An Interview with Jasminne Mendez

An oldie but a goodie. Check out this interview between Daniel Peña and Jasminne Mendez: http://blog.pshares.org/index.php/inking-well-an-interview-with-jasminne-mendez/ 

 

If you’re at all alive in the Houston arts scene, chances are you’ve crossed paths with Jasminne Mendez in one of her capacities: as a poet, as an actor, as an educator, as a podcast host, or as a community organizer and programmer (sometimes all of these things in a single day). She’s one-half of the dynamo behind Tintero Projects, a community-based workshop and reading series focused on Latinx writers in the Houston Area, as well as one-half of Inprint’s Inkwell Podcast; she manages both projects alongside her husband, the poet Lupe Mendez. So much of her current work stems from her roots as a performance poet and you can hear it in the lyricism in her prose and poetry, but also see it in the way that work thematically reflects her activist bent within Houston literary circles as an advocate on behalf of Afro-Latinx Writers and Poets.

Her first book, Island of Dreams (Floricanto Press, 2014) was awarded Best Young Adult Latino Focused Book by the International Latino Book Awards in 2015. Her memoir, Night-Blooming Jasmin(n)e: Personal Essays and Poetry (Arte Publico Press) will be published on April 30. I spoke with her here about chronic illness, the writer’s life, and unexpected influences on her work.

Daniel Peña: Chronic illness is such an integral part of Night Blooming. You write about staring at EKG results and not wanting to understand them. There’s a kind of indignity to the battery ram of tests that chronic illness brings to your life. Could you talk a little about chronic illness and your experiences with the medical establishment and how this has inflected your writing?

Jasminne Mendez: Well I can tell you for one that even just looking at that question you wrote “inflected” and my brain literally read it as “infected.” Medical jargon is everywhere for me now! How I use language, and think about the body has completely changed because of my chronic illness experiences. For me, chronic illness and the medical world has become part of my identity. Not only do I identify as Afro-Latina, American, [and] Female, but I also identify as chronically and invisibly ill and partially disabled. The body and what ails it has become such an integral part of the themes in my writing and my writing process that even when I’m not specifically writing about illness, the body always finds a way to make it into the poem or essay. Living with chronic illness and being subjected to endless poking and prodding and examining by complete strangers over the years has also taught me how to disassociate myself from the experience and then come back to it on the page. I am able to use my imagination during invasive procedures or exams to go somewhere else in my mind. I make metaphors for what’s happening, or I study the size and shape of the people and objects in the room, I think about the smells and the textures of the rubber gloves or how bright and white the fluorescent bulbs are. Then, when I come to the page, I explore all those sensations and the emotions tied to those sensations and I use [them].

Being sick and dealing with medical professionals and, most of all, medical terminology has opened up a whole new world for me language- and writing- wise. I’m fluent in Spanish, English and “Medicine.” It makes me laugh to think about it, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked by doctors, nurses, and pharmacists if I’m “in the medical profession.” I use the words like they’re my own, because they are now. They are a part of me and I know what they mean. Learning this new vocabulary allows me to effortlessly incorporate it into my poetry and prose and it keeps my writing interesting, I think. If I talk about the “bone” or the “flesh” of something, I’m not just using it as a metaphor or because I think it’s a striking image. I use it because I now know what this stuff is made of, how it functions in the body and how it can break, or rot, or heal and scar, and I know physically what each of these sensations feels like in the body so I can describe it in ways that perhaps others hadn’t thought of or aren’t familiar with.

I will say that it has really opened my eyes to how women and especially women of color are treated by medical professionals, and it’s made me want to raise awareness about it. When we’re not being perceived as drug seekers, everyone assumes we’re exaggerating our pain or that it’s “all in our heads.” I think that’s why I’ve made myself become well-versed in medical jargon, because I know the power of words and language; if I can use their language to explain what I think is going on, then I’m more likely to be believed when I come into the ER or clinic complaining of chest pain.

DP: What is the most terrifying thing you’ve ever written?

JM: Terrifying to write it? Or terrifying to put it out there for others to read? I think I’ll go with the former and say that the most terrifying thing I ever wrote was the essay “One in Four” (which is in the book!) about my miscarriage. That essay took me about four years to write. I would write one paragraph, cry, edit it, cry some more, and then put it away. I’d come back to it, read what I’d written, sob for an hour, and give up. I’d write another paragraph, cry, and delete what I’d just written. That piece took on so many different forms before it became the final essay that made it into the book. And even now, there [are] probably things I’d want to change because I just don’t think I “got it right.” But really, how can you even articulate and put into words an experience like that? The essay as it’s in the book now also revolves around language because what I wanted to say about the experience and how the medical world described it were two very completely different things. I was shocked when I looked at my medical file and it listed my miscarriage as a “spontaneous abortion.” To me, as a writer, those were two very harsh and strong words that had NOTHING to do with what I had experienced. So, I think in part, I used the essay to try and grapple with that discord.

I think what was so terrifying about writing it was knowing that one day I would have to finish it. And once I finished it, did that mean that I had accepted what had happened and moved on? For those four years that I struggled with this essay, I wasn’t ready to move on, I didn’t want it to mean that my baby was really gone, so in a way I guess I was subconsciously refusing to finish it.

DP: You’re very open about your writing processes and your personal life in your work, but also on social media, which I think is refreshing. You’re radically honest about your writer life. What’s your relationship with social media?

JM: It’s a love/hate relationship! I love being able to tune into what’s going on in the world and in my friends’ lives and find out what books are coming out and what events are happening around town. But it sucks up my writing and reading time if I’m not careful, and it also can drain my positive energy. Too much negativity in my news feed makes me sad and anxious. I have to curb my time on Facebook and Twitter especially (even if it seems like I’m on 24/7) because if I don’t, it can take me to some dark places pretty quickly.

I do love it though, because back when I was seriously ill and bedridden most of the time, I was still able to connect with people, meet other chronic illness sufferers (Spoonies, as we like to call ourselves) and it made me feel less alone. It was my lifeline when I struggled with insomnia and chronic pain. Scrolling through my newsfeed numbed the pain at times and allowed me moments of distraction and reprieve I couldn’t get by just lying in bed staring at a wall. I was also able to raise awareness about my diseases through social media and my blog and I’ve actually made some great virtual friendships because of it. I find that people open up to me about their struggles because I’ve been so open about my own and that makes me feel good, that my social media presence has made someone feel less alone, less afraid.

I’m very open about my writing life on social media because I want to demystify it. It’s not all sunshine and cupcakes but it’s also not all drunkenness and misery. It’s work. Plain and simple. And sometimes the work is easy and sometimes it’s hard. But you can only succeed if you work at it. Writing is a practice and I try to practice often. (Not everyday, ’cause I think that’s BS, too.) But I practice often and I tell the world about the practicing, the publishing, the failures and the successes, because that’s what’s real. It’s not just big book deals and fancy readings and sitting at a desk in a cottage in the woods. It’s living your life day by day and working at this thing you love, not [knowing] if or when the payoff will ever come.

 DP: What are some literary influences that might surprise your readers? Especially influences that may have had an impact on your memoir. 

JM: I will start by saying that any book project I start is started because, as Toni Morrison said, “It’s a book I want to read, that hasn’t been written.” So sometimes, it’s because I’m NOT finding inspiration or stories that I relate to, that push me to write my own.

But to actually answer your question, sort of, I think what’s maybe more interesting is whose work HASN’T influenced this memoir. And what I mean is that 100 percent of the time when I do a public reading or performance, and folks learn that I’m Dominican, someone from the audience will ALWAYS ask me if I’ve read Junot Diaz or Julia Alvarez, the only two Dominican authors most people know or are familiar with. And while I do admire and respect their work, it’s truly NOT where I find inspiration. Their voice and narrative style and even experiences are actually very dissimilar to my own, and while I find some kinship in reading their stories, poems, and about the lives of their characters, their work isn’t where I go when I need to be “fed” as a writer.

For this memoir in particular, I really loved the work of Eula Biss, author of On Immunity and Notes From No Man’s Land, as well as the essays in Belle Boggs’ book The Art of Waiting. These three books deal with the health care industry, illness, and infertility and race in ways that were new to me and that I enjoyed learning from. Both of these essayists are also masters of the braided essay, interweaving personal narrative and memory with research and reflection, something I experimented with in this forthcoming collection.

I also really drew inspiration from Toi Derricote’s The Black Notebooks, Natasha Tretheway’s Beyond Katrina (and pretty much everything she’s written), and Elizabeth Alexander’s The Light of the World, all African-American women who see themselves as poets first, but who also write memoir and essay, which is how I see myself as well. All three of those books experiment with multi-genre elements, flash creative nonfiction, and poetry to tell the story. They all really helped give me permission to write a hybrid-style book and they taught me that I didn’t have to give up being a poet to write a memoir, [and] that I could use what I know about crafting a poem, (such as repetition, imagery, precision with language, and extended metaphor), to craft a lyrical and moving essay as well.

