By Melvin Bui
From pain to page, English Professor Obed Silva revisits traumatic memories in a book meant explore humanity. “The Death of My Father: The Pope,” the book will be published and available in stores in August.
“It’s crazy how we’re having a talk about a book that hasn’t even come out yet… I’m glad it didn’t come out this year, since we’re all in quarantine,” Silva said.
The East Los Angeles College Puente Club revolves around mentorship. Its work with the community and educators to learn more about prominent social issues and proactive work.
The club chose “Homie Obed” to speak because of his inspiring life story. Silva spoke about what inspired him to write the book and student mentorship.
Silva was the keynote speaker, while English Professor Carlos Centeno was in charge of the discussion. The event was an hour and a half long and had 50 participants, “Puentesitas” from El Camino College, LA Pierce College, Santa Ana College and Cypress College.
The audience congratulated him for the almost-published work before talking about his book.
Silva said professors should not be the only option for mentorships. He suggested students reach out to people that they admire and see if they oblige. When Centeno asked about what students should do to pursue their writing career, Silva said if students are serious about becoming writers it will call them.
“Everyone says that they have a book in their head that can get published, but what they really need to do is start writing and then worry about the publication last,” Silva said.
L.A. Times Columnist Hector Tobar gave a speech on his book, “The Tattoo Soldier: A Novel” at California State University of Los Angeles while Silva was a student and they became acquainted. Tobar gave his number to Silva to ask questions since he was infatuated with the book.
Silva’s green card was taken away because of his extensive criminal record due to gangbanging. Silva risked deportation. However Tobar suggested he let him write a story about him for the LA Times to get support from people of the community.
Tobar wrote “Taking Advantage of a Second Chance” in Sept. 9, 2011 and it gained immense support from community members. Silva won his case and the government agreed to drop the deportation proceedings.
Silva sent Tobar the 50 pages that he wrote about attending his father’s funeral. Tobar liked what he read and told him to keep writing. When he sent Tobar another 50 pages, Silva asked, “So you do think this can be a book?”
Tobar said, why do you think I have been asking you to write more? Tobar was an acquaintance who became a friend and mentor.
This sent Silva a jolt of inspiration, thus beginning the 10-year process of writing his book. The book was started in 2009 and finished in 2019. There were periods of time where he didn’t work on the book at all for months, but would randomly come back when he felt inspired.
“I wouldn’t have taken 10 years to write, if I wasn’t grading all of my students’ work. Damn, I could have been finished in like 10 months,” Silva said.
Tobar was in tears when Silva sent him the finished book. Tobar said that he would call PMG Publishing, and start from there but couldn’t make any promises. Silva did not have a backup plan in case the book didn’t make publishing and was just writing on a whim.
The book revolves around the two days of his father’s funeral: the wake and the burial. Silva writes about the overwhelming emotions he felt flying to the funeral and seeing his father in his deathbed. The plot takes place in Chihuahua, Mexico in 2009, but Silva storyboards throughout the book with flashbacks.
The day after a rowdy night, Silva yelled “pinche papa” to a mural of the pope while in the car with his father and siblings. Then there was a brief moment of sudden tension and stillness.
His father said in a stern voice, “I am your papa, [then turned toward his siblings] and said I am your papa also, and then grinned to himself. El papa means pope in Spanish and papa is also another way to say father.
Silva started to call his dad “El pope” after that day. This was the inspiration for the title of the book.
For more information on future ELAC Puente Club events are posted @Elacpuenteclub on Instagram.