Studies of immigration to the United States have traditionally focused on a few key states and urban centers, but recent shifts in nonwhite settlement mean that these studies no longer paint the whole picture. Many Latino newcomers are flocking to places like the Southeast, where typically few such immigrants have settled, resulting in rapidly redrawn communities. In this historic moment, Jennifer Jones brings forth an ethnographic look at changing racial identities in one Southern city: Winston-Salem, North Carolina. This city turns out to be a natural experiment in race relations, having quickly shifted in the past few decades from a neatly black and white community to a triracial one. Jones tells the story of contemporary Winston-Salem through the eyes of its new Latino residents, revealing untold narratives of inclusion, exclusion, and interracial alliances. The Browning of the New South reveals how one community’s racial realignments mirror and anticipate the future of national politics.
Celebrating Los Angeles-based Salvadoran poet Yesika Salgado’s new book Hermosa, which you can buy here: https://www.notacult.media/books/hermosa
Hermosa is the path to becoming one’s own home. A thread pulled when Salgado thinks about who she is and who she has been. Beyond the survival, grief, and fight, Hermosa lives in the small moments hidden beneath it all. A journey of firsts, of mistakes, of celebrations, of the love, the crush, the disaster, the rebuilding, and the never-ending cycle of growth.
Kevin Wheeler penned this article for KUT
What does it mean to be a Mexican living in America? Alfredo Corchado explores this question in his new book, a blend of memoir and political history called “Homelands: Four Friends, Two Countries, and the Fate of the Great Mexican American Migration.” It’s a story that explores the last 30 years of Mexican immigration into the United States through Corchado’s experience as an immigrant and a Mexico border correspondent for the Dallas Morning News.
“Homelands” begins on a wintry night in Philadelphia. It’s 1987, and four homesick Mexicans – one of whom is Corchado himself – find friendship over their common heritage. They thought they were the only Mexicans in Philadelphia.
“We came around to a question that we asked ourselves,” Corchado says. “How do we fit in? What does it mean to be an American?
Corchado has found that the answer, if there is one, is always changing.
“One reason I love living on the Texas border is that you really don’t have to choose. You really don’t have to struggle with that question,” Corchado says. “You really belong to both sides.”
Corchado, who sees himself as more of a Mexican than an American, says that parents who crossed the border sometimes question the sacrifices they made to give their children a better life.
“I feel that I’m allowed to be Mexican and love this country,” Corchado says. “When my parents ask themselves about their sacrifice, I remind them that the values, the principles, the ideals of this country are greater than the difficult moments that we live in today.”
With his prolific journalism career, Corchado is living out the dreams of his parents. He became fascinated with journalism as a young migrant worker, when a group of reporters came out to the fields where Corchado was working and interviewed him about his experiences.
“I was hooked on the idea that someone wanted to tell my story, that someone was curious enough to find out what the conditions were,” Corchado says. “Once you get that disease, if you will, the journalism disease, I’ve found over time that it’s an incurable disease.”
Corchado’s work has taken him across the country and given him a glimpse into various industries, and he says he’s often asked about the diminishing Mexican population in the U.S.
“Overall, there’s like a million less Mexicans today in this country,” Corchado says. “So I think we’ve arrived to the day when Americans are really beginning to miss Mexicans.”
With tensions between the two countries rising, it is possible that fewer and fewer Mexicans will be coming to the United States. The Mexican presidential election will be held on July 1, and left-leaning populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador is likely to win. Obrador has openly taunted Trump at the El Paso border, saying that Mexico will no longer will be his piñata.
“The fact that it was the U.S. who really pushed for NAFTA,” Corchado says, “and now you have a president who calls it the worst deal ever, it kind of tells the Mexicans, ‘We might have to do this on our own. We maybe shouldn’t be so dependent on the United States. We should carve out our own destiny.’”
Article by Kristen Cabrera for KUT
In 2014, she was the first Latina to create, produce, write and star in her own network sitcom. And in 2017, she debuted her Netflix special Lower Classy. Now San Juan, Texas, native Cristela Alonzo can add author to her list of accomplishments.
In her new book, Music to My Years: A Mixtape Memoir of Growing Up and Standing Up, Alonzo writes about the songs that formed and shaped her years.
After listening to Ice Cube’s 1992 hit “It Was A Good Day,” a young Alonzo’s imagination filled with dreams of her own good day. These fantasies ranged from having her own room to a luxury of eating three meals a day.
