Luis Avila Travels South America in Spanish-Language Memoir

When the going got tough, Luis Ávila headed to South America.
When the going got tough, Luis Ávila headed to South America. Alonso Para
In 2012, Luis Ávila's house was burgled – twice.

During one of the robberies, Ávila noticed that the burglars had stolen a wooden box full of personal knickknacks. These included photos, letters, and concert tickets, things that had no value to anyone but him. The loss was so pointless, as if the criminals had wished to steal his very memories from him.

"I decided I would take a trip," Ávila recalls. "I thought I would go to South America. I needed to get away [from] Phoenix."

This is how Ávila came to write Nómada Temporal, a book about his travels through 25 Latin American cities. Ávila will release the book at the Lost Leaf in downtown Phoenix on Wednesday, February 8.

Ávila is energetic and expressive. He speaks in an enthusiastic tenor. He asks as many questions as he answers. Ávila grew up in Mexico, but he moved to the United States 16 years ago to attend college. Since then, he's served as a community organizer, working on campaigns and advocacy in the Phoenix area. He has also worked as a journalist for La Voz Arizona and produced his own talk radio show, El Break.

So it should come as no surprise that Nómada Temporal is published in his native tongue.

"I wrote it in Spanish because that's the best way for me to write," he says. "When I was trying to shop the book around to publishers, everyone's answer was, 'Well, it's in Spanish. Nobody's going to read it.' And that made me think, 'Fuck it, I'm going to keep it in Spanish.' When I go to a bookstore, I always ask if they have any books in Spanish. I guess I want to feel shitty about it, because they always have the same authors – Gabriel García Márquez, Sandra Cisneros, and Paulo Coelho, who doesn't even write in Spanish."

Ávila proved those publishers wrong: The book became the number-one hit on Amazon's new releases in Spanish, and he has already received coverage from the Spanish-language network Univision. While Ávila technically published the book himself, using his own label Monzón, Nómada Temporal has gotten a lot of attention, especially for a volume that hasn't officially been released yet.

The book is a breezy collection of vignettes. The chapters are short, skipping from one exotic South American location to the next.

As he travels, Ávila dutifully documents the things he does and the factoids he discovers. He learns the origin of the name "Cusco," meanders the strip malls of Guayaquil, and drives too fast through the snow-capped mountains of La Cumbre. He peppers the book with little drawings, courtesy of illustrator Isela "Chela" Meraz.

The title is a double entendre: "Temporada" means "temporary," but it also means "temporal." You could loosely translate the title as either "Temporary Nomad" or "Nomad of Time."

"Why is it that so much travel literature has to come from a white author who has to go somewhere to find him or herself?" Ávila muses. "Like the Eat Pray Loves of the world. These memoirs are always inspiring and you take away a message. While if it takes place in a Latin American context, it has to be political and about consciousness."

If the book feels like a diary, that's because it started as Ávila's journal.

"I didn't plan to write the book," he says. "I started writing for myself. I showed it to a couple of close friends. But it wasn't something I was writing to share. It became very personal, very honest and genuine."

When he returned to the United States, after several months abroad, Ávila fell in love with writing again. He started composing short stories. He reread books he used to enjoy, like Jack Kerouac's On the Road and Che Guevara's The Motorcycle Diaries. He noticed many familiar tropes and themes, and he struggled with the idea of turning his jotted notes into an actual book.

"Unless you're going to publish, you don't really know when [the writing] ends," Ávila says. "My friend is a writer, and he said to me, 'This is the best stuff you've written.' I always ask myself, 'Is it worth it to waste the paper?' The answer was yes."

Part of the joy of reading Nómada Temporal is its cultural range: While many norteamericanos assume that everything south of the Rio Grande is just Mexico and more Mexico, Latin Americans see a diverse tapestry of peoples, dialects, cuisines, and indigenous influence.

"To be honest, if I had known I was was going to publish a book, I would have been more intellectual about it," he says with a laugh. "I feel like the biggest takeaway was that there were a lot of commonalities, language being one of them. There was all this interconnectedness, but all of these countries were at different levels of progress. This pan-Latino thinking is very powerful politically and commercially, but el concepto de latinidad is much richer."

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Robert Isenberg