Sarah Rafael García likes to say that she’s from between two valleys: the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and the one in Orange County, California. Both being epicenters of Latinx culture in the United States, García’s roots span multiple aspects of the Mexican-American experience, a rich heritage she now brings to her writing and activism work. Her most recent publication, SanTana’s Fairy Tales, was the textual companion to a Warhol Foundation–supported multimedia project at CSUF Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana, California. As their artist-in-residence, García interviewed members of the community, transformed their experience into Latinx versions of fairy tales, and then allowed musicians and illustrators to create their own interpretations as well. The result is a work that flips the gender and racial expectations of classic European folklore to match the vibrant communities of present-day California and furthers her ambitions to put more women and diverse characters of color on the page.
You consider yourself an activist as well as a writer—how do those two roles interplay for you?
In this era, being a woman and writer of color is being an activist—it is difficult to be a writer without having those titles tagged to your daily life experiences. Personally, I can’t imagine writing anything without focusing on my own identity and community, which includes plenty of labels: Chicana, Tejana, Santanera, first-generation college graduate, first born in the U.S., woman, never married, no children, feminist, Mexican, American, and the list can go on based on who you ask about me.
What about the city of Santa Ana inspired you?
In a way, it was my nostalgia for my childhood home and my own family’s immigration story to Santa Ana that initiated the fairy tales. I knew I wanted to do a series of Mexican/Mexican-American stories and also offer the history of all the changes and acts of gentrification occurring in Santa Ana.
How did fairy tales come into play with these ideas?
Interestingly, I started writing fairy tales after studying in Ireland. I started writing feminist short stories incorporating some of the characteristics of fairy tales and fables in order to offer a counternarrative to female narratives….And in that collection, I also wanted to include the transwoman narrative, and that’s how the first tale in SanTana’s Fairy Tale (“Zoraida & Marisol,” inspired by undocumented, trans activist Zoraida Reyes of Santa Ana) came to exist.
SanTana’s Fairy Tales has a strong multimedia aspect—how did that work with the text?
My goal was to create an open book experience for the audience; I wanted them to be surrounded by a literary environment in as many forms as possible, as if they were reading the stories and walked on to the pages themselves.
Fairy Tales blends Spanish and English; is that something you do in all your work?
Spanish was my first language. I code-switch in both languages naturally when I speak and write. As a writer, I feel it is important for my community to see themselves on the page, to be included and build equity for the next generation; that’s why I put Spanish and my community on the page.
What was your experience like publishing SanTana’s Fairy Tales?
Because the project was more than a book and on a tight deadline, it was difficult to pitch to other presses. I can’t say it was a smooth process, nor would I recommend the one-year deadline to anyone, but I can’t imagine anyone else but Raspa Magazine could produce such a beautiful publication that respects and prioritizes the Latinx community as I hope to do as a writer. Personally, as a community-based writer I prefer to support such small presses as well.
What are you working on next?
I am also working on a revamped project, a novella with political overtones. The sci-fi historical novella revolves around five Mexican women post–WWII/Bracero era who create a collective voice through chisme (gossip) while also breaking gender roles, sharing border-crossing experiences, and building community…an homage to mis abuelas (grandmothers) this time.
Rhett Morgan is a writer and translator based in Paris.