Estela González Interview with Jonathan Cardew
Estela, thank you so much for sharing “La Perla del Pacifico,” a story drenched in the color, heat, and taste of Mexico. The story is an excerpt from your novel, Limonaria—can you tell us a little more about this work?
Thank you, Jonathan. It has been a long-time dream to see my work in Connotation Press. And it is an honor to have this conversation with you and your readers.
I wrote my novel after returning to the world of my childhood memories and finding it radically changed. The novel offers a fictionalized depiction of my dad’s hometown, where my extended family congregated for Christmas and Easter holidays. In “Ayotlan” I learned not to fear the sea and to love my body. It is also the place where my conservative grandmother would send my teenage cousins and me to the beach with a sweater over our bikinis, lest we catch cold on 85-degree weather.
When I returned after years studying abroad, touristic development had eroded my beloved beach to non-existence. The town’s leaders seemed to have struck a devil’s bargain by developing and selling paradise for touristic consumption.
On the personal level, the novel is the story of another devil’s bargain—the one a mother makes by placing her daughters on the path to success, regardless of their own view of fulfillment. Unfortunately one of the daughters is gay.
When Mariana falls in love with her childhood friend and joins her in beach conservation projects, Mariana has to decide how far her courage will go in reversing the damage her elders have inflicted on nature and on the likes of her.
“La Perla del Pacifico” is a sensual piece in many ways. As I followed Mariana’s progress from airport arrivals to hometown, it reminded me of my own experience of travel. As an immigrant myself, I find that when I return to England, my senses are heightened—at least for those first few minutes, hours, or days. The same is true wherever you travel, but there is a peculiar feeling of both familiarity and strangeness in returning to your homeland. How do you feel the immigrant/travel experience influences your work?
Displacement is one of the drivers of my writing. But I would call it migration, not immigration. In my view, immigration implies you have arrived “here,” established yourself. But even after living in the U.S. for at least half of my life I do not feel completely established.
You leave home assuming you will go back. But with each return you realize that you belong less and less in the place where you were born.
You may feel comfortable in your new place, yet you never lose the feeling of estrangement: never fully identifying with your neighbors. They do things a certain way; back home we do things this other way.
And then the same thing happens when you fly “home.” They still do things like in the twentieth-century?
I go “home”, hoping to find the park with the rose bushes growing like weeds; or the churro stand where my family and I drank hot cocoa during a summer storm so violent that the awning almost collapsed on us. I know that park, that churro stand are no more—and yet I look for them every time.
And I feel obscurely inclined to reject things that show improvement: greener places, restored architecture: I resent the new museum because it displaced the stand with the emaciated horses for hire that taught me to gallop.
Migration shows me what a sea of contradictions I am—we are.
What artists have influenced or informed your creative work?
I love the great nineteenth century novels: Tolstoy, Flaubert, Dickens. They taught me the patience to discover the nooks and crannies of the characters’ individuality, and to trust the narrator. Then there is a barrage of Latin American writers: Luisa Valenzuela, Mayra Santos Febres, Elena Poniatowska, Julio Cortázar, Alfredo Bryce Echenique. They all taught me to love the poetry of the language, and to distrust the very contradictory narrators.
Virginia Woolf, Luis Alberto Urrea, Barbara Kingsolver, Junot Díaz, Sandra Cisneros, Milan Kundera, Arundhati Roy. So many writers.
You mention in your blog that you came out as gay later in life. How has that significant event changed your approach or attitude to writing, if at all?
I wrote a lot before coming out, but most of my work stayed in the closet with me—those who knew me would have discovered who I was before it was safe. Then when I was ready to come out I sent away all those pieces, and started publishing some. So I came out both as gay and as a writer.
What writing projects are you working on, or hope to work on in the future?
I am writing The Age of Aquarius, a collection of stories and essays about Mexicans, sea turtles, and other endangered species. A few of these pieces are already out. I hope people like them.
“Maga.” Solstice Selects: Two Years of Diverse Voices,Winter 2016. Originally in Solstice Literary Magazine.Winter 2014.
“Open Triangle.” The Fem Literary Magazine. December 2015. zu House: Literature of an invasive species. Fall Quarter, 2016.
Do you write fiction in both English and Spanish? How would you compare and contrast your experience and practice of writing in these different languages?
Indeed, I write in both languages. What’s more, I often do not know which language I might write a story in until I put it down on paper. I write as though writing letters: in my mind there is always an interlocutor, someone to whom I address my story: a long-lost friend, a neighbor, an adversary. I write in the language that person might find clearer, or more compelling.
I’m not very well read when it comes to Spanish language writers in translation. Could you recommend some writers—both past and contemporary—that I should put on my reading list?
Besides the ones I mentioned above, I hope you read Yuri Hernández, Valeria Luiselli, Guadalupe Nettel, Alejandro Zambra. And again, Luisa Valenzuela. Everyone should read Luisa!
Thanks so much for joining us at the Connotation Press table this month, Estela!
Thank you so much, Jonathan! I am honored.
In order to preserve the artistic arrangement of the writing, this piece has been created with Print2Flash Flashpaper.