Motherhood & Words
I’m celebrating my 6-year blogiversary this month. In January of 2007, I started this blog because I wanted to expand the discussion around motherhood literature and promote some of the mother writers I admire. Six years later, I’m still here, interviewing writers, talking about the balance between motherhood & writing. Along the way, I’ve been so grateful to all of you who have tuned in and read my posts, offered comments and support, and changed my world with your own writing. Thank you!!
I know I’ve been quieter this last year, but I’m ready to turn that around and catch up on my reviews. So in honor of my blogiversary, I’m pleased to have author Adriana Páramo here as a guest at Motherhood & Words talking about writing and her new book, Looking for Esperanza. I met Adriana last year at the River Teeth Conference at Ashland University. (The BEST writing conference around.) She had just won the 2011 Benu Press Social Justice and Equity Award in Creative Nonfiction, and it was easy to see why—she’s amazing. I heard Adriana read at the River Teeth open mic, and was blown away.
Looking for Esperanza is part ethnography, part memoir, part investigative journalism. A few years ago, Páramo read a story in the newspaper about a Mexican woman who crossed the border to the United States on foot with her children. Halfway through their desert journey, her youngest daughter died, but instead of leaving her dead body behind, Esperanza, whose name means “hope,” strapped the body of her child to her own and continued on. This story sparked something in Páramo, who began to search for Esperanza in the underworld of Florida migrant communities. Along the way, she spoke with countless women, mothers, and recorded their stories. Their voices build on one another in Looking for Esperanza, and together they are a force whose power cannot be denied. I wish I could put this book into every politician’s hands not to mention the hands of anyone who has stood in the produce section of a grocery store with a package of tomatoes or fresh strawberries in their hands.
Please welcome Adriana Páramo!
KH: When did you know that you were writing a book about your search for Esperanza?
AP: I had no idea that my search for Esperanza would become a book until I went planting strawberries with Laura for the first time. That evening as I could barely lift my arm to down some ibruprophens it occurred to me that the scope of my fieldwork had gone beyond looking for one woman. By then, I had seen too much of the hidden Florida, heard too many voices from that underbelly, and been affected too greatly by my discoveries to report on a single woman’s ordeal. After my outings with Laura, I knew this would be a longer work.
KH: You studied anthropology before pursing creative writing (me too!). Can you talk a little about how your training in anthropology and ethnography affects your writing?
AP: I am a cultural anthropologist. I study cultures and try to answer the quintessential question: Why do people do the things they do? However, answering that question requires more than the theoretical tools that anthropology/ ethnography provide to conduct fieldwork. Modern anthropology raises ethical and moral questions and takes a more active role in questioning as well as explaining notions of justice and equality. My challenge as an anthropologist who writes CNF is not only to explore different dimensions of the human experience, watch, document, and engage in participant observation, but also to find a way to represent accurately and fairly the subculture who trusts me enough to allow me into their lives.
KH: Looking for Esperanza is made up of the voices and stories of multiple undocumented migrant farm workers. Talk a little bit about how you pieced the book together.
AP: The voices of the women in the book are echoes of voices that didn’t make it to the page, which is to say, each story represents similar accounts from other unnamed women. Rosa’s story is like another undocumented woman’s situation in that both of them have babies with heart conditions and other health issues. Francisca’s story is like Sostenes’ and Maria’s in that both of them gave birth to deformed babies after having been sprayed with pesticides while pregnant. I chose the stories that best depicted the subculture of undocumented women working in the Florida fields.
KH: There are mentions of your mother, daughter and husband in Looking for Esperanza, but you are careful not to reveal too much about them in this book. Can you talk a little about that choice?
AP: Looking for Esperanza is about immigrant women who, like myself, came to the USA looking for a better future for our children. That’s the core of the story: we leave our countries and everything familiar behind and we dive blindly into the unknown of this country hoping for light, for food, for shelter, for peace. Mothers make sacrifices at all social strata: the very poor, the poor, the middle class, we all bend backwards to ensure that our children have access to the resources we didn’t have growing up. That’s why my family is mentioned in the book. So that the reader feels that underneath the social scientist there is a woman who is also a mother and a daughter, just like the women in the book. My other worry, as I worked on the final draft, was that too much anthropological fieldwork could harden the narrative if it wasn’t tempered with a good dose of humanity. That’s why I got personal in the book, in an effort to balance social science and CNF.
