Carry ruin like a flower. Or like a crown. How enviable autumn with its leaves that sink in gorgeous splendor to the earth's bed.
Blanca Varela, from The Blinding Star (tr. Sara Daniele Rivera & Lisa Allen Ortiz)
[Original: Llevar la decrepitud como una flor. O como una corona. Es envidiable el otoño, la segura y hermosa dignidad con que se acuestan las hojas de los árboles sobre la tierra.]
a great part to being latin american, I think, is finding your culture somehow absorbed in americanisms. and I mean, being latin american, not 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, etc. gen immigrant in the US, not knowing more than a few words in your parents' language and only having picked up that part from your identity when being latino became a trend on tiktok and only to the extent you could look a little like Maddy from Euphoria listening to Selena Quintanilla.
no. I mean growing up in the streets of México City in houses that aren't made of clay on top of an ancient aztec cemetery, as if all our continent wasn't itself an indigenous burial ground. I mean having deep within your veins the knowledge that fabelas are much more inclement than they look on whatever action movie that takes place around the carnival of Río. I mean squinting at the sight of Bogotá being presented as a tropical yet slightly desert-like town as if the city wasn't so cold it has its own type of flu.
I mean having the deep post-colonial experience of placing your forearm next to the mestizaje page of the history text book and think your skin colour is enough to tell the recipe of your mix. I mean that weird sense that all definitions of communism for us can't not be ambiguous because all the left wing leaders that have rised to power have been mysteriously killed and the ones who have succeeded are so bizarre they almost look like a satirical comedy on real life.
I mean looking for representation in cinema or literature and only finding the works of american authors who feel the need of advertising the fraction of latin blood on their veins (because only unbeknownst colonized people put percentages to their bloodline) who tell stories of a character with light brown skin who understands their parents' spanish but can't respond in the same tongue and live through the most whitewashed version of our myths, because for some reason la Llorona decided to pack her dead children into bags and move to Boston.
I know that the narrative of the immigrant and their children is important, but the narrative of the ones who stay is also important and it is strange to feel the need to say that latin people exist outside of the united states.
maybe this neo colonial rage comes from watching Encanto and having the deep colombian urge to gatekeep it from everyone whose ignorance could ruin it, but that urge was followed by the realization that I don't know enough about my own identity to know what I'm gatekeeping, because I'm looking for books of my land in articles written in english and that itself is proof that I, too, have fallen for it. raised by disney channel and nickelodeon, I have nurtured from my culture on the same level a white individual consumes from it.
and once I see the voice I've acquired, I cannot unsee it: it is my cousin who was born in the capital of vallenato, child to a woman from the very home of cumbia, who now as an adult dismisses all the music of his homeland because it could never offer him the same that Eminem offers him. it is my old friend who thinks watching the victoria's secret runway rubs off of her skin the wayúu ancestry.
and while I'm in this process of educating myself in art and wonder, I can't help but notice that out of all my stories, it is the ones which have a deep latin american influence, the ones filled with references to our culture that have the less engagement, almost as if they had passed under the radar.
and that angers me.
it angers me to the point I want not to write another character who wasn't born and raised in my country ever again, to the point I want to fill all my stories with hints that make everyone who reads them have to learn about the bloodiness of our myths, about the curses of our soil and the silent pains we inherit, to the point nothing I ever write can be read without the knowledge of how latin american magical realism has evolved into the gothic spectrum.
it angers me to the point I want to yell to everyone that the bandits that displaced the Madrigals from their village had a political affiliation that can't be ignored, that abuelo Pedro was murdered in a river because that's where we find our dead, that Macondo is and can only be in Colombia because the banana republic wasn't in central america.
it leads me to a state of wrath that I want to scream in people's faces about the Manigua, the spirit of the jungle that lures the white man into its foliage and feeds of their vital energy, and about the ancient belief that if we go into the river on holy thursday we'll turn into monsters that are half fish.
it makes me want to shove my history and my culture down the throat of everyone who consumes my content the same way other people's cultures has been pushed down mine.
Juan Manuel Gaucher Troncoso—Juan Rulfo (acrylic on panel, 2018)
juana de ibarbourou, the strong bond (translated by linda scheer)
Take bread away from me, if you wish,
take air away, but
do not take from me your laughter.
