Return to Centro Histórico
A Mexican Jew Looks for His Roots
After a stirring e-mail exchange with his father, awardwinning essayist and cultural commentator Ilan Stavans decided to do something bizarre: revisit his hometown, Mexico City, accompanied by a tourist guide. But rather than seeking his roots in the neighborhood where he grew up, he headed to the Centro Histórico, the downtown area at the heart of the world’s largest metropolis. It was there that conversos, the hidden Jews escaping the might of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, were burned at the stake. And, centuries later, it was the same section where Jewish immigrants, both Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazim and Sephardim from the Ottoman Empire, made their homes as peddlers. In a sense, Centro Histórico is to Mexico what the Lower East Side is to the United States: a platform for reinventing one’s self in the New World.
With the same linguistic verve and insight that has made him one of the most distinguished voices in American literature today, Ilan Stavans invites readers along for a personal journey that is not only his own, but that of an entire culture. In Return to Centro Histórico he makes it possible to understand the intimate role that Jews have played in the development of Hispanic civilization.
Ilan Stavans is dedicated to understanding the World, Latin America, Latino culture, Mexico… In this new book–intelligent, penetrating and informed as ever–he continues to do so, tenaciously seeking to understand himself.
A hypnotic, moving exploration of history and identity, wry and entertaining and wise. In this dialogue with a lifetime of photos, Ilan Stavans creates and recreates a world rarely seen.
Essential, seminal reading, Return to Centro Histórico is more than a fascinating weaving of personal and familial history. It is a thought-provoking story of how a boy who wanted to be a magician turned instead into one of our very best writers. Ilan Stavans conjures up his life with candor and an ample heart for family and community.
A sweet reading of a little-known face of Mexico.
In this endearing Proustian journey, old photographs become the madeleines that spark vivid memories and imaginings of the diverse Jewish dreamers who have made Mexico their home. No one but Ilan Stavans could have told this beautiful and haunting story with such affection, wit, and grace.
A moving meditation on photographs where memory and history collide. Ilan Stavans illuminates a Jewish penchant for picturing time, life, and family in Mexico City in the 20th century.
Passport: A Hidden History,' excerpt of Return to Centro Histórico by Ilan Stavan in Jewish Renaissance
ILAN STAVANS is Lewis-Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College. Former host of the PBS series Conversations with Ilan Stavans, he has written or edited more than fifty books, including José Vasconcelos: The Prophet of Race and With All Thine Heart: Love and the Bible, both published by Rutgers University Press.
Receive the latest UBC Press news, including events, catalogues, and announcements.Subscribe to our newsletter now
Read past newsletters