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Connecting Latinas All Over the World through Literature

Author Interview: Michelle Herrera Mulligan

Michelle Herrera Mulligan, AuthorInterview with Michelle Herrera Mulligan, contributing author of Count On Me: Tales of Sisterhoods and Fierce Friendships.

All Count On Me author interviews were done by Oné Musel-Gilley of SocialZip.com as a volunteer. All of us at Las Comadres Para Las Americas are very grateful to her for this treasure trove of work. ¡Gracias!

 

Have you yet had a chance to read Count On Me?

I actually have not read the whole book. I’ve read some of the essays. I read my friend Stephanie Elizondo Griest’s story and Sofia Quintero’s beautiful story about her relationship with Alicia. I got the galley maybe about a month ago. I was just super slammed with the magazine [Cosmo Latina], so I didn’t get to read the whole thing. I really love it though — I am so proud to be in company of all of these incredible men and women who really shared some very personal moments about their relationships with friends. It’s been such an amazing opportunity for me to be in this collection with them.

 

How did you meet Nora de Hoyos Comstock, national founder of Las Comadres and visionary for the book?

I met Nora — time goes by so quickly — I think it’s been about 10 years ago. I think it was when my Co-Editor of Borderline Personalities (a book on just being an American Latina) and I were putting together the book tour and were doing outreach. I was trying to have a kind of fun, funny, honest approach to our experience, and we were just going out there and reaching out to anybody who would listen. We got lots of different Latino organizations, media outlets, student groups, that sort of thing. A friend asked, “Have you heard of Las Comadres?” Right away I loved the name. I said, “No, but that sounds awesome.”

I’ve always loved the word “Comadre.” I think even when I was in college, I’d say “she’s my home girl” — I guess in Spanish that would be a Comadre. I’d never thought of it that way. So when I heard the name, it really resonated with me. I thought, wow! That’s cool. What is that? It’s this organization of women that meets around the country. I thought that was awesome. I had no idea that they existed. I didn’t know it was in New York City. I think that maybe it was actually my friend Stephanie, who’s in the book, that told me about it. We were going on tour with the book, and we ended up in Austin as part of the tour because of the Texas Book Festival. I can’t remember if I met Nora there or if it was in New York City. I’m pretty sure it was while we were in Texas.

I didn’t realize Nora had already been mentioning the book and sending out emails about it. We had an event that was at that book festival. Just because of all the work she’d done on Las Comadres, we had a good 60 people there. And she was just so, so supportive. And the minute I met her, it was like an instant connection. She was just a “real home girl.” Here is somebody who was genuinely all about supporting Latino women. It was like an instant friendship, right there. It was like when you look somebody in the eye, you have known each other for 20 years. It’s one of those rare “I get you” moments. Ever since then, I’ve never had to explain anything to her. Sometimes when I’m unresponsive, or sometimes when I’m having a tough time, it’s all understood with her — she’s just one of those kind of girlfriends.

 

Have you gone to a “Comadrazo”?

Yes, absolutely! I’ve been to a lot of Comadrazos here in New York City. I would love to go to more in my home town of Chicago. I haven’t been to one there yet. Definitely would love to attend one in Austin. Having those big comadrazos must be like the best ones ever! I’ve been to the ones here in New York where they usually have them in offices, just because everybody comes from so many different parts of the city, and also because it’s kind of hard to have the space to accommodate everybody in New York City — we usually live in shoe boxes.

But the comadrazos still have that same feeling of the “Comadres.” It’s a place where everybody can share everything from “I just broke up with my boyfriend” to “I just got a new job!” “I’m so proud because I decided that I’m no longer going to eat carbs, or meat or whatever!” Everybody can announce whatever they want to do or need some assistance with. Somebody could say, “I have a Venezuelan grandmother coming to New York. I have no idea what to do. How can I make her feel at home here?” And everybody makes suggestions…”You know the Agrippa Bar? Just take her to the Agrippa Bar”?

It’s a really great place to talk about everything. Everyone is so warm and supportive. You really feel like “I don’t have to bring my A game.” I don’t have to be the perfect, New York executive, or [feel bad that] I haven’t met anybody. Like the last time I went, I had just gotten the job at Cosmo and it was kind of funny because I was doing all these big press interviews, and everything made me super nervous because it was a new brand, and I was new to the brand and a new job. Not only was it my first time being Editor-In-Chief, it was my first time being Editor-In-Chief for a [big magazine].

