Behind the Scenes: Rosie Prohias Driscoll talks about Havana 1974
Rosie Prohias Driscoll, Teresa Douglas
Teresa Douglas 00:10
Welcome listeners to Latinx lit audio mag. I’m your host Teresa Douglas. On today’s behind the scenes episode we’re going to hear from Rosie Prohias Driscoll, author of Havana 1974. Rosie is a Cuban American educator and poet. She teaches high school English in Alexandria, Virginia, where she lives with her husband, and a host of ancestral spirits who keep her rooted and grateful. Her poems have appeared in numerous publications, including Acentos Review, Saw Palm: Florida Literature and Art, SWWIM Every Day, Pensive: A Global Journal of Spirituality and the Arts, Sin Fronteras/ Writers Without Borders, and No Tender Fences: An Anthology of Immigrant and First-Generation American Poetry. “Havana 1974” is included in her forthcoming debut poetry collection, Poised for Flight, which will be published by Finishing Line Press in August 2022. Welcome, Rosie.
Rosie Prohias Driscoll 01:11
Thank you so much, Teresa. I’m excited to be here and chat with you today.
Teresa Douglas 01:15
I am very happy to have you here too. And, I said something to you a little earlier ago about how I like these interviews to feel as if we’re sitting at the same table. We have a nice warm cup of something right there.
Rosie Prohias Driscoll 01:29
Teresa Douglas 01:30
Oh, yes! I am a tea drinker. But everybody needs a little cafecito though in their life sometimes. And if I were to offer you something comfort wise, what would be your favorite comfort food if you could have anything in the world that you wanted?
Rosie Prohias Driscoll 01:45
Hands down. My favorite comfort food is my abuela’s recipe for black beans. Arroz con frijoles were served growing up at every family celebration and reminds me not only of her, but of feeling that sense of comfort and joy when family would come around the table together and celebrate and laugh and tell stories.
Teresa Douglas 02:10
That sounds heavenly. And of course, I could never give you those beans because they’re her beans and their magic. But that sounds delightful. I was talking on an episode earlier about the magic of grandmothers, and and how they make food that nobody else can make. So it’s wonderful that you have that to can carry with you in your mind.
Rosie Prohias Driscoll 02:34
Yes. And my goal has always been every Sunday to try and make a pot of frijoles. It ends up being maybe once every six weeks on a Sunday, that I make it for my daughter.
Teresa Douglas 02:49
Well, the beans are a labor of love sometimes, especially if you’re cooking them on the stove, and they can take hours and when are you putting in the spices and all of that. Well, that’s lovely. I wish I could taste those beans. But this is this is an episode about you. So why don’t we talk a little less about food, and a little more about you and your writing? To start with, when did you begin writing?
Rosie Prohias Driscoll 03:15
So I started writing in middle school. But I would say at that point, you know, expectedly pretty cheesy, rhymey verse. At some point, early in high school, I think I stopped. And I didn’t start again until my early 40s. So really, I’ve been writing for about 12 years.
Teresa Douglas 03:34
It is just life sometimes. But fortunately like a bicycle, you can get back to your writing and pick it up again. And with more life experience.
Rosie Prohias Driscoll 03:44
Honestly, I think it was that life experience that led me to start writing because I think that for so long. I just you know like many women doubted my ability and didn’t think that I had anything to say. But I started again as a way to work through grief and memory and then that developed into a desire to preserve these family stories for my daughters in this fragmented vernacular that is poetry.
Teresa Douglas 04:08
Mm hmm. So is poetry what you focus exclusively on? Do you write other things?
Rosie Prohias Driscoll 04:14
Yes, pretty much all poetry. I’ve written an occasional spiritual blog post. But really primarily my medium is poetry, which I just love.
Teresa Douglas 04:22
It’s certainly beautiful in your poem here, Havana 1974. One of the things that I really loved about this is that not only is there that feel of a memoir, but it’s very dreamlike. This idea of of something that happened and the idea of it being almost like a dream because it happened. There are photos. There are things that are there, but it’s playing with memory in such a beautiful way. These little images pop up like–if you hear me rustling listeners it’s because I have the sheets of paper here and I’m gonna look for it–Ah! “Abuela Rosina held my hand, her long index finger directing my wide eyes.” And for me that image right there of just this finger, I’m picturing that and this child who’s looking at wonder at the world. It has such a lovely, dreamlike feel for something that is rooted in a time that had, it seems wonder, and yet also the fear of how are we getting home from this place that we were called to go? So it’s lovely and I would love to have you walk us through your writing process for this. Did you start with a central memory? Did you know that there was a full story that you wanted to tell? How did you begin this piece?
Rosie Prohias Driscoll 05:58
That’s a great question. So it was a full story. Because really, it’s my mother’s story. And I think that dreamlike quality, and thank you for your kind words, come from that sense of that, that repeated, it’s almost like a recurring dream. I’ve been hearing that story from my mother, since you know, late childhood, and I was always so struck by, how interesting it was that this story that I’ve carried with me that is so vivid, as if it were my own, and it was my own, I was there, but I do not remember the parts that she told. And the notion that we could be partaking of the same experience. But a child and adult have a completely different sense of what was going on in that moment. And what was important in that moment, has just always fascinated me. And so the story itself was, was intact. My impetus for trying to get it down into a poem was because I was working on this forthcoming collection, which is itself inspired by my desire to capture family stories for my daughters. That was the initial goal of the collection. And so I really wanted to tell this story of our journey to Havana in 1974, as an attempt to refract my my mother’s voice through my own. But I have to say the process was very challenging, because it was way out of my comfort zone. Most of my poems are short, they tend to be more distilled fragments of a moment, or conversation. This story, getting the story out required me to string together fragments that in my in my normal mode of functioning would have each been a single poem. And the line length is also very typically long for me. So I struggled a long time to find my rhythm, it probably took, you know, putting it away and coming back to and putting away and coming back to it about six or eight months until it took its final form.
Teresa Douglas 07:58
And it’s interesting, because as listeners who have gone to the website, and will have seen your, your poem, the transcript of it and imprint, it looks like small fragments that are strung together almost like beads on a necklace. And it feels sort of like that, too, because we have each of these sections has sort of a central, central feel to it. Like I love the idea of the peel away plastic for these photographs. And then in the next section of looking at fireworks flowering in the night sky. And then we leave the idea of this image because there’s no photograph for the point at which mommy tells Abuelo or Cesar that she’s going back to the place that they fled. So it’s a lovely feeling of these, like you said, these fragments that are sort of strung together in a very cohesive, sort of way. With that, that unspoken, I don’t remember this, but this is what happened.
Rosie Prohias Driscoll 09:07
Right? And that somehow needs to be preserved and understood and yet can’t quite be understood.
Teresa Douglas 09:13
Mm hmm. And it’s an interesting thing, thinking about that, because if a parent is doing what parents do, and instinctively trying to protect their children, it would obviously make sense that if you had any experiences that you remember, at all, they would be different because I’m sure that she would not have explained to you that they you might not get home.
Rosie Prohias Driscoll 09:40
Right. And what I marvel at, again, is exactly that the power of a parent to mask the deep anxiety that was actually happening because my recollection of the very few memories that I have of that trip are that they were just delightful. I got to meet my grandparents. We played with the cat, and the apartment, and we went to the pool. That’s what I remember. I don’t remember sensing at all everything that she was going through. And to me that was that in and of itself was very poignant.
Teresa Douglas 10:09
Yeah. And that moment toward the end of the poem where she decides we need to fly somewhere. And we’re going to do it without our passports, because we just we need to go somewhere. And, the way that beautifully, sort of strings, the dreamlike, and gets us back to back to the mainland. I hate to say mainland, because Barbados is not the states at all. But that waypoint, I guess, is what I would call it and how the travel agent is asking your mother to pass on some information to her relatives. And the fact that your mother found her? The sister? That to me is amazing. I don’t know how–well, does she even do that?
Rosie Prohias Driscoll 10:58
So this was part of the again, the challenge of writing the poem is the selecting which details to leave, and to include because there’s so many great parts to the story that I had to leave out because it was just not working. And so it’s actually kind of fascinating that my mom even had the presence of mind at that moment, because it was a, you know, that was a difficult moment in Cuban and American relations. And it was very unusual that she was there. And it was difficult for her to get there. But what she tells me that she did is that when the woman told her this, because the woman was also risking herself, running after my mother that way, and my mom had a book in her hand. And so my mother wrote the address down in the book, on separate pages in different places. So, you know, say the address would have been, you know, 2300 Shirota, she wrote two on one page and a three on another page. And so there were random notations throughout the book. So that nobody, when she left in the airport, where you were typically searched, nobody might open the book to find the address and get the woman in trouble.
Teresa Douglas 12:09
Mm hmm. She’s the lady James Bond. It sounds like.
Rosie Prohias Driscoll 12:14
That’s what it felt like. And I wish I could have included that somehow. But it just didn’t work.
Teresa Douglas 12:19
Well see, that’s why it’s nice to have interviews, because now the story is out. She could have been a spy and you would never have known because she was naturally good.
Rosie Prohias Driscoll 12:32
She was quick on her feet.
Teresa Douglas 12:35
What a strong female figure to have in your life.
Rosie Prohias Driscoll 12:41
Yes. And that’s what I want my daughters know, because they know their Abbey. But that’s what I wanted to preserve for posterity.
Teresa Douglas 12:51
So that kind of leads us to the next question. And I know you said that one of your central foci? Focuses? Is to preserve the stories for your children. Are there any other impressions that you would like other readers to take from this poem? And if you want to talk about it, too, from the collection, that that will be coming out?
Rosie Prohias Driscoll 13:15
Yeah. And I have to say, I love that question. Because when, when I’m in the process of writing, I’m really not thinking about the reader. I’m just trying to work out my own stuff. And so it’s intriguing for me to go back and consider what someone else might take away once, you know, once you’ve written the poem, it’s beyond you. And it’s beautiful, because then it’s to be received by other, you know, minds and hearts. So, I think that I hope a reader would take a sense of the grace that is always there amidst grief, that there was something beyond in that moment for my mother going through so much difficulty in that journey, that there was an immense amount of grace, which, to me is very much represented by, you know, that magical sense of Our Lady of Charity and my father’s spirit hovering over the car that, that Maria, the ticket agent’s sister said she saw, which is in and of itself marvelous. And I think, another takeaway that I guess more of an invitation to readers would be to sit with mystery. That because this, this poem, for me doesn’t have any resolution. You know, in the last stanza, I say that, when I still talk to my mother, now, there’s still not a clear sense of why that journey had to happen. And yet, there’s this feeling of certainty that it did. That’s sitting with the mystery of knowing that there are journeys in life that we must take and know to be necessary, even if in the end, we cannot articulate why that was the case. That we can somehow come to some sense of knowing without knowing. I hope that readers could take that away.
