INTERVIEW WITH MARTINA AMATE PEREZ
Rappahannock Review Fiction Editors: In “Chau,” we were immediately drawn to the community being represented. What inspired you to write a story about a Hispanic construction crew?
Martina Amate Perez: My dad. He works in construction. So does my uncle. It was actually my dad’s first job in the States but he didn’t return to it until a few years ago, at the start of the pandemic. He always tells me stories from work, the crazy things his co-workers say and do. It’s nice that he has a sense of community at work, even though it’s pretty intense labor for a man his age. Hopefully he can retire soon, but I know he’ll miss the laughs.
RR: Throughout the story, Danny struggles to balance his need to belong with his aspirations. How did you decide to center the story around this specific conflict?
MAP: I didn’t set out for that to be the major conflict. Once I decided the story would be about a construction crew, I knew I wanted the main character to be an “outsider” of some sort. I liked the idea of pairing an 18-year-old boy with men twice or triple his age. As I fleshed out Danny’s character, I had to decide: why is he there? It made sense for it to be a temporary gig to save up for college. I have many family friends who have done that. But it wouldn’t be much of a story if it was just a day-to-day account of Danny working at Dragados. That the community he was forming would ultimately be fleeting had to mean something to him. It’s unexpected for him to consider staying in construction and abandoning his obligation to attend college but he surprises himself and maybe readers with how much he cares about belonging in a group he knew nothing about months prior. I wanted to play with the idea of “found family” in the workplace and how that might clash with familial obligation. He was never going to stay and he could never stay, even if at some points he wanted to. I wanted his feelings toward that tension to fluctuate throughout the story. At the beginning of the story, it’s not much of a conflict: “This is temporary, just a summer thing, I won’t be invested.” Of course he starts questioning this, finding comfort in the group’s camaraderie. Then by the end, he returns to his apathy at the beginning of the story: “This is temporary and thank God for that.” Of course, part of him wishes, even at the very end, that this wasn’t the case. He has no real attachment to college beyond a sense of obligation so though he’s glad to be leaving Dragados behind, he’s not exactly looking forward to what lies ahead.
RR: You said that your writing “explores how marginal voices find love and kinship.” How do you approach the representation of marginalized voices, especially those that are significantly different from your own?
MAP: I draw from what I know and build from there. I’m glad to have been raised in very diverse communities so I’ve been exposed to stories that one might not ordinarily find on a page. Of course, it’s tricky to flesh out a character that’s so different from you in terms of identity or personality. You want to do them justice; you don’t want to make them a caricature or a one-dimensional representation. I think it helps to speak with people who represent the identities you’re hoping to capture. Reading from authors of those identities also certainly helps. You want your characters to feel real so I think it’s nice to write what you know and when writing what you don’t know, consult the Internet, the people around you, other short stories/books, and your intuition. I try to be the most observant person in the world when I’m out and about. For this story, I had never written a story with mostly men. All men, really, besides Danny’s mom. I knew Danny had to be a boy because that’s just how gender dynamics play in the world of construction. It felt most realistic. To enter the psyche of a 60-year-old immigrant man from Uruguay as a non-immigrant woman in her twenties, I sought inspiration from the people around me but also leaned on the beauty that is the universality of human emotion. I don’t pretend to get it all right—I try to stay within logical boundaries and not disrespect voices that aren’t mine. At the end of the day, fiction gives you the opportunity to inhabit distinct perspectives but with that comes a big ethical responsibility. Marginal voices have been too often essentialized and conveyed through stereotypes in literature and other media. I wouldn’t want to contribute to that. I am very intentional about characters who don’t share parts of my identity—I find where we intersect and respect and treat with care the parts where we don’t.
RR: According to your bio, you are currently a senior in college. Are you hoping to undertake any writing projects after you graduate?
MAP: Writing my senior essay! Short stories have been taking a back burner as I focus on graduating. I’ve been taking a class this semester called Daily Theme where we have to write 300 words every day of the week. I’m thinking of collecting some of these writings into a bigger project but I’m still in the brainstorming phase.
RR: Which author, dead or alive, would you go on a boba date with?
MAP: James Baldwin! I adore his writing. I would love to have a conversation with him even if I might feel sort of intimidated. We could talk about growing up in Harlem. He’d also probably have some brutally helpful advice to give me.
Read “Chau” by Martina Amate Perez.