Monday, February 22, 2021

La Bloga’s interview with Estella González regarding her debut short-story collection, “Chola Salvation”

By Daniel A. Olivas

I first read a short story by Estella González in 2005. I had sent out a call for submissions for what would become the 2008 anthology, Latinos in Lotusland (Bilingual Press), which was my response to the complete lack of anthologies of Los Angeles Latinx fiction. Estella submitted “Act of Faith” which established in my mind that this new writer had a distinctive voice that was filled with great humor and humanity. She was born and raised in East Los Angeles which inspires her writing including her submission to the Latinos in Lotusland anthology. It took only one reading for me to snatch it up.

Over the years, Estella continued to write, publish, as well as teach. Her fiction has appeared widely in such venues as Kweli JournalThe Acentos ReviewHuizache, and right here on La Bloga. Her work has also appeared in Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse (Lost Horse Press), and she received a Pushcart Prize “Special Mention” and was selected a “Reading Notable” for The Best American Non-Required Reading.

So, when I learned that Estella’s debut short-story collection, Chola Salvation, was forthcoming from Arte Público Press, I was delighted and anxious to find out more. Praise is already coming in including this from Publishers Weekly: “González’s debut collection delivers a layered portrait of Mexican American life rooted in 1980s East Los Angeles. An inviting tapestry.”

In anticipation of her book’s April 30 release date, Estella kindly agreed to give us a sneak peek by answering a few questions for La Bloga.

Estella González (photo credit: Kathleen Dreier)

DANIEL OLIVAS: How would you describe your debut collection to those who might not know your writing?

Estella González: I call it “East Los real,” a mixture of harsh, even brutal situations mixed with dashes of playfulness and dark humor. Growing up in a working-class Mexican/Chicanx family sometimes means developing a thick skin and a sharp tongue to maintain hope and set boundaries. In my collection, working class characters and their children struggle with stereotypes placed on them in American cities and educational institutions. Some protagonists succumb to their circumstances while others transcend them through wit and creativity.

The distinctive sounds of East L.A. and its people figure in the stories. Of course, Spanish, Caló, and Spanglish accentuate most if not all of the narratives. Besides language, the stories reference 80s music, especially British New Wave, to highlight the heartbreak, defiance, and hope the protagonists experience. Rancheras, cumbias and boleros also flavor the soundscape of East L.A. which is ever evolving.

Thematically, the stories address surviving abuse, oppression and betrayal while upholding one’s dignity. Some stories are about surviving family and some are about surviving with the help of family. Of course, East L.A. prominently plays a role in each of the stories, as setting, memory or lingering influence.

DO: Which is your favorite story in the collection and why?

EG: The titular story, “Chola Salvation,” is one of my favorites since it reflects the empowerment I longed for when I was Isabela’s age, 15. That year was a watershed year for me. I struggled with expectation of being a Mexican daughter and an American teenager. I struggled with the double standards inherent in patriarchal cultures, both American and Mexican. I longed for some “superhero” friends to help me get out of East L.A. and all that it represented to me at the time.

I also love the bold voice in the story. I had just finished reading The Letters of Frida Kahlo: Cartas apasionadas (Chronicle Books) compiled by Martha Zamora while I was writing Chola. Kahlo’s voice busts through those letters with her Mexican idioms, slang and just overall vibrant style. I wanted that same vibrancy to come through in my stories. At the time, the most audacious persona in East Los was the chola, the defiant malcriada the women in my family warned me about. But she became the superhero in my story because she was bold and unapologetic. I didn’t see it when I was younger, but as an adult I could see that she was also an empowered woman. In real life, the concept of the chola is more complex, but for a 15-year-old fictional character who feels disempowered, the chola can become a superhero. I combined the chola persona with the Virgen de Guadalupe, who was the ideal woman I’d known throughout my childhood and adolescence. Murals depicting her image were and still are everywhere, from housing projects, car dealerships, to liquor stores. Combining the Virgen with an outspoken chola created the supreme chingona Isabela needs to push her out of her oppressive family. I couldn’t imagine a more likely superduo than a bad ass Chola Virgen who joins forces with a bold artist to rescue a teen Chicana.

DO: Can you share the process of finding and placing your book with your publisher?

EG: I entered the short-story manuscript in various contests and would receive finalist honors but could never clinch the publication award. With each loss, I would return to the stories, revising, expanding and including new stories. Some stories were published in literary websites and journals like La BlogaKweli Journal and Huizache. Those publications buoyed me while I continued to send out the collection.

One day last year, after another rejection, I decided to take my chances and submit to one of my dream publishers, Arte Público Press. But I hesitated because the possibility of being rejected by one of the premiere Latinx publishers scared the hell out of me. Then came the Dignidad Literaria movement sparked by writer Myriam Gurba. Their crusade against the discriminatory gatekeeping practices of the white literary establishment inspired me to overcome my fear and take my chances with Arte Público. If they rejected it, then so be it. Like life, rejection will happen but sometimes someone will say “yes” and Nicolas Kanellos, the director and publisher, did.

DO: Mil gracias, Estella, for spending time with La Bloga. And I am so happy for your success.



Join me for this free workshop sponsored by LibroMobile on Saturday, March 6, at 1:00 PM PST. RSVP now! LibroMobile’s Voices editor, Erin Rubin, will moderate our discussion and we hope you will have some questions of your own. We will discuss how to write powerful, effective book reviews. This event is free, and perfect for any age. Visit this Facebook link for details.

1 comment: said...

Inspiring interview and I'm excited to read and share the book. I too found the book of Frida's letters to be exhilarating as a lover of language and liberation and the dance between both, so I'm looking forward to seeing that bold, empassioned voice distilled thru the author's work, with which I'm not yet familiar. Gracias!