Writing in Tepoztlan, MX

January 2016

Thanks to the generosity of Sandra Cisneros and Under the Volcano, I was awarded the Macondo-UTV fellowship to attend the Under the Volcano writer’s conference in Tepoztlán, Morelos.  Though I have been going to the country of my birth through the years, this was the first time I have ever gone as a writer. In my previous trips, I’ve always gone as “Reyna the niece” or “Reyna the cousin”, since the purpose of my trips is to visit my relatives in Iguala, Guerrero.  Those visits to Iguala always, always break my heart. It pains me to see my family living under such harsh circumstances. Iguala is as poor as it was when I left as a child, but now, in addition to the poverty, it is also a place of violence. It is a place where 43 college students disappeared in 2014 and to this day have not been found. Iguala is a distribution center for the cartel. The mountains of Iguala are covered in poppy fields. When I go to Iguala my experience there is always bittersweet, the joy of visiting my relatives is accompanied by the pain of seeing them stuck in a place I was lucky enough to escape. Someone once told me I have “survivor’s guilt.” Perhaps it is true. I got out. They didn’t.

When I go to Iguala, I have to leave a part of myself behind in the U.S.—the writer. I never talk about my writing to anyone. My relatives don’t ask me much about it because they don’t live in a world with books and literature. My occupation—my passion—is a mystery to them. When I go to Iguala I never write. My inspiration is derailed by the overwhelming sorrow and helplessness I feel at seeing my people suffer. I also have to put my English aside. The moment I arrive everything I say must be in Spanish. No code-switching here.  No Spanglish! Because I rewire my brain to think and speak in Spanish, I believe that is another reason why the writing doesn’t come to me then. All my books have been written in English first, then I do the translation.

But this month, going to Tepoztlán changed the way I have experienced my native country. For the first time, I could be “Reyna the writer”. At Under the Volcano, I got to attend writing workshops and author readings in both English and Spanish. I got to hang out with writers from many parts of the world—England, Wales, Ireland, Canada, to name a few. I had stimulating discussions about the craft of writing, and I spent hours in the coffee shops in Tepoztlán working on my novel. To my delight, the majority of the attendees spoke both English and Spanish, and it was enjoyable for me to code-switch and use my Spanglish! For me, this trip to Mexico was the first time when I got to do the things I enjoy most about living in the U.S. but in my own native country! It was my chance to be the version of myself I love the most—my writer self.

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