For the second time, the publication of a book of mine coincides with a presidential election year. Living Color: Angie Rubio Stories will be published this fall, five weeks ahead of election day.
While fall is a busy time for new books to arrive on the scene, my concern is not that Living Color will become lost in the sea of new books. I mean, it’s quite likely that it will. But there’s always the possibility of that brief glint in whatever minor spotlight I might manage to stumble into, which I will savor with gratitude. But what if I don’t even get that?
What if my book and its charming protagonist Angie Rubio are swept away by the terror that you-know-who will be elected to another term?
Four years ago, many of us were incredulous at the outcome of that election. Dazed and confused, we were terrified by the specter of catastrophe and ruin. Everything we feared and more came to pass, and the worst is yet to come unless we start 2021 with real leadership and real governance, which means a genuine caring for the citizens of this country and a commitment to its ideals of justice and equality. It’s a major clean-up job, folks.
On election day 2016, I was finishing up a series of book promotion events in the Raleigh-Durham area for my second book of fiction Hola and Goodbye: Una Familia in Stories. It’s a collection of stories about overcoming loss, loneliness, and lack of belonging. The characters are three generations of a family, the first of which emigrates from Mexico. You know the place. “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” Words that should’ve disqualified the candidate who spoke them instead launched him on his merry, racist way to the presidency.
During my hotel stay in Raleigh, I noticed what I always notice in hotels – that most of the housekeeping and food service staff were people of color. It so happened that my hotel was to be the site of the Republican election returns party. I checked out of my room in the early afternoon, exchanging looks with the African American woman at the desk, and then waited in the lobby until my shuttle was to leave for the airport. I watched the Latino, South Asian, and African American staff set up the ballroom for the event. I watched the white Republicans in suits and cocktail dresses begin to gather to oversee the setup. I watched the TV screens announce early election projections. I left, silently hoping their preparations would be for naught.
My Iraqi shuttle driver and I discussed our worries and our hopes. On the airplane, I crossed my fingers. In Seattle on the Uber ride home, my Iranian driver and I listened in glum silence to the news on the radio. When I got home, the TV was on. My husband and I just looked at each other and shook our heads, unable to say a word.
My book launch party in Seattle was a few days later. Everyone was still reeling with the surrealness of an incompetent, lying, narcissistic racist as the next president. I had hired activist and musician Jacque Larrainzar and her band to provide music at the event. They had prepared three traditional Mexican songs to honor the land left behind by the immigrants in Hola and Goodbye. Here’s a video of the group singing “Mexico Lindo y Querido.”
I asked Jacque if she could add a song to open the event. Something inspiring that could galvanize us and give hope. She chose to drum and sing “El Pueblo Unido,” widely used in resistance movements around the world. The song originated in 1973 in protest against the Chilean dictator Pinochet. It’s a stirring song, poetic and inspirational, confident in its proclamation that the people will win and that a better life will come.
El pueblo va a triunfar.
La vida que vendrá
I don’t have video of Jacque performing this song, but here’s the Chilean group Inti-Illimani giving a rousing rendition.
This fall, it’s possible I won’t have a book party if COVID-19 is still determining when and how we can gather. I’m ready to resign myself to those circumstances. What I can’t resign myself to is the release of my book being followed weeks later by the reelection of the incompetent, lying, narcissistic racist who cares nothing for the lives of well, anyone – even Angie Rubio.
While Angie Rubio is fictional, she’s also very real in what and who she represents. In Living Color, Angie Rubio learns what it is to be brown through all the subtle ways she is told she is less than, or not as good as. Yet, Angie is a girl of resilience, only temporarily fazed by the taunts and affronts of others as well as her own self-inflicted mortifications. Sometimes defeated, but never destroyed, she carries on. There is hope in her to move forward in life, to be someone honorable to herself and to others.
Sharma Shields, a writer whom I deeply admire, wrote these beautiful words about Living Color:
It’s been a long time since I’ve fallen in love with a character as deeply as I fell for Living Color’s Angie Rubio. Donna Miscolta writes gorgeous, luminous sentences, at turns funny and heartbreaking, searing and wise, and—through the observations of one smart, shy, awesome young girl—she deftly exposes the casual and systemic racism of the 1960s and 70s. This is fiction at its very best: intimate, universal, historical, and relevant as hell to our current era. Angie Rubio is my new favorite protagonist; prepare for her to steal your heart.
This is my hope – that Angie will steal the hearts of readers, that she will remind them of our humanness, of our failings and of our generosity, and that all of us, even ordinary, everyday Americans like Angie, have lives to live, feelings to be respected, and dreams to follow.