On Monday, we published the 3rd place finalist in our 2020 Summer Short Story Award for New Writers, which was selected by Kali Anstine-Fajardo. You can read Dayna Cobarrubias’s wonderful “Como La Flor” here, and then read her interview with Melissa Hinshaw below:
My favorite part about “Como La Flor” is definitely the characters. How did you come up with them, or how did they come to you?
The characters were inspired by own experience. Much of my work is a form of individual processing, a way to unpack and heal the scars of assimilation. With “Como La Flor” I wanted to confront my own shadows as a woman with both privileged and marginalized identities, and explore how people of color can still play a role in replicating the same systems they are working to dismantle.
You work at a non-profit—how does that inform the way you write, or what you write about?
My motivation for my work in the nonprofit sector and writing share a common theme; to work for racial equity, justice, and liberation. In my writing, however, I examine how the systemic issues I tackle in my work impact individuals on a personal and interpersonal level. In this story in particular, I wanted to highlight some of the hypocrisies inherent in Mari’s character and used her role as a non-profit executive to do this. There is this concept of the nonprofit industrial complex which criticizes the sector for obstructing social change. Mari, for example, is a non-profit leader who believes she is “woke” but still holds a paternalistic view on the ways in which she is “helping” others who are less privileged than her.
This story’s great strength is the way it integrates so many important themes. Work, friendship, family, womanhood, culture, language, romance, religion, and more. Was that your aim in writing this piece, or did these themes arise naturally as you began creating Mari, Delia, and their worlds? Which came first?
The story originated from the themes. The relationship between Mari and Delia became the springboard to explore both their commonalities and differences as two Latinas who in part are bonded by family, womanhood, and religion, yet also have divergent experiences and perspectives that stem from their various identities related to class, citizenship, and language. Mari’s insecurities and contradictions are reflected back to her through her relationship with her housekeeper Delia who shares her ethnic identity but lacks Mari’s class and citizenship privilege.
We know you’re working on your first novel—tell us about it! Does “Como La Flor” lay the groundwork for or play a part in it at all, or is it totally unrelated? Does it contain any similar themes?
Battle at St. Martha’s is a coming of age story of Felicity Campos, a privileged, ambitious brown girl who battles the daily microaggressions of private school life while struggling to find self-acceptance. Her Spanish is limited to pet names and swear words and she doesn’t consider herself different until she meets her new classmates, the “Legacy Girls” at St. Martha’s Academy. As a middle-class “coconut,” she struggles to connect with both her Mexican background and prep school culture. The novel shares similar themes of racial authenticity and ambivalence with “Como La Flor” but from an adolescent perspective of a young women struggling to define herself on her own terms as she experiences the pressure of different identities projected on her. Felicity, in essence, could be a younger version of Delia.
If “Como La Flor” had a playlist, what songs would be on it? In addition to the obvious, of course!
Definitely some breakup and single girl anthems in addition to some odes to the California cannabis lifestyle. “Sorry” by Beyonce, “Independent” by Webbie, “Beverly Hills” by Weezer, “Best Life” by Cardi B, “I Get So Lonely” by Janet Jackson, and “Sativa” by Jhene Aiko…you can check out the full list on Spotify.
interviewed by Melissa Hinshaw