Academic journal article MELUS

An Interview with Beatriz Rivera

Academic journal article MELUS

An Interview with Beatriz Rivera

Article excerpt

The increased presence of Latino/a writers of Cuban descent continues to reshape radically the landscape of contemporary American letters. Ruth Behar, Sandra Castillo, Rafael Campos, Cristina Garcia, Oscar Hijuelos, Gustavo Perez-Firmat, Virgil Suarez, Jose Yglesias, to name a few, have variously penned novels, short stories, poetry, and essays that map territories of identity and experience in the US. Novelist and short story writer Beatriz Rivera is one such Cuban American author who breathes life into the manifold everyday struggles of the Cuban emigre and exile living in a xenophobic and sexist US. As with many one-and-a-half generation Cuban writers (Rivera was born in Cuba but grew up in Miami where her family settled in the early 1960s), Rivera's fiction gravitates around Cuban-identified characters who grew up in either Miami or New York. As a response to their condition of political and/or self-imposed exile, however, Rivera's characters learn to survive not through isolation from the mainstream (the weaving of myths of a return to a prelapsarian homeland as with first generation Cuban American writers), but in creating a complex hybrid space where Cuban and American cultures, histories, and aesthetic practices fluidly mix to express new Latino/a experiences and in-flux identities.

In Rivera's debut collection of short stories, African Passions (1995), she plunged her readers into the deep end of contemporary Cuban Miami with its dynamic syncretic fusions of mainstream Anglo, Spanish, African, Chinese, and Taino cultures. When Rivera published her first novel, Midnight Sandwiches at the Mariposa Express (1997), she invented Cuban American characters who resisted assimilationist pressures by recycling, translating, and transforming their everyday US Cuban/Caribbean cultures to respond to their sense of an in-between identity.

In her novel Playing with Light (2000), Rivera invents a world where the lines between national histories, collective myths, and individual memories blur, foregrounding the dynamic interplay of time and geopolitical space as experienced by old and new generation Cuban American women. Rivera's women characters look to Cuba's past--when novels were read to tobacco factory workers in the nineteenth century--to form a Latina-based tertulia (get-together) for reading counter-resistant histories and stories. Under the stress of living in a patriarchal US mainstream and a macho Cuban culture, the characters learn to look to the past to assert their presence as Latinas in the present with the power to shape their own lives. Beatriz Rivera's work speaks to the Cuban American experience--especially those of the one-and-a-half generation who seek to inhabit those vital spaces where histories, myths, languages, and experiences rub together and make room for new hybrid Latina/o identities.

I interviewed Beatriz Rivera in Houston on December 1, 2000, during her book tour for Playing with Light.

FLA: You were born in Havana, grew up in Miami, and lived in Europe. Tell me a little about your life in these different places.

BR: Well, I was mostly lost all over the world. 1 finished high school in Switzerland, and then I wanted to stay in Europe forever, so I went to Paris where I studied philosophy. I got a Master's degree in Paris [at the Sorbonne], and then I hung out in Paris for another ten years. I got married there, taught English and Spanish, and wrote novels.

FLA: How was it living in Paris in the 1970s?

BR: Oh, it was great. They were my years of youth. It was fantastic. I was writing, but I wasn't publishing anything. I didn't have much of an identity, though. I wasn't an American in Paris. I didn't have that identity. I wasn't a Cuban in Paris either, like there were.

FLA: There were Cubans in Paris?

BR: Well, like Severo Sarduy and Eduardo Manetti, who were really Cubans--not that I'm not really Cuban--but who were totally culturally Cuban. …

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