Wednesday, October 12, 2016

An Interview with Carla Trujillo

In this story Carla Trujillo takes us to the small city of Santa Fe, where a group of unlikely characters find themselves trying to save their beloved neighborhood. Lead by the unofficial leader of the community, Pepa Romero, a local healer, several characters embark on a journey filled with a lot humor, and wisdom, but also calling upon supernatural occurrences in order to maintain what they have. Dog town, a small, but important home to a forgotten people on the outskirts of Santa Fe has failed to pass the test of time and can no longer keep up with the tourist and artsy trends of Santa Fe that threaten their existence.
            It is a collision of two worlds, one new and one old. Pepa and the rest of the cast resort to all means in order to preserve what they believe is rightly theirs. Fighting against an all powerful mayor and a motivated young entrepreneur, this books takes dissects the life of different characters, but also brings to life the immense passions that all of these people have for the place they call home. Nevertheless, Dog town and the lives of all the characters will change forever.
Roberto Cruz ('17)

1.    Your book, Faith and Fat Chances, brings forth a clash of two worlds, the new and the old. The people and tradition of Dogtown fight to maintain their livelihood a midst a plan of “renovation” that seems to have no space for them. Do you believe that progress can be inclusive of everyone? Or do you believe that progress too often comes at the expense of tradition?

Progress has become an increasingly complicated word, especially today with the gentrification of old neighborhoods and the pushing out of people (usually poorer) from their homes to other locales. I live in Berkeley, CA and have seen this issue in the Bay Area for many years. I have mixed feelings about this, since you want to see the neighborhood improve, especially for those that have been neglected, but not at the expense of the people who have been living there for many years. It would be great to find a way help people keep their homes so they wouldn’t have to leave.

In the case of Faith and Fat Chances, the people who live in Dogtown have been overlooked for many years. Gilbert Cordova wants to come in and raze this section of town to follow his dream. He thinks if he gives people what he thinks is a fair financial offer, they’ll move on to a better place. Since Santa Fe, like many other expensive towns, has no other economically feasible options for the displaced Dogtowners, they would have to relocate to other towns and cities. So it really isn’t a question of preserving tradition. It’s more a question of hanging on to a place people can still afford.

2.    The character Gilbert was born and raised in Dogtown, but does not seem to have consideration for any of the people living there as he tries to build his winery. His argument is that overall, it will improve the town. Was this attitude meant to be a reflection of the sort of disconnect that the old world and new word face as they both try to impose their way of life?

Gilbert believes he is helping the town of Santa Fe in many ways, and by providing jobs to a few workers, thinks he’s “giving back” to the community. I think, since Gilbert wants to come back “home” he can’t look at other options. He doesn’t seem to care what impact he’s imposing on the people of Dogtown, and that includes his own sister.

3.    Pepa seems to be the unspoken leader of the community. Specifically, her vocation of being a healer seemed to give her a large influence and credibility within the community that is unparalleled. Did you intend for her job as a healer to sort of represent the old ways of the community.

Pepa is a very non-traditional healer. Not only does she smoke, cuss, and drink, she’s also a business woman. She knows traditional ways of healing, yet has studied more contemporary methods. Pepa personifies a mixture of the old and the new, at least as it relates to healing, yet those who only honor Western medicine might think of her as hopelessly archaic.

Yet Pepa is a leader in the community because she’s lived in it for many years, has healed countless people, and has a long history of speaking up against unjust practices. She speaks the truth, especially about our country’s history of exploitation of the land and people in New Mexico. In a way, Pepa is still connected to the ancestors and to the spirit of this land. She is very special and I believe the community of Dogtown sees it!

4.    This story could be told between two characters, mainly Pepa and Gilbert. However you chose to incorporate a different amount of characters, from scientist, to a priest. What type of dimension did you intend to add to the book by developing these different characters simultaneously?

This is a story that goes far beyond what happens to Pepa and Gilbert. The other main characters, Gilbert’s sister and her girlfriend, the priest, the nuclear scientist, the mayor, and the acolyte reflect the complexities involved when a developer seeks to disrupt a community. I felt I couldn’t tell this story without bringing their voices to the forefront, too.

5.    Going off of the last question, you chose to not only incorporate different characters, but they are characters that seem to be the minority within this particular community, a white man, a lesbian couple, a priest who is doubtful of his beliefs and vocation. How did you attempt to balance the book between all of these personalities and the actual problem they faced?

In addition to Pepa Romero, who anchors the story, the novel needed other voices to represent the community impacted by the proposed development and the key players who seek to destroy it. Delving into the hearts and minds of several different characters was challenging because I needed to fully embrace each person’s complexity and visualize who they were, what they cared about, and how they moved through the world. I didn’t consciously decide to create “minority” characters, I simply thought that most communities that have large numbers of people of color also have a plethora of personalities.

6.    I think like many people, we tend to be shaped not only by the cultural landscape in which we grow up in, but also our physical surroundings. In your book, the city of Santa Fe itself plays a major role in the story and the resolution. How closely did you intend for the physical environment to be a manifestation of the present situation?

I am originally from a small town in Northern New Mexico and went to Santa Fe often. When I’d speak to non-New Mexicans about Santa Fe I’d often encounter revered tones of wonder. I too, think the town is beautiful and love it dearly. But it’s a different place now than it was years ago and many people can no longer afford to live there. This, of course is happening in other places across our country, especially here in the Bay Area. Somehow I felt Santa Fe exemplified what happens when places become so special only the rich can actually live there. 
I also didn’t plan to write this kind of story, but I think it exemplifies some of the things I care about. Still, I couldn’t help injecting humor into the narrative and had a great time writing it. I do hope readers will be entertained by characters, the humor, the subtext of spirituality, and of course, what happens! 

Carla Trujillo was born to a working class family in New Mexico and grew up in Northern California. Her extended family and roots are New Mexican. She received her B.S. degree in Human Development from UC Davis, and her M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Educational Psychology from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She is the editor of two anthologies, Living Chicana Theory (Third Woman Press), and Chicana Lesbians: The Girls Our Mothers Warned Us About (Third Woman Press), winner of a Lambda Book Award and the Out/Write Vanguard Award. Her first novel, What Night Brings (Curbstone Press 2003), won the Miguel Marmol prize focusing on human rights. What Night Brings also won the Paterson Fiction Prize, the Latino Literary Foundation Book Award, Bronze Medal from Foreword Magazine, Honorable Mention for the Gustavus Meyers Books Award, and was a LAMBDA Book Award finalist. Her latest novel, Faith and Fat Chances (Curbstone Books/Northwestern University Press 2015), was a finalist for the PEN-Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction.  Carla has also written various articles on identity, race, gender, and higher education, worked as the Assistant Dean for Graduate Diversity at U.C. Berkeley, and lectured at Berkeley, Mills College, and S.F. State University. She has also taught fiction for the Sandra Cisneros Macondo Writers Program and the Lambda Literary Foundation’s Emerging Writers Retreat.

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