Do not take away the rose,
the lance flower that you pluck,
the water that suddenly
bursts forth in joy,
the sudden wave
of silver born in you.
My struggle is harsh and I come back
with eyes tired
at times from having seen
the unchanging earth,
but when your laughter enters
it rises to the sky seeking me
and it opens for me all
the doors of life.
My love, in the darkest
hour your laughter
opens, and if suddenly
you see my blood staining
the stones of the street,
laugh, because your laughter
will be for my hands
like a fresh sword.
Next to the sea in the autumn,
your laughter must raise
its foamy cascade,
and in the spring, love,
I want your laughter like
the flower I was waiting for,
the blue flower, the rose
of my echoing country.
Laugh at the night,
at the day, at the moon,
laugh at the twisted
streets of the island,
laugh at this clumsy
boy who loves you,
but when I open
my eyes and close them,
when my steps go,
when my steps return,
deny me bread, air,
but never your laughter
for I would die.
-Your laughter, Pablo Neruda
A reading recap: in 2020, I read up on some Latin American and Chicano literature. I had been meaning to read something by Sandra Cisneros for ages and I’m so glad I finally did. Her work is dazzling and so vivid - in my sleep, I literally dreamt about Caramelo a couple of times. A forever favourite is Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo, which I read for the third time and which I’ll probably continue to reread for the rest of my life. Not pictured: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, which I hated so much that I threw it away before I could take this photo.
JOMP Book Photo Challenge
May 18: Newest Book
This is your opportunity to talk about The House of the Spirits as much as you want. I want to hear all of your opinions.
I need....to re-read that book, but I read it for an Internet book club a couple years ago and man it's just that kind of book that just, has my number. There is nothing more I like in a book than a gigantic cast, especially if it's a generational family type thing, where their struggles are all some deep political and historical metaphor, especially when it's so tied to a specific place (boy do I love a book with a strong sense of Place) as this book does with Chile. I want to re-read it both to write the DS9 fanfiction I was talking about where Garak and Bashir argue about it (since it's one of the real world books I think is closest to Garak's Cardassian repetitive-epics) but also just because it's the kind of book that is worth reading again and again because you notice new things all the time. It reminds me in that way a bit of Midaq Alley, another book with a huge cast where all their small little troubles end up being of deep thematic political importance, which I read in high school and also got to re-read in the last few years for a different Internet book club (if you can find a good one, a great way to spend a pandemic, lmty). My favorite character in House of the Spirits was Jaime, both because I have a soft spot for quiet bookish types especially if they grow up in an environment where most people around them don't understand or value that, and also because of course I am going to love a character where one of the high points of his arc involves heroically performing an illegal abortion (he's a doctor so he knows what he's doing, dw). His eventual fate made me cry like a baby. My hottest take on this book is that I think it's one of the few books with rape-as-metaphor (and there is a lot of that in this book) where that is completely justified, and it proves why women authors are so much better equipped to write that than men are. For a book with a lot of terrible people in it -- and where all the good people go through the fucking ringer repeatedly -- it is such a big-hearted beautiful masterpiece of a novel, all about love, especially the love of the people in your life vs. love of your country and what to do when those things are in conflict. Very Casablanca, which is probably why that movie and this book hold a similar place in my heart.
Deep green and silent...
Literature isn't innocent. I've known that since i was fifteen. And i remember thinking that then, but I can't remember whether I said it or not, and if I did, what the context was. And then the walk (but here I have to clarify that it wasn't five of us anymore but three, the Mexican, the Chilean, and me, the other two Mexicans having vanished at the gates of purgatory) turned into a kind of stroll on the fringes of hell.
The three of us were quiet, as if we'd been struck dumb, but our bodies moved to a beat, as if something was propelling us through that strange land and making us dance, a silent, syncopated kind of walking, if I can call it that, and then I had a vision, not the first that day, as it happened, or the last: the park we were walking through opened up into a kind of lake and the lake opened up into a kind of waterfall and the waterfall became a river that flowed through a kind of cemetery, and al of it, lake, waterfall, river, cemetery, was deep green and silent. And then I thought it's one of two things: either I'm going crazy, which is unlikely since I've always had my head on straight, or these guys have doped me. And then I said stop, stop for a minute, I feel sick, I have to rest, and they said something but I couldn't hear them, I could only see them coming closer, and I realized, I became conscious, that I was looking all around trying to find someone, some witness, but there was no one, we were in the middle of a forest, and I remember I said what forest is this, and they said it's Chapultepec and then they led me to a bench and we sat there for a while, and one of them asked me what hurt (and the word hurt, so right, so fitting) and I should have told them that the problem was probably that I wasn't used to the altitude yet, that it was the altitude that was getting to me and making me see things.
