Andrés Reséndez is a historian and author specializing in colonial Latin America, borderlands, and the Iberian world. Andrés’ most recent book is entitled The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America, and it tells the story of the tens of thousands of Indians who were enslaved from the time of the conquistadors right up to the early 20th century. Andrés Reséndez’s focus has been focused on the dynamics of borderlands in North America for a long time; and can range from the enslavement of indigenous people, to the emergence of ethnic or national identities. Andrés Reséndez is a history professor at the University of California, where he teaches undergraduate courses on Latin America and Mexico. Please enjoy my interview with Andrés Reséndez.
When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?
I generally don’t know what to say and fumble. Sometimes I reply “historian” to which the immediate follow-up is “yes, that’s nice, but how do you support yourself?” Other times I say “professor” which, I guess, is closer to what I actually do on any given day: go to the university and teach my classes, hold office hours, go to faculty meetings, etc.
I am currently reading The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. My working theory is that by reading really good prose some of it will rub off on me. I’m not sure that it will ever work, but hope springs eternal.
What’s your earliest memory of reading?
I grew up in Mexico City in the 1970s and 1980s when the Latin American boom was going strong. So I was brought up on a steady diet of Jorge Luis Borges, Carlos Fuentes, and Gabriel García Márquez.
If you could encourage young people to read one book in particular, what would it be?
I am fascinated by excellent writers whose works dovetail with the geographic region and themes that I’m most interested in. So it would come down to something like Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy.
What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
I’ve had very few jobs: bartender in Paris, history professor in the US, and consultant for historical soap operas (telenovelas) in Mexico. I don’t know about the worst, but the best was the last one. I would sit down with a couple professional script writers—and fun people—who would transform the historical information that I had gathered into lively dialogue and television scenes.
Do you read as much as you’d like to?
Not at all. I wish I could have a sabbatical year not for researching and writing another book but just for reading whatever I wanted.
What books do you feel are important reading for people on your career path?
History is a very fragmented discipline by geography, by periodization, and by type—i.e., environmental, social, military, etc. My own specialties are colonial Mexican history, history of frontiers and borderlands, and increasingly the Pacific Ocean. Some key texts would include The Aztecs Under Spanish Rule by Charles Gibson, Ambivalent Conquests by Inga Clendinnen, Empires of the Atlantic World by John Elliott, Comanche Empire by Pekka Hämäläinen, and War of a Thousand Deserts by Brian DeLay to name a few.
Is there a book that you’ve read more than once? What is it and why did you revisit it?
What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?
That’s a very hard question, but probably The Milagro Beanfield War by John Nichols.
What’s your favourite genre of book?
I don’t have a favourite genre. But I have noticed that, along with the rest of the world, I’ve been gravitating toward crime novels in recent years: Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbø, Higashino, Élmer Mendoza, etc. Full disclosure: my wife is from Scandinavia and thus my initial interest.
What do you think a world without books would be like?
Is there an author whose writing you’re such a fan of, that you’ll read everything they release?
Gary Shteyngart, Michael Chabon, and Junot Díaz. All three are language stylists and their works are very funny.
I seriously doubt it. A digital book is far inferior to a paper book in many respects (cannot be lent, will disappear after your account is gone, etc.).
What is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life?
Probably Zapata and The Mexican Revolution by John Womack. I read it as a teenager and it came as a revelation about the power of history.
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?
I am in the early stages of a book project about the enormous difficulties of navigating the Pacific Ocean in the sixteenth century. So I expect to read a great deal about sailing, currents, Polynesians, and remote islands.