When I went to that Comadrazo, after I got my job, it was the first time in weeks when I felt like it didn’t matter what I was wearing, it didn’t matter what I was saying; I could just be me with my sisters and just be like, “So hey guys, I just got this big job, what do you think?” And they’re asking “Hey are they supporting you? Are they having a party for you? What can we do to help you?” People were looking at me like, “Michelle, we know you, what can we do to help you? You’re not a brand, you’re not an editor, you’re not whatever, you’re just a girl right now, what do you need as a girl?” And that’s what I really loved about that. It’s kind of a long answer to that, but it means a lot to me, this organization.

 

What are you hoping that readers will get out of your story in the anthology “Anarchy Chicks”? 

What I hope that people will get from the story is the power of friendship to cross a lot of big boundaries; and to break boundaries inside of yourself – personal, cultural boundaries. A lot of times when people talk about friendship among women, there’s a lot of very warm and very beautiful moments that are discussed. But sometimes you don’t really hear about the tough, really awkward moments you can have with a friend; when you both come from very, very different places. Might be political — maybe somebody’s more conservative and you’re more liberal, or maybe it is ethnic or racial or class.

There’s a lot of complicated moments in friendships where there are big differences, and big boundaries that exist between you — even your families could be against a relationship. They could say, “I don’t think that’s somebody that you should hang out with” or “I don’t think that is somebody that could be good for you.” But deep down inside, no matter what everybody else says, it’s almost like even a forbidden romance.

With a friendship, you can know in your heart that the person is right for you, no matter what anybody says. And at an early age for me, Tara was somebody who carried me through some of the toughest moments in my life. She was somebody who set me up for life to never look at somebody else in a stereotypical way.

When I was in high school, a lot of the Caucasian or white people that I was dealing with on a daily basis were not very kind to me, as you can read in the essay. I was hearing a lot of nasty comments. I didn’t really get into it in the book, in the story, but a lot of the guys weren’t nice to me. A lot of them didn’t find me attractive, I‘ll put it that way. I was a real outsider. I felt like I was really pushed out of a lot of everyday life of my high school and junior high experience for being a dark skinned woman, for coming from the wrong part of our suburbs. So to have somebody like Tara who is white and who does come from that kind of a tough background, it’s made a difference to me.

I always say racism or cultural prejudice can come from anybody, whether you’re Black, White, Brown, Asian or whatever. We all come with a set of expectations to the table, we all come with our own private baggage when it comes to anybody. So I feel that relationship set me up for life to not look at White people in a certain way, or to not look at anybody differently.

Because of having that friendship with Tara, friendship is much deeper than those kinds of things. And yet sometimes I can’t state my full political beliefs, but that doesn’t matter to me because of the fact that I know that if you believe something that I don’t agree with, that can’t be a deal breaker for me. It’s who you are; it’s what you’ve been to me, as a friend. That’s always gonna come first. And if somebody gets that out of the essay, then I would feel really proud.
In your own words, what would be the distinction, if you think there is a distinction, between having a “friend” and having a “Comadre”?

There is a distinction, a big one for me. For me, a Comadre is somebody who has your back, that has your back in a big way. A Comadre is somebody who will, if you’re sick, come to your house and make food for you. A Comadre is somebody who you can call at two in the morning because you’re locked out of your house and you need somewhere to stay; somebody that will drive two hours and be there for you in a heartbeat because you’ve become family. Basically, a Comadre for me is family. That’s the difference.

I’ve lived in New York City now for almost fifteen years, and it’s hard for me because I don’t have my family here. I don’t have family within a five hour drive from here and for a Latina girl like myself, and I’m a hundred percent, that hurts. It’s hard to not have a family. Like everybody else, I have my hard days; I have my days when I feel sad or lonely or I feel lost at sea or whatever. I’ve had to create my own family for myself, and I think that that’s what a Comadre is.

A Comadre is that friend who’s gonna be that family for you when you’re not near family; it’s gonna be that person who is gonna do the grunt work; who’s gonna move you when you don’t have money to move; who’s going to sit there and shop for you for seven hours to find a dress; when you really need somebody that’s willing to be boring with you, that’s going to go to Target with you to buy toilet paper and freaking bleach and sit there and help you scrub down the house because you just need somebody to be there, next to you and do that right now. And that’s what a Comadre is.

