This interview has been edited for clarity, brevity, and flow.
Marisa Higgins: I know you have many books. If you want to describe any of your books in a few sentences to people who aren’t familiar, whatever you think might be their spirit or maybe something left out of the market copy, but you feel represents the book.
Myriam Gorba: My first two books are collections of short novels. Sometimes a novella is as short as a page or two. And sometimes as long as a short novel. The unifying elements in these two sets of novels are that all the protagonists are Mexican or Mexican-American. Then my third book, Means, is an experimental diary that also contains elements of true crime as well as an element of a ghost story.
MH: I was just curious if you wanted to talk a little bit about how you came to that Message to Bigot. And how did you come to that and part of this object, why the discourse and why the brevity.
MG: And therefore Message to Bigot It was developed as a result of an invitation I received from scribes. The only instructions were that everything we wrote was in the form of correspondence. And I’ve always wanted to write about the experience of growing up in a California town ruled by a fanatic. And because the fanatic who ruled the city in which I grew up is now dead…I felt it appropriate to receive that invitation.
Often when those who were victims of intolerance and those who survived intolerance are able to narrate that experience, we often do not do so in some form of discourse. Where we are dealing with a person or entity that has harmed us. I wanted to use correspondence to do this because it seemed to create a more intimate experience for those who read the letters.
MH: I loved that. So for readers who may not be familiar with George by name, and are afraid they won’t “get” the message, what would you say to them?
MG: The letter is a letter to a man who has ruled the city in which I grew up for more than a decade expressing how xenophobia and racism directly and indirectly affected the lives of his constituents and affected me directly and indirectly. I draw a line between his xenophobic and racist statements and the violence directed at my body.
MH: I know you specifically mentioned Trump’s speech in the letter. When you were assigned, or had the opportunity to write the letter, was it with Trump and the election on your mind?
MG: Trump was totally on my mind and the relationship between Trump and Hobbes has been on my mind for a really long time. I think I mentioned this in the same message when Trump started his campaign and did it on a one-issue platform, an anti-Mexico platform and an xenophobic platform. His speech was uncomfortably familiar because it was the one I had grown up with.
When there was a general shock about xenophobia and overt and direct racism pressed from the stage, I had a feeling of deja vu and also an incredible sense of frustration at sticking to the pearls I noticed. Because there was such a hold on to the pearls, “Oh my God. How does he say that?” Well, how do you think you can say that? People have been speaking this way for centuries in this country. This is not new. So it’s more public than we’re used to. It was a different speech than we are used to. But the speech was always there.
We live in a settler colonial country that engages in imperialism. This is the essence of who we are, so we are suddenly shocked. …I found the shock and catching of the pearls really annoying.
MH: What advice would you give to writers, or artists in general, who are also interested in writing or about trauma or sexual violence?
MG: There is a popular notion that the simple act of “telling” is enough to elicit a sense of relief, a feeling of venting, and a feeling of being relieved. This is not the case. Writing by itself, or “telling” by itself, does not necessarily heal. Some people can. But I think it’s really important to keep in mind that when we choose to trust or tell or narrate traumatic experiences, unless we are taken care of and those experiences are validated by the public and validated by the people who are interested in us, retell or narrate those Episodes in our lives can be painful and damaging, instead of providing us with that mythical catharsis.
So I would warn people against using writing as a panacea because I believe that sometimes writing is misrepresented as such. I would also recommend to people that if they want to do this type of writing, they do so as a member of some kind of artistic or writing community. So that they are supported socially and emotionally during this process. Otherwise, again, it can be really painful and re-traumatize.
MH: What do you most want to see through the #MeToo movement?
MG: I primarily want two things to happen. I want there to be a strong, concerted and effective effort at all levels of society for survivors to heal and recover. Survivor spaces are normalized, survivor stories are validated, resources are channeled to survivors, and survivors are heard about what we need to do to heal and live the best life possible in the aftermath of their harm. I also want the cultures of rape and abuse to be dismantled and dismantled.
MH: When it comes to supporting sexual assault survivors, what do you want allies or advocates to know?
MG: I want allies and advocates to listen to survivors. I think that in every case of abuse, and in cases of gender-based violence, in particular, the person who is victimized is an expert on how to survive because if they are alive, it is up to them. They have been able to extend their lives under threat of death because, in my experience with domestic violence, that is what a person actually survives.
You are living under threat of death. And I haven’t written this much about domestic violence, but this is something I’ve experienced for three years of my life. So yes. I want allies and others…I want them to always focus on victims and survivors and focus our experience, wisdom and knowledge.
