Sisters Born, Sisters Found is not just an anthology of women writing about theirs sisters. The book acts as mysterious force unifying the sisterhood of women for readers and authors alike. The sister found. Last night one of my “sisters” recounted her experience: while lunching in the hospital cafeteria—her husband was in for a procedure—she entertained herself reading Sisters Born, Sisters Found. The two women at the next table, sisters it turned out, eyed my friend. “Is that a book about sisters?” one asked. “We always look for stories about sisters. They’re what we and our friends read.” In my own experience, I can’t keep enough copies on hand when I go to writer’s events. I’m flocked by my writing sisters to buy copies.
And if not for this lovely anthology, how would I have come to cross paths with the author of Lentil Soup, (page 11) Maria de Lourdes Victoria?
Maria is a writer, teacher and social justice activist from the Pacific Northwest whose award-winning novels have yet to be translated to English from her native Spanish. She authors bi-lingual children’s stories and writes articles in English for various social justice publications. She says of her writing career, “I always wrote, but I became an author when I decided to write a book for my sons. I wanted them to be proud of their Mexican heritage. I also wanted an excuse to spend life in Mexico in the company of my father who was an amazing human being.”
Find her at: www.mariadelourdesvictoria.com
Ana: I’ve reread Lentil Soup and again, it’s brought tears to my eyes. What a beautiful story! I wish I could read your novels, but I’m just not that fluent in Spanish, and I didn’t find translations on Amazon. Have you been translated?
Maria: Unfortunately my novels have not been translated into English (yet.) I am looking to sell the foreign rights to a smart (smile) editor who is willing to take a chance on three manuscripts that have been warmly received in the Spanish-speaking world. I cannot afford the translations. Translation is an art and I have deep respect for good, literary translators.
Ana: Your hometown is beautiful Veracruz, Mexico. When and how did you come to divide your life between Seattle and California?
Maria: My adventure in the USA began when I was seventeen years old. I came as a foreign exchange student to Seattle to learn English. While I was here, in high school, I met my husband. We married when I was nineteen and he was twenty-four, and yes, we are still happily married. But much as I tried, he would not move back with me to Veracruz. He is rooted in the Pacific Northwest and I can’t get him to go to California even! Move forward 37 years and we now have five beautiful grandchildren (such a gift!) who all live in California. They are the real reason I live in both states, back and forth I go, enjoying the wine country in the winter and spring months, and the glorious summers and falls in Seattle. And when I cannot stand it any longer I travel south to visit my beloved Mexico, my jarochos, palm tree, sugar cane, mangoes, parroquia coffee and danzon in the zocalo.
Ana: I enjoyed parroquia coffee to the sounds of marimba in Veracruz. Do you still have an extended family there?
Maria: Yes, all my family, except two sisters, live in Mexico. I have siblings in Monterrey, Veracruz and Cuernavaca.
Ana: How did your family come to live in Mexico? Is your family history similar to the family histories of your protagonists in Los hijos del mar?
Maria: Los hijos del mar is the story of my ancestors, going back to the mid 1800’s. My mother’s side of the family came from Spain and made a living in the coffee bean industry. My father’s family came from a small town in Veracruz called Catemaco (yes, where they have the yearly annual conference of national witches) and they fished in the lagoon and had a pharmacy. My grandfather went to Mexico City, got his degree as a pharmacist, and when he graduated he went back to Catemaco, picked up his family and moved to the “big city” of Veracruz, where he started his own pharmacy. This is where the story of Los hijos del mar begins.
Ana: In your story, Lentil Soup, you identify several family members including your sister, but there’s scant mention of the rest of your immediate family. Was your sister your principle caregiver? How many years apart are you? Can you expand on your relationship a bit?
Maria: When I was two years old our mother died and left our father a widow with six children. The car accident that took my mother’s life also left my father incapacitated, so the children were distributed among family members. Eventually we were reunited, but in the meantime [we] developed a close relationship, which has lasted until this day.
The sister in this story (I have six) was my playmate and my rock during this time of loss. The principal caregiver was actually our oldest sister, Pilar, and to her I dedicated my second novel Mas alla de la justicia (Beyond Justice).
Ana: As an ESL teacher and a struggling student of Spanish, I know how hard it is to become fluent writing in a foreign language. I’m impressed with your ability to write in English, but which language do you primarily write in? Is there an advantage to one over the other?