DP: What are you reading right now?

JM: I have to read a variety of things for the literary podcast I co-host with my husband, Lupe, and I am currently in grad school, so there’s always reading I have to catch up on for that! Currently for the podcast I’m reading What Drowns the Flowers in Your Mouth by Rigoberto Gonzalez. For grad school, I’m only focusing on poetry this year and this morning I just finished Tarfia Faizullah’s Seam and am about three poems into Mai Der Vang’s Afterland. My current book project involves a lot of research and docupoetics, so I’m trying to read as many books that incorporate that as I can. For fun, I’ve just started Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X and I’ve read Junot Diaz’s picture book Islandborn like twelve times because I can’t wait to share it with my baby girl when she makes her big arrival into the world.

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Acts of Listening: An Interview with Analicia Sotelo

Another interview for Daniel Peña, this time with Analicia Sotelo…http://blog.pshares.org/index.php/acts-of-listening-an-interview-with-analicia-sotelo/

 

Headshot of Analicia Sotelo

The most exciting collection of poetry I read in 2018, perhaps even in recent years, was Analicia Sotelo’s Virgin(Milkweed Editions). These poems pull together the mythological and the mundane to synthesize a direct line of communication (if only sometimes in echo) between the Greek mythological Ariadne and the various personae that inhabit these pages. A master of metaphor and voice, Sotelo nimbly moves between disparate images—a half-dead tree and a jilted mother; Theseus and Victorian-era rest cures; cherry red cardigans and scarred peaches on the grill—to complicate tropes of feminine rage, joy, desire, and humor. But even through the abstraction of symbol, these poems cut to the deep through an incredible directness and urgency of voice. You don’t consume these poems so much as you step into them and find yourself changed by a set of radical truths. And in this way, Virgin is easily in league with what the best works of literature do in decentering the reader’s world through the radical truths of the subjective. When you approach Sotelo’s work you are not simply dealing with words on a page, you are dealing with witchcraft.

In addition to Virgin, the inaugural winner of the Jake Adam York Prize and Ross Gay selection for Milkweed Editions, Sotelo is the author of Nonstop Godhead which was selected by Rigoberto González for a 2016 Poetry Society of America National Chapbook Fellowship. Her work has appeared in such outlets as the New YorkerBoston ReviewFIELDKenyon ReviewNew England Review, and The Antioch Review among others. In this interview, I speak with Sotelo about humor, unexpected influences, and the complications of being a Mexican American writer in the contemporary era.

Daniel Peña: Ariadne is very much the heart of Virgin. I feel like all of the personae in this collection are in conversation with that character and her mythology, but also her humor. She can be very funny, if incredibly dark, and I feel like that’s one of the more underappreciated parts of this collection—its humor. As much as disparate themes and images are in conversation with each other in this collection, there’s a really beautiful dissonance you create in juxtaposing heaviness and levity (or hilarity). How do you see humor at work in your poetry?

Analicia Sotelo: I’m interested in how humor can propel angles of feeling—it can be self-protective, self-referential, confident, dismissive, seductive, welcoming…It holds a veiled honesty to it that I think can add depth to a person’s curiosity about how they truly feel. It’s similar, I think, to a conversation with a very good friend, where you can be slightly more witty and achieve an intimacy in those small revelations. Humor is also Ariadne’s “secret power” I think—in the gendered expectation that was solidified by the Victorian “Angel in the House” and continues today, women aren’t supposed to be funny—they are supposed to be timid, modest, and agreeable. They also aren’t supposed to be darkly funny. But the morbidity in these poems functions, I think, as a self-awareness of the importance of human love, as temporary as it may be, and as lasting. I think the humor in these poems illuminates how Ariadne’s search for love is simultaneously heavy and light, as steeped as it is in the continuous feedback of power structures and social expectations.

DP: Something I’ve noticed thus far—and it really kind of tickles me—is that reviewers don’t really know how to classify you, which is kind of cool I think. So many of my favorite writers (including yourself) are ultimately just their own animals—James Baldwin, Clarice Lispector, Clemens Meyer. I’ve seen one reviewer compare you to Carl Phillips, but largely reviewers just seem to side-step those comparisons and honor you and the complexity of this book. But I’ve been wondering: Who are your actual influences? Who and/or what things speak to you and your writing right now?

AS: You know, I’ve thought a little about this because often I’ll get asked informally about my influences, and it feels like a great mystery. Here is a poet-collage of where some of it may come from: Levis, Lasky, Ruefle, Nelson, Glück, Olds, Kasischke, Roethke, O’Hara, Rilke, Blake, Donne, Keats, Whitman. My influences have broadened since then, but I would consider those a foundation. Nora Ephron, Virginia Woolf, and Lorrie Moore are strong roots for the challenging energy of the female speakers in the book. Ultimately, history as collage is an influence—Virgin was impacted by the rhetoric and images of Surrealist art, Catholic hymns, English Victorian novels, Mexican-American South Texas, and early 20th century love songs.

DP: What are some unexpected influences in Virgin that might have surprised you?

AS: I didn’t really expect the Victorian references to become so strong in the Ariadne sequence, but I had to trust my process on those poems and see what became of them. I realized later that I was interested in how patriarchal structures persist today even in the smallest moments of intimate relationships, but at the time of writing, I was a little perplexed. I liked the surprise, though, and decided to keep writing into it.

DP: What is the most terrifying thing you’ve ever written?

AS: The most terrifying thing I’ve ever written is nonfiction, and I have yet to see where that leads me.

DP: Non-fiction is indeed terrifying! That separation between public and personal can disappear. Do you feel the need to separate your public writing life from your personal life? To that end, Virgin has been such an incredible success. I know you’re in high demand right now. How do you protect your writing time and your interior writing life?

AS: I do like to separate the writing life from my personal life. I think conflating the two would leave me feeling as though I didn’t have my own thinking space to create new work, and being able to write freely is incredibly important to me. Protecting time is an ongoing challenge—I leave most of my Saturday and Sunday mornings open for myself, and some early weekdays. That’s not always consistent, so I have to rely on trusting my intuitive process—reading and memorizing poems, journaling as needed, and even picking up painting for an afternoon. The public writing life can feel so much like a job that I think it’s vital to remember that writing is an art that requires a different kind of listening.

DP: What do you get from memorizing poems?

AS: You know that feeling when you’re walking through a neighborhood that you’ve driven by every day, and you notice things you’ve never known existed? That’s what it’s like walking through a poem by memorization. Taking it slow allows you to feel its composition, and how the tiniest choices, of even an article or a preposition, add meaning to the work and enrich it. That act of listening also informs how you write, what you notice, and how you choose to pace your line of sight.

DP: As I’ve written about in this space before, I personally struggle with being labeled a Chicanx writer. While I read and enjoy Chicanx literature, I’m not sure I belong in that canon. It wasn’t me who put my body on the line in the Chicano Civil Rights Movement. Not me who risked expulsion, jail, and billy clubs by boycotting class at Garfield High School and sparking the East LA Walkouts. But then on the other hand I also feel a disconnect in no small part due to the rampant misogyny and problematic race politics that inflected a lot of the literature written by so many of the men of that movement. In any case, people insist on calling us Chicanx writers. How do you feel about that label? And do you feel like possibly our generation is building something completely different?

AS: This is a big question! I think Latinx/Chicanx writers of our generation grew up and into the study of literature with an awareness of the way in which our elders had been stigmatized as outside of the canon, and you’re right, with a conscientiousness of misogyny and race politics. However, when I think of the European canon, and how it has long carried its history of conquest and colonization, I wonder if it has so deeply embedded itself into our cultural consciousness that we ignore its terrifying, long-term impact. It has its own misogyny and race politics. Here’s a scenario: a typical Latinx student who has chosen to major in English, and maybe become a teacher, or a lawyer, or a writer, is just trying to excel in college, and make the risk worth something, and what’s on the menu? Western civilization. We have to master it to survive that experience. We have to consume it to be respected. And so, to that effect, the study of Chicanx literature gets passed over because the English lit framework ignores its validity. Why can’t we just study Literature, instead of English Literature?

If we can go back and understand our own culture’s legacy, we can start changing what future Latinx students will see in their classrooms. I think a lot about who has been left out, historically, from these conversations. So to that extent, I don’t mind being called a Chicanx writer if (a big if) the person or institution using that label understands what that really means, and knows the history of it, and can speak to it, and asks first what I prefer. I don’t think anyone should be labeled—we determine our own identities. What I really envision is that marginalized literatures can each become a major part of the canon, and that it will be a global canon, a portrait of a world in constant transformation. Shakespeare beside Sor Juana, Li Qingzhao beside Sappho, Enheduanna beside Homer.