When we talked recently, my fellow Rio Grande Valley native said if there’s one thing that could help guide anyone through a book about her life and experiences, it’s music.
“I didn’t want people looking at me and just thinking that it was going to be a Latino book,” she says. “So I wanted to come up with a way that could connect everybody. And I started thinking about it and you know, everybody has a song. Songs for some reason are so moving that they can always take you to a place in your life. They’re all little bookmarks in your head and I started thinking that’s the book.”
Throughout her memoir, in place of numerals, Alonzo uses songs to signify the important chapters in her life – building a track list instead of a table of contents.
“The book is remembering these songs that I still listen to, that take me back to that time,” she says. “And how much better could I do than actually describe these songs and how they feel to me. And that allows me to talk about my life.”
Growing up below the poverty line, Alonzo often found herself alone after school, waiting for her mother and older siblings to get off work.
“My friends were TV shows and movies and music that I listened to,” she says. “I had to forge these friendships – I had to create these friendships with whatever I had available.”
Alonzo likes to tell people that based on the way she grew up, she’s not supposed to live the life she’s currently living, or have the opportunities she does. But she goes on to clarify, “I don’t believe that. But that’s how people talk to me.”
Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” struck a particular chord with Alonzo.
“You know for me, I’ve always treated everything like it’s the only chance I’ll have to do it,” she says.
She explains that when you grow up in an environment with limited opportunity, sometimes the people who love you the most try to take you down a peg – in order to protect you.
“It’s so weird how they protect you by hurting your feelings. So for me, “Lose Yourself,” when I heard it… It really kind of encapsulated everything I felt,” Alonzo says.
Alonzo felt a moment of joy when MAC Cosmetics partnered with the Quintanilla family to release a special Selena makeup collection.
“That makeup line sold out immediately,” she says. “It flew off the shelves and that was because she is the legacy of so many Latinas, especially in Texas.”
Selena’s crossover song “Dreaming of You” is the track title of the book’s fourth chapter. For many young Tejanas in the 90s, Selena proved anything was possible. It’s a power that a generation grew up with, and that extends beyond it.
“She is what we are capable of being,” Alonzo says of the Mexican-American icon. “That is what happens when people are allowed to be themselves. That is what happens when a Latina gets the power to be herself and thrive. And that’s how she influences an entire culture.”
When it comes to pop culture, Alonzo proclaims her super-fandom to a sitcom following the shenanigans of three widowers and a divorcée – Blanche, Rose, Sophia and Dorothy. The Golden Girls‘ theme song, “Thank You For Being A Friend” gives chapter three it’s name. It’s a song Alonzo quickly memorized at a young age.
The idea of – as Alonzo puts it – a little brown girl living on the South Texas border, part of a mixed-status family, identifying with four older white women in Florida might seem odd.
“But to me, Dorothy Zbornak and Sophia Petrillo were my mom and I,” she says. “My mom had grown up in this little ranch–in this little rancho in Mexico in the middle of nowhere. No electricity, no running water, no anything. And she would tell stories like Sophia did. And you could never beat my mom and her stories. If you thought you struggled, she would give you a story a hundred times worse, where she struggled worse. So you could never win.”
The close relationship between Alonzo and her mom mirrors those found in many in minority communities. So when she got a phone call from her brother, while she was living in Los Angeles, saying her mom was on her deathbed, Alonzo didn’t hesitate to fly home to say goodbye.
“When I went there and saw her, she got better,” Alonzo says. “So she told me that she got better because I was there. Like no pressure, but hell of a lot of pressure. Like no big deal but you saved my life. You know so she’s like ‘hey don’t leave.’ And I’m like ‘oh so if I leave, I kill you? Got it. Like no big deal.’ So I had to call my roommates in L.A. and I told them to get rid of everything I owned.”
Alonzo had effectively taken on the role of caretaker for her mother.
“It was a responsibility that I chose because I knew if I didn’t, if I hadn’t accepted it, I would regret it for the rest of my life,” she says.
As Alonzo weighed the options for songs she wanted to write about in her book, she knew that this chapter about her mom would be titled “Shape of My Heart.”
“First thing I thought was, ‘Really? A Backstreet Boys’ song? This makes no sense,’” she says. “But the truth is that’s the song. And the truth – that’s where you get to feel emotions right? So for me the Backstreet Boys’ “Shape Of My Heart” was one of, if not the most traumatic parts of my life.”
