Author Celebrates Mexican Culture, Shares Inspiration SanTan Sun News

Author Celebrates Mexican Culture, Shares Inspiration

November 6th, 2018 | by SanTan Sun News
Author Celebrates Mexican Culture, Shares Inspiration
Arts
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By Colleen Sparks

Managing Editor

A Chandler children’s book author who celebrates his Mexican heritage in tales about making tortillas and exploring historical sites took a page from his girlfriend’s life for his latest work.

Albert Monreal Quihuis wrote his first adult book, “Better Than Me” – the true story of his longtime girlfriend, Veronica Lamanes – about growing up in Mexico and Arizona as she and her charismatic, strong mother and grandmother dealt with betrayal, poverty, prejudice and a loved one’s murder.

His self-published book came after he wrote four children’s books, “Sofia’s Awesome Tamale Day,” “The Search for the Lost Art of Making Tortillas,” “Isabela’s Treasure” and “Sofia’s Summer Adventure.” “Sofia’s Awesome Tamale Day” was translated into Spanish.

Quihuis, a former financial planner and current Medicare broker, describes Mexican culture and historical figures in his books and stresses the importance of completing an education in order to shape one’s future and create a better life.

Readers can expect narratives about escaping in the night, a Mexican princess, ghost stories, a brothel, bullies, learning a new language, the Mexican Revolution and even Pancho Villa in the historic memoir, “Better Than Me.”

Quihuis, who has been in a relationship with Lamanes for nearly 15 years, said he was fascinated by her stories about growing up and suggested she record them.

He created an outline of her life but then ended up writing the book after asking hundreds of questions, conducting interviews, doing research and uncovering historical events during the time of her youth.

“It’s based on a true story,” Quihuis said. “I use a lot of historical facts. I think people will see it to be very authentic in regards to the historical background. I want young people to see how if Veronica can stay focused and determined, take control of her own destiny, that’s what I want people to do, too.

“People of Mexican descent can see this and relate to this. There’s not a lot of books that people can read with culture and traditions. I want people who have very little knowledge of what it was like living in Mexico to have a better understanding.”

Lamanes was born in Empalme, Sonora, Mexico, as Luz Veronica, but always has gone by her middle name Veronica. She and her mother, father and three siblings (who were from a different father than Veronica’s) lived in Santa Ana, Sonora, Mexico.

Her mother Maria later discovered her husband, Ramon, Veronica’s father, was seeing another woman, and then learned he was still married to a third woman.

Ramon left Veronica and her family alone to face bills, late rent payments and little food to eat. Veronica and her mother and children then moved to Puerto Peñasco or Rocky Point, escaping in the night to avoid having to pay their creditors.

Quihuis described in the book how Veronica was an excellent student at the head of her class, but she struggled when she and her family moved across the border into the U.S. to Lukeville, Arizona.

At age 10, she had to learn English and some people bullied her, but “she always persevered and worked harder,” he said.

Lamanes eventually graduated at the top of her class from high school in Ajo, after becoming fluent in English and Spanish. She and Quihuis recently visited Ajo to celebrate her 40th high school reunion.

Lamanes has earned a bachelor’s degree in business and a master’s degree in business administration. She worked in the senior healthcare industry, owned a homecare agency and also was director of a retirement community. After 25 years working in healthcare, she left to work in the insurance industry.

In the epilogue to “Better Than Me,” Lamanes wrote she always liked telling stories about growing up in Rocky Point, Lukeville and Ajo.

“My friends regarded me as someone with a privileged life, never realizing how poor we were and not aware of my family’s hardships,” she wrote. “I grew up with strong women and, every day, I looked forward to new challenges and goals. I took pride in myself for my hard work and doing my best.”

She also talked about the influence of her mother and her grandmother.

“My grandmother Manuela was a quiet, but strong, presence in my life,” she wrote. “She taught me to be competitive and to try hard to reach my goals. Although she was losing her eyesight, it did not stop her from helping my mother with household chores. Manuela always found ways to show her love.

“But more importantly, her tranquil presence transmitted confidence through her faith and courage; she assured us that, regardless of the hard times, we would endure and be stronger for it. She was a humble and intelligent woman who lived out her years in peace surrounded by her loved ones.

“My mother embodied everything my grandmother was and more. Her determination to raise four children as a single parent inspired everyone who knew her.”

Lamanes said her mother’s “life was difficult” and she “struggled to find a sense of place without support of a father or the love of a husband.”

“I admired her courage and she was my pillar of strength,” she wrote. “Maria was an intelligent woman. She knew the value of education, and I always appreciated her support and encouragement for my schooling.”

Lamanes said all descendants of her mother and grandmother, including her own daughter, Nicole, “know the importance of furthering their education.” Many have earned college degrees and want to pursue careers as professionals, business owners and educators, she wrote.

