texasmonthly.com: How did the idea to do this story come about?
Katy Vine: I was up in Dallas a few years ago interviewing the UT-Dallas chess team and heard that Brownsville was producing some forceful players, but I didn’t follow up on the trend until some time in late spring last year. When I found out that there were two chess prodigies with the same name, I thought, “Well, there’s the way into the story.”
texasmonthly.com: This story is interesting on many levels. What do you want readers to pay most attention to—the rivalry between the Fernandos, the unexpected success of Brownville chess teams, chess as a symbol of bridging the educational gap between Hispanics and Anglos?
KV: Well . . . all of it! But the more I worked on this story, the more interested I became in the effects of this community’s investment in the brain capital of its youth. Chess is just one way to make that investment—it’s not a magic bullet.
texasmonthly.com: What could derail the chess success in Brownsville, or ensure its endurance?
KV: I asked a few people that question, and they all said that BISD funding has been key to the program’s success. Without the district’s support, the organization would have difficulty paying for chess coaches and tournaments. But from what I hear, there’s no chance funding will be cut any time soon.
texasmonthly.com: A number of your articles for Texas Monthly record youngsters working for and achieving unexpected success. When did you develop a penchant for this subject matter?
KV: I have no idea. Children and teenagers are fascinating to me, regardless of their success, but I suppose it’s easier to write about a subject who has become notable for some achievement.
texasmonthly.com: After examining and telling these stories, have you found that most of these cases are indicative of larger social trends?
KV: Maybe others would be able to find trends in prodigies, but I haven’t. I don’t think most individuals see themselves in the rigid context of a stage of life, whether they’re very young or very old. So child prodigies may be conscious of their youth, but that consciousness isn’t all-defining. Some children take themselves seriously and work hard, but I don’t know that they do that any more or less now than in years past.
texasmonthly.com: Does it make sense for Juliet V. Garcia to cast Brownsville’s chess achievements as a metaphor for the transformation of Hispanic productivity?
KV: I think Garcia makes a great point in this story and in her speeches when she says that Texans should not underestimate the potential of Hispanic youth. She and others I spoke to for this story brought up Thomas L. Friedman’s The World Is Flat when discussing the ways to bridge the education gap between socioeconomic groups. And it makes sense that a multilingual, multicultural state that’s situated right on the border with Mexico at a time when the world is “flattening” could make huge economic advances if the state prepares the population and plays by the new rules of the market.