The Education of Héctor
A novel by Chilton Williamson, Jr.
Chronicles Press (Rockford, IL), 2012.
Toss out your glitzy tourist-bureau guide to New Mexico, the “Land of Enchantment.” You’ll have a lot more fun viewing the state through the
innocent eyes of Mexican immigrant Héctor Villa.
The Education of Héctor Villa
isn’t great literature, but this parody of the politics, paranoia, and problems
of an assortment of outrageous but lovable characters is reminiscent of Max Shulman’s hilarious take
on the1950s in Rally Round the Flag, Boys!
With humor and irreverence, Williamson pokes a satirical finger at Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Democrats, Republicans, immigrants, and both the Hispanic
and Anglo New Mexican cultures. The story will make you chuckle (even though you might occasionally feel guilty doing so), and some of the insights might even
make you laugh at yourself. They might also increase your level of apprehension about the future of our country.
This probably isn’t a book for folks who are humorless, scrupulous, hypersensitive, or politically correct to the red bone, although its comedic veneer
veils a layer of hard truth about the way things are and how they can change. On that level, readers of the novel as well as Héctor can
gain a bit of enlightenment; Williamson has keen eyes and ears.
Gentle Héctor, an illegal immigrant descended from the celebrated Mexican hero/villain Pancho Villa, lives in Belen, New Mexico, where he earns enough
fixing computers for his wife and daughter to keep several department stores in business. He loves his home, loves his wife and children, loves being an
American, loves being a Republican (his son is named Dubya), and especially loves drinking and talking with his bosom friend Jesús “Eddie,” a
native Rio Abajo
New Mexican who hates almost everybody except Héctor.
To tell his story, Williamson concocts an interesting blend of the actual (the famous Pink Store across the border from Columbus, the rough road in to
Ladrón Peak) with the fictional (a mosque in Belen, Neiman-Marcus stores in Albuquerque and Las Cruces), just as he juxtaposes actual people with
The zany action of the novel takes the Villa family from Belen to rural southwestern New Mexico, to Las Vegas, Nevada, and even to Namiquipa, Mexico,
Héctor’s hometown. Set during George W. Bush’s administration, it also gives a nostalgic backward glance at how accessible border towns were
before the present level of drug violence and how the MGM Hotel in Vegas had a popular live-lion exhibit before lion violence closed it down a couple of
Formerly history editor for St. Martin’s Press and literary editor for National Review
, Williamson has been for 23 years the senior editor
of books for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture
. In addition to The Education of Héctor Villa
, the chapters of which
were originally published in Chronicles
, he is the author of eight other books.
Some lovely descriptive passages sprinkled throughout the novel suggest that Williamson has, like so many outsiders before him, succumbed to the beauty of the
Land of Enchantment, as well as to its culture. He uses quite a bit of Spanish in the dialogue, and it’s too bad he chose not to include a glossary. Even
though the meaning of many of the Spanish words is evident from the context, readers unfamiliar with ordinary street Spanish might need to have at hand a
Spanish-to-English dictionary. After all, isn’t the sugar-coated education of the reader the point of The Education of Héctor