and Quincearneras
Part Three: Lessons in B-Boying
Part Four: What Bonds Us Together
To purchase a signed copy of Renteria's book, click button below to visit Prairie Lights Books, an independent bookstore in Iowa.
Renteria had the opportunity to share his story after connecting with the University of Iowa Press when he was invited to participate in the We the Interwoven, Iowa’s first book series written by emerging writers who are immigrants and non-native Iowan. In both books, you are connected to Renteria’s description as a first-generation Mexican American and Iowan in between two cultures and the experience of oscillating between two.
When asked what he hopes people take away from his book, Renteria says, “We are people, there is a reason why we are still in the Midwest. There is validity in our stories, there is validity in our humanity.”
West Liberty as it appeared to Renteria while growing up.
To Kill a Mockingbird was the inspiration behind the map, a childhood representation of the area based on memories.
Illustration by Zoe Woodworth.
To purchase a signed copy of Chuy's book, click button below to visit Prairie Lights Books, an independent bookstore in Iowa.
When it came down to writing the book, Renteria shared that the newness of himself and the editor he worked with really helped the process of working through his collection of stories. Renteria describes the nine months writing as, “really intense editing, more than grammar and sentence structure working... what are you wrestling with, how do you make this the best version of the story that you can. It’s very tender, you’re baring your soul to someone. Saying I trust you with this vulnerable piece…”. At times it was difficult to navigate, not only reliving a lot of past trauma but then writing and editing difficult parts of his life, from intense racism to violent acts inflicted upon him. Writing the bulk during the pandemic, in isolation, Renteria shared that even though he now had the time, the trauma of reliving this was hard on him. Through that process, Renteria made the decision to speak with a professional, going to therapy and becoming an advocate and the importance of being open to the discussion around mental health.
To see the full interview and learn more about Chuy Renteria’s experience below.
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Chuy Renteria is a Midwest creative, author and dancer, follow him @orginalbeats on Instagram.