Author, poet and diplomat José Rubén Romero (1890-1952) was born in Cotija de la Paz, Michoacán. Cotija de la Paz is about thirty kilometers from the village of La Palma on Lake Chapala’s south-eastern corner.
Romero’s father, an outspoken liberal, had been forced to leave the very conservative village of Cotija de la Paz, and the family home, and travel to Mexico City. Six months later, he sent for his wife and two children, Rubén (then aged seven) and his younger sister. Their journey, by horseback, steamer and train, is described in Romero’s Apuntes de un lugareño (trans: Notes of a Villager), published in 1932, by which time Romero was the Mexican Consul in Barcelona, Spain. He was later served as Mexican ambassador to Brazil (1937-1939) and Cuba (1939-1944).
Besides his diplomatic career, Romero worked in a variety of fields, including journalism and as a university dean. He is best remembered, though, as a writer whose vivid depictions of the people and customs of his native state make him an outstanding exponent of the modern costumbrista novel. The costumbrista genre focuses on regional life, customs and manners.
Romero’s lasting legacy of fine works includes Desbandada (1936), El pueblo inocente (1934), Mi caballo, mi perro y mi rifle (1936), Viaje a Mazatlán (1946) and Rosenda (1946). But by far his best known book is the picaresque tale of a lovable rascal: La vida inútil de Pito Pérez (The Futile Life of Pito Pérez), first published in 1938. A best-seller in innumerable editions, this book was turned into a movie starring Ignacio López Tarso in the early 1970s. One of Mexico’s best-loved writers ever, Romero died on July 4, 1952, in Mexico City.
In his autobiographical novel Apuntes de un lugareño Romero describes Lake Chapala on two occasions. The first time he encounters the lake is in about 1897, on his way to Mexico City with his mother and sister at the age of seven. It includes Romero’s impressions of the steamer trip from La Palma to Ocotlán, a regular route at the time. Romero’s second encounter with Lake Chapala comes later, when he was living in Sahuayo between about 1907 and 1910.
Translations of Romero’s works in English include:
Notes of a Villager: A Mexican Poet’s Youth and Revolution (Kaneohe, Hawaii: Plover Press, 1988) is a fine translation by John Mitchell and Ruth Mitchell de Aguilar of Apuntes de un lugareño.
The Futile Life of Pito Perez (Prentice-Hall, 1966), translation by William O. Cord.
A Translation of Jose Ruben Romero’s Mi Caballo, Mi Perro, Y Mi Rifle with a Study of His Life, Style and Works, by Carl Edgar Niles (University of Tennessee, 1947)