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Behind the Scenes with Tak Erzinger, author or ‘You Are What You Eat’

 

Is the food Tak makes magical? Did she really use the dark arts to find herself a husband? Find the answer to these questions and more in this episode of Latinx Lit Mag.

TAK Erzinger is an American/Swiss poet and artist with a Colombian background. Her poetry has been featured in Bien Acompañada from Cornell University, The Muse from McMaster University, River and South Review, The Welter and more.  Her debut chapbook entitled, “Found: Between the Trees” was published by Grey Border Books, Canada 2019. Erzinger’s most recent poetry collection “At the Foot of the Mountain,” Floricanto Press, California 2021, has been announced by the University of Indianapolis, Etchings Press as the Whirling Prize winner for 2021 for best nature poetry book. She lives in a Swiss valley with her husband and cats.

You can find Tak on Twitter and Instagram at @ErzTak, and on her website https://takerzinger.wixsite.com/poet

Creative Non Fiction: You Are What You Eat by Tan Erzinger

This is, hands down, the most sensual (in the most literal meaning of that word) piece on the podcast. Listen to Talk as she talks about family, memory, and the foods that bind them together.

TAK Erzinger is an American/Swiss poet and artist with a Colombian background. Her poetry has been featured in Bien Acompañada from Cornell University, The Muse from McMaster University, River and South Review, The Welter and more.  Her debut chapbook entitled, “Found: Between the Trees” was published by Grey Border Books, Canada 2019. Erzinger’s most recent poetry collection “At the Foot of the Mountain,” Floricanto Press, California 2021, has been announced by the University of Indianapolis, Etchings Press as the Whirling Prize winner for 2021 for best nature poetry book. She lives in a Swiss valley with her husband and cats.

You can find Tak on Twitter and Instagram at @ErzTak, and on her website https://takerzinger.wixsite.com/poet

The transcript of the story is below:

 

You are what you eat: the taste of Barranquilla Colombia       

by TAK Erzinger                           

 

 

“Life would be much nicer if one could carry the smells

and tastes of the maternal home wherever they pleased.”

-Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esquivel

 

“No matter where you find yourself, you will always be Latina.”

– Mariana Atencio

 

I plucked several garlic teeth, crushing them one by one beneath my palm, my knife purposely slicing them finely.  Then I squeezed limes, the citrus fragrance filling my hot kitchen as I collected the liquid in a bow.  I mixed in cumin, salt, chopped thyme and dried oregano before placing the pork chops in the marinade.  The chuletas, Colombian pork chops, would marinade for hours.  It is through cooking and food that my family expressed love.  Tonight I am preparing this meal for my boyfriend, when we will discuss what direction to go in with our future.

 

My first memory is associated with food: a combination of garlic, cilantro and cumino.  My mother comes from the Caribbean coast of Colombia, a place called Barranquilla.  It is a seaport town, a place where the Atlantic Ocean is met by the Magdalena River.  From birth, until third grade we returned there regularly to the large Spanish colonial house built in the 1920s situated on a long boulevard in the Viejo Prado neighbourhood.  It is a place where the avenues seemed endless to me as a child, and then, as today, are lined with sumptuous mansions and gardens. The neighbourhood was designed by two Iowan brothers Karl and Robert Parrish who decided to relocate in Colombia.  The styles of the homes, however, are an homage to the diversity of Barranquilla brought by the immigrants who settled there: Lebanese, Syrians, Germans, Italians and Jews, who were attracted to the possibilities of the port city of Barranquilla and what it had to offer.  My Abuelo’s best friend and business partner was Lebanese.

 

Those early childhood experiences in Colombia left a lifelong impression on me and my  relationship with food.  Especially visiting the coasts of Santa Marta and Cartagena.  I will always remember the little huts set up on the beach where mojarra, a type of fish found in the Atlantic waters was fried up with arroz(rice) and crispy patacones (fried green plantains) or arroz con Chipi Chipi (small white clams), a recipe that incorporates the deeply rooted influences of the indigenous cultures of Colombia: the European, Afro-latino and Indian heritage.  After a morning of playing in the surf my mother would call me to her side where a young man would take a machete and open a fresh coconut, placing a straw inside for me to nurse on its warm milk.  This would be accompanied by a snack of patacones fresh off the griddle.  To this day, every time I eat patacones I am taken back to the sensation of that salty hot delight hitting my sun-kissed lips, salt on salt.  It was heavenly and it encompasses the better moments of my childhood, it is what I knew, what I was used to.  The flavours of Barranquilla also evoke memories of mis Abuelos enclosed patio with its Spanish tiles, centerpiece bubbling fountain and large turtles that had already been old when my mother was a child.  We would sit under the large guava trees where they would pluck a fresh fruit for me, my teeth sinking into its soft flesh while the juice would run down my chin.  There was a constant flow of delicious aromas infusing the air of mis Abuelos home.  As an adult whenever I am confronted with these intoxicating smells I am transported back there in a heartbeat.

 

I check on the chuletas I had placed in the oven and my kitchen fills with an aroma, an infusion of all the herbs and spices into the chuletas.  My memory revisits various kitchens of my childhood: my mother’s, mis tías, mis abuelos and I feel warmed by love. I hope my boyfriend will be able to taste the love I have also put into this meal. I hope he will be able to appreciate the flavors.  It is so much more than a recipe, it is a part of my past that makes up who I am today.

The closest I have ever felt to my mother is when we cook Colombian food. It is when I most understand her love and expression which she demonstrates when either cooking for me or with me.  We are a complicated bunch however cooking in my family is an act of love that is demonstrated without words.  It unifies our cultural divides and misunderstandings. Within the walls of the kitchen tensions dissipate and the existence becomes peaceful between 1st and 2ndgeneration Colombians in my family.  It is a ritual where we convene with our ancestral past handed down through generations in the form of recipes and traditions.  When I cook the food of Barranquilla with my mami or her sisters, we are transported back to Colombia through our senses invoking memories, retelling our stories and experiences.  It’s like the kitchen becomes a time machine that takes us home when we cannot return.  En la cocina, food forges my relatives together, allowing us to put our differences aside and commune as one.  We all get excited about the prospect of sharing a meal of san cocho, arroz con pollo, changua, an egg soup recipe from my Abuela’s childhood home in Bucaramanga.  It is the capital of the region of Santander, in north central Colombia, surrounded by the Cordillera Oriental range of the Andes.  And when we are apart the ritual of preparing these meals keeps us close at heart.  My knowledge of these recipes has helped me to stay connected to my roots, keeping alive my early childhood experiences in Colombia.  The food of my mother’s country has helped me to explore the Latinx in myself, allowing me to express myself in an intimate way, transcending language.  And much like mami, whenever I feel homesick, I return to these recipes finding comfort in the preparation and joy of sharing these meals with my friends and husband.  Every time I relive a different occasion and memory, but I also create new ones as well.  

