The Prince of South Waco

The Prince of South WacoIN A PERFECT UNIVERSE, theirs might have been the perfect love story from two separate worlds. But in the heart of the Bible Belt South, in mid-20th Century America, their young love was forbidden, all because of the color of their skin.

She was white, lovely, privileged, growing up in a Tara-like Victorian home that had been built for patrician landowners of the American South who had been slave owners in the 1800s. He was Latino, dark-skinned, working class, and the grandson of a Mexican revolutionary who had fought with Pancho Villa.

And an innocent waltz in a school May Fete that they were not permitted to dance together came to symbolize their society’s racial divide. It also became a young writer’s unwavering motivation for pursuing success and a life that he believed would ultimately win him his first love, as well as overcome any objections in a world where race, ethnicity, heritage, and religion were often its arbiters.

The Prince of South Waco: American Dreams and Great Expectations is author Tony Castro’s sensitive rite-of-passage memoir of growing up Latino in the PRINCECOVER613segregated South in the age when being different in America often brought with it the cruel, hard reality of the time – and with it heartbreak and despair.

Castro recounts how, as a child in an era before bilingual education and affirmative action, he overcame speech and learning disabilities and an inability to speak English to become an honor student with a penchant for literature, the classics, and writing. Throughout his youth he also remained discreetly close to the lovely teenage ballerina who had captured his heart as a youth.

All the while, he encountered ugly warnings of violence and harm – against the two of them – should they see each other and defy the ages-old prohibition in the South against interracial relationships. As a precocious teenager passing himself off as a college-age reporter on one of his hometown newspapers, he vowed to become among the best journalists in America. If he were that, he believed, who could deny him the girl of his dreams, color of skin notwithstanding.

Patricia 1958His quixotic quest, however, ends badly and almost tragically.

Castro’s first book, Chicano Power: The Emergence of Mexican-America (E.P. Dutton, 1974) is now viewed as a seminal work in the contemporary history of Latinos in America. Publishers Weekly hailed it as “brilliant… a valuable contribution to the understanding of our time.” The New York Times called his second book, Mickey Mantle: America’s Prodigal Son (Brassey’s 2002), the best biography ever written of the New York Yankees’ baseball legend.

A graduate of Baylor, Castro was also a Nieman Fellow at Harvard where he studied under Homer classics scholar Robert Fitzgerald and Mexican writer and future Nobel laureate Octavio Paz.

But his unbridled ambition and his longing for his first love ruin a marriage and leave him with more questions than answers. When he returns to Texas after his Nieman fellowship, his youth gone but with the rest of his life ahead, Castro comes to grips with the hard realities of his life and how he must move on, from family and from Texas.

But you only fall in love for the first time once. And there is a place in the hearts of romantics where lovers don’t disappoint and where dreams, images, and illusions about those you love are never ruined. It’s a place where those dreams are always the truest.

Believe in happily ever afters.

 

From the book’s dust jacket copy.