Julia and Me
Some people say, “never meet your idols, they will only disappoint you” but I was fortunate enough to meet two of my literary heroes and my interactions with them far exceeded my expectations.
I was first introduced to Julia Alvarez’s work in college. I was taking a Caribbean literature class and among the required readings was Alvarez’s “How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents,” the stories of the four Garcia sisters’ and their rebellion against their immigrant Dominican parents. The story of their Americanization is told through a series of short stories, which would later inspire the episodic nature of my novella “Luz.”
I immediately identified with Yolanda Garcia or Yo, as she’s affectionately called, she’s the artist of the family, the writer who doesn’t quite fit in and uses her life experiences as basis for her stories.
In the novel Alvarez writes, “That poet she met at Lucinda’s party the night before argued that no matter how much of it one lost, in the midst of some profound emotion, one would revert to one’s mother tongue. He put Yolanda through a series of situations. What language, he asked, looking pointedly into her eyes, did she love in?”
The moment I read that passage something clicked and I was full of questions. Had my Americanization made me lose an important part of me? Did I have to translate all my thoughts from Spanish to English? Did I even dream in Spanish? I then wondered if I loved in my native language too. Having never been in love at that point I sought answers and opened myself up to the possibility of falling in love with my culture.
Prior to reading that book I had very little interest in visiting the motherland. The Dominican Republic was used as a warning. A place my mother would threaten to send me away to if I misbehaved. It never seemed to be a place I wanted to visit. Then later I read, “In Time of The Butterflies” and learned about the iconic Mirabal sisters; the four Dominican sisters who opposed the Trujillo dictatorship. I immersed myself in Dominican history and decided to seek out Ms. Alvarez to thank her for her literary efforts and inspiring me to pursue a career in writing in a real way.
It just so happened that she was on tour promoting her non-fiction book, “Once Upon a Quinceañera: Coming of Age in the USA” and one of her stops was in my neighborhood community center. It was 2007 and I was a year out of college. I listened to her read passages from her new work and watched as she answered questions from the audience.
Many of the attendees were high school aged and appeared to be there in hopes of earning extra credit while I was there with a mission. I wanted to thank her for inspiring me.
I waited in line for over an hour and when my time came, I froze. I stood in front of her with my mouth agape, sweating profusely and unsure of myself. She had been so focused on signing books that she hadn’t noticed my presence until she realized there was no book in front of her for her to sign. She looked up at me and smiled. I apologized for holding up the line and told her that her writing had changed my life. I told her I had always been a writer but wasn’t sure I could do it until I read her books because she was Dominican just like me. She smiled and said, “That’s great! Keep writing!”
I asked her if she had any advice and she asked me, “Are you really serious about writing?”
I stammered, “Yes.”
“Well then,” she said. “You have to go to grad school.”
“You think I’ll get in?” I blurted.
She smiled and said, “I know you can.” She then reached for my book and wrote the following:
“For Leslie De Jesus—Good Luck in Grad School, Julia Alvarez”
and not only did I attend grad school I graduated from the New School’s MFA program with a 4.0 GPA and am the proud author of two books.
Luz: A Novella
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Publisher: Sinister Girlz
Date of Publication: March 24, 2017
Number of pages: 160
Word Count: 43,000
Cover Artist: Michele Catalano
Tagline: He’s going to propose. She’s going to tie up loose ends.
Luz Vargas is a promising young Latina writer from Washington Heights, a predominantly Dominican neighborhood in New York City. Who upon receiving top honors for her short story, "Here and There" from the prestigious Quisqueya Writers of Tomorrow Association, Luz's boyfriend, Luke, suggests a couple's getaway to the Dominican Republic where he plans to propose. But when the trip to the Island brings her face to face with a past love, Luz is torn between honoring her commitment to Luke and revisiting an island romance.
The story is told through a series of vignettes that chronicle Luz's struggle to reconcile her American identity with her Dominican side.
Luz awoke to the sound of roosters crowing. Her eyes fluttered as they adjusted to the sunlight that crept through the tangerine-colored curtains. As she sat up and reached across the bed, familiarizing herself with her surroundings, the man beside her stirred. She placed a hand over her mouth and looked down to the tiled floor while she recalled the events of the previous night. For a moment, she had forgotten where she was. Luz had been vacationing in her mother’s homeland, the Dominican Republic, for the first time in over a year, the longest she had gone without paying the island a visit. She traveled there so frequently that she knew the immigration officers by name and the female officers often came from behind the glass partition to give her a hug. She steered clear of the male immigration officers because they were known to get a little too friendly, especially with foreign-born Dominicanas traveling on their own.
Usually she went to the DR alone, but this time Luke, her boyfriend of seven months, was accompanying her. Luke was the complete opposite of Luz. He was short, stout and fair-skinned with light-colored eyes that changed depending on his mood or the color of his shirt. Luz was tall with sizeable hips but a slender figure. She spent most of her mornings on a treadmill or punching and kicking Tae Bo-style to old VHS tapes. She had long, jet-black hair and a tan complexion. They rooted for opposite teams—he for his home team, the Red Sox, while Luz was a seasonal Yankees fan — which meant they were bound to break up during the post-season depending on whose team made it further into the playoffs and how much gloating the other could withstand. Luke enjoyed his scotch neat while Luz preferred a cold cerveza now and then and only resorted to hard drinks when in desperate need of a pick-me-up. They were such opposites, in fact, that many of their friends often joked that the only thing they had in common was the first two letters of their names.
Even so, Luke was kind and understanding and ‘got’ Luz. He especially understood and respected her need for writing, encouraging her and even submitting discarded manuscripts to local contests behind her back. He was handsome, well-mannered and the first real American boy to pursue Luz. She appeared to be living the American Dream.
About the Author:
Leslie DJ is a Dominican-American writer and radio personality who resides in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City.
She is the writer and founder of SinisterGirlz.com, an online publication that features written and audio music related content. She hosts Sinister Girlz Live on WBMB Baruch College Radio 94.3 FM New York on Fridays at 4pm EST.
Her debut novel, “That Girl” was released in September of 2016 and is available on Amazon.com
She graduated with a BA in Theatre Arts with a concentration in Playwriting from Marymount Manhattan College and received her MFA in Creative Writing with a concentration in Fiction from The New School of General Studies.
Sinister Girlz www.sinistergirlz.com