TALKING BOOK PROGRAM –TEXAS STATE LIBRARY
Interviewee: author Luis Felipe Passalacqua
July 15, 2016
Translated from Spanish
Saidah: Good morning, dear patrons. Greetings from the Talking Book
Program at the Texas State Library. My name is Saidah and I am one
of the Librarians in the program. This morning I would like to
introduce Mr. Luis Felipe Passalacqua. He is the first blind sculptor in
Puerto Rico, as well as a writer. He is the author of the book “Él -Una
Pequeña Aclaración”, which we have available in audio format on
digital cartridge, and available for download on BARD.
Mr. Passalacqua has granted us a few minutes of his time today. He
is calling in from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to chat about his book and
about his experiences as a blind person, as someone who has
surpassed other’s expectations, has broken stereotypes, and has
been successful in the art world. Good morning, Mr. Passalacqua.
Welcome to the Talking Book Program.
L. F. Passalacqua: Good morning, Saidah. It is an honor and a pleasure.
Thanks so much for the opportunity.
Saidah: Well, the first question I have for you is about how you approached
the subject of your book. The central theme is the life of the character
of Luis-Fe; his childhood and adolescence in Puerto Rico, and his
experiences when he becomes blind as an adult, after contracting
meningitis. You clearly used many autobiographical experiences to
inform your book, but your intention was not that of writing an auto-
biography. Your book should be understood as fiction, is that correct?
L. F. Passalacqua: Yes, well. I would place it as a sort of bio-fiction.
Because in the novel I get into topics that are based in very personal
beliefs of mine, that other people might not share. And that’s why I
give these sorts of opinions from the point of view of my experience.
How was this novel born? I started when I went blind and I began
going through very tough experiences that included discrimination,
lack of opportunities, etc. I started writing a journal because the level
of frustration I was in was so great I had to find a way to externalize
those feelings and that state of confusion.
That is how I started writing the journal. Many years after I started
writing it, I began to realize there was a story there. I gave the
manuscript to a very dear friend of mine who is an editor and he told
me, look, you have a novel here. Not only do you have a novel, you
could get like three novels out of this journal. And he recommended
that I start… that I consider making a novel out of it. And that’s where I started, right? To create this with the hope that my experiences
would be useful to others, as tools to confront and meet different
challenges that I’m sure we all encounter.
Saidah: Yes, of course. The character of Luis-Fe when he is a little kid, I
noticed, he gets so many negative comments from some of the adults
in his life. Some of them are about his physical appearance, but those
comments are especially about the activities he likes to get involved
in, his interests. What are your thoughts on how we should treat
children that display the creative impulse, so that their natural
inclination is not stifled?
L. F. Passalacqua: I think the first thing we need to do as adults is to stop
judging them. To stop judging them in what they are doing, if their
inclination is positive, negative, if they meet a standard or they don’t
meet a standard. We should just give that child the opportunity to
manifest all that potential; guiding them or searching for a way in
which they can be surrounded by a fertile environment where they
can sprout and grow. In other words, we must search for
opportunities for kids to begin expressing freely who they really are.
Saidah: Of course. Many people consider that sports and the arts are
incompatible vocations, like oil and water. However, the character of
Luis Felipe develops perfectly and very successfully in the martial
arts -he is a black belt and a Karate instructor, and in the visual arts,
as he is a sketch artist years before he becomes blind. In your
opinion, how do the disciplines of sports and the arts complement
each other and contribute to our development as human beings?
L. F. Passalacqua: I believe that in both areas, perseverance and the belief
in your self are extremely important. These are both fields that will not
yield results overnight, and in which the main struggle is against your
own self. You compete against yourself and that way you improve
and improve your given capabilities. In both areas -artistic expression
and sports, the same thing happens. However, it sometimes happens
that you don’t have the opportunity to express how difficult it is to do
what you do, with gestures or body language. The reality is that when
you see an athlete that is truly good at what they do, what you are
seeing is art, art in motion. Movements are synchronized, delicate,
fluid, just like in the arts.
Saidah: I have another question about our development as human beings,
and about what we can do to be more successful. In your book
LuisFe has dreams and experiences that could be considered
supernatural, occurrences that are very personal for the character.
Many people, when they experience something like that, they hide it
or ignore it because they figure they can’t explain it in any reasonable
or perhaps scientific way. In your opinion, what is the importance of
intuition in our human development?
L. F. Passalacqua: Intuition is very important because it happens that we
dismiss those experiences based on judgments we make about them,
but it turns out those judgments are based on the experience of
others, not our own. In other words, others are not seeing what I see.
Others are not experiencing what we are experiencing. That factual
knowledge is surpassed by intuition. Intuition goes much further than
what the human mind can compartmentalize, along with other human
minds, inside of a socio-cultural context. For example, what is
considered fictional in a certain culture is considered as perfectly
normal and real in other cultures.
