Pablo Cartaya: 2019 National Book Festival

Pablo Cartaya: 2019 National Book Festival


>>Catalina Gomez:
Hello, everyone. I am Catalina Gomez. I’m a reference librarian
and a curator at the Library of Congress Hispanic Division
and it’s a great pleasure to have you all hear today for
the next presentation and for me to introduce our next
author, Pablo Cartaya. Just before I introduce
the author, I’d like to let you all know that he will be signing
his book from 5:30 to 6:30. It’s kind of close to
this stage, but, yeah, from 5:30 to 6:30 he will
be signing his books. Pablo Cartaya is an
award-winning author, speaker, actor, and educator. He is the author of the critically acclaimed
middle grade novels The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora, which is
a 2018 Pura Belpré Honor Book and Marcus Vega Doesn’t
Speak Spanish. His new novel, which is the one
that he is reading from today and signing from
is Each Tiny Spark and he’ll be reading some
excerpts for you shortly. It was published by the new
Kokila Penguin Random House imprint, which is an
imprint that focuses on publishing diverse
books for children and young adult – young adults. Cartaya’s work has been
reviewed by the New York Times and also been features
in the Washington Post. He’s also an actor. He has acted on stage
and television and he co-starred
on Will and Grace. Do you all know that show? And he also gives talks
frequently around the country about reading, writing,
and multilingualism. Please join me in
welcoming Pablo Cartaya. Thank you so much. [ Applause ]>>Pablo Cartaya: The parts
of this old car will take time to find, but we know
what we need at least. We have the puzzle mapped out
on paper and the instructions on how to reassemble it. I wish I had a blueprint
for my papi. I don’t know the pieces
he’s keeping inside. How can I help him put
anything back together if he doesn’t share the pieces? Papi? My voice wobbles. Hmm? He’s focused on the car. But – but why? Why what, Chispita? Why didn’t you ever respond
to the videos I sent you? Papi stops what he’s doing
and stares at the ground. He exhales loudly and
turns to me slowly. You know, I’m trying
my best, Emilia. He lowers his head. That’s all I can do
for you right now. Papi puts his hammer
down and walks off, leaving me with the
shell of an old car and a welder that’s still on. I have a memory for
things that matter to me. I’m not giving up on my
dad, not by a long shot. But he’s going to
have to talk to me, and even if it makes
him uncomfortable. Actually, everyone needs to
start doing that around here. ¡Buenas tardes! So that was a section from Each
Tiny Spark, which just came out on August 6th, and I was
reading a section about the – the dad and his daughter,
Emilia, who is narrating the book. But first, let’s
start again, please. Can we say ¡buenas tardes!>>¡Buenas tardes!>>Pablo Cartaya:
¡Buenas tardes! Okay. Nosotros vamos a hablar
en español también aquí. ¿Esta parece? We’re good? We’re going to speak a
little Spanish in here today. Alright? As well. Now, the thing is, a lot of my
books – a lot of my books focus on three main things, three
main components: family, culture, and community. And abuelos. And abuelas. Who knows what an abuela is? A grandma. An abuela is a grandma, right? And also, speaking of family, this book is very
personal to me. It’s very personal to me because
the main character, Emilia, is modeled after
my own daughter. My own daughter, Penelope,
she’s gonna be so embarrassed when she hears that I called
her Penelope because she says, “Papi, I told you
call me Penny.” But I named her – we
named her Penelope, so I’m just gonna
say Penelope anyway. So Penelope is a
really special kid. And when I was writing this
book – she’s a pre-teen. She’s 12 and a half years
old right now, my daughter. The character in this book
is 12 and a half years old. And you know when you say
writers write what they know, writers write what
they experience? Well, I am experiencing as a father a
12-and-a-half-year-old pre-teen going through it. Okay? So I’ll give
you an example. So the other day, you
know, my daughter – my daughter has this thing where
she likes to use our shower to take a shower, right. So she’ll go right
into our bedroom, go right into the shower,
and start using the shower. But sometimes she
