Why I Write What I Write

During a brief period in high school I thought I’d wanted to be a journalist. I hadn’t really gotten serious about writing yet. I knew that I liked it but I didn’t do it enough to know which avenue I preferred. But I knew that I’d always wanted to travel. I liked the idea of having an adventure—of seeing things and doing things that most people haven’t. It sounded exotic and dangerous and terribly exciting, everything an introvert like me would spend hours fantasizing about but never actually gather the gall to do.

I’d also been a really socially conscious teenager—at least I liked to think so. That combined with my mild self-righteousness and know-it-all attitude made me the perfect candidate for future congresswoman or UN Ambassador. Except without all of the smiling and hand shaking and general pleasantness that accompanies public figures working in the humanitarian field. I was more of the overzealous, angry variety. To me every injustice was an outrage. I cared about the fate of humanity to such an extent that the only emotion I could manage most days was anger. Yes I was a very strange kid.

I thought I was going to become this big time journalist working for National Geographic covering political prisoners and terrorist groups and the plight of the poor and I’d live out of a backpack and I would save the world. I mentioned I was self-righteous right?

But then I went to college and I took a news writing class and it was absolutely tortuous. There were too many rules. And while I understood that writing for a newspaper was not my ultimate goal and that there is room for narrative in journalism, I just knew that there was absolutely no way I’d survive that rite of passage let alone subject myself to it as an unpaid intern.

I was also taking Creative Writing courses around that time. I hadn’t declared it as my major yet but I was getting there. I had some amazing teachers. One in particular wrote both fiction and non-fiction and we really connected over the social bend to the pieces I was turning in. I was obsessed with South America and the drug war and all of the conflict in that region. I was writing about The Dirty War in Argentina and drug mules in Chile and the people living in the Andes whose native tongue was almost extinct.

There is something just so haunting and supernatural to me about Latin culture and there’s something terribly romantic about the way it clings to its traditions so fiercely, the past so intertwined in the present. Every Latino grows up knowing at least a few parables and old wives tales by heart, even ones as Americanized as me. It’s a culture built on stories. And what writer wouldn’t be drawn to that?

But I wasn’t just drawn to the subject by birth. I’ve always struggled with my identity. My mother is Hispanic and my father was white. My grandparents only spoke Spanish in the house when they were trying to hide something from their children. And even though my mom learned it anyway, she never spoke it with me—maybe because my father wouldn’t have been able to understand, maybe because she was trying to distance her new family from something I wasn’t quite aware of yet, or maybe because she just didn’t think it was important. But that cultural void was always there.

Growing up I was the only Hispanic girl in any of my AP classes. All of my friends were white. I was basically shunned by the other Latinas because apparently I thought that I was too good for them. Not only that but I didn’t speak their language. Something that I still feel a deep-rooted shame about to this day. The truth is people look down on you in the Latin community if you’re not fluent in Spanish. It makes you seem like you’re trying to distance yourself from your culture, like your ashamed of it somehow. And that makes them ashamed of you.

But even though I grew up, on the one hand feeling abandoned by that part of my culture, there always has and always will be this insatiable desire to feel like I’m a part of it.

That is the real reason why I’m so obsessed with writing about Latin culture. Because I just want to feel like I belong to it somehow. And when I started writing fiction and I realized that I could explore that same culture and those same social issues without following all of those ridiculous AP style guidelines I knew I’d finally found the right path.

My first book uses the backdrop of the Dirty War in Argentina to explore family, racism, and the concept of identity. My next book, set to debut this summer, delves into the complexities of family responsibility, good vs. evil, and the quest for redemption. But that’s not really all they’re about. Every book I’ve ever written, every book I ever will write is also about love. And while these two books may be violent and dark they are also about two broken people, their pieces so inexplicably tangled, trying to assemble what’s left of themselves into something new.

I’ve talked about broken characters before, about their importance, and about our draw to them. But when I talk about wanting to make readers feel recognized and connected, it’s much more personal than that. Because I want to be recognized too. I’m looking for a connection with my readers just as much as they are with my characters. Two books down and I’m still just looking for a place to belong in this world. Whether that’s within a culture with a sorted and seductive history, within a family that’s still drifting, our anchor lost three years ago this month, or in a community of pixelated strangers, all of us shouting into the void that is the internet, waiting to be heard. I’m still looking, waiting, and that’s why I keep writing. Because I’m still waiting to find where I belong.