Intuition bypasses all that. Instead of the mind functioning alone, let’s
link the mind to the heart. With these two things together then we can
truly feel an experience. In other words, not only can we see that
experience, examine it, judge it, we can also then feel it. And inside
the heart, when the heart tells us something is true, most of the time it
Saidah: I want to go a bit deeper into the experiences of Luis-Fe, his
personal, emotional, and intuitive experiences. And I also want to
address one of the main themes in your book –in my opinion it is a
central theme in your book; the subject of self-acceptance. In your
opinion how can we handle or manage the dark aspects of
L. F. Passalacqua: That is a very important question going back to the topic
of judgment. We brush aside those negative aspects of ourselves,
depending on what society, religious groups, or whatever institution
we are affiliated to, dictates. That generates feelings of guilt and
shame. That’s where intuition comes in so we can connect to
ourselves. If light exists it is because darkness exists. There is a
space in the shadow for light to shine. And at the same time darkness
exists when there is an absence of light. It is a circle, a Ying-Yang.
We must be able to accept ourselves on both sides. Because the
more you fight the shadows, the more you try to cover something up,
the more it becomes like oil under the earth; it gathers power to erupt.
And when it finally escapes, it generally does it in an unrestrained,
On the other hand, if you accept that you have x or y thing that can
be considered negative, and you accept it as part of your being, we
take away the pressure and the guilt. That thing simply exists. Once
you understand that aspect exists then you can strengthen that other
quality that will balance out the darkness. So you emphasize shadow.
Gandhi said that you do not eliminate something. You substitute one
thing for another. Thus, if you acknowledge the part of us that is
darkness, the part we generally refuse to accept, then we can open
ourselves so that light shines on the positive qualities of our heart.
Light will fill that space and transform it. Darkness will always be
there in a latent form. But one thing is latent and another is an
explosive manifestation of it.
Saidah: Yes, that’s very interesting. A person will accumulate things and
they will turn into a sort of pressure cooker almost, right?
L. F. Passalacqua: Correct. That’s right.
Saidah: As I was reading your book I ran into the word ‘self-sabotage’ more
than once in the sort of internal dialogue of Luis Felipe. It seems to
me like a word that is full of meaning. ¿How do you define the word
L. F. Passalacqua: It was a way for me to express a situation in which we
give too much importance to other people passing judgment on us.
When a certain quality of ours can shine but instead we turn and
listen to that judgment that has been made of us – like in the case of
the boy, Pitito, who is influenced very strongly and negatively by
others who judge him, and so we limit our selves. That grows on us
instead of us giving ourselves some space to develop and wait.
Simply grant yourself some space, through curiosity, saying “perhaps
I’m good at this. Perhaps this is my calling.” Instead of saying: “No,
no, no. I guess this is just the way I am. Those are just pipe dreams,
mirages. I should be realistic.” So self-sabotage is an important
concept because understanding it also implies an act of self-inquiry;
being able to say: “Ok, fine. This is what is being said about me. Is it
Saidah: The character of Luis Felipe is also a witness to many situations of
machismo, sexism, and homophobia. Sometimes that comes from
members of his own family, and sometimes it comes from people he
meets. In your opinion, what can we do as Hispanics -regardless of
what country we are living in, when we encounter these attitudes?
L. F. Passalacqua: We must start going beyond cultural clichés and open
our mind; have the courage to evolve. Many times we get stuck,
considering that parts of our culture are x or y, and those happen to
be negative attitudes, but since it’s ours, we feel we need to keep
things the way they are.
We need to lose the fear, as Hispanics, to the evolution of a world
that is growing, where all humans see each other more and more as
siblings – it may seem like that’s not happening but it is happening.
And it’s due to that change that we are seeing some radical positions,
where shadow manifests itself more violently, but that is just fear, fear
And we must have the collective courage, as a raza, as Hispanic
people that we are, to grow and to abandon things that always result
in pain. In other words, let’s look at the consequences of our actions.
I do not believe that sexism and homophobia, all those things,
generate anything positive. I don’t think those things generate any
helpful emotions or consequences. On the contrary, they hurt us,
they cause us pain. Then we should get rid of them.
Saidah: In the book, Luis-Fe loses his eye sight as an adult after contracting
an illness. Soon after that he falls into a depression. Let me just say
that here at the Talking Book Program we have many patrons that
have lost their sight as adults as well, after an entire life of being able
to see. Is there a piece of advice, a comment that you would like to
make for those in that situation which can be so difficult; a very tough
L. F. Passalacqua: Yes. There are a couple of comments I can make within
the context of the book. One of the first things I noticed when I went
blind, right? was that life… I looked at everything I had, material and
emotional. It was a break-down; let’s look at it that way. It was
destruction. The truth is that I realized nothing in life is permanent.
We think it is, but it is not. Everything is changing, right? And so how
long will the challenge last, that moment of turbulence in which you
are facing blindness? Well, look, it will depend on us. In other words,
everything is transitory and the challenge will also pass. But how long
it lasts will depend on the perspective you have of it. It will depend on
your mental and emotional aptitudes.