Teresa Douglas 15:04
And that’s that’s a profound point to have, I would say in any time. But here we are in this time. Pandemics and people separated and people coming together or isolated and the idea that sometimes stuff just happens. And there is that mystery that some things, some things are just not going to be solved. And it’s an experience that colors everything else. And in that, because of that, it’s worthwhile, even if there was a lot of difficulty, even if it it came at a price. So I think that’s a lovely thing to leave a reader with.
Rosie Prohias Driscoll 15:49
Teresa Douglas 15:50
Well, you did mention in your bio that again, that you have ‘Poised for Flight,’ your debut poetry collection coming out in 2022.
Rosie Prohias Driscoll 15:59
Yes it is. I’m very excited.
Teresa Douglas 16:07
You should be! It’s like having another child.
Teresa Douglas 16:08
Well, when when it comes out, I’m sure there’ll be many who would like to find out where to find that and see other things that you’re writing. If somebody wants to do that, how can they find you and your work?
Rosie Prohias Driscoll 16:20
Sure. So I have a page on Facebook. It is Rosie Prohias Driscoll comma poet. And there I just share actually less so my own work sometimes my own work it’ll certainly be sharing when the book comes out. But just favorite poems and quotes and thoughts and you know, just moments that I find in my daily life in which poetry is healing. And then on Instagram, same purpose. It’s at Rosie P Driscoll, dot poet.
Teresa Douglas 16:53
Wonderful and listeners if you don’t have pen, a pencil, I will put the links to these in the show notes so that you can find Rosie. Rosie, this has been wonderful. It’s been lovely to have you on the show and just get a little more about this. And I can’t wait to see your upcoming book.
Rosie Prohias Driscoll 17:16
Thank you so much Teresa, and thank you for the lovely work you’re doing with this podcast. I’m really enjoying it
Behind the Scenes: Abram Valdez Talks about The Facilities Are for Mourners Only
Teresa Douglas, Abram Valdez
Teresa Douglas 00:10
Welcome listeners to this week’s behind the scenes episode of Latinx Lit audio mag. I’m your host Teresa Douglas. Today we’re talking to Abram Valdez. Abram is a Chicano author from Denton County, Texas, where he and his partner Marissa are raising four children. As a first generation college graduate, his father was both proud and horrified at Abrams plans to attend graduate school at the University of Arkansas MFA program for creative writing, with an emphasis and poetry, he would have preferred Abram go to a computer sciences and not write for greeting cards. Abrams work has been featured in Had, Eunoia Review, 14 Hills, Complete Sentence, Bridge Eight and the Daily Drunk. Welcome Abram.
Abram Valdez 00:58
Hey, Teresa, thanks for having me.
Teresa Douglas 01:01
It’s nice to have you here. And I don’t know if this is gonna be a great introduction to this particular piece, but we are going to talk about food before we talk about the piece which I loved, even though I was eating at the time that I first read it. But when you’re eating, and you need some comfort food, what is your favorite comfort?
Abram Valdez 01:24
Yeah, I’ve been struggling with this. I knew the question was coming in. And it’s a really difficult question. Because one, I’m like a big guy. So I can eat a lot. And I like food a lot. And I found as I kept going over it, I was like, well, the foods that bring me the most comfort are the ones that are like the worst for me. So I have to like pick and choose my comfort. How much comfort I can have during the year.
Teresa Douglas 01:58
Let’s be honest here, nobody’s last meal is kale.
Abram Valdez 02:03
Right? I could probably stand to use more kale though than, like, menudo. Right.
Teresa Douglas 02:10
We all could. But menudo cures the common cold, so, you know…
Abram Valdez 02:15
Right. And that’s probably at the top of my list. Because like I can have that real good bowl of menudo, and I have that ratatouille experience where the food critic tastes and he immediately goes back. But then I’m also feeling really guilty about it like 10 minutes later, oh, man, there goes the blood pressure like, Oh, it’s so much sodium. So yeah, I find that that the older I get the the foods that bring me the most comfort are also the ones that make me the most uncomfortable as well.
Teresa Douglas 02:55
We save them, we try to save them for when we need them. Right. That’s the purpose. And I have to say I was once asked to turn in what my last meal would be if I had to have a last meal. I did not know that these things were gonna go up on a projector in front of all of the departments at work. And everybody else had like, oh, I’ll have these tacos or have these enchiladas. My list was an eight course meal. And none of them matched itself. It was just things I’ve had in my life in different parts of the world.
Abram Valdez 03:17
Teresa Douglas 03:32
From that point on. I was like that person. They’re like, Oh, you’re the one that’s gonna die of a heart attack. I’m like, Look, it’s my last meal. I’m already going.
Abram Valdez 03:41
That’s funny. Cuz See, I would have been the person asking you and where was this? Exactly? Yeah, I would have also wanted to know. I gotta get on that as well. Yeah, eight courses? Absolutely. Yeah.
Teresa Douglas 03:52
Look, you haven’t lived if your list of ‘Must Eat Foods’ is not long. I’m just gonna, I’m just gonna go with that. You know, food is important. And even even though we’re gonna be talking about a piece and listeners, this piece made me laugh very hard. But warning, don’t eat anything while you’re eating it. Because apparently, I also have the humor of a 13 year old because it is really funny. And, I would love to just talk a little bit about that. But before we do, I keep I keep saying before we do before we do. You mentioned in your bio that that you went to school for poetry. You gave us a comedy piece. Do you have a first love? Do you love all of the things you write equally? What’s your situation?
Abram Valdez 04:45
I yeah, I I started out writing poetry like real serious poetry in college, and, I was lucky enough to have a couple of professors who were really supportive and were like, Hey, you should definitely see how far this can take you. You could definitely do grad school. And I was like, Oh, that’s great. So that’s how I got into the poetry lane so to speak. But I’ve been writing since the second grade. I used to talk a whole lot in class and my second grade teacher got tired of hearing me, so she sat me out in the hallway and gave me a stack of papers the size of a tree stump. And on each piece of paper was a, an outline of like an animal. And inside, there was a bunch of different words. So there would be like a beaver. And then there would be words like, broken and, furry Brown. And then she said, I want you to write a story about that animal with all those words. And so I got about halfway through Noah’s Ark, going through all the different animals that she gave me. And then school was done. And at that point, I think that’s when my love for writing started. I didn’t really get serious about it until, college though.
Teresa Douglas 06:16
Can I just say your teacher gave you your first MFA experience? Because those were writing prompts.
Abram Valdez 06:25
Right, right. She got tired of hearing me tell stories verbally and was like, just put it on paper. And it’s pretty much a refrain I’ve heard all my life, just write it down. I don’t need to hear it. Just write it down. So yeah, yeah, I would say, I’ve been writing for a while. And I try to I write a little bit of everything. But it’s only probably within the last year that I got into flash fiction, where I was like, Oh, this kind of takes the best of both worlds. I like storytelling. But at times, my poetry can seem too prosaic. But I can use the economy language and put the peanut butter in the chocolate with flash fiction. And so that’s what I’ve been plying my at trading for the last year.
Teresa Douglas 07:17
It’s magic. I came to flash fiction probably around the same time, about a year or so ago. It sounds like you were trying to tell oral stories, you probably heard them, just like I did, just floating around your family. And having that moment where you’re telling this oral story if it takes too long people leave. Its like, Man, that’s it. And flash fiction it can it can feel like home.
Abram Valdez 07:53
Yeah, absolutely. I completely agree. Like, it’s, it’s one of those things where, I feel like if I’m lucky enough to get somebody’s attention, that they’re going to read something that I’ve written, I want to make sure that it’s worth their while. And right now everybody’s attention can be pulled in so many different ways, especially online. If I can write something that cuts through really quickly and deeply, then I feel, you know, mission accomplished. So yeah, so I’ve been kind of gravitating towards that lately.
Teresa Douglas 08:28
Well, I would definitely call this piece that you wrote, it’s comedic, it’s flash, you said in your email before–and honestly, if this going to get you in trouble with your family, you can go ahead and say, I don’t want to talk about it–but you said that there’s a real world story sort of behind it. Would you talk us through either that or, or focus more safely on your process? Just tell us a bit.
Abram Valdez 08:54
No, it’s cool. My family is very used to me at this point, kind of exposing family stuff, so it’s fine. The piece is kind of based on a true story. So back in 2017, my father passed away kind of unexpectedly, after a very aggressive illness that kind of came and took him. And in that time period, where you know, someone passes you’re making plans and arrangements and all these people were coming in. I wasn’t really thinking about any of those the people that were coming in, but yet it was family. It was friends, it was, friends of the family and people that we hadn’t talked to in years, all these people would come in. And to a person they all said the same thing. Sorry for your loss. He’s in a better place. You need anything. It just kind of became a cliche. After a while you become numb to it. But you know, this one friend of the family that my mom’s known for years came by. And I think what drew me to want to write this was how cavalier he was, and just like not a care in the world. [As if] he didn’t know that my dad passed. He was really excited to tell some somebody about the story of his stomachache, and how it affected them. I think he knew I’ve got a captured audience here with the widow and her son and my sister, you know, his daughter, and they can’t go anywhere. They’re just gonna have to sit here, listen to me. So that’s where that’s where the genesis came from.
Abram Valdez 10:42
The other part to the story, the kind of escape part, came about, as I was thinking about this interview that Toby Hooper did. Toby Hooper’s the director of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. He had mentioned in this interview that he was stuck in a department store like Sears during the Christmas season, and there was like, hundreds of people. He was in the hardware section, and he started getting really nervous. Like if I had to leave right now. What’s the fastest way I can get through all these people. And that’s when he saw the chainsaws on display. And that always made me crack up. And so I kind of thought about it that way, because my mom is way too nice of a person to ever just say, hey, stop talking man, you’re being gross and get out of here. She would never do that. She’s just such a kind patient person. And clearly, I didn’t get any of that from her.
Abram Valdez 11:42
But in the piece, I tried to write it as if I had been in my mom’s position. What would I’ve done? I thought, the answer is to feign this nosebleed so that the guy would at least, you know, stop talking long enough and she could get away. So that’s kind of where the genesis of it came from. Part of it’s true the other part’s fiction. I really exaggerated the story, because I think the gentleman in question, who’s a dear family friend, realized pretty quickly like, oh maybe talking about it is to, two pitstops is enough, I don’t need to make this like an extended Lord of the Rings, extended ending of my bathroom experiences between New Mexico and Arizona and back again. So, yeah.
Teresa Douglas 12:47
So did you start with this idea–hings come to us in many different ways. Like, it sounds like you had this actual, this actual event that happened. Did you work from there to add the fiction to it? Or, or did it sort of come in your brain at once? And you wrote it down? And then edited after?
