PW: What got you started writing The Short Sweet Dream of Eduardo Gutiérrez, about the death of an unknown Mexican laborer?
JB: I think the greatest American novel is Christ in Concrete by Pietro Di Donato. Written in 1939. it's about an Italian immigrant who comes over here and he's working in a shoddy construction and drowns in concrete. So, I had this on my mind for a long time. I was in the Newsday offices and they told me a Mexican got drowned in concrete in Brooklyn. I said "Jeez, that's my song," and went right over there.
PW: So it started as a newspaper column?
JB: I did a column on this. But then I was so incensed, I went down to Mexico to the funeral and came back the way they cross the border.
PW: So, this was just something you hadn't had a chance to do and wanted to get down on paper finally?
JB: What, this? This is all I ever do. The same freakin' thing. All my life I've only dealt with real things. It's what all my novels are about. It's all I ever do with the newspaper column. I've done it for 40 years. This is real life. It's just something I absolutely wanted to do.
PW: Eduardo must represent something bigger to you.
JB: Yes! Cheap labor! The country is being built on cheap labor. If you can get it free, it's better yet, but we had a war in this country over free labor. Now we just use cheap labor and people make money on their backs, not caring about them at all. When you bring this up in Washington—immigration—all they ever talk about is shooting them, putting up border controls and fences. Then they come up with schemes: guest workers. You're not going to get bothered by Immigration, but you can't join a union. They're not going to get more money. They're getting nothing! I'm writing about the afflicted. Who wants to read that?
PW: So it's important for books to be socially relevant, that they should be an influential part of the public discourse?
JB: That's what books are supposed to be for, that's what the stage is supposed to be for. Television can't explain anything. It's for showing images. I have energy, chemistry, hard work and swift English. That's all I need.
PW: Who do you want to read this book? Who do you think would be most affected by it?
JB: Anybody who understands injustice. Anybody who understands working for a living. Somebody who gets killed working for $6 an hour is a story, period. If that doesn't bother people, then they're crazy. Nothing can be done for them.
PW: Do you think people will respond differently to this story, now, after September 11, when firefighters and cops—real meat-and-potatoes kind of people—are seen as having become heroic again?
JB: People learned something about that whole world of illusions they're living in. That world of stocks. Somebody who goes through their whole life making money out of money, I can't call that working. What people found out is that if something serious happens, you need a certain class of people—people who work with their hands for a living—to really do something.