DP: Damn. I feel like I really needed that. What works are speaking to you right now? And what’s next for you?

AS: I’m paying a lot of attention to The Performance of Becoming Human (Borzutzky), Poems for the Millennium (Ed. Rothenberg and Joris), A History of Their Own: Women in Europe From Prehistory to the Present (Ed. Anderson and Zinsser), and Paint the Revolution: Mexican Modernism, 1910-1950 (Ed. Affron, Castro, Cruz Porchini, González Mello). Also Look (Solmaz Sharif), Whereas (Layli Long Soldier). There are so many more, but there is some of it. I’m writing new poems, and playing with essays. I hope to closely study certain periods of history, fashion, art, and poetry. I’m interested in color, or the perception of color. That’s the starting point.

Author Dagoberto Gilb’s Latest Intellectual Drops of Serious Knowledge

Tony Diaz with this beautiful write up and interview on Latino Rebels: https://www.latinorebels.com/2019/04/01/dagobertogilb/?fbclid=IwAR0dLqUx8wh3TokW4sWCrLKBNQAOBAjJ5qD-IpeHnvQBqqobfTJ2k1ewGeo

It is a Literary Renaissance when a Chicano can meet a writer whose work he admires, become his mentee and then his friend.

That’s the case with myself and writer Dagoberto Gilb, the Godfather of Chicano literature. I met him while I was earning my Master of Fine Arts at the University of Houston Creative Writing Program.

Gilb headlines the lineup of thinkers, leaders, and writers celebrating the 21st anniversary of “Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say” this Wednesday (6:30pm) at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston Brown Auditorium. (Visit www.NuestraPalabra.org for RSVPs and the full list of presenters.)

I founded Nuestra Palabra (NP) shortly after completing my MFA. Each speaker represents a different facet of our trajectory. However, Gilb possesses a profound perspective on the state of Latinos and intellectuals in America. We chatted about that leading up to the event.

Tony Diaz: In 2012, Arizona officials banned Mexican American Studies. You had two books on the outlawed curriculum. First, what did it mean for you to have your work studied in class rooms across Tucson and across the nation? Secondly, what did the banning of Mexican American Studies mean to you?

Dagoberto Gilb: I was not one of your best students back in the day. Maybe it wouldn’t have improved my standing a whole lot, but I do believe that what I write about —working class Mexican Americans— would have done a lot of good for a lot of us, including me, the vice principal’s favorite to swat. Ignorant and mean-spirited as it makes Those In Charge out to be, that two of my books were banned I accept like an Oscar. The fact is, excuse this immodesty, that my work has been published and honored in the finest literary venues in this country but is “wrong” for our own community’s use? We use their ignorance as evidence. We fuel our talent with ambition to be so much better than that.

TD: You joined the 2012 Librotraficante Caravan to smuggle the books from the outlawed curriculum back into Tucson. You were contraband. 

DG: Yup, me muy dangerous and subversive! Do not go out and buy my books, which are The Magic of BloodThe Last Known Residence of Mickey AcuñaWoodcuts of WomenGritosThe Flowers, and Before the End, After the Beginning.

TD: The great news is that the ban of MAS in Arizona was overturned, but it still happened. What does that say about the United States?

DG: The end of the beginning. Arizona is the Southwest’s Mississippi in its anti-brown, anti-Mexican, and anti-MexAm life. It will be a new Civil Rights Era for all people whose history is based in the American West.

TD: I was honored to be included in the anthology Hecho en Tejas. You also included a Nuestra Palabra discovery, Tonzi Canestraro Garcia. And you made sure classic Houston voices like Evangelina Vigil Piñon and rapper Chingo Bling were included. Why was it important for you to create this anthology that argues for Texas’s role in Mexican American literature, and also what do you see as Houston’s role in the Chicano Renaissance?

DG: I edited Hecho en Tejas because, after almost two decades working in the construction trades, I’d become a professor at Texas State University. I saw American literature classes with nothing taught written by any MexAm. I saw courses on literature of the Southwest or Texas with maybe one week on Mexican America, usually a questionable read if not almost a patronizing selection. I couldn’t believe it was willful, didn’t want to. When I asked teachers why, I was told that there was no place to find the work or learn of the authors. The anthology was the result. Now if anyone takes a lit class without several of us taught, it should be judged a willful offense. As to the Chicano Renaissance in Houston, I love Houston, the youngest, freshest Big Time City.

TD: As Nuestra Palabra turns 21, I feel as if a lot of things have changed for the better. However, I also feel that there are some structural issues that continue to impede our intellectual growth. What do you think?

DG: We can drink now? We can drink now!!! And we adults can read. And many of us do, but too many of us still think of reading —art— to be of and for the young, for children and young people only. And we promote it for our children and young to better themselves, to make their futures better and stronger than ours has been. And that is good. It is fine and beautiful. But we are 21 now. And older. Art, especially reading, is about our own intellectual growth, our own community’s intellectual ability. Books and ideas in them cannot be distributed by Disney alone.

Books are not only aimed to make our children better students, to mentor them to do and be good. Though there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, books are meant to advance us all, the soon-to-be or already-are elders of life. They are stories of mature lives, of men or women, of each of us, from the beginning of a life to its end. Like actual life, that’s not for non-drinkers only, or the only young. That’s life without crosswalks or crossing guards or any teachers. It’s about the lives of those who have and worry about their children, about jobs and thieves, about the joy of silence after fifty years of noise, about sadness, and love, both of which are often consumed at a higher proof by those well past the legal drinking age.

***

Tony Diaz is a writer, activist, professor and media personality. More at TonyDiaz.net. He tweets from @Librotraficante

Cómix Latinx Interview: DESIREE RODRIGUEZ

A riveting interview done by Chris Hernandez for Comicosity.com: http://www.comicosity.com/comix-latinx-interview-desiree-rodriguez/

Bring up a comic book title with another reader and you might get asked who wrote it or who drew it. It’s very rare, if ever, that you will hear a book referred to by the name of the colorist, letterer, or editor. The rest of the team if even remembered is often relegated the status of hired help: paid to neither be seen or heard. Though comic book culture tends to elevate one job over the other, editor Desiree Rodriguez points out that it is more than just a one person effort. “Every part of the team is important,” Rodriguez says. “The most obvious aspects of a comic – the art and storytelling – get a lot of focus which is completely understandable, but lettering, colors, and editing all play a huge part in the creation of that book”

Rodriguez, a Boricua and New Jersey native, knows exactly what she is talking about: her job as editor is to orchestrate the team, the story and art of a comic book story. “I believe a good editor is there to make the book better, to help enhance the story,” she says. Rodriguez is an editor for Lion Forge’s Catalyst Prime line, was co-editor for the Puerto Rican Strong anthology, and wrote a story that is included in the Ricanstruction anthology. She not only helps to shape plot lines and characters in comics but is also helping to shape and promote the Latinx narrative in comic books. She has spoken on and written a number of journalistic pieces centered around Latinx identity and even coined a hashtag, #BeingLatinxinComics, to further the discussion online. I got in touch with Rodriguez to find out more about the importance of an editor in the comic book creation process and to discuss Latinx creators in comic books today.

Chris C. Hernandez: Tell me about your relationship with comic books.

Desiree Rodriguez: When I started reading comic books it was more stuff like Fruits Basket, Rurouni Kenshin, Red River, that was the stuff I grew up on. As I got older I started reading more DC trades with some X-Men and Avengers stuff thrown in.

I had always loved western comic stories, I grew up watching Spider-man, Teen Titans, Justice League, Static Shock. The entire DC animated universe was really formative for me in the same way anime shows like Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z, Yu Yu Hakusho all were. They told these stories of heroes, fighting against incredible odds with optimism and compassion.

My favorite sort of character was always the one who was kind, compassionate, even in the face of their own traumas. You know the ones people always say are boring or naïve or dumb? Those were my favorite characters. Also, Scott Summers but people give me a lot of grief for that. But those characters always inspired me the most.

CH: When did you decide to make comic books a career?

DR: Oh gosh, like most Latinas I was always taught to get a stable job, stable career, get married and have kids. I was originally going to be a teacher and treat writing online as a side gig. You can’t make an actual living writing is what I always told myself. But when I moved, I sort of restarted my life a little bit. And with it, decided, what the heck I’ll really put my all into making a career out of doing something in comics. So I wrote, and wrote about comics, movies, television but always about the characters and stories I grew up loving.

