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‘Of Women And Salt’: Gabriela Garcia’s Debut Novel About Immigrant Mothers And Their Daughters

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photo by Andria Lo
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Gabriela Garcia

Gabriela Garcia’s debut novel “Of Women and Salt” is about the choices mothers make and the burden of that legacy for their daughters. Settings range from 19th-century cigar factories in Cuba to present-day detention centers in South Texas.

We meet the character of Jeanette, the daughter of a Cuban immigrant who lives in Miami; her neighbor, Gloria, a woman from El Salvador who is apprehended by ICE; and Gloria's daughter, Anna, who is separated from her mother.

Highlights from the interview with Gabriela Garcia

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On the structure of the novel

I think maybe the hardest part was writing some of the historical chapters and the kind of research that went into that. Early on, I knew that I didn't want to write a linear storyline like traditional Western storytelling. I knew that I wanted to sort of disrupt that and that I wanted to also explore writing in many different styles and voices. There are different points of views. I knew that I wanted to sort of challenge myself with some of those conventions. So it was challenging in terms of making sure that I was sort of delivering the information that would make the story come together and delivering a satisfying ending to the story. But I really enjoyed working in a totally different format.

On describing detention centers in Texas

During the time that chapter takes place, I was actually working as an organizer with various different organizations and doing a lot of work around deportation and defense work and around women and families in detention. So I actually visited some of these detention centers in Texas, and I was also regularly talking to women in detention. So a lot of it comes from those visits, from those conversations. I started writing some snippets of what would become that chapter during that time.

On the ways women in the novel work through being silenced by stigma

I was thinking about stigma and silence and how women, particularly certain women, have been silenced historically and what the repercussions are of that. There's a lot of that happening in the novel where that silence or that inability to tell the true story leads to really difficult consequences or just really difficult situations, really fractured relationships. Relationships between women are so complex. We know these figures as our mothers, but we don't really have access to the whole world of who they are. We have these whole stories about our own histories, about our own families that sometimes are myths, sometimes are protective measures taken through generations, things that we don't want to see about ourselves.

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Yvette Benavides can be reached at bookpublic@tpr.org.