It was tough on Alonzo to be her mother’s mother – to put family and duty over her own hopes and dreams. But family is family, she decided.
“My mom and I, we had a special bond,” she says. “It reminds me of this strange specific relationship that so many people that I grew up with have. The least I could do. Is give her back the love and attention that she gave me as a child.”
Alonzo starts her nationwide stand-up comedy tour, “My Affordable Care Act,” Tuesday, to coincide with the release of her book. A Spanish-language version of the book is set to come out Dec. 10. You can listen to Alonzo’s curated track list on Spotify.
Anyone out there writing scholarly essays on Latinos in New Jersey? Here’s your chance to work with two great editors.
Latino New Jersey: Histories, Communities and Politics
Proposal for a book of essays
Aldo A. Lauria-Santiago and Ulla Dalum Berg, editors
Since the 1890s, New Jersey has attracted hundreds of thousands of Caribbean and Latin American migrants. The state’s rich economic history has included a massive manufacturing base, the Port of NY/NJ, strong agricultural production, food processing, high income suburbs, commodities warehousing and distribution centers and complex commercial/supply networks have all contributed to attracting Latino immigrants and secondary step migrants from New York City. The state’s strong unions, public sector, and educational institutions have also played a role in attracting, retaining and setting the stage for its Latino population.
Cuban cigar workers settled in the state in the 1890s and Peruvians and other South Americans came to work in the Paterson textile mills beginning in the 1920s. Puerto Rican migrant workers found jobs in New Jersey’s farms, railroads, and chemical and food processing industries starting in the 1940s. Exiles from the Cuban revolution joined Puerto Ricans in the factories of Newark and Union City during the 1960s. Since the 1970s growing numbers of Dominicans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Colombians, Ecuadorians, and Mexicans have migrated to New Jersey and brought the state’s Latino population to the national levels: 21% of the State’s population (the seventh largest state population in the US) now identifies as Hispanic or Latino.
New Jersey’s Latino population is as complex as that of other states, with large numbers of immigrants, including a sizable undocumented population, and a large second-generation population as well. Between the 1960s and 1980s, New Jersey was home to the second largest concentration of Cubans and Puerto Ricans in the nation. Since then the population has diversified in terms of national origins and generation. Between 1990 and 2019, the state has seen a dramatic increase in Latino demographics, from 1.2 million to 1.8 million.
Concentrated in majority Latino urban enclaves like Perth Amboy, Union City and North Bergen or in townships like New Brunswick and Dover, Latinos also live dispersed in small townships and suburbs like Fairview and Victory Gardens. Latinos form the majority of two counties and form 20-40% of the population of six other counties. Besides the national origin and ethnic distinctions, Latinos also are socioeconomically diverse, forming a large percentage of the state’s poorest population as well as a significant part of its upwardly mobile working and middle classes. The state is home to a large class of small and midsize merchants and industrialists serving the large Latino markets of PA to CT region.
Latino politics and policy in the state, however, have a younger history. During the 1960s and 1970s Latino politics were mostly a matter of community organizing and protest against systematic abuse and exclusion. In these years Puerto Rican and Cuban students left their mark with the creation of Puerto Rican and Latin American Studies at Rutgers’ Livingston College. Since the 1980s, however, Latinos have developed a more complex presence in the state’s politics. The emergence of Latino-dominant towns and cities and coalition politics facilitated the incorporation of a few Latino mayors, council persons and many social and community leaders, as well as the election of state-wide officers like US Senator Menendez.
Yet, despite this longstanding history and dense contemporary presence, the scholarly and popular literature on Latinos in New Jersey is limited and disperse. While scholarship on Latinos in other regions of the US has grown by leaps and bounds in the last three decades, there is not a single monograph or essay collection that focuses on Latinos in New Jersey.
This collection will bring together innovative scholarship from different disciplines and interdisciplinary fields of study and address topics including the demographic history of Latinos in the state, Latino migration from gateway cities to suburban towns, Latino urban enclaves, Latino economic and social mobility, Latino students and education, New Jersey Dream Act and in-state tuition act organizing, Latinos and criminal justice reform, Latino electoral politics and leadership, and undocumented communities.
Interested contributors should submit:
• A detailed 2-3-page abstract that provides:
o Argument of the proposed chapter
o Sources and evidence
o Methodology and approach
o Relevance, importance, contextualization of proposed work
o Organization, sections
o Relevant core citations and references
• A 100-word summary of the proposed chapter
• A CV
• Materials and inquiries should be sent to email@example.com.
