After all, he was warned to watch out for turkeys in the road when driving there. So imagine his surprise to find a city in the midst of revitalization. Well, let’s let him tell it. [2:52]
Luis Urrea: I love Kankakee" I discovered Kankakee when they invited me to come to the library and do a reading" And uh"" the librarian who's represented in the novel, Mary Jo Johnston, she said to me, "You know, when you drive down here be- be sure you don't hit any turkeys on the road"” And I thought, "This is hilarious" I'm going to go to some place called Kankakee" They've got turkeys on the road"” You know, I thought it was going to be a little brick library, six or seven ladies and some cookies and I thought, "What the heck? Let's just-- for fun let's go down there"” And my wife and I drove down there and we got to Kankakee and we could not find the library" We drove up and down the street and the address simply was not this library" It was a corporate tower, you know, seven, eight story silver clad monolith" And I thought, "Wow" They've really messed up" I'm gonna be late for the thing"” And so we pulled into the parking lot of this corporate tower to ask for directions and realized that that was in fact the library" And instead of six retirees, they had 300, 350 people there, and I was pretty stunned" And the mayor showed up" He gave me the key to the city, which was a first, you know" So I thought, "Wow" I like Kankakee"” We started talking about their experience and their experience was a city in decline, had gotten on some of the worst cities in America kind of lists and they'd lost their industry" That building had been an HMO center that had left, and they had brilliantly made the library the centerpiece of their resurgence and they had discovered a pretty strong Mexican population that they didn't know they had" And they found out that they were largely undocumented and they found out where they were from" And the mayor of Kankakee instead of sort of throwing his hands up at this, you know, great influx of the illegal, took people from the city government and flew to their home town and asked the mayor there what's going on" They formed a sister-city relationship" They came back and started putting measures into place to help those folks learn English, to help them find paths to citizenship, to help them figure out how to handle mortgages and so forth, and to start doing workshops in how American government works" It was an amazing thing" They made the library a highly computerized, safe, open late at night haven for kids to go to, free of gang violence" You know, brought in Spanish speaking cops" It was just an amazing turnaround of a town that figured it out on their own" You know, no big theoreticians, no big liberals like me, just a conservative mayor who thought, "I have to save my town"” And he saw instead of a curse, an opportunity and repopulated his cit"