Author and journalist Carribean Fragoza read from her collection of short stories, “Eat the Mouth That Feeds You,” before an audience of 22 University community members in the Quay Davis Executive Board Room, with several also tuning in on Zoom Monday.
The collection focused mostly on the lives of young Latinas and Chicanas, ranging from stories about motherhood to domestic abuse.
Sean Bernard, professor of creative writing, introduced Fragoza and highlighted her Chicano background and her involvement in the South El Monte Arts Posse, an organization that encourages the community to participate in the arts.
“I’m always inclined to tie my stories to something in history, even if I’m not addressing it specifically in my stories,” Fragoza said. “I want my characters to be part of history in some way.”
Fragoza started by reading one of her stories titled “The Vicious Ladies,” which follows a protagonist coming home after leaving without the intention of returning. She spends time attending parties with old friends from her hometown who call themselves the vicious ladies. She reflects on her history with these women and struggles with accepting her identity as one of them.
The story explores themes of sisterhood, identity and home, as well as ties to an inescapable past.
After the reading she said that the story was inspired by a party crew, The Vicious Ladies, based in Boyle Heights and the murder of one of its members.
“I was just so fascinated by that world and what had happened there and my imagination kind of just picked it up from there,” Fragoza said.
One student asked her to share the experience of publishing her first book and working with an editor.
She said that, like other writers, her publishing date was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic but despite this, she found the process to be calmer than she expected.
She said she felt very supported by her editor throughout the editorial process.
“It was a great experience for me. I don’t know what it’s like for other writers, but for me it was wonderful,” Fragoza said.
She also said most of the magical aspects of her work come from trying to break away from hard situations she has experienced.
“Life is hard for a lot of us. As a Latina it’s hard for certain reasons, as a woman it’s hard for certain reasons,” Fragoza said. “It’s important for me to find ways to break out of that oppressiveness.”
She also gave some advice to the students present who are aspiring writers.
“Find opportunities to see stories unfolding in the world and just keep a creative mind active throughout your day and your life,” Fragoza said.
She ended by taking questions from viewers on Zoom.
One viewer asked how thought-provoking she wanted her work to be.
Fragoza said she likes her writing to be more emotional than thought-provoking because there can be a lot to be learned from our emotions.
However, she also encourages readers to form their own conclusions about her work.
“I thought the reading was really great, I’ve attended a few at ULV so far and this was definitely my favorite one,” Grayson Ruyak, sophomore creative writing major, said. “It was really interesting and really helpful to hear her talk about the editorial process and the publishing process.”
Ruyak also said that a lot of the authors themselves were not creative writing majors so everyone should come out regardless of their major because the work presented can be really interesting and impactful.
“I don’t really attend a lot of readings so I didn’t know what to expect but she was really good. I liked it a lot,” Dakota Bechtel, sophomore gender studies major, said.
She also encouraged other students to attend readings.
“Even if you don’t fully like it, you still get to know another lived experience. That’s really important,” Bechtel said.
Bernard coordinates most creative writing readings on campus and said he encourages students to come to events because it can help them interact with the writing community.
“We’re always looking for ways to calm ourselves to get a little self care…and I think that going to artistic events is a great way to do that,” Bernard said.
Araceli Macias can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.