My mother, daughter and husband are only mentioned in snippets because Looking for Esperanza is not about me or my family. I didn’t want anything to detract the reader’s attention from the heart of the book, from the lives of the women who shared their stories with me. Also, I do not reveal too much about my family life because I do exactly that in My Mother’s Funeral, a book entirely about women in modern Colombia.
KH: In what ways does motherhood influence your writing?
AP: I can’t escape this condition of being a mother. My daughter is married, is in the USA Navy and needs very little guidance from me, yet, I find myself going back to writing about either being her mother or being a daughter almost compulsively. Parenting, whether my own or other women’s permeates my writing. In fact, most of my published material is inherently feminine and feminist, terms that in my book are synonyms for the word mother.
KH: What was your path to publication for Looking for Esperanza? What challenges did you face along the way?
AP: I looked for Esperanza for 18 months; during this time, I wrote chunks of rough drafts which I abandoned upon the death of my mother. I grieved hard and to make matters worse, I took on a corporate dead end job that nearly killed any creativity I had in me. It was within the confines of this cubicle that I started to write My Mother’s Funeral. I eventually quit that job, enrolled in a graduate creative program and rewrote My Mother’s Funeral. It was after the book got accepted for publication by CavanKerry Press that I had the courage to revisit, rewrite and finish Looking for Esperanza, which I entered into the 2011 Social and Justice Award in CNF organized by Benu Press judged by Dinty Moore. I still can’t believe it won.
KH: Your book has been out for a few months now. What are the reactions you’re getting from readers?
AP: Outside the USA, the book has been read in Spain, Scotland, Canada, Colombia, France and England, that I know of. The consensus is that the book has brought awareness to the appalling living and working conditions of our undocumented farm workers in Florida. Looking for Esperanza has also created a sort or urgency, a need for the reader to say “what can we do?” or “how can we change this?”
KH: What are you working on now?
AP: My Mother’s Funeral is scheduled to be published this fall. I’m working on the last round of revisions and along with a couple of artists on the cover art. I’m concurrently working on Desert Butterflies an incomplete CNF work about the women I worked with while living in the emirate of Kuwait.
Thank you, Adriana, for taking the time to answer my questions and be a part of Motherhood & Words. Readers, please leave a comment below by February 10th if you’d like to be entered into the drawing to receive a copy of Looking for Esperanza.
Happy blogiversary, Kate! So glad we’ll be reading more of you around here soon! This book sounds amazing–and heartbreaking. Thank you for sharing it and this interview.
Thank you, Andrea! I’m popping over to see what you’ve been up to, as well!
P.S. I see you’re on the AWP schedule! I’ll be there–can’t wait to hear your talk. Want to meet up for lunch or dinner or tea or a glass of wine if you have time?
Yay, Andrea! I can’t WAIT to meet you in person. Let’s be in touch and set something up!
Thanks for introducing yet another great book Kate. I love the story behind how this book came about. The silent stories of those among us are so necessary to be told. I hope this book will reach many and effect change.
This sounds like a powerful book!
Hi Kate! I have been meaning to write over the last few months and say how happy I am for you with the publication of your second book! Congratulations! I can’t wait to get my hands on it in October! I’m also coming to the motherhood and words reading you’re hosting in April so I will see you then!
And this book, Looking for Esperanza looks like a must read too! Thanks for introducing me to it!
(I took your motherhood and words class at the loft a year ago in case you don’t remember me:) )
Amy! Of course I remember you! Thank you for your kind wishes! I’m looking forward to seeing you this spring and hearing how everything is going.
Congrats on all the good things going on in your life! And thanks for introducing this book. I am just now reading The Circuit, an autobiographical novel written by Francisco Jimenez about his childhood as a farm worker, with my eleven year old son. I look forward to reading Adriana’s book.
Thanks to everyone who commented! Sue, you are the winner! It may be a little while before you get the book. Adriana will mail it to you when she’s visiting New York from Qatar this spring.