Author Interview: Christy Esmahan

Tell me a bit about yourself and your background. What made you want to write this story that mostly takes place in El Salvador?

My father was from El Salvador and my mother is American, so that part of the story was pretty easy to write, although the characters are not my parents. I was born in the US, but we did live in El Salvador when I was a little girl and I have many fond memories of the people and the food. Plus, many of my cousins on my father’s side still live in El Salvador. I grew up in Ohio and majored in Microbiology in college, then moved to Spain where I completed my doctorate degree. After that, I worked as an educator and also lived in Germany. Eventually I moved back to the US and taught here as well, before retiring to write novels. A CRICKET OF A GIRL is my 6th novel.

Having lived in El Salvador as a little girl, I always carried that part around inside me and I found that when people looked at me and saw my dark skin, they didn’t understand the depth of culture and love that I also carried around for my father’s country. Also, (spoiler alert) we did flee the country right before the military stormed the university with tanks, in the middle of the day, and shot students and professors. My father would surely have been killed that day if we had still been there, and I really wanted to write about that and how someone could embrace the lovely country that El Salvador is while still dealing with the pain and injury that was caused by the war. Finally, I wanted to illustrate (my opinion) that the civil war really started years before its official start date, due to the changes that were made by the rich.

For those who haven’t read your book yet, what is A CRICKET OF A GIRL about?

One of my reviewers, Lauren Sapala, a writer and blogger in San Francisco, described her experience with the novel really well, so let me give it to you in her words. “A CRICKET OF A GIRL is the story of two women: one born and raised in El Salvador, and one from the Midwestern United States who relocates to El Salvador in the late 1960s. These two women form an unlikely but beautiful friendship against the backdrop of the political turmoil, violence, and relentless fear that was [and continues to be] the climate of El Salvador. Considering the fears we are dealing with about the future of our society today, I think this should be required reading for anyone who wants to further their education on race, gender, class, and politics. It is guaranteed to make you think twice about what people are capable of, both for good or ill.”

Another reviewer, a young man from Mexico named Arturo Almazan said, “[The novel] tackles difficult topics such as social class inequality, gender roles, cultural identity, and modern slavery.”

I think those two opinions of the novel summarize it well.

I think one thing you captured well in this book is that many Salvadorans are great story-tellers. The character Sesi, who’s a niñera in your book, tells the little girl she cares for the story of The Monkey Princess. I had never heard this folktale before, but you say your Salvadoran niñera used to tell this story to you?

Yes, as true as I could, I tried to capture the real Sesi’s voice. I’ve given her a different name, of course, and her real life is somewhat different than in the novel. For one thing, her life was even harder and she didn’t have a “Figo” but was assaulted. Still, she remained positive and optimistic and did, in the end, learn to bake and make a better life for herself and her daughter. But back to your question, yes, she would walk me to school and tell me stories, and this one of The Monkey Princess is the one I remember best.

One thing I’m always drawn to in the books I read is food, and your book mentions plenty of Salvadoran cuisine. At one point in the story, Sesi learns to make “green rice” (or “arroz verde”)… Any chance you have a recipe you want to share?

Sure! I have it all written down on my blog site.

On your most recent trip to El Salvador, what was the most interesting thing you experienced?

I was struck by how much and how little the country had changed. I could not recognize my house or my school because of the tall walls and gates that had been erected around all of the buildings, to protect from crime. That was sad. But the airport was basically unchanged, and the chattering of the wild green parakeets which fly in thick flocks over the sky were familiar. The view of the majestic volcanoes was breathtaking. And of course, I loved the food!

What’s next for you?

I’m in a busy promotional phase now. My fourth novel, THE LAPTEV VIRUS, (hard sci-fi medical thriller and winner of the Indie Excellence Award) just got made into an audio version by Tantor Media and I’m asking everyone to ask their local libraries to acquire it (shameless plug: you can request it at your library by giving them the ISBN 978-1515969044.)

I’m also promoting my 5th novel, THE COBRA EFFECT, which is another medical thriller, but this time about the plastic pollution in the ocean.

If you’d rather read more contemporary fiction, check out any of my first three novels, BUENO, SINCO and BRUJAS which are a love story set in Spain. They are a series, but I recap enough that you can start with the second or third one if it catches your fancy. (And by the way, SINCO was a finalist for the 2016 International Latino Book Awards.)