Abram Valdez 13:09
No, I think, obviously, the real world experience started first, like that was always what anchored everything. Um, but then once you start writing about that, where do you go beyond just the humor in these stories, and that’s what I wanted to try and ground it in, in the middle of what’s happening in the story. There is still these characters that are going through this grieving process. And they may not even see it, because they’re too close to it at the time. And I definitely know I was. But, I came to realize much later that, in the real experience, as I sat there listening to this guy kind of going through this, I had the same reaction as the character in the story, which was man, how can you be saying this man? Don’t don’t you see what you’re saying? Can you hear yourself? But as I get some distance from it, I’m like, that was the best thing anybody could have said, in all honesty, because for whatever time it was, I wasn’t thinking about, Well, how am I feeling now? Yeah, what do I need to do now? Is my mom, okay, is my sister okay? Like, I was just thinking about what that guy was saying. I mean, to his credit, it was a great story, too. So I took that and then just kind of changed it up, really exaggerated it. And that’s what ultimately kind of helped me. Like, as soon as I got some distance from it, I was like, that’s where the story is. It’s not necessarily what he’s recounting. It’s everybody’s reaction. And that’s what I was hoping for, I think after the fact is, you know, in the middle of grief, you can allow for a little bit of room of humor, a little bit of room for hope or, you know, despair. There’s room for all of it because you’re gonna be dealing with it for a while. You’re gonna carry it for a while. And so I think there’s room for all of those things to happen at once.
Teresa Douglas 15:08
And there, there are such poignant moments in there where the mother goes and sees a movie. She she pops out away from from looking at caskets to buy some ramen. And then she has Jordans. And then the character is thinking, maybe I should do that at the end. Right? It was a lovely sort of counterpoint to this story, which was was funny, it’s very [full of] bodily humor. It’s very much grounded in reality. And it’s almost like, the characters are finding, as you said, finding some room for other things. Even as they have their grief, and they’re not really shying away from it. They’re just sort of breathing in the middle of it.
Abram Valdez 16:00
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I think. I also think it for the character. In the story, this is where I think the real fiction kind of comes into play is for the character in the story. She kind of sees her mom finally in a different way, like, wow, okay, she can be clever. And then she’s her own person. And maybe I don’t need to be kind of like helicoptering around, making sure she’s okay. She’s actually her own person, and she’s dealing with it in her way. I need to make room for that. Because I obviously am not dealing with it just yet. But I’ve always been in awe of my mom, so that, you know, unlike the character, I was just like, I know, my mom’s gonna be great. You know, she’s gonna be okay.
Teresa Douglas 16:48
Is that the impression then that you would like to leave with folks? Is it more about survival? What is it?
Abram Valdez 16:58
Yeah, I think that’s another thing I’ve been trying to really think about. And I don’t really know what I want to leave with anybody except that I’m hoping, one, that they were entertained. But yeah, I think if if they leave with anything, hopefully, it’s that there is room for everything that you’re feeling in the middle of what it is you’re going through in that grief. Grief is is big. And it’s scary. And it feels like it doesn’t go away, but there are things that are happening. You’re just too close to it now to kind of see it. And it’s, I know, I understand it’s a cliche, everybody’s gonna grieve their own way. But that process, you know, they talk about those steps for a reason. I think I just wanted to kind of clear the stage to say, you know, outside of [those steps], there is room for these other things to be to be taking place at the same time that you’re grieving, and that’s okay, too.
Teresa Douglas 17:57
And it was nice that the character at the end really sort of came to that. So she moved through it and, and is still grieving obviously and has to work through that, but, but she’s thinking about what she can do too and it’s a lovely place to to leave the story.
Abram Valdez 18:15
Thanks. I appreciate that.
Teresa Douglas 18:18
Well, you write a lot of different things. And I’m sure our listeners are going to enjoy this piece as much as I did. If they want to follow you and read other things that you write or see when things are coming out for you, how would they do that?
Abram Valdez 18:34
So probably the best place is you have a website Abram Valdez dot com, and I just kind of put everything up there that gets published when it gets published. It just links to it. So that’s probably the best place. I have a Twitter account. But it’s all about very specific things. So it’s like really weird stuff. My Twitter account is like a middle school boys like book cover, right? It’s got monsters and basketball and pro wrestling and pan dulce, it’s all things
Teresa Douglas 19:16
Hey, pan dulce. I’m in. There we go.
Abram Valdez 19:21
So yeah, I do have a Twitter and I do use it mostly for shameless self promotion, but also to kind of engage with people about monsters and that sort of thing that that I like, but yeah, my Twitter handle is Abram Valdez C S.
Teresa Douglas 19:40
Oh, great. Well, listeners if you don’t have a pen or paper handy, I will put these links in the show notes so you can click on it. You can read some of Abrams other work, talk about monsters, or find out his favorite pan dulce. This is very important, I have to say. Thank you so much, Abram for coming on the show and for giving us more about your work.
Abram Valdez 20:03
Absolutely Teresa, thank you for having me and for giving a home to my piece
Havana 1974 by Rosie Prohias Driscoll
by Rosie Prohias Driscoll
Although I have seen the faded photographs stuck
in album pages overlaid by peel-away plastic,
I do not remember standing on the crumbling
sea wall with Yoyo, Ricky, and Rafi at Guanabo,
a yellow salvavidas sitting on my six-year-old hip
or staring at fireworks flowering in the night sky
at el Carnaval de la Habana while Abuela Rosina held
my hand, her long index finger directing my wide eyes
to the massive papier-mâché heads bobbing along El Malecón.
There are no photographs of the coriaceous creases
on Abuelo Cesar’s face turn to stone, smooth and cold,
when Mami told him she had decided to take us back
to the island they had fled, on a mission to meet Papi’s
parents, who had chosen to stay and stand with Fidel
or of the raised rifle of the Mexico Embassy guard
shooting the tire of the taxi as it pulled away when
Mami set her first foot on the sidewalk, our bright Buster
Browns still dangling from the sticky leather back seat
or of Mami’s left leg shaking across from el agente
de Seguridad del Estado, a thick binder of unknown
contents before her and a portrait of el Che behind her,
answering the same questions for eight hours while we
played en el apartamento del Vedado con la gata Cecilia
or of Mami’s alabaster skin turn ash when Abuela Rosina
reported that there were no re-entry papers to enable
our return through México, pero no te preocupes, hija,
Ricardo lo resuelve con el consul Mexicano, who was out
of the country, but would surely respond to his call
or of the length of Mami’s onyx hair laid on Papi’s linen pillow,
her eyes scanning the room that remained as he left it lined
wall-to-wall with model World War II airplanes and the books
he amassed on his weekly visits to La Moderna Poesía, as she
wondered why he led her there, and how she might get us out
or of the thick eyebrows of the Aeroflot ticket agent, raised
over inscrutable eyes when Mami asked to buy three one-way
tickets to Barbados, even if it meant she must spend all of her cash
and leave her passport for approval hasta después del almuerzo
or of Mami’s sandaled feet frozen on Calle la Rampa when
she heard the rapid footfall of the ticket agent running after her
begging in words hushed and hurried to deliver a message
to her sister Maria in Miami, that their father was dying and could
she please tell her how she had found the way to come home?
or of months later Maria running down her gravel driveway,
arms waving as Mami circled the block looking for the house
on Southwest 6th Street, heralding that la Virgen de las Mercedes
was hovering over our car accompanied by un alma poderoso
with eyes green like mine and a dark mole on his left cheek.
I remember nothing. I only hear the sound of my mother drawing
words from wells deeper than grief, recounting our journey there
and back, on a mission she cannot comprehend, but believes was willed
by my father and Our Lady of Mercy, who hover over us still.
The Facilities Are for Mourners Only
by Abram Valdez
Gloria marveled at her mother Teresa’s courage at the precession of mourners but girded herself as Jesse Reina recalled a story of a recent bout with diarrhea. Two days after Gloria’s father Roberto passed, every tangled branch of the family tree and even the rotten pieces of family bark visited Teresa and Gloria. Many brought cards or flowers, and almost everyone paying their respects brought food with their condolences because grieving is easier when you don’t have to cook. But in the visits and plates—the tamales, the papas, the molé, the fried chicken—none of bereaved brought a dish with a side-story about the runs.
“It was that diner in Hobbs,” Jesse said to his wife Victoria. “‘Fins & Hens.’ I think that was the name. I had this chicken fried steak meal, and I was doing good for a while, but then, oh baby, I had to get to a commode in Albuquerque. I sat on the toilet so long, my legs fell asleep.”
For Jesse, to go from “I was surprised to learn about Roberto’s stroke” to “I got familiar with the all the toilets and some bushes between New Mexico and Arizona” was paint by numbers, and he was in mid-masterpiece—a real Boboso Ross.
“I don’t mean to get gross, but I just couldn’t keep anything down inside.”
Gloria tried to find a break in Jesse’s bathroom chronicles to aid Teresa. Her sainted mother who 48 hours removed from losing her husband of thirty years was trying to entertain someone she hadn’t talked to in 10 years. Jesse wasn’t familia familia, but he grew up in the same church that Teresa and Roberto attended for twenty years. They had known Jesse since he was messing his pampers, so he was family, even if he was still having trouble with his bathroom business.
“I thought I was going to get dehydrated. I didn’t know where all that soupy stuff was coming from. So I would eat some crackers and drink Gatorade, and nombre! Back to the potty.”
“You okay, a’ma?” Gloria asked.
“Yes, mija,” Teresa replied and slightly rolled her eyes at Gloria before Jesse jumped right back into his story, certain everyone was on the edge of every toilet seat with him.
“It got so bad, I had to see a doctor in Colorado. He wanted to put me on an IV, but I didn’t want to ruin the trip, so I toughed it out. Just kinda squeezed, you know?”
Jesse came to this story by way of asking, “Did Roberto ever get a second opinion?”
Gloria relayed to him about a doctor in New Mexico that Roberto had been in contact with, and Jesse was off to the cuartito.
Outside of that, that brief mention about her dad and New Mexico, Gloria hadn’t had time to think about her father in any other way. She was at the hospital. Then, she was making arrangements. Then, the calls and the visitors. Insurance. Bereavement paperwork. What else was there after all of it? But every time she felt the walls squeezing in, her mother seemed to do something that she didn’t expect of a widow. The day after Roberto passed, Teresa took in a movie by herself—The Incredibles Part 2—and didn’t invite Gloria. Teresa skipped out on choosing a casket to try ramen for the first time with her prima Sandy. If Teresa was in mourning, Gloria couldn’t tell from the pair of Jordans she bought for herself. It wasn’t that there was an avoidance of grief as much as there was also grief. Still, Gloria could only marvel at Teresa’s ability to nod and smile at this ridiculous man.
“Twelve pounds! I lost twelve pounds! Had to buy new clothes for the trip back. Partly because of all the weight I lost, but also… I didn’t quite make it to the little boy’s room in Winslow, Arizona, if you get me. New shoes, too.”
The little boys room was the phrase that did it. Gloria was ready to lay into Jesse. She went over it in her head: What the hell is wrong with you? No one wants to hear about your leaky butthole. We’re in mourning, pendejo! Say ‘sorry for your loss’ and be on your way, guey.