 

I won my husband’s heart over a plate of chuletas (pork chops) I especially prepared for him using the flavours of Colombia.  I felt it was imperative for him to get to know me through my cooking.  If he had not liked the food, the spices or overall flavours I would have to rethink how we proceeded with dating because for me, the dishes I prepare are enmeshed with my cultural identity.  Years later, he still comments on the first meal that I made for him, and that he could taste the love in my cooking.  He jokes that I used brujeria (witchcraft) in my food to get him to fall in love with me.

 

My boyfriend later became my husband, and on Valentine’s Day, when I arrived home after a long hard day and opened the door, I was embraced by el sabor of familiar scents.  It was as if my family had returned to me but instead my husband had taken it upon himself to cook arroz con pollo, exactly as he had witnessed my mother and I making it.  I could smell and taste the love in every bite.  He knew how homesick I had been for the women in my family and since he couldn’t bring them to me, he felt that he could at least recreate the feeling of family enabling me to taste and even digest the spirit of those I was missing. 

 

He has embraced this part of my Colombian heritage in the kitchen, nourishing my soul as well as my body.  And much like my family, he used this recipe, so close to my heart to show his love for me.

 Now more than ever, since the start of the covid pandemic I have felt isolated and separated from my family who are scattered across the world. My Abuela has died, people have had falling outs and it has been a lifetime ago since I have returned to Colombia. However, inside my kitchen I have all the ingredients at my finger-tips to comfort me during times of stress and frustration, keeping me grounded and close to the cultural traditions that shaped who I am.  Colombian food is the portal to my heritage and keeps me close to those that are faraway.  All those recipes are like love letters from the past that transport me to the various kitchens of childhood.  Those dishes taste like home and keep me connected to my roots.

 

Patacones

Ingredients: 

4 green plantains, olive oil, salt to take (preparation, 20 minutes)

 

  •       Place a mug at the side of chopping board. Peel green plantains and slice them at a thick angle.
  •       Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Fry plantain slices in the hot oil until slightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer plantain slices using a slotted spoon onto the upside-down plate, reserving oil in the skillet. Place plantains onto chopping board. Smash the plantain slices by gently pressing the mug bottom until flattened.
  •       Place the smashed plantains in the hot oil and fry until browned, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer fried plantains to a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle salt over plantains.

 

 

4.

San Cocho de Pollo (chicken) Colombian Chicken Stew

Ingredients

  •       1 tsp olive oil
  •       2 tsp cumino
  •       5 scallions (chopped)
  •       1 tomato (chopped)
  •       2 tsp of vinegar
  •       4 cloves garlic (chopped)
  •       1/2 spanish onion (chopped)
  •       1 small whole chicken (remove giblets). Can be substituted for skinless chicken breasts or thighs for a less-fatty alternative.
  •       1 cup cilantro (roughly chopped)
  •       3 large potatoes (peeled and cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes)
  •       2 cups of yucca cut into 2″ cubes
  •       3 Carrots
  •       4 long pieces of celery
  •       3 ears of corn (cut in half or thirds depending on size)
  •       1 small green plantain (peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces)
  •       1 tsp cumin
  •       2 cubes of chicken bouillon
  •       Salt and pepper to taste
  •       Side of fresh chopped cilantro, avocados, scallions, Tabasco & lemon wedges.
  •       Side a pot of steamed rice.

Instructions

  1.     Heat a large pot over medium heat.
  2.     Once hot add oil, scallions, onions, and garlic and saute for 1 minute.
  3.     Add onions and continue to saute for 1 minute.
  4.     Add chicken drenched in vinegar and cumino, brown on all sides.
  5.     Season mix with salt and pepper.

5.

  1.     Add yucca, potatoes & other vegetables, fill the pot with water.

 

  1.     Add chicken bouillon, half of chopped cilantro, cumino and vinegar. Bring to a boil.
  2.     Once boiling reduce heat to low and cover the pot.
  3.     Simmer on low for about 40-minutes and taste to measure seasoning. Add more if necessary
  4. Serve in large bowl topped with a large spoonful of rice, chopped cilantro, avacados, scallions, tabasco & lemon juice.

 

Arroz con Pollo (chicken and rice)

Ingredients

4 chicken breasts

  • 1 tablespoon of cumino
  • ½ bag of frozen peas and carrots or a whole can
  • 1 bushel of cilantro
  • 3 garlic cloves finely chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 cups of rice
  • 5 cups of water
  • 2 cap fulls of vinegar
  • 1 chicken bouillon cube
  • 1 packet of seasoning with saffron
  • 1 jar or packet of olives with pimiento
  • ½ jar of small capers
  • 3 stalks of chopped scallions
  • Lemon juice or lemon wedges
  • Salt to taste

 

 

6.

 

Instructions:

  1.     Add chicken breasts to water with cumino, salt, pepper, olive oil and vinegar. Once it starts to boil, turn down to medium heat covered and let poach for 35 minutes.
  2.     Remove chicken from pan onto a chopping board, use two forks to shred chicken apart, will be very tender, place in bowl to the side.
  3.     Sautee garlic in olive oil in a large pan for rice.
  4.     Add 3 cups of rice and stir into sauteed garlic.
  5.     Add 5 cups of water, peas, carrots, chopped cilantro, cumino, bouillon and saffron. Stir and bring to boil, turn down to lowest heat, cover and let cook at medium heat until the rice dries and is soft
  6.     Stir in chicken, capers, olives, fresh chopped cilantro, fresh scallions, two caps full of vinegar and squirt with a heavy dose of lemon juice, add salt to taste and stir and serve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Behind the Scenes with Rodrigo Toscano, author of Flight Plan

https://open.spotify.com/episode/6VvKpA0dIfFZSoN5NfAZ7S?si=xDk2X4EGSF2b7eSNDtwEPw

Warning: This episode might leave you hungry for tacos. This is probably the first time Teresa has ever heard a sonnet described as a meditation, but once you hear what Rodrigo has to say, you might never look at a sonnet the same way again.

Rodrigo Toscano is a poet and essayist based in New Orleans. He is the author of ten books of poetry. His newest book is The Charm & The Dread (Fence Books, 2022). His Collapsible Poetics Theater was a National Poetry Series selection. He has appeared in over 20 anthologies, including Best American Poetry and Best American Experimental Poetry (BAX).  Toscano has received a New York State Fellowship in Poetry. He won the Edwin Markham 2019 prize for poetry. rodrigotoscano.com  @Toscano200

Poetry: Flight Plan by Rodrigo Toscano

Stuck at the airport? Enjoy this meditative sonnet while you’re waiting to see where your personal flight plan will take you.

