:: Interview with Alex Sanchez
By Dominique McCafferty, Librarian
Alex Sanchez received a master’s degree in guidance and counseling from Old Dominion University, and for many years he worked as a counselor for youth and families both in the United States and abroad. His first novel, Rainbow Boys (Simon and Schuster, 2001), received a Flying Start award from Publishers Weekly, and was also a Lambda Literary Award finalist and one of the Young Adult Library Services Association’s (YALSA) Best Books for Young Adults. He followed Rainbow Boys with RainbowHigh (Simon and Schuster, 2003), RainbowRoad (Simon and Schuster, 2005), and So Hard to Say (Simon and Schuster, 2004). When he isn’t writing, Sanchez tours the country, talking with teens, librarians, and educators about the importance of teaching tolerance and self-acceptance. Visit his Web site at www.alexsanchez.com.
DM: What do you remember about your childhood?
AS: As a boy, I was a constant daydreamer. When I dreamed about my future life, my heart yearned to make a difference in the world one day.
DM: And where did you grow up? Where did you live as a child?
AS: I’m originally from Mexico, but my family immigrated to Texas when I was five. When I began school, I spoke only Spanish. That was the first time I experienced prejudice and name-calling for being different.
DM: Did any of your teachers offer their support?
AS: Fortunately, my teachers never made me feel inadequate or inferior. With their help, I worked hard to learn English. My school librarian, especially, inspired me by reading aloud to us. Although none of my schoolbooks portrayed Mexican people like me, I developed a love of stories. But I remember—in order to fit in—I stopped speaking Spanish and learned to pass as white, hoping others would like and accept me. By the time I reached junior high, I had buried my Mexican heritage—a core part of myself. I was no longer different. Or so I thought. The biggest challenge of my life was yet to come.
DM: Alex, how did you build the bridge across your loneliness?
AS: I had two friends in particular: one was a papier-mâché artist, and the other was a songwriter. Both were going through their own creative struggles. We began encouraging each other in our creative processes, and in 1993, I began writing Rainbow Boys. For the first time, I committed myself to write from the deepest and most painful places in my heart. The dictionary cites the word “passion” deriving from the verb “to suffer.” I began to suspect that my unrelenting passion to write originated in my own suffering.
Writing about high school, love, sexuality, friendship, and the struggle to live by values in a world of homophobia that challenges those values at every turn didn’t come easily.
And as gays and lesbians, we learn from the time we are children to censor our feelings, keep secret our thoughts, and remain silent. When I began writing my novel, Rainbow Boys, every word I wrote was a battle. I had to fight against every impulse to keep silent. Each word I wrote was a struggle against everything I had learned. I was certain I’d be punished for it.
DM: Do you have any advice for readers you’d like to share?
AS: As I advise young people on my Web site, the most important thing is that you love and accept yourself for who you are.
Conducted via e-mail in spring 2006. The complete interview is available in the Summer 2006 issue of YALS.