How Alien Folklore Shaped My Childhood by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland


[Note from Frolic: We’re so excited to have author Raquel Vasquez Gilliland guest posting on the site today. She’s sharing her experiences with alien folkore! Take it away, Raquel!]

If you had told me five years ago that my debut, Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything, would be arriving August 11, 2020, I’d have been—as I am—ecstatic. But if you had told me my book would also be genre-bending, featuring magic and aliens, I might’ve paused and scratched my head a little. I wasn’t writing anything quite like that back then, but in retrospect, it should not have surprised me. Both alien lore and magic have long interested me. After all, this was how I began my entrance essay for my MFA in poetry: I was raised with magic.

By this, I meant I was raised by a mother who sprinkles holy water on us before any kind of travel, who cuts clouds away with her kitchen knives, who speaks with ghosts. My grandmother practices rituals to cleanse, to absolve, to coax the broke-off piece of soul back inside you after a traumatic incident. The great-grandmother I was named for covered mirrors with sheets before lightning storms—lest the vain bolts come inside to watch themselves glow. 

We were never taught that these customs and beliefs were at odds with the strict Catholicism these women also raised us with. It was a given that although God was in charge of our lives, humans, too, could sweep away their own bad luck. Although God created our souls, sometimes a piece of that soul would become afraid and run away, and you’d need to find a way to get it back so you could feel whole again. Although God had given humans special abilities, I knew from a young age that plants, too, could understand language, that they loved my grandmother’s songs and grew bigger, prettier flowers just for her. 

I first encountered the concept of extraterrestrial beings probably in the same way many 90s kids did: through The X-Files, the television series starring Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny. Although it was probably unwise for me to watch the show, since it gave me nightmares more often than not, I was enraptured with the idea that there might be beings—ones that were intelligent, one that spoke, and ones that interfered with humans lives— out there. It wasn’t that far out of a concept for me. After all, I’d seen the women in my family speak with ghosts. I knew there were intelligences we couldn’t always detect among us. Aliens were an easy next step, conceptually.

We visited my grandmother’s house in Lantana, Florida every Saturday for dinner and left after nightfall. Some of my earliest memories of stargazing were the moments as I waited by the car for my mother to pack all the leftover food in—pizza, or chicken wings, or arroz con pollo with beans and hand-slapped corn tortillas. I’d lean on the cool metal door and look up at the winking stars, crystal pinpricks against the thick velvet night. My grandmother’s driveway was where I saw my first shooting star, had my first wishing stars, and after watching The X-Files, it was where I first wondered, as the vast, violet-ink night surrounded us, Might there be someone looking back at me?

My lifelong interest in alien lore was behind the idea of my debut YA novel, Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything. As I wrote in the acknowledgements, “And there, as I took a step on the sidewalk, an idea came: a UFO crash in the desert. I knew the only occupant was Mexican, I knew she was an undocumented immigrant, and I knew she was looking for her daughter. The second image of the book arrived soon after: that daughter, in class, reading a letter to a boy who’d been hateful to her. These were the two scenes that began this whole adventure.”

What was most appealing to me as I wrote Sia Martinez was the fact that I could write an X-Files-inspired sci-fi adventure starring a Mexican American teen. While The X-Files was significant for me growing up, it didn’t escape me that the Latinx characters were stereotypical, and, too often, the actual monsters in the monsters-of-the-week episodes. In writing my debut, I could create my own world in which a young, brown girl was the adventurer, the investigator, and superhero—a story that I, when I was a young brown girl, would’ve given anything to see.

Sia isn’t the Mexican American teen version of Scully or Mulder, though. She’s grieving the death of her mom while dealing with racism from too many people in her little Arizona town. She, like my mother and grandmother, speaks with ghosts—specifically, the ghost of her abuela who guides her. She lights prayer candles in the desert, the same candles I grew up with, the colorful glass-framed flames lining the windows of my grandmother’s bedroom. Sia talks about the way your soul can split into pieces if you face something traumatic, just like my mom and grandmother taught me. The beliefs and customs I grew up with are there, guiding and shaping Sia just as they guide and shape me. 

It’s my hope that Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything will find its way into the hands of young brown people who will see themselves, maybe for the first time, as the hero of a tale involving UFO crashes and superpowers. When I was young, I internalized what our culture believes about Latinx people and longed to have a different heritage. Now, though, I know that what makes me Mexican American is what makes me who I am—and it is also what gives Sia her spiritual strength so she can grapple with this new cosmology, this new “beginning of everything.” Sia’s definitely the kind of character who would look at the sky and wonder if someone was looking back—and after what happens in the book, the answer is unquestionably: Yes.

Raquel Headshot
About the Author:

RAQUEL VASQUEZ GILLILAND is a Mexican American poet, novelist, and painter. She received an MFA in poetry from the University of Alaska, Anchorage. She’s most inspired by fog and seeds and the lineages of all things. When not writing, Raquel tells stories to her plants and they tell her stories back. She lives in Tennessee with her beloved family and mountains. Raquel has published two books of poetry. Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything is her first novel. Visit her online at, on Twitter @poet_raquelvgil, and on Instagram @raquelvasquezgilliland_poet.

Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland, out now!

It’s been three years since ICE raids and phone calls from Mexico and an ill-fated walk across the Sonoran. Three years since Sia Martinez’s mom disappeared. Sia wants to move on, but it’s hard in her tiny Arizona town where people refer to her mom’s deportation as “an unfortunate incident.”

Sia knows that her mom must be dead, but every new moon Sia drives into the desert and lights San Anthony and la Guadalupe candles to guide her mom home.

Then one night, under a million stars, Sia’s life and the world as we know it cracks wide open. Because a blue-lit spacecraft crashes in front of Sia’s car…and it’s carrying her mom, who’s very much alive.

As Sia races to save her mom from armed-quite-possibly-alien soldiers, she uncovers secrets as profound as they are dangerous in this stunning and inventive exploration of first love, family, immigration, and our vast, limitless universe.


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