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 sordid 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.