Maria: When I first arrived in this country I could not ask for a glass of water. But then I fell in love and had the right motivation to learn quickly. I know it is easier to be published in English, and yet my heart whispers the stories in Spanish. So I listen. Sometimes it is a real struggle, for example, my second novel, Beyond Justice set in Seattle, with all English speaking characters, about the judicial system in the USA, that was a real challenge— especially my Afro-American character, Rhonda. How to convey her beautiful culture and persona and be true to her slang in Spanish??? It was not easy…
Ana: Language is culture-bound and I wonder if your work is more Latin or more North American depending on the language you write in. I tasted a distinct flavor of Latin America in your bi-lingual children’s books. Do you consider yourself a Mexican author, a “left coast” author or something in between? Do you have any thoughts on language and culture?
Maria: I consider myself an author who writes primarily in Spanish and sometimes in English. My work gets labeled (maybe for cataloging purposes?) and I am often amused by the way I am described—Latina author, Mexican author, Chicano author, Spanish author, Hispanic author, etc, etc.
Here is a little poem I wrote one day when I was asked, yet again, if my parents were missionaries in Mexico.
I am an author
I am an author.
I am a woman author.
I am Mexican woman author.
I am a Mexican woman author who is blond.
I am also an American.
Yes, there are Mexicans who are Americans.
Yes, there are Mexicans who are blond.
Yes, there are Mexican women authors who are blond,
I am not what you see but what I write.
I am my words.
I am an author.
Ana: Reading Lentil Soup, I’m reminded of Laura Esquivel’s Como Agua Para Chocolate for the strong connection between food and family. In your story and that book, food takes on near magical properties. Is this a cultural tradition in Mexican families and literature? Do you use food as a theme or metaphor in much of your work? How?
Maria: I am not sure I can generalize about Mexican literature and food, but I can say that most Mexican people take great pride in their own, regional cuisine. As you know Mexico is an incredibly diverse country. Each state has its own regional dress, music, cuisine, we have over 69 official languages! Veracruz alone is an amazingly diverse state. I am a jarocha, for example, which is to say I am from the port of Veracruz. But to answer your question, I think if you are writing about close-knit families in any given society (like Laura Esquivel’s De La Garza family in a Mexican ranch or Jane Austin’s landed gentry in England), the rituals around food are key elements of the story. The third novel which I am now finishing is a historical novel set in Oaxaca. It would be a sin, I think, not to include the traditional foods of Oaxaca in that story. So be ready for a literary feast!
Ana: You are a member of the Latino Bar Association and write articles on social justice. What do you write about and where might readers find your articles?
Maria: I consider myself a “recovered litigator” (smile) I no longer practice law, but I write about it. A lot. Readers may find my work on my blog and also on some journals, like the Seattle Journal for Social Justice or Conversations Across Borders
Ana: Everyone should read Cien Anos de Solidad (One Hundred Years of Solitude,) in my opinion. What Latin writers are your favorites and what book has influenced you the most? Who should everyone read?
Maria: I have a huge list! Yes, I always said that Gabo (Gabriel Garcia Marquez) was my boyfriend, but my favorite book of his (in Spanish) is Love in the Time of Cholera (not the movie). Other authors in my library: Gabriela Mistral, Rosa Montero, Isabel Allende, Roberto Bolanos, Alejo Carpentier, Julio Cortazar, Romulo Gallegos, Jose Samargo, Ibarguengoita, Vargas Lloza, Maria Duenas, Galeano, Rosario Ferre, Rosario Castellanos, Adelia Prado, Teresa Calderon.
I am happy to say that we started the reading clubs inSpanish at the King County Public Libraries in Seattle. Maybe this could happen in the Bay area? Maybe this is already happening? I want to know!
Ana: What else do you think readers want to know?
Maria: That I consider the time they take away from their busy lives to read my work a true GIFT. And this is why I try to give them my best effort.
I invite you to accept Maria de Lourdes Victoria’s gift of Lentil Soup and the joy as Maria and her sister “once again seal our pact: lentils in exchange for perpetual love, and not just any love but real love, Amor de los Buenos.”
Please be sure to check out the next post in our blog tour:
Monday, Feb. 23: Paige Adams Strickland interviewed by Vicki Batman http://vickibatman.blogspot.com