Your books are very different genres — is there anything that connects them?

Writing is my way of engaging in social activism, which I think is critical for us at this juncture in time. A CRICKET OF A GIRL is particularly timely because of the immigration issue and the need for all of us to understand and empathize with people from other cultures. I think that the more book clubs and groups of people read and discuss books like this one, the more tolerant we can all become.

My first three novels, BUENO, SINCO and BRUJAS are also about being immersed in a different culture (Spain) where not only are the customs, language and food different, but also the way of thinking about the world. Again, it goes back to helping us to understand and empathize with the foreign.

My fourth novel, THE LAPTEV VIRUS, is about climate change and the dangers of things emerging from the melting Arctic, but it’s also about corporate greed and mistakes that good people can make. THE COBRA EFFECT is about the huge problem of plastic pollution in the ocean, but it also touches on corporate greed and GMOs. And again, part of the narrative is set in other countries (India and China).

I recently heard author and professor George Saunders speaking and he said (I’m paraphrasing) that right now, more than ever, all of us artists (no matter how we make art) need to work on our craft to help our country [and our world] deal with the turmoil in our society and move toward a better future, with more understanding and tolerance. I love that thought!

Find out more about author Christy Esmahan on her website, ChristyEsmahan.com.

Cantinflas Marathon

cantinflas_marathon-image-spanish

Cine Sony Television will have a four-day Thanksgiving weekend Cantinflas movie marathon. From November 24th to November 27th. Starting at 7 am ET, you will be able to watch over 30 Cantinflas films commercial free.

A few of the popular Cantinflas films airing during the marathon include:

• El Analfabeto (The Illiterate One)
• A Volar Joven (To the Skies Young Man)
• Los Tres Mosqueteros (The Three Musketeers)
• El Padrecito (The Good Priest)
• El Bolero De Raquel (Raquel’s Shoeshiner)
• Ni Sangre Ni Arena (Neither Blood Nor Sand)
• El Barrendero (The Sweeper)
• Su Excelencia (Your Excellency)
• Si Yo Fuera Diputado (If I Were A Deputy)
• El Bombero Atomico (The Atomic Fireman)
• Don Quijote Cabalga de Nuevo (Don Quijote Rides Again)
• El Ministro y Yo (The Minister and I)

If you’re not familiar with Mario Moreno (1911-1993) who was professionally known as Cantinflas, you should take this opportunity to get acquainted. Moreno was not just a Mexican Golden Globe-winning comic film actor, but a producer, and screenwriter who was regarded as “the Charlie Chaplin of Mexico” for his onscreen persona of the underdog who overcame all odds. (Chaplin, by the way, upon seeing “Ni Sangre Ni Arena”, declared Cantinflas to be the greatest comedian alive.) In his life off the screen, Moreno was an activist and philanthropist who became a symbol of hope for the downtrodden and impoverished.

As a linguaphile, one of my favorite things about Moreno is how he became a verb.

“Cantinflas is so popular, he even changed the Spanish language. There’s a verb in Spanish: cantinflear. It means to talk in so many circles and puns that everyone ends up completely confused. It was the character’s signature move when caught in a tight spot.” – [JASMINE GARSD/NPR]

The impact Cantinflas had and continues to have, can not be overstated. His films span decades and served not only as entertainment, but as political commentary which is just as relevant today as it was then — commentary which extends well beyond the borders of Mexico.

Links worth checking out:

Cantinflas, With His Puns And Satire, Is Back (And Still Relevant)

Cantinflas on Wikipedia

Not sure if you have Cine Sony? Click here to find the channel

Changing Accents & The Chameleon Effect

Shakira and fellow Colombian singer, Carlos Vives, May 2016

Shakira and fellow Colombian singer, Carlos Vives, May 2016

I saw recently on the news that famous Colombian Shakira was getting some flack for “forgetting her roots.” It turns out, Colombian fans overheard Shakira on the set of a music video speaking with a Spanish accent, rather than her native accent from Barranquilla, Colombia.

Here’s video of the interaction that had some people jumping to judgement.

At 35 seconds into the video you hear Shakira say, “¿Pueden ayudar, por favor?” and apparently some detected the accent there.

