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Sandra López, Author of 'Esperanza: A Latina Story,' Reflects on the Responsibilities of Latino Storytellers

First Posted: Sep 17, 2014 03:56 PM EDT
Sandra C. Lopez

Sandra C. Lopez(Photo : Michael V. Sedano)

This article is part of the Latin Post Latina Author Series, presented in collaboration with La Casa Azul Bookstore. The author will read an excerpt from her memoir on Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014 at La Casa Azul Bookstore.

The childhood of author Sandra C. López was spent among the pages of paperbacks. Quiet, with very few friends, she was routinely found in the corners of rooms with her face shaded by a thick book, awestricken by the characters. But, even with this natural inclination toward books, López never thought of becoming an author, because "how could a poor Mexican girl [born and raised in Hawaiian Gardens, CA] become a writer?"

López would answer that question in time; though her initial ventures into writing were limited to the essays, book reports and compositions composed purely for her high school English courses. In college, things changed.

The ambitious reader was exposed to the works of Sandra Cisneros, Luis Rodriguez and Gary Soto, just as she was becoming comfortable with her writing skills. The ability to create writing that grabbed reader's attention became second nature, coinciding with her personal growth and forcing the thought that maybe she was a writer after all.

By the end of her first year of college, López had written her first novel, "Esperanza: A Latina Story," a coming-of-age tale about 14-year-old Esperanza Ignacio, "a young Mexican-American girl who just wants to make something of her life from a shallow pool of possibilities." Despite obstacles and violence at home, Esperanza uses her wits, sarcasm and barrio-enriched language to overcome challenges and pursue a college education, effectively changing her destiny.

López wrote "Esperanza" while juggling a full course load of classes. With little time to devote to the project, she had to quickly pen the story, which in many ways spoke to her own experience of "growing up in a poor barrio as the eldest daughter of an absentee father and a single, working mother."

"I basically wrote in segments, adding a little bit more whenever I had the chance -- it was a sporadic and disheveled process. By the time I started writing the sequel, "Beyond the Gardens," I became a little more organized," López told Latin Post. "I began with an outline, highlighting key points in the story and some character descriptions. Then I went on to my first draft -- or what I like to call a "barf draft" -- just to get any old thing out on paper. I don't worry about spelling, grammar, whether or not it's brilliant, or even if it makes sense."

Brilliant in its final form, "Esperanza: A Latina Story" and "Beyond the Garden" have been available to the public for six years. And the public is grateful for López's contribution to the Latino legacy, evident by the fact that she was named one of the "Top Ten Latino Authors to Watch" in 2011, was awarded a plaque by her hometown for challenging the nation's understanding of Latinos and Latino culture, and telling her personal story.

"I don't know if I share the same plateau as legends such as Sandra Cisneros and Luis Rodriguez, but I'm definitely a link to the chain. We absolutely must build a better legacy for our Latino community, and books written by Latinos help the progress, said López. "Like [Edward James] Olmos says in that "Selena" movie, "We have to be more Mexican than the Mexican and more American than the Americans both at the same time. It's exhausting!"

López continued, "One of the battles that we are constantly fighting is the stereotypical belief that we can be nothing more than field workers. To this day, people still confuse me for the cleaning lady. I think my books challenge that belief in the sense that Latinos can be smart, ambitious, and determined."

On Saturday, Sept. 20 at 6 pm, López will appear alongside Cecilia M. Fernandez at La Casa Azul Bookstore, the East Harlem-community treasure, to read from her latest novel, "Beyond the Gardens," sign books and have a casual discussion about books.

Visit López's site to learn more about her writing, check out her book club, find her on Facebook and follow her on Goodreads. And find La Casa Azul Bookstore on Twitter and Facebook.

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