Marisella Veiga was born in Cuba and raised in the United States. She has published in literary and commercial publications. Often, her writing focuses on the Hispanic experience in the U.S. and in the Spanish Caribbean. She lives, writes and teaches in St. Augustine, Florida.
Photo by Luis Veiga.
What do you enjoy about writing flash fiction? What does it bring out of your writing that another form may not? What other things do you enjoy writing (poetry, novels etc.)?
Flash fiction, the short story, and even the news brief—these forms allow writers to tell important stories quickly and powerfully. They require attention to craft, language, conflict, and major players. In addition, the news brief contains facts. When I lack long stretches of time to get into the rhythm required by a novel or longer work of nonfiction, these shorter forms are helpful. Actually, the flash forms, fiction or nonfiction, resemble the oral storytelling that goes on daily in Cuban and Cuban American households. Someone will say, Cuentame algo, which means, tell me a story. Most people will quickly have a story to tell. My poetry, fiction and nonfiction have been published in literary and commercial publications.
Your story “Fresh Fruit” deals specifically with Latino culture (or at least the characters in the story are Latino). Are there particular details/underlining messages in this story that you think a person who does not come from this background might miss?
Readers should keep in mind that Latino cultures are communal in nature. It is normal for the narrator in “Fresh Fruit” to be watching the movements of the younger and possibly “more liberated” neighbor across the street. She is not being nosey. I have lived in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Depending on where you live—urban areas or smaller towns or near the sea—air conditioning is not available; it is often not necessary. This translates to open windows, floor or ceiling fans, and a lot more information about your neighbors or the natural world or street life. It also leads, I think, to a bigger understanding of people and their broken nature. It fosters both arguments and community. In our huge nation, especially in metropolitan areas, we have less accountability to others. Our individuality is prized. We can hide our failings and dodge people when we don’t want to deal with their weaknesses or losses so we don’t have to look at our own. The digital revolution has increased the number of ways to communicate as well as developed our avoidance tactics.
I read your story “Fresh Fruit” as deeply psychological. As a writer, I have often found it challenging to go deep into the minds of my characters. What inspired you to write this story and was it challenging to make your narrator’s internal life feel authentic and deep?
I appreciate your insights on the narrator in “Fresh Fruit.” Many Latino households are multi-generational; a child has the chance to live with one’s elders and see his or her own future. It was true in my family. Apart from having my maternal grandmother in the house and our great aunt and uncle nearby, every Sunday afternoon we visited my paternal grandparents in NW Miami. As a result, I have a good understanding of familial traits from both maternal and paternal lines. I know the members intimately and can see parts of them in myself. This “knowing” can be transferred to creating authenticity in character. I wanted to give voice to a particular older woman in Puerto Rico, where the story is set. However, she is not meant to speak for all older women in the Spanish Caribbean. Marital infidelity is not culturally approved, no matter how often it occurs. It may be known more easily in a communal culture when compared to an individualistic one where doors are easily closed, but that’s all.
I am currently working on a collection of short stories and kind of obsessed with the concept of home. How does your Cuban background and distance from that place of origin influence your writing?
An exile’s deepest longing is a desire for home, no matter how much the person loves and appreciates the adopted country. The exile is different from the immigrant. When a person goes into exile or is forced to do so, the break with the home country is traumatic. The Cuban exile community has lived with fluctuating access to the homeland, much of it due to political restrictions. Huge mental and emotional courage is needed to physically return to the island. I waited 50 years to visit. Cuba remains one of my greatest sorrows and biggest joys. The contemporary need for instant gratification, our insistence on immediate responses to our questions or postings, well, this need makes it difficult for people to understand a 50-year-wait to go home.
What are your personal thoughts on the existence of machismo and how different women handle it from one generation to the next? Have you or do you plan to write anymore on the topic?
Machismo flourishes and not solely in Latin American countries. What is not well known is that Cuban women had equal rights in Cuba’s 1940 Constitution. We have yet to achieve that here. Some people may know a woman did not change her family last name when she married. She merely added “de” and the husband’s family name. I would be Marisella Veiga de Rettig, for example. In that way she honored her maternal line and her identity. So did their children.
What are you writing at the moment?
In collaboration with Rubber Tree Books, San Juan, Puerto Rico, I am publishing a small cookbook CUBAN RICE CLASSICS. The need for it arose during a cooking demonstration and cultural conversation I gave at the Gulf Coast Folklife Center in Tarpon Springs, Florida. Cuban cultural history and fusion can be taught easily and tastefully! The book should be ready in December. I am having fun telling stories and histories while teaching people to make particular dishes. It’s a natural match.
About the Author
Noel Straight writes, dances, and works in Philadelphia, PA. She teaches Spanish and ESOL to students in Center City, takes all the dance/yoga classes she can at West Philadelphia’s CEC, and when Noel is not writing, teaching, or dancing she is kicking it with her roommates at K & A. Currently, Noel is working on a collection of short stories and plans to complete an MFA in Creative Writing at Rosemont College in May 2014.