We need space. We must give ourselves that space. And in that
space we must slowly relinquish ourselves, and let go of everything
that is now gone. We give it up as a blessing from God in a certain
moment in our life and we are giving it up to the light. It is there that
things begin to transform. I mean to say that the crisis will last the
amount of time we think it should last. This changes as we change
our perspective. And in order to change that perspective I have to see
myself as I am in that moment.
What was left after the devastation? What is gone and what remains?
Then, within the boundaries of what is left, I start to look for that
which I love. A crisis is a great opportunity, because sometimes,
among the things that are gone were roles we had imposed on
ourselves since childhood. There are people that project their
expectations on us, right? Of what they think we should be or
shouldn’t be. And sometimes the crisis…When I went blind and lost
everything I had to start from zero, but I was already an adult. I
started with knowledge I didn’t have when I was a kid.
It is a great opportunity but we have to believe in ourselves. We have
to trust God and believe we have the qualities to go forward, because
we do have them. It is an opportunity to change your perspective of
the situation. And no one owes us anything. We realize this when we
begin to move about and begin to face discrimination that we did not
experience before becoming blind. We will experience it for the first
This experience shows us our responsibility, within the new role we
have as blind people, right? that we are now… What I mean to say is
that we are ambassadors of all people who are being discriminated
against, be it because of race, religion, nationality, social status,
ethnicity, all of that, including quote-unquote disability. And we are
that ambassador. What we accomplish on behalf of ourselves we are
accomplishing on behalf of all of us. And when we realize that, it is
very empowering because it gives a greater meaning to our life, the
idea that we can provide not only for our own well-being, but for the
well being and evolution of all humanity.
Saidah: Of course. In your own life, in real life, how do you handle
situations in which people tell you that you should not, or cannot do
something, simply because you are blind?
L. F. Passalacqua: Well, listen. I don’t get into arguments. Because when
that person puts that across, all they are showing is their ignorance
and fear. You do not engage in combat with darkness, you just fill it
with light. Which means that, look, talking doesn’t mean much. Words
fade in the wind. How many people talk and don’t act? I simply
continue doing what I need to do in the present moment. I continue
working on whatever I’m doing. Why? Because in the long run all
humans are judged by their actions; and in that way, our actions and
their results are what will change the minds of other people. Getting
into arguments with someone is actually a waste of time.
Saidah: You know, many museums have started tactile art exhibitions so
that blind people can participate. I believe the Museum in San
Antonio, here in Texas has something along those lines. What do
you think public cultural institutions can do to be more inclusive and
to attract people with disabilities, especially those that do not have
the use of their sight?
L. F. Passalacqua: Well, the first thing is that institutions, museums and
others, have experts in their field, for example advertising, or in
handling the collections they have. But their projects need to be
evaluated by a person, in the case of blind people, that is actually
blind and that is actually involved with the vision and mission of the
institution, right? Meaning that, if we are talking about museums,
blind people must participate in the work being exhibited or in the
design of the exhibition. Or at the very least the exhibition must be
evaluated by a blind person that is related to the world of museums
and the arts in some way.
Why? Because many times, organizations get experts but the last
thing they consider is getting a blind person, in the case of exhibits
geared towards the blind. The design and development of those
activities end up being based on what a sighted person thinks a blind
person needs or perceives.
And we have to take into account that the brain, neurons, the
neural paths in the brain – where ideas and thoughts are generated
and handled, change when your perception of reality changes. That is
the case of blind people; we develop neurological circuits that change
the way we perceive and the way we picture the world around us.
This is not the same in a sighted person, which means that
institutions must seek the council and assessment of a person who
lives inside the turf they are trying to access.
Saidah: OK. Last question, Mr. Passalacqua, is there a book you want to
recommend to our readers?
L. F. Passalacqua: Well, I read a lot. A lot. There are many books that will
have an impact on you, right? There is one book that some people
may laugh at, but this is very personal, a book I read when I was in
8th grade. Every time I grab that book it inspires me in an incredible
way: Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
Saidah: Oh, yes, yes, yes.
L. F. Passalacqua: Yes.
Saidah: OK. We have it in the program in Audio format (Jonathan
Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach -DB 52511)
L. F. Passalacqua: We do.
Saidah: Yes, for those who are reading this.
L. F. Passalacqua: Yes, yes. Since I went blind I have checked out that
book about six times already, and each time I do tears roll down my
face, as it inspires me so much. So I recommend it to everyone.
Saidah: Thank you. Here we finalize the interview. Mr. Passalacqua, thank
you so very much for chatting with us this morning about your book
and about your experience, and for sharing your opinions with our
patrons and readers. We are anxiously awaiting your next book.
Thank you so much.
L. F. Passalacqua: It was a pleasure. Thank you for the opportunity.