Chicago author Erica Sanchez on memoir ‘Crying in the Bathroom’

Sometimes we read books differently. Sometimes it’s for escape purposes, other times for the knowledge we seek and still other times we scrutinize the storytellers’ words for a tasting, like fine chocolate or wine where the first glimpses of phrases automatically force us into the pages of a dog’s ear for the truth to be shared in These statements are more than can be said in paragraphs.

The latter was true to me in reading Erica Sanchez’s latest book, a series of articles released in July called Crying in the Bathroom: A Memoir.

There is a line that ends Sanchez’s article “Difficult Sun” that is more true. “Words for me are a form of prayer, a kind of reverence. They say thank you, thank you, thank you.”

The words Sanchez fans will say after reading her third published work. If you’re looking for a sequel to “I’m Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter” (Sánchez’s second book) this isn’t it. Rather, it is this “a series of reflections, misfortunes, triumphs, disappointments, joys, and resurrections” that Sanchez has pieced together; Sanchez who is herself in a world that pressures her to be otherwise, a world that doesn’t love her, was not built for her. In the “crying” pages, readers learn of Sanchez’s medical struggles — physically (the first article is titled “The Year of a Vaginal Fracture”) and mentally (dealing with depression). We travel with her around the world, relive the love of the past, learn more about her family relationships, and catch a glimpse of her career aspirations.

“I’ve been told ‘I hate memoirs, but I like these memoirs for a reason,'” said Sanchez, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz Chair at DePaul University.

We spoke with Sanchez after two years Adaptation of “Mexican Girl” in Steppenwolf, about “the crying in the bathroom, the jewels in it, and the constant conversation about the importance of people’s stories of color” despite what the rest of society would like us to believe. The interview was shortened and edited.

Q: You said you and Julia Reyes are very similar in “Mexican Daughter,” what’s the motivation behind the memoir?

A: Right after “The Mexican Girl”… and what I mean next is that she was accepted for publication… I started writing these articles. The first article was titled “Crying in the Bathroom”. And it was because I was asked to be included in the anthology on Women and Ambition. This led to the influx of mycotic, writing the actual truth. I wasn’t necessarily planning on writing my stories. Once I wrote that, I really felt free to reckon with my past. Therefore, I began to write articles on various topics that were important to me. I wanted to expand on a lot of themes in “Mexican Girl” because there’s so much out there. I wanted to write a book that was a continuation, but not a sequel. I didn’t want to write a sequel to “Mexican Daughter,” it just isn’t right for me. So I had to do it another way. I write a lot about being the daughter of immigrants because this is a really important identity to me. And something I can’t change. So I will always write not necessarily with that perspective but with that sensitivity.”

Q: Who is the audience for this book as “The Mexican Daughter” is a YA novel?

A: My audience are young women of color and not only young women, but women of my generation as well. I think a lot about my students and the things I want them to know. I talk about a lot of the things I talked about in the book in class: I always talk about mental health. I’m discussing racism, all “doctrines”. I just want them to have information and have options because I felt like I didn’t have much of a choice myself.

Q: Do you have a favorite memoir essay?

A: They are all equally important, but I felt like an article, “Tough Sun,” I wouldn’t say is my favourite. It’s hard to call it that. But it was the most intense, the most worked, and the most satisfying because it was a shock I never imagined I would write about, and so, to complete it, I felt as though I had cast an exorcism upon myself.

Q: The story of the vagina…

A: Many people have asked: Why did you start with your vagina? Because I don’t think it’s bad.

Q: What avenue you haven’t touched on when it comes to writing? Is there anything else we should know about Erica?

A: I’m taking a breather on this next project I’m working on because I want to move in another direction. I feel like I gave a lot of myself in all three of my books, and I plan on going back to poetry, and I did. Poetry is a kind of constant in my life and that is something that will never change because poetry is what allows me to write the prose that I do. Regarding other forms of writing, I’ve never done any screenwriting. I don’t plan on becoming a screenwriter, but would like to be involved in a potential series process or be a creative consultant on the show.

Q: I have lived a very lively life. What will you say to your little girl when she is 15 years old?

A: At the age of fifteen, she can read “Mexican Daughter”. Now, she is very curious about my books. I know this sounds strange. But she always plays with them. Stack them, open them, look at my picture and say mama. It’s like the sweetest thing. She knows I’ve created books but I don’t know how much she really understands. And so it was really exciting to see her discover them. I just want her to love herself and I hope my books help her do that. She also has the best father in the world. So I feel like she’s going to have a very strong sense of herself, she already has it. I’m not worried about her because I feel like she has an army of people around her who adore her.

Q: She was a “Mexican Daughter” Banned in a few places. Do you feel that if your book gets banned, you’ve already done something right?

A: I think a lot of people who are upset about these books haven’t read any of them. They have been fed up with all the lies they are just immortalizing. I would really like to know, what was so offensive? Male abortion, male drug? I think people have a problem with that. But I think what people really struggle with is the title. Because we’re not supposed to take up space. And our stories haven’t been allowed into the mainstream yet so people are pissed that their kids are going to read some of ‘Hood, a Mexican chick in Chicago, it’s so silly to me.

Q: How do you introduce your books to someone who has not read your work before?

A: These books are about very rebellious women who are alive and resentful of their circumstances. Meaning it’s kind of cool that it’s a banned book because it raises awareness of the book. But on the other hand, there are those books that a lot of kids will have in a bookstore, or in a library, that they just don’t have. This is bad. There is one place where my book is on hold. He’s not a trader, and they should ask about him specifically with “The Bluest Eye” and he wrote like that. It is very annoying that they are so afraid of new ideas and the fact that they hide these texts, they hide information to keep this lie around the world.

drockett@chicagotribune.com

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