I can’t say there was a single point in time when I was like, “yes I’m going to make comics my career” because there wasn’t. It was a slow-going process, a lot of learning, a lot of work, and a bit of luck. Joe Illidge gave me my first job as his part-time assistant working at Lion Forge on the Catalyst Prime line. I was honestly shocked. I always tell people that when he called me I thought we were going to talk about Batman and instead he offered me a job! Now I’ve been at Lion Forge for two years, working full time, editing my own books, I’ve been blessed really.

CH: Why is an editor an important part of the comic book creation team?

DR: Every part of the team is important, the most obvious aspects of a comic – the art and storytelling – get a lot of focus which is completely understandable. But lettering, colors, and editing all play a huge part in the creation of that book.

For editing, a good editor will try to enhance a story’s potential. Where can the story be improved? Let’s change the art here a bit to enhance this scene. Maybe change this character a bit to add some more diversity to the cast. Stuff like that. As well as keeping the team together, keeping the flow of communication moving, getting that book to print so it hits the shelves and gets into the hands of the readers.

But I believe a good editor is there to make the book better, to help enhance the story, but not be the writer, or the artist, or the colorist. I respect every aspect of creating a comic because I respect the time, effort, and craft that goes into that part of the work.

CH: Tell me about some of the different aspects of being an editor? At what point do you come into the comic book making process?

DR: We’re there right at the beginning. When a writer pitches an idea or a story we’re there to help form that idea into a fully fleshed out story or suggest ways it could be better. Maybe there’s a story beat that’s missing, or one that could be expanded upon.

CH: What skills or qualities should a person have to become an editor? What do you have to study to become an editor?

DR: I was lucky, I had a good mentor in Joe, and I can still ask him for advice today. He’s been someone I really respect and admire whose helped me in my career a lot. Then there’s all the amazing editors I work with at Lion Forge.

One thing in particular I love is there’s so many women editors I work with, from Senior level to Assistants, it makes for this great unique environment where you don’t feel like the only woman in the room. Which has happened for most of my time in comics.

There’s also many editors in the industry I really admire like Joamette Gil, Kat Fajardo and Tanaka Slotts. All three are amazing women of color who have award winning books under their belts that didn’t require any big publisher help. They’re telling stories that are wide-spread about various marginalized communities and killing it.

I think some of the skills of a good editor include: good communication skills, respect for others, networking, and understanding the medium top to bottom. You have to understand how an artist works, and the work that goes into drawing a page or a cover for example. I can’t draw, but I’ve been studying just, basics ya know? So I can understand how they work, from line art to colors to letters. I’m still learning though, which I think is another important skill to have, the wiliness to learn. You’ll never know everything and that’s okay, be open to learning new things.

Oh, and technology, keep up with the tech it’ll help you stay organized.

CH: Of course, language adds another aspect to the process of editing a Latinx-centric comic book, but are there any other differences?

DR: I would say the cultural aspect. I’m proudly Puerto Rican, but if I’m editing a book with say, a Mexican-American lead that doesn’t mean I automatically know everything there is to know about what it’s like to be Mexican-American. Sure, there’s crossover, but I haven’t lived that particularly experience. Just like an editor who may be Mexican won’t know the exact experience of what it’s like being Puerto Rican. There’s nuances there you have to respect, learn, and research.

CH: What is your opinion of the current state of Latinx comic books?

DR: I think it could be better, that’s not to say we haven’t made progress, we have. There’s more Latinx characters, creators, and stories in the industry today then say ten or twenty years ago, but we can’t settle. We can do better, and we should always strive to be better.

I’m really excited to see that the La Raza Anthology was recently nominated for an Ignatz Award, and I’m so happy to see Eric Esquivel writing a Vertigo book called Border Town of all things. Like that shit right there is dope, that’s the stuff I want to see. Then you have brands like LatinxGeeks that go to cons, run panels, organize hashtags, promote Latinx written and centric books, comics, TV shows, movies everything.

So, there’s certainly been huge improvement and I think what needs to happen is the continuation of that improvement. We need more Latinx voices within the industry from top to bottom – editors, writers, artists, design, etc. And those voices need to be diverse voices, Afro-Latinx voices especially tend to be drown out or forgotten when discussing Latinx creators or Latinx representation in general. But we can’t have true inclusion nor true, honest, and real representation until we acknowledge all parts of our community and work to uplift the entire community.

So, we’ve made progress, we’re making progress, but we still have a long way to go and grow.

CH: In reviewing and writing about Latinx comic books I’ve noticed that there appears to be a lack of Latina comic book creators that are telling their stories as well. What do you think can be done to change this?

DR: I think it’s not so much there’s a lack of Latina creators, more so there’s a lack of opportunities provided to them. When we were putting together Puerto Rico Strong, one of the things we all pushed for and agreed upon was that a majority of the talent would be Latinx. We also made it a point to reach out to Latina and Latinx creators. They exist, there out there, you just have to look, and give them the opportunity.

I’m a part of a really great Facebook group for Latinx creators and there’s tons of women in the group, heck it was started by a Latina! It’s just a matter of putting in the effort of looking. It’s easier, I think, to create a Latinx character and say, hey my friend – who happens to be a white guy – is a great writer he should be on this book as an editor. And that guy probably is a great writer! I’m not discounting that, but was there any effort to find a Latina to write that character? When the topic comes up,

I’ve seen a lot of arguments that amount to “well there just aren’t any Latinas out there” or some fans will go “well the job went to the best person (who happens to be white)”. It rings false to me because I know there are talented Latina writers out there who are making great indie comics and just haven’t been given the chance to break into the larger industry. No fault of their own, they’re talented as hell, they’re just not being looked at. I don’t think it’s straight up refusal, more like soft ignorance. This is why it’s important to have these discussions, to uplift the community, to learn more about the untapped talent and audience pool at hand.

I firmly believe there are two ways to cure ignorance, one is education the other is empathy. You have to learn about a marginalized community to understand the specific oppressions they’ve faced and still face, but you also have to have empathy for them and want to learn and be a real ally. When it comes to comics, we have to expand our horizons both on the page but also behind it. We have to have creators of all backgrounds existing in various places in comics. And not just as Editors but higher up as well, so we can get the best stories that can be as inclusive and true as possible.

CH: What are some good books that you recommend reading for people wanting to expand their experience with Latinx comics?

DR: Okay so I already mentioned the La Raza Anthonlogy, so that one for sure.Power and Magic isn’t strictly a Latinx comic book but a publisher run by an Afro-Cuban editor so I would support them and their books which are all fantastic.

Frederick Luis Aldama has an entire library of great books that talk about Latinx representation in comics so if you’re looking for something more academic he’s a great place to start, especially his recent book Latinx Superheroes in Mainstream Comics (Latinx Pop Culture).

Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez is another easy pick with his La Borinqueña series, including his charity anthology with DC, Ricanstruction: Reminiscing & Rebuilding Puerto Rico.

I’m going to throw in some shameless self-promotion and say Puerto Rico Strong, which was a charity anthology Lion Forge published that I worked on as well.

I would also recommend folks check out the #BeingLatinxInComics and #LatinxCreate hashtags on Twitter for more recommendations, and to find more Latinx creators to support.

Learn more about Desiree and her current projects on her website: https://latinasmediamusing.com/

Poet Mónica Teresa Ortiz’s New Book Imagines a Future Where Queer Bodies Are Free

Check out this wonderful review and interview conducted by Maribel Falcón for Remezcla. By clicking on the link, you can see more photos as well. http://remezcla.com/features/culture/poet-monica-teresa-ortizs-new-book-imagines-future-queer-bodies-free/

 

Texas is a contested space. While it’s politically and socially connected to Mexico, it’s sometimes at odds with conservative Texan culture. Nearly 40 percent of the state’s population identifies as Latino, and the soon-to-be-majority of the state still contends with what it means to be from the land itself. If we wonder what the future holds for Texas, we can simply look to those who influence culture. But how does our current political situation – where anti-immigrant rhetoric runs high – affect the ideas and work of artists who live and work within this infamous southern state?

We turned to Austin-based writer Mónica Teresa Ortiz to learn more. Born and bred in the Texas panhandle, Ortiz offers a unique perspective as a queer poet and longtime cultural worker. Since 2012, Mónica has served as the poetry editor of Raspa Magazine, a biannual queer Latino literary magazine. Her first book, muted blood, debuted last year. Her writings have been featured in Huizache and the Texas Observer. In her work, Mónica incorporates the subject of death and rebirth while alluding to a queer futurity.

Her second book, autobiography of a semiromantic anarchist (Host Publications), dropped this week. We spoke to Mónica about her work, queerness, and our current political environment.

The following interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.


How do you see Texas?

