She was covered in black feathers and had a prominently sharp beak that resembled a crow. Her talons seemed to be those of a monster. “The Bird Woman” was one of many paintings displayed at the Mexican Bestiary book launch held on June 30. People buzzed around the room amazed by the creatures Noé Vela created and it was all topped off with Spanish music in the background.
Demons, witches, and spirits are just a few of the many creatures David Bowles writes about in his new book Mexican Bestiary. On June 29, Valley Artistic Outreach Publishing officially released this book to the public and the next day Bowles and co-author Noé Vela held a book launch at Johnny Carinos Italian Grill in McAllen.
“Mexican Bestiary is a bilingual illustrated encyclopedia of legendary Mexican creatures,” Bowles said. “It serves as an introduction to Mexican mythology.”
The work tells detailed stories starting with Ahuizotls, a water monster that drowns people, and ending with Xocoyoles, the spirits of dead children. In total, the book features 43 different legends.
“My grandmother inspired me to be a storyteller. I grew up listening to these stories at her mobile home in South McAllen,” the UTPA alumnus said. “But I was also frustrated by the stories, because they ended too quickly. I wanted to know more. What happened next? How did the characters in the stories feel about what they were going through?”
Vela also grew up listening to these Mexican Legends, but the stories weren’t exactly the same Bowles heard growing up. Half a year ago at a birthday party, Vela came up with the idea of putting together an encyclopedia of Mexican Legendary creatures. So they chose creatures from all over Mexico and the Valley, did some research, and combined it all with the stories both Vela and Bowles heard while growing up.
“We took the stories and gave them a little twist,” Bowles, a book review columnist for The Monitor, said. “But that’s what makes this book interesting!”
At the book launch, Bowles spoke enthusiastically about Mexican Bestiary to the crowd of about 30 people young and old. He read El Charro Negro, one of his favorite legends in Mexican Bestiary, and he tried to bring the story alive, as his voice changed from loud to soft, with varying gestures.
“Mexican Bestiary is the perfect tool for getting kids to connect to their roots and struggling readers to want to read,” Bowles said. “It encourages struggling readers to read because it contains high-interest, relevant pieces that even young people struggling with English can access as because of the Spanish translation.”
When Bowles was growing up in the Valley he had a passion for writing. In 1994, he received his degree in Spanish and English. He has worked in education as a teacher, administrator and a professor in UTPA, where he would teach in the English department but now just teaches in the Education department every other semester. Bowles is currently the Director of English, Language Arts, and Social Studies for Donna Independent School District, an editor of Flashquake magazine, and holds presidency of the Valley Artistic Outreach Organization.
“Noé [Vela] and I volunteer our time at VAO,” Bowles said, mentioning that Vela is the secretary and director of plastic arts at VAO, an organization that is dedicated to providing art education to children and adults. “He helps the kids with painting. I’ve tried helping them paint, but I don’t have the artistic skills Noé does.”
He has participated in various events throughout the Rio Grande Valley and has painted hundreds of art pieces. Vela currently studies art at South Texas College and is a part of another book called Border Noir, an anthology of crime fiction edited by screenwriter Alvaro Rodriguez.
“Mexican Bestiary helps support young people in art classes,” Bowles said. “A part of the money is going to be donated to them.”
Books were sold and signed by Bowles and Vela at the launch and more are still available. They also raffled original paintings by Vela and custom made T-Shirts emblazoned with the book’s name and cover picture. At the end, Vela conducted an art tutorial and showed everyone how to draw a ferocious werewolf.
“It was important for us to mark its first day of publishing with a little celebration,” Bowles said.