Chicano author Sergio Troncoso has contemplated his heritage for a long time.

“Don’t express Latino pride by simply waving a flag,” Troncoso said. “Ask yourself, ‘What should Latinos be?'”

Troncoso, the author of critically-acclaimed works such as “The Last Tortilla and Other Stories” and “The Nature of Truth,” has spent most of his life searching for an answer to that question. He emphasized Latino empowerment when he spoke to students at La Casa Cultural Wednesday night.

Born in El Paso, Tex. to Mexican immigrants, Troncoso was raised in Ysleta, a small, rural community in the eastern outskirts of El Paso where running water and electricity were scarce. After graduating from Ysleta High School, Troncoso left for the East Coast and Harvard.

“I went through a lot of cultural adjustment when I first arrived at Harvard,” Troncoso said. “I grew up in a place where Latinos were the majority. At Harvard, I found myself to be brown against a white background for the first time in my life.”

Although Troncoso characterized his first year at Harvard as “lonely” and “difficult,” he said he eventually found his niche and became acclimated to the heavy workload, ultimately majoring in economics and political science.

Troncoso said his interest in international relations was fueled by his desire to learn more about his Mexican heritage.

“I grew up near Mexico, and my parents were Mexican, but I realized I didn’t know anything about Mexican history, so I went to Harvard to learn about it,” Troncoso said.

Troncoso said his desire to learn Mexican history was satisfied upon graduating from Harvard, but the question of whether he was Mexicano or Latino remained. Troncoso said he spent a year in Mexico City on a Fulbright scholarship to answer this question, and arrived home with a newfound desire to study philosophy and literature.

The philosophical teachings of Nietzsche, Plato and Aristotle are prevalent in Troncoso’s latest work, “The Nature of Truth,” which was published in 2003 and is set at Yale. Troncoso said the novel is a contemporary re-examination of the issues of redemption and truth that are expressed in Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment.”

“I wanted to write a novel that centered upon the pursuit of truth, and one that is critical of the Christian and European inheritance that Harvard and Yale students are taught,” Troncoso said.

Troncoso said the novel also focuses on the questions of self-identity posed by the protagonist, Helmut Sanchez, who is of half-German, half-Mexican descent.

“Helmut is forced to ask himself [throughout the course of the novel] what his role is as a Chicano/Latino,” Troncoso said.

Troncoso said he hopes his novels — which delve into philosophical and social issues — will help break down the stereotypes surrounding Chicano literature.

“Chicano literature is separated into two categories — ‘familia’ stories and ‘barrio’ stories,'” Troncoso said. “I want to bring intellectualism to Chicano literature. Chicanos should be capable of ‘idea novels.'”

Daniel Martinez ’05 praised Troncoso’s attempts to overcome literary barriers.

“I’m proud to see [Troncoso] making it at a national level, and reaching an audience that’s more broad than just Chicanos,” Martinez said.

Irma Mejia ’06, a staff member at La Casa, said she was inspired by Troncoso’s example of success in spite of his humble origins and initial sentiments of inadequacy at Harvard.

“It’s reassuring to see someone who has gone through the same trials and tribulations that I’m going through as a minority at Yale,” Mejia said. “The talk was empowering. [Troncoso] demonstrated that these are normal feelings that I can overcome.”

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