As a whole, Latinx are a mix of bloodlines, religions, foods and more. This, sometimes discordant, mixture becomes more evident as you “zoom in” oo the country, family and finally individual. It is the internal and external culmination of years of forced and chosen assimilation. As diverse as we are, though, many of our stories share common themes, emotions, and life events. This commonality of experiences and diversity of being is laid bare in the pages of Tales from La Vida: A Latinx Comics Anthology. This new anthology is a collection of 80 comic book shorts by Latinx creators that visually share defining moments in their lives as a Latinx.
The man responsible for bringing these important tales together and sharing them with the world is Ohio State University Professor Frederick Aldama. “I wanted readers, acquiring librarians (university and public across the nation), teachers and their students, as well as reviewers like yourself to have a one-stop-shop experience, meeting and engaging with the stories and styles of over 80 Latinx creators,” he explains. Professor Aldama is an outspoken proponent of Latinx representation in comic books, films, and television that has written a number of scholarly books on this topic. He also recently won the Eisner Award for his book Latinx Superheroes in Mainstream Comics.
“The conceit was simple,” Aldama explains of the anthology guidelines. “Two-page (some went over, of course) word-drawn narratives that recounted an important (hinge) moment in their lives as Latinxs and/or as comic book creators.” The participants responded with stories of paths not taken, struggles with identity, family history, sexism, racism, and spiritual journeys to name a few. There are even some stories that the actual process of sharing has seem to have helped the creators form self-revelations. “This simple conceit led to results that are bountiful,” Aldama admits.
Reading the anthology can be a life-changing experience in and of itself as the reader gets a peek inside the creators intimate moments. This experience shared by creator and reader alike becomes a way of processing these events, both personally and communally. “Sharing personal stories helps in various ways,” says licensed Latinx therapist and counselor Adriana Alejandre. I reached out to Alejandre to get a better understanding of the psychological benefits of a work like Tales. “The passing on of these stories communicates the experiences of others. Although one has not personally experienced it, it is possible to ascribe and personalize those stories to our own narratives.” Alejandre explains. Alejandre hosts the Latinx Therapy podcast which aims at breaking the stigma surrounding mental health in the Latinx community. She, like so many of us, has faced these difficulties and realizes the importance of dealing with mental health issues “There is a sense of community camaraderie and closeness where no one else but those in the community can understand. There are mental health benefits to being part of something, like a culture, and experiencing that sense of belonging. These are factors that aid in reducing symptoms of anxiety, depression or stress overall.”
Professor Aldama agrees with the help that works like Tales can provide not only in understanding ourselves but also helping others to understand us. “The more we flood the mainstream with our rich and varied and complex stories and lives as Latinx peoples in this country, the more people might also recognize our humanity,” Aldama says. “And, for future generations, well, the more we can have our stories out there for them to relate to, the less they will feel isolated and stigmatized.”
Among the 80 tales you will find an impressive collection of well-known and first-time creators. To name just a few: Javier Hernandez, Vicko Alvarez, Eric Esquivel, Kat Fajardo, Gilbert Hernandez, Jaime Hernandez, and Hector Rodriguez. Professor Aldama also shares his own story that touches on a very key moment in his life. Every story has a different feel to it both in the artwork and mood. Some stories are educational, some poignant, and others will make you laugh.
For her story Breena Nuñez Peralta chose to focus on the spiritual part of being Latinx as her response to Professor Aldama’s criteria of the anthology. “Because of colonization and cultural assimilation, we sadly don’t always have access to certain practices that help us feel connected to our ancestry,” Peralta says. “But when we do access that semblance of ancestral knowledge we should take pride in who we are as a people; our history is convoluted with war but with resiliency as well.” Her story “They Call Me Morena…For A Reason” is a personal journey into spirituality and identity not only as an Afro-Guatemalan-Salvadoran but as a human. Her use of transition from black and white to vibrant colors takes the reader from the physical to the spiritual world. “In the past Central Americans have not always had the chance to consume media that portrays our cultures or histories in a dignified fashion,” Peralta says. “Nowadays opportunities like this anthology and other projects are giving our community even more avenues to come out and say how proud we are to be of Central American descent.”
Artist Stephanie Rodriguez’ entry uses her signature style to share her personal experience through humor. “My story ‘No Te Hagas La Pendeja’ shows how I struggled to find a balance between Dominican and American culture,” Rodriguez explains. Her story recounts the anxiety and embarrassment she dealt with when having to go to a friend’s house for a school project. “I hope my story brings some relatable comic relief to Latinos who had a similar upbringing,” Rodriguez says. “Some stories are easier to share than others. Being vulnerable is very scary but I share these stories because I know that it can help someone who is going through those emotions.”
Though sharing personal stories can be hardest when it comes to people that are close to you sometimes family it’s an easier packaging to accept. “I have shared the ‘No Te Hagas La Pendeja’ with my family and they love it,” Rodriguez exclaims. “They thought I depicted my mother’s personality perfectly and my mom was excited to see that I illustrated her nicely.” Professor Aldama understands and echoes this sentiment as another reason for the anthology. “When some of our family members are predominantly Spanish speakers,” Aldama explains, “having visuals to drive the narrative forward of a comic book story predominantly told in English is extremely important.”
Tales from La Vida successfully accomplishes Professor Aldama’s original endeavor by perfectly encapsulating the Latinx experience. By delivering these stories to readers it not only entertains but informs and heals as well. “Tales represents the rich and complex ways that we actively engage with and transform the world we live in,” Aldama says. Future generations may look upon this anthology as a codex for the Latinx experience during turbulent times much like we now look back on the Nahuatl or Mayan codices.
Find out more about Tales from La Vida: A Latinx Comics Anthology here!