Structure of the book:
The book will include an introduction by Lauria-Santiago and Berg, 12-15 chapters, bibliography notes, statistical appendix, and index, for a total length of 300 pages. Essays may include illustrations or photographs.
The essays will be pitched for use in college courses and a general college-educated audience.
The chapters will be organized around three broad themes (subject to revision based on accepted submissions):
I. History and Migration
II. Communities and Social Life
III. Policy and Institutions
Dates and Deadlines:
• The call for abstracts (CFP) will go out December 1, 2019
• Potential authors will submit required chapter proposal documents: 1 February 2020
• Notification of acceptance/rejection or requested revisions to proposals will go out March 1, 2020
o Requested revisions to proposals will be due 15 March 2020
• Proposal to potential publishers based on accepted/revised abstracts will go out 1 April (or earlier)
• Full draft manuscripts will be due 1 December 2020 for internal review by editors
• Notification of acceptance and revisions will be sent to authors on 1 February 2021
o Requested revisions will be due 15 March 2021
• Final reviewed manuscript will be sent 1 April 2021 to publisher for external review.
Aldo Lauria-Santiago is a Professor at Rutgers University, New Brunswick (Department of Latino & Caribbean Studies and Department of History). His work has focused on the history of Puerto Ricans and Latinos in the US. He is co-author of Rethinking the Struggle for Puerto Rican Rights (Routledge 2018) and is completing three books on the history of Puerto Ricans in New York City and New Jersey. Before this he published two monographs and two edited collections on the history of Central America and the Caribbean.
Ulla D. Berg is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Latino and Caribbean Studies at Rutgers University and Director of the Rutgers Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS). A socio-cultural and visual anthropologist by training, her research and teaching focuses on transnational migration and (im)mobility in Latin America and among U.S. Latino populations. Berg is the author of Mobile Selves: Race, Migration, and Belonging in Peru and the U.S. (NYU Press, 2015) and co-editor of Transnational Citizenship Across the Americas (Routledge, 2014). Berg’s current research examines the effects of U.S. immigrant detention and deportation on migrant communities in Ecuador and Peru.
For anyone out there wanting to brush up on their Spanish (or other languages), this is a nice resource utilizing children’s stories… https://www.thefablecottage.com/spanish?fbclid=IwAR0awj3eZamyWVvQsqzuqTOyS6fYtZN3AGdo1p9krUFz_3IgYQI8rIR9d90
Fairy Tales in Spanish
RETOLD BY THE FABLE COTTAGE
Children’s stories translated into Spanish with optional English translation and slow audio from a native Spanish speaker. Great for kids… and adults too! Enjoy!
Great article by Danielli for Mitú
Colombian actor John Leguizamo is raising money to crowdsource an all-Latino produced comic book series featuring all Latino and Latina superheroes. Leguizamo says he “grew up loving comic books,” but he “knew that there was no white guy in tights like Superman coming to save my ass in my neighborhood,” so he’s creating a Latino superhero of his own. Leguizamo is partnering with Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez, the artist who brought us bestselling superhero series “La Borinqueña” and is looking for more Latino artists, illustrators, producers and editors to join the team.
So far, the crowdsourcing project has raised $2k of the necessary $75k to get the project off the ground.
According to the crowdsourcing website, Seed and Spark, the premise of PhenomX’s story is that “Sometimes, when the powers that be knock you down, you have to transform and bring the system down with you.” Set in present-day New York City, PhenomX’s story begins with an illegal government project to “rehabilitate criminals” in an experimental drug trial that turns them into superpowers. Then, we meet Max Gomez who “is finally about to be released from prison with a second chance at life and fatherhood. But with growing concerns about re-entering the outside world as an ex-con, Max doesn’t know where to turn.” An FBI agent offers Max an opportunity to capture the “failed experiments,” by giving him superpowers.
Still, Max “feels like a prisoner. Secrets are still being kept from him, and his target grows stronger every moment. Watch Max as he learns that he’s more than just a statistic… he’s more than just an ex-convict… he’s more than a phenomenon… he’s PhenomX.”
Leguizamo doesn’t want to wait for Hollywood. “Holly-wouldn’t,” he says.
