Latina Reads: Meet Bronx-Based Boricua Poet Gretchen Gomez

Gretchen Gomez, 29, is a Puerto Rican poet from The Bronx. She was raised as a pastor’s daughter and discovered a love of writing early on and has now published two poetry collections. She released her first book, “love, & you” in 2017 and dedicated it to women who have experienced painful relationships. While the first collection was about overcoming heartbreak and discovering self-love, her latest, “Welcome to Ghost Town” is about confronting the ghosts of her past. Released in October of this year, the collection of poems is a personal journey through painful and traumatic experiences as a form of healing.

FIERCE spoke with Gomez for a better understanding of her book and the process she used to write..

Q: “Welcome to Ghost Town” deals with heavy subject matter, what was the process of writing this book like for you?

A: “I have to breakdown the process because there are two parts to this process. Before ‘Welcome To Ghost Town’ became a poetry collection, it was a poetry blog series. All the first poems from ghosts 1-17 are from that collection. When I wrote those specific 17 poems, I was in a different head space. I was writing to let it out without a worry because at that time my first collection wasn’t even out and no one in my personal life really knew about my blog. Therefore it was easier to write because I was pretty much touching the surface with these 17 poems.

The second part to this process is the very much harder part. When I decided to make this poetry series into a book, I wanted this to be a full collection not a chapbook. It’s when I started playing with the idea of adding short poems to those long ones (that were featured on the blog) and also adding the ghosts that weren’t apart of the blog series. I started tapping into suppressed memories and memories that I tried so hard not to relive. I don’t like thinking things into existence. I remember being in Vermont and balling my eyes out while I wrote about 90 percent of “Welcome To Ghost Town”. Because I lived the sadness again, I lived the abandonment, the horrors, my first heartbreak, the loneliness, the abuse, these crimes that were done to me. The process was hard.”

Q: What inspired you to delve into the ghosts of your past?

A: “My synopsis says ‘you might not be a part of my life anymore but you’re still the ghosts who haunt me.’ That means various things like them visiting me in my dreams/nightmares, seeing these ghosts in people I meet or pass by, memories of them coming into my mind when I do or see certain things, etc. And so life and pain and wanting to be free from them definitely inspired me to write about the ghosts.

Is there a poem in this book that was particularly difficult for you to write? Did the process of writing help you through it?

There’s actually a whole part that was super difficult for me to write. Ghost 19: #metoo there came a point where I thought about leaving this one out because I knew it was going to open up a can of worms in my personal life (thankfully it hasn’t, yet). Writing it, owning it, telling my truth, and also letting it be apart of the book as my ‘this is my f*** you for messing up my life and you will never take anything away from me ever again’ was very freeing. The process of not only writing it but keeping it in the book definitely helped me with the collection and my truths as a whole.”

Q: In the wake of the #metoo movement, how do you feel about being so open about your experiences?

A: “Again it’s just my big f*** you to these people. ‘Welcome To Ghost Town’ only talks about one experience which is the ghost mentioned above. I’ve unfortunately have gone through that more than once and talking about it is like me reclaiming what has always been mine. My voice, my body, my mental health, my strength, me. All of me. And so every time I open up about these crimes committed against me, I am letting myself know that I am not a prisoner and it feels liberating.”

Q: Mental health and trauma aren’t often talked about in Latinx culture, what would you like to see change and what would you say to someone who has experienced similar trauma?

A: “I would love to see more accessible resources to the Latinx community in regards to seeking mental help. I feel like because mental health is such a stigma within the Latinx culture, it’s something we don’t really talk about or push because we worry about offending our loved ones. I think talking about it, having positive discussions about mental health would be an open door.

I would tell someone who has experienced similar trauma as me to seek professional help if they can. Regardless of how similar our trauma is, our healing journey’s can be vastly different. Find peace within yourself and know that it was never your fault. You are not guilty of your trauma’s. There is no going back and changing time but there is forward and creating your future.”

Q: What was the most challenging part of writing this book? The most rewarding?

A: “The most challenging part of writing this book was the thought of people reading this and the unknown that came from that because I know there isn’t a book like welcome to ghost town out in the market right now. Therefore when it came to editing this book, I was very torn with keeping the collection or throwing it out.

The most rewarding has been the conversations I’ve had with people in my life and finding more healing from speaking out. I had a conversation with this person who I hold very dear to my heart, knowing some of her story and her telling me that she has courage to be bold because of welcome to ghost town was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced in my life. Because knowing that I touched one person’s life and they broke out of whatever is holding them back, weighs a lot more than a negative review where someone couldn’t relate to my book. And that is rewarding.”