Lamanes said she wanted to share personal and family difficulties and hardships for a reason.

“I believe it is important for young people to know everyone has hardships and challenges, and how you deal with them will define you,” she wrote. “It is my goal to inspire and motivate; if I could do it, you can do it. I would like to stress how important it is not to be the victim of circumstances, but to be the master of your destiny. The best way to accomplish this goal is through education.”

Christine Marin, professor emeritus of Arizona State University’s School of Transborder Studies and Department of Women and Gender Studies, praised Quihuis’ work.

Marin said his books help people “understand the importance of Spanish language, culture, the different lives of families who live along the border, who cross the border.”

She was one of the early readers of “Better Than Me” and gave Quihuis advice about the book. Marin met Quihuis when he visited ASU to talk about his work as an entrepreneur/businessman years ago.

“In his stories he’s writing about border culture, American culture, Mexican culture, tradition, families, language,” she said. “He’s expressing his culture in how he writes and what he writes, which is just great. People can understand what he’s saying in a way that he writes.”

The girl character, Sofia, and Pepe, the parrot, in his children’s books “are wonderful images of culture,” Marin said. Quihuis’ book, “Better Than Me” looks at three generations of Mexican woman, “who are now the bearers of history,” she said.

“What he’s celebrating is biculturalism, Mexican and American, crossing borders,” Marin said. “It’s more than just immigrants and just a family. It’s the blending of bringing the two cultures together and the two cultures that are so important to each other, becoming Americans and adding to the culture along the border.

“I’d call it the intersectionality of the U.S.-Mexican border. It channels the story of this young girl. He tells the story of how children rise above the challenges and difficulties of crossing borders.”

Lamanes is a great heroine for young women, as are her mother and grandmother, Marin added.

“It’s a wonderful story,” she said. “It’s an immigration story, it’s a border story. It’s a women’s story. It’s a story about family; these three different generations of women who come together and persevere together. They learn from each other.”

Quihuis said his own family also has inspired him in his writing. Born in Phoenix, he said his grandparents on his father’s side were born in Mexico then moved to Duquesne, Arizona, which had been a mining town, because of the Mexican Revolution.

His mother’s side of his family has traced their ancestry back to the 1700s in Arizona. Quihuis said his first three children’s books featured characters inspired by his mother’s relatives, including his grandmother who made tortillas every day. His fourth book, “Sofia’s Summer Adventure,” is “slanted to my father’s history.”

“I wanted students to know because of the Mexican Revolution, it pushed a lot of people from Mexico to Arizona,” he said. “They needed hardworking people to build infrastructure for Arizona and farmers and ranches…during World War One.”

Quihuis said he got the idea for his first book in 2008 and thought it would be easy to write, but it took about three years to complete. He said writing books is “the most rewarding feeling,”

“I never thought growing up that that would be my passion but that really has,” Quihuis said.

Quihuis has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Arizona State University. His oldest son, Adrian, is an entertainer in Los Angeles, and his second oldest son, Anthony, of Ahwatukee, is a dentist, along with Anthony’s wife, Vanessa.

His daughter, Alicia, is earning a doctorate in neuroscience and already has a degree in biochemistry from University of Southern California. Quihuis’ youngest child, Andre, is going to medical school in Chicago. His grandson, Xavier, 3, who is Anthony and Vanessa’s son, “loves books.”

Quihuis’ children’s books have won many awards including “Sofia’s Awesome Tamale Day” receiving the second-place award for Best Latino Focused Children’s Picture Book – English in the 2013 International Latino Book Awards.

“Sofia’s Summer Adventure” was named a finalist in the 2015 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards, among other awards. “Isabela’s Treasure” was named a finalist for the Children’s Picture Book category of the New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards.

Writing “Better Than Me” was slightly harder than writing the children’s books, Quihuis said.

“It was different,” he said. “With the children’s book, you have a few different things going on, a happy ending. This book, it was difficult because I had to work through a lot of how to deal with certain things…do I make this chronological? Do I have flashbacks?

“I put a lot of thought into all different areas of this book to make sure it shows the strength of this family and these three incredible women, and it does have (a) message that resonates throughout the book.”

Quihuis’ books are available at Sibley’s West: The Chandler and Arizona Gift Shop on South San Marcos Place downtown, as well as on Amazon.com and in some museum gift shops. He often visits schools to talk to students about his books, bringing a puppet of Pepe, the parrot in his children’s books.

“He is quite passionate about sharing his stories and those of loved ones,” John Wolfe, co-owner of Sibley’s said. “At the center of Al’s books is the role of family. He shares the importance of teaching, guiding, loving and forgiving.”

To learn more about Quihuis, visit perfect-bound-marketing.myshopify.com.

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