Sunday, February 12, 2017

SanTana's Fairy Tales: An Interview with Sarah Rafael Garcia

Olga García Echeverría


I've been carrying around a small zine in my bag for weeks, Zoraida & Marisol. What's there not to love about small books? They're light and portable. They're easy to read or re-read in one sitting. If one wishes to share, they're easy to pass on mano a mano. Carrying around books long after I've read them is a habit. It has to do with my romantic attachment to physical books. Kindle just doesn't do it for me. I like to stare at front and back covers. Fan and fondle pages. Re-read and underline passages. Aside from the words, I appreciate literary bonuses, cool visual artwork or creative touches, like a fabulous bookmark, a red ribbon rising from the pages like an insistent flame. I like holding books in my hands, contemplating the labor, the drive, and the passion of the artist who birthed the words.





"Zoriada & Marisol" is one of six stories in Sarah Rafael Garcia's SanTana’s Fairy Tales, which will be released in April of 2017. The entire collection will be translated by poet Julieta Corpus and published by Raspa Press.  An ebook will also be available via Digitus Indie Publishers. Other stories in the series include “The Carousel’s Lullaby,” “Just A House,” “Hector & Graciela,” “When The Murals Speak…” and “The Wishing Well.”

Currently, each of the stories in the collection is being released in small chapbook/zine format. The first librito in the series, Zoraida & Marisol, is about a fairy godmother who has come to the aid of a dying woman. Both characters are transwomen. Both have known hate and violence. Zoraida carries with her a narrative/a testimony and also some fairy godmother magic, the ability to grant Marisol, upon her request, vida o muerte. Today, we are honored to feature an interview with Sarah Rafael García.

Welcome to La Bloga, Sarah. Can you share a little about the inspiration behind this project? Is there a specific reason why you chose the fairy tale format?

Interestingly, I started writing fairytales after studying in Ireland while completing a MFA program in Creative Writing. I had a real challenging experience obtaining my Masters degree, the program itself lacks diversity and support for students of color, and even more so for first generation graduate students. During my last year, my thesis year, I decided to not submit my initial thesis project to avoid receiving additional critique on my culture and language use in a historical novella I’m writing. Ireland made me realize that I could use another form to tell my stories, a form people around the world are familiar with and that are also part of pop culture. Fairy tales and fables are classic styles used time and time again, so I started writing feminist short stories incorporating some of the characteristics of fairy tales and fables in order to offer a counter narrative to female narratives, as a way to turn the male gaze back on society, making society accountable for sculpting our stereotypes. And out of that collection, I also wanted to include the transwoman narrative and that’s how the first SanTana’s Fairy Tale came to exist, “Zoraida & Marisol” was inspired by undocumented, transactivist Zoraida Reyes.

I first learned of Zoraida Reyes and her murder as a result of reading your story. It was painful to read about what happened to the real-life Zoraida. Why did you decide to write a fairytale about Zoraida and was it difficult for you to do so? 

Initially I heard of Zoraida’s death through social media in 2014. I was still living in Austin completing my MFA degree at Texas State University. I had met Zoraida in passing during a couple of community events in Santa Ana. I was familiar with her work in the undocuqueer and trans communities. I met her through a mutual friend and writer, Alexa Vasquez. When I thought about writing the story I was apprehensive to do it without permission. Being that I was facing microaggressions and witnessing cultural appropriation in my MFA experience, so I sought out Alexa for her opinion and guidance. That conversation naturally turned into an interview and I continued to converse with Alexa through various versions of the story. I also continued to research stories published in the media and using their point of view to offer a counter-narrative and publish Zoraida’s name, as it should have from the beginning. Prior to publication, I proceeded to share the story with more folks who knew Zoraida too. I still feel apprehensive reading it aloud, I can’t say I’m the voice for Zoraida, nor do I want to be. But I do hope this version of her story inspires other folks in the trans community to keep writing about her and for themselves as well.

Julieta Corpus translates your stories into Spanish. What has been the experience of having your work translated? Did you consider translating yourself?

I just love Julieta! Part of the project is to collaborate with other community-based artists, naturally focusing on the Santa Ana community. But I also wanted to include folks who share my passion as well as my priority to include the Spanish language. I’ve known Julieta for several years and she lives in my birth town, Brownsville, Texas—I’m happy I could also support another community who has contributed to my identity. I admire her poetry as well as her skills to write beautifully in both English and Spanish. I thought of translating myself, Spanish is my first language and I also minored in it during undergrad, but I knew it would take more time away from writing the other stories and I would find it challenging to be lyrical when I mostly code-switch in Spanish rather than speak it regularly. Plus, who better than a poet to translate a fairy tale? It has been so magical to read my work in Spanish, especially because I know I would have not done it as well as Julieta. She does such an amazing translation—sometimes I forget I’m reading my own work!

One thing I love about your libritos is that they are very homegrown; they are born in and out of community and they seem to be meant for that audience as well.  The translations, for instance, make your stories very accessible to Spanish-dominant and bilingual readers. 

