Of Women and Salt author has a message for Hollywood ahead of novel debut: 'I'm ready'
Poet Gabriela Garcia offers an authentic exploration of the immigrant experience in her debut novel Of Women in Salt, set to be released on March 30.
"My perspective comes from my Cuban and Mexican parents whose immigrant experiences were different due to class and race," Garcia tells EW. "People talk about the immigrant experience but there are many. It depends on where you're coming from, class, race, and status. These are things I've always been aware of because of my own identity."
A series of interconnected stories told from the perspectives of multiple Latin women, Of Women and Salt transports readers through time (1866– 2019, to be exact) and various locations (Cuba, Mexico, Miami, and Texas) while depicting trauma, discrimination, and inequities in the immigration system.
"At the time I had the idea for the book, I was traveling to Cuba frequently and working as an organizer," she shares. "Specifically, I was involved in deportation defense work and organizing against detention. These are all elements that inspired the novel, as well as historical forces and how what's happening in present-day can be traced back to both personal historical forces that we may not even be aware of and larger societal political forces."
The common denominator in the novel is Cuban American Jeanette, a contemporary character dealing with addiction issues and a history of sexual abuse who has connections, often familial, to the novel's other protagonists.
During a visit to Cuba, Jeanette is spending time with her grandmother when she's confronted with issues of colorism within her own community.
"Race is something that I think a lot about," Garcia shares. "This is another area where Latinidad is not a monolith. There's such racial division within our community and certainly anti-Blackness runs rampant. Those tensions in Cuba are really complex because of that anti-Blackness and denial of roots for a lot of people. There's not a lot of conversations around race and colorism like here in the U.S. happening on the island. I was interested in exploring that and sharing an honest portrayal of the intense racism I've seen in Cuba, as well as the generational tensions."
The novel also has some nail-biting moments throughout, including a chance meeting between Jeanette's mom and a wildcat neighbor she didn't know existed.
"That story was inspired by this article I read about a neighbor, I think, that was mauled by a tiger they kept in their home," she shares. "The owner was killed and the neighbor said in an interview they had no idea [they had a wildcat]. That story stayed with me for years. After Tiger King came out on Netflix, I was worried people would think I got the idea from there but I had it with me for much longer."
Wild tales aside, Garcia feels proud to have been able to share the unique experiences of the characters in Of Women and Salt and hopes they resonate with readers, too.
"A lot of the characters in my novel are outsiders in some way," the award-winning poet says. "Jeanette goes to Cuba as a Cuban American thinking she's going to connect to Cuba in a certain way but then realizing her own perspective as somebody raised in the U.S. colors her experience. Then we have the Salvadoran characters who are outsiders in Mexico and are seen a certain way. I'm interested in those tensions because that's where the most interesting stories lie"
Garcia is spending some time daydreaming of actresses who could play the characters fleshed out in her debut, should Hollywood come calling. She says, "Connect me to Hollywood, I'm ready."
A version of this story appears in the April 2021 issue of Entertainment Weekly. To read more, order a copy or find it on newsstands now. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.