Rodrigo Toscano is a poet and essayist based in New Orleans. He is the author of ten books of poetry. His newest book is The Charm & The Dread (Fence Books, 2022). His Collapsible Poetics Theater was a National Poetry Series selection. He has appeared in over 20 anthologies, including Best American Poetry and Best American Experimental Poetry (BAX).  Toscano has received a New York State Fellowship in Poetry. He won the Edwin Markham 2019 prize for poetry. rodrigotoscano.com  @Toscano200

Behind the Scenes with Victoria Buitron, author of One Star Review

This episode first appeared in January 2022. Is this piece based on Victoria’s actual life? Can you eat a Hermit crab essay, and if so, does it taste like chicken?

From the Archives: One Star Review by Victoria Buitron

This episode first appeared in January of 2022. It seemed appropriate to share it again on the 4th of July, as the main character frees a chainsaw to follow its own bliss…far, far away from her.

Transcript is below

1-Star Review for the Cordless Electric Chainsaw

by Victoria Buitron

My husband would give it five stars, but I can only give it a one because it has swallowed my life like a Florida sinkhole.  It was fine at first, when he built the Little Free Library for me in the front of our house. We painted it patterns of Paisley pink and luminescent yellow, so even during the winter—when there’s a foot of snow—I can think of spring. But he’s been using it for everything now. Cutting wood, building a climbing wall, making Winnie the Pooh wooden masks that my daughter begs him to wear while he reads her a book before bed, jolting the crows away from the sunflowers with the vroom. The other day I heard him humming and then calling the thing in his hand Chase the Chainsaw. Whatever project our son asks him to do, he’ll use the chainsaw to cut and slash and destroy and rebirth. Because it’s faster, he says. I’m tired. I actually threw the last chainsaw into the river, after hot yoga class, parked on the cherry-colored bridge. A splash like the river had gulped it. I lied and told him that it fell and broke when I went to grab some firewood. I thought maybe he’d use the old saw, sweat until his arm became sore and his muscles flexed, but the next day he went to get another one. This one is called Casey the Chainsaw. I have another death for him lined up. If there’s a Chad the Chainsaw, I’m charging his credit card with noise-canceling ear muffs and purchasing acoustic foam panels to enact as a sound barrier around our bedroom—so I am only privy to his  final creations—because I love what he makes, but not how he makes them, and please, damnit, if someone knows how to annihilate these cordless Lucifer-sent technological contraptions without it looking too obvious, please email me at suburbanchainsawmassacre@gmail.com.

Behind the Scenes with Kim Vasquez, author of Serenity in Ruins

A full transcript of the episode is below.

SPEAKERS

Teresa Douglas, Kim Vasquez

Teresa Douglas  00:10

Welcome listeners to this week’s behind-the-scenes episode of Latinx Lit mag. I’m your host Teresa Douglas. Today I’m speaking with Kim Vasquez, author of Serenity in Ruins. Kim grew up in Puerto Rico and moved to New York to study Dramatic Writing at Tisch School of the Arts, NYU. The lack of representation and diversity in children’s books, drove her to write a middle-grade Latinx mystery that she’s currently querying while working on another. She’s had various articles curated and published on Medium. Among them, Green Plantains and Memories of Mi Isla, and An Afternoon in La Plaza del Mercado. She also had a short story, The Lady in White, published by the Acentos Review. Welcome, Kim.

Kim Vasquez  00:58

Hi, Teresa, how are you?

Teresa Douglas  01:00

I’m doing good. I’m glad to have you on the show. And we’re gonna have a good time.

Kim Vasquez  01:08

Yeah, excellent.

Teresa Douglas  01:10

Before we start talking about your piece, I have a very, very important food-related question for you. Because it’s all about the food around here. If we were sitting together at my table, in literal, actual life, of course, I will want to feed you because it’s polite to give you something to eat. And I would love to know, what is your favorite comfort food?

Kim Vasquez  01:37

Well, I’m Puerto Rican and I’m vegan, which is strange. But Arroz y Habichuelas–rice and beans–with Tostones. Which are fried plantains. And it’s vegan, and it still honors my Puerto Rican roots. So that’s my comfort food.

Teresa Douglas  01:56

I’m a Mexican vegetarian, so I’m feeling you on that one.

Kim Vasquez  02:01

Nice.

Teresa Douglas  02:03

Yeah, our people use a lot of pork and many other products in everything. And, you know, I’m not saying it’s not delicious. I’m not gonna say that. But it would be nice if we had a lot of things that had fewer animals in them.

Kim Vasquez  02:23

Yeah.

Teresa Douglas  02:23

Although I have to say I was talking to another person on the show, who pointed me toward vegan Menudo, which I haven’t yet tried. But it gives me hope. That’s my favorite comfort food that I could actually eat again. So, yes, it’s so good. But I would love to feed your comfort food to you. I would probably make a hash of it. So we might have to have you cook it and then I will compliment you a lot.

Kim Vasquez  02:52

Absolutely. There you go. I would love that.

Teresa Douglas  02:57

You get to know people so much when you’re cooking and sharing food together. Well, now that we’ve covered that very, very important question, because food, food does give us a lot of information about each other. I would love to hear just a little more about you and share with the listeners when you begin writing.

Kim Vasquez  03:18

Well, it’s an interesting, funny story. I was in trouble in the 10th grade with my teacher. It was my English teacher and I grew up in Puerto Rico. And I thought I knew everything in English. And I just acted like a smartass. And she wanted–I don’t know if they still do this in school, but they gave you a grade for your conduct. And she wanted to fail me for conduct. And I had an A average. And this was very worrisome to me, because I had a crappy attitude, but I wanted to get good grades. And so she gave me the opportunity to write a short story. And she would use that grade as my grade for conduct. And I wrote her a story. I gave it to her, she loved it. She told me she laughed so hard. And she said to me, you should really think about writing as a profession. So I kept that in mind for years and years, moved to New York, wanted to study writing at the Tisch School of the Arts. I didn’t do so well because I didn’t have the money to pay for the school. And it’s very expensive. So I’m going to say I’ve been writing since the 10th grade on and off, but mostly off. And then when the pandemic hit, I wasn’t going out to work. So I sat down at my laptop and I started writing and it’s sort of stuck since then. So fingers crossed.

Teresa Douglas  05:03

It seems like it’s always kind of been with you since 10th grade, and honestly, kudos your teacher for letting you exchange a crappy attitude for a nice story.

Kim Vasquez  05:12

Yes, yes.

Teresa Douglas  05:13

Because, you know, teachers put up with so much. I’m not gonna say I was a stellar student all the time. And we’re teenagers, which really, that’s hard all by itself. But oh, thank you, teachers. I think I say this every episode. Thank you, teachers.

