Sylvia Aguilar: "Observing garbage is observing society"

It is said that a book changes you when it is good, and get ready, because the routine act of throwing out the garbage will never be the same after reading Sylvia Aguilar’s book, a little gem whose protagonist is a girl who lives in the dumps of Ciudad Juarez. The 49-year-old Mexican writer not only teaches writing at the University of Texas but is also on the hunt for authors capable of experimenting with storytelling and activism, and she embroiders a universe that is not usually visible in Trash (Transit).

Ask. Why did you write about garbage?

Response. Landfills are the result of society. What we buy, what we throw away, who decides, expiration dates… I realized that looking at garbage is looking at society.

P. And what is garbage?

R. That’s it. Everything we use, drink or wear is the capitalism we live in. We are what we acquire and after working on the book I find it very strange to think about what I am going to let go of and what I am not. I find myself scratching the jars before throwing them away.

Everything we use, drink or wear is the capitalism we live in”

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P. And now you throw things thinking that someone will take advantage of it?

R. I donate a lot. I don’t throw away food and live with guilt if it spoils, I have a greater conscience. It’s not that I want to change the world, which I do, but I do want to reflect. If I take out a piece of furniture, now I take it out clean and well-placed so that it has a second life.

P. It places its history on the border. What is it for you?

R. There’s a time when Mafalda in which Felipito says to him: “Can you imagine that the distance did not exist? I would not be here”. And in his head are Cassius Clay, the Beatles, Big Ben… and he faints. I think about that a lot when I think about the border. Everything is there: people from other countries, other experiences, languages, cultures… it is a world in itself. There is a separation, increasingly painful and complicated. You have there Ciudad Juárez, the most dangerous city in Latin America, and El Paso, which is sold to tourism as the second safest city in the US and with the largest military base. And the higher rate of domestic violence too. All of this shapes the personality of those who live and pass through there and I think like Felipito: everything is here, the evils and the goods of contemporary society, wanting to cross and have a better life in the US, but also anti-abortion laws, weapons , racism, and also solidarity, networks… Everything is there.

P. Do you feel welcome in the US?

R. I feel welcome at the border, where I am. And I’m going for 13 years. I don’t feel like I stayed in the US, but on the border. The northern border.

I feel welcome at the border, where I am”

P. Is the US now worse for immigrants?

R. I think so. Surely there is some comfort, but a comfort that is going to hurt.

P. Can you be happy in a dump?

R. You can not ask yourself if you are happy or not. I learned it with Imre Kertész in no destination, when he recounts that the happiest day of his life was a day when the sun came out and they were given permission to play soccer, there in the concentration camp. In the landfill it is the same. There they become landowners of the place, they begin to set up cooperatives to process the plastic, sell it and put on lighting with the money. There are happy moments.

P. He also paints a brothel as a refuge for his protagonist. Do you think prostitution can be abolished?

R. I don’t like it when they decide for my body. I would like to think that it is a personal decision. If you are not offering a job and this is my way of getting a job and I am fine, it seems to me that one should decide what to do and you guarantee that I will be safe, that if they hit me you will help me.

P. Alice in Wonderland It is the referent of its protagonist. Why?

R. Because it also enters a hole and manages to get around problems, negotiate its place, know and learn. If Alicia were to revive she would be a child that she would have to take care of herself. She is another version of Alicia.

P. Would Alicia live in the garbage today?

R. Today Alicia would say: I don’t think so, I decide for myself.

P. Is the garbage bigger in the family than in the landfill?

R. Hurts more. If someone assaults me in the street I’m going to walk away, but when it’s my father or brother who abuses me it’s different because there will be those who don’t have the option of leaving. Domestic violence crosses what I write and will continue to do so because it is like garbage, it tells us a lot about what we are as a society, what we have not achieved and will not achieve: establishing healthy relationships.

Domestic violence goes through what I write and will continue to do so because it is like garbage, it tells us a lot about what we are as a society”

P. Do you teach writing as therapy?

R. It’s activism, yes. At this point I don’t read Hemingway (laughs). I choose readings by authors of color, racialized, LGTBI… We have to bring to the classroom those other narratives that also say who we are.

P. Literature for you is activism, then.

R. Totally yes. Both are united and for me it is very important that this happens.

P. Do you think that women finally have a place in literature?

R. I think we are already getting there and what I like the most is that we are the ones who are betting the most, who are putting the most interesting stories on the table, also in language and in form. Suddenly, the great narrative and poetic explorations are being carried out by women: Nona Fernández, Cristina Rivera Garza, Alia Trabucco, Marina Closs, Sara Uribe, Margarita García Robayo, Claudia Salazar, Gabriela Cabezón Cámara… I have my map and I am always on the hunt for authors who are doing these two things: telling a story but also opening a reflection. There is in them an activism that is not pamphleteering, but from intelligence.

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