Q: What would you like readers to take away from this book?

A: “Say your truth boldly no matter how awful it is. Don’t ever let anyone take your voice away because it is one of the most powerful things you have. Be brave, be courageous, and know that you can make it through. Tomorrow is another step further from your present pain.”

Read: Alabama Just Passed a “Personhood” Law That Gives Unborn Fetuses the Same Rights As People

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Latina Reads: Puerto Rican Author Lilliam Rivera Discusses Upcoming YA Latinx Feminist Novel


Latina Reads: Puerto Rican Author Lilliam Rivera Discusses Upcoming YA Latinx Feminist Novel

Lilliam Rivera has written two novels featuring strong Latinx female characters including her latest Dealing in Dreams. The Puerto Rican YA author released The Education of Margot Sanchez in 2017, a romantic coming of age story set in South Bronx that explored family dysfunction and the importance of being true to yourself. Born in Manhattan and raised in the Bronx, Rivera penned the ode to her hometown after relocating to Los Angeles. The book was nominated for the 2017 Best Fiction for Young Adult Fiction by the Young Adult Library Services Association and Rivera has also been awarded fellowships from PEN Center USA, A Room Of Her Own Foundation, and received a grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation and the Speculative Literature Foundation.

In Dealing in Dreams, Rivera takes readers on the kind of fantasy adventure she imagines her teenage self would’ve wanted to read. The feminist dystopic novel is clearly influenced by Latinx culture following the adventures of sixteen-year-old Nalah and her all-girl crew Las Mal Criadas and her dreams of escaping Mega City to the exclusive Mega Towers. Read on to learn about the strong Latinx women in the book, why she chose to portray toxic femininity, and how immigration came into play. The book will be out March 5 and she’ll be talking at bookstores throughout the U.S.

The story focuses on an all-girl crew, can you tell me more about Las Mal Criadas and how you developed these characters?

Nalah is the sixteen-year-old leader of Las Mal Criadas, an all-girl crew who patrol the streets of Mega City. They are notoriously fierce but Nalah is wary of the violent life. She believes the way off the streets is securing a home in the exclusive Mega Towers where her leader Déesse lives. She’ll do anything to reach that goal. I wrote a draft of Dealing In Dreams six years ago and Nalah came to me first. I had just given birth to my second daughter and there were people, mostly women, who remarked how my dream of being a published author would have to be placed on hold. Rage can be a great incentive for generating art. I refuse to be pigeonholed. I wrote this draft while taking care of a newborn and I put it away for six years, workshopping a chapter here and there, until a year ago when I returned to the manuscript and still felt its relevance.

Can you describe Mega City and the Mega Towers and their significance in the story?

@lilliamr / Instagram

I based the concept of the Mega Towers on the housing projects I grew up in the South Bronx. The Twin Park West Housing Projects is a U-shaped structure connected by three buildings. With the Bronx slowly being gentrified I could just imagine how these buildings will soon be so desirable for those in power. In Dealing In Dreams, the towers are the only structure that survived the Big Shake, a man-made disaster caused by drilling. The Mega Towers is where the elite live and it’s where Nalah believes she can secure a home for her crew if she plays by this society’s rules. There are a couple of hints that Mega City is the Bronx but only a person from there would discover those Easter eggs.

The book is being described as a feminist Latinx dystopia and The Outsiders meets Mad Max so suffice it to say it’s a fierce book, how would you describe it to someone who is unfamiliar with the genre? 

I would describe Dealing In Dreams as a young adult book about a girl who grew up in a violent world and must decide if that path is truly her only salvation to a better life.

There is a very clear Latinx influence in the city and characters, why was that important to you?

@lilliamr / Instagram

I grew up reading so many science fiction and fantasy novels (Ray Bradbury, George Orwell…) and didn’t see any of my people in them. Where were the Puerto Rican girls from the Bronx crushing monsters? The same holds true of current films. I love Star Wars and have watched it hundreds of times but how amazing is it that my kids get to see Oscar Isaac being a part of the Star Wars canon? The future I envision in my novels is very brown and very black, just like my upbringing. I want to write Latinx characters that are flawed and heroic, who fall in love and discover their voice.

This is your second time writing a teenage Latinx protagonist, why is it important to you to tell these stories through the lens of a Latina?

These are the type of stories I craved for when I was young, desperately trying to connect with protagonists in novels. I think there’s more than enough room in bookstores and libraries for different Latina stories.