Kim Vasquez  05:32

Yeah, the utmost respect for teachers and what they go through. And, I mean, I was a smart ass but I was never half as disrespectful, as I see a lot of things that are happening now that teachers are going through now that are just reprehensible.

Teresa Douglas  05:51

So, so we love your teachers, thank you, thank you for continuing to teach and to teach our children and our children’s children and all the way down the line there. So you’ve been writing off and on and life gets in the way, right, but but you’ve been writing a book–

Kim Vasquez  06:07

Yes I wrote a middle grade Latinx mystery based on an old Puerto Rican legend. And I’m currently querying it, trying to find a literary agent to represent me to the publishing houses. So fingers crossed on that.

Teresa Douglas  06:27

So you’re writing, you’re writing a mystery. That’s fiction, you turned this lovely piece in Serenity in Ruins, which is creative nonfiction. So you write a lot of things. Can I ask, do you have a favorite? Do you love all your writing children equally? What’s the deal?

Kim Vasquez  06:43

I really love my middle grade, Latinx novels. I’m also working on a second one. But I also love writing short stories with strong female protagonists, and that are very culture and history centric. And they always have a little touch of spirituality. Because, you know, as Hispanics, as Latinx, it’s a huge part of our culture, our spirituality. So my stories always seem to have culture, history and spirituality and always female leads, strong female leads.

Teresa Douglas  07:25

So you’re writing the work that you would like to see in the world, basically?

Kim Vasquez  07:29

Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. I feel that Hispanic women, and minority women in general, get the short stick always throughout history, and minority women, always are the ones that carry everybody, the family, the culture, the country, but they’re the ones that always get mistreated the most and have it the hardest. So I focus more on females and I’m a female. So there you go.

Teresa Douglas  08:04

There you go. And giving them some stories and yeah, representation is important.

Kim Vasquez  08:11

Yes, absolutely.

Teresa Douglas  08:13

So let’s talk a little bit about the short story you you submitted this time to Latinx Lit mag. It has a lot of those themes in it–creative nonfiction, but female protagonist–you–it has that little spirituality touch. Now as I was telling you earlier, before we were recording, that I love the the idea of either the city or the country having like this, this sort of spirit animal talisman, something that is other, that comes to you when you are in your moment of stress and need. And I would love to hear what was it that caused you to decide to write this down? Because obviously it happened in your life, so you didn’t have to come up with the idea. It happened. And talk about how you went about writing this story.

Kim Vasquez  09:09

So the part that’s not in the story is that I actually took a picture of that cat and those ruins and the picture when I was looking at it later on and I was going to submit it to a publication on medium and they want the picture that the author has taken and then a story related to the picture. And I wrote the story so that I could submit that picture because I love that picture so much. And the rest of it happened just that way–I was walking down the street, I woke up with a migraine. I was overwhelmed because we had just bought this place. And I looked into these ruins and I saw that cat and the way the cat just stood out from everything else. And the way the cat looked at me I could actually feel that a everything’s gonna be fine, like the universe was sending me this message, my ancestors, were sending me this message. However you want to look at it, but I was getting a message. If you want to say God was sending it, then you know what God was sending me this message. But I felt it, I knew it. And I want other people to be able to feel that and know, we have some bad times but we can get through, and we can absolutely survive a lot of the things that happened to us.

Teresa Douglas  10:39

And it’s such a symbolic thing because here are these ruins. Here’s something from history that’s decayed, but it’s there in the present. And yet, here’s this glimmer of hope, and feeling that things are going to be okay. And boy if we don’t need that now, I don’t know when we’re gonna need it.

Kim Vasquez  10:59

Mm hmm. Absolutely. And it’s just goes to show you that history repeats itself. And yeah, we can see that all around us. But we just have to keep an open ear to what’s happening and know that, it’s happened before. We’ve survived as a community. We’ve survived as, as un pueblo, and will continue doing so.

Teresa Douglas  11:25

So I think we’re sliding into that next question I was going to ask you, which is what’s the impression you want to leave with people about it? It sounds like, a feeling of hope.

Kim Vasquez  11:33

It’s a feeling of hope. It’s especially women, especially minorities, Hispanics, because I’m Hispanic. But it’s especially for anybody that might be feeling overwhelmed, might be feeling like, you know, I don’t know if I can continue. And one person’s reasons for feeling that way is completely different from another person’s. So maybe my reasons aren’t as serious as someone else’s. But the message is still the same. Hold on, things are gonna get better. Yeah.

Teresa Douglas  12:14

Well, thank you for that. I think we need more of that in the world.

Kim Vasquez  12:17

Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.

Teresa Douglas  12:20

So can we hear about your book? I’m intrigued about your Latinx middle grade mystery. Can we hear a little bit about that without any spoilers? Because I know we’re trying to entice the agents right now. And so we don’t want I know much out in the world. But for instance, what’s the what’s the fairy tale because that that’s something that’s out in the world generally.

Kim Vasquez  12:48

So I can give you the blurb or the pitch that I use to describe it.

Kim Vasquez  12:56

In Puerto Rico, 11 year old Maggie is having visions of Carabalí, a slave that disappeared over 300 years ago, to make the vision stop, she has to help him. But that means she will have to defy her Abuelo and put herself and her little brother in danger. Basically she’s 11 years old. Her name is Maggie Ojera. She goes to stay with her grandfather and his wife in the mountains in Puerto Rico. And in the first chapter, she sees the spirit of Carabalí, who escaped one night over 300 years ago. And he’s reliving that night over and over and over again. And he’s trying to find his sister, Isabel, who he was trying to save that night when he escaped. And so Maggie’s the only one that can actually see him. And she, in order for her to be able to stop those visions, she has to help him. Her little brother helps by convincing her, Hey, you got to solve this in order to try to figure out what’s going with Carabalí and why he’s still sticking around. And then maybe those visions will go away, if we can help him move on. And so between her and her little brother, that’s what they do. And they get into all sorts of trouble, but they do it. And it has a happy ending. So that possibly leads into a second book.

Teresa Douglas  12:57

Let’s do it.

Teresa Douglas  13:10

Woo, I have to say I’d read that, and any literary agents who are listening to this podcast, I can help you find Kim, if you need a little more of that, because it sounded pretty good to me.

Teresa Douglas  14:43

Thank you.

Teresa Douglas  14:49

Yeah. Well, hey, one of the things we need to do as a community is help each other, right?

Kim Vasquez  14:55

Absolutely.

Teresa Douglas  14:56

Agents, you should listen and read Kim’s book and then and get it published because there are really a lot of Latinx people who like reading, and we would read this book. So there you go.

Kim Vasquez  15:10

Yep. And especially young girls, young girls are always looking for heroes to emulate. And it would be nice if they reminded them of themselves.

