Worldcon 76: My "The Mexicanx Initiative" Experience

Welcome to my "Worldcon 76" series, where I'll be breaking down my time at the world's longest-running science fiction and fantasy convention.

The Mexicanx Initiative was a scholarship fund started by artist John Picacio to bring more Mexicanx representation in science fiction and fantasy to Worldcon 76. The scholarship was awarded to 50 people of Mexican ancestry and, let me tell you, those 50 people made a HUGE impact.

When I first realized this was a thing, I got both ridiculously excited and worried that the experience would be watered down. Considering who started this initiative, I should have known better than to think watering down would be allowed!

The Mexicanx Initiative made Worldcon 76 a powerful experience for me because I got to see myself represented on those panels, in those stories, in the language, the idioms, the anger at the injustices of deportation, criminalization, forced separation and herding of children from their parents, and so much more. An entire reading and some panels were done solely in Spanish - 100% en español. This might not seem like a big deal, but it is. Just look up the #ownvoices and #weneedmorediversebooks hashtags. I hope this kind of inclusion of other languages and cultures is the beginning of what future Worldcons and other conventions in the genre can be and, frankly, should have been a long time ago.

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The American narrative is not everyone's experience.  

When Rose Lemberg (yes, I know they are not Mexican, but they are badass) said this, I had to literally restrain myself from jumping out of my seat and cheering "Thank you!!!" This is not an exaggeration. Having been raised by an immigrant mother meant that my experiences growing up did not follow the "American Narrative," and many customs I grew up with are different from those experienced by most people brought up as "American." On New Year's, to name just one example of something that most kids in America don't grow up doing, we would toss a pot of water out the front door at midnight and say "Que salga lo viejo y entra lo nuevo," or "Out with old, in with the new." I have a lot to say about the American Narrative, but that's for another post. Thankfully, FLAMA exists to share my frustration via hilariously on-point sketches. 

Often, not being part of the American Narrative has made it difficult for me to connect with people. Now let me be clear: this is not my mother's fault for not "Americanizing" me enough; it is the fault of a society that idealizes and demands that everyone follow a single narrative. 

 

The term "magical realism" is othering

The use of the term "magical realism" has always bothered me, though I could never eloquently pinpoint exactly why. The Mexicanx Initiative panels helped clear this up for me - it's because the term is othering. Let me explain what I mean.

First, from a personal perspective, it is trivializing to declare that elements of my culture are "magic." The customs that I grew up with - whether Día de los Muertos, or warnings about brujería, or carrying an ojo de venado for protection - are part of who I am. Yes, intellectually, I know that these things are based in supernatural beliefs, but slapping the term "magic" on them dismisses them as silly stories, superstitions, a mere ethnic trope. 

Second: "You're Mexican, so you must write magical realism, right?" This was an actual question that a reader perusing my artist's alley booth asked me at a convention last year. Yes, I know some argue that magical realism actually has more literary worth than so-called "genre" fantasy, but for me, a female Latinx author who wants to write fantasy novels and be accepted by that community, it hurts to be told what I have to write. And anyway, if so many of the conventions of "traditional" fantasy are themselves derived from European myths and folk tales (just look at Tolkien), why do stories with supernatural elements derived from Mexicanx culture get consigned to magical realism? 

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Borders divide families and are bullshit. However, borders do exist that keep people safe.

And no I'm not referring to the border dividing Mexico and the United States. That border is bullshit and ICE and CBP can go fuck themselves. I'm referring to the borders within the United States keeping the government from taking away more of what belongs to indigenous peoples. This very important distinction was made by a POC audience member. In my opinion, I don't think this discussion would have had a home at Worldcon had the panel that gave it a platform not come to pass. That panel was "Transgressing Borders." 

 

Secondary worlds are a valid way of exploring one's culture

Hearing this from someone who is not from your culture is not the same as hearing it from someone who is. The latter holds power. As someone who incorporates my culture into the secondary world of the Ellderet, this meant a lot to me.

 

It's arrogant to assume that the base language spoken in SF/F stories is English just because the books are written in English. 

Bravo! Enough said. 

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An inkling of other things I learned: that the distinction between "hard" and "soft" science fiction isn't a thing in Mexico; that Mexico's sf/f world is alive with a large number of novel ideas because many authors don't feel the need to limit themselves to what's popular; that YA is just beginning to really take off in Mexico; that some editors are negative on using character names sourced from languages that English-speaking audiences might find difficult to pronounce; and that I am not alone in my bilingual language experiences. I already knew this last one, but seeing it reflected on a panel at a convention dedicated to a genre I love - a genre that lacked representation when I was growing up - meant the world to me. 

Panel after panel, as I sat in the crowd listening to the speakers, I couldn't help but look around at the other people and then back at the stage and think, "That's me." 

"Ahí estoy yo."

Desde lo más profundo de mi corazón, gracias a todos que hicieron posible The Mexicanx Initiative.

 

Next post on Monday 9/3, "Worldcon 76: Don't Lump Assholes In With Imposter Syndrome & Mental Health Issues"  or some such title. Sorry for the long delay between posts, but my 12 year anniversary with the hub is this Friday, and I want to focus on this milestone. Thank you for understanding <3

E.M. Markoff is the award-winning Latinx author of stories about damaged heroes and imperfect villains. Her works include To Nurture & Kill and The Deadbringer, which Booklist described as "A fantastic action-adventure, tinged with Mexican folklore, that will appeal to fans of A Game of Thrones."