You take toxic masculinity and flip it to women instead, what was your intent in doing this?

There’s this great image of activist Angela Peoples taken during the Women’s March. Angela holds up a sign that reads “Don’t Forget: White Women Voted for Trump.” I thought of that image when I was rewriting the novel. I also kept thinking of how our own people will gladly throw us under the bus in order to secure a place beside someone in power. Sometimes our own family are quick to lead us to destruction. I wanted to explore those two realities in Dealing In Dreams.

What are some of the main concepts you wanted to tackle when you wrote this book and why?

I was thinking of books I’ve read that inspired me as a young person such as Anthony Burgess A Clockwork Orange and S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. I was drawn to their violence and also to the idea of formed families. I wanted to explore this idea of blood family versus the family you create but I wanted to come from the point of view of a Latina.

The idea of finding a better home is a concept that’s all too real for many Latinx in the US, was it a conscious decision to have Nalah’s journey mirror the immigrant experience in a sense?

@lilliamr / Instagram

The quest for home is so rooted in my family’s history. My parents left Puerto Rico to find a better home in New York. Each decision they made, however hard, was made with the intention of providing us with the tools to succeed. Almost everyone who wants to enter the United States come with that hope. There’s an amazing painting by the artist Judithe Hernández titled “La Muerte De Los Inocentes” and it is of a child who clutches a ribbon that states: “We come but to dream.” I feel that painting really captures Nalah’s journey and the journey of so many who come to the U.S. searching for a better life.

There’s a lot of action in this book, what was it like writing those scenes featuring all women?

I had the best time writing those scenes! I think it’s so rare to see young women owning their strength on the page and not being afraid to use it. I love that my characters are unapologetic about it. I also didn’t want to give the reader a chance to rest, to think of putting the book down, so I tried to inject as much action as I could.

What do you want readers to take away from Dealing in Dreams?

I want readers to be transported to a place that looks at times familiar and completely new. I want Nalah, Truck, Nena and the rest of Las Mal Criadas to leave an imprint on the readers long after they read the last page.

Read: YA Writer Tehlor Kay Mejia’s Debut Fantasy Book is a Feminist Story of Forbidden Love and Oppression

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20 Things You’ll Learn Growing Up Puerto Rican

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20 Things You’ll Learn Growing Up Puerto Rican

If there is one country you would wish you have grown up in, that would be Puerto Rico. From its amazing food to their immaculate beaches to its amazing rainforest, Puerto Rico certainly has a lot of reasons for others to be jealous of. For those born or raised in Puerto Rico, here are top 20 things that you have learned having been raised Puerto Rican.

1.  Rice and beans are everyday staples.

@hamiltonhenny / Insta Stalker

Whether you have chicharrones de Pollo, bistec encebollado, chuletas, or carne guisado, side dishes will always remain rice and beans. For variation, you use other types of beans like black beans, red kidney beans, garbanzos, habas, or white navy beans.

2. You were made to believe that the gusanos will eat you if you refuse to wear shoes.

@Ben_Barefoot / Twitter

Every Puerto Rican kid, at some point, has heard his mom shouting “Vas a coger gusanos (hookworms) after he walks around without any shoes.

3. Your home is beautifully adorned with vejigante masks.

@PuertoRicoPUR / Twitter

Vejigante masks are colorful masks inspired by the folkloric character. Most Puerto Rican household have their home decorated with these artisan-crafted masks that use unique materials like hollowed-out coconuts and paper Mache.

4. Miss Universe Pageants are considered as prestigious as the Academy Awards.

@UPofBeauties / Twitter

Puerto Ricans love their beauty queens, and it doesn’t come as a surprise that comes Miss Universe pageants nights, locals will go ga-ga over the competition. Of course, some of the pageant’s title holders come from La Isla del Encanto (Deborah Carthy Due, Marisol Malaret, and Dayanara Torres to name just a few.

5. You grew up scared of Tuesday the 13th, instead of Friday.

@cereprods / Twitter

While the whole world believes Friday the 13th is a cursed day, Puerto Ricans say it’s Tuesday the 13th. They strongly believe this day is jinxed that they even believe in the say “Marter 13, nit e cases, nit eembarques, ni de tufamilia te apartes,” meaning, “On Tuesday the 13th, avoid getting married, avoid boarding a boat or a plane, and never separate from your family.

6. You find lots of plastics on practically every furniture piece you have at home.

@4TENJAM / Twitter

Puerto Rican natives find plastic aesthetically interesting. In fact, most households’ pieces of furniture have elements of plastic on them.

