Amplifying Latinx Voices
by Avneet Bains in Conversation with Gabriela Martins
Following Latinx Heritage Month, in the US, celebrated from 15 September to 15 October, there has been a call for greater awareness of Latinx voices in the publishing industry. According to The Diversity Baseline Survey (DBS 2.0) by Lee and Low Books, only 6% of people of Latinx heritage make up the overall US publishing industry, with further calls for greater representation worldwide. With a growing number of Latinx authors, from María Fernanda Ampuero to Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Aiden Thomas being published this year, the time to address this lack of representation and amplify Latinx voices has never been more opportune.
I talked to Gabriela Martins, an upcoming queer Latina author, about her take on representation and the importance of her Latinx heritage to her work. Her debut book Like a Love Song will be released in summer 2021 with PRH/Underlined. Read on to find out what she had to say…
How did you get into writing? Has your heritage played a prominent role in your work?
I started writing as a child, but my stories never featured Latinx characters. I wasn't really exposed to any Brazilian or other Latinx authors growing up – the Brazilian publishing market still has a long way to go in terms of pushing their own writers. Due to the lack of representation, it took me years to come to terms with my Latinidade. It felt like something nobody would be interested in. If other Brazilians weren’t interested, why would a larger international market be? However, I was very happy to learn that I was wrong! I got an agent with my very Brazilian debut, Like a Love Song, after ten years of querying. I don't know if I'll ever be able to write a story again that doesn't feature Brazilian characters or Latinidade as a central theme!
As a #ownvoices author, do you feel that there is enough Latinx representation in publishing? How do you hope to contribute to the growing number of authors of Latinx heritage?
There is never enough, but I feel like there's especially less Brazilian representation. I can think of less than five authors that have had their books traditionally published in the past ten years, and only one of them featured Latinidade as a theme. I would love to see that number grow exponentially. I would love to continue to support Latinx authors, and hope that the publishing industry will do the same. Buy our stories! Read our stories! Talk about them! Word of mouth has never been so important, but it's important to note that the biggest decision maker on whether a book succeeds is still publishing as an industry.
Can you tell us a bit about your debut novel? How have you found the writing process and has your identity as a queer Latina influenced the character development and storyline?
Absolutely! Like a Love Song is about Natalie, a Brazilian teen pop star who really makes it big in the US and around the world. After a viral break-up that turns her into a meme, her PR team hires a fake boyfriend to take her back to the top. Nati struggles with her identity as a Brazilian and her desire to break into the American and international music scene – she associates a lot of her success with having ‘assimilated’ into American culture so strongly. I feel like her trajectory, although as a pop star and through the romcom lens, is relatable to any Latinx person or immigrant who has been told to ‘tone down’ who they are so they can fit in. I only really came out as an adult myself, so although Nati's not queer (but literally every other main character is), that experience of telling yourself you can't show anyone who you truly are was very personal for me. Like a Love Song is a romantic comedy, but it's also a story about finding yourself and, once you do, being true to who you are.
What do you hope your readers will take away from your work?
As a teen, I wish I could have read about someone like Nati. Someone who overcame her own insecurities, in spite of never becoming ‘perfect’. She still suffers from anxiety, still second-guesses herself, still makes bad choices. But she learns her worth. I didn't until I was much older, and there's nothing I wish more than for readers to learn that lesson quicker. That they are beautiful and perfect the way they are, that there's room for them in the world and that their voice is needed, no matter how many times they have been told it's not.
Do you have any book recommendations from Latinx authors (in English or another language)?
Amparo Ortiz's Blazewrath Games, Yamile Saied Méndez‘s Furia, Lucas Rocha's Where We Go From Here, Nina Moreno's Don't Date Rosa Santos, and Carolina De Robertis’ Perla (one of my all-time favourites).
Do you have any advice for budding writers who hope to bring their own history and perspectives to their work?
Don't give up. Please. For teenage you, for teenage me, and for all the teens who have yet to learn that they are not alone.
You can find Gabriela on Twitter @gabhimartins and on her website www.gabrielawrites.com