Chicago Author Erika Sánchez Talks New Memoir, Motherhood And ‘I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter’: ‘I didn’t Want To Write A Sequel’

Darcel Rockett
Chicago Tribune

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) As Darcel Rockett reports, “Within the pages of “Crying,” readers learn about [Erika] Sánchez’s medical struggles — physically (the first essay is titled “The Year my Vagina Broke”) and mentally (coping with depression). We travel with her around the globe, relive past loves, learn more about her familial relationships, and get a look into her career aspirations.”


Sometimes we read books differently. Sometimes it’s for escapist purposes, other times it’s for knowledge we seek and still other times, we pore over a storyteller’s words to taste them, much like a fine chocolate or wine where first glimpses of turns of phrases automatically force us to dog ear pages because more truth is shared in those phrases than could be said in paragraphs.

The latter was true for me in reading Erika Sánchez latest book, a series of essays released in July titled “Crying in the Bathroom: A Memoir.”

There’s a line that ends Sánchez’s “Difficult Sun” essay that rang truer that most. “Words for me are a form of prayer, a kind of reverence. They say thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Words that Sánchez fans will be saying after reading her third published work. If you were looking for a sequel to “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter,” (Sánchez’s second book) this is not it. Instead this is a “series of musings, misfortunes, triumphs, disappointments, delights, and resurrections” Sánchez has pieced together; Sánchez who is herself in a world that pressures her to be otherwise, a world that doesn’t love her, wasn’t built for her. Within the pages of “Crying,” readers learn about Sánchez’s medical struggles — physically (the first essay is titled “The Year my Vagina Broke”) and mentally (coping with depression). We travel with her around the globe, relive past loves, learn more about her familial relationships, and get a look into her career aspirations.

“I’ve been told ‘I hate memoirs, but I love this one for some reason’ and that’s really interesting to me,” Sánchez, the Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz chair at DePaul University, said.

We talked with Sánchez, two years after “Mexican Daughter”’s adaptation into a Steppenwolf play, about “Crying in the Bathroom, the gems therein, and the ongoing conversation about how stories by people of color matter “despite what the rest of society would like us to believe.” The interview has been condensed and edited.

Q: You said you and Julia Reyes are very similar in “Mexican Daughter,” what was the impetus for the memoir?

A: Right after “Mexican Daughter” … and what I mean by after is that it was accepted for publication … I started writing these essays. The first essay was “Crying in the Bathroom.” And it was because I was asked to be included in an anthology about women and ambition. That got my juices flowing, writing the actual truth. I wasn’t planning necessarily on writing nonfiction. Once I wrote that one, it felt really freeing to reckon with my past. So, I started writing essays on various topics that were important to me. I wanted to expand upon a lot of the topics in “Mexican Daughter” because there’s so much there. I wanted to write a book that was a continuation, but not a sequel. I didn’t want to write a sequel to “Mexican Daughter,” it just doesn’t feel right to me. So I had to go about it another way. I write a lot about being the daughter of immigrants because that’s an identity that is really important to me. And something I can’t change. So I’m always going to write with not necessarily that perspective but with that sensibility.”

Q: Who is the audience for this book, since “Mexican Daughter” is a YA novel?

A: My audience is young women of color and not just young, but women of my generation as well. I think a lot about my students and the stuff that I want them to know. I talk about a lot of the things that I talked about in the book in class: I’m always discussing mental health. I’m discussing racism, all the “isms.” I just want them to have information and to have choices because I felt like I didn’t have a lot of choices myself.

Q: Do you have a favorite essay in the memoir?

A: They’re all equally important, but I felt like the essay, “Difficult Sun,” I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite. It’s hard to call it that. But it’s the one that was the most intense, the most work and the most satisfying because it was a trauma that I never imagined I would write about and so to have it complete, I felt like I had performed an exorcism on myself.

Q: The vagina story …

A: A lot of people asked: Why did you start with your vagina? Because I don’t think it’s nasty.

Q: What avenue haven’t you touched when it comes to writing? Is there something else that we need to know about Erika?

A: I’m taking a break from myself in this next project that I’m working on because I want to move in another direction. I feel like I’ve given so much of myself in all three of my books, and I do plan to return to poetry, and I have been. Poetry is kind of a constant in my life and so that’s something that just won’t ever change because poetry is what allows me to write the prose that I do. In terms of other forms of writing, I’ve never done any screenwriting. I don’t plan to become a screenwriter, but I’d like to be involved in the process of a possible series or be a creative consultant on the show.

Q: You’ve lived a vivid life. What will you say to your toddler daughter when she’s 15 years old?

A: At 15, she can read “Mexican Daughter.” Now, she is very curious about my books. I know that sounds strange. But she plays with them constantly. She stacks them, she opens them, she looks at my picture and says mama. It’s like the sweetest thing. She knows that I have created books but I don’t know how much she really understands. And so it’s been really interesting to see her discover them. I just want her to love herself and I hope that my books can help her do so. She also has the best dad in the world. So I feel like she’s going to just have a very strong sense of self, she already does. I’m not that worried about her because I feel like she has an army of people around her, who adore her.

Q: “Mexican Daughter” has been banned in a few places. Do you feel if your book has been banned, you’ve actually done something right?

A: I think a lot of people who are upset about these books haven’t read any of them. They’ve just been fed all of these lies that they just perpetuate. I would really like to know, what was it that was so offensive? The mention of abortion, the mention of drugs? I guess people have a problem with that. But I think what people really have a problem with is the title. Because we’re not supposed to take up space. And our stories haven’t been allowed into the mainstream until now and so people are mad that their kids are going to be reading about some ‘hood, Mexican chick in Chicago, It’s so silly to me.

Q: How would you introduce your books to someone who has never read your work?

A: These books are about very rebellious women who are very much alive and who are upset with their circumstances. In a sense it’s kind of cool it’s a banned book because it raises awareness of the book. But on the other hand, there’s these books that a lot of children would just happen upon in a bookstore, or in a library, that are just not available to them. That sucks. There’s one place where they have my book on reserve. It’s not in circulation, they have to ask specifically for it along with “The Bluest Eye ‘’ and books like that. It’s very upsetting that they’re so afraid of new ideas and the truth that they hide these texts, hide information to keep this lie going of what the world is.
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