7. Your mom shouts when it’s dinner time.

@motherwolowitz / Twitter

Even if you live in a one-bedroom apartment, when it’s dinner time, chances are, you will always hear your mom screaming at the top of her lungs to get the message across. The volume meter of Puerto Rican households only has one setting.

8. Goya products are staples.

@ManorISD / Twitter

Every meal you have contains up to six Goya products. The most common are Sazon and Adobo.

9. Your mom loves Ricky Martin.

@ricky_martin / Twitter

From small parties to big events and even family gatherings, Ricky Martin will never be out of the picture. Puerto Ricans love this Latino sensation so much so that his name has eventually become a household name over the years.

10. You are obliged to call your mom religiously.

@VCCDublin / Twitter

Especially if you are not physically with your mom, you must call her at least once a day so as to avoid getting reported to the missing person’s list.

11. Puerto Ricans are very interesting when it comes to plane rides.

@airwaysmagazine / Twitter

Have you ever been inside a plane with a bunch of Puerto Ricans? Perhaps you have noticed how they start clapping by the time their plane touches the runway.

12. Telenovelas are very important.

@TInovelasM / Twitter

Just as much as they love the Miss Universe beauty pageants, Puerto Ricans love their telenovelas. In fact, they are as important as major holiday events like Christmas and birthdays. Interrupting them while they’re in the middle of a show is considered extremely rude.

13. Puerto Rican parents are very strict.

@TopCaricaturist / Twitter

Do you plan on hanging out with your friends? Expect your parents, especially your mom to bombard you with a lot of questions. Where do you plan to go? Who goes with you? Do your friend’s parents know? How are you going out? Puerto Rican parents are generally very strict as compared with any average parent. Ask any native Puerto Rican and you will really get the whole idea about how parents ask and how you can bribe them when you really wish to go out.

14. Puerto Rican point using their lips.

@AtwcInfo / Twitter

While most of us instinctively use our fingers to point on something, Puerto Ricans do it differently. They use their lips instead. When you ask them something, like directions, they just simply pout their lips to point to where you are asking.

15. Puerto Ricans can speak with their face.

@GuidoSSBM / Twitter

Most Puerto Ricans have this distinct quality where they can talk and express what they wish to say by making faces to each other. Say, for instance, twitching the entire face will basically translate into “what do you want?”

16. All cereals are called “con-flei”.

@CraigSetzer / Twitter

From Cookie Crisp to Apple Jacks, to multigrain and cinnamon toast crunch, all cereals are called “con-flei” in Puerto Rico. Thus, when your mamita calls you for some “con-flei”, then you’re definitely in luck.

17. You learn interesting words / vocabularies.

@VocabularyNinja / Twitter

Words such as “ay bandito, “chacho”, “wepa”, and “chacha” become your second nature in vocabulary.

18. Cousins, cousins, and more cousins.

@JohandriPienaar / Twitter

Puerto Ricans are closely-knitted families. It will not come as a surprise if you talk to any Puerto Rican native and ask them how many cousins they have, they will tell you they have at least 20.

19. You use VICKS to cure practically everything.

@vicksvaporub01 / Twitter

Does your head hurt? Use Vicks. Are you breaking out? Use Vicks. Do you have allergies? Use Vicks. Vicks is practically the holy grail of any minor medical issues. Just rub it on your forehead or on your chest and you are good to go.

20. You start to drink alcohol at 16.

@Dear_Booze / Twitter

Yes, 18 is the legal age of drinking. But Puerto Rico is way different. Seeing young teenagers in clubs is normal in Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico’s quality of life is somewhat similar to that of the United States. Aside from its amazing tropical island landscape, a myriad of outdoor activities, sun-drenched weather, and vibrant culture, Puerto Rico also boasts of its variety of entertainment and dining options and opulent resort lifestyle.

This country is a lively mix of Spanish, Taino, and African influences. In fact, this fusion event extends to practically almost all aspects of Puerto Rican like. Puerto Rico also has captivating cultural events like the Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastian to mark the Christmas season and the Heineken JazzFest where international Latin jazz stars are expected to perform.

What most people are not aware of is that Puerto Rico is actually a part of the US territory. Meaning, Americans can easily travel to and from the US sans the passport. Puerto Rico uses the US currency and most of their local speak bilingual.

Whether you are born and raised in Puerto Rico, or you feel like you wish to visit the country for some rest and recreation, this country is definitely one place worth your time.


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