Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Nuestras Voces, Our Voices: Emerging Latina writers talk about their work - Julia Rios

Editor's note: this is the seventh in monthly series of guest blog posts in which emerging Latina writers talk about their work, their process and what inspires them.

Julia Rios is a writer, editor, podcaster, and narrator. She hosts the
Outer Alliance Podcast (celebrating QUILTBAG speculative fiction), and
is one of the three fiction editors at Strange Horizons. Her fiction,
articles, interviews, and poetry have appeared in Daily Science
Fiction, Apex Magazine, Stone Telling, Jabberwocky, and several other
places. Her website is www.juliarios.com, and she's @omgjulia on Twitter.

Embracing diversity

My father came to the United States from Yucatán, Mexico when he was a teenager. My earliest memories are filled with his melodious voice, deep and still bearing an accent that marked him as different from my mother's WASP family. Though he spoke English fluently, and even got a PhD in Psychology from the University of Southern California, his English speech patterns remained slightly off. He never taught me Spanish, but I managed to absorb some of his foreign markers all the same. To this day, I sometimes use the wrong prepositions, or not quite usual English constructions when I'm tired. "Put it in the table," I'll say. "Close the lamp."

Most of the time when that happens, it amuses me, but sometimes it makes me angry, or profoundly sad. My father wanted me to be proud of my heritage. More than once in mid-September, he took me to Mexican Independence Day celebrations on Olvera Street in Los Angeles, he made sure I knew Cinco de Mayo was not "Mexican 4th of July" like many advertisers claimed, and he shared stories and food from his home with me in between our infrequent visits to his family. But for all that, the reason my father didn't teach me Spanish was because in Southern California, Latin@s abound, and unfortunately, so does racism. My father wanted me to pass for white, to assimilate, and to have the privilege accorded to people who didn't speak Spanish at home.

As an adult, this push and pull of pride vs. shame is still confusing, and I spend a lot of time thinking about who I am, which communities I belong to, and why. I realized a few years ago that as a child I loved the show I Love Lucy, because it presented a comforting family structure. There was a white mom and a Latino dad who had an accent, yelled a lot, and also liked to sing. It was very similar to my own home. When I asked my sister if she liked it, too, she was surprised and said yes, and that it was weird we'd both liked it because it wasn't a particularly new or popular show during our childhood. It should be obvious though that there's nothing weird about us wanting to see ourselves reflected in our media.

Because of that, I have been paying more attention to what I put into my fiction lately. I started out writing with default straight white viewpoint characters, because that was what I'd understood was "normal" in commercial narratives. Now not everything I write includes Latin@ content, but I've issued an open invitation for those aspects of my background to come out and play. I think about all the other people out there who long to see representations of themselves, and I take that as challenge to embrace my own diversity.

I'm not just a Latina. I'm Mexican. I'm American. I'm bisexual. I'm a feminist. I'm left-handed. I love cats. All of these things are part of me, and none of them alone make me who I am. My story "Oracle Gretel" recently appeared in PodCastle and is forthcoming in Heiresses of Russ 2013 edited by Steve Berman and Tenea D. Johnson. It features a bi protagonist and a talking cat. My story "Love and the Giant Squid" will appear in July in Pen-Ultimate: A Speculative Fiction Anthology edited by Lisa J. Cohen and Talib Hussain. It features a character who has a lot in common with my own father, though he's very much a fictional person. I don't know what the future will bring for my writing, but I do know that all of it will be in some way Latina, because it all will come from me. If I want to encourage my Latin@ peers to stretch out and embrace their full identities, whatever they may be, I guess first I must start with myself.

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