This isn’t a new accusation for Shakira, as years ago she was also accused of using an Argentinian accent.

So what’s the deal? Has Shakira forgotten her roots? Does she feel the Argentinian and Spanish accents are superior to her native Colombian accent? Is she being pretentious?

Not at all! What some people don’t realize is that being around people with an accent different than your own can have this effect on some people. It isn’t a coincidence that during the time Shakira seemed to have a bit of an Argentinian accent she was dating Argentine Antonio de la Rúa, and as everyone knows, she now shares her life in Barcelona with Spanish football star, Gerard Piqué.

What Shakira is experiencing is called “mirroring” or the “Chameleon Effect.”

Research has shown that humans unintentionally mirror each other, imitating gestures, body language, and accent. This is a way we subconsciously try to get people to like us, to build rapport, and to seem less threatening. Essentially we’re saying to the other person, I’m similar to you, I belong. You can see this taking place between humans as early as infancy. Ever seen a baby imitating facial expressions?

It’s also been found that people who are more empathetic tend to be more prone to the Chameleon Effect, so is it any wonder Shakira has this “problem”? Look at all the charity work she does, from her own Pies Descalzos Foundation which helps children living in poverty, to her benefit concerts which have served as fundraisers for numerous initiatives, and her role as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador – Shakira is definitely one empathetic individual.

If that’s not enough to change the minds of the skeptical, I’ll add my own personal anecdote. Yes, I have also experienced the Chameleon Effect. I still remember the year we went to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving. Carlos and I had been married probably about five years at that point. I was speaking to my father and he looked at me kind of funny. When I finished talking he said, “You’re speaking with an accent.” That was the first time I become self-conscious of it, but he was right, I had picked up some of Carlos’s accent in English which made me sound vaguely like it wasn’t my own native language. To this day I catch myself sometimes, but who knows how often it happens because I’m just not even aware of it.

Has this ever happened to you? What is your own experience with the Chameleon Effect?

Playlist: Paz

During the month of December, blogueras Romina of Mamá XXI and Laura of Mamá Especial Cuenta Conmigo are posting messages of peace on their blogs and social media channels as part of the #MamisPorLaPAZ initiative they created.

You can read more about it here but I decided to contribute at least one post to the cause by creating this playlist for peace.

What song or video that fits the theme of “paz” would you add to this list? Share in comments! (And feel free to join initiative on your own blogs and social media channels.)

Juanes – Odio Por Amor

Natalia LaFourcade – Un Derecho de Nacimiento

UNFPA El Salvador – Yo Decido Vivir en Paz

Espinoza Paz – Si Amas a Dios

Señor Tenga – Mensaje de Paz

Playing for Change – United

Julieta Venegas – Un Poco De Paz

Juanes – Paz, Paz, Paz

A few videos (not songs) worth watching:

Naciones Unidas El Salvador – También soy persona

Unsung Hero – TVC Thai Life Insurance

The Most Astounding Fact – Neil deGrasse Tyson

Spanish “Netspeak”

woman texting by Jose Antonio Sánchez

Image source: Jose Antonio Sánchez

Learning a second language in the days before the internet was probably more straightforward. You learned how to speak, understand, read, and write it. Aside from the standard vocabulary, you may also have learned some slang. However in the age of chat, text, and social media you must also learn the “netspeak” or “chat language” of your second language.

After I recently looked up a word in Spanish netspeak which I couldn’t figure out, I decided to pass on some of the basics I’ve learned as a resource to those who might need it. Although I don’t recommend using it excessively yourself as it can form bad habits and encourage incorrect spelling (for example, substituting “k” for “q” in words like “quiero”), it’s good to know it if you need to decipher text messages, tweets, etc.

x = por
pq, xq = porque, por que
q, ke, k = que
kien = quien
cmo = cómo
xf = por favor
kiero = quiero
tqm = te quiero mucho
d = de
s = es
l = el
stas = estás, estas
bn = bien
toy = estoy
grax, gx = gracias
tmbn, tb = también
no c = no sé
qtl, ktl = que tal
qtpsa, ktpsa = que te pasa
= = igual
+ = mas, más
– = menos
aki = aquí
ak = acá
tranki = tranquilo
muak = besos

Want to learn more?

