Monday, November 2, 2020

Q&A with Elaine A. Peña on Celebrating Washington’s Birthday at the US-Mexico Border

Since 1898, residents of Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, have reached across the US-Mexico border to celebrate this country's first president George Washington's birthday. The celebration can last a whole month, with parade goers reveling in American and Mexican symbols; George Washington saluting; and “Pocahontas” riding on horseback. An international bridge ceremony, the heart and soul of the festivities, features children from both sides of the border marching toward each other to link the cities with an embrace.

Elaine A. Peña's book ¡Viva George! offers an ethnography and a history of this celebration, which emerges as both
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symbol and substance of cross-border community life. Anthropologist and Laredo native Elaine A. Peña shows how generations of border officials, civil society organizers, and everyday people have used the bridge ritual to protect shared economic and security interests as well as negotiate tensions amid natural disasters, drug-war violence, and immigration debates.

Drawing on previously unknown sources and extensive fieldwork, Peña finds that border enactments like Washington's birthday are more than goodwill gestures. From the Rio Grande to the 38th Parallel, they do the meaningful political work that partisan polemics cannot.

This week, we will be attending the American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting virtually, during which we will offer a discount on our new and award-winning anthropology books. Apply the discount code EXAA during checkout on www.utexaspress.com to receive 30% off the full list price of any book, plus free domestic shipping.

To celebrate the publication of her book, we asked Dr. Peña some questions about her research.

Please describe the WBC’s International Bridge Ceremony, and what questions you wanted to answer by focusing on this performance?

The ceremony features two children representing the U.S. and two children representing Mexico walking toward each other on the Juárez-Lincoln International Bridge to share a picture-perfect embrace and to exchange national flags. Other actors, mostly political figures and business leaders from both sides of the border, also share embraces and exchange well wishes. The ritual has taken place in some shape or form since the celebration’s inception in 1898.

Focusing on the bridge ceremony allowed me to trace shifts in cross-border cooperation across several decades and, more importantly, to see how Mexican actors have supported this ostensibly U.S.-centric celebration. I was interested to see if the balance of the ritual—two sides coming together with tight choreography annually for over a century—carried over to everyday border interactions or had an impact on how port-of-entry actors dealt with shared problems and/or opportunities linked to trade, immigration, and security. I took a specific interest in the history and uses of the international bridge because it is co-owned by the Mexican government and the city of Laredo. I thought, well, there are insurmountable inequities that affect that border in terms of poverty and documentation vulnerabilities, for example, but the international bridge—an exemplar of border infrastructure—is co-owned. Both sides share it and thus manage responsibilities and power. Having that conceptual ground to stand on allowed me to dive into the archives and into ethnographic fieldwork with greater attention to what border actors do—how they find innovative ways to cooperate during times of crisis. Focusing on how border actors have festively repurposed the International Bridge Ceremony not only challenges but also empirically denies popular narratives of border dysfunction.

What were your early experiences of the festival, and how has your impression/consumption/participation of it changed over several decades?

We moved around a lot and lived in different places downtown during my childhood so I was used to seeing and interacting with people gathering for the parade. I would work the parade sometimes, selling cold sodas and water. My favorite parade participants were the Mexican tumblers. They would do amazing tricks! Other than that, we would go to the carnival or to the jalapeño festival if we could afford it that year. This is all to say that I was aware of the celebration, and definitely of the beauty and glamour of the debutantes, but I didn’t wonder about it too much. I had other things on my mind as a kid.

Things changed once I got to high school because a lot of my classmates participated in the festivities as debutantes or as escorts. They worked so hard to get selected and they had so many commitments. It was intense.

I went to the Princess Pocahontas pageant in 1996 because my best friend was Pocahontas. That was a really weird moment for my sixteen-year-old self. It was the first time I had attended a “high-class” event and I was really confused by what I saw and heard about Native American tribes. I didn’t know what “playing Indian” was at the time and I didn’t have the vocabulary to work things out, so I was left with a lot of questions.

I began to attend a wide range of celebration events once I decided to work on the celebration as an academic, about ten years after that moment. I attended as many events as I could between 2006 and 2017, including the International Bridge Ceremony, the Pocahontas and Society of Martha Washington pageants, LULAC’s Noche Mexicana gala, the Caballeros de la República del Río Grande cocktail party, and the Mr. South Texas luncheon. I also attended WBCA events in Nuevo Laredo and celebration events hosted by the municipality of Nuevo Laredo. These upper-echelon gatherings gave me insight into why rituals persist, how they are practiced across generations, and how they benefit border business.

The era of paso libre is, as you say, a puzzle. Would you describe paso libre and the incongruous context in which it existed for twenty years?

Paso libre coincided with the International Bridge Ceremony in February 1957. That year, the ritual doubled as the public inauguration of the Gateway to the Americas International Bridge. Dangerous water levels created by Hurricane Alice had destroyed the existing bridge at the end of July 1954. Paso libre was part of an agreement to make the newly constructed bridge operational, and it extended free bridge crossing privileges during the celebration in either direction. In practice, this meant that Mexican citizens could cross the border into the U.S. without having to show documentation every February between 1957 and 1976. Thousands of people crossed the border peacefully and safely during that time.

It took me quite a long time comparing uncatalogued documents in the archives, but I finally figured out that paso libre was a peace-building/port business–securing gesture initiated by U.S. actors, including the INS and the State Department, to persuade Mexican officials to formally open their side of the international bridge. I spoke with as many people as I could who remembered that time and I was lucky enough to locate photos of paso libre at different moments during the phenomenon. I remember coming across photos from the early 1960s showing families walking hand-in-hand across the bridge as well as Mexican military cadets. Photos of the early 1970s are absolutely spectacular because they feature thousands of people walking across the border as part of the bridge ceremony. By that time, anti-immigrant narratives were not only becoming more widespread in the U.S. but were also being politicized as part of the War on Drugs campaign launched by President Nixon in 1969.

It is just mind-blowing to think that paso libre persisted, with lots of fanfare and without incident, for almost twenty years. It is also incredible that paso libre was covered (negatively) by major newspapers like the Los Angeles Times during that period (early 1970s) but was never questioned by academics or mentioned in the history books. ¡Viva George! is the first study to do so.

