Interview: Angel Luis Colon and the Authors of "Pa' Que Tu Lo Sepas!"
¡Pa’Que Tu Lo Sepas! is an important book with a lot to say, so I'm going to let editor Angel Luis Colon and his team of authors do the talking. But first, a bit about the project itself:
On September 20th, 2017, Hurricane Maria made landfall on the island of Puerto Rico as a Category 4—a devastatingly powerful storm that left immense suffering in its wake.
The island still hasn’t recovered completely; a victim of continued neglect and the continued efforts of many to demean and frame Puerto Ricans as “other” or “lesser” even though they are citizens of the United States.
Net proceeds from ¡Pa’Que Tu Lo Sepas! will benefit The Hispanic Federation: UNIDOS Disaster Relief & Recovery Program to Support Puerto Rico, a program working to help those still affected by the disaster and ensure continued safety in the face of continued weather-related events that can and will happen again.
With a foreword by editor Angel Luis Colón and 11 stories from veteran and newcomer Latinx authors who need to be on your radar, ¡Pa’Que Tu Lo Sepas! is a loud and proud celebration of Latinx writing, joy, trauma, and most of all, love.
Contributors: Chantel Acevedo, Hector Acosta, David Bowles, Hector Duarte Jr., Carmen Jaramillo, Jessica Laine, Richie Narvaez, Christopher Novas, Cina Pelayo, Alex Segura, and Désirée Zamorano.
Benefit projects aren't always an easy sell, but this one seemed to come together pretty quickly. Why this project, and why now?
Angel Luis Colon: The screwed up answer to this? Nobody else was doing anything.
I saw comics people raising money and I saw literary people raising money. What I didn’t see was any momentum in my scene beyond lip service or the now standard use of Twitter to boost one’s performative wokeness points.
Then I realized I was doing the same damn thing: stroking my chin and commenting about how something should be done while waiting for someone else to do it. I couldn’t sit with that, so I decided to put together an anthology that helped to accomplish two things 1) raising a little cash for Puerto Rico and 2) exposing people to Latinx writers they may not know about.
It’s also been two years since Maria and Puerto Rico still needs help and will always need help because it is a victim of a cruel system entirely built to spoon burden and blame back on those it exploits. Puerto Ricans – and to an extent Latinx folks – can be loud, so it’s time to be loud.
How did you go about choosing which program/charity to donate the proceeds to?
Angel: Hispanic Federation has always moved the dial quite often to help Latinx communities worldwide. I’ve donated to them before and when I saw the UNIDOS initiative, it felt like the best course of action. The goal isn’t just disaster relief, but to funnel money into the island in meaningful ways.
And big shout out to our publisher, Down & Out Books. They’ve made this entire process, especially ensuring we aim what we raise to our chosen charity, painless and have been incredibly supportive of the effort.
What was your process for choosing the ToC? Were you looking for a specific mix of stories?
Well, I cast the net wide, but I also knew I didn’t want to make this like every other anthology we see released these days. I also didn’t want to limit our focus to crime because Latinx people tend to be framed as perpetrators much more often than victims in popular media. So I asked my writers to simply write what they wanted. I wanted dark or humorous stories and I wanted them to be unapologetically Latinx.
We’re not a monolith and I really wanted this anthology to convey that. Thankfully, the writers who gave their work to this project are goddamn brilliant and each story feels completely different from the last. Seriously, no matter how many times I reread this collection, I can’t help but smile at all the different voices and feelings we’ve gathered into a single space. It’s quite a beautiful thing.
Besides supporting projects like this, what else can people do to help the situation in Puerto Rico?
Hey, folks can donate directly to charities like UNIDOS or they can donate to any charity they prefer. Share links about the situation and get educated.
Puerto Rico has the unfortunate distinction of being a place where some atrocities are trial-ballooned. Mainland Americans would do right to pay attention to how our government and the rich treat those on the fringe, because it’s only a matter of time before the focus comes towards us.
That’s the fucked up part about colonization – it tends to uncover the lowest potential of the ruling class. Never believe that it can’t happen to you simply because you’re closer to them.
What made you decide to participate in this project? Why is it important, both personally and on a larger level?
Richie Narvaez: When Angel emailed me, I didn’t hesitate. I have lots of family back in PR, and after Hurricane Maria I didn’t do near enough to help them. As a writer, I don’t have money or pull, but this little something, a story, ain’t much, but I can only hope that it helps in some tiny way. In a corporate-ruled age where our government seems to keep failing us more and more, it’s important for us to speak up for each and every cause, even if there are millions of them.
Alex Segura: Puerto Rico, first and foremost, is part of the United States — despite what some people in power may say or may not understand. As a Latinx crime writer, I'd be cruel and callous to not recognize the importance of banding together and putting the spotlight on those still suffering on the island — a close neighbor to Cuba, where my parents and family hails from. It was an easy decision to make and seeing my name alongside so many greats made it even easier.
Hector Duarte Jr.: There's a lot going on in the world that is unfair. It's good to see folks fighting back to reclaim as much of their culture and home as they can, especially after they've been pushed to their breaking point.
Carmen Jaramillo: I know I'm probably preaching to a very dedicated choir here, so I'll just say that I found the aftermath to Hurricane Maria maddening and frustrating. Even though my contribution is small, I wanted to give whatever help I could. Besides, I always want to write about Panama and Panamanian-Americans. I feel compelled to create stories about places I love, in part, but there's a particular drive behind my work dealing with Panamanian-American characters. There aren't a lot of us, and there aren't a whole lot of stories featuring us floating around. Someone has to write them; I might as well put a few out there.