doesn’t announce it. She doesn’t say, “I’m going
to go use the shower, Papi. You know, Shut the door.” No, she just walks right in. So when I go in to go brush
my teeth, I hear, “Papi! Stop it! Stop it! Get out! Get out! I’m showering!” And I just like run out. She comes out of the shower
wearing my wife’s bathrobe like this. Looking at me. And she’s like, “Don’t be
weird,” and just walks off. Bedtime, she goes,
she lays down, it’s all quiet for a minute. “Well, are you gonna
snuggle me goodnight?” Yeah, sure. So I run in, I go into bed,
I lie onto the bed with her, I put my arm around her, she
goes, “Don’t – don’t touch me. Don’t be weird.” [ Laughter ] She throws her leg on me. She nuzzles into me. My little girl. Don’t be weird. But this is what it is, right,
she’s going through this thing and I find this age
so fascinating. I find the way that she’s
navigating the world to be fascinating. She is equally still a
little kid and also trying to find her own voice. And when I was writing
this book, this is what I was
trying to understand. This is what I was
trying to listen to. As a writer, we spend a
lot of time listening. Listening to the
world around us. And I spent a lot of time
listening to my daughter. My daughter is neurodiverse. She has ADHD. And I love the way
her mind works. And so when I was thinking
about this character, Emilia, who also has ADHD, I
thought about things — I was thinking about,
like, what is – what is a typical
day with my own kid? What does that look like? “Yeah, yeah,” I say, swinging
my feet and munching on toast and talking about
the week ahead. She likes to go over my agenda
for the week, but it’s kind of annoying because sometimes
that’s all she talks about. “So you got it?” Mom asks. “Huh?” “Your stuff for the week,
sweetheart,” she says. “Math test Thursday. You have vocabulary test Friday. What do you have
for Social Studies?” “Ooh, Clarissa’s party! I can go, right?” “Emilia,” Mom says,
using my name like a sharp-edged
sword to make her point. “I need to be able to go on
this trip knowing you’re ready for the week.” “Yes, Mom, you’ve told
me like a million times.” “And Social Studies?” “What about it?” “What do you have for Mr.
Rick’s class this week?” “I don’t know. Something. Maybe a test.” “Maybe? Do I have to call?” “No, Mami! Please can we just talk
about something else?” She lets out a sigh. “Okay, mi amor. What do you wanna talk about?” This is literally text-by-text
a conversation I had with my own daughter. I put it into the book. You know what I told her? I said, “Listen. You gotta be careful
what you say to me ’cause I’ll just
maybe put it in a book.” Alright? And it’s just
the way she’s trying to assert her independence. And I love that. She’s at that midway point
between becoming a young adult and still holding on
to that adolescence. And it’s a beautiful age
and I wanted to represent that in the best way possible. When she read the book, she
looked, she looked at me, and she goes, “It’s
pretty good.” The best compliment a
12-and-a-half-year-old can tell you! It’s pretty good. I was very excited. So I said about abuelas. I love my abuela. Who here has their
abuela still around? A few of you, okay. So I loved – I love
my grandparents. I love my abuela especially. And you know, abuelas –
alright, so I’m Cuban. I’m Cuban-American, and in
my culture – in my culture, the Cuban-American
is like, well, we have the abuela character has
kind of different levels, right. You have the really
sweet abuela that does – that kind of supersedes
whatever mom says, right? And so she has like her grandson
or her grandchild and that’s like whatever the grandson or
grandchild wants, abuela gets. And it frustrates mom, right. But if you’re the kid, if you’re
the grandkid, you love that. Right? I remember being a
little kid and I would walk home and I’d be all excited and,
you know, my abuela would be in the kitchen and
go, “Mi amor!” And she’d do that
little like pinch, you know, the cheek pinch. And I’d come in and she’d
make me un batido de mango. Who knows what a
batido de mango is? Mango milkshake. She’d go and she’d make
me a mango milkshake and my mom would
come rushing in. “No, no, no, Pablo’s not
supposed to have sugar!” And my abuela would go like
this, put ice cream and sugar and sugar and milk and mango,