Teresa Douglas  15:21

Yep. We need it. Well, this is wonderful and you write a lot of different things and you’re getting things published on Medium and you’re querying a book. Is there is there a place where a listener who wants to kind of keep track of your career or see other things you come out? Is there a place where they can do that on social media or website or even your medium link?

Kim Vasquez  15:45

I am on Twitter and on Twitter, at Kim V. Writer. I’m also on Instagram and there I’m Puerto Rican writer. At Puerto Rican writer, and on medium it’s just medium.com at Kim Vasque Vasquez been V as in Victor AZ Q.

Teresa Douglas  16:11

All right, well, there you go. Listeners I will put that in the show notes so that you can click on over if you don’t have a pen or paper available, you can just get that there. It’s been really nice having you on this episode and talking through your story, and hearing about just your take. Thanks for coming by.

Kim Vasquez  16:33

Thank you, Teresa, thank you for having me. Thank you so much, and I hope everybody enjoys it and everybody keeps tuning in

Behind the Scenes with Tomas Moniz author of ‘The King of Aloe Vera’

A full transcript is below.

SPEAKERS

Teresa Douglas, Tomas Moniz

Teresa Douglas  00:10

Welcome listeners to this week’s behind the scenes episode with Latin X lit audio mag. I’m your host Teresa Douglas. And today we’re going to be talking to Tomas Moniz, the author of The King of Aloe Vera. Moniz’s debut novel, ‘Big Familia,’ was a finalist for the 2020 PEN/Hemingway, the LAMBDA, and the Foreward Indies Awards. He edited the popular Rad Dad and Rad Families anthologies. He’s a 2020 Artist Affiliate for Headlands Center for Arts. He has stuff on the internet but loves penpals: PO Box 3555, Berkeley CA 94703. He promises to write back. Welcome Tomas!

Tomas Moniz  00:54

Thank you so much for having me. And I appreciate you reading my PO box because I love letters.

Teresa Douglas  00:59

Oh, and we’re fully going to put that in the show notes so that any listener who takes you up on that offer can easily find it. So maybe we’ll have a whole flood of pen pals coming soon.

Tomas Moniz  01:10

That would be wonderful. I’ve got a few that, you know, I put it in my book as well at the end. And I would get these letters from random strangers who checked out my book from the library in Des Moines, Iowa and telling me what they thought was wonderful.

Teresa Douglas  01:22

That’s nice. Well, we are going to talk about this wonderful excerpt but before we do, we’re going to take an off topic question here for just a moment. Because it is sort of like you’re sitting in my metaphorical house, at my metaphorical table, and I would offer you, I guess it would have to be metaphorical food at this point. But if I were to offer you something to eat, I would love to know what you like. So what is your favorite comfort food?

Tomas Moniz  01:51

That’s a tricky question. It’s interesting. I thought about that when I looked over the pre notes. I would say immediately coffee, although that’s not a food, but coffee certainly makes me feel comfortable, relaxed, like I’m in a safe space. So you know that really resonates with me. But if I had to go with food, I’d have to do like, you know, some tortillas and eggs.

Teresa Douglas  02:14

That’s sounds like we would be having a nice brunch somewhere.

Teresa Douglas  02:17

There you go! That sounds nice.

Teresa Douglas  02:19

Have a coffee. Have your eggs and tortillas with a little salt on the side. Ah, so good.

Tomas Moniz  02:26

So now I do know what my comfort food is: brunch.

Teresa Douglas  02:30

It’s a whole thing, right? Because especially coffee is just the stuff of life. We’ll just throw it in there. Everybody needs their caffeine at any point in the day.

Teresa Douglas  02:41

So thank you, I would I would definitely want to serve you some coffee and make some tortillas with you. Sounds wonderful. Well, the king of Aloe Vera. So this, this is an excerpt that you sent. And it’s lovely because it was so interesting. It’s intriguing. And I’m getting ahead of myself. I get so excited when I get to talk to authors about their stories. Before we do that, let’s talk a little bit about you and your background. And I would love to know, how long have you been writing?

Tomas Moniz  02:41

Oh, yes.

Tomas Moniz  03:12

Um, that’s an interesting question as well. I think I’ve been writing, um, kind of as long as I can remember, I used to listen to albums, and they’d have like, they used to always put one instrumental song on an album. And for some reason I hated that there were no lyrics, I would be writing lyrics to the instrumental songs on any album, that were there, me and my brothers. But I think I took seriously writing in college. I was a real young parent at 20. And I think I also came into the kind of community of zines and kind of activism and so I noticed that there were a lot of self published DIY zines on every topic you could imagine. Except what I was really interested in which was like parenting, how to be a parent, how to raise my son in ways that I wasn’t raised. And so kind of the ethos of that community was like, well, I’ll just start one myself and so that really was the beginning of my writing career–creating the zine Rad Dad and asking other parents to write about what it was like to parent in non traditional or non mainstream ways.

Teresa Douglas  04:25

That’s amazing. And as someone who started a podcast I am 100% two thumbs up about starting something if you don’t see what you want out there. So way to go, way to go for that. And then I was just reading through your your excerpt here. Is fiction your first love? Do you write other things? Are there other secret loves of writing that you have? Tell me all about that.

Tomas Moniz  04:49

I love the process of writing multi genre–that’s what I like to think of myself, right multicultural multi genre. I mean, I started obviously with creative nonfiction essays like how, how do we parent? Right? How do I talk to my son about, drugs and the environment and things like that. And then, of course, my daughters. It was a decade long project. But I find myself, using flash fiction or prose poetry to, to kind of write about very particular moments or ideas or thoughts. And then I would use that as material to kind of generate longer prose pieces. So I find myself using the specific genres to build up to longer prose. And that’s really what I’m doing now is I’m, I’m finding a lot of pleasure in that difficult space of sitting down and working on something that I’m not gonna be able to finish in a day or a week, but something I’m gonna have to kind of meander through for the course of six months, eight months, a year. So that’s, both the pleasure and pain in the writing process.

Teresa Douglas  05:59

It’s an interesting thing that you say that, because it seems both sort of organized and intuitive, this idea of starting with something shorter, and then just sort of working your way to longer that’s like, the writer version of a couch to 5k, really.

Tomas Moniz  06:17

As someone who would never run, I would not know, but I get it.

Teresa Douglas  06:23

Listeners, if you’re thinking of writing a novel, this might work for you, if you’re getting a little stuck, you can do like Tomas does, and you could start smaller and shorter. And so sort of, it’s like running a marathon for the novel.

Tomas Moniz  06:37

And so it’s been really nice, if I’m stuck, bored, don’t know where to go in my longer pieces, I’ll just turn to, like playful stuff. Usually, my shorter stuff is kind of playful, funny, little dirty, you know, whatever. It’s just meant to be pleasurable in the writing, and also the reading of it. And that then inspires me to get back into my longer work, which is sometimes less pleasurable, because you’re kind of writing these longer scenes and stuff like that. So yeah, they really feed off of each other.