Texas is my home. I was born here, and it has the reputation that it is conservative, racist, homophobic, xenophobic, and tied to the old south. Is it deserved? Absolutely. If one looks at the formation of the state since it was colonized, and looks at our modern political theatre, absolutely we are all those things, historically and systematically. As much as we mythologize this place, it is important to be accurate and realistic about the development of that mythology and the way the state reproduces violence. I stay in Texas because I want to redefine its legacy and because I love this place. It is part of a reimagining of a New South that to me is queer, trans, black, brown, muslim. It’s marginalized people building futures over the ashes of the old South.

How does your upbringing influence your perspective?

I consider geography and space greatly influential in the way I think and relate to the world. I grew up post-Cold War through the development of neoliberalism and globalization, under Reagan, Bush, and Clinton. It was when American exceptionalism really gained traction, and one of the reasons I am adamant about being anti-imperialist is because as a child, I watched these things the US was doing to other places, on the other side of the world, and how we controlled so many narratives.

When 2016 came about and the election happened, I remember telling my partner at the time: “This pendejo is gonna win.” Racism isn’t limited by geography. Racism and the perpetuation of white supremacy is everywhere, rural or otherwise. It might manifest in other ways in cities or small towns and the way its produced and replicated might look different. I know people in Austin who have Obama or Beto O’Rourke bumper stickers, and they can be just as racist as people I grew up with. Racism is about power and white supremacy, so you notice these kinds of things more, the more you pay more attention to them because everyday you are confronted by them in policies, in architecture, zoning, educational and financial segregation.

Given your experience, how do you negotiate your own identity?

I don’t identify with Chicanismo or Latinidad. People can identify however they want, but for me, those terms don’t negotiate racial or ethnic identities or gender. I’m queer, and I’m Mexican, and I am from Texas, and I am from the panhandle. My dad is from the border. I lived on the border. But I approach the border as an outsider. We have different histories and identities. It’s very nuanced. I think Latinidad doesn’t quite explore those nuances.

And then of course, there is the issue of anti-blackness. We’ve seen a recent commercial surge from Black artists and film, and then there comes the Latinidad, asking, “But what about us?” Aside from its assumption of competition amongst our communities, there is also a sense that there aren’t Afro-Latino/as. Latinidad tends to codify it as a brown experience, and it’s really not. Black thought has had a tremendous impact on not just my work but is directly linked to the history of the Americas.

Then, there is the discrimination against Indigeneity. You can look at Yalitza Aparicio and the way white Mexicans have treated her. Someone like Yalitza threatens whiteness, and its power and privilege, and many benefit from that proximity to whiteness.

How is autobiography of a semiromantic anarchist different from your first book?

In my first book, I talk about my great-grandfather who was killed and no one knows where his body is. I asked my grandmother, and although she has an acute memory, they have no idea what happened to his body. It makes us ask to whom do our bodies belong to? Even though our bodies are there in the ground, instead of honoring those spaces, bodies get taken out, built over. Even when we are dead, our bodies are still possessions of the state. In my imagining of a queer futurity, that no longer is the case. We are liberated and we are free, but to get there we have to build it together.

What is your new book about?

My new book is a collection of cronicas. I was really influenced by Eduardo Galeano’s work and then began reading Cameroon scholar Achille Mbembe’s On the Postcolony. The cronicas reflect my exploration of necropolitics, of the state and sovereignty, of trying to exist and survive in a space where queerness is a disruption against heteronormativity, against heterosexuality, against whiteness, against the state which controls our lives, even what happens to our bodies after we die. I think it hinges on the concept of an afterlife.

When I came out to my parents, the person that they knew me to be, no longer existed. I was treated as if I had died. I began thinking, is my queerness my afterlife? Is it a rebirth? This is how I perceive queer futurity. As Jose Esteban Muñoz says, it is imagining a future that doesn’t exist yet. We live in a colonized space under capitalism. Our lives and deaths happen within these parameters. The settler-colonial state attempts to control how we experience love and loss and grief but it doesn’t have to define it.

How does your work comment on the current political situation in the US?

Towards the end of muted blood, I introduce the ideas of exodus and sanctuary. To me, it’s a very important question, because who is offered sanctuary in this country? I think the immigrants rights movement has become really big. In my neighborhood, I see a lot of signs in front yards claiming to be a ‘sanctuary for refugees and immigrants.’ But I always wonder, what ways do people actually practice this? I think about Claudia Rankine’s book, Citizen, and the micro-aggressions endured by the author. What is this actual idea of sanctuary and who does it apply to? Is sanctuary being offered to Black people, Black women, and queer and trans people in this country? If you say Black Lives Matter or bring up the topic of reparations, or condemn the actions of police departments, or even talk about displacement, people freak out. We’ve historically been pitted against each other and my work critiques that.


autobiography of a semiromantic anarchist is available now. You can purchase it online here starting Friday, March 22.

Editor’s Note: Itzel Alejandra Martinez, Remezcla’s photo editor, took the photos and video used in the article for Mónica Teresa Ortiz’s press kit. 

Art & Life with Roman Martinez

Check out this interview with Roman Martinez from Voyage Houston: http://voyagehouston.com/interview/art-life-roman-martinez/

 

Today we’d like to introduce you to Roman Martinez.

Roman, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
I was born in Dallas and moved to Houston before 1st grade. I grew up in Alief in the 80’s, When we 1st moved into the area, it wasn’t as diverse as it is today, not even close. My interest in art started pretty early as kid, drawing monsters and Star Wars characters, and I took a lot of lessons early on. All throughout my years in Alief I always had super engaging art teachers that took an interest in me and challenged me with different projects and showed me new techniques. It was in Middle school that the diversity really became relevant to me and how I started to perceive the world. Holub MS and Hastings HS were so diverse and it stretched all my preconceived notions and allowed me to emerge myself in different cultures, it Also encouraged me to really explore who I was as a Chicano/Mexican-American. Those early years would later become influential as my development as an artist later in life. After a few offers to go to some larger art schools in Chicago and New York, I decide to enroll at the Art Institute of Houston and avoid the cold weather. After I graduated, I took a slight 7-year hiatus from painting to work as a youth pastor.

I began doing large-scale murals while living in El Paso and would take any job that would offer me a challenge and the opportunity to try new techniques. I began to specialize in trompe l’oeil and had a lot of early success. After a few large high-profile jobs, I got bogged down in a residential job that really drained my enjoyment of painting. I took a break from painting a second time and went back to work as a youth pastor, that ended in a 2-year stint in Chiapas, Mexico. Being there re-kindled my passion for my culture and has had a profound lasting influence on my art. When I returned to the U.S., I began painting murals again and have been painting again full time since 2010. My current iteration of style of painting has been in development for the last 6 or so years after being on a ladder 20+ feet up in the air and wondering what would happen if I took a misstep, so I decided I needed to pursue art that I was able to create with both feet on the ground.

Can you give our readers some background on your art?
Living in Mexico and currently here on the border in El Paso, has really influenced my aesthetic. I’ve been a Huge Fan of David Alfarro Siquieros, Jose Clemente Orozco, and Diego Rivera, “The Big 3” and try to pull from their spirit and ideas behind their work. One of the biggest catalysts in my current style has been the street artist Banksy when asked about my style, I like to describe it as if Banksy was the Chicano Love child of Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock. I use hand-cut stencils (mostly) and aerosol with house paint. The majority of my work is a Chicano vibe/slant on an existing trope or personality. My work is bright and colorful and has a sense of humor that I hope isn’t lost on people.

What responsibility, if any, do you think artists have to use their art to help alleviate problems faced by others? Has your art been affected by issues you’ve concerned about?
A large portion of my art reflects the current political climate, I don’t think art has changed much, other than the mediums used. some artists might paint happy little trees and sunny landscapes to escape the realities of the world we live in, and others tackle the issues head-on. I prefer the later. “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”- Banksy

“Artists use lies, to tell the truth, while politicians use them to cover the truth up.” -Every Hammond (V for Vendetta)

What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
They can Follow me on FB and IG. I’ve done the Downtown Bayou art festival and Dandy Warhol’s “May the 4th” art shows, as well as pop-up art, shows at local venues when I’m in town.

Contact Info:

  • Phone: 832-882-8801
  • Email: romanmartinez74@gmail.com
  • Instagram: @romanmartinezartdesign
  • Facebook: @romanmartinezartdesign

Writer Sandra Cisneros Is Documenting Unheard NC Voices

Check out the article (with an audio interview!) for WUNC here: http://www.wunc.org/post/writer-sandra-cisneros-documenting-unheard-nc-voices?fbclid=IwAR1fzixUw06NP_OeMhFsYG_AfrqqxCkim7V-wL77YqTDwkWgu_p5KMY9TlE

 

Sandra Cisneros is best known as the author behind the literary classic “The House on Mango Street,” a book that has been translated into over twenty languages. She has penned poetry, short stories, novels and essays. These days, beyond writing, the acclaimed author is spending a lot of time listening.

