I want to look at myself.
To look at myself in my own light.” Marigloria Palma
Translated by Carina del Valle Schorske
Angie Cruz: Maybe we should start with the fact that this issue was anchored by a conversation we had with Sandra Cisneros when she visited Pittsburgh, and she spontaneously had us draw maps at the dinner table. How we quickly could see by looking at our maps where we have been and even where we wanted to go. Some of us were very good at it, some of us couldn’t barely orient the cities we live in. We understood it was a rare occasion, eight Latino/as, all writers at different stages of our careers, all very much committed to making this world a better place. I think this conversation is the heart of the issue. Maybe we didn’t have it in mind directly when we went through the submissions, but as we made our choices, we realized all the pieces aired some dirty laundry. All the pieces in some way share an intimacy between women, between fathers and sons, lovers, friends, mothers and daughters. All swing open the door and allow us into the devastation of loss, what we desire, what we are capable of. Don’t you think?
Adriana E. Ramírez: Absolutely! One of the things I love about the phrase “la ropa sucia se lava en casa,” is that there is an inherent contradiction to it—when I think of dirty clothes, I imagine laundry lines, with all the linens on display. Yet, the way the phrase is used, dirty clothes are meant to be hidden, obscured—the mystery preserved. I think this tension/contradiction is helpful, even going back to our maps. Mine was so detailed—anally correct, even. I felt the need to hide it, afterwards. Because there was a shame in being so exact, so nerdy, so eager to show off what I knew. Other people at the table did the opposite. Only three states would be labeled, but the person describing the drawing would boast of their lack of knowledge, root their minimal geographical knowledge in a story, a personal history. Being a little wrong cartographically didn’t matter, what mattered was the story. Hence, my shame at hiding my perfectly crisp and white laundry—there’s no story there. I wanted the story. That mood, the desire for the imperfect but powerful histories we carry, informed this issue, from that dinner to the final edits we’re making as we write this!
AC: The best part of collaborating on this issue with you is that, even if we work together on Aster(ix), we don’t always have time to share or talk in depth about what we love in writing. So I loved rereading pieces that “slayed” you, as you said about Norma Liliana Valdez’s poems. I love that poem too, but I wonder why that one hit you so hard.
AER: I’ve been wanting to write that poem for years. I’d read a story in the newspaper about twenty people found in a shipping container in the desert. Their bodies and stories haunted me. And I’d been trying to figure out how to write a poem that carried that weight, both in scarcity of language and power of feeling. I’ve thrown out dozens of drafts. And then, reading Valdez’s poem, I knew I could stop trying.
She’d done it so perfectly, so beautifully. The simplicity of the image, the connotations of grief and life in the final line. Some poems punch you in the gut in the best way possible. This one slapped me in the face. And I’m better for it.
AC: In our conversation, Sandra mentioned Joe Jimenez as a writer she loved—so of course I reached out to him to solicit some of his work. When he sent us his essay, I was completely unhinged by it. He wrote, “There are stories I am not going to tell you,” and then “In other words, maybe it’s the guilt I will forever carry when I watched and did nothing as my mom’s boyfriend and his friends beat the shit out of an opossum with a baseball bat.” I think the issue is filled with that tension between what we are not allowed to say, what we fear to say, what we will say anyway.
AER: And what we can’t say, even if we want to. Absolutely. Jimenez’s piece is a delicate dance—tough to execute correctly (as are all lyric essays). I admire the pacing in particular, the breaths between verses. I think that silence speaks to the heart of what you’re saying. Is that silence driven by fear? By rule? By choice?
AC: In “The Algorithm Falters,” Galaviz writes, “The boy on Match doesn’t ask what you want, but we are getting more accustomed to this, to speaking even when we aren’t invited to, because we so rarely are.” In this #metoo moment I find that many of these stories—from Alvarez’s “Swinging from A Chandelier,” that resists the conventions of being a married women, to Huerta’s character’s embrace of the bruja gift her mother passed on to her—are a way of speaking up, of complicating what women are capable of and who we are.
AER: Those complications are my favorite part—those are the things that stick with you, long after you’ve put the pages down.
Angie Cruz is editor of Aster(ix) and teaches creative writing in University of Pittsburgh. She published two novels, Soledad and Let It Rain Coffee and her third novel, Dominicana, is forthcoming.
Adriana E. Ramírez is a PEN/Fusion award-winning nonfiction writer (2015, Dead Boys, Little A), storyteller, critic, and performance poet based in Pittsburgh. She co-founded Aster(ix) Journal with Angie Cruz. She is completing her next book, The Violence, due from Scribner in 2018. More information on her can be found at aeramirez.com.