Sometimes life puts you in touch with kindred spirits from the opposite side of the world. Sometimes they come to your life, say hello and leave without either giving you tangibles or taking anything with them. Some of them stay by you and fill you with underserved gifts. Sonya Huber falls into the latter category. We met at Ashland University during the River Teeth Nonfiction Conference after she had read “Looking for Esperanza” and written a beautiful blurb for it. And it seems that everything good that has come her way, ever since, she feels compelled to share with me. Sonya, a kindred spirit, fabulous CNF writer, and author of the books Opa Nobody, Cover Me: A Health Insurance Memoir, and Backwards Research Guide for Writers, asked me to play a part in a blog-tagging project called “The Next Big Thing.” It is simple and aimed at writers promoting the work of writers we consider The Next Big Thing. I answer these questions, then tag five writers who I think are the Next Big Thing, and they do their thing.
My picks for next week are:
Katie Riegel, author of "What the Mouth Was Made For" and "Castaway."
Marcia Aldrich, author of "Companion to an Untold Story."
Suzanne Paola, author of "Body Toxic" and "The Lives of the Saints."
Rosebud Ben Oni, author of "Solecism."
Alicia Thompson Guy, author of "Psych Major Syndrome."
What is the title of your book? Looking for Esperanza: The Story of a Mother, a Child Lost, and Why They Matter to Us. The book chronicles my fieldwork with the undocumented women I encountered in the Florida fields while looking for a specific Mexican woman named Esperanza.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? An anthropologist embarks on a journey to track down a Mexican woman who crossed the border to the United States on foot, lost her young daughter halfway through their desert journey, and instead of leaving her dead baby behind, Esperanza, whose name means “hope,” strapped the body of her child to her own and continued on.
What genre does your book fall under? Benu Press places it under three categories: Social Science, Ethnic Studies and Women’s Studies. However, I believe that Looking for Esperanza is Creative Nonfiction in the form of social journalism.
Where did the idea come from for the book? A few years ago, The Palm Beach Post ran a three-part, nine-month long investigative report about Modern Slavery. Their report on Lives Affected by Slavery very briefly described the story of Esperanza Vasquez, the woman who attempted to smuggle her dead baby into the USA. I became obsessed with the story and set out to find Esperanza, without knowing that she would lead me to many other women’s stories.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript? There was never a first draft. When I started my journey tracking down Esperanza I didn't know I was going to write a book about it. My initial only goal was to find her and write her story. But after I spoke with the first undocumented women, I realized that what I had in my hands was a lot more complex, more universal than just Esperanza’s account. What I ended up with after two years of fieldwork were drafts of short stories and interviews that had morphed into narratives. It took a long time to shape this initial collection of drafts into the final manuscript, first because I stopped working on it altogether for a few years, and second because the final draft contains personal notes on my family life which have very little to do with anthropology but somehow it infuses the manuscript with humanity. The entire book started as an idea in 2003 and the final manuscript was accepted for publication in 2011.
Who or what inspired you to write this book? I have always been interested in women’s struggles across the globe. After four years in Kuwait conducting research on the appalling conditions of Indian women working and living in government-run work camps, I was inspired to continue this line of field work. John Lantigua, a Pulitzer winner journalist with The Palm Beach Post, produced a very brief story about Esperanza Vasquez who upon losing her baby girl to dehydration during their desert crossing, marched on for two more days with the dead baby strapped to her own body, determined to smuggle her into the USA. When they were found out, Esperanza had to bury her baby girl in a shallow unmarked grave scraped out of the ground with sticks. Later on, the border patrol caught the group and they were sent back to Mexico. I couldn't get the story out of my head. So many holes, so many possible twists and bends, so many ramifications. I had to find Esperanza.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? The book won the 2011 Social Justice and Equity Award for nonfiction organized annually by Benu Press and is published by them.
What other works would you compare this book to within your genre?
Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy by John Bowe.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition? I would probably approach a theater school at one of the 45 USA-Mexico crossings and let the casting director do her thing. Mexican actors who have lived their lives close to the border and have borne witness to the tragedy of the crossings would be my first choice.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? “Looking for Esperanza” made the top ten best books written by Latino authors in 2012 and I’m thrilled to bits to be in the company of Junot Diaz, Sandra Cisneros, Julia Alvarez, and Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, whose work I have read since before I knew I would one day write a book.