What aspect of the ceremony does the cover of your book depict, and what is its historical and also logistical significance?

The cover depicts a transformative moment in the bridge ceremony ritual. The children’s embrace in the middle of the bridge is the culmination of months and months of cross-border collaboration between Mexican and U.S. actors. This coordination is sometimes conducted under extreme duress—political pressure to secure the border, etc.—but still, in that moment, the ritual makes visible and palpable the fact that both sides can work together.

You embedded yourself in both archival and ethnographic research. What kinds of activities and participation did your ethnographic research entail?

In addition to conducting archival research in Waco; San Antonio; Austin; Washington, DC; Mexico City; Laredo; and Nuevo Laredo, I spent a lot of time in the field—during the celebration, of course, but also during summers, academic breaks, and sabbatical years. The celebration unfolds in February, but planning happens year-round. I met with WBCA actors, past and present, individually and in groups on several occasions. I attended the planning meetings of bi-nationally focused organizations like the International Good Neighbor Council–Laredo, the Consejo Internacional de Buena Vecindad–Nuevo Laredo, and LULAC Council #12, but I also attended special committee meetings with city officials focused on border security and celebration logistics. I went to dress fittings and rehearsals with the abrazo children and their families. I traveled to Washington, DC, with WBCA actors headed to the annual Laredo Day event on the Hill in early March.

It was also important for me to participate in the International Bridge Ceremony as often as possible and from several different vantage points. One year I headed out to the bridge at 5:00 a.m. to help set things up and to get an up-close and personal take on how international bridge personnel do not close but “redirect” traffic while the ritual unfolds. Another year, I traveled from Nuevo Laredo with Mexican representatives to the bridge ceremony.

Elaine A. Peña is an associate professor of American Studies at George Washington University and author of Performing Piety: Making Space Sacred with the Virgin of Guadalupe. Her work has been recognized by the Ford Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Association of Latina and Latino Anthropologists.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Q&A with Slavery and Utopia author Fernando Santos-Granero

In the first half of the twentieth century, a charismatic Peruvian Amazonian Indigenous chief played a key role in leading his people, the Ashaninka, through the chaos generated by the collapse of the rubber economy in 1910 and the subsequent pressures of colonists, missionaries, and government officials to assimilate them into the national society. In Slavery and Utopia, Fernando Santos-Granero reconstructs the life and political trajectory of the leader known as José Carlos Amaringo Chico. The people called him Tasorentsi, which is the name the Ashaninka give to the world-transforming gods and divine emissaries that come to this earth to aid the Ashaninka in times of crisis.

Santos-Granero demonstrates that, despite Tasorentsi’s constant self-reinventions, the chief never forsook his millenarian beliefs, anti-slavery discourse, or efforts to liberate his people from white-mestizo oppression. Slavery and Utopia thus convincingly refutes those who claim that the Ashaninka proclivity to messianism is an anthropological invention. We asked Fernando Santos-Granero a few questions about his book, the continued murders of Indigenous leaders in Guatemala and Brazil, and the evolution of Indigenous resistance.

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Describe the self-reinventions of Tasorentsi, the messianic Ashaninka leader that is the focus of your study.

José Carlos Amaringo Chico, also known as Tasorentsi, or “all-powerful blower world transformer,” lived during a tumultuous period in the history of Peruvian Amazonia, from the beginning of the rubber boom era, around 1875, to the beginning of the mass colonization of the region in the late 1950s. Throughout this period, Tasorentsi went through multiple and dramatic changes, sometimes in response to external events and sometimes as the result of an inner, moral conversion. In all these instances, he was able to reinvent himself in such a way as to maintain a leading position as either a secular chief or a divine emissary, or a combination of both.

As a young boy, he began working as a debt-peon for a local rubber extractor. During that time, he learned Spanish, became acquainted with the ways of white people, and acquired his Christian name. At around eighteen, he escaped from his boss and begun acting as an intermediary in the slave trade that was promoted and controlled by white rubber extractors and their Indigenous partners. Later on, he was directly involved in the capture of Indigenous slaves and was feared as a renowned warrior chief and shaman. In his mid-thirties, however, he experienced his first moral conversion and quit his slaving activities. Combining an anti-slavery and anti-white discourse with millenarian promises, he inspired a widespread Ashaninka movement that changed the region’s social landscape in the aftermath of the rubber era (1912–1914). 


Conibo group, Ucayali River, 1900s. Known as “Lords of the Ucayali” for the dominion they had historically exerted as pirates and raiders along the Ucayali River, the Conibo together with the Shipibo played an important role in the 1915 uprising and were harshly persecuted. Some of their leaders were captured and sent to prison in Iquitos. Source: A. Miles Moss, A Trip into the Interior of Peru (Lima: Printed by Charles F. Southwell, 1909), 106. Courtesy of the Biblioteca Nacional del Perú.

A year later, in 1915, he expanded his influence throughout the region, becoming the paramount leader of a multiethnic uprising of the Ashaninka, Conibo, Yine, and Amahuaca, who until then had been bitter enemies. This feat was only possible through a millenarian discourse that promised liberation from white people, a deep transformation of the world, and the attainment of immortality. With the help of former Indigenous slavers, whom he convinced to join him, he managed to expel most rubber extractors from the region. In time, the government crushed the uprising and Tasorentsi had to hide, but for many years the region was free of white slavers. In the 1920s, having heard of the arrival of a “white god”—Adventist missionary Ferdinand Stahl– Tasorentsi experienced his second moral conversion, adopting an indigenized version of Adventist doctrine, abandoning violence as a means of fighting for the rights of his people, and becoming a very active “people-gatherer” on behalf of the Adventist Church. He never agreed to baptize, for this would have interfered with his shamanic activities and, particularly, with the ayahuasca séances he led to speed up Christ’s second coming.

Although the region’s white landowners pursued, imprisoned, and tortured him, Tasorentsi never stopped fighting for his people’s rights. During the remainder of his life, he promoted the nucleation of people in small settlements to await the arrival of Christ, while at the same time supporting peaceful coexistence with white people. At the same time, however, he encouraged Indigenous economic autonomy, strongly opposed debt-peonage, and endorsed formal schooling as a means of leveling the playing field with white people.

How has the field of anthropology contributed to the "historical amnesia" apparently surrounding the struggles of the Ashaninka?