That’s when she saw Teresa digging her pinky fingernail into her thumb. At first, it looked like she was trying to stay awake, but Teresa drew blood. A small red spot started to reveal itself as if it was unraveling more than gushing. Jesse was elbows deep into a description about emptying the contents of his guts into four different states until the only thing he had left inside was a whistle, when Teresa put her bloody thumb to her nose.
“Oh, my,” she said, feigning an ache. “My nose! Mija, can you help me?” She rubbed her thumb against her nose.
“Excuse me, Jesse, I…,” Teresa said. “Con permiso.”
Jesse and Victoria both stood. Teresa tilted her head back, waved Gloria over, and headed for her bedroom. She put her hands out like she was lost and relying on the walls to guide her way.
At the door to her room, she was quick to the cut. “Get that cochino out of the house.” She took a tissue to wipe her thumb clean. “And don’t let him use the bathroom.”
When Gloria returned to the living room, Victoria was still standing.
“Is your mom okay?” Victoria asked.
“Just a long day. I’m gonna let her rest.”
“Jesse had to excuse himself. Sorry about him. He talks too much. I think he’s nervous. He’s never had anyone he knows pass.”
Gloria and Victoria stood, looking for something to say to each other. What else was there to talk about? His foot fungus or hair plugs? As a part of Teresa’s church family, Gloria was certain they would see each other again at the service, but what to say in the now? That led her down the path of what she could share with them in a few days. And that led to what would she share with everyone at the service?
Then, Jesse appeared from the guest bathroom, and she was almost relieved to see him.
“We’ll be on our way. We want to let Teresa rest,” he said. “You, too. We just wanted to say we’re really sorry about your dad. He was such a sweet guy to us. Please, call us if you or your mom need anything.”
Jesse nodded and Victoria joined him by the door. As they exited, Jesse cupped Gloria’s hands between his. “Dios la bendiga.”
As Jesse and Victoria walked to their car, Gloria stood in the screen door and adjusted the door’s mourning wreath. For the past three days, the house felt like it was shaking, rumbling, like it was echoing the feeling of Gloria’s stomach jumping to her chest. But now it all seemed to be leaving with Jesse and Victoria. All Gloria could feel was a settling as she waved them away. She thought about going for a walk. Maybe buying a pair of Jordans, too. Gloria could feel her breath finally leaving her body like a promise freed from beneath a paperweight. So many things to do next, but the most important? She would rush to the bathroom to wash her hands. Of Jesse. Of her dad. Of all of it.
Behind the Scenes: Alisha Miranda Talks About ‘Scheming Abuelas: The Long Con that Made My Marriage’
Alisha Miranda, Teresa Douglas
Teresa Douglas 00:10
Welcome listeners to this week’s behind the scenes episode of Latinx Lit Audio Mag. I’m your host Teresa Douglas. Today we’re going to hear from Alicia Miranda, author of ‘Scheming Abuelas: The Long Con that Made My Marriage. Alicia is a Miami born, Scotland based Cuban American writer, entrepreneur and mother of twins. Her writing has been featured in ‘Moms Don’t Have Time to Write, Grazia, Metro and Herstry, among others. And she’s working on the book, the 40 year old intern. Welcome, Alicia.
Alisha Miranda 00:45
Thank you so much for having me. I’m very excited to be part of the podcast.
Teresa Douglas 00:50
It’s nice to have you here. And now in true Latinx lit audio fashion, I have to ask you the most important food-based question that all of my guests answer. And it’s this: if you need comfort food, what what do you reach for? What is your favourite comfort food?
Alisha Miranda 01:09
Oh, God, you know, given the theme of my story, I should probably say something like Arroz con Polio. But actually, it’s just chocolate chip cookies. That is what I always want. And comfort, not comfort, a regular Tuesday, it’s my number one go-to,
Teresa Douglas 01:25
You know we are all about truth in our food and chocolate is never wrong. I’m just going to go ahead and say that because that is not only is it a comfort food, it should be a food group.
Alisha Miranda 01:36
Teresa Douglas 01:37
All by itself. Well, thank you for sharing that. And I will tell the listeners who weren’t, obviously on the email exchanges that we’ve had, that one of the things that I love about this story, this piece, this memoir that you’re sharing, is how connected everything is. If you think about some basic story, you follow one character through a piece of their life, they do something and then we end the story. But in this one, there are so many things entwined in it. It’s your story, but it’s also your Abuela’s story. It’s your husband’s Abuela’s story. It’s the story of your family, and people moving from Cuba, going by way of Mexico or the different ways they came. So I love that the story is so bound up together in different pieces, different parts of various people’s lives. And these pieces can’t be pulled apart without unravelling the whole thing. Because, to me, that is a true statement of what family life is like. You can’t extricate yourself, from your history, from your family without taking a piece of context that we really need from our lives.
Alisha Miranda 03:02
Absolutely. And I think, you know, it is my life. It’s my love story. It’s my family history. And they are particularly connected in my particular story. But I think in everybody’s story, there are all of these pieces that you bring with you from the past and that you bring into the future. And so, in my particular tale, it certainly is very clear how that comes to light, how my past and my history connect with my present and the future that my children will have being part of these two connected families. But I think there’s a piece of that in everybody’s story, really.
Teresa Douglas 03:40
And it’s so beautifully played out here. I’m getting a little ahead of myself, we will talk about the story a little bit more. But before we do that, let’s go into some of your family story and ask you, because you do a lot of things. You’re an entrepreneur, you write, you’re a CEO, all of those things could be encompassing jobs by themselves. You do several of them together. How and when did you start writing?
Alisha Miranda 04:04
So I have always loved writing. I wrote as a kid, I wrote really embarrassing, terrible stories, which were mostly just like lists of my friends and then the places we would want to go shopping and things we would want to do. There’s one I still have where we all went to Hawaii on vacation without our parents. But it was extremely innocent. And I was really, really into journalism. I was the editor of my high school newspaper. I was one of Teen People magazine’s first teen reporters, which was awesome and just gave me so many amazing opportunities. And then I did an internship at a magazine in Miami, my final year of high school and I sort of had this big dream I wanted to work in magazines and move to New York and have a ‘Sex in the City Life,’ before there was a Sex in the City. And the actual reality of working in journalism was just not what I thought I wanted. I had a lot of people that were working at the magazine getting paid at the magazine saying to me, Oh, this is not the profession to go into, you’ll never make any money. It’s really not fulfilling. And they were clearly people who were not happy with their jobs. And so, you know, my life went in a totally different direction. I went to college, I studied Women’s Studies.
And then I got bit by the travel bug my junior year. I came to study abroad in London, and just really kind of fell in love with being overseas being in what was Europe, what I’ll still always think of fondly as Europe. And then my career sort of followed a series of open doors in the direction they were in. So I started to work in the philanthropy space, mostly with companies and then eventually with families, and individuals and nonprofits, helping them fundraise better give away their money. I did that at a few companies for several years, big companies, and then my husband, who you’ll know all about after you read this story, set up a consulting firm 10 years ago, and I joined. Eventually, he finally convinced me to come to the family business and run it. So I spent the overwhelming majority of my career writing business stuff, writing clear, concise bullet points, and ignoring this other creative side of me.
And then, in 2019, I had this idea, I call it my like, pre-midlife crisis. And I decided I wanted to go intern at the dream jobs of my childhood because I was obsessed with trying to figure out whether I should be taking a different path. Or if I was just going to be doing the same thing forever and ever. So I kind of built out this year for myself, it was all planned for 2020. And then we know what happened in 2020. But at some point, a friend said to me, you know, you should do this, and you should write a book about it. And I had never really considered that an option before. But it was a lot more palatable, to tell people I’m leaving my job to go be an intern on an off-Broadway musical or at an art dealer because I’m writing a book. And that just made a lot of sense instead of like, You’re crazy. So people are like, Oh, of course, you’re writing a book. That’s a perfectly legitimate excuse to go and do these things. So long story short, I did that I ended up doing four internships in 2020. I did a bunch of different jobs. And I wrote about it the whole time. And throughout that, the biggest surprise was that I just loved reconnecting with writing more than I ever could have possibly dreamed. And so I do many things now. But I think writing is really where my heart is, and where at least my next 10 years are going. And I’ve just felt so grateful that I get to do that.
Teresa Douglas 07:49
Okay, that that is definitely very cool. And had I met you in high school and heard that you were doing this you would definitely sit at my table at lunch.
Alisha Miranda 07:57
Teresa Douglas 07:57
Because yeah, that’s an amazing story. And it’s funny in some ways to think that writing has a mystique to some people so that if you need to drop what you’re doing and follow a dream or figure out questions. Doing that by itself self in some ways is not as acceptable. Oh, you’re doing it for book writing which is mystical and magical. And not something everybody does. I find that both really cool and really funny that it gave some justification to other people.
Alisha Miranda 08:34
Yeah, it felt like a good excuse for people and it was just the biggest bonus because while I loved all of the internships and in fact, I still am working for a couple of them just because that seems to be my life right now doing everything, it’s just become such a joy and it feels like I just kind of woke up this part of myself that had been sleeping for a really long time.
Teresa Douglas 09:00
So you’ve written about your life, your experiences, both in this piece ‘Scheming Abuelas’ and also in your internship experiences. Is nonfiction then your first love or do you think about or in fact write other things?
Alisha Miranda 09:16
It is definitely not my first love. So I love fiction. I rarely read nonfiction until the last five years. And I love love novels. I love the occasional romance. I love stuff with a happy ending. I just I love pretty much everything. I love big sweeping family epics where there’s like a timeline and family tree in front. I have always been a voracious reader and a lover of fiction and I never would read nonfiction for fun. I had to read it for college, and then I had to read it for work and it didn’t seem like anything I would do for pleasure. But I started reading memoirs a few years ago and then I was like, well, this is amazing because you just get this really intimate story of someone’s life and what a gift to be given by someone to share this piece of themselves with you. So now I’ve totally come around, I alternate, so I’ll read one nonfiction book, one fiction book, most of the time, I tend to go back and forth. And if it’s like a very serious memoir, then there’ll be a palate cleanser in the middle, to ease things. I’ve written mostly nonfiction, but I am working on some fiction, I have a short story, ironically, also about a grandmother and a granddaughter that I just finished. So clearly, my grandmother is, has been an inspiration for many things in my life. And then I think I want to write a novel next. But it feels very scary to say that because of the idea of completely making something up from scratch, and I don’t know, just kind of following in the path of these fiction authors that I idolize so much. It seems impossible, but I also thought it was going to be impossible to write nonfiction. So there you go.
Teresa Douglas 11:07
And here you are. I don’t know. I wonder if anybody deliberately, I mean, people must say, Okay, today, I’m gonna start on a novel. I think there are some pre-steps that happen before that, where you sit down, and you just start writing, and maybe you outline a little bit, and then gradually think, Hmm, I guess this is a book. So I don’t know. It just reminds me of–because I have I have published a book–of having a child. It takes so many months before the end product shows up. And there’s that, am I ready for this? Nobody is but then you do it anyway. And it’s amazing to have done it. Also, I will tell you that I will read it if you write it.
