Interview with ForeWord Reviews
What was your favorite childhood book?
I donít recall a favorite childhood book; however, my
favorite childhood activity was hanging out at Ernie
Pyle Library with Mom. The aroma of books and the
mysterious catalogue made it a magical place for me.
Without my early exposure to libraries, I would never
have ended up co-authoring a childrenís book,
Grandpaís Magic Tortilla (UNM Press) with Rosalee-Montoya
What are you reading now?
Iím reading Prosperoís Mirror (Curbstone Press),
a collection of short stories by Latin American authors
in Spanish with accompanying English translations; a
Granta issue of stories by young Spanish-language
authors from Latin America and Malincheís Daughter
(Mamotombo Press), a memoir by Chicana writer, Michelle
Otero. Each month I devour World Literature Today,
a magazine that brings me fiction, nonfiction and poetry
from around the world, as well as interviews and
reviews. Itís absolutely necessary for writers to be
inspired by the works of their counterparts
and to know the political contexts in which they write.
What brought you to writing?
My first novel, Mother Tongue (Ballantine), came
out of the Central American struggle of the late 70s and
early 80s; itís about a Chicana who falls in love with a
Salvadoran refugee living in Albuquerque. A few years
before writing the book, I had been charged with
conspiracy against the United States government and
faced a potential 25 years in prison. This was for
allegedly transporting refugees as part of the Sanctuary
Movement, a movement where U.S. citizens aided those
fleeing Central America and its death squads largely
funded by the U.S. government. I had been covering the
movement as a reporter; therefore, the jury acquitted me
on First Amendment grounds.
The Block Captainís Daughter
came about after receiving a phone call from Grace
Paley. She all but ordered me to write short stories;
you donít say no to Grace. So I read all her short
stories along with those of Sherman Alexie. Many of
their stories are hilarious, while at the same time,
taking on serious political and cultural issues. Their
stories showed me what was possible. I had a great
editor, Frank Zoretich, who bloodied up my drafts with
his red pen. All these stories added up to my novella,
The Block Captainís Daughter.
What are you doing when youíre not working?
I work at Los Jardines Institute, a community garden in
a poor, but culturally rich, neighborhood. We raise
organic food with the goal of getting it to those who
canít afford fresh produce, much less organic food.
Weíre part of a larger community concerned with food
security and justice. I would not be a writer today
without a history of activism.