Teresa Douglas  07:11

It’s, like the potato chips of writing. You have these little flash pieces, just consume a little bit and then move back to the–what would that make the novel then? If short stories are potato chips…?

Tomas Moniz  07:23

Baked potato? I don’t know what metaphors to go to.

Teresa Douglas  07:28

And maybe I should stop thinking about food and–

Tomas Moniz  07:30

Yeah you’re making me hungry. There’s a scene in the excerpt, which I wrote as one of these little flash pieces that had nothing to do with the character or the idea. But once I wrote it, I realized, oh, this fits perfectly with the character trait I’m trying to work with, with the main character. So I put this random scene that I wrote for nothing into the book, and I think it works very well. And that’s the scene where, you know, he’s messing with the kid who’s pushing buttons in the elevator.

Teresa Douglas  08:05

This whole excerpt feels, I don’t know if saying gleeful is really the right adjective. You’re gonna hear rustling here, listeners, because I have the excerpt printed out. There’s just so many moments in here, where I just love Ray, first of all, because he’s such a personality, like a genuine human being. I could see this guy at the library, pushing the cart, I feel like I almost know him in the way that the details are coming out. He’s pushing the cart, he’s telling the kid to push all the buttons, nobody’s here; his multiple requests to get a proper broom. And deciding that he’s going to stick it to the man and the library establishment. I just love the way he thinks. And he’s going to do all these things. And just, it hints at that wider world of lived experience. I believe this guy has been on the earth for 70 years, because he has a lot of opinions. And he isn’t just this character that exists in this moment, without any depth. He has depth, I guess, is the better way to put it in. And there are so many points where I’m just laughing at him. And and I love that there’s ageism that gets thrown into here. And the way he deals with it. Again, I’m getting ahead of myself. Can we talk about how you decided on this idea? What’s the process? So first of all–there are many firsts, and you can take this in any order you like–is this novel done? Is this something you’re working on? Just tell me tell me all the details about your writing process.

Tomas Moniz  09:49

Right. Well, thank you for that. I love the description of gleeful because I do think that’s really what I wanted to capture, this joy and vulnerability. I was really trying to capture a character that survived. I think that was really important to me. When I was thinking about this project, like, what does it mean to survive, because a lot of my writing before this manuscript was focused on, people in their 30s and 40s, sometimes their 20s. And it was all this kind of like, angst in a certain way. And I kind of wanted to imagine that, because I’m getting older as well, like, what did we do, to continue to maintain ourselves to stay committed and involved? Because I think that’s also the struggle that Ray goes through, as you’re reading this book. Where does he belong? Where do elders belong in our society in general? It’s funny, because early on in my writing process, I’ve worked on children and really advocating that children need to be involved in all facets of our lives, for the most part. And I feel like, the same thing could be said, for our elders. Where do we welcome them in? And how do we kind of benefit from their presence in our everyday lives. So that’s the idea that I was trying to go for, but I wanted humor, I wanted a little bit of politics in it. The manuscript is done. And in fact, it’s out on submission with my agent. We’re hoping we’re that it will get published in the next year or so. We’ll see.

Teresa Douglas  11:25

Yeah, I would I just read this, and I told you in an email after I had read it, that Ray just intrigues me. The fact that he has a very definite date when he wants to tie up all his loose ends. We won’t reveal anything that needs to be revealed later. But I was hooked. Here he is, tying things up. And I love again, I love this idea that he hates, first ofdoes the coddling from the librarian, but he will use it if he has to. That was so poignant, because it’s something that many marginalized people have to contend with. There’s this box that people want to stuff you into and you’re, living your life, trying not to be in that box. And when’s the moment when you just kind of have to use it-.

Tomas Moniz  12:22

Right?

Teresa Douglas  12:23

-just get something done. I mean, Ray just wants a broom, okay, and to organize books by color. And so maybe in our lives, those, those things we need to do are less or less fun (than Ray’s needs), but it’s absolutely something that a marginalized person would identify with. This idea of, well, the box is there. And you can’t get away from it all the way. So when do you use it? When is the greater good? It’s just beautiful. And so there was that, there’s the cigarette butt bandit and I love that. Ray has this was girl who lives near him. And he didn’t quite recognize her because she’s part of the unhomed community, and how he’s dealing with that and going to tell tell Alma there’s someone smoking in the non smoking zone. I love how lightly he he talks about that. I love the way that you are dealing with so many issues that are sort of up front. And in some ways, they’re unflinching, but yet told with humor, so we can get into this world and see it without, I guess getting overburdened? That’s probably not a great way to phrase it, but it’s deftly done.

Tomas Moniz  14:01

Right. I hear what you’re getting at, because I struggle with that. And it’s a fear of, I think, not just mine, but lots of writers–or artists I should say. How do we talk about something important without being overbearing, or didactic, right? We want to address these issues that we are all seeing on an everyday basis, experiencing in our families. But at the same time, we know that how we present the stories we tell, impacts how they are received. And so there’s that fine line, or that balancing act that we’re trying to make. I think I think I learned a lot of that early on talking about parenting because because I hated as a reader to read anyone who says this is how you should do it.

Tomas Moniz  14:51

Yeah. Also any time someone sounded like I’m a wonderful parent or I’m the you know. Even with Rad Dad I struggled with the name. It’s not about being a cool dad, it’s about being open to talking about the failures as parents, and what we can learn from them. And I think I learned that struggle there. And now, I feel like it’s benefited me as I’m trying to talk about issues in fiction, while at the same time trying to be humorous and creating characters that I love and that are irritating, right? That you can maybe watch them grow or fail.

Teresa Douglas  14:51

Right?

Teresa Douglas  15:28

And the fact that you’re walking that line, I believe, helps people see them because we’ve we’ve all had those experiences, where you’re walking past a homeless encampment, or you’re walking past something, and you don’t look, or you’re trying not to see because it hurts you to look at it in some ways. And we need to look at it. And because of the way you’re writing, it’s easier to see like the Cigarette Butt Bandit is a human being. And we’re going to see her I would imagine in the rest of the book. She’s interacting, she has her own agency, she has things that she’s doing, she’s her own person. And I loved how human everybody is in this. And how, again, I think that’s a very big portion of why we’re able to sort of engage with some of the issues that you’re you’re clearly bringing up here.

Tomas Moniz  16:31

You will definitely see more of her. She’s one of my favorite characters.

Teresa Douglas  16:36

Can we can we talk a little bit about–I think we’ve hit on some of it already, but just the sorts of impressions that you would love a reader, or in in this case, a podcast listener to be left with after they hear your story?