One goal for this project is to show that cities don’t need to bring in artists or entrepreneurs from other areas to “revitalize” a city. By investing in folks currently doing the work at the community-based and/or grassroot level, cities can help empower their residents, artists and local independent businesses. Santa Ana is approximately 80% Mexican-American among many new immigrants and undocumented residents who, a relatively large percentage, are also bilingual. Growing up in Santa Ana, I never read a book in Spanish, nor did we have the income to purchase books regularly. But I was fortunate that my parents prioritized our education and motivated us through books. The Newhope Library was our babysitter and bookstore. Although we couldn’t keep the books, our parents used the library to inspire us to learn more and we did. On special occasions like our birthdays and Christmas, books were a preferred gift. I still own the first set of bookshelves my father bought so we could display the books we collected throughout our childhood. It wasn’t until my senior year in high school that I read a Mexican American author, and it wasn’t until college that I read books in Spanish. I chose to provide the SanTana’s Fairy Tales publications on a sliding scale to show that if given the opportunity our Mexican/Mexican American, bilingual community will engage with literature—$2 for the ebook, $5 for individual stories in zines, a traditional full collection of short stories between $15-20 and a large scale book to keep as a historical archive for the city.

Accessibility seems to be critical to the overall work you do (with Barrio Writers and LibroMobile, for instance). Can you briefly speak these literary projects. Were your SantaAna Fairy Tales influenced by them?

I can’t go without saying that all of this was sparked because of the success of Barrio Writers, what once started as a single chapter of 30 youth in Santa Ana in 2009 has now grown to over 500 youth and eight chapters between California and Texas. For the last eight years, youth from all backgrounds, the majority Mexican/Mexican American, show up every summer for free creative writing workshops. Not only do they get published but they also receive free books and field trips to local museums. Similarly, I launched LibroMobile, a literary project by Red Salmon Arts, which aims to provide books by writers of color, bilingual publications and social justice topics along with all year round free literary workshops and events in Santa Ana. All of these projects are my way of offering a counternarrative for not only my identity in the U.S., but of the Mexican and bilingual culture that is often stereotyped in the U.S. as non-literary and underrepresented in the writing and book industries.

How do you balance life, the community-related work, and your actual creative writing/rewriting/publishing? 

I think all writers just want time to write without worrying about money and long-term sustainability. Personally, I can’t imagine writing anything without focusing on my own identity and community, which includes plenty of labels: Chicana, Tejana, Santanera, first-generation college graduate, first born in the U.S., woman, never married, no children, feminist, Mexican, American and the list can go on based on who you ask about me. It’s very difficult to balance it all, especially because I’ve been a nomad most of my life, basically since I was a child. Moving from Brownsville, Texas at four, leaving Santa Ana after my father died at 14, leaving Orange County at 20, bouncing from Dallas, to Austin to Miami, to LA to China and all over Southern California thereafter, and returning to Santa Ana at 34 only to leave again in 2010 and return at the age of 42. I only consider my childhood city my real home, but I can’t say it considers me a native in return. And as with any individual who has had to migrate with family or because of lack of money, I feel un-rooted and nostalgic for a place that probably only existed in skewed memories.

If you had a Fairy Goddess of the Creative Word who could grant you one wish related to your writing, what would it be? 

Right now, my position as an artist in residence at CSUF Grand Central Art Center feels like a “fairy goddess” experience. I live rent free and without utility bills. Yet, because I’m not financially stable, haven’t been since 2004, I still feel overwhelmed by it all and I’m waiting for all of it to disappear at an unexpected hour. My first year in the artist in residence came with some funding, the second year is currently without funds and I have to find a way to eat and travel to promote my writings and various projects. Living frugally has helped stretch my funding, plus I’d rather walk or use a bike rather than maintain a car, if it means I get to spend more time on my literary projects. With that in mind, I submit my writing wherever I can without paying submission fees and seek likeminded publishers who seem to take risks too. But I also have to maintain a healthy and safe lifestyle to avoid medical issues since I haven’t had any real medical insurance for various years now and had to deal with some medical issues on my own. So I guess I do feel like Cinderella or should I say Chavala, cherishing my moment at the ball, knowing time is going to run out sooner or later, but for now I’ll keep hustling and hope that it all ends happily ever after.



Sarah Rafael García is a writer, community educator and traveler. Since publishing Las Niñas, she founded Barrio Writers and LibroMobile. Her writing has appeared in LATINO Magazine, Contrapuntos III, Outrage: A Protest Anthology For Injustice in a Post 9/11 World, La Tolteca Zine, The Acentos Review, among others. Sarah Rafael is also a Macondo Fellow and an editor for the Barrio Writers and pariahs anthologies. Most recently, Sarah Rafael was awarded for Santana’s Fairy Tales, which is supported in part by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, through a grant supporting the Artist-in-Residence initiative at Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana, California. www.sarahrafaelgarcia.com 





More info on SanTana's Fairy Tales: 

Opening on March 4, 2017, the SanTana’s Fairy Tales exhibit at CSUF Grand Central Art Center will present a multi-media installation curated by me and in collaboration with local graphic artist Carla Zarate Suarez with Sol Art Radio. This will also include digital archives collected by CSUF History Department graduate student Mariana Bruno.

On April 1, 2017, the exhibit will showcase bilingual, single-story zines, a fully illustrated published book, an ebook, a large format classical book, an “open book” performance, along with composed music by Viento Callejero‘s Gloria Estrada, who is supported by local singer/songwriter Ruby Castellanos and members of the Pacific Symphony. The entire collection will be translated by poet Julieta Corpus and published by Raspa Press. Digitus Indie Publishers will be produced the ebook.

SanTana’s Fairy Tales is supported in part by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, through a grant supporting the Artist-in-Residence initiative at Grand Central Art Center.

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