- InterventionsAn Interview with Estella Gonzalez by Frederick Luis Aldama
Fictions that forever stick to my soul are those that breathe exquisite nuance and sharply magnified details of character, setting, and life. James Joyce’s Leopold Bloom’s post-prandial (he eats with “relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls”) inauspicious start to his Dublin-set 24-hour mind and foot perambulations. William Faulkner’s Miss Rosa’s molasses thick detail that brings to life all those at Sutpen’s Hundred. John Rechy’s Amalia Gómez’s spotting of a silver cross in the sky prompts her to venture beyond her dilapidated bungalow and set out on her 24-hour, LA-barrio odyssey. To this swift and cursory list, I must urgently add: Estella Gonzalez and the panoply of East L.A. denizens that make up her Chola Salvation (2021).
Perhaps, this should come with little surprise. The East L.A. setting and its characters are the life that pumps through Estella’s veins. She was born and raised in East LA, surrounded by working-class, worldly-wise realist Chicanxs like tía Rosa, abuelita Fina, mamá Merced, hairdresser Beto, and a coterie of fierce coming-of-age Chicana protagonists. What’s remarkable is how Estella gives shape to these characters and their storyworlds. She brings to her fiction what she calls here in this interview (and elsewhere) an “East Los real” style — an alchemical amalgam of the brutal and harsh with the playful and (darkly) funny. That is, she powerfully puts at arms-length the syrupy sentimental and victim porn that so often characterizes fictional reconstructions of Latinx life in the US.
As such, Estella’s been working long and hard to hone her craft. She carefully read and studied literature at Northwestern University (BA) and learned from greats such as Helena María Viramontes at Cornell University (MFA). She’s published fiction and poetry in literary journals such as The Acentos Review, Kweli Journal, Puerto del Sol, and Huizache as well as in anthologies like Nasty Women Poets (2017) and Latinos in Lotusland (2008). She’s been significantly recognized, including by the Pushcart Prize, the Pima Community College Martindale Literary Prize, and as finalist for the Louise Merriwether First Book Prize and James D. Houston Award for Western Literature.
When I read Estella’s fiction I think of Joyce and the others I mentioned above. I also think of my first encounters with titans of Latinx literature such as Helena María Viramontes (The Moths ), Sandra Cisneros (House on Mango Street ), Ana Castillo (Women Are Not Roses ), and Denise Chávez (The Last of the Menu Girls ). Just as their careful attention to the minutia of everyday life sent tingles through my brain in ways that changed me forever, so too did the work of Estella Gonzalez. I recently had the great pleasure of meeting with the deeply learned, gentle, graceful — and playful — Estella Gonzalez.
Estella, gosh it’s been over a decade since we shared creative space together in Daniel Olivas’s Latinos in Lotus Land: An Anthology of Southern California Literature.
We were with so many incredible people in that book: Rigoberto González, Helena María Viramontes, Luis Alberto Urrea, John Rechy, and Salvador Plascencia. What a great collection!
Let’s jump right in, Estella. How do you see your fiction intervening, politically, and culturally in the world?
Writing about East L.A. Chicanas who disrupt stereotypes is a political act. It unsettles people. I think back to when I was in my MFA program. There was an instructor who was critical of me creating characters who wanted to have light skin; they were clueless to the colorism in our community. They also thought I should make my stories more universal by including white characters. Another student in the program commented that the stories didn’t seem to be set in East L.A. because I didn’t write about graffiti and gangs.
My fictions are about the richness of life in our community — and not the stereotypes seen in the movies and depicted in...