Rappahannock Review Prose Editors: In “The Domestic Side of Imperialism,” you discuss American ignorance and apathy of internal and external actions, such as America training and sponsoring dictators in Argentina. How much should symbolic reparations require proper and continuous education about how marginalized people and other countries are affected by America’s actions?

Mariana Graciano: There’s no possible symbolic reparation without education, without a conscious memory practice. Justice might have many forms but, as we all know, too often the judicial system takes a long time to hold someone accountable. What I find fascinating about symbolic reparations is that anyone can take part in the process of bringing justice. A mural, a sculpture, a poem, a song, any form of art has the power of bringing back to life past events, and because art lives in the symbolic sphere, it’s timeless.  

A judicial system in any country can promote or propitiate acts of punishment or restoration but the fact that these acts are translated into actual reparations doesn’t depend directly on the judicial system but rather on the society.

If we think of what happened with the murder of George Floyd, for example, a jury recently condemned Derek Chauvin after a formal trial but it was society—regular people marching and taking over the streets—that brought justice first, perhaps in a deeper sense.  

Society—as a whole—has to condemn acts of cruelty and atrocities in order to demand the judicial system other forms of reparations and/or punishment.

RR: The piece captures your experience as someone who cannot vote in the election, while your husband is described as seemingly at peace because he was able to vote. Do you feel that the current voting system is effective or falls short as a way to enact meaningful change?

MG: Voting is the best we can do to defend and take care of our democracies. In my experience (and partially why I wrote this piece), not being able to vote talks more about the failures of the immigration system in the US than about the election system per se. We need a humane immigration system and we need to demand justice and accountability for the atrocities that have been happening (and still happen) at the US border.

RR: We’re drawn in by the parallels of your experience and history of Argentina with your time in America and your exploration of asphyxia’s generational inheritance. When writing, what’s your starting point and how do you develop a piece?

MG: It varies from piece to piece. I started writing this essay out of anger and frustration. Sometimes those “negative” feelings can be productive. I didn’t know what else to do with that “burning” sensation, I had to let it out somehow.  I felt invisible and ignored and, more importantly, I felt/feel my kids’ lives will be greatly affected by the political decisions this country makes.

As I mentioned in my essay, I have been writing a sort of epistolary memoir about the history of respiratory diseases in my family. I am interested in the role that the element of air has in our lives. I have been obsessively reading and writing on that topic for years. Naturally, when the motto “I can’t breathe” came up, I found it very meaningful and powerful.

RR: In the piece you discuss how you wanted to release your book in English because it is the language of the Empire. Does anything determine whether you release something in English, besides subject matter, and does your writing process change depending on the language you write in?

MG: I write most of my work in Spanish (my native language) and yes, I do notice a difference in the writing process for each language.  I certainly feel more comfortable writing in Spanish but sometimes that process of defamiliarization (the Russian ostranenie) with words that I experience when I’m writing in English helps. It forces me to play with the tools I have. I feel a restriction (I don’t know how to say something, for example) and that generates writing, kind of the constrained writing techniques that some French writers developed in the ’60s.   

RR: You mentioned that you do yoga. What are some activities or calming techniques you do to relax, especially during quarantine?

MG: Well, the quarantine/lockdown last year forced us to relocate our family. We left our tiny apartment in Brooklyn and relocated to Germantown, NY. We enjoy going to the river, walking in the woods and swimming in the lakes near us.

Mariana Graciano’s work in Issue 8.2: 

“The Domestic Side of Imperialism”