On the contrary, anthropologists have been crucial in highlighting the long history of Ashaninka resistance against white oppression. Stefano Varese, Eduardo Fernández, Michael Brown, Soren Hvalkof, and Mariella Villasante, to name but a few, have written extensively on Ashaninka past and present-day struggles. Ashaninka people remember their struggles, which are often the main subject of their oral histories. For various reasons, however, in Ashaninka oral tradition there has been less focus on Tasorentsi’s struggles than on other confrontations with white people. I believe the main reason for this “historical amnesia” is that Tasorentsi was not a doctrinally pure Adventist, and the Adventist hierarchy therefore regarded him as somewhat suspect and left him out of their historical narratives; thus, many present-day Ashaninka Adventists do not remember him. This has been compounded by the fact that, for various reasons, Tasorentsi’s political activities have escaped the notice of Amazonianist anthropologists and historians. The main reason for this omission has been the fact that Franciscan missionaries, with the Jesuits, were Peruvian Amazonia’s main early historians, and they had no presence in this region at the time of Tasorentsi’s uprisings. My main objective in writing this book has been to draw attention to this remarkable individual, reintroducing him into Ashaninka historical consciousness and opening the subject to academic scrutiny.

Can you describe the immense body of original materials that you researched for this book? What were the most surprising discoveries to come out of those archival documents, oral histories, musical recordings, and visual works?

I did research in numerous archives and libraries in Peru and the United States. One of my first surprises was learning that the regional and national press had amply covered Tasorentsi’s Ashaninka movement of 1912–1914 and the 1915 multiethnic uprising. Not only that, it also brought to national attention the plight of Amazonian Indigenous peoples under the oppressive labor conditions of the rubber era, generating a heated debate about the causes of Indigenous hostilities. What surprised me was that many journalists and personalities justified Indigenous violence as being the direct result of the oppression and slaving activities of white rubber extractors. Also surprising was the amount of documentation generated by the conflicts between Adventist missionaries and their Indigenous supporters, on the one hand, and white landowners and regional authorities, on the other. The fact that Adventist missionaries were often US citizens of German ancestry meant that every time they were harassed, they informed their consulates. The latter pressured the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which, in turn, prompted regional authorities to investigate the matter. A great amount of information on Tasorentsi’s activities as an Adventist people-gatherer was preserved through this means.


Score of Tasorentsi’s song. Tasorentsi’s song does not resemble any of the known styles of Ashaninka songs, but it has some of the gravity of beshiriantsi worshipping songs. It betrays elements of both the Andean huaynos of the neighboring highland peoples of Pasco and Junín and the ancient Catholic hymns sung in Franciscan missions during colonial times. Courtesy of Bernd Brabec de Mori.

Yet another surprise was the realization that anthropologists who had worked among the Ashaninka in the 1960s and 1980s, such as John Bodley and Jeremy Narby, had collected much information about Tasorentsi’s activities and were generous enough to share it with me. Especially important was a song composed by Tasorentsi and recorded by Narby, provided by someone who had learned it when he was a child. In this song, the charismatic leader encourages his listeners to seek their Father, the solar divinity; announces that the divinity is coming, that he is near; and reveals that he awaits his people in the Sky River of Youth and will make them immortal. I never expected to obtain such a direct testimony of Tasorentsi’s millenarian discourse: one that allowed me to understand the appeal that he had for the region’s Indigenous peoples.

Equally surprising was the fact that I managed to find not one but three photographs of Tasorentsi—a remarkable feat given that they were taken in the 1920s. My greatest surprise, however, was to meet Tasorentsi’s youngest son. I knew that Tasorentsi had had many children and that his descendants lived somewhere along the Pachitea River. One day, an Ashaninka leader, Alcides Calderón, told me that he knew one of Tasorentsi’s nephews and that he was willing to accompany me to interview him. After a long boat trip, we arrived in Segundo Arroyo’s home. As it happened, he was not Tasorentsi’s nephew, but his youngest son. What he shared with me about his father’s last years and death, about which I knew little, helped me finish my book. But, more importantly, knowing him allowed me to perceive Tasorentsi, who until then had been only a historical figure to me, as a real, flesh-and-blood person with many gray areas, like any human being.

Could a figure like Tasorentsi emerge today, and how might the Peruvian authorities and transnational entities respond?

We know of many charismatic Indigenous leaders –whether Ashaninka or not—who, through a millenarian and anti-white discourse, managed to mobilize the Ashaninka against white domination. The best known of these leaders was Juan Santos Atahualpa, a man of Andean origin who, in the mid-eighteenth century, managed to unite the Ashaninka and their Amazonian neighbors to fight the Spaniards. But there were others in the 1890s, the 1910s, the 1940s, and the 1960s, and even as late as the 1970s. So it is quite possible that a figure like Tasorentsi might emerge once more. In fact, a few years ago, during a time of fast and aggressive expansion of extractive activities (oil, gas, timber, and gold) in Ashaninka territory, all kinds of rumors began to spread about how white people intended to exterminate the Ashaninka by abducting people using mysterious flying machines. This created the kind of frenzy that characterizes the early stages of Ashaninka world-transforming movements.

I imagine that if a Tasorentsi-like figure appeared today, the response of the State, extractive companies, and regional authorities would be similar to that of their peers in past ages—to wit, they would attempt to silence him or her through whatever means possible. The only advantage that such a figure would have today is that communication is so fast and widespread that it would be difficult to suppress him or her without generating national and international outrage. Yet the killing of Indigenous leaders continues in Guatemala and Brazil, to name just a few examples, and nothing much happens.

Tell us what you are working on in your role at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

At present, I am engaged in a new research project titled “The Reconquest of Chanchamayo: Frontier Expansion, Modernization, and Nation-Building in Postcolonial Peru, 1847–1891”. The reconquest of Chanchamayo, the Amazon region closest to Peru’s capital, took place in the context of the rapid expansion of internal frontiers that swept the Americas in the second half of the nineteenth century. It overlapped the conquest of the West in the United States (1848–1881), the occupation of Araucania in Chile (1861–1883), the conquest of Patagonia in Argentina (1872–1884), and Brazil’s march toward the west, which began in 1864 and has not ended yet.

