Matt de la Pena

Matt de la Pena '96, a Pacific graduate, former Tiger basketball player and best-selling author, will headline this year's Latino Heritage Month festivities.

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Arts and Culture

Author Matt de la Pena to Headline Latino Heritage Month

Sep 21, 2012

Matt de la Peña '96, author, creative writing instructor, Pacific alum and Tiger basketball player, will headline this year's Latino Heritage Month celebration. De la Peña is known for his approachable writing which resonates with young readers who embrace his use of their vernacular.

Also appearing on campus as part of the month's Latino Heritage observances will be accomplished filmmaker Aurora Guerrero who is regarded for creating art forms that offer opportunities for dialogue and education.

Susan Giraldez, associate professor in the Department of Modern Language and Literature, who is part of the Latino Heritage planning committee, said students wanted to invite de la Peña back to Pacific because, "Matt's books are written in the language of teenagers about their lives right here, right now, in Stockton, San Jose, Los Angeles, San Diego. 

"Matt is writing about ... white kids, Asian Americans, Mexican Americans, African Americans and all the ethnic mixes in between. His novels are meant for young people who think reading isn't for them," Giraldez said.

The appeal of de la Peña's stories so struck the committee that Giraldez and Inés Ruiz-Huston, Pacific's Latino Community Outreach Coordinator, along with the students, decided what better way to promote education through the festival than to donate more than a thousand de la Peña's books to students in Stockton Unified School District. Put books in their hands that they will devour.

The book donation drive at Pacific is poignant because "Mexican WhiteBoy," (Delacorte 2009), is a story about a mixed-race kid coming to terms with his identity living on the edge of California's border with Mexico.

So inspired by "Mexican WhiteBoy," students at Tucson High had bake sales to bring de la Peña to their campus, little realizing that the book was to become controversial after it was banned from the curriculum in Arizona schools, as it was perceived to be anti-Caucasian. The book is about stereotypes, growing up in a single-parent household and connecting with the protagonist Danny's Mexican father.

 "Of all his novels, 'Mexican WhiteBoy' was our choice because it speaks so eloquently about the struggles teens face, and, of course," Giraldez said, "because we celebrate that our students have the freedom to read it at home and in the classroom here in California, which is no longer the case in Arizona."

New York Times writer Michael Winerip followed de la Peña, a creative writing instructor at New York University who earned his MFA at San Diego State University, on his visit to Tucson. Winerip penned this assessment, after interviewing de la Peña fans including Tucson High junior Ana Verdugo:  "For those who have read the book, like Ana, (the controversy) is hard to figure. In 'Mexican WhiteBoy,' the hero's hope is to become a pitcher on his school's baseball team. The novel's story is pretty much the American dream."

2012 Latino Heritage Month

This year's Latino Heritage Month festivities feature authors, merengue and cumbia dance lessons, Women's Pacific soccer vs. UC Irvine, literary and historical offerings at the University library, A Reach for the Stars Science Blast Community Day at A.G. Spanos Center and a talk on Islamic-Latino cross pollination.

The theme "Many backgrounds, many stories, many Americans" encapsulates the diversity of cultural and academic offerings of the festival which kicked off this month and continues into October.

De la Peña will speak Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. at Grace Covell Hall. Aurora Guerrero will show her film "Mosquita y Mari" Oct. 9 at 7 p.m. at the Janet Leigh Theatre. These events are free and open to the public.

The film "Biutiful" will be shown Sept. 27 at 8 p.m. at Janet Leigh Theatre. This screening is open to students with a valid University ID.

See other Latino Heritage Month events on the University Events Calendar.

For more on Latino Heritage month visit For additional information on this or other related events, call 209.946.7705 or email All events are presented by the Pacific Arts and Lecture Series, Latino Community Outreach, the Inter-American Program and other generous contributors.

For more information about de la Peña, visit