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11 thoughts on “Why I Write What I Write

  1. M. L. Sexton says:

    I feel like you got into my head and posted my thoughts for the world to see lol…I was the exact same way when I was a teenager. I’ve always been a writer and when I got to college, journalism was my major. I still want to be a journalist, but being an author speaks more to my soul. I’m glad you finally figured out what you wanted to do as far as writing.

    • Secretly I’d still love to be a journalist too. The allure of the adventure is just too strong but since I’m not the most outgoing when it comes to striking up conversations with total strangers, I think blogging is going to be a really good medium for me to share my thoughts on all of the non-writing related topics that interest me. And there’s just something about novel writing. Like I mentioned I’m not really a big fan of rules so for me that’s where I feel the most free. But luckily, by having this little corner of the internet to call home, I don’t think I have to compromise. I can explore non-fiction writing some more while still connecting with other writers over fiction writing. It’s a win-win!

  2. Gus Sanchez says:

    Don’t delude yourself: you do belong. As a duly designated representative of Latin culture, albeit a lapsed one, I’d say you do belong.

    I’d really like to read your first book. Argentina is my ancestral home, so I’d be curious to read your take.

    • Why thank you! I’ve been trying to let go of the misconception that my biological identity is somehow keeping me from being fully a part of a culture I love. Because you’re right, it is a delusion. We’re all a little mix of this and a mix of that anyway. And if I’ve learned anything from having a blended (both culturally and biologically) family, it’s that blood is not thicker than water. We are who we are, not because of our genetic makeup, but because we declare it.

  3. safia says:

    I think some of the best writers are those who feel like outsiders. You can write well looking from the outside in. I also believe every story is a love story. Enjoyed reading this post. Thanks.

    • Thank you! I think as long as you have a passion for whatever you’re writing about, it doesn’t matter how closely you yourself have lived to the subject matter. What matters is that you care about capturing a realistic experience and what makes it interesting is that your perspective is unique. Most of the characters I’ve been writing about lately are of Latin descent because that’s what speaks to me. And in order to connect with them even more fully as I’m writing, I have them face challenges pertaining to family and identity, because like I mentioned in my post, that’s what I can relate to. So even if a character is of a different race completely, we’re all still human, which is why it’s not so hard to write from a different POV as most people think.

      • safia says:

        Yes, I agree. I do find though that my ‘best’ or should I say, most convincing characters are those based on real people, or at least the dominant character traits of people I know or have known in the past. In the beginning, I always concentrated on female protagonists, but just recently, as my confidence as a writer has grown, I’ve found a penchant for writing from a male POV. I guess this might apply to race as well as gender – ie, much better if you are familiar with a certain nationality’s culture and traditions. In any case, I love multiple viewpoints in a novel and would find it very difficult and somewhat restricting to write a full manuscript in the first person, for example. Variety is the spice of life, as they say.

  4. L. Marie says:

    I also thought I’d go into journalism in college. Instead of getting into the J school, I was steered toward the Creative Writing program. I’m glad I landed there.

    Glad to read your story and to hear why you write what you write. That’s so powerful.

    • Thank you! I just feel like there’s more freedom for me in fiction and I can focus more on capturing the authentic emotions behind a particular piece without worrying about the kind of repercussions that might have if it were non-fiction.

  5. Mirta Trupp says:

    I stumbled upon this page and found myself feeling right at home 🙂 I’ve struggled with many of the same issues you have discussed. I was born in Argentina to first generation “Latinos”; my grandparents were Russian immigrants- Jews escaping the pogroms of the Russian revolution. Although my book is a Creative Non Fiction- definitely not meant to be academic, the memoir format allowed me to share the emotions of a confused and emotionally torn little girl trying to find her place.

    • I don’t write non-fiction but I definitely have had the same experience when it comes to writing being a means of self-discovery and a means of coping with the confusion of being biracial. Subconsciously I incorporate so much of myself into what I write and every time I read over something I’ve written it ends up being way more biographical than I intended. But by creating characters struggling with their own identity issues, I’ve started to become more self-aware and even more accepting of my own. Kudos for taking on a memoir. You are definitely incredibly brave!

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