[Note from Frolic: We’re so excited to welcome author Laura Taylor Namey to the site today. Take it away, Laura!]
I speak today from the small-great place I know. I’m the first-generation daughter of an immigrant Cuban mother and a German father, and I aim to infuse my writing with all the love I felt growing up in my diverse world. My latest young adult novel, A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow, is a peek into the Cuban family that shaped so much of my identity. It is largely inspired by my real life. What I cooked and ate and witnessed and mourned. I took certain norms and experiences from my childhood and reimagined them into a modern story about cultural identity, legacy, and finding hope after loss (with a generous dose of la comida.)
Other Cuban-American authors have written beautiful and powerful titles that will sit next to mine on the shelf. And when I read them, I see some shared universalities with my own experience. I call these “common loves.” I smile if there is mention of a chancleta (that feared rubber sandal in the hand of an abuela), or a dinner table bursting with arroz con pollo, flan, and a requisite tía who is all too eager to grill you about who you’re currently dating. But the Cuban family and the Cuban experience is not a monolith. Commonalities abound––yes––but I have learned as a writer, there is not one overarching script of home and worldview and place we must perfectly ascribe to, and write about, in order to be deemed “Cuban enough.”
We, as humans––loving, grieving, working, solving––are fossils carrying memory and history. We are scaffolded in another way than bones, by legacy, triumphs and traditions, and yes, by politics. These are what a diverse author infuses into a character’s backbone and into a story frame—even if the story doesn’t directly address them. For example, I chose to give my most in-depth story yet about a Miami Cuban teen an unexpected setting: England. I worried if publishing––if readers––would feel my novel was not “Cuban enough” because I’d centered it this way. Some industry experts outside my culture did question the premise. They asked why the story was not set primarily in Miami, since it would be a “better” choice to showcase my character’s Cuban heritage. Some of these early comments made me stumble. Should I have been handed a “paint by number” form to fill out with character, setting, and plot cues that would automatically ensure my #ownvoices novel would be stamped good and true?
As I revisited my draft in revision, though, I became fortified within my own work. It hit me: what are we saying about culture and humanity and storytelling if all stories must be confined to a strict blueprint? I am not less Cuban if I visit or move to another place; to live, love, and grow there. Neither is my character. For me, writing about a Cuban-American girl can, and should include writing about a teen who learns more about what it means to be a citizen of the world. Am I not also a Cuban-American girl who is a citizen of the world? This story is also true. Therefore, it is Cuban enough.
When I read other titles featuring Cubans or other Latinx characters, written by native authors, these works often feature aspects I never saw or knew about. I don’t connect with these as common loves, but I do connect! Because there is diversity in my diversity. Many of my author colleagues hail from a wide range of cultures. Their experiences might be similar to mine, but might also vary in the hurdles they’ve faced in trying to do something dear to their hearts: to write and sell books––stories to be supported, read, and enjoyed.
The beauty of reading and accepting differing snapshots into a particular culture is learning that we are bigger than our own lives and the space inside our skin. We gain empathy and appreciation for others. We learn what makes others––even those sharing our surname roots or birthplaces––struggle, laugh, and thrive. Through reading for diversity within my own culture, suddenly the small farm in Yaguaramas, Cuba where my family hails becomes a vast continent of ideas, ideals, and expressions. And within that authenticity, there is a wide range of diversity that still gets to say, this, too is true.
About the Author:
Laura Taylor Namey is a Cuban-American Californian who can be found haunting her favorite coffee shops, drooling over leather jackets, and wishing she was in London or Paris. She lives in San Diego with her husband, two superstar children, and her beloved miniature schnauzer/muse.
A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow by Laura Taylor Namey, out now!
Love & Gelato meets Don’t Date Rosa Santos in this charming, heartfelt story following a Miami girl who unexpectedly finds love—and herself—in a small English town.
For Lila Reyes, a summer in England was never part of the plan. The plan was 1) take over her abuela’s role as head baker at their panadería, 2) move in with her best friend after graduation, and 3) live happily ever after with her boyfriend. But then the Trifecta happened, and everything—including Lila herself—fell apart.
Worried about Lila’s mental health, her parents make a new plan for her: Spend three months with family friends in Winchester, England, to relax and reset. But with the lack of sun, a grumpy inn cook, and a small town lacking Miami flavor (both in food and otherwise), what would be a dream trip for some feels more like a nightmare to Lila…until she meets Orion Maxwell.
A teashop clerk with troubles of his own, Orion is determined to help Lila out of her funk, and appoints himself as her personal tour guide. From Winchester’s drama-filled music scene to the sweeping English countryside, it isn’t long before Lila is not only charmed by Orion, but England itself. Soon a new future is beginning to form in Lila’s mind—one that would mean leaving everything she ever planned behind.