Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Nuestras Voces, Our Voices: Emerging Latina writers talk about their work - Jessica Olivarez-Mazone

This is the first in what I hope to be a semi-regular series of guest blog posts wherein emerging Latina writers talk about their work, their process and what inspires them.

I decided to start this "Nuestras Voces, Our Voices" series because if it is hard for Latinos to be heard among the voices of mainstream writers, it is doubly hard for Latinas. You might be tempted to think we are mute.

Part of it has to do with our upbringing. which more often than not tells us we should be self-effacing and modest. So we swallow our stories.

Sometimes we choose to go silent because our Latino hermanos take up all the air in the room. "At least they're getting heard," is what we say to ourselves then. "After them, it'll be our turn."

But it never seems to be.

Our stories —and those of our mothers and grandmothers — have mostly been heard in the company of other women: around the kitchen table, as we are making tortillas or tamales together, or when we are sharing a tequilazo or a cerveza on a night out with our comadres. Or whispered from ear to ear, mother to daughter and friend to friend.

And it turns out we have an astonishing set of voices. Voices resonant with joy, shadowed by harrowing experience, mysterious like a flare of light over unknown features. Proud, amazing, Latina writer voices.

I know, I've heard those whispers.

So I'm flexing my prerogative as an older Latina writer — you know the type, bossy and loudly insistent —to help as many people as I can reach hear the beautiful voices of my younger hermanas.

Think of the "Nuestras Voces, Our Voices" series as an incantation from the smoky depths of the cocina or cantina. You haven't heard these words before, and what they call up ... well, it's our magic.

Nuestras Voces, Our Voices: Emerging Latina writers

Jessica Olivarez-Mazone

 Jessica Olivarez-Mazone is a South Texas emerging writer, mom, former teacher and grad student, who is raising two bicultural children, embarking on a real food journey, and crafting. She blogs at Tejana made (http://tejanamade.wordpress.com/); follow her on Twitter @tejana_made. 

La Lechusa: Why I blend folklore with contemporary fiction

I found a book among the dusty shelves of my rural school, a relatively obscure book titled Stories that must not Die by Juan Sauvgea. Inside those pages was a cultural legacy that held all the different leyendas and cuentos that had been around South Texas communities for decades.

I embarked on a literary journey soon after reading that one book. I became obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe and his poem, “The Raven.” That one poem with the devious raven scoffing at Poe was reminiscent, to me at least, of the whisperings of the oral legend, “Lechusa”

Even that one word “Lechusa” sounds just as ominous as “Nevermore”

Lechusas somehow gained the ability to shapeshift from human women to giant owls. Everywhere across South Texas, oral stories were spun about these huge birds. Each variation discussed how they tormented but never how they gained the ability to shapeshift.

Every time I found a “scary story” book about the leyendas of my youth it was always just a retelling. It was the same thing, a generic one-sided look at these amazing characters.

I began to experiment with re-writing these oral legends and creating an environment for them that was modern. I rewrote them all: the Llorona, the Cucuy, El Guapo Extranjero, Bailando con un Fantasma. But the one that struck a chord with me was always the Lechusa.

The Lechusa , a powerful female entity, was only trying to keep her own sense of balance while actively finding ways to strike fear in the very culture who cast her aside. It was more than just a witch who could shapeshift: she was often just as cruel as the owl inside her.

I wanted very much for my main character and the Lechusa to have that deep protagonist and antagonist arc.

What would cause the Lechusa to steal children and harass others?

Could she be summoned?

I wanted to know the why behind the tales. I also didn’t just want to make it modern but I wanted to create an entirely different world filled with people that had powers (curanderas) fighting against the Lechusa.

It became an obsession really, creating these two characters, one a young girl and the other the Lechusa. I always knew that whenever I wrote about my characters I would set them in the only place that I knew.

South Texas.

Texas is full of towns isolated from each other. I wanted to bring that sense of isolation to these stories. It is still a place where the dark haunts us. These stories are whispered even after all these years, manifesting the dark we hold within ourselves.

Sometimes, I feel it is the essence of a culture dying.

It isn’t enough to just tell the story but to reinvent it. 

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