Alisha Miranda 11:54
Well, I’m excited. I’m excited and scared, and mostly excited. So I think I’m going to give it a try. And I totally, totally hear you on that. Even the things that I’ve written for it so far have been tiny scenes that have come sort of unbidden, and then I write them and then I’m like, Oh, well, this might fit here. So I’m still in those very early stages. But I am excited about the challenge that presents and being able to produce something that is fictional, but I’m sure there’ll be some elements in it that I pulled from my life.
Teresa Douglas 12:28
I mean, everybody has to put something even if it’s not the exact people. Your experiences are there somehow, even if they’re tweaked a bit. That’s my opinion, even in science fiction where everybody’s an alien.
Alisha Miranda 12:39
I think you’re right.
Teresa Douglas 12:42
People still fall in love, and they sleep and they eat and everything else. Well, before we get too far off, let’s go back to Scheming Abuelas because I loved this piece. I love–and I’ve told you this–the scene where Grandma says “Martona,” and I should tell listeners who have not listened to the piece that this is a scene at a funeral, the grandfather who has died, he had stopped the two grandmas from seeing each other because he was jealous of the friendship. And at the parking lot in the funeral Grandma screams to a friend, “Now we can see each other every day!” And I’m chopping that up. But it to me it was this beautifully funny moment in a sad moment. Because here’s this woman with this spirit, who even when it’s tough and sad, still has so much life that she can be joyous about this friendship that she’s had for the length of some people’s lifetime. They knew each other for decades. It’s just amazing.
Alisha Miranda 13:49
Teresa Douglas 13:50
And I just love this piece so much. And one of the other things that I really enjoyed about it. And I would love to hear you talk about this idea that the grandmas would tell you as a newly you know, coupled unit (because I can’t remember if you’re married or not at that point), stories of things that were good. It wasn’t the hard stuff. They were trying to give you the happy stories, the stories that helped you would help you carry on. Why do you think they would have made that decision?
Alisha Miranda 14:26
Yeah, that story, in the parking lot of the funeral is one of family legend. And my grandmother who passed away over the summer was just a joy bringer in her life. You know, she was the life of the party, she sang, she danced. She gave me the spirit that I have which is really to try to find joy wherever you can to grasp at it even in the darkest moments. And I know that I got that from her. You know? I think that like so many children of immigrants, you kind of get told your family stories over and over and over again. And as you get older, you start to realize that everyone’s telling them from a particular perspective and from their own point of view and what they saw. The story of how my grandparents actually emigrated from Cuba to the US is, you know, incredibly difficult. They left very, very quickly. My grandfather was doing some work with the US CIA, sort of, you know, undercover basically, it sounds very spy-like, but actually, it was like Agricultural Statistics, but still extremely risky. And they were caught. They had friends high up in the government, they were told, you have to get out of here. They went to Mexico, and then they waited. And they waited in Mexico, for days and weeks, my grandmother and grandfather, their five children, the youngest was only two at the time, and her parents and they ran out of money. And they went to the church. And she asked the priest, she said, ‘Can you help us?’ So they put out the collection plate for my family. And that is how they had food, and some clothes until they were able to come to the US.
When my dad tells these stories to me, he does remember a lot of that pain, he remembers being eight years old, 9 or 10 and what that meant coming to a brand new country and being really afraid. But my grandmother just never wanted to tell those stories. She always wanted to talk about the musicians that they heard and the parties that they went to, and the fun things they did. How they would get so drunk at Christmas, that they would all have to end up sleeping in the same house. And she just that. That was what she saw. And that was her perspective. And it was her approach to life. Are there lots of things she forgot? Absolutely. But I think that both her and Carlos’ grandmother, that was what they wanted us to remember. And I don’t know if it’s because they thought we were going to hear all of the other stuff from everybody else. I think part of it was the piece they wanted to tell was the piece that made them feel joyful. And those are the memories they wanted to make sure didn’t get lost. So I did always feel like I had this real 360 of what that experience was because everybody has blind spots. And I’m just grateful that they thought to share so many of these amazing stories with us, that I have them and I keep them and I tell them to my children. And you know, we will continue to tell them through the generations, I hope.
Teresa Douglas 17:40
And it’s amazing to think about that, really, because you’re hearing it secondhand. I guess I’m third hand at this point, and it probably doesn’t carry quite the same power but to know that those stories are not going to be forgotten, that there are children who are going to remember that they were in Mexico and they waited and that they came back and that your grandmother was so full of life. It’s a precious thing. And we can’t really fault somebody. In fact, I kind of admire somebody who says “I’m going to share the joyful things that happened. Because those are the things that are important to me.” And obviously, it’s good to have all of those things. But it’s a very deliberate choice and to choose joy, I feel like that can’t be wrong. So this obviously is a very important story to you. How did you approach writing it? Did you just know that at some point you were going to document this? Was there a particular moment where you thought okay, what caused you to go from “This is a family story, this is my story,” to “I should let this out into the world?”
Alisha Miranda 18:52
Yeah, I think my love story is so–well, everybody’s love stories unique really–but because mine has been so connected with my family history, it’s always felt like a really special story. And it’s a story people love hearing, right? So friends of ours, if we’re out with people who know the story of how we met, and other people who don’t know how we met, they’ll say “oh, you’ve got to tell them the story of how you met because it’s so amazing, the story of your grandmother’s introducing you.” So, I knew it was a good story, right? Like, there isn’t, there’s some good stuff in there. I think oftentimes when I start writing something, I will think of just a particular scene or a particular moment or something will kind of spark my imagination. And in this case, I remember it was like a Sunday. My kids were watching TV, I was just kind of hanging out in my bedroom. And I started to think about the moment that opens up the story when we were on our honeymoon, and we were in India, and being followed around by this young couple who really wanted to know if we were an arranged match or a love match and that question is always really funny because we would never consider that anybody else was responsible for us getting together. But absolutely, there were some people pulling the strings behind the scenes, in the form of our two grandmothers. And so it sort of spun out from there.
And the more I told that original story of how we met, the more I realized that I couldn’t tell that story without telling the story of our grandmothers, because they were, as you said, at the very beginning, they were so interconnected. And that bigger context of the story is just what makes it so amazing and, the fact that my grandmother and Carlos, his grandmother, who were best friends for so long, share great-grandchildren now for the rest of time their family trees are connected, is just, to me, the most beautiful thing. And so it really came from a place of wanting to bring all of that together, almost for myself, and then, I thought it would be nice to share this. It’s a piece that I care a lot about. And my grandmother passed away, and it seemed more important to get that out there and just share as much as I can about her really with the world because she was such an incredible woman. And this story is such an integral part of my life, and, was a part of hers. It just felt really important to share that. And also, I’m all about joyful stories right now, because there’s just not enough joy. Anywhere. So I’m trying to do my part to get that out there. I’m glad that story made you laugh, and I hope it makes others laugh too.
Teresa Douglas 21:42
I think it will, it is hard not to with the amount of joy that’s there. And I think you kind of answered this, but I’m going to ask it anyway. So in the end, when someone has listened to the story, what impression do you want them to have at the end?
Alisha Miranda 22:04
I’d love them to have a smile on their face, I’d love them to think they spent the last eight, nine minutes thinking of something that made them feel hopeful and happy. You know, I like to write funny stuff. It’s not always all funny, plenty of things fall flat. But that’s the stuff that I want to read right now. And I think that if I can take someone out of what’s happening in the real world, and let them feel, ust that kind of glow that you get when you read a beautiful love story or a family story. I would love them to feel that after they read this piece or heard this piece.
Teresa Douglas 22:44
Well, I certainly did. So I think that you succeeded. It’s a lovely story. It does give that joy because we do need that right now. And you do write a lot of different things. So if listeners want to reach out to you–not reach out to you, if they want to hear what you’re doing and know when the next story is coming. How would they find out? Do you have a website? You have social media? How would they find you?
Alisha Miranda 23:12
Yeah, they can reach out to me, by the way, I love being reached out to.
Teresa Douglas 23:16
So you’ve heard it, you can reach out,
Alisha Miranda 23:19
Reach out! You can find me on my website, which is Alicia F miranda.com. And my name is a li SHA confusingly for many people. And you could also follow me on Instagram, and then it’s at the numbers for zero. So 40 y o intern, and that is my handle on Instagram. And I would love to hear from you. Because I think hearing other people’s stories is one of the best thing about writing basically other people who write want to reach out and share their work. And I just absolutely love that. So yeah, please, reach out.
Teresa Douglas 23:55
There you go. Just not in a creepy way.
Alisha Miranda 23:59
In a really nice way.
Teresa Douglas 24:00
Yes in a nice joyful way. And listeners, if you do not have a pen and paper nearby, the links to these will be in the show notes. So you can just click on over and get all the Alisha all the time. Well, thank you so much for coming to the show. I really appreciated having you here.
Alisha Miranda 24:19
Thank you, Teresa, and thank you for making a space for these stories. I just think all of the different things that you’re putting out are amazing. I’m really enjoying listening to them. And I feel extremely, extremely honored to be part of it. So thank you.
Teresa Douglas 24:32
Aw, well thank you
Creative Nonfiction: Scheming Abuelas: The Long Con that Made My Marriage
Scheming Abuelas: The Long Con that Made My Marriage
by Alisha Miranda
We held hands as we ambled through the stunning grounds of the Jama Masjid, barefoot. Delhi was stop 3 on our round-the-world honeymoon and even though we were as loved up as a honeymoon couple should be, we restrained ourselves from more obvious PDA, having read in the guidebook that this was frowned upon.
After maybe 15 minutes of aimless wandering, we noticed that we were being followed by a young Indian couple. We were a young couple ourselves – only 25 at the time – but they were younger, maybe in their late teens. From their shy smiles and tentative clasping of each other’s hands, they looked like locals sneaking around behind their parents’ backs. In a city of 18 million, sometimes hiding out in plain sight is your best option.
We smiled back at them and they approached. “English?” they asked. “American,” we said, the easiest answer when travelling abroad where the complexities of our multifaceted cultural identities were beyond comprehension.
“Are you love match or arranged match?” This was clearly the question they had approached us to ask. We looked at each other and laughed. “I guess…both?”
There was no hired matchmaker involved in our courtship, no profiles exchanged that detailed height, weight, professional interests and astrological signs. But there was a guiding hand that brought us together so young. Or rather, four hands.
Our grandmothers met in Cuba in the ‘50s, young brides who shared a penchant for partying and stiff drinks. I have on the wall of my house a framed 8×10 photograph of them in 1955, just before they would both emigrate to the United States. They’re sitting around a table at an outdoor bar, surrounded by two dozen empty bottles and two handsome men. The last time I saw her, I asked my grandmother who the men were. “Who knows?” she replied. “There were always men around us in those days.”
