Malcriada and Other Stories Book Review

by Astrid Ferguson

Malcriada & Other Stories Synopsis:

In sixteen stories we travel with a 12 year old who learns her name on a voyage from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico; a former cacao farmer finds a constellation on his lovers thighs; best friends become strangers and find the essence of themselves in the face of deception; an old man exchanges his homeland for a New York City bodega storefront; preteen boys grapple with authority; female cousins come to terms with their first shared sexual experience; an alcoholic woman finds serenity at the bottom of the sea; feminism is deconstructed by opposing views; on the back of a motorcycle, self awareness is found; and a woman discovers that healing is a series of choices.

“La verdad es que yo te e tratado mal. Mal porque tengo miedo. Miedo porque yo era como tú, llena de ideas y verdad, y por mi sabiduría lo perdí todo. Tú no eres Malcriada. Lo que pasa es que tu sabes demasiado.”
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“My mother didn't teach me dependency, I want to yell and enunciate. I cannot force myself to need you. Mami taught me to use my tongue like a sword, and I haven't sharpened it in years. Too afraid, I find myself, to pain him, to say things that might strike him the wrong way. Some feelings just don't translate. “
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“ You know that Malcriadas can love the world awake.”

First Impression:

Malcriada & Other Stories by Lorraine Avila was a series of stories that by the title alone intrigued my senses. I read this book while on my “adult vacation” with just my husband. Aye! We all need breaks from the carajitos ok! So when I say this story caught me in waves, I really meant it. First, I will admit I started reading this on the plane at six am because I wanted to fall right to sleep. Reading sometimes puts me in a daze when I’m tired and it takes me a little while to get into stories. However, the poetry at the beginning captivated me and when I blinked an hour had passed. I didn’t know what to expect with this story right away because I was actually the well behaved daughter. Yo no era Malcriada! That was my sister, the black sheep as we called her. However, I did receive a long list of things of what is not permitted and if I violated any of them, I would be considered a Malcriada. Now don’t tell my mom but I definitely violated a few, I was just good at concealing mischievous behavior.

As I turned the pages I met a new character in a different scenario, perception and set of circumstances. Thoughts began pulsating and soon I was saying, “hum, esperate pero esta vaina se esta poniendo caliente o el sol me esta quemando?” Lorraine was able to capture so many immense thought provoking moments in this series of stories.

A couple stories cut me like a knife with a label reading “dime a ver” doesn’t this sound familiar? It took me to a dark time that I often avoid speaking about; because it’s a complexity I wish didn’t exist between us (black/brown) people. You know, this whole competition of pain and shaming, thing. That is when I met Justice, the story.

Complexity in Stories We Share:

Malcriada had many characters and very complex short stories that need an expantion to allow the veins to slowly move the blood. There are some stories that you are left feeling like holy $%^# what happened? So for the purpose of this review I’ll only touch on one short story that reached in my throat and held my uvula hostage.

Justice was one that struck a deep emotional chord because it touches on racism, culture, perception and identity crisis. Something that we Latina’s struggle with continuously is the lack of understanding where we stand in the mix of cultures. In this case, the black culture. We have heard the terms Afrolatina, Latinx and Hispanic Americans but what exactly does that mean? In the story of Justice Elidania, lives with her boyfriend who is black, suffers from a mental disability, and was aspiring to become a doctor. She was living with him and was the bread winner while he completed his tenured. Rejection and acceptance commingled in the spine of this dysfunctional relationship. Due to past ancestral ghost they couldn’t vanquish, turmoil sat on the mat of their small apartment.

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Elidania is not considered black even if she has black descent in her blood. Because Elidania is hispanic and her grandmother wasn’t the one who attempted to push her mother down the steps for choosing a dark skinned black man to have children with. She is brown skinned, she is no negro, is how Desmond’s cousin put it. She is not viewed as strong or adequate to carry the crown of a strong black woman in the eyes of Desmond’s family. Elidania grandfather is furious that she picked un fuckin prieto (a black man)!

So as you can see with families with strong opposing views it has an influence on how they see the world. This story hit me like a pile of bricks. I could not only feel Elidania and Desmond’s pain through Lorraines brilliantly crafted plot, but the sadness of knowing this war among us POC’s is alive and well. I can say when I read these words I was immediately transported to a relationship I had prior to marrying my husband.

I am of mixed races Haitian and Dominican; rivals to be exact. However, they are neighbors and this skin complexion ideology ruins the fruit of an inclusive culture. We Latinos, Caribbean’s, had to fight for our lands and our people. Slavery has affected almost every culture in this country. Rape just went along with the painful journey. That’s pretty much how the history of so many cultures have been birthed. As if we shouldn’t be ashamed that those times even existed within our humanity.

