Gabriela Jauregui is a writer and poet who hails from Mexico City. She now lives in Los Angeles, where she graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of California, Riverside and is now a PhD candidate in Comparative Literature at the University of Southern California. Her book of poetry, Controlled Decay, was called “fierce and sensual” and was released in 2008.
I am talking to Gabriela about writing, travel, crossing borders and straddling cultures. Here is Part 1 of 3 of our conversation.
When did you leave Mexico City for the United States? You now split your time between California and Mexico — do you find similarities between LA and Mexico City? Do any other cities remind you of DF, and why?
I left Mexico City for LA in the fall of 2000 and I have been living between both back and forth ever since. I call them my two two-lettered cities. I find many similarities between the two cities…There’s an intensity, a dispersion and an over-stimulation that happens in both cities. Both cities have jarring contrasts in class and you can find the wealthiest and the most destitute side by side. Both cities are schizophrenic: full of humbleness and grandeur, disgust and of beauty (natural or otherwise). Both cities are multi-ethnic, but in very different ways. Both cities have earthquakes. I mean the list is endless, but one thing that is very different, of course, and gives each city its own very singular feel is the history: as a city, DF, of course, is much older than LA.
And of course there are many other cities that remind me of DF. Specifically certain neighborhoods or buildings or a restaurant or a gathering of plants in front of a doorway that I have found echoed in a particular building or street or even just a certain familiar feeling in New Delhi, or Mumbai, or Paris, or Berlin, or Nairobi, or Lima…
How does living (at least half of the time) outside of your home country affect your writing? Do you find that you look at the world differently?
This self-inflicted exile, my nomadic circumstance, this permanent state of being outside, of missing DF when I am in LA and missing LA when I am in DF, of having friends in both places, and feeling at home in both–or neither– definitely affects my writing. I feel like it gives me a point of view that is marginal and therefore simultaneously inside/outside. It can be problematic, but it can also be extremely productive, creatively speaking. Of course this condition this sense being on the outside looking in and inside looking out, is part of being an artist, a writer, regardless of whether you live in two places at once or never leave your town or city (I can think of many writers who traveled in their minds and lived in this same state of liminality but who never left their neighborhood). But also the particular relationship and similarities and differences between DF and LA, my experience in both and in-between, are also specifically a part of the themes, concerns and questions I address in my writing.
Your poetry has been described as intensely political, like poems that focus upon the U.S.-Mexican border, for example. How important do you think activism or highlighting neglected causes and issues is in one’s work, and what other themes do you like to explore in your writing?
I think that all art is always political, whether or not its politics are explicit. But I also think that there is a difference between art and activism–it is one thing to attempt to highlight relevant issues and another to make pamphlets. I am not saying that one is better than the other, I am just saying each have their place and their role in society. I am interested in those artists who have developed an aesthetics that is as revolutionary as the politics behind it–and I strive to do the same in my own work.
Photo via the National Book Critics Circle