The reconquest of Chanchamayo—a region that was free from white presence from 1742 to 1847—was seemingly prompted by President Ramón Castilla’s vision of a more modern, civilized, and territorially integrated country. There is evidence, however, that the economic interests of Andean landowners and miners and the civilizing agenda of Franciscan missionaries may have lurked in the background, prompting the State to “reduce” the local Yanesha and Ashaninka populations and occupy their lands. The objective of this project is to disentangle the relative weight of these various social actors in achieving these goals. At the same time, it seeks to examine the position of these actors with regard to what was then called “the Indian problem,” and assess how their goals and actions shaped the evolution of Indigenous resistance. Combining archival materials with oral sources, I intend to bring back to life the voices of these diverse actors and, especially, to rescue from oblivion the will, agency, and creative thinking of the Yanesha and Ashaninka peoples.

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Monday, October 12, 2020

UT Press at the 2020 Texas Book Festival

Starting Friday, November 6, the University of Texas Press and many of our authors will go virtual to celebrate the 25th annual Texas Book Festival. We are so sad to not be experiencing this vital literary event in person, but now more than ever, we must support our authors, booksellers, and book-loving organizations by showing up and buying books!
We have gathered our authors into the schedule below, but you can view and plan your full Texas Book Festival schedule here: https://www.texasbookfestival.org/2020-festival-schedule/

Unlike the in-person fest, you won’t need to wear out your soles dashing between concurrent sessions in the tents and Capitol building—none of the panels this year are simultaneous! Our authors will be featured during the adult sessions held November 6–15, so we encourage you to go ahead and signup for your Crowdcast account, RSVP to sessions, and mark your calendars to soak in all these discussions and demonstrations from the comfort of your home.


Saturday, November 7

2 PM - 2:45 PM
José Ralat
Tacos and Coffee: The Origins of—and Controversies Behind—Our Favorite Foods


Kick off your virtual Texas Book Fest experience by grabbing a taco and afternoon coffee from your favorite local spot, and then enjoy this conversation! In their new books, Texas Monthly taco editor José R. Ralat (American Tacos) and food-history researcher and journalist Augustine Sedgewick (Coffeeland) follow the histories of the taco and the coffee bean across time and space, revealing valuable insights about culture and power along the way. Register here: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/xu0be779/register

Sunday, November 8

11 AM - 11:45 AM
Kathy Valentine
Lit Crawl Brunch with Typewriter Tarot with Cecily Sailer


Ready for a mystic message or perhaps some cosmic rescue? Audience members at this session will be invited to submit a question on the creative process to ask the Tarot for this innovative town hall. Kathy Valentine will join Typewriter Tarot founder Cecily Sailer for a Tarot-led discussion of her memoir All I Ever Wanted. Thank you to partners Desert Door Sotol and Rambler Sparkling Water, supporting community through storytelling! The first 200 people who register for Literary Death Match or Typewriter Tarot will have the option to pick up a Desert Door Camp Mocha kit and other goodies on Saturday, November 7, from 12 PM to 5 PM. Location details will be shared with the first 200 registrants. Register here: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/ytcb9txn/register


Wednesday, November 11

10 AM - 10:45 AM
Jam Sanitchat
Thai Fresh: A Cooking Demonstration

Jam Sanitchat has been cooking since age five, so it’s no surprise that her restaurant and learning center, Thai Fresh, is a South Austin staple. But flavor is only part of the equation. From her days cooking for friends at UT to the relationships she’s built with local growers and producers, Sanitchat knows cooking is all about connection. Experience the magic for yourself with a cooking demonstration from her new cookbook, Thai Fresh: Beloved Recipes from a South Austin Icon. Register here: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/zo2hwxz5/register

5:30 PM
Don Carleton and Cynthia Orozco
MLK Jr., Malcolm X, and Adela Sloss-Vento: The Civil Rights Movement in Photos

In their new biographies, Peniel E. Joseph (The Sword and the Shield) and Cynthia Orozco (Agent of Change) share illuminating portraits of leaders who altered the course of the Civil Rights Movement both in Texas and nationwide—a movement captured in part in photos collected by Don Carleton (Struggle for Justice: Four Decades of Civil Rights Photography), the executive director of the Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin. Register here: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/ikh5791m/register


We highly recommend the podcast "Race and Democracy" from Dr. Peniel Joseph, the Founding Director of the UT Center for the Study of Race and Democracy and Professor of History. Dr. Joseph discusses issues of race, democracy, public policy, and social justice with expert guests and questions who is America? Where have we been, where do we want to go, and how can we get there? Tune in wherever you listen to podcast to learn about American history, race and democracy, and the outlook for the future.

Struggle for Justice celebrates the legacy of the photographers who helped galvanize public support for the civil rights movement, often at great personal risk. Don Carleton is executive director of the Briscoe Center for American History and J. R. Parten Chair in the Archives of American History at the University of Texas at Austin.

Agent of Change is the first comprehensive biography of a formidable civil rights activist and feminist whose grassroots organizing in Texas made her an influential voice in the fight for equal rights for Mexican Americans. Cynthia Orozco is a professor of history and humanities at Eastern New Mexico University, Ruidoso. She is the author of No Mexicans, Women, or Dogs Allowed: The Rise of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement.

4 PM - 4:45 PMJessica Luther and Kavitha A. Davidson
Loving Sports When They Don’t Love You Back

Sports journalists Jessica Luther and Kavitha A. Davidson (Loving Sports When They Don’t Love You Back) discuss sports and sports fandom both on and off the fields, courts, and diamonds—from racism to drugs, domestic violence, and CTE. Register here: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/jwl857ul/register


Thursday, November 12

1:15 PM - 2 PM
Kathy Valentine
Life in Music: New Memoirs from Musicians Chris Frantz and Kathy Valentine


In their poignant, candid new memoirs, Go-Go’s bassist Kathy Valentine (All I Ever Wanted) and Chris Frantz of the Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club (Remain in Love) share the stories behind the songs and discuss their journeys in life and music. Register here:
https://www.crowdcast.io/e/gl65ua6c/register

Sunday, November 15

11 AM - 11:45 AM
José Ralat and Texas Monthly editors and writers
A Texas Monthly Brunch (A Lit Crawl Event)

This roundtable of editors and writers from the National Magazine of Texas hosts a delectable wrap-up of the Festival. Register here: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/tstqvxq9