MH: this is good. Thank you. I like to use ‘experience’ this way. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say it that way.
MG: I will give an example of what I mean by that. So I am a domestic violence survivor. I was stuck in a domestic violence relationship for three years. And the ugliest questions people ask me is, “Why didn’t I leave?” And another ugly question people have asked me is, “Why did you let him do that to you?” I have left. That’s why I can talk about the situation. What the person actually asks is, “Why didn’t you leave sooner?”
The thing that a lot of the public don’t admit is that depending on a person’s conditionality on the basis of gender and gender, the likelihood of experiencing domestic violence and abuse increases. Bisexual women are targeted for abuse and violence. We are the target subgroup according to some studies of an incredible amount of domestic violence.
I imagine it’s because we’re hypersexual. And so when we find ourselves in a relationship with a controlling and abusive person, that person uses part of these metaphors regarding hypersexuality in order to establish control.
MH: I’m curious if you want to talk at all about how a particular country or the country as a whole deals with education in terms of protecting teachers or workers’ rights. Like teachers working during a pandemic.
MG: I did not study this last year. So I can only comment as an observer about the treatment of teachers and the treatment of students. And what I noticed was that there was a silly public narrative or discourse implicating teachers as cowards, lazy, selfish and selfish due to health concerns. And concerns about the transmission of the emerging coronavirus, COVID-19, as well as concerns about pedagogy and distance learning. Distance learning requires its own expertise.
However, teachers were expected to transition to distance learning smoothly and with minimal training. And I was an employee of a majority minority school district, and that was very inconsistent in its message to faculty about teacher safety. So I remember I still got emails from week to week at the beginning of the school year. The protocols seem to be changing. So at first, there was on-site teaching, then that quickly shifted and after teachers protested, distance learning was established. In my area, there is now a push to gradually reopen brick-and-mortar sites. However, parents of the students were offered the option of returning students to on-site learning or continuing to participate in distance learning.
And there is a clear difference between parents who want to bring their children back to brick-and-mortar classrooms, and which parents choose to pursue distance learning. This division has to do with or is related to income, race and ethnicity. And that’s something “school reopening” is very much driven around. School reopening is often invoked by the concept of “learning laws”. Learning loss especially for students of color and for students from low-income families in order to throw the doors into the open brick-and-mortar school again.
But if we look at the data, for example, in my school district and the school districts that have hired me: The parents of these students don’t advocate going back to campus. To me, this push seems to be a push to return to a normal visual life. Some people want the United States to look “normal again.” And part of our country that seems normal again is the sight of children coming to and from school campuses.
MH: this is exactly right. I didn’t think of it in terms of visual normality. Even in malls or eating in restaurants.
MG: A lot of it has to do with maintaining the visual interface. If you see people eating in restaurants, there is a sense of familiarity. You see children coming and going from school, there is a sense of normalcy, familiarity and security. And I think the same goes for wearing masks. And I think that’s largely why there’s this pressure to embarrass vaccinated people to drop their masks completely. Because wearing a mask indicates that we are not all equal. We live in a very class hierarchy where some of us continue to remain highly vulnerable to certain harm and disease. But if we compel or shame people for not wearing masks, we can maintain this visual charade that all is well. Yes.
MH: What issue do you think the national media has about the epidemic is either not covering it adequately or not, and why?
MG: I think the component that should drive COVID-19 coverage in the United States is race. This is an ethnic story. All the stories in this country are racist, right? All problems in the United States are racist. All problems on this planet are racist. The problems are identified in a racial way that is specific to the United States. And I think any coverage of COVID-19 that attempts to remove racial discrimination as an issue is incredibly problematic.
MHDo you have any projects in the business that you would like to promote, share, or interest readers in?
MG: Now I’m working on a set of articles. Not sure when that will happen but I’m working on it. It is tentatively titled, Table. The honorary article is an account of the writing experience Means. People often comment to me “Oh, it must have been a real treat for you to be able to write this book.” And it wasn’t. So I want the ability to set the record straight. I am writing an article about that experience and about how trauma writing is not inherently facilitating, especially when we don’t know the circumstances in which people engage in trauma writing.
I am also the editor-in-chief of an online magazine called sassy. It is the journal of criticism, commentary and social analysis. And I’m really proud of a lot of the work we’ve published. We publish twice a week and review.
You can check the mean Here, or order from your local library or independent bookstore!