“I want to share with you this new proposal. We’re going to be entrepreneurs together,” Leguizamo tells a camera stationed outside a Chicago theater just before Leguizamo’s “Latin History for Morons” performance. He’s incognito, “hence the glasses and the hoodie.” Leguizamo is asking us to invite our tías and tíos to contribute to the worthy cause. “I grew up loving comic books, Spiderman, Superman, The X-Men, Sub-Mariner, Thor, but there were no Latin people. What happened? We existed! Being Latin IS a superpower, y’all!” Leguizamo says. The entire project is going to be Latin-fueled. “It’s going to be written by me, a Latin guy, and colored and drawn and penciled by all Latin folks,” Leguizamo continued. “We’re going to have Latinas with superpowers. We’re not gonna wait for Hollywood. Holly wouldn’t. Hollywhite. Forget that. We’re doing it ourselves.”
Leguizamo hopes that PhenomX inspires young Latinos to see themselves as superheroes, too.
“In today’s world, it’s incredibly important to support Latin artists,” Leguizamo writes on Seed and Spark. “I hope to use this project to not only inspire the Latin youth community but also celebrate the contributions of Latin artists to the comic book world. There is a lack of Latin representation in Hollywood, and it’s important to showcase Latin superheroes. Now, you can help me by supporting this comic book series to inspire Latinx teens.”
Every single person who makes a contribution will score swag ranging from stickers to becoming a character in the story.
For $25, you automatically receive a digital copy of the first PhenomX comic book. A $75 donation earns you an autographed copy of one of the first PhenomX comic books. Donations of $1,000 or more earn you a slice of John’s favorite New York-style pizza with John Leguizamo himself (travel not included). “If you give super money, then, I’m going to draw a character that looks like you and name a character after you,” Leguizamo says of the highest $10k donation tier listed.
Leguizamo is the Renaissance Man we need right now.
Leguizamo was born July 22, 1964, in Bogotá, Colombia. He moved to Queens, New York when he was just four years old. He is known for his roles in Hangin’ with the Homeboys (1991), Romeo + Juliet (1996) and the voice of Sid in Ice Age (2002). Most recently, Leguizamo has introduced a Broadway play, “Latin History for Morons,” and now he’s dabbling in comic books. We don’t know what you can’t do, Leguizamo. His campaign has drawn in 37 donations totaling $2,033, averaging $55 per donation. Join in on the cause by donating here.
University of Houston
Recovering the US Hispanic Heritage Program / US Latino Digital Humanities (USLDH)
Call for Proposals
GRANTS-IN-AID funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
The University of Houston US Latino Digital Humanities (USLDH) program is a digital scholarship/research undertaking to provide training and research on US Latino recovered materials. Proposals must draw from recovered primary and derivative sources produced by Latinas/os in what is now the United States, dating from the Colonial Period to 1980 (such as Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage collections, other repositories and/or the community).
The Grants-in-Aid program is designed to provide a stipend to scholars for research and development of digital scholarship in the form of a digital publication and/or a digital project. The grant covers any expense connected with research that will advance a project to the next stage or to a successful conclusion.
Scholars will have the opportunity to publish their digital scholarship on Arte Público Press’ inaugural APP Digital publication platform. See sample digital scholarship/research on the following sites: Reanimate, CUNY, University of Washington and Temple University Press.
Scholars at different stages of their careers (Academics, librarians, advanced graduate students, independent scholars, etc.) are encouraged to apply for a stipend of up to $7,500 for investigative work. Grantees are expected to budget for a 2-day trip to Houston for in-person training at Recovery. We welcome applications in one of the following areas:
- Identification, location and recovery of any wide variety of historical documents and/or literary genres, including conventional literary prose and poetry, and such forms as letters, diaries, memoirs, testimonials, periodicals, historical records and written expressions of oral traditions, folklore and popular culture. Any documents that could prove relevant to the goals of the program will also be considered. The emphasis is on works by Mexican/Chicano, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Spanish, Central and South American and other Latina/o residents of what has become the United States, from the Colonial period to 1980.
- We especially encourage projects highlighting US Latina voices.
- Bibliographic compilations, indexing projects pertaining to any of the above. Compilation of reference works, e.g. bibliographic dictionaries, thematic datasets, linguistic corpus, etc.
- Study of recovered primary source(s) for potential digital publication, including: text analysis, thematic dataset creation, visualization, etc.