Monday, September 21, 2020

Q&A with Peruvian Novelist Alonso Cueto

As the latest work in our Latin American Literature in Translation series, The Wind Traveler showcases the mesmerizing storytelling of Alonso Cueto at the top of his career. At the heart of his latest work is a seemingly ordinary man named Ángel, who sells kitchenware at a store in Lima. In the early 1990s, he had served as an army soldier, engaging in brutal acts whose aftermath still reverberates. He is forced to reckon with his past when a woman he was instructed to kill enters the store and buys a few items. How can she still be alive? What's more, how can she not recognize Ángel? Remarkably, she asks him to deliver her purchases to her
house. From this moment, Ángel feels compelled to make amends through any means necessary, even if it requires sacrificing his life of quiet retirement. Publishers Weekly gave the translation a starred review, writing:

“Staggering . . . Cueto imbues every page and character with the brutal consequences of war in his compulsively readable story of a man’s reckoning with a history of violence. Wynne and Mendez’s splendid translation brings readers an essential work of Peruvian literature.”

We asked Alonso Cueto a few questions about the English translation of The Wind Traveler. The book publishes on October 13, 2020. 

The Wind Traveler is set in Peru in the aftermath of guerrilla warfare and the insurgent violence of the Shining Path. Please describe the historical context.


The Shining Path war started in the context of the deep inequality of Peruvian society and the abandonment of the state in rural areas. In the area of Ayacucho, in the Peruvian southern Andes, a professor of philosophy—Abimael Guzmán, by then in his late forties—declared the insurgence of the group. Its first act was to burn the ballot boxes the day of the presidential elections in April 1980. Soon afterwards, inspired by the hard line of the Communist Party of China, members of the group demonstrated their disagreement with Deng Xiaoping’s government by hanging dogs from posts in downtown Lima. The dogs symbolized the new members of the Chinese Communist Party and the hanging of the animals was meant to meant to represent their symbolic execution as traitors. During the eighties and early nineties, Shining Path conducted a violent campaign in the southern Andes and then in the rest of the country. The execution of mayors in towns in the Andes, the massacre of villagers, and the explosion of buildings and banks were very frequent in those years. The government sent the army to Ayacucho and other areas. Soon the methods of the army became as violent and heartless as the ones implemented by the Shining Path. Many soldiers were forced to commit terrible crimes and the memories haunted them for the rest of their lives. The Wind Traveler tells the story of a man who was in the army and recognizes a prisoner of war whom he thought he had killed.

There is an element of haunting in The Wind Traveler, but this is neither science fiction nor magical realism. How would you describe this in formal terms and what makes it especially appropriate for writing about violent histories?

I agree. The memory of the main character has always haunted him and he is very aware of the power of its images and voices. The story is told from his point of view. The character deals with his past and I think it reflects everybody’s experience. Somehow we all have a permanent, conflicted relationship with our own past. The same can be said of societies and communities and their relationship with common memories. My first book of stories was called The Battle of the Past. Talking about this title, a friend once told me that we can still win the battle of the past; in other words, we can try to be at harmony with our own memories.

In one of the very first pages of The Wind Traveler, the character sees this woman, whom he thought he had killed, enter the store where he works. She doesn’t seem to recognize him and acts as any other customer would. This the way the past works sometimes, just surprising us when we least expect it to. I think of the quote by L. P. Hartley: “The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.” But it is also true that the past is our own country always and that we have it whispering its words and showing its images to us all the time. In The Wind Traveler, this past takes the shape of a woman who enters the daily life of the main character.

The narrative perspective is unique: oscillating between past and present, shifting from what initially seems like third-person omniscient to include first-person interjections. What can you tell us about the narrator?

I always try to change the narrator because I think all of us see our lives from different perspectives. We also have in our lives times with an omniscient narrator and times with a very intimate connection with ourselves. The way we talk to ourselves at different times of the day is an indicator of the changing of our own narrators. It is difficult to make these changes in a novel but it is also the best way to reflect our own life narration. I try to adapt the type of narrator to the moment of the story, depending on how the character sees himself in relation to his surroundings.

A character uses the Quechua word ñawpa, which feels central to this novel and your writing broadly. Please define this word for us.

The word ñawpa is an expression of the way the Quechua world imagines time as a whole. It means both future and past. Furthermore, it can also be said that the idea of the future for the Quechuas has to do with what is behind you, whereas the idea of the past is what is in front of you. In other words, we all face the past since we know what happened but we have our back toward the future because we don't know what will happen. In another sense, ñawpa means both in front of and behind. The word expresses a sense of time as a unity and excludes the Western division of time as divided by terms such as past, present, and future. Time is a whole and the same can be said about space in the Quechua sense of reality. This idea of the past as something that is always in front of us although it is also behind us fascinated me from the beginning, and this is why I included it in the novel.

A number of your works have been translated many times over. Is the translation process different for every book?

The translator is a creator, a second writer, who adapts the instrument of the original words of the writer to new sounds, meanings, and nuances. I can only say that the translators of this novel have done a wonderful job.

Alonso Cueto is an award-winning novelist, playwright, journalist, professor of journalism, and author of more than thirty books whose works have been translated into sixteen languages.

Frank Wynne is a literary translator from Ireland, the author of I Was Vermeer, and the translator of Cueto's The Blue Hour.

Jessie Mendez Sayer is a literary translator, editor, and former literary scout. She studied history and Spanish at the University of Edinburgh.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Dawn Durante Named Editor in Chief of the University of Texas Press

Austin, Texas—The University of Texas Press is thrilled to announce that following a nationwide search, Dawn Durante will become the next Editor in Chief of the Press on August 10.

As Editor in Chief, Durante will lead the editorial direction of the Books program at UT Press, enriching and expanding a list of approximately one hundred new titles each year

across a broad range of subjects including U.S. history and American studies, Women’s Studies, and Black Studies.

“I am elated to be joining the University of Texas Press. It is a professional dream to be stepping into an Editor in Chief role, and I am fortunate to be doing so at a Press I admire for its dynamic staff, talented acquisitions team, and its high publishing standards,” said Durante.

