1.When did you first start writing?
I started writing—that is, scrawling letters in an attempt to convey meaning—before I could speak fully. I have lovely memories of my mother bending over me, cupping my hand, and helping me to learn to write my name. I became conscious of the role of writing in my life early in adolescence. I still remember a significant and startling moment: I opened a brand new white journal; the first page had a menu of questions, and after jotting my name, I didn’t even think about the answer to the next question. As if by reflex, I filled in “writer.”
2.Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
The immediate answer is… I don’t know how exactly my interest in writing originated. When I speculate, I see lots of possibilities. For example, my maternal grandmother was a poet, and from the time I was age three to about six, she and my mother helped me to memorize many of her poems (usually about the Virgin Mary) so that I could recite them at church during Sunday mass. Each week, my grandmother would give me a crisp piece of paper with a pretty poem written in her impeccable penmanship. I would carry that small piece of paper with me all week long! Here’s another possibility: my family endured the civil war in Dominican Republic. I was just a child when that was happening and I did not have the emotional skill to process it all, so I buried many emotions and memories. When we immigrated to the United States, where I encountered many people who did not welcome “spics,” in order to fit in and survive, I continued to withhold my emotions and stories. But writing in my journal provided an outlet, a safe place where I could be who I really was and who I dreamed I wanted to be. Writing allowed me to create a genuine life. So, maybe those, among others, are some of the reasons that prompted me to become interested in writing.
3.What books/authors have most influenced your life?
Oh, I have such a long list of books and authors that have impacted and truly helped to shape the woman I am! When I was a kid I repeatedly read Jane Austen’s seven novels, especially Mansfield Park, because the main character is such a strong woman. They provided a great escape into an unknown world. When I was a teenager, I read Piri Thomas’ Down These Mean Streets and marveled not just at the lacerating story and pliable spirit of a marginalized Puerto Rican young man, but at his palpable prose. Then, as a young adult I discovered the work of Dominican American author, Julia Alvarez, especially her first novel, How the García Girls Lost their Accents, and for the first time I saw myself in literature! I am an immigrant from Dominican Republic, like her characters, and like Alvarez herself, and I found camaraderie in her stories about adjusting to American society, and in her own personal life. Discovering Alvarez’s work is definitely a highlight in my reading life. There have been other authors and books that have made a huge difference to me as an adult. Certainly, they include Brazilian educational philosopher, Paulo Freire’s, Pedagogy of the Oppressed; cultural theorist bell hooks’ Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom; Senegalese Mariama Bâ’s novella, So Long a Letter; Egyptian activist, Nawal El Saadawi’s, Woman at Point Zero; and Chicanas Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherríe Moraga’s This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color.
4.What book are you reading now?
Yesterday, I finished reading Cuban American author Cristina García’s King of Cuba. It’s a really smart and imaginative story about the parallel lives of a fictionalized Fidel Castro and his contemporary, Goyo Herrera, who has been exiled in Miamai. It’s funny and written in crystal clear prose. I also just finished reading Dominican American Junot Díaz’s illustrated interlinked short stories, This is How You Lose Her. I like that at the end, the main character, Yunior, finally begins to understand the cultural conditioning that has not allowed him to relate to women as full human beings. And I am half-through reading Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah. Its sweeping coverage of physical and emotional territory reminds me of her compatriot’s, Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart. Today, I started reading American of Indian heritage Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel, The Lowland. I have consumed her work hungrily; her prose is lyrical, evocative and her stories are steeped in rich history that compels me to learn more.
5.What is your favorite theme/genre to write about?
Travel narratives! That’s what I really love to write. I am invigorated by visiting places that are located far far away from what is familiar to me. Maybe that passion is rooted in the fact that I’m an immigrant in the United States, and that I have had to move often in my life. I really like discovering a place and then presenting it in writing and photographs to others who have never seen it, or others who have seen it and want to know it better. One day soon I will dedicate a lot of my time to traveling and writing about where I have been, what I have done there, whom I have met, and what I have discovered in the process.
6.Do you ever experience writer's block?
Yes! And when I do, I face it. I greet it and ask it why it is interrupting me, why it is attempting to impede my progress. I don’t remember where I learned this lesson, but it was early in my life, and it goes something like this: if you desperately need to get inside a building, and there is no access through the usual front door, go through the back, or through a window, or even manage to poke a hole and force yourself in. The point is that when I experience writer’s block I confront it by sidestepping it. For example, I might step away from my laptop and go for a run, or to yoga class, or to share a cup of tea with someone I like. We talk, even if it’s not about what I’m writing, and new ideas surge. Or, I might work on a different section of the project, or I might read for a while, or write in my journal, or continue writing some other project. I step away from the block and I try to see it from a different perspective. Most importantly, I always let my writing sit for a while, because when I return to it, the new me that I have become has something else to infuse in the project.
7.How do you come up with your titles?
I won’t say that my titles are all that great, but I know that they’re functional. I look at my titles as the first opportunity to convey my main idea to the readers. So, when deciding on a title I ask myself: what is the main message in this piece, the main idea, the thesis? Once I have a clear answer, I abstract the key words, phrases, and concepts. That becomes my title.
8.Do you write for a living or a hobby?
I write because I must. That is how I make significant meaning; it is how I learn more about what has happened, what I want to say or believe. While writing, I wrestle with ideas and consistently I arrive at greater understanding; sometimes I arrive at profound life-altering insights. I write because the process is cathartic. When I am sad, or when I have a problem, especially, I write compulsively, because writing heals me: writing allows me to externalize, concretize, and then analyze an issue. That process, for me, has been salvific. I write because it feels good. And yes, I also write because I want to share ideas with others.
9.Do you see writing as a career?
Not anymore: when I was a teenager I dreamed of being a prolific novelist, and then reality hit me. I had to create a career and a means to support myself that was dependable. And I didn’t have role models or people in my life that could encourage me to achieve such a seemingly difficult goal. Instead, I wrote in my journals—just because I loved writing, just because I needed and wanted to write. It turns out that as a college professor I teach all types of writing, and that I’ve written some things that are published, but I don’t make my living by writing. I make my living by teaching. Since most of what I teach is writing, I suppose you can argue that writing is my career. No matter, writing is definitely one of my most ardent passions.
10.What are your current projects?
I have way too many projects pending! I’m at the beginning stages of a book about global citizenship as pedagogy and compass for living. I’m trying to move toward closure on a collection of memoir-ish travel narratives. I’m working on a short creative non-fiction piece about the end of a marriage. And I’m writing a scholarly article about applying culture specific pedagogy in the teaching of college writing (in both face-to-face and online modes) to Latino students. I don’t often send out my projects for publication, but I have a lot of fun composing them.