It is Possible to Live with Ghosts: An Interview with Carribean Fragoza

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The daughter of Mexican immigrants, Carribean Fragoza is the founder of the online journal Vicious Ladies and the South El Monte Arts Posse, an interdisciplinary arts collective in her California hometown. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in publications including BOMB, Huizache, and the Los Angeles Review of Books. She is also the coordinator of the Kingsley and Kate Tufts Poetry Award at Claremont Graduate University and co-editor of UC Press’s California cultural journal, Boom California, and East of East: The Making of Greater El Monte (2020, Rutgers University Press). Her debut short story collection, Eat the Mouth That Feeds You, is out with City Lights.


April Yee (AY): Sometimes, people outside the Latinx community will automatically read magical realism into work coming from a Latinx writer. What is a post-García Márquez magical realism? What is your definition of magical realism, the one that you’re writing into?

Carribean Fragoza (CF): It is sort of the go-to category that we’re always placed in for some of these magical elements. One thing has made me feel more comfortable in allowing myself to be part of that tradition. Gabriel García Márquez says what people identify as magical or out of the ordinary aspects of the work are really not magical or out of the ordinary for us. Many of us do have this special connection to that other world. Growing up Mexican American, particularly growing up Catholic, we have this connection to saints and holy figures and the possibility of miracles in the normal every day. It makes multiple realities possible at the same time. 

And many people know that in Mexico, we have this tradition of honoring the dead, the day of the dead––not a thing to enjoy and have fun with every year like a holiday; it’s part of life. It is possible to live with ghosts and the otherworldly, and that is entirely part of life for many of us. 

I feel like accepting this opens a lot of freedom for me as a writer. I give myself those permissions. It feels natural, instead of a thing to borrow whenever I want to write something magical or colorful. 

AY: I love the specific shape of reality that comes through in your stories. They’re almost willfully defying the traditional shapes of narrative––that there has to be a climax or a resolution at the end. I was wondering what shapes you’re writing into and how you are conceptualizing these stories during the writing.

CF: I sometimes like abrupt endings, like the one in “Tortillas Burning,” where it just ends––but sometimes that’s just the way a story ends. The story doesn’t always have to be resolved. I feel like life doesn’t work that way. Not that I’m trying to represent life or the way things really are, but I feel like so many lessons that we learn in life, and so many experiences that we have in life are not that tight and not that neat. 

And when I think of shape in my work and how to structure things, I don’t start off with a shape that I want to realize or want to produce. I feel like that comes as the work develops on its own. I think of it almost like a vase or a vessel. I want it to have a shape that feels balanced.

AY: I was interested in the different things that characters consume––the pill that also happens to cause abortions, the children sucking in the nitrous oxide––and how these patterns of consumption are still within some kind of capitalistic framework of value and exchange, so even the children are paying to breathe the nitrous oxide. I found this interesting that some rules of reality can be suspended in these works, but those capitalist rules of exchange still hold true. Can you discuss your choices there? 

CF: There’s a line in there that says they’re sucking on the nitrous oxide the way they would have sucked on their mother’s breast––the way that has replaced that connection with the mother. In another story, the characters eat each other. The daughter eats the mother, and the daughter eats the letters from the grandmother. That is motivated by a desire to connect with the mother and the previous mother, the grandmother. 

As the daughter of immigrants, I know what it’s like to physically feel disconnected from your family. My family moved to the United States, and I was born here, and I grew up far away from my grandmother and a lot of my family in Mexico. I always yearned for more of that connection, and that’s something experienced by a lot of immigrants, that desire for connection. 

AY: I enjoyed the different ways that women express their rage. In particular, the mother cuts down and chops up wood and the child martyr enacts revenge, sending ants up a boy’s legs. Obviously, women don’t always have the luxury of expressing this rage in real life. What are the options for us as women outside of the page to express that kind of rage?

CF: I don’t know. I feel like I have a lot of rage, and that rage doesn’t always belong to me personally. There’s historical rage as a person that exists through colonization. Some people may scoff at that. But I feel like I can, I do, and I’m angry about all colonization, and I can see and am still learning how it does affect me personally. So I have a lot of historical rage that I don’t always know what to do with. And I’m not the only one. 

What do you do with that? Particularly in this historical movement that we are in right now in the United States, with racism and slavery and its aftermath. But then also the patriarchy and the way in the present day that manifests in our lives––how that impacted my childhood and led      to repercussions in my adulthood. 

I know it makes people uncomfortable, but I don’t care. If I can’t express it in my own writing, then I don’t know where else I can.