~The Savage Detectives, Roberto Bolano, page 154-155
I want to do with you
what spring does with the cherry trees.
Every Day You Play... by Pablo Neruda
This is not the realm of will or desire. To translate silence is to attempt music without human ear or throat.
Blanca Varela, from The Blinding Star (tr. Sara Daniele Rivera & Lisa Allen Ortiz)
[Original: No es el reino de la voluntad o del deseo. Traducir el silencio es pretender hacer música donde ya no existen ni la garganta ni el oído humanos.]
Francisco the Man,called that because he had once defeated the devil in a duel of improvisation, and whose real name no one knew, disappeared from Macondo during the insomnia plague and one night he reappeared suddenly in Catarino's store. The whole town went to listen to him to find out what had happened in the world.
Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (trans. Gregory Rabassa).
Zeus, Zeus himself could not undo these nets
Of stone encircling me. My mind forgets
The persons I have been along the way,
The hated way of monotonous walls,
Which is my fate. The galleries seem straight
But curve furtively, forming secret circles
At the terminus of years; and the parapets
Have been worn smooth by the passage of days.
Here, in the tepid alabaster dust,
Are tracks that frighten me. The hollow air
Of evening sometimes brings a bellowing,
Or the echo, desolate, of bellowing.
I know that hidden in the shadows there
Lurks another, whose task is to exhaust
The loneliness that braids and weaves this hell,
To crave my blood, and to fatten on my death.
We seek each other. Oh, if only this
Were the last day of our antithesis!
Jorge Luis Borges, The Labyrinth (Trans. John Updike.)
Another candidate for the book’s epigraph!
juana de ibarbourou, the strong bond (translated by linda scheer)
Quiero hacer contigo lo que la primavera hace con los cerezos.
I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.
Exausto - Adélia Prado
just finished reading One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez and man what an exhilarating journey reading it has been. Quite literally one of the best books I’ve read in my whole life. I’d probably think about the Buendias and the town of Macondo for a long long time.
Recommended books (from A to Z). Plot twist: they were written by women
To commemorate the International Women's Day, I have compiled a list of books translated into English written by Latin American women to give visibility to the great contribution that women writers make to the world’s literature. For translation reasons, the list in Spanish has different works and writers. So you can see that list also and have even more great options!
A: A Breath of Life by Clarice Lispector
B: Bezoar: And Other Unsettling Stories by Guadalupe Nettel
C: Cartucho and My Mother's Hands by Nellie Campobello
D: The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enríquez
E: Empty Houses by Brenda Navarro
F: Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli
G: Prietita and the Ghost Woman by Gloria Anzaldúa
H: Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor
I: The Inhabited Woman by Gioconda Belli
J: The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende
K: Cockfight by María Fernanda Ampuero
L: The Book of Lamentations by Rosario Castellanos
M: Mask and Clover: Magnetized Circles by Alfonsina Storni
N: No One Will See Me Cry by Cristina Rivera Garza
O: Blood of the Dawn by Claudia Salazar Jiménez
P: The Promise by Silvina Ocampo
Q: Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina
R: Recollections of things to come by Elena Garro
S: Las Soldaderas: Women of the Mexican Revolution by Elena Poniatowska
T: The Houseguest: And Other Stories by Amparo Dávila
U: Underground River and Other Stories by Inés Arredondo
V: Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
W: Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories by Sandra Cisneros
X: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-García
Y: Thursday Night Widows by Claudia Piñeiro
Z: Zorro by Isabel Allende
Who are your favorite Latin American women authors?
“What I can say with certainty is that a man has no problem wasting time, especially that of a woman. And they manage to do so in such insidious ways we often don’t notice that it’s happening until it’s too late.”
Olga Dies Dreaming