"What strikes me about UT Press," she continued, “is its longstanding commitment to borders and borderlands—geographic borders like the Texas borderland itself, the bounds of ancient empires, the conceptual borders of imperialism, and the expansion of intellectual boundaries in the fields the Press serves, like contemporary American music, Latinx studies, and media and popular culture. I am delighted that I'll be able to continue to acquire books in familiar territories like history, American studies, and Black studies, while expanding my editorial frontiers to new areas. It is a true privilege to have the opportunity to fuse the UT Press publishing program with my editorial vision and to work with and support the acquisitions team along with the Press's valuable network, particularly its authors, series editors, and advisory committee members."

Durante joins UT Press from the University of Illinois Press, where she has served as a senior acquisitions editor since 2016. A Phoenix native, Dawn got her B.A. in English from the University of Arizona and her M.A. in English from Arizona State. At ASU, she wrote her master’s thesis on ebooks and peer review and also earned a Scholarly Publishing Graduate Certificate. Dawn began her publishing career with internships at the University of Arizona Press and Cluj University Press in Romania, before settling into a permanent position at UIP in 2011.

At Illinois, Durante has worked with authors and series editors including Brittney Cooper, Keisha Blain, Koritha Mitchell, Darlene Clark Hine, Deborah Gray White, and the University of Texas’s own Christen Smith and Karma Chávez. Her acquisitions represent a broad range of intellectual commitments, from L.H. Stallings' multi-award winning Funk the Erotic: Transaesthetics and Black Sexual Cultures to Anya Jabour's biography of Sophonisba Breckinridge, whose life and activism spanned the Civil War to the Cold War, to Joseph Vogel's James Baldwin and the 1980s: Witnessing the Reagan Era and Emily Thuma's All Our Trials: Prisons, Policing, and the Feminist Fight to End Violence. She has published books that have won awards in a variety of disciplines, including the American Political Science Association's Michael Harrington Book Award, which recognizes books that demonstrate how scholarship can be used in the struggle for a better world, the American Historical Association's Wesley-Logan prize, and the Lambda Literary Award for the Best Book in LGBTQ Studies.

Active in the Association of University Presses (AUPresses) community, Durante is recognized as a leader on issues like equity, mentorship, and professional development. In addition to her many presentations, Dawn has served on the AUPresses’ Task Force on Gender, Equity, and Cultures of Respect and was the chair of the association’s Professional Development Committee in 2017-2018.

Durante brings a depth and breadth of knowledge and connections to our Acquisitions team as well as a clear and exciting vision for the future of the press. Director Robert Devens noted, “I could not be happier to be welcoming Dawn to UT Press. She brings to the position of Editor in Chief a stellar acquisitions background, a broad understanding of the publishing landscape, and the strong leadership skills to usher UTP’s editorial program to its next successes.”


# # #

The University of Texas Press serves knowledge seekers in an information-rich world through the publication of books and journals in a wide range of fields. Our work is a focal point where the life experiences, insights, and specialized knowledge of writers converge to be disseminated in both print and digital formats. Established in 1950, UT Press has published more than 3,000 books over six decades.



www.utexaspress.com

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

On Publishing and Racial Justice

June 10, 2020 - This week George Floyd is being celebrated in Houston, where he grew up. In our home state of Texas and throughout the country, protestors have raised their voices against the systematic suppression of Black voices, the excessive use of force against protestors, and the murders of named and unnamed Black people. The University of Texas Press joins these condemnations and supports the essential and urgent work of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Our publishing mission is to serve the people of Texas and knowledge seekers around the world by publishing valuable and relevant information to educate, advance scholarship, and deepen our understanding of history, current events, and contemporary cultures. Our authors reveal the connections between law enforcement along the US-Mexico border and the militarization of the police in this country. They study how cultural trauma is disproportionally inflicted upon and suffered by communities of color, the severity of which is compounded by white systems of power. And they examine the personal histories and the cultural impact of art created, transformed, and advanced by Black creators.

We believe deeply that these kinds of books, and the historical and cultural perspectives they foster, have an important role to play in the broader conversations now taking place. At the same time, we acknowledge that the book publishing industry itself, with a Black workforce of only 5 percent, has a very long way to go. Without the opportunities for meaningful and gainful entry-level jobs, barriers remain for young publishers of color. Unpaid internships; poor oversight of recruitment, promotion, and retainment; and a broad lack of equity training and accountability systems have made publishing an unwelcoming field for Black professionals.

The University of Texas Press is committed to asking difficult questions of ourselves and our institution to purposefully seek solutions. We are committed to the ongoing work of increasing staff diversity while providing professional development opportunities, training all staff to participate in an equitable work environment, and regularly reviewing our acquisitions and peer review practices to ensure broad representation. We are committed to advancing the works and expertise of Black scholars and artists, decentering whiteness when celebrating Black cultural production, and investing deliberately in our outreach to share publishing opportunities and market Black authors.

It is crucial for us to reckon with privilege, gather our peers, and actively protect and advance the rights, lives, and self-determination of Black people. In the coming weeks and months, we will be joining with others in listening, amplifying voices, sharing resources, and centering the work that must be done. In a time of uncertainty, precarity, and division, our ears and our inboxes are open.

As we continue to educate ourselves in efforts to dismantle white supremacy, we also want to do our part to elevate Black voices. We have compiled a list of our staff’s favorite books by Black authors who have made an impact on us, especially at a time when context and deep thinking are necessary.

