Tuesday, June 20, 2017

So Your Character is From Mexico ... Featuring Charissa Swanson

It's time for this week's So Your Character is ... Post! This is a weekly segment where I interview lovely volunteers from around the world to give you a firsthand account of being a citizen of their respective country or having a disability. I'm hoping to encourage international diversity, break stereotypes, and give writers a crash course on how to write a character from these different places on our planet. If you haven't checked out last week's  So Your Character is from Panama ... be sure to hop on over there and give it a read!

When I first met Charissa at a writers conference a while back, I thought it was so cool that her parents were missionaries in Mexico. I'm so happy to have her on the blog to talk about what living in Mexico was like. Honestly, the most I've known about Mexico is the immigration issues, the food, and one of my other friends went there for a vacation once. XD

Disclaimer: The content below may be culturally shocking to some. Each of these posts are as uncensored as possible to preserve the authenticity of the cultures of each of the interviewees.

(None of the Images are Mine)

Hello! My name is Charissa Swanson. Mexico was home to my family for over thirteen years, where we worked as church-planting missionaries. We lived in the states of Guanajuato, Colima, and Queretaro, though we currently reside in the US.  I enjoy writing, drawing and videogames, with aspirations of having a published book series and graphic novel one day. 
You can find me scribbling art and ideas on my tumblr

What do you feel is unique to your country? Landmarks? Celebrations?
I feel that the people are really what make the country unique, along with the atmosphere they create. Most of the places of Mexico I have been in feel warm and inviting in a way that feels different than the US. But to be less abstract, I think that the terrain is one of the places that makes it unique. While probably not true of all Mexican states, I’d gotten very used to seeing mountains in the distance no matter where I drove. Sparsely forested mountains, mountains with bushes, rocky mountains, volcanoes, monoliths…there was a very large variety. And in a way I can’t really explain, they’re different than American mountains. Unique. Their presence is very comforting, and how you don’t really realize how much you miss them until you move to somewhere different.

By Deliegha Swanson
Tell me about your country's environment. What are some of your favorite places?
All the places I’ve lived in mostly have two seasons: rainy, and dry. This means that everything is either green, or brown. This was most prominent in Colima, which would go from dry leaves to vibrant greenery after only one hour of rain. Colima had a huge variety of plants and parks in its capital, and I loved driving around and seeing just how many of them sprung to life after a rain. I also love the tight streets, small sidewalks, and close buildings of many downtown areas. It sounds crammed, but to me it has a kind of coziness, especially since it makes the bigger park-plaza areas stand out in a pleasing contrast.

By Deliegha Swanson

Tell me about your country's food. What are some of your favorite dishes?
I am in love with Mexican food. It’s ironic though, because most of my favorite dishes are very simple. Chilaquiles are basically tortilla chips soaked in salsa and fried. My favorite is of the green variety, which is topped with cilantro and raw chopped onions. I also enjoy Mole Poblano, which a sort of curry-sauce made with chocolate and chili peppers that tops chicken and rice. Like its names suggests, it originates in the state of Puebla. It is delicious! Definitely another favorite dish. 

I also really, really enjoy enchiladas verdes. Enchiladas are a plate of three or more tortilla rolls stuffed with meat, cheese and sometimes onions. The entire dish is cooked, soaked and drizzled in salsa. I love chicken enchiladas verdes, because green tomatillo salsa is clearly the best kind of salsa. 

By Deliegha Swanson

Tell me about any different speech patterns in your country. Slang? Idioms? Words for things such as “biscuits” instead of “cookies”?
The first thing that comes to mind is “¡no manches!”. It is a phrase that has a very diverse range of uses, many of which I’m sure range from region to region. The phrase can mean anything from “Wow, really?” to “you’re kidding” or “get out of here!”. It can also just be an exclamation of surprise. Literally translated it means “don’t stain”, which seems weirdly unfitting. But it’s like thinking about a phrase like “you’re kidding” too deeply; its context in a situation is the thing that makes it, not what it means literally. 

Another commonly used slang word is “¡Aguas!”, which means “be careful!”. It’s another one that sounds strange when translated literally, because ‘aguas’ means ‘waters’. 

Describe briefly a regular day in your country.
Late, sunny mornings are commonplace in the areas I lived. The day only truly becomes active once the clock hits 10 a.m. Walking around outside is easier in the morning and less so around midday, when the sun bounces heat up and off the cobblestone streets. The sun is less harsh under marketplace awnings, which is the best place to be if you’re going to be out and about. From vegetables, to kitchen-ware and pirated dvds; the tianguis open-air market has it all. The venders are often very persistent when it comes to reigning in your attentions. 

A visit to the taco stands or hole-in the wall restaurants are a must after a long day. You can find them along most main roads, with cheap plastic chairs and tables packed into small places. There is almost always an assortment of four or more salsas and good foods. 

