It’s a Good World After All
By Michael Reid Busk
Victor Villaseñor can’t stop talking about the church—it’s a remote children’s chapel in New Mexico that was recently in danger of being torn down until a tiny priest managed to convince the powers that be to save it. As author and Oceanside native Villaseñor describes it, the walls are covered with images of smiling children, a sort of Catholic “It’s a Small World After All.”
“I sat there for an hour crying, it was so beautiful,” says Villaseñor, and it’s clear from his tone of voice that he’s tearing up again. “Everything was so colorful. The benches had hearts carved into them.” Even the face of the altar’s Jesus was apparently beaming. “The God they have there is so happy and smiling,” he says.
Happy is a good word to describe Villaseñor—he used that word or a synonym regularly throughout our conversation, and he is one of those blessed people who practices what he preaches; he is truly and unabashedly happy.
HOW TO UN-SCREW THINGS UP
Much of Villaseñor’s path to happiness is documented in his newest memoir, Crazy Loco Love, which primarily chronicles his teenage and young adult years. The book’s numerous epigraphs serve as a good primer for its themes and messages; Villaseñor presents us with Goethe (“Whatever you can do or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic.”), Twain (“Thousands of geniuses live and die undiscovered—either by themselves or by others.”) and Sally Field (“It took me a long time not to judge myself through someone else’s eyes.”).
This last quotation dovetails into the book’s introduction, which finds a 20-year-old Villaseñor at home with his parents. His mother is furious with his father for having drunk himself into stupidity the night before at a formal weekend-long event, culminating in his father’s complimenting the mayor’s wife on her body then threatening to lynch the bartender after he refuses to serve him a drink at the end of the evening. When Villaseñor asks his father how he can possibly face the same crowd after what he did, his father replies, “Easy . . . I’ve done worse,” then walks away whistling. An hour later, the father is standing at a microphone at the gala, where he briefly apologizes to the crowd before saying, “But also I want you all to know that I’ve done worse, and I’ll probably screw things up again now and then.” At this, Villaseñor recounts that everyone in the room broke into applause and rushed toward him, including the mayor’s wife and a former Miss Southern California.
“HUMAN BEINGS ARE FANTASTIC”
Villaseñor interprets the event this way: “A lot of people had also done ‘worse’ in their lives and felt glad that someone could admit it openly and not feel bad or guilty or think that it was the end of the world.” This moment and the lesson Villaseñor took away from it becomes one of the central lessons of the book. “Forgiveness doesn’t start with forgiving
others their trespasses. It starts within each of us. We all need not to be so hard on ourselves and know how to forgive ourselves before we can begin forgiving other people.”
Villaseñor is a reformer of a sort, but in his regular speaking engagements (including one in Corona on Thursday, Dec. 2), rather than exhorting people to some external change—like Al Gore telling us to buy electric cars or Alicia Silverstone telling us not to eat bacon or wear leather—Villaseñor believes the reform must start within each of us, healing ourselves through self-forgiveness. Part and parcel with that self-forgiveness is a realization of how marvelous the world is, how marvelous we all are.
“All there is is love and happiness … human beings are fantastic.”
When I bring up the subject of less-than-fantastic human beings, such as drug lords, Villaseñor bristles. “That’s a very small percentage of people, a very small percentage of Mexico,” he says. It seems for him that problems are essentially always internal—learning to love yourself, rather than external—cartels with private armies terrorizing a nation. When I press him on the point, he asks me what percentage of Mexico—or the world—is wicked.
At the same time, Villaseñor has held admirably to his life-affirming philosophy despite many personal difficulties, both internal and external, including a danger so many of us have faced recently: having the bank foreclose on his house. He recounts this story from a year ago: “My house was going to be auctioned off on Nov. 22, and on Nov. 1 I had no money, and I had 22 days . . . This was a time to fall apart and panic, or to turn to God.” So Villaseñor went to his nutritionist, who asked what he would do if he lost his home. After thinking about it for a moment, he said, “I’ll get a van and live very cheap out of my van, and I’ll park at the beach and write.” Looking back on it, he says now, “It was okay if I kept my home, it was okay if I lost my home, as long as I was okay . . . When you complain, you lose your power. Compared to our parents and grandparents, we have it very easy. Once I realized that, I went to sleep and slept wonderfully.”
SUNLIGHT OF GOD
Often Villaseñor brings up his parents and grandparents, his indigenous Mexican heritage. To speak with Villaseñor is to encounter the concatenation, the distillation of thousands of years of stories and ideas, stories and ideas that have survived because of their hardiness, their resilience.
To quote the last of Crazy Loco Love’s epigraphs, taken, appropriately, from Villaseñor’s father: “We, los Indios, los mescalados, the mixed bloods, are like the weeds. The roses you need to water them and give them fertilizer or they die. The weeds you give them nada, nothing and they live. You poison them and they come back the following year. You pour cement over them and they will break that concrete, reaching for the sunlight of God.”
Villaseñor survived his own financial trials through a combination of inner strength and good—some might say miraculous—timing. Later that day, after visiting his nutritionist, Villaseñor was contacted by a woman who’d read his earlier book, titled, fittingly enough, Rain of Gold. The woman, along with some of her friends, wanted to pay off his overdue mortgage payments, a $60,000 sum. Then HBO representatives called to confirm, after a years-long process, that they were indeed going to make Rain of Gold into a miniseries and, on top of that, Villaseñor’s sister called to say that she’d secured a lucrative speaking engagement for him. As Villaseñor says, “The more we trust in God and the universe, magic happens.”
A VISION IN PORTLAND
Like Villaseñor himself, his magic is a blend of Old World Catholicism and the ancient beliefs of the indigenous peoples of the New World, and in conversation he navigates freely between the two, discussing Jesus in one breath and Mayan prophecy in the next. The Old World and the New came together for him in 1992, on the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s landing in the Americas, an event that for some was a discovery, for others, an invasion. But Villaseñor saw it differently—for him it was yet another chance for healing.
“I had a vision in Portland, Oregon, in 1992. The snow geese told me as I was flying with them that they’d been living in peace and harmony for twenty million years because the big strong males flew up front, deflecting the wind, but it was the women and children who gave the flock direction from behind. It’s time for women and children to lead, people who want shelter and food and clean air and clean water. I suddenly understood that that was what 2012 is about. The Mayan Calendar suggested that we’re about to end 26,000 years of masculine energy, and about to begin 26,000 years of feminine energy.”
It’s easy to dismiss Villaseñor as a Pollyanna with a moustache, peddling a hodgepodge of tired hippie optimism and least common denominator Mestizo spiritualism. And perhaps we should. Perhaps he is. For a man so concerned with the world, his choice to turn a blind eye to its tragedies and evils might be criminally negligent.
At the same time, the world is a beautiful place, and we humans are fantastic creatures. At its best, Villaseñor’s ebullient hope recalls Francis of Assisi, another holy fool determined to show the human race that they lived in a gorgeous world created by a good and loving God. In any age, but certainly in our own troubled times, this is a message we can all take to heart.
Victor Villaseñor will be making a presentation at Corona High School, 1150 W. Tenth St., Corona, (951) 736-3211; www.victorvillasenor.com. Thurs, Dec. 2, 6PM–9PM.