Lenguaje Chat on Wikipedia
20 Words and Phrases to Get Started Texting in Spanish – on Matador Network

El sexo débil

el-sexo-debil

Today is Spanish Friday so this post is in Spanish. If you participated in Spanish Friday on your own blog, leave your link in comments. Scroll down for English translation!

Soy muy exigente con las telenovelas que miro. No he visto ninguna con lealtad desde Herederos del Monte, pero El Sexo Débil es una que creo que voy a ver hasta el final. Sólo he visto dos episodios hasta ahora, pero me encanta la trama y los personajes mujeres fuertes. He aquí una descripción de la serie:

Los hombres siempre han pensado que el machismo es sinónimo de respeto, liderazgo y valentía; que el ser macho es provocado por sentimientos que un hombre no debe revelar, o al menos, lo exige la sociedad. Eso ocurre con los Camacho, una familia de hombres dedicados a la medicina cuya característica principal es el ser machistas. Eso causa que, un día, cada una de las mujeres de los Camacho abandonen a sus parejas: Álvaro es abandonado por tener celos de su esposa, al ser ella más exitosa en lo profesional; a Dante lo deja su novia actual por un sueco que conoció en París; a Julián lo abandona su prometida por haberle sido infiel varias veces; y a Agustín, el patriarca, lo deja su esposa por no escucharla durante tres décadas de casados. Bruno, el menor de los Camacho y el único que queda con una relación estable, es homosexual.

Tras este acontecimiento, los Camacho tendrán que enfrentar sus miedos solos, coincidiendo con la llegada de Helena, una mujer que abandonó a su prometido el día de su boda y que cambiará la vida a todos los hombres de esta familia. Wikipedia

Si quieres ver la telenovela conmigo, puedes ver los episodios en la página web de NBC Universo, o en el canal NBC Universo lunes a jueves 7:00 pm ET/PT.

[ENGLISH TRANSLATION]

I’m very picky about the telenovelas I watch. I haven’t watched any Spanish-language soap operas with loyalty since Herederos del Monte, but El Sexo Débil is one I think I’ll watch through to the end. I’ve only seen two episodes so far, but I love the plot and strong female characters. Here’s a description of the series [my rough translation of the Spanish-language Wikipedia page]:

Men have always thought that machismo is synonymous with respect, leadership and courage; that the male shouldn’t reveal his feelings, or at least, that’s what society demands. That goes for the men of the Camacho family, men dedicated to medicine whose main characteristic is being macho. One day this leads to each of the women leaving their partners: Alvaro is abandoned by his wife for being jealous of her professional success; Dante’s girlfriend leaves him for a Swede she met in Paris; Julian is abandoned by his fiance for having been chronically unfaithful; and Augustine, the patriarch, his wife leaves him for not listening to her the entire three decades of their marriage. Bruno, who is gay and the youngest of the Camacho family, is the only one left with a stable relationship.

After this event, the Camacho men will have to face their fears alone, coinciding with the arrival of Helena, a woman who abandoned her fiance on their wedding day and who will change the lives of all the men in this family.

If you want to watch this telenovela with me, you can see full episodes at the NBC Universo website, or on the NBC Universo channel Monday to Thursday at 7:00 pm ET/PT.

Flor de Toloache

flor

Today is Spanish Friday so this post is in Spanish. If you participated in Spanish Friday on your own blog, leave your link in comments. Scroll down for English translation!

Durante el último par de años Jenny Schweitzer ha trabajado en la creación de Rhythm in Motion, una serie documental en 10 partes cortas que retrata a músicos del metro de Nueva York en colaboración con la Autoridad Metropolitana de Transporte. Las películas están siendo publicadas en The Atlantic. La primera película, Flor de Toloache, cuenta con una banda de mariachis exclusivamente femenina que desafía las normas tradicionales del género. Me encanta!

[ENGLISH TRANSLATION]

For the past couple of years Jenny Schweitzer has worked on creating Rhythm in Motion, a 10-part short documentary series portraying NYC’s subway musicians in collaboration with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The films are now being published on The Atlantic. The first film, Flor de Toloache, features an all-female mariachi band that challenges traditional gender norms. I love this so much!