Crucial Storytelling: ‘Tales from La Vida: A Latinx Comics Anthology’

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By Christopher C. Hernandez, Comicosity

“The interpretation of our reality through patterns not our own, serves only to make us ever more unknown, ever less free, ever more solitary.”

— Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1982 Nobel Lecture

Gabriel Garcia Marquez recognized the importance of Latin America’s self-representation in storytelling. Marquez points out that Latinx peoples have a history of our stories being told for us and about us, but rarely by us. It’s an important realization that is still trying to be impressed upon both Latinx and non-Latinx peoples alike.

Only in the past few years are we starting to see some headway made in the U.S. as to how our cultures…our lifestyles…our stories are portrayed in entertainment media. This fundamental blasé attitude towards representation of Latinx stories is what makes works like Tales from La Vida: A Latinx Comics Anthology monumentally important.

“Tales from La Vida: A Latinx Exhibit” provides a sense of the comics found in the anthology.

The importance of Tales from La Vida lies, in part, with the nakedness of which each creator’s confession is presented to the reader. Anthology editor Frederick Aldama’s charge to the authors gave life to the spirit of the book: share a hinge moment in their life as a Latinx. There are many important events in our lives that, if allowed, can take part in determining how we react in any given situation. Some events in our lives have the power to completely reshape the way we think about our world. The stories shared in Tales do exactly that for the authors. These stories are those in which the protagonist is set apart from the rest of the world and yet brought home to where they belong. They are moments of plurality. We are set apart from others and at the same time made part of a larger whole. Aldama’s simple thesis enables the participants to beautifully capture and release these truths to the readers.

Whether or not it was easy for the authors to share these intimate “ah-ha” crossroads, they are indeed laid bare and done so passionately in word and illustration. In some stories the reader can even tangibly discern the struggle of the creator’s story unfold. The storytelling is that good. Some authors use simple methods and others use more nuanced and symbolistic devices but all of them hit home runs. No one entry, though, “beats” another for best story of the anthology. They are all equally weighted. Whether it is about paths not taken, gender issues, sexuality issues, family issues, discrimination issues, or culture issues, each carries the impact of being life changing for the creator.

“The stories group us together with the collective feelings of our elders and peers. They impress upon us the emotional impact others have faced because they are just like us.”

The anthology is also a form of self-therapy for both creator and reader alike. As each creator works through, or shares what they have already solved, it does the same for readers. They may identify with some or all the issues presented. For some readers it may be the answer they have been looking for, or it may unlock a path towards finding that answer. For others it may reveal a hidden issue that has yet to be stumbled upon. This works on both an individual and on a group level. The stories group us together with the collective feelings of our elders and peers. They impress upon us the emotional impact others have faced because they are just like us. We may never face those same moments, but we do become affected by them by proxy.

Again, the frankness of the stories aides in this but also the variety of the way the stories are presented. For just as many different issues are dealt with there are an equal amount of art styles rendered. The styles are realistic, photo-realistic, sketches, paintings, cartoon-y, and abstract. There is artwork from seasoned creators and new comers, but all are people baring their souls, as every artist does, for other people and other times to see. Art has a way of reaching people that cannot, do not, or will not be reached. It involuntarily stirs the mind like a masterfully composed violin piece. It forces people to react. While words can be glazed over, the language of art only takes a fleeting glance and it’s there in the brain. The subconscious takes that input and puts it to work. Complex messages and emotions can instantly be imparted to the observer with thin or thick strokes, color, black and white, or blank page with just a few words. Whether or not the creators consciously endeavor to attach this meaning to the art it still can’t help but be there. The art of Tales is so varied and impactful that just a glance at its pages captures the reader’s attention, pulling them in for more.

Reading these stories feels very personal and nostalgic even, like flipping through the pages of a family photo album. Readers may feel both the urge to hide it away—protecting it from the prying eyes of strangers—and the prideful urge to show it to everyone. Like the chismosa Tia that wants to tell all the stories of her family to a newly married-in addition. It is, however, extremely important that Tales from La Vida be shared with everyone. It is up to each reader, of course, to do what they will with Tales but it can be used as a guidebook for a better understanding of Latinx peoples.

“Reading these stories feels very personal and nostalgic even, like flipping through the pages of a family photo album. Readers may feel both the urge to hide it away—protecting it from the prying eyes of strangers—and the prideful urge to show it to everyone.”

Of all the stories and creators, Jules Rivera’s piece, “The Continuum”, stands out amidst the others as possibly representing the overall message. Her own experience is unique and yet communal at the same time, but it is her conclusion that helps bring the rest of the voices of the anthology into focus. “The Latina experience is not one moment. It’s all the moments.” While Aldama’s original guidelines require the storyteller to pick one moment, it is the sum of all the moments within the pages of Tales that makes us who we are. Just as the human body is made up of different systems, organs, and cells: collectively they make one person. Rivera continues: “I am Jules Rivera and that’s what it means to be a Latina.” The experiences have and will continue to shape us as we move through this world just as Rivera’s art shows her travel down the path of life. Do we let those experience control us, or do we control them as she now does?

In 1562 a Franciscan monk burned 27 illustrated Mayan books that contained our ancestor’s way of life and later set about interpreting our reality through his own patterns. Centuries later we are still trying to relearn what was lost by this act. Collecting our own stories in anthologies like Tales reincarnates the traditions of our forebearers.

These are all our stories. Every single one. We have dealt with all these issues at some point or another because we are Latinx. We are descendants of the indigenous peoples of the Americas—mixed, colonized, and gentrified with foreign blood and ideas. We are who we are now because of the past 500 years of key moments. Because of this we need to hold on to and uplift collections like Tales. They are crucial to propagating our stories and our lives.

Tales from La Vida: A Latinx Comics Anthology is available from The Ohio State University Press. “Tales from La Vida: A Latinx Exhibit”, Frederick Aldama’s co-curated exhibit is currently on view at OSU’s Billy Ireland Research Library & Museum until March 31, 2019.

This article, by Christopher C. Hernandez of Comicosity, originally appeared at www.latinxspaces.com on January 18, 2019