To apply, please submit a letter of interest, project description (2-3 pages), proposed budget (include 2-day visit to Houston), CV and 2 letters of recommendation as a single PDF document via email to firstname.lastname@example.org by December 20, 2019.
Looking for more information? See here:
Have you been working on some top notch essays, poetry, fiction or non-fiction and identify as U.S. Latinx? The Latino Book Review is a wonderful publication to get your voice out there. Deadline is fast approaching…
MICHAEL NAVA IS the winner of six Lambda Literary awards for his Henry Rios mystery novels, the first of which, The Little Death, was published in 1986. Set in the 1980s, the series follows Henry, an openly gay, Mexican-American criminal defense attorney, as he excavates crimes and justice while grappling with his own conflicting identities. The latest in the Rios series, Carved in Bone, continues to tackle themes of identity and displacement, along with — like all good mysteries — a suspicious death and a cast of suspects. We chatted by phone, and talking to Michael Nava was like reading one of his novels: he was emotionally resonant, insightful, and provocative.
DÉSIRÉE ZAMORANO: The first thing that struck me in Carved in Bone was that the opening was so gripping, and so sad with its pervasive homophobia. I found that overwhelming. I was wondering, how do you emotionally deal with that as you are writing about it?
MICHAEL NAVA: It’s a very common story. I’m about to turn 65. I’ve been out since I was 17. I’ve had hundreds of conversations as a gay man and realize that Bill’s story is just not that uncommon. I think it’s changed a little since 1971, where the opening is set. It has improved for the LGBTQ community in those intervening 40-plus years, so I have some emotional distance from the rawness of the story. That’s what protects me from not being able to write about it.
I found it very compelling, and I assume that’s how you want it for the reader.
Yes, of course. I started writing this book the day after the 2016 election. That Wednesday I sat down and started writing. I wasn’t writing it as a direct response, but I just felt compelled. One of the reasons I did that was because I wanted to write people and remind them that there was another very, very dark time in our recent history. And for the gay male community there was a time in our history when it felt like we were going to be literally, physically exterminated. By this disease and by the indifference of the government. And we certainly believed that with every small advance we made in civil rights in the ’70s were going to be rolled back.
We survived that time, not without a lot of losses, but we did survive it. In fact, it made the movement stronger. I think that’s my message really.
I wanted people to understand the despair and the hopelessness that gay men were feeling at that time, because I think that mirrors a lot of the despair and helplessness of what people are feeling now.
But I also wanted to realize that this book is set 30 years in the past. Things can change, things can improve, not without a lot of suffering and loss.
That helps me understand why you stayed in this time. You’re reminding the readers that life has been shit, but you can get through it. And of course there’s a cost.
There’s a huge cost. An emotional cost, people are actually dying. Back in this period that I’m writing about, there were initiatives on the California ballot which would have quarantined people with AIDS — put them into camps. William F. Buckley proposed that people who were HIV positive would have tattoos. As if they were people in Nazi concentration camps. The level of violence against people with AIDS, especially gay men with AIDS, is comparable to the level of violence we are seeing at the border. The level of verbal violence and unparalleled unrestrained bigotry, there is a direct analogy between what was happening with gay men in the early ’80s with AIDS and what’s happening today with our Latino community.
I think what’s different today is that back in 1984 when gay men were dying no one cared, really. Certainly not the Reagan administration. People care now, passionately about what’s going on at the border. There’s a resistance to it. The demographics of the country have changed. We may not be able to stop it, but people are not indifferent to the suffering, the way that they were back then, and that’s a positive.
It is positive, compared to the past. When I was younger, AIDS was a joke, a sick punch line to many, many jokes out there.
Anally Injected Death Serum.
People did not care. I remember that. There’s a lot to unpack in this book.
I write very complicated books. I have a friend who also lived through that period. He said, “This is a beautiful book, but I just can’t bear to read it.” But it’s something that needs to be said.
Which makes me think, who is your ideal audience, who do you want to be reading this book?
I have two audiences in mind. The first, queer people of my generation. I want them to read this book because it’s part of our collective history. Only now are we far enough from the epidemic that we are able to look at it with some emotional distance. It’s important that those of us who were there record this, before it turns into history. The other audience is those who are feeling powerless in the current regime, who are feeling desperate. I want them to read this and have the experience of this earlier time of comparable despair and hopelessness.
On top of all that, I hope I wrote an interesting mystery!
Of course! What I also found fascinating in the novel were the different Mexican gay identities that you portrayed.
