A Country Divided

"American Libre" and "House Divided" by Raul Ramos y Sanchez
Raul Ramos y Sanchez accepting his first place Books Into Movies Award from Edward James Olmos. Raul Ramos y Sanchez accepting his first place Books Into Movies Award from Edward James Olmos.

Local author Raul Ramos y Sanchez debuts his provocative, eye-opening second novel, ‘House Divided’

By Nicole Wroten

Raul Ramos y Sanchez accepting his first place Books Into Movies Award from Edward James Olmos.

Miami Valley author Raul Ramos y Sanchez paints an almost-too-real picture of revolution in the sequel to his critically acclaimed first novel, “American Libre,” in “House Divided.” Ramos y Sanchez’s second novel picks up where the first left off – continuing the saga of ex-GI Manolo Suarez who is struggling to keep his family together in the midst of a United States ripped apart by ethnic conflict.

“America Libre” is set in a near-future U.S. where the seeds of discord from today’s toxic immigration debate have erupted into violence,” said Ramos y Sanchez. “House Divided begins the very next day after “American Libre” ends and begins to tell a story of heartache, tension and radicalism.

“My novels are cautionary tales about a dangerous potential future, like George Orwell’s ‘1984,’” said Ramos y Sanchez. “They paint a worst-case scenario – which unfortunately appears more prophetic with each passing day.”

Ramos y Sanchez came to the U.S. in 1957 when his father became a Castro partisan. Fearing for their safety, Ramos y Sanchez’s mother divorced his father and left for the U.S. with her then seven-year-old son. “In 1968, my mother married a Daytonian and we moved from the Cuban exile community in Miami to the Midwest,” he said. “Since that time, I’ve formed deep bonds in the Miami Valley.”

Inspired by his own immigration story and stories of so many other Latin Americans, Ramos y Sanchez founded www.MyImmigrationStory.com, an online community where people from all backgrounds can share their own stories about coming to the U.S.  The stories he reads on his website definitely inspire his writing, he said, especially the stories of the “human tragedy created by the red tape of the U.S. immigration system.”

In his books, Ramos y Sanchez portrays what many politicians are beginning to voice on the floor of Congress. President Obama voiced it himself in his State of the Union address last week, saying, “I strongly believe that we should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration. I am prepared to … address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows.”

"American Libre" and "House Divided" by Raul Ramos y Sanchez

“I wrote ‘American Libre’ and ‘House Divided’ as a wakeup call to the dangers the U.S. faces as the debate over illegal immigration becomes increasingly hostile,” said the author. “The middle ground between Latinos and the mainstream is growing smaller every day. Arizona’s SB 1070 is supported by a majority of non-Hispanic whites. Among Latinos, it is overwhelmingly opposed.”

When Ramos y Sanchez began writing “America Libre” in 2004, he was scoffed at. “The idea of a Hispanic uprising seemed far-fetched at the time,” he said. “Unfortunately, that has changed. In less than a generation, the U. S. and other developed countries will be competing for immigrant labor to offset their rapidly aging populations. At that time, statutes like Arizona’s SB1070 will look like the Jim Crow segregation laws.”

Although Ramos y Sanchez might paint a grim picture of what immigration law might look like further in the future, he insists that negative sentiments have only strengthened throughout history. “The criticism of Latinos voiced by some today is a recurring theme in U.S. history,” he said. “In 1751, Ben Franklin accused the Germans arriving in Pennsylvania of refusing to learn English, nor accepting [their] customs. Poles, Jews, Irish, Italians and other immigrant groups were all at one time vilified as lawless and disease-ridden hordes that would ‘contaminate the purity’ of the U.S.”

With the growth of right-wing extremist groups and the surge in hate crimes against Latinos, Ramos y Sanchez said, he fears the xenophobic hatred being unleashed today “could become intense enough to radicalize the majority of Latinos and drive them into what is now only a fringe Latino separatist movement.”

“In that nightmare future, the U.S. could see a violent ethnic uprising like the Chechens in Russia, the Basques in Spain, the Tamils in Sri Lanka and the mother of all ethnic conflicts, the Balkans,” he said.

Ramos y Sanchez’s books very much emphasize a “nightmare scenario” of what might happen in the U.S. if legislation and American minds continue on the same path they have for the last 10 years.  Why does he choose such a violent and outlandish approach to the story? “I’ve put blood on the streets in a work of fiction in hopes of avoiding that nightmare in real life,” Ramos explained.

In October 2010, Latino Literacy Now selected “American Libre” as the first place winner in the Action & Adventure category during the first-ever Books Into Movies awards. Ramos y Sanchez received the award from Latino Literacy Now founder, famed Latin American actor Edward James Olmos.
“[Olmos] feels Latino writers in the film business can help change some of the pervasive Hispanic stereotypes that seem a staple of most films and television shows,” said Ramos y Sanchez.

Ramos y Sanchez is currently in talks about making “American Libre,” along with the rest of the trilogy, into a series of films.

“My journey as a writer has been like climbing a mountain. Once you reach the peak immediately above you, you find there’s another peak you could not see before,” explained Ramos y Sanchez. “Right now, my sights are set on finishing the third installment of the trilogy. Beyond that, I’ll have to wait and see what the view looks like.”

Raul Ramos y Sanchez will be signing copies of “House Divided” at Borders, located at 2700 Miamisburg Centerville Road in Dayton on Feb. 5, at 2 p.m.

Reach DCP Editor Nicole Wroten at editor@daytoncitypaper.com.

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