Our grandmothers were among the hundreds of thousands of Cubans who immigrated to the US in the ‘60s, escaping Castro’s iron fist, and they settled in Miami where they spent Easters and Christmases and first communions together, celebrating every big occasion with music and laughter, as if they were back on El Malecon. They had 8 children between them, who eventually spread out all over the world. I had lived my whole life in Miami, but was bitten by the travel bug in college and, in the summer of 2004, was packing for London to attend graduate school. The email that hit my inbox was from the woman I had always known as my own grandmother’s BFF, addressed to us both:
From: Abuela Martha
To: Alisha and Carlos
Date: Monday, August 16th 2004
Carli and Alisha, I am sending you both your addresses. Alisha, my grandson’s name is Carlos Miranda, and Carli, her name is as it shows on her address. I really hope you can get to be friends, your respective fathers are also the same age and have been friends forever. Love you both, Martha.
Out of sheer politeness, I replied-all the same day, offering Carlos any help if he needed settling in, since I had lived in London as a study abroad student the previous year. I was nothing if not a dutiful granddaughter.
There are few things that are less of an aphrodisiac than family guilt, but eventually he responded. His reply was charming and witty, and I was pleasantly surprised: Since we are both going to be in London (my grandmother swears that it’s divine providence), we obviously need to meet up in Hyde Park or some needlessly posh London hot spot, he said. I’m sure, like our fathers, we’ll become the best of friends.
We ended up meeting for dinner on the first night I arrived. At the Wagamama in Leicester Square, we talked about which members of our respective families we knew, eye rolling about our grandmothers’ insistence that we meet. We moved on to a pleasant enough conversation where we realized we had very little in common. Carlos had grown up abroad and was obsessed with Star Trek. I hadn’t left the US until college, and told him a story about how I spent my layover in New York hopping between four different shoe stores to find this pair of light green snakeskin flats in my size.
We parted ways smugly, both considering our family duties discharged. I wasn’t looking for a Cuban boy from a Miami family anyway. I had come to the UK with my sights set on the prize: a titled heir or even perhaps a minor royal.
Fate stepped in though as we ran into each other at orientation. I casually mentioned I was working at a pub and he should drop by with a few friends; I’d sneak them a round of drinks. I had him at “free alcohol.”
He came with a big group on a busy night, but I was happy to be the purveyor of drinks, like I know my grandmother would have done for his. “Thank you so much,” he told me as he left the bar that night, kissing my cheek. “Let me take you to lunch to thank you properly.”
That one lunch turned into weekly lunches and a few weeks later our friendship had turned into something decidedly more romantic. We were immediately smitten, but determined we wouldn’t tell our families under any circumstances. The pressure would be too great. That lasted a total of three days when he slipped and told his sister who told his mother who told his grandmother who told mine. The call from her came a few days later. “Tell me about Carlos, mija” she said. She wanted to know everything.
Already deeply in love but fiercely independent, we said goodbye for the month-long Christmas break, going resolutely to our own respective homes but promising to text. Two days after he arrived back in Houston, he called to tell me that he had just received another email from his grandmother. This one had a plane ticket to Miami attached and a message that he read aloud: Come for New Years’ it said. And maybe you should see Alisha while you’re here.
That was how it transpired that he met my entire family within the first two months of us dating, even though it turned out that he had met most of them before anyway, as a cherubic child whose cheeks they had pinched.
The grandmothers insisted we take them out to dinner so we piled them in the car, along with his grandfather Neno – and took them to El Chalan, the Peruvian restaurant where they were all regulars. Martha’s face lit up as she pulled me into one soft arm and wrapped the other around Carlos – “these are our grandchildren,” she told the hostess, waitstaff and at least three groups of diners as we slowly made our way to their usual table.
Over that dinner, and countless others in the years that followed while we were still lucky to have them all together, they spun the yarns of their friendship. Their stories for us were never about the hard times, of which there were many. My grandmother always glossed over her tale of leaving Cuba with five kids and her own parents in tow, waiting in Mexico, penniless, for the US to grant them entry. Carlos’ grandparents’ story was even more dramatic. His grandfather was a member of La Brigada, the Cuban soldiers who were trained to fight during the Bay of Pigs invasion and left behind. He was imprisoned for three years while Carlos’ grandmother, with two boys under the age of five, waited in Miami, not knowing if he was dead or alive. When they did eventually release him, his return was negotiated in exchange for diapers and baby food.
But those aren’t the stories they wanted to tell us, the budding couple. They wanted us to know about the drinks and the parties, the singing and the falling asleep on each other’s couches. At least twice that night we heard the classic family tale of the one break they took in their long friendship, when my grandmother’s second husband Luis became jealous of their relationship and forbade her from seeing them. At Luis’ funeral, my grandmother screamed across the parking lot: “Martona! Now we can see each other every day.”
“Our families have always been so close,” Martha told us in the car on the way home. “Your dads grew up together. We always used to call each other cousins, because we were closer than friends.”
“But we’re not cousins, right?” I asked. “I mean, in the genetic sense.”
A long pause followed while they climbed up and down their respective family trees, just to be sure. “No, definitely not,” they replied.
It was the longest 4 seconds of my life.
Now Martha and her husband are both gone, and my grandmother died this year. Although the pandemic made it difficult to see her in person, we FaceTimed often through 2020. She never hung up without ensuring I showed her Carlos first. His beard is full of grey hair now, and she always made a point to tell him how old he looked. “Your granddaughter has aged me,” he would tell her, before kissing me on the cheek as we hung up the call.
With 13 years of marriage and two children under our belts, there are plenty of moments when I look at a sink full of dirty dishes or pile of discarded laundry and think “ahh yes – my soulmate.” But more often than not I look over at him and thank my lucky stars for whatever brought us together. Destiny? The gods? A sacrificial goat? More likely, the meddling of two conniving grandmothers, best friends who couldn’t have been happier to see their family trees entwined, growing on together for good.
Poetry: Elegy for My Grandmother’s Rice
Elegy for My Grandmother’s Rice
Even before you died I was afraid to lose it, the perfectly burnt rice caked
into the soul of your pot.
When my mother talks about you
at Cuchifritos I watch her
Grandma taught herself
English with the newspaper and
She loves you, because I have to
be reminded of this. I choose to forget
when my mother cried to me about what
you did to her. At the restaurant my mother says the mofongo is missing garlic
and I learn how to pronounce mofongo
We get four bowls of rice for two of us.
I say the mofongo is cooked
perfectly, and pick out the shrimp.
The rice tastes like yours, so my mother cries. I feel nothing. What is a mother? The waitress
understands, she has a mother. I cried
when you passed because
I woke up next to the dead body
in your bed. You smoked pot to help with the cancer, and didn’t eat,
refused to go to a hospital.
What is a grandma? I can’t remember.
Arroz con gandules, your bed,
my mother’s stories, the kneading
of bread, your sickness growing
you into a bone, the forgetting my
name, the memories. ¿Qúien eres tu?
The archetype of
a grandmother is not love,
it is a story. It is other people’s memories.
It is the missing spaces filled with not
It is warm rice
Behind the Scenes: Gina Fuchs Talks About Elegy for My Grandmother’s Rice
Latinx Lit Interview Gina Fuchs_mixdown
Gina Fuchs, Teresa Douglas
Teresa Douglas 00:10
Welcome listeners to this week’s behind the scenes episode of Latinx. Lit audio mag. I’m your host Teresa Douglas, and today we’re going to be talking with Gina Fuchs, who is the author of Elegy For My Grandmother’s Rice. Gina is a graduate of the University of Maryland College Park at Maryland. She received her BA in Communication Studies and a minor in creative writing with a concentration in poetry. Gina’s poetry has appeared in the University of Maryland’s literary magazine Stylus, Northern University’s literary magazine, Polaris, as well as the online publication Palette Poetry. Her writing primarily explores the function of memory in our lives, how memories shape relationships, experience, the ways we view our families, and of course, the ways in which we pass down stories. Gina is a Puerto Rican New Yorker, aka Nuyorican who is still working on her Spanish. She loves coffee, ribs and the color yellow. Welcome, Gina.
Gina Fuchs 01:15
Hi, Teresa. I am so excited to chat today.
Teresa Douglas 01:20
Well, I’m glad to have you here. A question I’ve been asking people on this podcast is a food related question because truly, truly, as it shows in your piece, food is important. What is your favorite comfort food?
Gina Fuchs 01:35
That is a great question. I think I would have to say my favorite comfort food is ribs. Like barbecue spareribs. There’s just something to me really comforting about finger foods. And I have always loved ribs growing up. There’s just something so primal about sitting down and eating–
Teresa Douglas 01:58
Just biting to the bone!
Gina Fuchs 01:59
Yes! So yeah, I would say ribs.
Teresa Douglas 02:07
Lots of sauce? No sauce? We need we need all the details.
Gina Fuchs 02:10
I love sauce. I love a good like, very saucy rib. I like dry rub. But I think I prefer a saucy barbecue rib.
Teresa Douglas 02:21
Yeah, I’m not sure if that’s going to offend anybody in the South, where the ribs are almost a religion. But there you go. Shots fired. She says sauce people. It’s sauce.
Gina Fuchs 02:33
I’m given a dry rub, I’ll be very happy with the dry rub.
Teresa Douglas 02:38
There you go. So just very accepting of all rib methodologies. But really, it’s sauce, just so you know. So that is truly an important question. But we should probably talk about you since this is a behind the scenes about you. How long have you been writing?
Gina Fuchs 03:04
It is very funny that you ask this. I want to say like two weekends ago, I was home at my mom’s apartment. And my brother and I were going through boxes of old things. And I found some report cards that I had from elementary school. And I found this one from fourth grade which I don’t have in front of me. But my teacher had written like a note as part of I don’t know whatever you call it. But as part of her like review, at that point about how I had really taken an interest in poetry, which was just sweet to see. And it’s sort of the thing that I remember more than most things from elementary school, like I remember seeing fractions and being like, that’s never gonna stick. Yeah, that did not stick but we had a poetry unit in fourth grade and I was like, This is incredible and really became like attached to it then as a practice. Which of course at that age, it was like the writing was really bad, but I think she mentioned I was kind of good at rhyming.
Teresa Douglas 04:22
Hey, it’s important. to build that skill! Wow. It’s funny to hear when people come to it because of course, you can write and be successful no matter when you start, whether that’s 8 or 82. And it’s amazing to think of all the little triggers that get people interested in something. And for you, it was that teacher having a poetry unit and who even knew that was going to lead to you going to college and studying this stuff, right?
Gina Fuchs 04:54
Yeah, it is really weird how things work and it’s funny because it’s just like the least taught thing in school. I feel like there’s like some times a week dedicated to poetry.
Teresa Douglas 05:16
It’s a funny thing. You never know. I also got an MFA. And it was for fiction. But when I went, they had readings where you go, and you listen to people. And there were a lot of poets. And it just sort of struck me how economical and beautiful, even if it’s not always talking about beautiful subjects, how beautiful poetry is, and how just concentrated in its power it is to talk about anything you want to talk about.
