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Connecting Latinas All Over the World through Literature

Author Interview: Stephanie Elizondo Griest

Stephanie Elizondo Griest, Author

Stephanie Elizondo Griest, Author
(Photo credit: Alexander Devora)

Interview with Stephanie Elizondo Griest, 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!

 

How did you meet Nora? How were you introduced to Las Comadres?

Oh my goodness, I don’t know if I remember… Ooooh, I remember we met in Rhinebeck, NY at the Omega Institute at a conference called “Women in Power” that included really strong women like Jane Fonda, Gloria Steinem, and so many incredible women. At the end of this amazing conference, the question came up – because we don’t want this to end  – “how do we keep this going?” and Nora just raised her hand and said, “I’ll make a listserv.” And before we knew it, she had established this internet mechanism for us to all be in touch with one another. She was a social networker before Twitter, Facebook… that was in 2001. When I think what social networking means, Nora is what comes to mind. I find it extraordinary, such an innovator. She is truly an innovative woman.

 

We sent galleys to all the authors – have you had a chance to read any of the stories in the new book “Count on Me”?

Oh dear, I just finished my Masters in Fine Arts, then I moved across the country and I was insane… and anyway, I haven’t read anything that’s related directly to my job, unfortunately.

 

Okay, let’s talk about your story. What a really cool story it was. When you were given the assignment for this book, you could have chosen to write about anything, but why did you want to focus on this particular relationship?

When I think about friends, Daphne was one of the first people that popped into my mind. I’ve been single for most of my life, and I’ve also lived away from my family in Corpus Christi since I graduated high school, so friends are the only thing that have gotten me by. I feel an intense effort to keep in touch with friends. I’ve lived, usually in yearlong stints, in Russia, Mexico, Cuba and China, and I feel like I take away one or two friends from each of these experiences that I keep in touch with on a weekly basis.

I have a large expansion of friends and they’re my tribe, they keep me going. Daphne is at the top. And she’s a Latina, and I wanted to write about the different nature of Latina friendships in this book. One of the special things about having Latina friendships is that you don’t have to explain as much. There’s this instant understanding of your cultural background.

 

So, do you see a difference between having a friend and having a Comadre?

I do think so. There’s just an automatic understanding of where you’re coming from with a Comadre. There’s a lot that doesn’t need to be said. A Comadre has the understanding so that you don’t have to start at the beginning – they already know you so you can start at point one hundred.

 

Does Daphne know about the book? …and your story?

Yes, she knows now. I wrote it without telling her anything about it. I’m a non-fiction writer, and everything I write is about people, so my policy is to always share manuscripts prior to even sending them to editors. It’s important to me that the story is cleared by the subject prior to going any further.

I didn’t tell Daphne that the Comadres were putting together an anthology at all. One day, she was in Rio, she opens up her email and there’s this 15-page essay about our friendship. I get this phone call and Daphne is crying so hard that I don’t even know it’s her. I can only hear someone sobbing. Finally, I hear her say, “I just got the essay,” and we cry together and then start crying and then laughing again.

 

What do you hope that readers will take away from your story?

I think the vicariousness of friendship – I find that incredibly profound. I also feel that by having more friends, you have more life, and I think that is something that is really beautiful. There are so many of Daphne’s experiences that I feel I have undergone them as well.

When Daphne went into labor, it was such a powerful l experience for me. When (she) went into labor I could not do anything at all until the baby was born. It was scary and exciting at the same time. I feel like I’m experiencing motherhood through her.

 

What are three reasons a woman needs a Comadre in her life?

How could you not? I feel like… that’s what makes life bearable. Knowing someone has your back is incredibly important. I feel like having a friend is deeper than any male relationship (or whatever your partner may be) – those (partner) ties can alter a lot throughout a life. And parents, they are from a different generation.

I feel like the surest – to the extent that someone has your back – that would be your Comadre. It’s someone that is your age group and your cultural group; someone that will be with you through thick and through thin and that’s a profound reason to have one. And it’s someone to laugh with; someone to cry with – to share emotion and someone you can grow wise with. And someone you can always count on to tell it to you straight.

 

Where do you get your inspiration from – as a human being – where do you draw your inspiration? What keeps you going?

I get asked that often, and I find it hard to understand how one cannot have inspiration, to tell you the truth. I am just endlessly fascinated with people and the drama of human beings, and the beauty and power and the glory of what other people endure. That’s why I’m talking social justice type reporting and investigative work. I’ve met many, many heroes that are trying to make differences in their community. People are doing amazing things in the world, and I have been lucky to encounter so many.

Daphne is the perfect example – she works in international aid. She literally feeds children in Africa. For five years she was in charge of famine relief and flood relief, and I feel like I’m really surrounded by people like that in my life.

 

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Wow, I would say… my first friend is still one of my best friends; and the fact that I have been able to retain so many friendships from so many aspect of my life. I feel that is a very beautiful….that’s something I am profoundly grateful for.

 

Do you have a particular or favorite quote or motto that you live by, day to day?

No, I don’t. Do you know Sylvia Martinez? She once told me about something she was trying to do in her own meditative practice which was to think about joy and gratitude. That was something she would say to herself and somehow that kind of stuck with me. (Sometimes) I find myself saying that… joy and gratitude, and thinking about what brings me joy and what gives me gratitude. That immediately lifts me to a greater mood.

When I’m alone – say, on a beach– I find myself writing those words in the sand. I think it’s a place I can go to – it’s a special mental place.

 

Do you have some favorite literary works? Books? Poems?

Oh, yes! I just split up my library. I think that there are many different titles that I could throw at you, but the ones I am most proud of – and proud to display – are the one written by the Comadres. I have all my Latino writers together and (now) it’s this powerful wall now – of writers like Michelle Herrera Mulligan, Sofia Quintero and a lot of the people that are in the anthology. It’s just exciting to stand in front of this section of the wall and see all of us – we’re here to share our stories.

 

What do people NOT know about you?

Hmmm… I have to think about that. That’s one of the occupational hazards in being a memoirist, that you don’t really have secrets. I don’t know if there is anything about me that nobody knows. There’s at least one person out there that probably knows almost every aspect of my life. I’m afraid to drive, but I’ve written about that.

 

What would you be if you weren’t a writer? What occupation might you be?

My first thought was…dead (laughing). Maybe a social worker? Or a nun – a cool nun that’s a social worker…

 

Of all the authors, you have traveled the most. What are some of your favorite places?

I definitely have a favorite place and it’s Mexico. To me, Mexico is the best of all nations. It has the greatest food; it has the greatest landscape; it has the greatest cultural history – the greatest people, and the greatest stories. Unfortunately, it’s undergoing the greatest tragedy in its own history, so I can’t recommend people going at the moment. It’s just so sad. My favorite would be Chiapas.

 

What is on your bucket list? What have you not done that you want to make sure you accomplish?

I want to go to North Korea. And I would really like to start a literary center for young people. It is something I would really like to do – somewhere on the border would be amazing. There are a lot in California and in New York but none along the Mexican border, (maybe) in South Texas. My fear would be censorship…

 

This is the last question and it’s more of a fill in the blank. “I am proud to be a Latina because_____.”

My first thought is because of my ancestors, and what they had to endure to give me the life I am living. Most of them came by foot, working at the King ranch and never getting the recognition. I’m tremendously proud of them. When I think about Latina pride I go way back.

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