Aura Xilonen wrote “El Gringo Gabacho” when she was 19 years old. After winning the prestigious Mauricio Achar award, the novel was translated into seven languages, including an English-language version, “The Gringo Champion,” translated by Andrea Rosenberg which came out earlier this year. Xilonen, a current film student, never intended to be a writer. Yet her novel, which provides a much-needed antidote to the xenophobia and racism of the current political situation, is now getting international attention and critics have called it a breath of fresh air in Mexican contemporary literature.
Her novel follows Liborio, a young undocumented immigrant who has no relationship with his family. He is aggressive, trusts few people, and mostly lives on the street, yet works in a bookstore and zealously devours books in his spare time. He wanders through the world hardened and socially isolated, and when asked his name, he responds: “As long as I can remember, they’ve always called me whatever they felt like calling me. Hardly anybody ever asked my name — they didn’t need to know it. To the world, I’m the idiot kid, the godd*mn putz, vato, pipsqueak, bastard, scruff, dude, barefoot Indian, negro warrior, boy, f***ing punk, young man, illegal beaner — all names bestowed according to the circumstance.” Eventually, Liborio moves to a shelter where he makes friends and falls in love with the elusive Aireen.
Xilonen wrote much of the novel in attempts to salvage family stories and language when her grandfather fell sick. She too was once undocumented in Germany and drew from her experience when writing the fear that Liborio experiences. The language she uses — a Spanglish mix of Mexican and U.S. slang and words now rarely in use — make the narrative as a unique representation of border culture. Her prose has a musical quality, which is compromised by even the best translation. Nevertheless, her words take the audience to various places and eras while providing a new perspective on the immigrant experience.
Xilonen’s novel is also one of the few contemporary Mexican novels translated into English and proves the necessity for young Mexican voices in literature. “The Gringo Champion” is an exciting debut and a must read for during the Trump era.