Monday, September 28, 2020

Interview of Donna Miscolta by Xánath Caraza

 Interview of Donna Miscolta by Xánath Caraza


Donna Miscolta’s third book of fiction Living Color: Angie Rubio Stories, about lessons a young Mexican American girl learns in a world that favors neither her race nor gender, was published by Jaded Ibis Press in September 2020. Her story collection Hola and Goodbye, winner of the Doris Bakwin Award for Writing by a Woman and published by Carolina Wren Press (2016), won an Independent Publishers award for Best Regional Fiction and an International Latino Book Award for Best Latino Focused Fiction. She’s also the author of the novel When the de la Cruz Family Danced from Signal 8 Press (2011), which poet Rick Barot called “intricate, tender, and elegantly written – a necessary novel for our times.” Recent essays appear in pif, Los Angeles Review, and the anthology Alone Together: Love, Grief, and Comfort in the Time of COVID-19. Find her at



1.    Who is Donna Miscolta?


I’m of Filipino and Mexican heritage. I was born in San Diego, CA and lived my early years there except for two years in Hawaii. When I was nine, my parents bought their first, last, and only house in National City, which is on the south and west boundaries of San Diego. It was a perfectly fine place to grow up. Only when I was older did I realize how it was looked upon by others in the region. Its nickname was, and still is I guess, Nasty City. It had a reputation as being dangerous and full of trouble. Other high schools feared coming to our turf for home football games. Too many Mexicans, they said.


This post on a forum in response to a request about what National City is typical of the opinion held by outsiders:


National City is kind of at the bottom of places most people would want to live in San Diego. It's "ghetto" to some, but nothing too terrible but nothing really nice either. Lots of Filipinos and Mexicans in that area, so it's very ethnic. Unless you like ethnic food and stores I don't see a whole lot there for you. If you were thinking about this area b/c it's cheaper, well there is a reason for that. It's not terrible but it's just a typical working-class ethnic city.


I mention this because the places where we grow up help shape who we are and how we see ourselves in the world. I was never scared living in my city. I felt safe, yet not exactly at home. I knew I would leave at the first viable opportunity. Maybe it’s because I knew there was a bigger world out there. National City felt confining to me. My family never ventured far. We never took vacations. We stayed in our neighborhood.


We lived ten miles from the border with Tijuana, but I was never allowed to cross over. My grandparents went often, and my aunts and uncles on occasion, but for us, the grandchildren, it was off limits. Other things were deemed unnecessary to our lives such as knowing Spanish or Tagalog.


So I grew up in an “ethnic city” where it was difficult to fit completely within the Mexican or Filipino communities, especially since my parents were so determined to be seen and accepted as “Americans.” When I write fiction, my characters are either Mexican or Filipino, not a blend like I am, which I have yet to figure out how to convey on the page. My first book When the de la Cruz Family Danced featured a Filipino American protagonist. My second book Hola and Goodbye is a collection of stories about three generations of a Mexican American family. My latest book is a collection of stories about the life lessons a Mexican American girl learns as she progresses through each grade in school. I think it’s through non-fiction, through a series of personal essays I’m working on, that I’ll best be able to write about these two aspects of my heritage.


2.    I know you have a new book coming out. What’s this book about?


Living Color: Angie Rubio Stories came out September 21 from Jaded Ibis Press, a small press whose mission is to publish “socially engaged literature with an emphasis on the voices of people of color, people with disabilities, and other historically silenced and culturally marginalized voices.” It’s available from Bookshop, IndieBound, and other online sellers. You can also order it from your favorite independent bookstore.