Tomas Moniz  16:52

That’s a good one. What I would like to have readers leave the story or the world or the character with is just the sense of vulnerability. And at the same time, this need to connect with other people. That’s really what I want, in this particular novel, to explore. How we create community now between not just a biological family, but the people on our street, the neighbors we have. A thread in the novel that doesn’t really come up in this excerpt is, what we leave behind, like legacy. Ray is struggling with what he has been left from parents, and at the same time, what he is going to be leaving behind. Themes I would love people to leave with is like vulnerability, community, and at the same time, kind of their sense of humor and playfulness, because Ray is meant to be kind of a funny character. And I wanted to try it.

Teresa Douglas  18:02

He is! I just love that he’s a whole person. He moves between being sort of grumpy, and not being grumpy and being sort of radical when he talks about the establishment and the fact that he’s not looking away from the homeless encampments. He knows the people there, so he’s a person who has some some moral fiber to him. That image just comes out very, very well. I know I want to see more of this story in its novel form, and I’m sure other people will as well. Do you have a place where people can follow you and see where your next things come out?

Tomas Moniz  18:46

Generally, I mean, yes, Twitter would be an easy one. I use that primarily for my writing work. I do have an Instagram and a Facebook and I balance that with my personal life. I have a brand new story out on catapult.com, which is a really great story about a rescue dog and friendship in the pandemic. With Ray actually, this is one of the few manuscripts that I didn’t really submit excerpts from. This is actually the very first time Ray’s been released into the wild.

Tomas Moniz  19:24

Awesome! I’m his first person to see him!

Tomas Moniz  19:26

Yeah, it really is. And so it’s been nice thinking about how he will be received because yeah, with other manuscripts I tend to put out excerpts here and there, you know, I write like we initially talked about–these like smaller stories that then get expanded into longer stories. But with Ray I kind of knew right away what I was doing, and that was a different kind of process with that story. So yeah, Twitter would be the best place I just have a brand new story out that I think I really like and hopefully Ray will be out as a complete book, you know, sometime next year.

Teresa Douglas  19:59

Awesome. And listeners, if you check the show notes, you’re going to see some links to some of these different things, including the catapult story. Check it out, because I think you’re going to enjoy them as much as this story. I love Ray. I just cannot wait to see him out in the wild in novel form and find out what happens to him, too. Thank you for coming Tomas to this podcast. I really enjoyed having you here.

Tomas Moniz  20:30

I appreciate you having me here as well. This is really a great experience to think about right in this context. So thank you.

Creative Nonfiction: Pyramid of the Sun by Aubrey Lozano-Cofield

Pyramid of The Sun 

By Aubrey Lozano-Cofield

It’s the summer of 2005, two years before Natalie’s death, when we travel south from Texas to our father’s home country of Mexico. This memory, for me, is important. It marks the last of many things. 

The only other family trips we’d taken up till then were to the Texas coast, about two hours from where we lived in San Antonio. We always stayed in a Red Roof Inn Motel, usually just for the weekend. If you know anything about Texas beaches, you know the water is burnt umber, and in the summer there’s no real relief when your feet go from scorching hot sand to water because the water is likely only slightly cooler than the sand and air. But still, in reflection, it sits fondly with me.  

This time we’re preparing for a 15-hour drive across the border, stopping along the way to stay with friends and family. Domanick, our brother, is the oldest, then it’s me, Natalie, and Sophia, the baby. Dad and mom sit in the front of our blue dodge van, a box television on the floor between them. Natalie and I aren’t even two years apart and we fight like it. We’re both debating who gets middle row because there’s more legroom and better access to the VHS player. “My knee hurts!” Natalie insists and so I digress, making my way to the back of the van with Domanick. I pull out my CD player and slide in Jewel’s new album Pieces of You. The same 8 songs play on repeat for hours as I zone in and out of daydreams, constructing my future through the optimistic lens of innocence.  

When Natalie was 2 my mom was swinging her in our backyard when the sun caught her eye just right, illuminating a faint grey dot on Natalie’s cornea. Natalie was diagnosed at 2 years old with retinoblastoma, cancer of the eye. That was 9 years before the trip. A prosthetic eye, routine checkups, and no cancer. Once cancer is a tangible reality, not just a St. Judes commercial, it doesn’t matter how far you are from it, every bump, every ache is unsettling. Especially for a mother. Natalie’s knee pain got progressively worse in the weeks leading up to the trip and I could sense my mom at war in her mind. 

There’s a clear shift when you cross the border from the US into Mexico. The country is alive, the streets crowded with people on foot, dogs without leashes, merchants selling Talavera pottery, and sarapes next to shoes you’d see in the states. We buy Canal chewing gum from the kid at the stoplight while his older brother washes our windshield. I can’t stop staring at all the people that look like me but also look nothing like me. A few kids tried hopping on the van and dad laughed at our initial shock. Dad is speaking his native language and it sounds like music the way he doesn’t get stuck on a word, the way he does when he speaks English. His Spanish is so smooth it rolls. Some buildings could use a good power wash, but the street food smells so good, like grilled onions and homemade corn tortillas. Mom is watching us from the rearview mirror, this isn’t where she was born but it’s part of us, and it’s part of her. 

We made our way to a town called Tula, Hidalgo in central Mexico, where my father grew up. Tula is a small town with a river and scattered springs where my dad played as a kid. We came to explore the backdrop of my dad’s childhood stories and to see the Toltec ruins. 

A few days after arriving in Tula we drove an hour south to San Juan Teotihuacan, an ancient Mesoamerican city about 30 miles from Mexico City that houses one of the largest pyramids in the Western Hemisphere. 

My dad’s friend Mario came as a sort of guide. Mario is a wealthy hotel owner and met my dad when they both led similar lives. Now my dad has a small cottage home in Texas that his wife pays the mortgage on, and Mario has hotels and many homes throughout two countries, but they grew up together and their bond is like family. 

Our backyard was double the size of our small two-bedroom home where the six of us lived. The grass was green in our patch of South Texas, except for under the second-hand swing set missing a trapeze bar and one swing. Who cares though, we used the whole thing like monkey bars. 

My dad liked watering the grass, but only at night when the heat somewhat let down and you could inhale the air without suffocating. It was the thing he complained about the most, the darn South Texas heat. He missed Tula, where the temperatures stayed about 70 degrees year-round. 

When we first moved in, mom planted two rose bushes against the backyard porch. I remember my mom’s messy bun and the way she handled the plants carefully while Natalie and I ran around with gloves and plastic shovels. After years of renting houses and apartments (including the rat-infested one in Mexico that single-handedly sparked mom’s phobia of rats), she finally owned a home. It was small but in a good neighborhood. She liked the idea that we’d grow up in one house, in the same city as she did. 