However, there is no greater agony than what was done to the African American culture. The fact that it was permitted to go on for so long as it did leaves me flabbergasted. It pains me to know that melanin is the excuse used by our humanity to be this cruel. Now we are left with identity battles and a race for acceptance similar to Elidania and Desmonds relationship. Fighting to be together but pulling each other apart because of the pain their hearts, friends and family refuse to let go of. Not to mention the battle Desmond deals with of being a black man with mental health disability who is pursuing a prestigious career that calls his condition “scandalous.” Pain has transformed from slavery to responsibility. The new name for racism today is responsibility. Lorraine gave Malcriada a whole new level of “wake up” with this story and that is why this story struck me the most.

As a mother of two black boys with opposing complexions I feel wholeheartedly the racial slurs and rejection that transpires in this story. This whole race thing is complicated and it becomes more complex as we mix cultures. It’s like we are expected to pick a side. As if you don’t belong in the middle. As if wanting to wear your skin, your mothers battles, your fathers victory and your lighter tone complexion is disrespectful to hold proudly. That is what this pick a side thing does to our children. It makes them feel inadequate, misplaced, and unwanted. They feel ashamed to belong to anything or anyone. Leaving them in a constant battle with themselves, their families and hindering fostering any relationships. Just as this story portrayed happened in between the dialogues of Elidania and Desmond. Elidania wasn’t strong enough to take care of Desmond, although, she was taking care of him while he didn’t work. Shame was sent her way by her inner thoughts, his family, her family and Desmond because he was a black man with mental health conditions. God forbid she would say I don’t want this anymore. That’s when the real “talk about being Malcriada” would begin.

What Worked:

All of these stories shared one important message_you don’t know anything! It caused me, the reader, to evaluate my own upbringing and the world around me. It sparked the question: what is equality? Is it expecting everyone to behave and do as you say? Is it one look or mindset? How can we teach our children what our humanity has never learned? Is diversity just an exclusive right and what part of it do we make inclusive? So often my mother would call my sister a Malcriada because she was outspoken, strong willed. While inside I kept all my rage and disgust concealed. I don’t want to do as they tell me. I don’t want to be kept in a box. I don’t want to check off boxes so corporations can meet their employment quota. I don’t want to be in someone’s house whose asking how many black people or white people they invited.

I want to be able to love who I want because that is who my heart chose. Not because of his skin complexion. Ok I lied, I love me some chocolate! Ha! But do you understand what I’m trying to say? Malcriada is a prime example of what we should stop doing to our daughters; stop telling them to shut up. Go out there and break barriers. Stand up for us because the most fierce leaders didn’t move us forward by conforming. We need malcriadas to help us question poor behaviors and demand change. We need them to smack the acceptance of abnormal societal norms.

What Didn’t Work:

Malcriada and Other Stories are a series of very short stories therefore the dialogue is hard to follow sometimes. It doesn’t allow the characters to mature as it would in a novel. It may take a few reads to keep up with all the various characters entering and leaving the various stories. Maybe if the short stories were more detailed this would have been easier to follow. For this reason I had to make sure to sit and re-read a few sections. That is the only thing I would change about this book. Otherwise, I definitely recommend to anyone who has lived in the Bronx and/or closed proximity to Hispanic-American culture. And I dare you to call someone a Malcriada after reading this again.

Closing Thoughts:

In closing this book was a reflective and inspiring set of stories. It portrayed the lives of many Malcriadas well. It was very descriptive and vivid. The scenes were oozing with profound emotions. I am glad I read this during my vacation without the interruption of the carajitos ha-ha. I appreciate how the author was able to marry complex emotions and crucial events involving racism, sexism, domestic violence, immigration barriers, and sexual orientation. I would recommend this story to anyone who wants to own being a Malcriada proudly.

Aside from the story what I loved was the art within the book. Can we take a moment to appreciate the marrying of illustrations with these stories? I loved how it allowed just enough space for the mind to wonder about what they will be diving into.

Giveaway:

This was an arc (advanced reader copy) that I received from Dominican Writers, which didn’t in anyway alter or persuade my review of this book. There is a giveaway currently going on in my instagram account mis amigos. So go check it out by clicking here for your chance to win. Otherwise, you will just have to preorder the book from Dominican Writers. This is an honest review of this riveting set of stories that I think will keep the reader locked in with every turn of the page. So go read it and tell another Malcriada to read it too.

Now, tell me have you ever read a story that made you cry, laugh, felt inspired and sad at the same time? If so, let me know in the comments I’d love to hear what they were and your thoughts behind them. If you read this story and felt the same; my frien (read it with a Hispanic accent) let’s talk. I hate to feel like I’m on this emotional island by myself. Also, feel free to share with a friend who has been on the fence about Malcriada & Other Stories or in need of a new book to read. Ok hasta la proxima my friends! Chao!