and [makes whirring sound]. And say, “Ay, niña,”
and just go like that and pour me the mango, and I’d
be in the middle and I’d be like this looking at
abuela, “Gracias, abuela.” And I’d look at my mom. That’s an abuela. The abuela – also the other
kind of the abuela is – is the judgy one,
the judgy abuela, the one that like you
bring home somebody and she just like grills her. “Bueno.” Just walks off. There’s that abuela,
the super judgy abuela. There’s the other – there’s
the other abuela that’s quiet, that’s reserved. Sometimes she’s strict. Sometimes she drops
out the chancla. Who knows what the chancla is? Raise your hands if you
have been victimized by the chancla in your life! I have. It’s usually when I
use the Lord’s name in vain. When I say, “Jesus
Christ, abuela.” “¡Óyeme, lo que te
voy a decir ahora mismo!” Pulls out the sandal
and starts chasing me. “Abuela, I’m sorry!” But that abuela, the quiet
one, the one that’s reserved, the one that we don’t always
understand what she’s going through, that also is a
character of the abuela. And that character
specifically was one that made her way
into this book. She’s quiet, she’s
tough, and you learn later on why she had to be tough. So this is all fun. There’s a lot of personal
things in this book. But I would be remiss
if I didn’t write a book with Latinx characters
in this country. I would be remiss
if I did not talk about the immigration problem
that we have in this country. I would remiss if I didn’t talk
about the types of inequities that exist in communities
between brown and black people
and white people. I’m gonna tell you a story. When I was researching
this book, this book is set in
northern Georgia. It’s a fictional town, but
when I was doing research – when I was doing
research for this book, I went and I visited a
town in northern Georgia. When I got there, it’s
this typical idyllic, you know, sweet southern town. You know, there’s a main street
– there’s a main street there and they have these cute shops. And they had a butcher shop,
and I love meat, I love to cook, so I went into this
butcher shop. And I come outside and I see
that – you know the barber shops that have those little
swirly things? Like I live in – I’ve lived
in cities my whole life, so that to me is
like, oh my God, that’s the coolest thing ever. So those little swirly
things, right, so I go and I take a picture of it. I come back inside. This lady comes out of
her truck and runs in. She says, “Boy, what are
you taking pictures of?” Excuse me? “What are you taking
pictures of?” I said, “Just the
barber shop sign, ma’am. That’s it.” I didn’t really quite get,
you know, what her thing was. So I get out of the
shop, we go to get gas. And I go to get gas and
I cross over the tracks, the train tracks, so trains run
through there, through the town. I cross right over
the train tracks and across the street I
see Grocery Store Latino and I see a sign that
says “Carnicería”. Who knows that carnicería is? Butcher shop, right? A butcher shop. And I see “Carnicería”
across the street and a I see a Vietnamese
nail salon and then I see – right next to the gas station,
I see an auto shop, an auto and body repair shop that
is touching the tracks. And I notice one thing. The track is literally
dividing two cultures. The track in the town is
literally dividing two cultures. I can see from this –
from this auto shop, just beyond there
I see Main Street and I see the butcher shop. The cute – the cute bandstand. And I turn over here
and I see Carnicería and I see the Vietnamese nail
salon and I see the streets and I see the people that
are coming in and out of those shops, and
I see the train track and it’s splitting
it right in half. And when I writing this book, that’s where I decided
I’m gonna set this book in that auto shop right in
between those two places, right on that train track. You know how when they say, “Oh, you’re from the wrong
side of the tracks”? What side is that? What side is that? And so this character,
much like my own daughter, much like my own
family, this character, she comes to understand
something deeper about her community. She comes to understand that her
community is not just bandstands and parades. There is a history in her
community that is problematic. A history of anti-immigrant