Cisneros is using her Ford Foundation’s Art of Change Fellowship to conduct an extensive project collecting the stories of undocumented people and those who hire, harbor or work alongside them, including residents of rural eastern North Carolina.

Host Frank Stasio speaks with Cisneros about her ongoing work and about her upcoming appearance at the North Carolina Book Festival on Saturday, Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. at CAM Raleigh.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

On why she spent time listening to undocumented people in North Carolina: 
I got a fellowship from the Ford Foundation called an Art of Change Award. It is given to choreographers, playwrights, poets, all kinds of creative people, and it was for us to create a project on democracy. And I felt that everyone is talking about the issue of immigration, but the immigrants themselves can’t speak. So I felt, as a dual citizen of both Mexico and the United States, that I’m in a position of privilege, and I want to serve as a bridge during times when communities are afraid of one another. So I thought the best thing to do is to buy some recording equipment and listen to those who are being discussed but who never get to speak themselves.

On storytelling as an act of survival:
Sometimes when we don’t tell the story, it lodges in our heart like a invading grain of sand. And, you know, the oyster puts layers of pearl on top of that invading grain in order to survive. And stories are like that too. They lodge inside our hearts.  And if we aren’t able to talk about them, they get infected and can kill us. And I found that people tell stories, and each time they tell them they tell them in a different way to understand the event, to understand themselves, to survive the event.

I want to do the hard work this year now of taking all these interviews and weaving them together into a chorus of voices. Because just the act of telling you a story allows them to heal in a way. One of the participants said: I feel so much better telling you my story. I feel as if me desahogué, which means “I un-drowned.” And that idea that we carry the sea inside us and that sometimes when we’re telling a story that’s too powerful it comes out of our eyes; That the sea poured forth when she told me her story. It helped her to “un-drown.” I love that idea.

On how she’s been affected by the stories she’s heard:
I think that listening to everyone that I’m listening to has made me realize how grateful I am for what I have … [And] it makes me reassess what I want. It makes you much more humble to admire the strength of people for living with so little … It gives you courage. So listening to the students, the dreamers, the people who start their own business, people who started from zero, people who’ve had to leave children behind makes me think: What have I got to complain about? Look at the courage and strength of these citizens.

David Bowles on order among chaos and lifting the voices of Mexican Americans

“The real heroes are groups of people—families and communities—that stand in solidarity against great odds and use their love and collective will to enact change.”

 

Author David Bowles has published fourteen books since 2009, and his latest, They Call Me Guero, is winning ALL the awards, it would seem. Lone Star Lit caught up with David via email to get all (well, almost all) the scoop.

 

LONE STAR LITERARY LIFE: They Call Me Güero is EVERYWHERE right now: it’s the 2019 Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award winner, a Pura Belpré Honor Book, an honor book for the Walter Dean Myers Awards for Outstanding Children’s Literature in the Young Readers category, a National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Notable Poetry Book for children, and a Best Book of 2018 at Shelf Awareness.  Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky: Myths of Mexico is on the best YA of 2018 list at Kirkus.  I follow you on social media, and you seem genuinely blown-away as the awards are stacking up.  What has this been like for you?

David Bowles: It’s definitely a dream come true. I’ve received awards before (for The Smoking Mirror and Flower, Song, Dance), but the reception of this little book has been humbling and energizing. Above all, I’m excited that the additional exposure will mean that it gets into the hands of more children—both Latinx and non-Latinx kids—which is ultimately the goal.

Why do you see the book as important to both those groups of young people?

For Latinx kids—especially Mexican American ones—it’s really important that they see themselves, their families, their culture as important subjects of literature, as worthy of being depicted in positive, uplifting ways. The present climate makes this need frankly poignant. When so many messages in society around you indicate that you’re a problem, a crisis, an unwanted burden … well, you need books, you need poetry, to counter that despicable depiction.

And frankly, that’s why non-Latinx students need books like this. They need to see the reality of their Latinx peers, to see them reflected in literature as three-dimensional, engaging individuals whose lives are rich and meaningful. Right now, an average of 3500 books are published each year for kids. Only around 100 are centered on the Latinx experience. That needs to change.

You are focusing on writing for young people. Was that a conscious decision on your part or a general metamorphosis in your work?

Definitely a conscious decision, though partially a metamorphosis that occurred before my first book was published. Throughout the late ‘90s and early 2000s, I was working on an adult science fiction series, but my experiences as a teacher of middle- and high-schoolers, retelling the legends my grandmother Marie Garza had told me when I was a kid, set me on the path to reaching out to young people through literature. My first book, The Seed, arose from that desire to craft YA fiction that tapped into our shared cultural traditions and spooky stories.

Of course, I have been writing for a general or more adult audience as well. There are stories I want to tell that don’t always fit the strictures of kid lit. But my main concern is writing for Mexican American youth and their peers.

The Smoking Mirror, a 2016 Pura Belpré Honor Book, is the first in your super-hero series about the Garza twins, Carol and Johnny. Since then, two more books in the series have been published, A Kingdom Beneath the Waves (2016) and The Hidden City (2018); two more are in the works,Wings Above the Burning Earth (2020) and The World Tree (2022). What challenges will the twins face in the next installments in the series and how have they developed to meet those challenges? Do you know if their story concludes with the fifth book?

From the moment I started the first book, I knew how the series would end. I have the very last chapter of the fifth book sitting in my head, and everything the Garza twins go through is pushing them to a particular point, to a decision that frankly will surprise many readers.

Without giving it away, I’ll say this: I’m convinced that individual power is not enough to combat chaos and destruction in our lives. The real heroes are groups of people—families and communities—that stand in solidarity against great odds and use their love and collective will to enact change.

Raw, naked power—the godlike abilities that Johnny and Carol will continue to accrue in books 4 and 5—is ultimately dangerous to wield at all. Like nuclear weapons, all such superpowers ensure is mutual destruction. And now I’ve probably said to much.

There will be lots of incredibly cool things along the way, mind you. Mesoamerican giants and elves and harpies. Gods, both dark and light. Betrayal, love, sacrifice. All a young teen could ask for from a fantasy series.

You are one of the authors working with Adam Gidwitz on a new middle-grade series from Penguin Dutton called The Unicorn Rescue Society.The Chupacabras of the Rio Grande will be published in April.  How did this collaboration come about, and what has that process been like for you?

Once Adam had decided to use his position and power to craft a series of books co-written with writers from marginalized communities, he knew he wanted to do one set on the border (he has a great relationship with students in Laredo), featuring chupacabras as the cryptid (each book has a different creature in need of rescuing). When he approached Matt de la Peña, wondering who might be the best collaborator for that book, Matt immediately said, “Mexican American? Border? Chupacabras? Middle grade? You need to talk to David Bowles.” Or words to that effect, heh.

So Adam reached out to me and I agreed! Working together was really fantastic. We hit it off well, and once I’d outlined the story and we’d revised that outline with the rest of the team, we set about alternating two to three chapters. Writing that way helped us to maintain a rhythm and voice that was true to the other books. But ours was indeed quite different, more politically charged by virtue of its setting. Early on we realized we couldn’t avoid talking about the border wall and misconceptions about border folk, so we took a different tack: we centered that controversy and met it head-on in a compassionate way that kids will be able to understand.

They Call Me Güero and Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky: Myths of Mexico were both published by Texas institutions, the Byrd family and Cinco Puntos Press, in El Paso. How did your relationship with the Byrds and Cinco Puntos come about and what is it like to work with the publishers of such beloved authors as Benjamin Alire Sáenz?

Given the fact that they published four of Luis Alberto Urrea’s early books as well as many by Ben Sáenz, I am tempted to call them kingmakers. Both those men are role models for me, both as humans and as writers, and they are respected on an international level for their beautiful, important prose and poetry.

Cinco Puntos is one of the most important advocates of marginalized voices. Their books for kids have transformed lives in the Rio Grande Valley and can be found in so many classrooms. The Byrds are delightful, simple, loving people. Accomplished authors and translators themselves, they approach each project not just from a marketing or editorial vantage point, but as creative minds seeking to maximize the beauty and relevance of the work.

They are also really damn funny.

You were inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters (TIL) in 2017 and currently sit on the board. The newly elected TIL inductees were announced in January. What was it like for you to take part in the process of selecting new TIL members?

