Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.
Earlier this year, as we were planning our Latinx Heritage Month at the Pond event, Skye mentioned that she really wanted the author of Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything, Raquel Vasquez Gilliland, to visit us. Curious, I went ahead and picked up a copy of Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything, not really knowing what to expect – but goodness, I have absolutely no regrets going into it without reading the blurb, because I thought Sia Martinez was spectacular.
We are so happy to have Raquel here to visit us at the Pond today. Raquel visits us as a jaguar, wearing a fashion head scarf and singlet!
I have the utmost honour of sharing a piece – which, to me, feels like a story told with so much love – about the ‘heart’ and inspiration behind Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything. It’s a piece about ghosts, about family, about Día de los Muertos, and Raquel’s family belief system. I am so excited to share her tender and personal piece with you all.
But, in case you’ve never heard of Sia Martinez before, I’d love to tell you all a little more about it!
Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland
Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe meets Roswell by way of Laurie Halse Anderson in this astonishing, genre-bending novel about a Mexican American teen who discovers profound connections between immigration, folklore, and alien life.
It’s been three years since ICE raids and phone calls from Mexico and an ill-fated walk across the Sonoran. Three years since Sia Martinez’s mom disappeared. Sia wants to move on, but it’s hard in her tiny Arizona town where people refer to her mom’s deportation as “an unfortunate incident.”
Sia knows that her mom must be dead, but every new moon Sia drives into the desert and lights San Anthony and la Guadalupe candles to guide her mom home.
Then one night, under a million stars, Sia’s life and the world as we know it cracks wide open. Because a blue-lit spacecraft crashes in front of Sia’s car…and it’s carrying her mom, who’s very much alive.
As Sia races to save her mom from armed-quite-possibly-alien soldiers, she uncovers secrets as profound as they are dangerous in this stunning and inventive exploration of first love, family, immigration, and our vast, limitless universe.
This story is genre-bending – it has elements of contemporary, it gently and sensitively explores grief and loss, but it also has science-fiction elements and a powerful exploration of the violence deportation with action scenes as well! I loved Sia Martinez – I maintain that it’s one of the most unexpected, most unique, and most interesting stories I’ve read in a long time, and is an effortlessly memorable favourite read for me in 2020.
Raquel Vasquez Gilliland:
In the thick summer of 2015, I was living next to a garden and a pear tree in a top-floor AirBnB. I was walking up the stairs, surrounded by star-petaled jasmine that smelled as sweet as honey. I had a phone to my ear and a hand to my belly, which was six months full with my baby.
“Nana!” I said when I finally reached my grandmother. “Guess what?”
“It’s a boy.”
She squealed and then put her hand on the phone’s receiver. I could still hear her, though, telling someone, “It’s a boy.”
I assumed she’d told my uncle, who was living with her. But just the next day, I found out my uncle had been working.
Ah, I thought. Then she must’ve told Welito.
Thing is, my grandfather had been dead for over a year at the time. Of course, that sort of thing never stops Nana.
My grandmother has always spoken with ghosts. I’ve been raised with the belief that the dead are always close—guiding, praying, and blessing over the living.
I believe that this understanding of death comes from the bits and remnants of our Mexican culture that have survived colonization. Along with rituals involving eggs and brooms, the words of Nahuatl among my family’s Spanish, and hand-clapped tortillas, these are what I have heard author Aida Salazar call “signs of resistance.” Día de los Muertos is also one of these. My family and family friends all understand this holiday comes from pre-colonization.
Our family never celebrated it the way one might see in movies or in Mexico. We didn’t have ofrendas; we didn’t scatter marigolds about. We did and do light candles next to photos of our dead loved ones. And we practice the rosary after someone dies—reciting prayers for nine days around their picture, leaving their favorite drink or food next to it. The idea is to assist the soul into heaven, but my mother says the ritual’s importance is also about togetherness in a family’s time of grief.
Sometimes I feel pride when I see how popular Día de los Muertos is in the culture of aesthetics on social media. I’m glad that people see how beautiful these customs are.
That said, there is a wound of colonization among my family. The wound of the culture we have lost and might never find again. This pain manifests in a variety of ways—feeling disconnected from our own culture and people, to family who believe things like Día de los Muertos are evil because they come from before we knew about Jesus. When I see white people celebrating my culture especially for its aesthetic, this plucks and stings at these wounds, sometimes very deeply.
One of the most beautiful beliefs that survived colonization is that death can be something to be celebrated. I have never thought the ghosts of my family were scary. I have always known they still love us.
When I first drafted my debut novel, Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything, the character of Sia’s abuela, Liana Hernan, came so fluidly, I think because I was writing from my own experiences. Liana speaks and guides and yes, meddles, from beyond the grave. And in Sia’s world, this is seen as something that is natural, something never to be feared.
I believe the idea that the dead can and do comfort us is what is most important from these customs. It is one of the most powerful points of that resistance—the beliefs from our ancestors that are so strong, they, as well as our ancestors, remain with us still.
About the Author
Raquel Vasquez Gilliland is a Mexican American poet, novelist and painter. She received her MFA in poetry from the University of Alaska, Anchorage in 2017. She’s most inspired by fog and seeds and the lineages of all things. When not writing, Raquel tells stories to her plants and they tell her stories back. She lives in Tennessee with her beloved family and mountains.