sentiment. Do you know – do you know that
in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, do you know who saved
the building of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta? Do you know who? Mexican immigrants. They brought thousands,
thousands of Mexican workers to Georgia to help build and finish the stadiums
in the 1996 Olympics. They built – they
literally built the Olympics. Do you know in 2012 the
laws that they passed? Georgia right now has one of the strictest immigration
policies in the country. It is also ironically one of the most diverse
states in the country. How does that make sense? How does that make sense? And Emilia starts
to realize that. Her town is called Maryville. Maryville, and then
on the other side of the tracks it’s
called Park View. And abuela shops at the Grocery
Store Latino across the tracks. Her best friend, Gustavo, lives
in Park View, across the tracks. Emilia goes to school
in Maryville. I love Maryville and Park View. I love the way the trees
surround us on all sides, the way the train
tracks cut through town, the way people get too
excited about fireworks or a school football game
or a random festival. There is good in this town. But you can’t put
together a vehicle with a messed up beamline. You can’t expect your
car to drive normally with a dangled – damaged axel. You have to take it apart. You have to examine the
pieces that are warped or corroded or missing. You have to grind
out the corrosion. You must take a dead blow hammer and smash the warped
parts into place. When I write my stories,
yo uso mucho español. I write about my culture. I write about my family. I write about my community. I write mostly because I
spent a lot of my life trying to relearn my Spanish
after it was erased from me in my classrooms. I had to relearn
parts of my culture that I was too often told I
didn’t look enough of this. I was an actor, as
was mentioned. I’m gonna tell you a
story about me acting. So I did alright. I was, you know, Will
and Grace and all that, and I had a casting
director tell me, “I don’t know why
your name is Pablo.” I said, “That’s my name.” He says, “Well, you don’t
look like a Mexican. You should change your name.” I said, “Change my name? I’m – I’m not even Mexican. I’m Cuban-American.” “You don’t look like
a Cuban, either. You should change
your name to blend.” And this is a story that
goes on and on and on and we are constantly
told – as people of color, we are constantly told don’t
be this, be more of this, assimilate more of
this, blend in. Alright, my books do not
blend and they don’t apologize for the Spanish that they speak. [ Applause ] So – oh, I got riled up. I was like, alright, let’s go! Where’s Donald Trump? Come on, man, let’s go! No. Alright, let’s go. Ah, he’s gonna come – I’m gonna
get Secret Service tackling me on the floor right now. Alright, so we have a few
minutes, so I can take – take a couple of questions
’cause, you know, and I do want to say very briefly, to all
the yellow t-shirts today in the Library, in the Festival,
I want to thank you all so much. You know, for all your work
and all your help, truly. And to the Library of Congress
and the National Book Festival. This is my first – this is my
first National Book Festival. I hope it’s not my
last ’cause I love it. [ Applause ] Alright, so yeah, so we
can take a few questions. I’ll do my best as
quickly to answer as many as possible before we –
before we run out of time. Alright, don’t everybody
just run up at once, alright. Let’s slow down. Let’s keep this orderly. Alright, so I’ll tell
you another abuela story. Alright, before we –
before we’re done, so – oh, somebody has a question. Where? Yes. Hey!>>Hi! My dad is Mexican and
my mom is white and I grew up not learning Spanish. So do – I don’t know about
your wife or whatever, but do you make sure that your
daughter or your kids know about their ethnicity and
like where they come from?>>Pablo Cartaya:
That’s a great question. So, what is your name, dear?>>Andrea.>>Pablo Cartaya: Andrea. So Andrea just asked a question. Her dad is Mexican,
her mother is white, she grew up not learning
Spanish, not knowing Spanish, and do I teach my kids Spanish? I wish I taught them more. I wish I taught them more. The interesting thing
is culturally they are very connected. My daughter, Penelope, she
