Interview: Yalitza Ferreras
Yalitza Ferreras: Winner, 2020 BLR Fiction Prize
BLR: Salman Rushdie once said, “We are all international bastards.” I, too, grew up in a bi-lingual household, and although Italian is not my primary language, it feels more like my mother tongue than does English. Do you regard this bi-cultural heritage as a burden or a gift?
Yalitza Ferreras: I regard my bi-cultural heritage as a gift every day. Although I was born in the U.S., Spanish is my first language. At a very young age, I was sent to live with my grandmother in the Dominican Republic, a detail I share with Manolo. After living in the U.S. since I was eight, English has now become my primary language, although I experience it as a syllabic language, which I attribute to my brain being wired for Spanish. When I read, I am constantly translating, almost making a hybrid language, and I think that duality extends to the ways I perceive and interpret the world. I like to think that it makes me someone who is always looking for meaning, deciphering patterns, and making connections.There is a tension inherent in being bicultural that I find endlessly interesting.
BLR: In your story, “Rivers,” while his aunts are working to rebuild a life, an identity and a sense of home, Manolo, through his illness and his anger, has made his life a self-imposed exile. Why did you choose to make this rather unattractive character the protagonist of your story?
Yalitza Ferreras: I was inspired by the proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child,” and wanted to write a story in which the child grows up to feel disenfranchised in various ways within that village. As a result of his constant displacement, Manolo never really feels rooted in a place, and is often unmoored within some of the key relationships in his life. He is inextricably linked with his mother and aunts, but never truly bonds with them and resents them for what he perceives as their betrayals.
I wanted to make Manolo seemingly unlovable but mired in the love of the women in his family despite his continual rebuffs. The constant presence of the women as his physical ailments escalate, impact his ideas of masculinity in such a way that further isolate him from everyone around him.
BLR: You have had such a accomplished career – both as a story writer and a collector of narratives. What are you currently working on? Do you plan to work mostly in short fiction or do you envision a novel in your future?
Yalitza Ferreras: Thank you! I love to think of myself as a collector of narratives, many of which I am revising for a short story collection. I am also working on The Four Roses, a novel about the ambitious Altagracia, a poor young woman who immigrates from the Dominican Republic to Spain. The story takes place in the early 1990’s as Altagracia seeks to make art amidst her struggle for survival. The narrative traces the development of her visual style as she experiences living in Spain as an Afro-Latina immigrant and joins an underground political movement as a street artist—becoming a voice for an immigrant community.