If you’re lucky, you only get a few of those in your life, because those kinds of women don’t come easily. They don’t come out of nowhere. A lot of people will say that they’re your friend and would love to go and party with you, or would love to be very toasty and celebrate you when you’re doing well. But as we all know, there’s not a lot of folks who are there when you’re not doing so great; when things are tough, when you’re not that much fun, or that cute, or sometimes you just need to cry your eyes out twenty-four hours a day and be pathetic and weak and say that you’re fat and say all the things you’re not supposed to say. There’s a lot of people that don’t want to hear that; and be with you in your crappy apartment because you can’t afford anything better. The people who are willing to do that — that’s what a Comadre is.

 

Do have a Comadre-type relationship in New York City?

Yes I do, thank goodness. And different people can be your Comadres in different times. I’m really blessed to have a lot of wonderful friends in New York City right now. I’m a single woman, so I rely on my friends a lot, for a lot of things. Sometimes it’s hard at our age (30’s) because a lot of your friends are married and have kids and have a very different lifestyle from you. I’m the kind of person who has always put a good deal of time into creating those kinds of relationships and finding those friends.

I actually have a roommate, which a lot of people think is a little bit odd for somebody my age and my career. But I love my roommate; she’s like my co-dependent domestic partner. I guess like my wife (laughs), but she’s great. I have my roommate and a few other wonderful women that are in my life; just to be there for me right now, just because I do need my friends. I do need people to just be there for me and not have anything to do with work and nothing to do with whatever and just be there for me.

I have a lot of old school friends as well who have been around for a while that I know I can call upon when I need them. And it’s something I always think about because that person can shift with time because of the logistics and all that other stuff. So I think to myself, okay who’s going to be my go-to-friend right now? It’s something that I work on having in my life.
Speaking of old school, the way that the story ends in our feature, it implies that there was some distance between you, there at the end. Do you still stay in touch with Tara?

Yeah, Tara and I we have a funny relationship, sometimes we don’t talk for years actually. Not for anything bad though, it’s just because the way life takes you on different twists and turns sometimes. When I went to college without her, it was hard for her, because we were supposed to go to school together. And I just had to do my own thing, and I went to University of Missouri. We were best friends and now here I was going to school six hours away and meeting new people and living a very different life. She came to see me, and I would come back up, but you know how it is when you’re in a different environment and you make totally different friends.

We stayed in touch through college and then we would go back and see each other. But she has never come to New York City in this whole time that I’ve lived here,and I’ve only gone down there once. It’s just one of those things. She’s fiercely dependent on doing fiercely her own thing and so am I. It’s like that. We have such a deep root together though that it’s like that root is so deep that it doesn’t die.

I did call her when I was going to do the story, and we talked on the phone for five hours straight — five hours! We went through all kinds of stuff because I didn’t even remember certain things, and she was so raw and open, she just went there with me. She was like, “But you forgot about this and you have to talk about that.”

I have another super good friend, like you were asking me who my Comadre is in the City — it’s my friend Julie, definitely. Julie and I are gonna do a big road trip together on the west coast. But before I go out there and do our little road girl trip together, I want to go and see Tara and I want to give her the book. I want to spend a few days with her. I know it sounds dramatic, but I can’t just send her the book copy. I need to see her and be with her because I haven’t seen her for like almost eight years. I mean we haven’t seen each other. So I really want to see her — she’s a total character herself, too.

We’re friends on Facebook and she knows about my job. She makes fun of me from time to time. She’s like, “What the hell?” She’s so funny. Like in the fall, I ran and did the half marathon, and she was blowing up my Facebook, “You — thirteen miles? Have you been possessed by some demonic figure? Who is that?” She knew me. I’m so lazy and so un-athletic. She knows the real me. I was always the one she was trying to force to even ride a bike. I want to lay around. “Why can’t we just walk instead?” I’ve always been super nerdy, shy and she was always the force that pushed me, pushed me to do anything; and for me to be in the middle of the spot light doing this! I’m sure she was asking, “How are you getting through that?” because she knows me.

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