Gina Fuchs 05:47
It’s so true. Yeah, I think that’s part of what like drew me to it. And to be honest, I can’t remember what we were reading when I was younger. But I think as I got older, it really was sort of, l mean, sometimes poetry is not brief, but in the places that it was brief, feeling so seen. Even in like pieces of work that weren’t specifically related to something that I’d gone through. I think as like a medium it has such a specific way of allowing readers to feel seen in moments that aren’t necessarily their own. That always super special.
Teresa Douglas 06:40
And it’s surprising. I am usually really bad about recalling names of authors that I’ve loved like I read something and two days later, it’s like “who was that person again?” but there was this particular poet that I read, it was Thomas Lux, and he was reading a piece about ice worms on an iceberg or something. It just kind of blew my mind that somebody would write it that. That just changed my idea of what’s possible in poetry, okay. And I can’t remember all the poem but I’m just like, wow, glaciers and worms, okay. But we should talk more about your work actually. So first off though, it sounds like poetry is definitely a first love. Do you stick with poetry exclusively? Do you write other things or is this just really where you you find your your heart leads you?
Gina Fuchs 07:41
I always come back to poetry. I think that’s the one medium that I can I’ll stick with, but I have taken some satire writing classes. So I do like like to dabble in comedy writing as a as a hobby.
Teresa Douglas 08:03
Yeah, it’s funny just a little while ago, I recorded an episode which will be out soon with somebody who teaches satire at The Second City and it it’s really fun just to see how your brain can work in different ways. And it’s almost like when you’re working out and you do weights one day and then you do some kind of cardio the next day it exercises different things and it’s fun when you can have something that makes you think in a different way. At least I think so.
Gina Fuchs 08:36
It’s so funny that you say that. I took my first Satire writing class at Second City so I’m really excited to listen to that episode. But it’s true. I feel like in my like poetry writing I have a hard time like making a joke but um I love satire.
Teresa Douglas 09:04
Yeah. Let’s let’s talk about your piece because it’s definitely not comedy or satire. We have this grief. We have memory. (If anyone’s hearing kind of rustling in the background, I’ve just pulled out my iPad so I can read through the piece.) When you’re talking about that rice it’s almost the safest thing to have grief over. And yet it’s not. I don’t know I’m not putting this right. But I The reason I love this piece. Let me get back to that. It’s because you’re already talking about about death and losing this perfect burnt rice caked into the soul of your pot and to me that is such a lovely visceral image. As someone who has burned the bottom of rice quite a few times and not actually meant to do that. I can almost feel that detail. Is that a detail that you came into this piece with? Maybe we can we can just have you walk us through how you started this piece? How you you came to the idea of it?
Gina Fuchs 10:27
Yeah. So I actually wrote this piece a few years ago, and have been just like, as one does workshopping it and workshopping it. And honestly, it’s quite a literal piece. And of course, I think all writers take some creative freedom. But most of this one is drawn from life. And I think with this specifically, I lost like, all of my grandparents at a really young age. And my grandmother, who this [poem] was sort of drawn from, my mom’s mom, was my third grandparent to pass away. I should have mentioned my grandmother’s Puerto Rican, my mother’s Puerto Rican. And so I think food was always a really big part of like, obviously going to my grandmother’s house, never denying eating her food. But I was like–it’s funny, and the thing I regret more than anything to this day–the world’s pickiest child. So like, of her rice and beans, and chicken and pork, and platanos I ate plain white. I was the one going over and eating and leaving her home with a huge plastic yellowing tubs of plain white rice.
Teresa Douglas 12:00
You know, we’re all like that. Nobody’s kids comes out and says, You know what, I need some more than habanero sauce.
Gina Fuchs 12:14
I mean, my little brother is like five years younger than me. And he was always just eating anything. It made me look so bad. They were always like, This food is really good. And I was like, No, but you guys don’t understand this plain white, it’s better. But I remember being, young and having the thought of, I don’t, I’m not going to have it. When my grandmother passes away, this is not going to be–my mom has tried to make the plain rice and I’ve had the option of white rice at a number of Puerto Rican restaurants. But it’s not the same. It’s like that hidden ingredient in what any grandmother cooks that they make it so you can’t recreate it. So I think that was sort of the moment for me, that was the catalyst of this piece. And she passed away when I was young. And I think the other thing that I was really reflecting on in this poem was the way that we memorialize people who we don’t remember very well. And I think, for me, that came up. I remember trying to remember her cooking, what I did eat of her cooking, and also just trying to hold on to that culture after she had passed, because my mother’s Puerto Rican, but my dad’s Irish, so there was definitely like a huge loss of culture after she passed away. And so I think that felt really complex for me, especially in that I was not eating all of the cuisine that I could have been eating.
Teresa Douglas 14:12
And it’s just there’s that point where you talk about a grandmother, as the receptacle of other people’s memories. And now by the end of the piece, you are the receptacle of those memories now, and whatever they are, if it’s that rice, if it’s the relationship, whatever it is. It’s an interesting and beautiful sort of embodiment, even though there’s grief in this poem. And also, I have to say, four bowls of rice for two people sounds like a normal amount of rice to me.
Gina Fuchs 14:53
But maybe not enough!
Teresa Douglas 14:55
Maybe not enough because you never know you could be extra hungry, especially if you’re not eating anything but the rice. So the other question I would have, because you talk about in your bio, that you’re you look at the way people pass down stories and memories, and this piece is very much about that. We don’t often get to tell the writer or excuse me, as writers tell their reader, here’s what I really hope that you take from this. And of course, they’ll take what they they take from it and we can’t stop that, and that’s good. But what would you like a listener of this piece to leave with?
Gina Fuchs 15:38
That’s an amazing question. I guess you’re kind of always wondering like, what they’ll take of your personal story. And like, how they’ll interpret that. But I think in terms of, like more broad message, I, I don’t know if I would want someone or if I would hope that someone walks away from this piece with like, any sort of answer, but maybe a question for themself. So like, my mom’s family was always very big. And it’s weird. Like, over the years, it’s kind of pared down to just like her sister and my cousins, and we lost our grandparents. And there’s also just so many people that I remember meeting as a child who I’m like, who were they? And where did they go? Where’s that man and his child? I had a great grandma who didn’t speak any English. And like, I don’t remember getting notice that she passed away. But I haven’t seen her in 10 years. I feel like there is also just familial trauma passed down. And that’s not something that we like to talk about as a family. And now someone, I guess, specifically my grandma passing away, and the way that we reflect on who she was, and what our entire familial unit is like, it’s very positive, even though it may not necessarily have been that way in reality. And so I guess I in growing up and continuing to write have been really curious about how I can delicately uncover what feels like more of a holistic truth about who my grandparents were, what my mom’s relationship to her mother was or like, without having such rose colored rose tinted glasses on.
Teresa Douglas 17:49
You are getting to a central question, because for those of us who have in living memory, or living familial memory, people who either have gone through traumatic events, or immigrated, which in itself can be a traumatic event, depending on when and where and how. There’s always the question of, how much truth do you give the next generation? How much can they bear? And what is your responsibility? As a person who’s supposed to transmit knowledge and family stories? What’s your responsibility for uncovering that trauma is, especially if it’s your trauma, because I wonder about this. I had a grandfather who passed 10 plus years ago, who never spoke really about his past. But because I had a school assignment in high school as a sophomore, to ask about his past, he gave it to me. And he ended up weeping while he was doing it. And even as a callow 13 year old, I decided that my teacher didn’t need that truth. And so I i shined it up a bit. I didn’t say anything untrue. But I removed his pain because he was a living person who had to deal with that. And I feel like that’s an interesting place to be in. To say, here, here’s what happened. But how much of it do I tell you? And how do I tell you? As storytellers, as people who, who try to find that truth, we’re even more responsible, in my mind for what we choose to do.
Gina Fuchs 19:53
Absolutely, and I feel like it’s I mean, as a 13 year old that’s such a big decision to me. And I think also just like such a, like a sweet for lack of a better word, decision on your part as a storyteller to navigate that in the way that felt the most dignifying.
Teresa Douglas 20:19
Yeah, I mean, I don’t know what I would have done as an adult, but that’s what I did as a kid.
Gina Fuchs 20:24
Yeah, and I think to that point, it’s not necessarily like nice that you get to carry that weight. But I think without understanding our own histories, whether they’re like, literally our own personal histories or familial histories, we don’t really have the opportunity to work through what is possibly being like passed down to us. So to that point, it feels important to me for people to be able to feel seen. Wanting to understand maybe that greater story about their family when the pieces aren’t always there. I don’t know that I’ll ever get all of the pieces that I’m trying to remember or dig up or understand and unpack. I hope other people with a cultural gap that they’re trying to fill can feel more seen.
Teresa Douglas 22:03
Yeah. It’s an experience. They’re not alone. That’s why we tell our stories. We’re not alone. They’re not alone. We share that moment even if it’s something that you know is there but you don’t have the information for.
Gina Fuchs 22:24
Absolutely. But I’m also like, I love my grandma. I’m like, mom don’t listen!
Teresa Douglas 22:34
But that’s the thing though. It’s when you don’t want your family or anybody who knows you to hear stuff, you know you’ve hit something right? I’m just gonna not tell anybody. It’s all good. Didn’t happen didn’t happen. For anybody who is not related to you that wants to hear more of your work, how would those people get in touch with you? Do you have a website or social handles that people who would like to read more from you can can find out that information?
Gina Fuchs 23:13
I have a and Instagram and a Twitter that I’m pretty active on. The Instagram is just at Gina by Gina. And the Twitter is just Geno’s opinion 24 7
Teresa Douglas 23:29
I love that. Don’t flip out people. It’s just an opinion.Don’t flip out. So thank you Gina, this has been so much fun to have you on the show and to learn more about you and this piece. I’m just very happy that that you came by.
Gina Fuchs 23:50
Thank you so much for having me and I am excited to hear the other episodes. I’m a big fan of the podcast so I’m excited to hear more.
Behind the Scenes: Carlos Greaves Talks about 10 Types of Vick’s VapoRub Your Abuela Keeps Around the House
Full transcript, with light editing for clarity.
Teresa Douglas, Carlos Greaves
Teresa Douglas 00:10
Welcome listeners to this week’s behind the scenes episode of Latinx Lit Audio Mag. Today we’re talking to Carlos Greaves, author of 10 types of Vicks VapoRub Your Aburella Keeps Around the House, which first appeared in Flexx. Carlos Greaves is an Afro Latino engineer, writer and filmmaker based in Boston. He teaches online satire writing at The Second City, and writes for Netflix’s ConTodos social channel. His writing has been featured in The New Yorker, and he’s a frequent contributor to the humor site, McSweeney’s. Welcome, Carlos.
Carlos Greaves 00:44
Thanks so much for having me.
Teresa Douglas 00:45
I’m thrilled to have you here. I have to tell you that one of the reasons your piece spoke to me so much is because I have been personally victimized by Vicks vapo rub. I have a distinct memory of being I don’t even know how old but having that stuff slathered onto my chest, wearing the footie polyester pajamas over it, just that feeling so, yes, yes, that stuff is in everybody’s household. I don’t know why.
