Though his neighborhood came out of struggle, Mesa native Oscar Mancinas focuses on what comes with the next generation.
Oscar Mancinas, a PhD student at the School of Transborder Studies at Arizona State University, recently received the 2022 Southwest Book Award from the Border Regional Library Association.
It’s the first major work published by the 32-year-old author. Titled “To Live and Die in El Valle,” it is a collection of 13 short stories about various characters that grow up in a fictional version of the Salt River Valley.
“I’d like to think the book is about creating a sense of belonging,” he said.
When he isn’t spending long hours finishing his doctorate in Latino and Indigenous Literary Work in the 20th century at ASU, Mancinas works as a writing tutor at Gateway Community College.
He said he’s sold chapbooks – often self-published pamphlets – of his poetry but only now is he getting a full appreciation for the process of publishing with his first major fictional work.
“You don’t realize there are entire teams and communities that make it possible,” he said.
Mancinas was born in Mesa but comes from Rarámuri ancestry in the Mexican State of Chihuahua, an indigenous group famous for their long-distance running.
It’s this ancestry that he draws from for the pride in his roots and serves as a part-time labor organizer for United Campus Workers of Arizona Local 7065.
Nonetheless, he’s still a millennial who takes great pride in Mesa, especially his neighborhood: the Washington-Escobedo Heritage Neighborhood.
“It feels dope to rep the hometown,” he said.
The book centers around 13 different stories of young Latino characters ranging in age from 11 to 30 and capturing life growing up in the late '90s to mid 2000s.
He said the most notable event in the Fall of 2001 including the September 11th attacks and the Diamondbacks winning the World Series, along with some other facts about the time.
“Very few of the characters have cell phones,” he said.
Mancinas said he doesn’t take from his own life experiences but from a common thread that most Mexican-Americans experience living in the United States – born, naturalized or undocumented.
“It’s about navigating that struggle and to have something to give to the community and be a part of the community,” he explained.
Some of his favorite authors include James Baldwin, Stella Pope Duarte, and Ofelia Zepeda’s “Ocean Power: Poems from the Desert.”
He said the biggest challenges came with balancing what feels necessary with over-indulging, as well as to avoid perpetuating any damaging depictions or misrepresented stereotypes.
“I don’t want to just define us by what we don’t have,” he said.
That derives from his upbring in Washington-Escobedo, a neighborhood born out of segregation but whose residents overcome regardless of the circumstances.
“It hasn’t always been easy but we found ways to make it work,” he said.