identifies as a person of color. She’s like, “I am Latina.” And she’s like, “I am Latina,”
and she’s like – she does – she does – you know the
thing that the kids that – I am Latina, you
know, like that? You know? So she has that,
but the Spanish, the language, isn’t quite there yet and she
gets frustrated by it, you know. My son, my eight-year-old, he’s like croquetas
all day, every day. Croqueta, café con
leche, pan con leche. He’s like anything,
he’s like whatever. He’s like, no, this is – ’cause
I’m Cuban, I like this food. Alright. So there’s – there’s
different access points to our culture. Sometimes you know how like
when you eat a piece of food that reminds you of home
or reminds you of your – of your family’s home? Like it instantly makes you
feel connected to that culture? You know what I’m saying? Like I love food. I write with a lot of food
in there because of that. It’s almost like a supplement
to the Spanish, you know. But there’s many – there’s a
lot of different access points to the way that we
get our culture. And there isn’t a straight line. This is not a monolithic
experience. We – every single one of
us has our own stories and our own backgrounds,
our own histories that we get to claim, right. And the idea of somebody
silencing our stories is whack. Y ya no más. And that’s it, you know. That’s it. Anybody else?>>Una pregunta.>>Pablo Cartaya:
Una pregunta más. Si, señora.>>Soy pura gringa
pero hablo español.>>Pablo Cartaya: Que bueno. Que ->>I’m – I’m a – I speak
Spanish, but I’m not. I mean, I’m – I’m white. I’m a writer. I’m writing a novel in which
the characters are mostly white, but there is some Spanish in it. And I’ve spent a
couple of months trying to investigate how I should
handle the Spanish that’s spoken by Americans in there. And actually, I’m a new fan. You were suggested
as somebody to read to find out how to do this.>>Pablo Cartaya: I hope
I don’t disappoint you.>>No, no. I’ve already – this is your
third book I’ve bought.>>Pablo Cartaya: Oh, thank you.>>But ->>Pablo Cartaya: My
kids thank you, too.>>My question is how do
I write it in the book? You’re the only person that I’ve
read who actually treats English and Spanish equally right
within the dialogue. It doesn’t look any different. Everybody else puts
it in italics or somehow says something. How should I as a
non-native speaker handle that without being offensive?>>Pablo Cartaya: Yes.>>Because that’s
what’s been suggested.>>Pablo Cartaya: Okay,
so in the interest of time, tell it true. Tell it true. Right? Don’t make it
about I’m writing a book that has Spanish in it. Why are the characters living
in this world speaking Spanish in the first place
and tell it true. Right? That’s all
we can do, right. In this crazy world
that we’re in right now where so much disinformation
is being thrown around, the only thing, our goal,
our task, not only as writers but as humans, is
to tell it true. Right? And so that’s
all – that’s as much as I can tell you just
in a quick answer. If you want, tweet
out to me and I’ll try to like expand on that idea. But you know, we are in
an age where that is hard. It’s hard to break apart what is
real, what is not real, right. The only thing that we could do
as individuals is tell it real like we see it and
call BS when it’s done. When somebody says something
that is false, call BS on it. I’m not gonna say
the actual word because there’s children
present. But in my mind, I’m
thinking that word. You know? And that
is what it is. I always finish my – my talks,
and especially because I talk to a lot of young people
around the country and I – I always tell them that it
took me a long time to feel like I could claim my voice
and say that my voice matters. And I tell them, now you
tell me your voice matters, because I’m telling
you, your voices do. Your stories matter. Your lives and your histories
and your cultures matter. So look, we’re here at the
National Book Festival. I want everybody on the count of
three to say “my voice matters” and hold yourself
right here, right. And hold your stories
dear to you and set them out to the world. One. Two. Three. My voice matters! Oh, come on! One, two, three. My voice matters! Thank you all very much. [ Applause ]

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