Thursday, May 30, 2019

Guest Post for Latino Book Month: Writing Horror as a Latinx by Ann Dávila Cardinal

¡Qué horror! Life as a Gringa-Rican Horror Maven

By Ann Dávila Cardinal

In the early 70s I would arrive for my summer-long stay at my great aunt Ana’s house in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, with a stack of horror comics tucked in my suitcase: Tales From the Crypt, Creepy, Monsters Unleashed. My tía would shuffle through them with a look of disgust, making that disapproving clucking sound with her tongue that she did when seeing a dead animal or beggar in the street.

Photo: Ann Dávila Cardinal

“Ay Annie, why can’t you read somethingnice?” She would shuffle through the pile with the tips of her arthritic fingers,making little gasping sounds at the sight of each cover. “These are notappropriate for a little girl. Does your mother know you read these…things?”She pushed the pile away and clutched at the neckline of her prim blouse.

I smiled at her, (of course, becauseaccording to her I was usually a sinvergüenza, one without shame). “Mom bought them for me, Titi!”

She would shake her head of gray beautyparlor curls, and shuffle away in a flurry of swishing nylons stockings.

Truth was, my mother didn’t care what Iread, as long as I was reading. And besides, she was the one who handed me dog-earedcopies of Dracula and Frankenstein, telling me they were trueGothic literature…when I was ten. So, you could say that I received mixedmessages as to the appropriateness of my love of horror from my family.

When out among the rest of the world, itwas more a gender issue for me in those days. Girls in my school didn’t watch orread horror, they loved Disney and romantic comedies (hell, they also loved theband Poco, so there was no accounting for taste). So, I learned to keep thisparticular interest to myself.

Until I got into punk rock at fifteen. Now these were my people.

Photo: Ann Dávila Cardinal

The punk world and horror wenthand-in-hand, so I no longer had to keep my taste for all things macabre tomyself. I mean, I would go see the Bad Brains at CBGBs and The Plasmatics atMax’s Kansas City. The line between the two art forms was blurred, and I was inmy glory. By this time my great aunt had given up on me with my spiked hair andtattoos, limiting her judgement to a shake of the head, a disappointed sigh,and an “Ay, Annie…” thrown in for good measure.

It wasn’t until I became a writer in myforties that I wondered at the lack of Hispanic names in the field of horrorliterature. Was it a cultural divide? Or were they simply not being translated?Then I read a story from my cousin Tere Dávila (an award-winning author on theisland) that she wrote after Hurricane Maria. It was about a father and his twoyoung daughters, cut off without power in the mountains of Puerto Rico. Thingsget progressively darker as time passes, and the girls become feral and…well,let’s just say the family dog doesn’t fair well. It hit me in my gut, much likethe work of Cronenberg or Stephen King does. It was then I realized that in allthose magical realist novels and stories I was raised on—the short story byJulio Cortazar where the businessman becomes a salamander, the visits from theangel of death in Love In the Time ofCholera—the line between the Latin fabulismo/absurdo/surrealismo and Americanhorror seemed fairly blurred as well.

Consider the plethora of mythic horrorsthat abound in Latinx cultures. My novel FiveMidnights (Tor Teen, June 4, 2019) is based on the legend of El Cuco. Parentsin most Latin countries threaten their children with this variation on the boogeyman.“Best behave or El Cuco is going to get you!” Good lord! Talk about horror! Andin Mexico there’s La Llorona, who drowned her children and wanders aroundcrying and haunting people. I mean, these cultures give the Grimm Brothers arun for their money. But most of these tales come from an oral tradition, asmany traditional tales do, and are not translated from the original Spanishoften. But now there are so many brilliant Latin writers spinning tales ofhorror: Daniel Jose Older, Victor LaValle, Carmen Machado, Mariana Enriquez, andmany more. I think that a young Latinx girl with a penchant for scary storiesthese days will find more and more names like her own on the library orbookstore shelves. Not enough yet, but more than when I was a young girl with astack of horror comics clutched to my chest.

So, in writing this article I asked myself: was horror against character for this Gringa-Rican writer? Nah. Although I can pretty much guarantee that my Great Aunt Ana is not rolling in her grave necessarily, rather shaking her head and perhaps waggling her finger at me. Don’t worry, Titi, someone is actually paying me to write it now!    

About Ann Dávila Cardinal

Ann is a novelist and Director of Recruitment for Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA). She has a B.A. in Latino Studies from Norwich University, an M.A. in sociology from UI&U and an MFA in Writing from VCFA. She also helped create VCFA’s winter Writing residency in Puerto Rico.

Ann’s first novel, Sister Chicas was released from New American Library in 2006. Her next novel, a horror YA work titled Five Midnights, will be released by Tor Teen in June 2019.

Her stories have appeared in several anthologies, including A Cup of Comfort for Mothers and Sons (2005) and Women Writing the Weird (2012) and she contributed to the Encyclopedia Latina: History, Culture, And Society in the United States edited by Ilan Stavans. Her essays have appeared in American ScholarVermont WomanAARP, and Latina Magazines.

Ann lives in Vermont.

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