Personal Essay: "Unlearning Erasure" by Julia Rios
When we set out to destroy science fiction with this Kickstarter, we didn't want it to be your ordinary, run-of-the-mill campaign. We wanted it to be full of smashing, crashing POC voices, telling what it really means to be POC reading and writing science fiction. One of the ways we hope to do that is by sharing a series of personal essays about the experience of being POC in science fiction.
Personal Essay: "Unlearning Erasure" by Julia Rios
Many of my earliest memories of science fiction center around my father. I remember watching Star Wars with him when I was very little, and watching movies hosted by Elvira on TV. He loved the cheesy thrills of monster movies and space invasions, but he also loved literature and science. When I was nine, he explained the concept of metamorphosis to me, talking of caterpillars and butterflies, and also of Kafka and men turning into cockroaches. That year my fourth grade teacher had assigned the class to write a book of stories, and I wrote one of my first SF pieces, “METAMORPHECIS,” which was about a girl who fell into some blue goo and turned into a dog.
When I was a bit older I found a battered cardboard box full of SF novels that had been my father’s. It was my introduction to golden age SF: Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, Vonnegut, etc. These were all books my father had read and enjoyed, and they gave me a lot of food for thought during my teenage years. They were also all books by white men.
My father was not white. He had come to the United States from Mexico when he was a teenager, and he’d spent the rest of his life trying to assimilate, but he’d never lost his accent or his brown skin. Growing up with him as a father meant a constant push and pull between being taught to be proud of my Mexican heritage, and being taught to hide it as much as possible. It seemed like even in the books he wanted to read, and wanted me to read, he wanted to erase us from the world, to blend us in with the rest of America, which meant white America.
This led to a lot of confusion on my part. It was really rare that I saw something that represented my home life in books or on TV, but I also felt that this was justified because my home life was obviously strange. Normal would be two white middle class parents who worked office jobs and had two or three white kids. Normal was not having parents who had secret conversations in a different language up until you were twelve and then suddenly expected you to be able to speak the secret language and scolded you when you made mistakes. Normal was not tamarind candy and a father who ate jalapeños by the jarful. Normal was not Mexican relatives who came to visit with big empty suitcases and bought out entire shelves of items at the Pic ’n’ Save to bring back home with them. And normal was definitely not Mexican people being intrepid defenders of the Earth against aliens, or exploring new galaxies in spaceships. I didn’t think too much about this as a kid, though. I simply accepted it.
When I was much older, I had a conversation with my sister in which we both discovered that we had found the show I Love Lucy comforting as children. It was the only thing on TV that showed a family with a white mom and a Latino dad who shouted a lot and also liked to sing. The conversation made me realize how much seeing ourselves represented in fiction had meant to us. How much erasing ourselves from the default narrative was damaging. I thought again about all the books and movies my father had introduced me to, and I wondered how that sense of self-erasure had damaged him. Unfortunately I couldn’t ask him if he wished he had seen stories of Mexican astronauts because by the time I had started the long process of untangling my thoughts on identity and representation, he’d already been dead for several years.
What I could do was turn my own actions towards inclusivity and not erasure, not just for me, but for other people who might be experiencing similar things. When I became an editor for Strange Horizons in 2012, one of the things that excited me about the job was that I would be able to help publish stories from all kinds of voices. Some of the stories I had loved in the magazine before I joined included stories with Latino protagonists by Latino writers like “Recognizing Gabe: un cuento de hadas” by Alberto Yañez and “Salsa Nocturna” by Daniel José Older, but Strange Horizons was not just limited to one kind of story. It brought me stories from many different perspectives, and each time I read one, it felt like I was watering a long dormant garden. As an editor for Strange Horizons and with Twelfth Planet Press, I have always strived to help others water their own gardens in the hopes that one day we will all have a riot of healthy, colorful blooms inside our hearts and minds. Working with writers like Sofia Samatar, Nisi Shawl, Shveta Thakrar, Ken Liu, Carmen Maria Machado, and so many others has enriched my life in myriad ways. Perhaps most importantly, doing this work helps to remind me that people of color are not strange and abnormal. We are everywhere, we have just as much right to exist in narrative as anyone else, and our stories are brilliant and heartbreaking and funny and action-packed.
I’d like to think that if my father were still alive today to see the work I’m doing, he might feel less like he needed to erase himself. I’d like to think that kids growing up in the future will never feel that way. So yes, let’s destroy the default I grew up being taught to embrace. Let’s unlearn erasure. Let’s keep chipping away at it until everyone everywhere feels like stories are for all, and not just for one kind of person.______________
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Julia Rios is a writer, editor, podcaster, and narrator. Her fiction, non-fiction, and poetry have appeared in several places, including Daily Science Fiction, Uncanny Magazine, and Goblin Fruit. She was a fiction editor for Strange Horizons from 2012 to 2015, and is co-editor with Alisa Krasnostein of Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories, and the Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction series. She is also a co-host of The Skiffy and Fanty Show, and has narrated stories for Podcastle, Pseudopod, and Cast of Wonders, and poems for the Strange Horizons podcast. To find out more, visit juliarios.com.