Carlos Greaves 01:15
Teresa Douglas 01:15
I don’t know what, like, what is it? What is it about Vick’s, this just so, so important to Latin x community?
Carlos Greaves 01:24
Yeah, I don’t know. But I had the same experience growing up. And like, in particular, Vic’s like rubbed up under your nose, like, you know, burning your nostrils as you–
Teresa Douglas 01:40
Can never smell, again, at that point.
Carlos Greaves 01:43
Yeah, exactly. And yeah, it’s like such a universal thing. Like, we all grew up with that. And it was just this cure all. Anytime we were sick. It was slathered.
Teresa Douglas 01:55
Yeah. And you know, we’re here It saved us from death of evidently, you know, like it worked. Right?
Carlos Greaves 02:03
Exactly, exactly. So yeah, there’s something to it.
Teresa Douglas 02:06
I have to ask, did you have to take garlic pills? Because that was the other thing. These pills. They’re oily. They’re filled with, like essence of garlic. Did that happen to you?
Carlos Greaves 02:19
Oh, that’s funny. No, that, that I did not have to do thankfully. Yeah.
Teresa Douglas 02:26
I think I have Stockholm Syndrome on that one, because I used to hate garlic. And then sort of in late teens, I decided I loved it. And I think maybe there’s just an unhealthy there’s an unhealthy relationship there. So anyway, let’s let’s get off of the the traumatic personal stories. And before we talk a little bit more about your piece and about you. Let’s start with the most important question, which is a food related question. What is your favorite comfort food?
Carlos Greaves 03:02
I grew up in Texas. So I always loved Tex Mex cuisine. And, in particular, Chilie con queso, which is like a melted cheese with roasted tomatoes, and jalapenos and bell peppers. That was just like my number one favorite food growing up and still is and, it’s one of the hardest things about living in the northeast, that it’s just not really a thing here. So anytime I’m back home, it’s like immediately going to my favorite Tex Mex place and ordering that.
Teresa Douglas 03:36
Yeah, that’s just cheesy and spicy. I, I lived in New York for a little bit and even trying to recreate things. You can’t really find a healthy jalapeno. It’s kind of a problem.
Carlos Greaves 03:49
Yeah, it’s so true. I’ve tried multiple times to make it at home and it’s never quite come out, right.
Teresa Douglas 03:57
It’s got to happen back back where jalapenos grow strong and free. Which is Texas, and California where I’m from. So I feel you on that one. So we’ve talked a little bit how you’re from Texas. How long have you been writing? Have you been writing your whole life? Did you come to it a little later? What’s your deal?
Carlos Greaves 04:18
Yeah, growing up, it was always something I kind of casually enjoyed doing but never really thought too much about it. In college, I wrote for the school newspaper on the sports staff just purely for fun. And then senior year I took a class on filmmaking and totally fell in love with that process and started making some short films. And then after I graduated, I was working full time as an electrical engineer, but was doing some filmmaking on the side and that kind of morphed into doing more sketch comedy and actually performing live sketch comedy. And then I met a few people through that, and then eventually kind of started doing online humor and online satire. I kind of started getting my work out that way and have since had like a few pieces in McSweeney’s that have gotten a bit of traction and, quite a few in the New Yorker. And yeah, it’s just been kind of wild. It’s been, several years in the making, but it’s been so great seeing my work out there and people responding positively to it. So that’s been wonderful. But definitely not something I like, grew up thinking I would do.
Teresa Douglas 05:47
So you discoveredit in high school, which in some ways, is kind of what’s supposed to happen you, you know, we have this thing where you’re supposed to look at different things, try different experiences. And none of us know what we’re doing at that point anyway, and maybe luck into finding out then or, or even later. But just a question then, because you said you started with film. Have your films that you started with, that you started working on, were those also comedic?
Carlos Greaves 06:15
I actually have always kind of naturally gravitated towards humor. And yeah, I’ve even tried my hand at writing more dramatic work. And it just never, it never seems to come out right. And there’s just something about humor that, like, it’s, yeah, for me. It has to have some kind of funny angle for me to really be able to make it work. And I’m not quite sure why that is. But I think, yeah, it’s something I’ve always loved. I always loved comedies, and more so than horror drama. So maybe it’s partly because of that. It’s just kind of what I grew up watching. But yeah, I’ve been purely focused on humor.
Teresa Douglas 06:57
I find though, as someone who came to humor later, versus when I wrote other things, humor is hard. Like, we can’t even say, Oh, we do humor because it’s easier to do. Just being able to be funny, not just to yourself, but other people. And also to make a point. You were in McSweeney several times for different pieces, a lot of it reacting to cultural things. And it’s amazing to me that humor is a shared thing, but even writing it and sending it out into the universe, where someone else is going to hear it in whatever mental voice you know, wherever they are, and be able to say, you know what, that’s really funny, or he’s making a really good point there. It’s, a it’s a hard thing to do it. It can take an entire lifetime, to really hit your stride on that. I’ve enjoyed a lot of your pieces in McSweeney’s. There was the piece that you wrote about American Dirt–
Carlos Greaves 08:00
The piece was As a 28 Year Old Latino, I’m Shocked My New Novel Memoirs of a Middle Aged White Lady Has Been so Poorly Received.
Teresa Douglas 08:07
Yes! And I loved that piece so much. Because even just the title encapsulates the problem with something like American Dirt. It was a good piece. That was the one I have to say where I, I actually clicked into who you were, because I read your other stuff. But I thought this, I need to know who this guy is. Because he gets it.
Carlos Greaves 08:35
That was the first piece I’d gotten accepted by McSweeney’s. And yeah, just seeing the reaction to it was was unbelievable. But hat had been like, years in the making. I’d been writing, submitting to McSweeney’s off and on for about two years before I got that piece accepted. And that was my like 10th submission after nine rejections and not even including like probably 20 or 30 humor pieces that I started and didn’t even submit because I was like, Oh, this is not working. It’s not good enough. So yeah, it was definitely like a long slow and difficult process getting to that point of getting that first acceptance but yeah, it was just amazing to see the response to it, and then to like to have been able to get a few other things in has been great too.
Teresa Douglas 09:37
Yeah, let’s transition to 10 types of Vicks vapo rub that you’re Abruela keeps around the house. Can you walk us through how you wrote that piece? Did you start with a headline? Did you just have a concept in your head? How did that work out?
Carlos Greaves 09:55
I had originally pitched that to Flex with a couple other pitches, but when I pitched it initially, it was more of a satirical news headline that was something like, you know, abuela’s medicine cabinet, just a bunch of jars vaporub. There was that like, thing in my head about that like being such a ubiquitous, you know, cure all for any type of illness and malady and whatnot. And it was the editors who actually came back to me and were like, Well okay, what if it was more like, you know, 10 types of things, your abuela keeps around the house? And I was like, Okay, well there’s definitely something there and like, there’s something fun about the 10 different varieties and getting slowly build it out. And kind of play around with the concept and flesh it out a little bit more. So it was definitely a great note from them. And once I had that, I was kind of like, Okay, well, what are like, all of the different types of varieties I can think of, right? So there’s obviously the sort you rub up under your nose, because that’s something that we all grew up with. But then like, what if it extends even further? Like, what if it’s, you know, you put it on your bumps and scrapes and what if, you know, you use it to like, keep the cat off of the furniture.
Teresa Douglas 11:23
Or that poor dog. Wherever the vick’s went– we don’t need to know actually, where that vick’s went.
Carlos Greaves 11:29
Yeah, exactly. The dog does not mess with abuela anymore.
Teresa Douglas 11:36
And then the Pope! That, to me, is just so funny. This piece, it gets out there. I mean, you’ve had the cat, you’ve got the dog, but you could see theoretically, someone’s abuela who sees the pope, and is trying to get this thing blessed. Is it gonna really happen? Probably not. But maybe. Maybe it could happen? She might try?
Carlos Greaves 12:01
Yeah, well, that definitely felt like the logical conclusion of the piece. I was like, it has to escalate up to something like that. And then like who else but the pope that’s like the ultimate, you know? Yeah, the ultimate religious figure. And I think so many of us like have done the pilgrimage to Rome or know people who’ve done the pilgrimage to Rome and it’s like such a thing for Catholics. So that felt like the ultimate thing. It’s like well if you can get it blessed by the Pope, then that Vick’s will cure everything. That’s the Rolls Royce fix right there.
Teresa Douglas 12:38
And that’s a good moneymaker for abeula, who needs to supplement her retirement.
Carlos Greaves 12:45
Exactly. Well, if you’ve gone through the trouble of getting it blessed, you know, you might as well get something for it too.
Teresa Douglas 12:51
Exactly return on investment. It’s very important. Yeah. So is there and it’s funny to ask this about comedy in some ways, but we know that a lot of satire and comedy does have a point. Is there anything that you want, you want listeners who hear this an impression, you want them to be left with it at the end when they listen to your piece?
Carlos Greaves 13:15
Yeah, it’s funny, I’ve written a lot of like, much more hard hitting pieces, like, the American Dirt piece, and a lot of like, more biting satire. And this one, I would kind of want this to just be more of like, a fun read and something that, if you grew up with this experience, you’ll feel the nostalgia and just have a good laugh about. If you didn’t grow up with that, hopefully it’s just kind of like a fun little glimpse into our world.
Teresa Douglas 13:53
I was so seen in that moment. Ugh that Vick’s, I hated that stuff. I did not keep the cycle going with my kids. Because the trauma stops. It stops with me. There is no baby rub, no Vicks rub under anybody’s noses over here.
Carlos Greaves 14:12
Yeah, I feel like you know, our generation has to stop the cycle to stop the trauma.
Teresa Douglas 14:17
Yeah, exactly. Stop the cycle. Well, this has been so fun. So if others want to look at your work, they want to catch up with you and see the things that you’re writing or classes that you’re teaching. How can they keep in touch with you and see what’s coming up next?
Carlos Greaves 14:35
So my website, which is Carlos Greaves.com, has a good overview of my writing and teaching and so forth. And I do have a workshop coming up on October 23. I’m teaching a workshop for writing workshops dot com, and it’s focused on writing topical satire around the holidays. So you know, the whole holiday season coming up. If there’s a holiday that you absolutely love or absolutely hate, and you’ve always wanted to write about it, this will kind of walk through how to approach writing satire about specific holidays, and also how to incorporate current events and news and pop culture into writing about the holidays. So if you’re interested in that, definitely check it out. The website for that is writing workshops.com. And if you look at the upcoming classes and scroll down, you’ll see my workshop there.
Teresa Douglas 15:35
Well, listeners if you don’t have a pen handy, all of this is going to be in the show notes. So you can click on the links there, if you want to sign up for the class, or if you just want to see more of Carlos work. Well, thank you so much for coming, Carlos. This has been a true pleasure.
Carlos Greaves 15:51
Yeah, thank you.