Mom started working long hours shortly after she planted the roses and didn’t have time to maintain them anymore. The rose bushes eventually grew much taller than us, towering and resting wild against the small porch. We didn’t mind. They were the best hiding spots because no one wanted to search through the thorny stems. 

Our eternal backyard is useless without an imagination. 

That’s how we ran around. Imagining forests and secret passageways. Building tree houses from old boogie boards, and sticks from the neighbor’s tree that hung over our fence. The fence with a few pieces of board missing, where Bo, the next-door neighbor’s dog digs, and we play with his paws. 

In the same yard, we took mud baths, where the grass never grew again. On windy days we’d sway from one end of the yard to the other yelling “we’re back, we’re back on Windy Island!” Rain was the most magical. Rain was for playing, not for staying in. We’d lift our faces upward to catch the water in our mouths and the water became a part of us, something connecting us to the clouds, a cycle, something endless. 

We walked through the grounds passing first The Pyramid of The Moon. Mario pointed out the areas where bodies were buried. He told us that this is where our ancestors roamed. Behind my daydreams of what this city must have looked like, Natalie complained about her swelling knee. My mom’s eyes watered, and she looked at my dad, maybe we should stop. 

No, it’ll be ok, my dad said, I’ll carry her

The next day mom would convince dad to take her to a local doctor. The X-rays revealed a mass, and the mass would be confirmed malignant when we got back to the states. Cancer again. At the Teotihuacan ruins, we exist unaware, an innocence preserved, and I can’t get it out of my head, one side of a major shift. 

We reached the bottom of The Pyramid of The Sun, 248 uneven steps to the top. My dad insisted we make the trip up. He put Natalie on his back and the seven of us ascended. 

The incline was steep. The higher the steps the more narrow and uneven they became. About halfway up we had to crawl, using our hands and knees to grip each jagged corner. It’s so steep you were forced to submit to it, bowing as you humbly make your way up. Dad and Natalie reached the top last. Natalie hung on to my dad’s back like a little monkey, her eyes open and searching, but not scared. 

The wind blew harder at the top, 216 feet up. We looked out and below us. We all stood there. The six of us looked out at a city still standing, its inhabitants long gone, the blood of our ancestors within us. We existed on a pyramid that rose and stood through so much death, long before Natalie was born. Had we known this would be our last family trip with the complete crew of six, maybe we would’ve done something in reverence to the power of who were then, who we’d never be again. But that’s also the power of “lasts”, they’re better appreciated as a feeling you’ll never quite get back, when remembering is the only way there. 

Pairings, Part 3: So Funny It Hurts

 

Thanks for tuning in to Latinx Lit Audio Mag; I’m your host, Teresa Douglas. And Welcome to the third part of our three-part Perfect Pairings Episodes; these episodes are my way of pulling back the curtain, if you will, so you can hear these pieces the way I do—in groups that play off of each other.

This week’s theme is So Funny It hurts. Carlos Greaves’ 10 Types of Vicks Vapo Rub Your Abuela Keeps Around the House is straight comedy. Also, it’s a little healing because I thought my Abuela was the only one who put Vicks on you if she thought you looked a little off.

Abram Valdez’s piece, The Facilities are for Mourners Only, mixes humor with sadness to tell an ultimately hopeful story of a family healing while grieving.

The Latinx diaspora encompasses a multitude of cultures and histories, but we are united in the way we use joy and humor to dance our way through the many phases of life. These pieces are great examples of this. Enjoy!

 

This story originally appeared in Flexx Mag

10 Types of Vicks VapoRub Your Abuela Keeps Around the House

by Carlos Greaves

Vicks VapoRub is a staple of any Latin American household. Made by Procter and Gamble, it’s been around for 115 years, and your abuela has been using it for at least 90 of those years. Here are the 10 varieties of Vicks your abuela definitely keeps somewhere around the house.

  1. Regular Vicks

    This is your standard Vicks VapoRub. It cures most upper respiratory illnesses, and probably the lower respiratory illnesses too. Your abuela definitely has a jar of this variety. Probably two.

  2. Nose Vicks

    In addition to regular Vicks, your abuela has an extra jar of Vicks specifically for rubbing all up under your nose whenever you have a really bad cold even though the label clearly says not to do this. Your nostrils will feel like they’re on fire, and you’ll smell nothing but menthol for 4 days, but sure enough, your cold will disappear. Could it have just been your immune system doing its job? Maybe. Your abuela is convinced it was the Nose Vicks.

  3. “Por si acaso” Vicks

    This is the Vicks that your abuela rubs on you because, even though you’re not sick, you are looking a little pale, so it’s best to just rub some on for good measure. She will then tell you that you also need to get some sun. Or bathe in salt water. Probably both.

  4. “Sana sana colita de rana” Vicks

    This is the jar of Vicks your abuela keeps specifically for applying to bumps, bruises, and scrapes. You have no idea whether it’s safe to apply Vicks to an open wound, but it’s your abuela, so you don’t question it. And hey, you’ve survived up to this point, so it can’t be bad, right?

  5. Scented Candles Vicks

    Your abuela rubs this jar of Vicks on candles to make her entire house smell like Vicks. If you can barely survive in a house reeking of menthol, then the germs definitely won’t be able to, so the thinking goes. You don’t dare question this flawless logic. By the way, remember the open wound she put Vicks on earlier? It’s not looking too great.

  6. “Ese gato maldito” Vicks

    This is the Vicks your abuela uses to try to keep the cat from scratching the furniture. It is the only Vicks that doesn’t work, because even your abuela can’t stop a cat from doing what a cat wants to do.

  7. “Ese perro maldito” Vicks

    Unlike the Gato Maldito Vicks, this Vicks was highly effective in getting the dog to stop misbehaving. You don’t know what she did, or where she put that Vicks. All you know is that your dog does not misbehave around your abuela anymore. In fact, your dog looks like it’s seen some shit. Your abuela can be very scary sometimes.

  8. “Mal de ojo” Vicks

    This is the Vicks that protects you from mal de ojo. Duh.

  9. Curandera Vicks

    Statistically speaking, your abuela is the neighborhood curandera, or healer, so she keeps a jar of Vicks that’s specially suited for curing your neighbors’ various maladies. She infuses this Vicks with witch hazel aka agua maravilla, and it cures all manner of afflictions from hemorrhoids to a broken heart.

  10. Holy Vicks

    The Rolls-Royce of Vicks. This is the Vicks that your abuela somehow convinced the Pope to bless when she went to the Vatican, and It. Cures. Everything. But you better have cash on hand because your abuela isn’t about to give away her Holy Vicks for free. Also, your open wound got severely infected. Better pony up the dough.

 

The Facilities Are for Mourners Only

by Abram Valdez

Gloria marvelled 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 the 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 when he was messing his papers, 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 away.

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 she could share with them in a few days. And that led to what would she share with everyone else 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.