Désirée Zamorano: I will gladly pounce on any opportunity to not only make visible our invisible demographic, but subvert the ugly stereotypes that are daily heaped upon us.
Christopher Novas: Angel forced me at gunpoint! No, I'm kidding. He was kind and gracious enough to invite me to submit to the anthology. Personally, the anthology is important to me because my first published short story is included, which is something I didn't think would be happening in 2019. On a larger level, this anthology is important because I simply don't see enough latinx authors out in the larger literary landscape. What's wild is that I'd never even heard of more than half of my co-authors! I don't see many anthologies filled with Latinx writers. I hope that this becomes one of many gate crashers for Latinx people and people of color in general. Next, I wanna see anthologies with ToCs filled with afro-latinos, LGBTQIA+ Latinx people, disabled Latinx people, etc.
What do you say to those who don't normally seek out other voices, and how do you get them interested in this book?
Richie Narvaez: I know we worry about proselytizing to people who don’t normally seek out othered voices. But I’m more worried about reaching our own people with our work. Crime fiction is niched, indie authors are niched, and Latinx readers are niched, and it’s not always easy for those niches to connect. I know — it’s like: Where my niches at? But those are the people I want to connect with, those are the people I think we need to affect.
Alex Segura: You have to get out of your comfort zone as a reader and writer to stay alive, I think — to stop yourself from becoming trapped in amber. And once you do, once you allow yourself to look outside of your own self-inflicted comfort zone, you'll see that people who might not look like you experience a lot of the same emotions and struggles. We learn how alike we are by looking outside of ourselves.
Hector Duarte Jr.: "Other voices" is a construct, a literary hurdle. If you're a good writer, you're good. An accent or double Rs in the name should have no effect whatsoever on how you read, or what you think about, a story. Read widely, especially the genres or authors who might intimidate you. This is how I get folks interested in the book. . . La Isla del Encanto!
Carmen Jaramillo: Think about why you read crime. It's thrilling, it's unexpected, it flouts the rules, it shakes you up. Nothing disorients and rattles you like a story from a place — from a view of the world — you've never seen before.
Christopher Novas: Like Craig Clevenger once said, "Nothing good comes from the comfort zone." Read outside your preferred genre, read outside of the mirror of your own perspective. Having the same meal everyday will inevitably get stale. Go to that Dominican spot a couple blocks up, try some sancocho. How about that Colombian place with the empanadas? Mexican, you say...have you had a torta before? Okay, okay, I'll stop making you hungry, but you see what I'm getting at? Stories and writers can be the same as exploring your town/city and finding a new restaurant. At the very least you can say that you tried something different and even if you end up not liking it, you may find something else on the menu that you love.
Sometimes it's hard to stay positive about what's going on in the world. Do you still believe in the power of literature to promote change? How do you hope this anthology will accomplish this?
Alex Segura: Our words have impact. Our words have power. I definitely believe in the power of words, and especially the power of crime fiction to show what people are dealing with. Crime fiction is social commentary with a plot, and its impact and effectiveness cannot be overstated.
Hector Duarte Jr.: The world, unfortunately, has become victim to human greed. The world isn't falling apart; humanity is. Reading good literature reminds us of the amazing things humanity can do when it's at its best. Fiction has always been an escape from fact. These days, in my opinion, fiction provides more hope and solace than fact. This anthology turns a spotlight on The Caribbean and Latin America — an area of the world others might think is fraught with chaos — and gives it order, beauty, and rhythm. It's the best tourist guidebook out there. So pick it up.
Carmen Jaramillo: I might have a simplistic reason why, but I do still believe in the power of stories. The words might change from year to year, but humanity's tune is always the same; people respond to a narrative. They respond to the fears, frustrations, dreams, and passions that shaped those narratives. I'm not so naive as to think one work will change every mind on Earth, but some people will think of themselves differently. Some will think of their friends and their neighbors differently. I hope the stories in this anthology will raise a bucket load of money for people who very much need it, but I also hope they cause at least a few of our readers to never think of other people quite the same way again.
Désirée Zamorano: Words are what we have. Words are our area of influence. I learned long ago from Stephen Covey, where our area of influence overlaps with our area of concern is where we make the most impact.
Christopher Novas: I've thought about this question for a long time. My answer is both yes and no. The microcosm of literature, and fiction specifically, is too small on the large landscape of multimedia entertainment to enact change both radical and not. However, I do think that literature has the power to invoke empathy which can then lead to change. If you're sitting across from someone and they don't see you as a full human being with flaws and failures, then there can't be an avenue for change. When you're seen as subhuman, the boot will always be on your neck.
My hope is that the stories you find in this anthology stir empathy. I hope that if you're a fellow Latinx person that you see yourself. Or maybe you see your mom, your aunt, your brother, your sister, your friend. I hope that you see that we're lovers and liars, soldiers, doctors, writers, musicians, janitors, teachers, therapists, brujas, etc. We encompass a spectrum of experiences and varying paths in life. We're not animals to throw in a cage and leave to die and rot.
Angel Luis Colon: I absolutely believe literature can affect change. The written word has the power to mold our brains over time and my hope with this anthology is that its voice and unique position provides insiders and outsiders the opportunity to challenge themselves and find something new to love. I’ve often seen that finding new things to love can lead people on the right path.
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