  • Affrilachia, Frank X Walker
  • The Age of Phillis, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
  • Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • An American Marriage, Tayari Jones
  • American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assasin, Terrance Hayes
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X, as told to Alex Haley
  • The Ballad of Black Tom, Victor LaValle
  • Becoming, Michelle Obama
  • Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • The Birds of Opulence, Crystal Wilkinson
  • Blackberries, Blackberries, Crystal Wilkinson
  • Black Bone: 25 Years of Affrilachian Writers, edited by Bianca Spriggs and Jeremy Paden
  • Black from the Future: A Collection of Black Speculative Fiction, edited by Stephanie Andrea Allen and Lauren Cherelle
  • Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition, Cedric Robinson
  • The Black Poets, Dudley Randall
  • Black Skins, White Masks, Franz Fanon
  • Black, White, and in Color: Essays on American Literature and Culture, Hortense Spillers
  • Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood, bell hooks
  • Book of Hours: Poems, Kevin Young
  • The Book of Night Women, Marlon James
  • A Bound Woman Is a Dangerous Thing: The Incarceration of African American Women from Harriet Tubman to Sandra Bland, DaMaris B. Hill
  • Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, Trevor Noah
  • The Bridge of Beyond, Simone Schwarz-Bart
  • Brief History of Seven Killings, Marlon James
  • Broken Earth series, N. K. Jemisin
  • Brown: Poems, Kevin Young
  • Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News, Kevin Young
  • Cane, Jean Toomer
  • Can't Escape Love, Alyssa Cole
  • The Century Cycle (plays), August Wilson
  • The Changeling, Victor LaValle
  • Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays, Zadie Smith
  • Clotel, or the President's Daughter, William Wells Brown
  • The Color Purple, Alice Walker
  • Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America, Khalil Gibran Muhammad
  • Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South, Michael Twitty
  • Dawn, Octavia Butler
  • Delicious Foods, James Hannaham
  • Dispossessed Lives: Enslaved Women, Violence, and the Archive, Marisa Fuentes 
  • Don’t Call Us Dead: Poems, Danez Smith
  • The Edna Lewis Cookbook, Edna Lewis and Evangeline Peterson
  • Eight Men: Short Stories, Richard Wright
  • Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower, Brittney Cooper
  • For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf, Ntozake Shange
  • Freedom as Marronage, Neil Roberts
  • Friday Black, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
  • Gather Together in My Name, Maya Angelou
  • Get a Life, Chloe Brown, Talia Hibbert
  • Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin
  • Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California, Ruth Wilson Gilmore
  • The Good Lord Bird, James McBride
  • The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas
  • Head Off and Split, Nikky Finney
  • The Heart of a Woman, Maya Angelou
  • Heavy: An American Memoir, Kiese Laymon
  • The History of White People, Nell Irvin Painter
  • Home, Toni Morrison
  • Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi
  • How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, Kiese Laymon
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
  • In Search of the Black Fantastic: Politics and Popular Culture in the Post-Civil Rights Era, Richard Iton
  • Insurrections, Rion Amilcar Scott
  • Intimate Justice: The Black Female Body and the Body Politic, Shatema Threadcraft
  • Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
  • Isaac Murphy: I Dedicate This Ride, Frank X Walker
  • Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, Bryan Stevenson
  • The Known World, Edward P. Jones
  • Life’s Work: A Moral Argument for Choice, Dr. Willie Parker
  • Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route, Saidiya Hartman
  • Loving Day, Mat Johnson
  • Men We Reaped: A Memoir, Jesmyn Ward
  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander
  • No Mercy Here: Gender, Punishment, and the Making of Jim Crow Modernity, Sarah Haley
  • On Beauty, Zadie Smith
  • On the Come Up, Angie Thomas
  • The Poet X, Elizabeth Acevedo
  • Praise Song for the Day: A Poem for Barack Obama's Presidential Inauguration, January 20, 2009, Elizabeth Alexander
  • Prelude to Bruise, Saeed Jones
  • The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation, Daina Ramey Berry
  • Pride, Ibi Zoboi
  • Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life, Karen E. Fields and Barbara J. Fields
  • Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class, Robin D. G. Kelley
  • Rafe: A Buff Male Nanny, Rebekah Weatherspoon
  • Recyclopedia, Harryette Mullen
  • The Sellout, Paul Beatty
  • Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas, Maya Angelou
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jesmyn Ward
  • A Small Place, Jamaica Kincaid
  • Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison
  • The Stars and the Blackness Between Them, Junauda Petrus
  • Sula, Toni Morrison
  • Summer Lightning, Olive Senior
  • Swallow the Fish, Gabrielle Civil
  • Tar Baby, Toni Morrison
  • Texaco, Patrick Chamoiseau
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
  • They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, Hanif Abdurraqib
  • Thick: And Other Essays, Tressie McMillan Cottom
  • The Thing Around Your Neck, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
  • The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
  • The Venus Hottentot: Poems, Elizabeth Alexander
  • The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson
  • We Are Never Meeting in Real Life: Essays, Samantha Irby
  • We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy, Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • The works of Stuart Hall
  • The Wretched of the Earth, Franz Fanon
  • You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down, Alice Walker
  • Zone One, Colson Whitehead

Friday, April 17, 2020

Robert Devens Named Director of the University of Texas Press

Austin, Texas—The University of Texas Press announces with great pride and genuine excitement that Robert Devens has been named its next director.

“Robert’s deep knowledge of academic publishing, his experience at UT Press, and his collaborative relationships with the scholarly community at UT Austin are tremendous assets,” said Maurie McInnis, executive vice president and provost. “During his time at UT,

he has served as a visible, public ambassador for the Press by articulating the critical role of university presses in supporting faculty scholarship, and research.”

Devens joined UT Press in 2013 as assistant editor-in-chief, rising to the role of editor-in-chief in 2014 and assistant director in 2018. During these years, Devens led the editorial department toward greater successes in its many core areas — from the establishment of new series in fields ranging from Latinx studies to film studies, to more extensive general interest offerings in areas such as biography and music.

Devens has also served as UT Press’s editor in architecture, American studies, and U.S. history. He was the founding acquisitions editor for the Press’s Lateral Exchanges series in architecture and has been instrumental in the development of both the Texas Bookshelf and the Katrina Bookshelf. His many notable acquisitions include Eugenics in the Garden: Transatlantic Architecture and the Crafting of Modernity, Guitar King: Michael Bloomfield’s Life in the Blues, Taking the Land to Make the City: A Bicoastal History of North America, São Paulo: A Graphic Biography, and Border Land, Border Water: A History of Construction on the US-Mexico Divide.

As director, Devens brings to the position more than twenty years of experience in academic publishing. Before coming to Texas, he devoted thirteen years to the acquisitions department at the University of Chicago Press, working his way from editorial assistant to senior editor. There, he acquired trade and scholarly books in American studies, history, and urban studies, including many bestselling and award-winning titles, and he was the founding acquisitions editor for the American Beginnings and Chicago Visions & Revisions series.

In his work at Chicago and Texas, Devens has stressed the centrality of institutional partnerships to the success of the university press endeavor, fostering publishing relationships with museums and archives ranging from the Chicago History Museum to the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.