The neighborhoods on the way back home are almost never quiet at night. This is especially true of the weekends, but even on weekdays Mexico’s nightlife is an active one. If you’re lucky, you won’t end up with neighbors that hire a brass band to play for every holiday and 2 a.m. 

By Deliegha Swanson
How does your country compare to others, especially the States since my audience is primarily American? Environmentally? Politically? Culturally?
Mexico has always felt more welcoming to me culture wise. There is a real feel of warmth and family there, even to foreigners. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more accepted than in the churches in Mexico, even when I could hardly hold anything beyond a casual conversation. I don’t think the US is unfriendly necessarily, but there’s a focus on the individual here that isn’t as prominent in Mexico.

Now for a big contrast. Politically, there are a lot of problems that make some of the stuff in the US look…easy, I suppose. Corruption was common in the politics I was exposed to. I didn’t really get the feel that people had much say in how the government ran the country, unless they were rich or in good favor with the people who mattered. Poverty is a real, dangerous thing there, and it’s heartbreaking. There are people who work themselves to exhaustion in demanding jobs who are only getting pennies as payment. It is pretty easy for politicians to pay off voters because of it.

Enrique Pena Nieto President of Mexico
Briefly describe three of your country’s historical events that you feel are important.
Firstly, I’d have to say the invasion of the Spanish, which began when Hernán Cortés arrived at the coast of Mexio in 1519.Over the course of several months he would move west, founding the colony of Veracruz before venturing further on to find an enemy of the Aztecs, the Tlaxcalans. Through the aid of the Tlaxacalans, a smallpox epidemic, and the kidnapping of an emperor, the Aztecs fell. Cortés conquered the Aztec Empire, and Mexico City was built on its ruins.

Secondly, the Mexican War of Independence. It is famous for starting with the Grito de Dolores (cry or scream of Dolores), a revolutionary tract distributed after a public reading of the priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. The war lasted from 1810 to 1821. 

Thirdly, the Inauguration of Benito Juárez. Juárez, the ‘Abraham Lincoln’ of Mexico, is a national hero with a hand in several historical events. He led Mexico through the French invasion, and aided Mexico’s development with many revolutionary reforms. He was president for five terms, from 1858 to 1872.

What are some stereotypes about your country that irk you? What media portrays your country badly be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
Probably the one that paints Mexicans as super dramatic. It’s kind of stupid, really. Yes, telenovelas (soap operas, basically) are a big thing there. No, the majority are not true to life, if at all. That’s like saying that Guy Fieri is a representative of the average American’s eating habits. It doesn’t make any sense.

Also, I always get irritated when Mexican women get painted as being stereotypically fiery, sassy, difficult and petty. Or when the guy is smug about having a Latina girlfriend because she’s ‘exotic’. Say no to stereotypes. Please. 

What media portrays your country well be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
Unfortunately I actually haven’t seen a lot of movies or books that portray Mexico itself. It doesn’t seem to be an often explored subject or setting, at least where popular media is concerned. Well, with the exception of being a premise for some thrillers about drug lords and kidnappings, but those aren’t really focused on a making good portrayal.

However, I did really like the art and themes of the animated movie The Book of Life. It’s a fun, colorful movie that is for the most part respectful when it comes to culture and portrayals. The storyline is interesting and the characters are nice, save from one really annoying comic relief. 

Who are your top three favorite characters native to your country in books, movies, or shows?
I have to say Gregorio Cortez from the movie Spykids, Cisco Ramon from the Flash TV series, and Sombra from the game OverwatchSpykids will always hold a special place in my heart despite the thick layers of cheese it was coated in, and Gregorio played a part in making it a childhood staple.

Cisco is probably my favorite on the list. He is charming, quirky, and well-rounded as a character. Just talking about him makes me want to start watching The Flash again. 

Lastly, we have Sombra. While being a bit of an anti-hero, am very partial to how Blizzard has decided to portray Sombra. She’s snarky, confident, and ambiguous with her goals. Best of all, her in-game dialogue includes the correct usage of Spanish dialogue. Hearing a cheerful “que tal?” right before an in-game death definitely lessens the sting of defeat.

Thank you, Charissa, for this very informative post! I hope everyone enjoyed reading it. Come back next week for So Your Character is from Puerto Rico ...!

Are you interested in participating in this project? Check out the tips archive to see which countries have been filled and if you're from a different country, shoot me an email at howellvictoriagrace(a)gmail(dot)com.

Do you have any characters from Mexico? Did this inspire you to write a Mexican character or set a book in Mexico? Are from this or been to this country and you have further input? Feel free to share! Do you have any questions for Rachel? Be sure to thank her!

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