Yeah, Nick’s family and Henry’s experiences. Henry’s experiences are similar to my own experience — growing up in the ’60s and ’70s and knowing that I was gay at a young age and just being terrified about to disclose it in the Mexican-American culture I grew up in, because I knew I would literally not be safe.
That’s one aspect of it, but I also have heard stories of gay/lesbian Mexican-American families who accepted them because family trumps everything else. They don’t reject their children. It was important to me to put that in too, to give a broader perspective of the responses families have when their children come out as gay or lesbian.
Which is great, because no single story is the story. Our experiences are not monolithic — but just as varied as the mainstream population’s.
I wanted to make clear that Nick’s father, as a Mexican immigrant laborer, who loves his children so much, who loves his son so much, that he’s preparing to accept the fact that his son likes to play with dolls. Mexican fathers are often portrayed as distant and abusive. That was true in my case, but it’s not true in every case.
I also wanted to portray really strong Mexican women, which is why his sister is the lawyer in the family. It’s the sister who is driven, motivated, and powerful. She’s the one that really runs the siblings, and sets the tone. I’ve met a lot of Latinas who’ve had that power and authority. I wanted to pay homage to it.
What is your experience as a lawyer?
I graduated from Stanford and I was a prosecutor in Los Angeles for four years, because I was committed to public service, then I spent most of my career as an attorney in the California court systems. The last 15 years of my career I worked for the California Supreme Court. The last five years at the court I worked exclusively on death penalty appeals. I basically practiced law at the highest level of the California court system for most of my 30 years of practice. During that I wrote seven novels and one work of nonfiction.
As Gustavo Arellano says, you’ve got the Mexican hustle down! As well published as you are, what was your road to creating Persigo Press and self-publishing Carved in Bone?
The series was being published by this conglomerate called Open Road Media. We got to the end of our five-year licensing deal. They would have published this as an ebook, but I decided at that point I wanted my books back. I wanted to control the books, control my legacy. I decided I would publish these myself. I’ve done the New York dance, I’ve had reviews in The New York Times and The New Yorker. But you basically give up control of your work. Economically, you always get screwed. This was me saying, I want to control my work.
A while back, you gave a talk about the lack of representation of Latinx people in the publishing world. Tell me about that.
I’m a lawyer, and I’m a researcher. I went in and did the research about our actual statistical numbers in the case of the publishing industry on interns, agents, editors, the people who basically run that world. What I found is that we’re essentially nonexistent in New York. There are very few or no Latino editors. I couldn’t find statistics on agents, for example. Many MFA programs don’t even keep those statistics, so we’re invisible to the industry. There’s a direct line between our invisibility in the industry and the difficulty that so many of us have getting published by the big houses.
There’s an assumption in New York, because they’re so ignorant about the Latino community, that there’s no audience for our books. That was typified for me by The City of Palaces. My historical novel, which is set about the time of the Mexican Revolution, was rejected by a dozen publishers. One of them said, “I just don’t see an audience for this.” I said, “There are 33 million Americans of Mexican descent in the U.S.” What he meant was he didn’t see a white audience for this book.
When New York thinks of Latinos, they think of Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and Cubans. Those are the people they see. They don’t think of Mexican Americans, and we’re the majority of the Latinx population. I’m not knocking our brothers and sisters in those other communities, I’m just saying, we’re the biggest group and we’re practically nonexistent. I call it the polite racism of white liberals. We’re all for diversity — except we hide behind the “there’s no market for it.”
Do you have thoughts on the current generation of LGBTQI?
I think that the progress has been uneven; certainly there are places in this country where you’re pretty safe being queer, to use the word young people have reclaimed for our community. The fact is that most states in this country still don’t have laws to protect us from discrimination. In many states, you can still be fired from your job for being gay or lesbian or bi or trans, and you will have no recourse. I think we should not overemphasize the progress that we’ve made, while we should certainly value it.
The binary of sexuality and gender is really in service to the patriarchy. Because if we allowed for gender fluidity, that undermines the claim of male supremacy. That’s why trans women are so violently attacked. They’re perceived as gender traitors, in a way. It’s all related to the patriarchy, and to misogyny, and keeping women in their place.
What I see among younger people that I find so encouraging is that being queer is not an issue for them. There’s a lot of fluidity in sexual orientation and gender identity. I think that’s fantastic. I really look forward to the day when who you love is just your own damn business, and no one else cares!