Humbling and exciting! Getting to know authors that I’ve perhaps heard of or whose work I’m somewhat familiar with, diving into their writing and background, realizing just what luminaries our state produces … it’s quite amazing. I feel so fortunate, and I take my responsibilities seriously. Of course, the joy you feel upon seeing them react to the announcement is also a rush. And given the diversity of the new crop of nominees and inductees, I’m not indifferent to the weight of helping to reshape the TIL so that it more accurately reflects the state of Texas letters in the 21st century.

You’re an assistant professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. What are your goals in teaching Mesoamerican literature and, hopefully, the next generation of writers?

My goals in teaching kid lit and Nahuatl language and literature intersect with my goals as an author: to lift the voices of Mexican Americans, celebrating our culture in the US, its origin in Mexico, and Mexico’s roots in Mesoamerica. I want to normalize this long and storied heritage for students who have not been exposed to it in US schools, even those just scant miles from the border in communities that are majority Mexican American. We need more writers, yes. And we need more teachers using the books those writers craft. We need more Chicanos learning indigenous Mesoamerican languages, decolonizing their minds, integrating some of the highly developed pre-Colombian philosophy and science into their daily lives.

These things make us better people. They enrich and complicate the variegated traditions of North America, combat and interrogate the dominant US narrative.

The banner at the top of your website reads, “order amidst chaos.” Why did you choose that phrase to headline your website? What is particularly chaotic for you personally, and how do you attempt to impose order? Are you successful in the attempt?

For ancient Mesoamericans, the principal conflict in the cosmos wasn’t good versus evil. They would have found such a notion naïve. All things contain good and evil. Even the gods. Instead, chaos and order were the crux of things. The point of life wasn’t, however, to eliminate chaos. Without it, order was meaningless. Without destruction, nothing can be created. Without creation, there is nothing to be destroyed. Existence itself requires both. The conflict becomes a search for balance between them.

This sophisticated indigenous conception of the universe deeply moves me. All around us, deliberate destruction and inexorable entropy pull at the foundations of our lives. Being a human means not fighting that, but not giving in to it, either. Instead, we bend that entropy, repurposing the destruction into new creation, new order.

Every book I write is a reshaping of fading ideas into bright, novel configurations. They, too will darken and crumble. Before they are lost to oblivion, however, I trust—I must believe—that another will fan those embers and use the fleeting flames to forge something even more enduring.

This struggle happens within us as well. Gloria Anzaldúa wrote of the Coyolxauhqui process, the reassembling of broken selves. My book of poetryShattering and Bricolage delves deep into that remaking of the self. One of the poems got quoted recently on Criminal Minds, in fact: “When wounds are healed by love / The scars are beautiful.” The poem’s title is “Kintsukuroi,” the name of a Japanese artistic technique in which a finished ceramic piece is deliberately broken and the pieces rejoined with silver or gold solder so that the brokenness becomes part of the object’s beauty.

When I first contacted you, you teased that there is big news on the horizon; are you ready and able to spill on it yet?  If not (DRAT), what else do we have to look forward to?

While there is big news coming about a new series for young readers, that’s as much as I can say at present. But I do have a graphic novel coming from Tu Books in 2020: Clockwork Curandera, a YA reimagining of the Frankenstein story that blends indigenous magic with steampunk technology, set in an alternate northern Mexico/South Texas called the Republic of Santander in the year 1865. I also have a second graphic novel coming out in 2020 … that will be announced pretty soon.

I should also point out that the University of Arizona Press is re-releasing Francisco X. Alarcón’s Snake Poems in March, twenty-five years after its original publication. I helped fulfill the late poet’s dream by translating his work into Nahuatl for this special edition.

 

My mind is blown with all you have accomplished and are accomplishing. I need to ask some fluffy questions to decompress. Commence the Lightning Round…

Favorite book? Right nowThe Tale of Genji. Answer changes each year.

Number of books on your nightstand? eReader? A dozen.

Strange habit? Plucking stray long hair from my beard.

Interesting writing ritual? Listening to electronica and drinking coffee.

Funniest flaw? My kids assure me it’s my “dad jokes.”

Favorite quote? “I change myself, I change the world.” ―Gloria Anzaldúa

Something interesting that few people know about you? I’m a musician and singer with several independently released albums.

Pet peeve? Uh, very few trivial things bother me. But I do wish people would set off direct address with a comma.

Most underappreciated author/hidden gem author? Juan Sauvageau (Stories That Must Not Die)

Team Oxford comma? Not unless it eliminates possible ambiguity.

A Mexican-American author from deep South Texas, DAVID BOWLES is an assistant professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Recipient of awards from the American Library Association, Texas Institute of Letters and Texas Associated Press, he has written a dozen or so books, including Flower, Song, Dance: Aztec and Mayan Poetry, the critically acclaimed Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky: Mexican Myths, and They Call Me Güero: A Border Kid’s Poems. In 2019, Penguin will publish The Chupacabras of the Rio Grande, co-written with Adam Gidwitz, and Tu Books will release his steampunk graphic novel Clockwork Curandera. His work has also appeared in multiple venues such as Journal of Children’s Literature, Rattle, Strange Horizons, Apex Magazine, Nightmare, Asymptote, Translation Review, Metamorphoses, Huizache, Eye to the Telescope, and Southwestern American Literature. In April 2017, David was inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters for his literary work. Visit David Bowles on his website.

Meet Melina Chavarria, author of The Magic Glasses

 

Today we’d like to introduce you to Melina Chavarria.

Melina, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I was in college when I first fell in love with writing. I had just discovered Xicano writers like Luis Rodriguez, Victor Villasenor, and Sandra Cisneros. However, it wasn’t until 15 years later that I made the decision to take a risk on myself and focus on my writing. I started off with blogging about my journey with motherhood and raising children on the Autism spectrum. Over the last few years, I have focused mostly on writing poetry and on a comic book series I co-created, with my partner, Jean Munson, called “The Magic Glasses.”

Currently, I am still focusing on further developing our comic book series, but I am also starting a new zine. I am now working as Editor and Chief for DSTL Arts, on a publication called Aurtistic Zine. Aurtistic Zine is focused on acceptance and showcasing the diverse talents of autistic individuals as well as their family members.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
The journey is never linear, and the biggest challenges have been to overcome self-doubt and fear. Most of those fears steam from worrying about how readers will receive my work. Will readers connect with my work? I learned to silence those fears by reminding myself, that although everyone may not become a fan of my writing, I will find people that connect with my work. And even if my stories only connect with a few people, the journey will have been worth it.

In writing my comic book series, I also found it challenging to find the right artist to collaborate with. You hear a lot of things about the comic book industry not being open to women, and you do not see a lot of women of color represented in the industry. So I really wanted to wait to meet and work with someone that shared my values of having more and better representations of women of color in comics. I was fortunate to meet and work with Jean, who is a passionate feminist and leader in the comics industry.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
When we created “The Magic Glasses” comic book series not only did we want to have a better representation of women of color in comics, but we also wanted to share the stories and experiences of the real women from our communities and share some of the things that are actually happening in our communities today.

I would say we are known for being advocates and champions for women of color in the comics industry. What I am most proud of is being able to share stories about the women living in South Central Los Angeles, and I hope to continue to do so in a positive light.

What were you like growing up?
I was a rebellious nerd growing up. I always did very well academically in school and enjoyed reading anything I could get my hands on. But I was always opinionated and strong-willed.

Pricing:

  • Our comics are 1 for $7 or 2 for $10

Contact Info:

 

Comix Latinx: Professor Latinx – Graphic Reclamations: Barajas and Gonzo’s Tata Rambo

Please view this post at its original site: http://www.comicosity.com/comix-latinx-professor-latinx-graphic-reclamations-barajas-and-gonzos-tata-rambo/?fbclid=IwAR1FEibi0G18PcbBsat0ybqlUV-xSgrPqqZPYY6dS4tfsijsGLGLIRg3ihA

“Graphic Reclamations: Barajas and Gonzo’s Tata Rambo as Co-Creative Journey that Sets the Historical Record Straight”
Guest Post By: Frederick Luis Aldama, aka Professor LatinX

Just the other day my kid asked: “how can the filmmaker of Hidden Figures have known the story of these three important African American women mathematicians and scientists if the history books never included them?”

I was quick to muddle through a response that amounted to something like this: “Someone had to do the work of sleuthing out their story. In this case, it was Margot Lee Shetterly. They had to dig into newspaper archives and personal records. They had to meet and talk with living relatives, friends—anyone who knew these incredible women.”

I was fast to respond because, well, this is a fact of life for those “hidden figures” of underrepresented peoples in the US. When I ask my college students if they know about the Young Lords, Dolores Huerta, Elena Ochoa, Cesar Chavez, many draw a blank. Latinx shapers of US history, culture, politics have been willfully dust-balled in K-12 education—and the mainstream media generally.

