Ana Consuelo Matiella interview with Meg Tuite
La Madrina: The Godmother is one of fourteen different archetypes in your collection Estampas Femeninas. I was blown away by the first few lines in this story that speak of the history that held women back.
“Octavio Paz once said that Mexican women had no identity of their own, and that they only existed when men woke them up. Centuries before Paz, Grimm and Andersen without ever having stepped foot in Mexico had the same philosophy. They told us stories of sleeping princesses and damsels stuck in towers waiting to be awakened, rescued or defined by men.”
Tell me how these myths of women played a role in your collection?
As a child, I loved fairy tales. I mostly read Spanish translations of Grimm and Andersen and was completely enthralled. Very early on I could recognize the witch and the angel, the good girl and the bad girl. By the time I was five years old, I knew the difference between a good mother and a bad mother. Those were all the beginnings of my own self-analysis, and of course those impressions, “estampas” were limited and limiting, but they were mine. The writing process for me is a process of self-awareness and so these myths and expectations worked out in fairy tales and in my traditional Spanish-Mexican upbringing played a pivotal role, not only in this collection, of course, but in my own manifesto.
I love these godmothers who come along and break through all those stereotypes. How did they change your life?
For starters, of course, there was Paqui. Who could ask for a better mentor? She was the “the old maid,” but also the head of my mother’s extended family. She was a working woman, worked every day outside and inside the home. She was the most educated, the smartest, the wisest and the kindest in our modest Mexican family. She was infinitely kind to me. I adored her. So she broke through the old maid box, the if-you-don’t-have-a-man, you-aren’t-worth-much, stereotype. She was a professional woman in the 50’s and 60’s, a teacher with her own awesome little school.
Then there was Mamachelo, and she was a force of a different nature. She was a youngish widow and she became a prosperous business woman in her spare time. She was a great role model. She never made a deal out of her accomplishments but she was self-educated and made her own money, in Mexico, again in the 50’s and 60’s, and all the while sewing beautiful clothes and attending society balls and baby showers in Hermosillo, Sonora. By example, she taught me to navigate in various worlds, kicking ass while others didn’t notice. Of course she would never use such crass language!
Then there was Lee Little, who was my psychotherapist in Santa Fe. I consider psychotherapy a privilege I can afford because I work hard for my money, and like Loreal says, “I’m worth it.” I always wanted a Mercedes Benz, but I chose psychotherapy instead. Maybe it was all those Woody Allen movies, but I am happy to say that I have had a lot of good therapy. Lee was the Jewish mother I never had. She mentored me through a divorce that turned out to be stellar and non-toxic, which in and of itself is a modern-day miracle. In many ways, I think Lee came in to help me complete my journey to define what it meant to be my own woman. She helped me gather all the pieces. I wrote the kernels of Estampas under Lee’s tutelage.
Who were the meaningful influences in your life that empowered you to move forward as a writer?
Two women again: Paqui, my Madrina and maternal aunt; and Miriam Sagan, sister of my heart, and writing mentor. Paqui, for buying me my first journal and telling me, “You know all those people that pass by the house on Calle Rosario every day? They each have a story. You could write those stories.” And Mir, for telling me when I first studied under her, that the reason to write was not to get published but to “express what’s inside your soul.” That pretty much nails it, ¿qué no?
The true beauty for me, in this collection, is the extended family and all the women who stuck by each other? Is your family a closely-knit group?
My extended family was once a closely-knit group and my aunts and uncles saved our lives in those hot days in Arizona and Sonora. But when the elders died, the stitch was lost. It is now sadly part of my past. I am close to my brothers and sister, of course, and I adore my daughter, but I’m afraid acculturation got the better of my relationship with my extended family. My sister keeps in touch with the cousins and the nieces and the nephews through Facebook but I don’t partake of it just yet. She gives me the news but I have lost touch. It is one of my great losses, to be sure.
How was it to live in two separate worlds? Mexico and the US?
Crazy-loco, and actually, not separate. That’s why they called in Ambos Nogales – “both Nogaleses.” There was no other place like it when I grew up there and today it is even more surreal than it was then. Then, it was one community with a flimsy chain-link fence. Now it is a scar constructed of racism, xenophobia and ignorant, arrogant men with guns and drone envy. Please notice I am trying to be diplomatic.
What would you say to a young woman making her way in the world of writing?
“See those people walking by your house every day? Each one of them has a story. You could write those stories.”
Beautiful! What are you reading at the moment?
I just finished The Death of Bernadette Lefthand by Ron Querry and it broke my heart again for the second time. I am now reading a graphic novel, Maus, by Marc Speigelman and I need to stop reading it at bedtime because I wake up hating Germans, and that can’t be good. In the morning when I wake, I need to talk myself into all the reasons why everyday citizens witnessing these atrocities couldn’t stand up and defend humanity. It makes me wonder if I would be willing to die if I watched a child being slammed up against the wall. Not good. I think I’ll stop reading Maus already and pick up Danielle Steele.
Hahaha! From Marc Speigelman to Danielle Steele. LOVE IT! What are you working on at this time?
Funny you should ask. I just started writing Estampas Masculinas - Mexican Masculine Archetypes. No fooling. It starts with a story about my mother convincing me that my dad was the guy on the American dime. I didn’t know it was Roosevelt until I was ten.
Another great one! Looking forward to that collection, as well. Do you have a favorite writer that you go back to again and again for inspiration?
Yes, two. Gabriel Garcia Marquez is the Man; Edith Wharton is the Woman.
Give us a quote that you feel speaks to you.
“Si no te ríes de la vida, te lleva la chingada.” (Translation: “If you don’t laugh at life, you’re fucked.”)
(Sorry, we could say doomed but that would not be accurate. “Screwed” is okay.)
“Fucked” works much better for me! Great quote and great interview. Thank you so much, Ana, for sending Connotation Press some of your pure brilliance. I look forward to your next collection.