After a stirring e-mail exchange with his father, award winning 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 Historico, 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 Historico 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 Historico he makes it possible to understand the intimate role that Jews have played in the development of Hispanic civilization.
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 Jose Vasconcelos: The Prophet of Race and With All Thine Heart: Love and the Bible, both published by Rutgers University Press.