“I am thrilled to be the next director of the University of Texas Press. In my seven years here, I’ve been honored to work with devoted authors and talented staff on a stellar list of books and journals,” said Devens, “I’m excited and optimistic about the Press’s next chapters.”

# # #

The University of Texas Press serves knowledge seekers in an information-rich world through the publication of books and journals in a wide range of fields. Our work is a focal point where the life experiences, insights, and specialized knowledge of writers converge to be disseminated in both print and digital formats. Established in 1950, UT Press has published more than 3,000 books over six decades.



www.utexaspress.com

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

My Shadow is My Skin Virtual Panel

In March, the co-editors of the new collection My Shadow is My Skin: Voices from the Iranian Diaspora, Katherine Whitney and Leila Emery, joined contributors Dena Rod, Darius Atefat-Peckham, and Siamak Vossoughi, along with the University of Texas Press Publishing Fellow Dr. Laura Fish, for an in-depth conversation. The group discussed how the volume of more than thirty essays came together, how the writers have experienced an evolving and inclusive diaspora, how everyone celebrated Nowruz while in quarantine, and more. Enjoy the video of our Zoom panel discussion here, with a full transcript below.





Transcript of Virtual Panel


Hi, I'm Katherine Whitney, with Leila Emery, co-edited this book: My Shadow is My Skin and I'm really happy to be here with all of you today. And I'm phoning in from Berkeley, California.

Hello, I'm Leila Emery and I'm co-editor of My Shadow is My Skin with Katherine. It started in 2015 and it's just such a pleasure to be able to have it out in the world and we're very grateful to our authors and to have the opportunity to do a reading and have a chat.

I'm Laura Fish, I'm a, I'm the publishing fellow at the University of Texas Press, and I've been doing some of the publicity work for My Shadow is My Skin. And so it's very nice to finally see people in person, or on a screen, put voices and names to faces. And I guess I'll be helping to kind of moderate this discussion throughout.

Hi my name is Dena Rod, my pronouns are they/them/theirs. I'm one of the contributors from My Shadow is My Skin. I wrote an essay in there. I wrote about being queer and Iranian and how those two intersections come together. And I'm also phoning in from Berkeley, California today.

Hi, I'm Darius Atefat-Peckham. I'm also a contributor to My Shadow is My Skin. I'm so excited to be here. I am an essayist and a poet, and I'm a freshman at Harvard University, which is currently happening on Zoom as well, so this is kind of cool. I'm already pretty hip to it. And I'm from Huntington, West Virginia, so I'm in, I'm in West Virginia right now.

I'm Siamak Vossoughi. Also a contributor to My Shadow is My Skin, and I want to say thanks first off to Leila and Katherine. This is the first time I've had a chance to say thank you in close-to-person, together, and also to Bailey and Laura and everyone at UT Press for putting this together. I'm very excited to be a part of the conversation, and I am calling from Seattle.

Laura Fish: Katherine asked if I could share some of the reasons why the University of Texas Press decided to acquire your book and publish it, and hearing from the acquiring editor, because I, I wasn't here at the time—I'm new, but also temporary status—hearing from him, Jim Burr, on the decision to get in touch with you and to acquire My Shadow is My Skin, it kind of seemed like a no-brainer. He had met Persis at the Middle East Studies Association meeting a couple of times, and had talked with her about the possibility of a kind of volume like this, and and then he said that he was able to meet with Katherine and Leila about the various stories that would be presented in the volume. And he was very excited about that. He is always on the lookout for stories of underrepresented groups he's, he's acquired previous texts on the Iranian diaspora, and so when he was given the opportunity to publish a volume of nonfiction creative stories, he jumped at that opportunity especially given the current political landscape. He thought that this was a very important volume to get out and and contend with different notions that are present especially within the American political sphere. And I think that, on a personal note of having read the volume, that the variety of stories that are offered within this volume really speaks to every aspect of American and Iranian life that really does provide the opportunity to challenge a lot of the discriminatory beliefs that are often presented about Iran and Iranians and the Diaspora.

Katherine Whitney: Sure, I think that that's a great summary. I mean that's, that piece of representing underrepresented culture/voices, and also we felt strongly in this volume to include a combination of people, of writers, who were emerging and established because we felt like the more different voices and different perspectives we could get out there the better. Because it's really, what we wanted to emphasize was the not just the human stories but the diversity of stories coming from this population. And Leila and I got a chance to really think about how we were part of this new diaspora, and it's not something that I had ever really thought of myself being part of as an American, you know born in America, but having married into an Iranian family and really taken on the culture, I, I came to understand through this process: the writing workshop that we took together in 2015 and then the putting-together of this book that the diaspora is really, the net is very wide and we wanted to reflect that in the writing as well.

Leila Emery: I agree and I think another really important goal of ours was to try to capture the stories that haven't been told before by the Iranians. I'm thrilled about it, and I think a few of the readings beautifully fall into that category, so we feel very very lucky. 


Fish: So I think from here we were going to have the contributors supply a, about approximately five-minute reading from their stories. So I'm not sure who who would like to go first, maybe Dena?


Dena Rod Reading


Dena Rod: Yeah, let me go ahead. This is an excerpt from my essay called "Pushing the Boundaries." This essay was written in 2015, and so it's about five years now, but I still think is really important piece: 

Coming out is not a singular process. Ever. You can never do it just once, because with heteronormativity, everyone assumes you're straight. Coming out to my mom in 2009 was only the beginning. Since then I have constantly come out about my queerness to strangers on the street, cashiers taking my coffee order when I'm holding my wife's hand, or, before I was married, when I first met people and they assumed the fiancée I spoke of was male. Now, it's always an act of coming out when I say "my wife," and there is no misunderstanding anymore about the differences between girlfriend and fiancée.

This protracted coming out also translates to my extended Iranian family. I remember constantly checking in with my parents about which "aunts" and "uncles" I could be honest with. And, however, they're not actually related to me by blood. When my parents first immigrated to America in the early 1980s, fresh off the heels of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, they each heard about the thriving Persian expat community in Northern California. When they met at a wedding in Oakland in 1986, their individual journeys converged. Settling here in California, they imported a desire to belong to the type of community an Iranian village provided for them back home. These woman and men raised me and looked after me as I grew up, gave me advice when my parents couldn't, and tried to prevent any boys from breaking my heart.