The book is a collection of stories that follow Angie Rubio, a Mexican American girl, through her years of school as she learns lessons in and out of the classroom about race, class, and gender. Except for the first one, all the stories are set in California in the 1960s and ’70s and take place against the events on the nightly news—the Cuban missile crisis, the Watts riots, Beatlemania, the Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics. These events are the backdrop to the minor dramas of Angie’s life. Yet her mini-tragedies reflect the greater turmoil of the larger world. The shunting of children of color into “dumb” classes, the inequities of the education system, and routine and normalized microaggressions are the stuff of Angie’s existence that she tries to understand and navigate. They were the stuff of my existence and probably that of many who will read this book. Ivelisse Rodriguez, author of Love War Stories, captures the universality of Angie’s experiences in her description of Living Color:


“We have all been Angie Rubio, voiceless, rejected, but always on the precipice of being more. Throughout this endearing collection, you will become more than a reader, you will become Angie’s champion until the world she inhabits catches up. Miscolta writes with heart for all the brown girls who feel invisible. These stories say with love and sincerity: I see you.”


3.    Do you plan on having an online book release?


I did have an online book launch sponsored by Hugo House, the writing center in Seattle, and the iconic Elliott Bay Book Company. The evening was supposed to have consisted of a conversation between me and writer Kathleen Alcalá, author of six books. Kathleen and I have known each other for well over thirty years. We met as members of a newly formed Seattle chapter of MANA, Mexican American Women’s National Association, in the early 80s. We both grew up in Southern California, Kathleen in San Bernardino, and me just south of San Diego. We made our separate ways to Seattle in the years after college. We were going to talk about

our California girlhoods, leaving home to find our place in the world, racism, and monsters. Unfortunately, Kathleen’s internet connection on the island where she lives failed. It was disappointing, but Rob Arnold, Hugo House Program Director and also a writer, graciously and seamlessly stepped in, and we touched upon many of the same topics Kathleen and I had originally planned. I have several other online events coming up and they can be found on my website. One event that is not yet listed is scheduled for November 23 with Town Hall Seattle. I’ll be in conversation with another Latina writer in Seattle whose book Flying Free also came out in September. Cecilia Aragon is a brilliant, amazing woman who overcame her shyness and fear of flying and became the first Latina to make the U.S. Aerobatics Team. She’s also the first Latina full professor in the College of Engineering at the University of Washington. I hope some La Bloga readers will join us for what I think will be a fun event.



4.    Color, diversity, girl power surround Ruby in your upcoming book. Tell our readers about her.


Angie Rubio is an observer mostly because she is too shy and insecure to be in the mix of things. But she does engage at the periphery, leading at times to unexpected forays into the spotlight which transform into moments of reckoning, usually at the expense of her self-image. But she is also a thinker, reflecting often on her brownness, her name, friendships and sisterhood, being female, and her future. She feels confined by the smallness of her world, which seems to have no place for her to fit. While she often feels defeated, she also carries within her a determination to move forward to some as yet undefined future.




5.    Is this an enjoyable book for all ages?


Definitely. There’s a misconception that if a book features a young protagonist, then it must be for young readers. This book will appeal to young readers, though it wasn’t meant to specifically target that readership. Anyone who was once a kid, who experienced social awkwardness, who suffered from a sense of dislocation or not belonging, who was looking for a place to fit in the world will relate to the stories in Living Color.



6.    What else would you like to share with our readers.


I hope people will view the book trailer for Living Color. I know there’s some doubt regarding the effectiveness of book trailers in book promotion. But there’s so much reliance now on online modes for distributing information, news, and pleas for attention. Small press books often don’t have a chance against the books from the large presses with more resources to hail a book’s entry into the very crowded book landscape, which is why I made this book trailer. Plus, it was a fun project. The illustrations are by Daniel Ramirez, my daughter’s partner, whose visa process to come to the U.S. was interrupted by the pandemic. He remained in his native Ecuador, while my daughter and their infant son left on one of the last flights out in March because she had accepted a job here in the States. I think that doing these illustrations helped Daniel a little in alleviating some of the difficulty of his solo quarantining in Quito and waiting for consulate services to resume.


I described to Daniel what I had in mind for each drawing and he delivered perfectly. In one of the drawings, he inserted Ilio’s name. I like to challenge viewers to find it. Having my grandson’s name in my book trailer that contains illustrations done by his father is part of what makes it special for me. Also, I did the narration because I wanted my voice connected to the stories I had written about Angie Rubio, a character whose experiences mirrored mine and possibly those of many of my readers. The book trailer, like the book, was a labor of love.








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