Benjamin Alire Saenz was born in 1954 in his grandmother's house in Old Picacho, a small farming village in the outskirts of Las Cruces, New Mexico. He was the fourth of seven children and was raised on a small farm near Mesilla Park. Later, when the family lost the farm, his father went back to his former occupation -- being a cement finisher. His mother worked as a cleaning woman and a factory worker. During his youth, he worked at various jobs -- painting apartments, roofing houses, picking onions, and cleaning for a janitorial service. He graduated from high school in 1972 and went on to college. He studied philosophy and theology in Europe for four years and spent a summer in Tanzania. He eventually became a writer and professor and moved back to the border -- the only place where he feels he truly belongs.