The Mongrel Writes

Bernie Anés PazWritingLeave a Comment

I spent a long time thinking about what I wanted to write for my first blog post. This, after all, marks the moment in which I “officially” describe myself as an author (something more to do with perspective than reality considering how long I’ve been writing). In the end, I decided to write about myself and, in turn, what that might mean for my novels.

See, I’m Puerto Rican, and Islandblood, the novel I’ve just finished, is nestled within a setting inspired by Puerto Rico and Latino cultures. Believe it or not, deciding what the hell that even meant ended up being quite the challenge. Why? Because:

Studies have shown that the racial ancestry mixture of the average Puerto Rican (regardless of racial self-identity) is about 64% European, 21% West and North African (including Canary Islander Guanche), and 15% Taino/Amerindian​'Puerto Ricans.' Wikipedia

Sure, practically everyone is some kind of mix, but in Puerto Rico, that fact is everywhere. You could find a completely white-skinned Puerto Rican just as easily as one that’s as dark-skinned. It’s so common we culturally don’t put much emphasis on skin color (money is the real social decider on the island, but where isn’t that true?).

Then there’s the fact that even our language is a muddled mess of localized Spanish mixed in with a little bit from African cultures and words straight out of the Taíno language. For example, we very often call ourselves Boricua:

Puerto Ricans often proudly identify themselves as Boricua (formerly also spelled Boriquén, Borinquén, or Borinqueño), derived from the Taíno word Boriken, to illustrate their recognition of the island’s Taíno heritage. The word Boriken translates to “land of brave lords(s)”.'Puerto Ricans.' Wikipedia

In the end, I’ve come to realize that there are a lot of strong identities clashing in a “Puerto Rican.” Those identities aren’t quite the same as the more uniform culture and histories of, say, Japan, Korea, Britain, and Germany. Similar identities within Puerto Ricans are fighting to be recognized as meaningfully individual elsewhere and especially in the United States.

Yet we, as Puerto Ricans, are only so because we see those very different identities as parts of a whole. We don’t believe one of them is who we “really are” because we see ourselves as greater than the sum of our parts. I thought about this as I wrote my novel.

The islands of Tierra Rica are in many ways similar to Puerto Rico by intent. My fantasy nation has suffered the destruction of its culture due to oppressors too. Yet, in my rendition, Puerto Rico retained more of its past. It’s also a world power and the origin of many global myths and legends. I took inspiration and asked many what-ifs, just like many fantasy authors have done with European history. Before long I had something familiar yet different, something also made of many parts.

But it actually wasn’t until I finally finished Islandblood that I realized my novel was, like me, a kind of mongrel. I’m embarrassed to say that wasn’t always the case. A lot of my early work sought to imitate the “standard fantasy” worlds of Tolkien, Carol Berg, Brandon Sanderson, Joe Abercrombie. Very European, very white. Nothing wrong with that. I still love traditional fantasy and, honestly, I’m not bothered by European or white settings. But I’ve realized I myself can offer something that is both familiar yet unique by continuing to write Latino-inspired fantasy. More importantly, it’s also something I immensely enjoy. Writing Islandblood felt like a slot fitting into its socket. It felt warmly familiar. It felt good.

So here I am, readying to set forth on my long journey as an author. I’m both anxious and excited. I’ve thought about my worlds and characters and about the kind of author I want to be. What my voice will sound like, what it will bring to the table in a genre already filled with many beautiful voices. In a lot of ways, this will be a journey to discover myself too. To learn what my own voice sounds like and see what I can do with the craft of storytelling.

So, here I am, typing this out to an audience of zero, these words my first step forward into the unknown.

Artwork credited to Justinas Vitkus |

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