Fortunately, the work and will of Latinx intellectuals, teachers, activists, and comic book creators is changing this—radically and rapidly.  I think readily here of Inverna Lockpez and Dean Haspiel’s Cuba My Revolution (2010), Christine Redfern and Caro Caron’s Who is Ana Mendieta? (2011)Lila Quintero Weaver’s Darkroom (2012), Wilfred Santiago’s 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente (2013)Julian Voloj and Claudia Ahlering’s Ghetto Brothers: Warrior to Peacekeeper (2015), and the many Latinx stories collected in my recently published, Tales from la Vida (2018).

With the publication of their latest comic book, La Voz De M.A.Y.O: TATA RAMBO, Henry Barajas and Jason “Gonzo” Gonzalez join these Latinx creators in setting the record straight.

TATA RAMBO brings to vibrant life the story of Tucson-based activist and Henry’s bisabuelo, Ramon Jaurigue. We learn of Ramon’s suffering from PTSD as a WWII vet along with his fight for the rights of the Pascua Yaqui tribe peoples. And, with Gonzo’s deft visual storytelling skills, we step into a world that comes vibrantly alive with every responsive inked line. We suffer Ramon’s PTSD. We stand aghast at the behind-closed-doors wheeling and dealing between city and government officials and greedy corporate capitalists who will do anything to turn a profit.  We stand with Ramon and many others as they hold ground against gun-wielding, marauding police.

Along with those Latinx visual-verbal narrative creations mentioned above, I teach comics like Henry and Gonzo’s TATA RAMBO precisely because of their power to set records straight. I teach them so my students can do more than just whip through a Wiki page. So they can viscerally step into the shoes of a Ramon Jaurigue, a Chavez, a Huerta, a Guevara, among many others. These are powerful means for making visible our otherwise hidden figures: the struggles and lives lost by our parents, grandparents, tíos and tías who stood together in solidarity to fight for a better tomorrow.

I recently caught up with Henry and Gonzo, asking them to share some insights about their co-creative journey in setting the record straight.

Professor LatinX: With Tata Rambo you pulled off the impossible at quicksilver speed:  dynamic comic book storytelling and the recuperation of an important Latinx shaper of history.

Henry: I guess you’re right. This story has been with me my whole life, but it wasn’t until four years ago I started to investigate and forge a narrative. I was very inpatient and eager to get this out of my head and body. There was a part of me that wanted to move on with my life, but I was afraid that I would have to say goodbye to my Tata Rambo.

Gonzo had to live with this for about 10 months. He really took on this project and gave my research and intentions justice. The editor, Claire Napier, helped me push past my fears and helped tell the best story possible. I planned on lettering the book, but, I needed to hand the reins to Bernardo Brice. Brice nearly lettered the whole Where We Live Anthology that Image Comics published to aid the Route 91 survivors under a tight deadline, and he turned my 30 pages in less than a week.

It didn’t feel like quicksilver speed. But looking back I can see how you think so.

Gonzo: I suppose that compared to the timeline of the story, this seems to have been done quickly. I personally broke a wrist and had to recover from it fully in the time between starting and finishing this first chapter of the story, so, to me, it seemed a lot longer. My perception of time is always wrong when I am drawing. However, infusing the story with as much dynamism as possible was my paramount concern – there is a lot of information coming at the reader and I wanted to ensure they were as engaged as possible. It is important to me that this story not get overlooked and I wanted to make sure the art made it undeniable.

 

Professor LatinX: Henry, at the end of the comic book you chose to include an “Additional Materials” section. Readers can see first-hand the actual activist articles printed La Voz M.A.Y.O.

Henry: So, I tried to attack this like a journalist and scientist. My thesis was that this part of history was buried or omitted. For whatever reason the Yaqui tribe doesn’t recognize this in their history books, and you will be hard press to find this in any text about indigenous people Tucson or Arizona. Thankfully, the people of M.A.YO. and my Tata were keen enough to recognize the importance of their work. They left bread crumbs in the daily newspaper and created their own newsletter that was self-distributed to the community. It was important for me to publish my findings and research. I believe in 100% transparency. I wanted to showcase my Tata’s writing abilities and bring his work back in print.

 

Professor LatinX: Gonzo, your visuals are not just stunning and the sequencing kinetic, but your color scheme distills and reconstructs the sight, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch of Latinx life in the Southwest, particularly Tucson.  Can you talk about your visual choices: from layout to color palette to you name it?

Gonzo: I decide to curate a realty that was reflective of the world Ramon lived in – he occupies a place that is very much “home” to him, not just where he resides. I strove to make the Tucson of the late 60s look as warm and comfortable as possible, so I chose a palette that was era-appropriate yet warm. Ramon is also keenly aware of the faults and foibles of his home and so the art also reflects the rough-hewn edges of the city as the story reflects the rough-edges of Ramon. I also wanted to make sure there a variety of real people that populate the story—not everyone is idealized as some comics can be. I guess, overall, I was trying to evoke a feeling more than just convey a story.

 

Professor LatinX: We know from K-12 history books—all aspects of our education system, actually—that our significant contributions to the shaping of today and tomorrow have been willfully erased.  By choosing to reconstruct Tata Ramon’s story we have more than just a familial connection. We have the resuscitation of one of many of our ancestors who fought to make a better place for us.

Henry: It bothered me that this was history wasn’t properly documented. I had a new question for every answer and revelation. I felt like I was driving myself mad with all the truths that were absent from the history books. Then I realized this was a common thing for brown people. I’ll never forget when Governor Jan Brewer signed HB 2281. I felt like she spat on my face. But that was just one example of this compulsion that oppressors have to keep the truth from the people that they feel it will empower.

My dream is to hear about a teacher using our comic as text to teach in their classrooms. My history teacher Mr. Johnson used Art Spiegelman’s Maus to teach me about the holocaust, so I want to pay it forward.

Gonzo: I felt a great sense of responsibility in working on this story for exactly that reason. I also admire that Henry made sure to paint a complete portrait of Ramon and didn’t seek to solely lionize or mythologize him. Henry presents the facts and insights and fleshes-out Ramon with warts and all—and I feel this is the story’s real power; the notion that you needn’t be perfect to create a positive change.

 

Professor LatinX: This is not just a Samson vs. Goliath story. It’s the story of how our parents, grandparents, and bisabuelos stood together in solidarity to fight corporate and government violence, oppression, and exploitation.

Henry: My memory of Ramon was he was a warrior. But at the end of his life he lived in a broken trailer that didn’t have hot water. He battled emphysema and he put up a fight. I wanted to honor his work. He inspired a community of people to go toe-to-toe with the City of Tucson to fight for their land. Sadly, there are a number of Natives that didn’t have that kind of champion in their corner.

Gonzo: I think those notions are just part of the story, but don’t sum it up in its totality. I feel the the fact that mythic notions of David vs Goliath fail to reflect the complexity of actual heroes and perhaps preclude us from becoming heroic ourselves – I don’t know – that’s probably a question for sociologists. I do know the emotional scope of this story is broad and deep and the real people involved did their best and accomplished a lot and that is worth celebrating.

 

Professor LatinX: In our reconstructions of our Latinx stories we sometimes forget to weave in our deep connection to our indigenous brothers and sisters.

Henry: We explore the more indigenous roots in the second issue. The Yaquis were drove out of Mexico because of their own government. I didn’t know about this bloody history until I did research for the book. But it didn’t surprise me they won the battle with the City of Tucson to curb its plans to build the Interstate 10 through their land. They’re off-springs of warriors.

Gonzo: I’ve always felt that there is complicated relationship between LatinX and Native peoples. My personal experience has been one of cultural guilt that perhaps allowed the LatinX community to thrive in ways that the Native community has not. It’s like cultural survivor’s guilt. I’m not sure how self-imposed this is or if it is the by-product of oppressive machinations (or maybe even both), but this story serves a reminder of our shared histories and is a small step in building better bridges between these two worlds.

 

Professor LatinX: Will we be seeing more Barajas/Gonzo comics that recuperate Latinx transformers of history, culture, society. . .?

Henry: We have two more issues to go with La Voz De M.A.Y.O. before it hits print as a trade paperback with Top Cow Productions. I’d love to keep telling stories with Gonzo, but he has stories he wants to tell, and I don’t want to get in his way. He loves telling stories about luchadores, and I want to keep pushing my slice-of-life narrative as long as folks keep read it.

Gonzo: Like Henry said, we have 2 more chapters in this story to do and then, I’m not sure what’s next. I’d love to work with Henry again, but I do have a lot of Luchador stories to shake from my head and onto the page. It is hard to find good creative partners, so I’m sure Henry and I will come together at some later point to do another project.