Miguel Santana is an internationally published author. He was born in Mexico but has lived in the United States all of his adult life. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Texas at El Paso and a Ph. D. in Hispanic Literature from The University of Texas at Austin. He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with his husband and their two dogs.
When Miguel Santana’s first novel was presented in Spain, major publishers were interested in When Alligators Sing. After a bidding war rarely seen for a first time author, the two finalists were international houses Alfaguara and Grijalbo. Either conglomerate would have been an excellent choice but in the end, the novel was released in the Spanish-speaking world by Grijalbo-Mondadori (a Random House subsidiary). The novel earned Miguel Santana literary recognition; in addition to Spanish, the book was published in English and Polish, while Frasinnelli purchased Italian rights.
Miguel Santana is undeniably a product of the Mexican-American border. He was born in the late 60s, in a middle-class Mexican family that was both political and religious. From an early age, he was introduced to issues that shape the Mexican and American cultures. This input came from his mother, a woman only 15 years older than her son.
“My father was the typical Mexican macho man, womanizer. He was charming and women came to him easily. He married quite a few of them, but stayed with my mother longer than with any other,” says the author.
His father pushed the boundaries of the family without restraint. He owned cantinas, souvenir shops, bars, and, even brothels. As his mother dealt with the alienation of her husband, she looked for validation in God. She was a Catholic but readily explored different religions. Her search led her to the Mormons, a group quite prevalent in Santana’s home state of Chihuahua. Miguel played an integral part in his family’s acceptance of Mormonism.
“Of course, looking back, I now know my reasons were selfish and based on the attraction I developed for the beautiful blond boy who became my first Mormon friend,” he explains.
Nonetheless, his mother found solace in the Mormon culture. She attended service every Sunday and became an active participant in the church. “It is paradoxical to consider how easily her tithes [Mormons pay 10% of their income to their Church] were accepted even when the bishop knew they came from my father’s questionable businesses,” Santana says wryly.
While he did not share in their religious journey, his father did an admirable job in providing for his family. When it came to material items and privileges, Santana lived a pampered existence. He never wasted energy on yard work, housework or any other mundane, middle class task. This offered him complete freedom to satisfy his intellectual curiosity. He became an avid reader and devoured encyclopedias as well as comic books.
Miguel watches, observes, listens, and evaluates everything. His most treasured beliefs and opinions are formed over years and years of search, study and meditation. His mind never rests. Despite the bold persona that is revealed in his writing, he is an extremely passive, old soul. However, when pushed, he is compelled to respond sharply and on point. Santana’s intellectual and social dexterity is both baffling and inspiring. He has a talent for intimate settings. It is odd to watch such an academic frolic as he does when he is around young people. He is able to switch from a detailed debate on Spanish Literature to a discussion with a 15 year old about the items that inhabit their world. The young respond favorably to him.
Upon completing his junior year in the marketing program at The University of Texas in El Paso (UTEP), Miguel discovered the business world wasn’t his calling. In the summer before his senior year, he enrolled in a Creative Writing class. Professor Ricardo Aguilar (1947-2004), a well-known author in the Chicano literature arena, became his mentor as his writing workshop turn Santana’s world upside down. The professor told him that he had been blessed with a gift and inspired him to pursue it at all costs. There was no turning back. Santana went to his parents and notified them of his intent to change majors. His father told him that he would be given another year of support and then he would be on his own. Undeterred, Miguel completed two years of work in one and graduated. He immediately reenrolled in the school’s graduate program in Creative Writing, this time with a scholarship that allowed him to afford in-state tuition. Santana went on to complete a Ph. D. in Hispanic Literature in the University of Texas at Austin.
Miguel Santana’s values are clear and unwavering. He in turn is drawn to the underdog, to those marginalized by society, or who cannot fend for themselves. In Santana, you will find an individual who does not delineate between human life and animal life. He would do anything for his dogs or other loved ones. He is humane, respectful, and gentle. Nonetheless, he will stand up, without hesitation, when he senses an injustice.
Santana knows who he is. People are drawn to his strong personality. Last year, for example, at a fundraising event for an art house in Saint Petersburg, Florida, Santana met Academy Award Winner Alexander Payne. Payne had been mingling with other guests, however, after their introduction, he focused solely on Santana. Their conversation lasted until the screening began and ended with the director inviting Miguel to a more intimate discussion the following morning. He asked him to bring copies of his books. The next morning Payne was less subtle about his desire to continue where he had left off. He was quite cordial and informed the author that he had Googled him. Upon leaving the studio, his words were, “to be continued.”
Santana is no stranger to literary celebrities either. One of the first people to read the unfinished manuscript of When Alligators Sing, his first novel, was the author of Like Water For Chocolate, Laura Esquivel. The Polish edition of Miguel’s book quotes Esquivel on the cover: “The novel charms with the magic of its language and its rich imagination.”
By Kenneth Kimball